CELT document E910001-054

The Hour-Glass


The Persons of the Play

  • Wise Man
  • Bridget, his wife
  • Teigue, a fool
  • Angel
  • Children and Pupils

William Butler Yeats

Whole text



Scene Pupils come in and stand before the stage curtain, which is still closed. One pupil carries a book.

First Pupil
He said we might choose the subject for the lesson.
Second Pupil
There is none of us wise enough to do that.
Third Pupil
It would need a great deal of wisdom to know what it is we want to know.
Fourth Pupil
I will question him.
Fifth Pupil
Fourth Pupil
Last night I dreamt that some one came and told me to question him. I was to say to him, “You were wrong to say there is no God and no soul—maybe, if there is not much of either, there is yet some tatters, some tag on the wind—so to speak—some rag upon a bush, some bob-tail of a god.” I will argue with him, nonsense though it be — according to my dream, and you will see how well I can argue, and what thoughts I have.
First Pupil
I'd as soon listen to dried peas in a bladder, as listen to your thoughts.

[Fool comes in.]

Give me a penny.
Let us choose a subject by chance. Here is his big book. Let us turn over the pages slowly. Let one of us put down his finger without looking. The passage his finger lights on will be the subject for the lesson.
Give me a penny.
Third Pupil
(Taking up book) How heavy it is.
Fourth Pupil
Spread it on Teigue's back, and then we can all stand round and see the choice.
Second Pupil
Make him spread out his arms.
Fourth Pupil
Down on your knees. Hunch up your back. Spread your arms out now, and look like a golden eagle in a church. Keep still. Keep still.
Give me a penny.
Third Pupil
Is that the right cry for an eagle cock?
Second Pupil
I'll turn the pages—you close your eyes and put your finger down.
Third Pupil
That's it, and then he cannot blame us for the choice.
First Pupil
There, I have chosen. Fool, keep still—and if what's wise is strange and sounds like nonsense, we've made a good choice.
Fifth Pupil
The Master has come.
Will anybody give a penny to a fool?

[ [One of the pupils draws back the stage curtain showing the Master sitting at his desk. There is an hour-glass upon his desk or in a bracket on the wall. One pupil puts the book before him.]

First Pupil
We have chosen the passage for the lesson. Master. “There are two  p.124 living countries, one visible and one invisible, and when it is summer there, it is winter here, and when it is November with us, it is lambing-time there.”
Wise Man
That passage, that passage! what mischief has there been since yesterday?
First Pupil
None, Master.
Wise Man
Oh yes, there has; some craziness has fallen from the wind, or risen from the graves of old men, and made you choose that subject.
Fourth Pupil
I knew that it was folly, but they would have it.
Third Pupil
Had we not better say we picked it by chance?
Second Pupil
No; he would say we were children still.
First Pupil
I have found a sentence under that one that says—as though to show it had a hidden meaning—a beggar wrote it upon the walls of Babylon.
Wise Man
Then find some beggar and ask him what it means, for I will have nothing to do with it.
Fourth Pupil
Come, Teigue, what is the old book's meaning when it says that there are sheep that drop their lambs in November?
To be sure—everybody knows, everybody in the world knows, when it is Spring with us, the trees are withering there, when it is Summer with us, the snow is falling there, and have I not myself heard the lambs that are there all bleating on a cold November day—to be sure, does not everybody with an intellect know that; and maybe when it's night with us, it is day with them, for many a time I have seen the roads lighted before me.
Wise Man
The beggar who wrote that on Babylon wall meant that there is a spiritual kingdom that cannot be seen or known till the faculties whereby we master the kingdom of this world wither away, like green things in winter. A monkish thought, the  p.127 most mischievous thought that ever passed out of a man's mouth.
First Pupil
If he meant all that, I will take an oath that he was spindle-shanked, and cross-eyed, and had a lousy itching shoulder, and that his heart was crosser than his eyes, and that he wrote it out of malice.
Second Pupil
Let's come away and find a better subject.
Fourth Pupil
And maybe now you'll let me choose.
First Pupil
Wise Man
Were it but true 'twould alter everything
until the stream of the world had changed its course,  p.128 And that and all our thoughts had run
into some cloudy thunderous spring
they dream to be its source.—
Aye, to some frenzy of the mind;
And all that we have done would be undone,
Our speculation but as the wind.

[A pause.]

I have dreamed it twice.
First Pupil
Something has troubled him.

[Pupils go out]

Wise Man
Twice have I dreamed it in a morning dream,
Now nothing serves my pupils but to come
With a like thought. Reason is growing dim;
A moment more and Frenzy will beat his drum  p.129 And laugh aloud and scream;
And I must dance in the dream.
No, no, but it is like a hawk, a hawk of the air,
It has swooped down—and this swoop makes the third—
and what can I, but tremble like a bird?
Give me a penny.
Wise Man
That I should dream it twice, and after that, that they should pick it out.
Won't you give me a penny?
What do you want? What can it matter to you whether the words I am reading are wisdom or sheer folly?
Such a great, wise teacher will not refuse a penny to a fool.
Wise Man
Seeing that everybody is a fool when he is asleep and dreaming, why do you call me wise?
O, I know,—I know, I know what I have seen.
Wise Man
Well, to see rightly is the whole of wisdom, whatever dream be with us.
When I went by Kilcluan, where the bells used to be ringing at the break of every day, I could hear nothing but the people snoring in their houses. When I went by Tubbervanach,  p.131 where the young men used to be climbing the hill to the blessed well, they were sitting at the cross-roads playing cards. When I went by Carrigoras, where the friars used to be fasting and serving the poor, I saw them drinking wine and obeying their wives. And when I asked what misfortune had brought all these changes, they said it was no misfortune, but that it was the wisdom they had learned from your teaching.
Wise Man
And you too have called me wise—you would be paid for that good opinion doubtless.—Run to the kitchen, my wife will give you food and drink.
That's foolish advice for a wise man to give.
Wise Man
Why, Fool?
What is eaten is gone—I want pennies for my bag. I must buy bacon in the shops, and nuts in the market, and strong drink for the time the sun is weak, and snares to catch the rabbits and the hares, and a big pot to cook them in.
Wise Man
I have more to think about than giving pennies to your like, so run away.
Give me a penny and I will bring you luck. The fishermen let me sleep among their nets in the loft because I bring them luck; and in the summer time, the wild creatures let me sleep near their nests and their holes. It  p.133 is lucky even to look at me, but it is much more lucky to give me a penny. If I was not lucky I would starve.
Wise Man
What are the shears for?
I won't tell you. If I told you, you would drive them away.
Wise Man
Drive them away! Who would I drive away?
I won't tell you.
Wise Man
Not if I give you a penny?
Wise Man
Not if I give you two pennies?
You will be very lucky if you give me two pennies, but I won't tell you.
Wise Man
Three pennies?
Four, and I will tell you.
Wise Man
Very well—four, but from this out I will not call you Teigue the Fool.
Let me come close to you, where nobody will hear me; but first you must promise not to drive them away. (Wise Man nods.) Every day men go out dressed in black and spread great black nets over the hills, great black nets.
Wise Man
A strange place that to fish in.
They spread them out on the hills that they may catch the feet of the angels; but every morning just before the dawn, I go out and cut the nets with the shears and the angels fly away.
Wise Man
(Speaking with excitement) Ah, now I know that you are Teigue the Fool. You say that I am wise, and yet I say, there are no angels.
I have seen plenty of angels.
Wise Man
No, no, you have not.
They are plenty if you but look about you. They are like the blades of grass.
Wise Man
They are plenty as the blades of grass—I heard that phrase when I was but a child and was told folly.
When one gets quiet. When one is so quiet that there is not a thought in one's head maybe, there is something that wakes up inside one, something happy and quiet, and then all in a minute one can smell summer flowers, and tall people go by, happy and laughing, but they will not let us look at their faces. Oh no, it is not right that we should look at their faces.
Wise Man
You have fallen asleep upon a hill, yet, even those that used to dream of angels dream now of other things.
I saw one but a moment ago—that is because I am lucky. It was coming behind me, but it was not laughing.
Wise Man
There's nothing but what men can see when they are awake. Nothing, nothing.
I knew you would drive them away.
Wise Man
Pardon me, Fool,
I had forgotten whom I spoke to. Well, there are your four pennies—
Fool you are called.  p.138 And all day long they cry, “Come hither. Fool.”

[The Fool goes close to him.]

or else it's, “Fool, be gone.”

[The Fool goes further off.]

Or, “Fool, stand there.”

[The Fool straightens himself up.]

Or, “Fool, go sit in the corner.”

[The Fool sits in the corner.]

And all the while
What were they all but fools before I came?
What are they now, but mirrors that seem men,
Because of my image? Fool, hold up your head.

[Fool does so.]

What foolish stories they have told of the ghosts
That fumbled with the clothes upon the bed,
Or creaked and shuffled in the corridor,
Or else, if they were pious bred,
Of angels from the skies,  p.139 That coming through the door,
Or, it may be, standing there,
Would solidly out stare
The steadiest eyes with their unnatural eyes,
Aye, on a man's own floor.

[An angel has come in. It should be played by a man if a man can be found with the right voice, and may wear a little golden domino and a halo made of metal. Or the whole face may be a beautiful mask, in which case the last sentence on page 136 should not be spoken.]

Yet it is strange, the strangest thing I have known,
That I should still be haunted by the notion
That there's a crisis of the spirit wherein
We get new sight, and that they know some trick  p.140 To turn our thoughts for their own ends to frenzy.
Why do you put your finger to your lip,
And creep away?

{[Fool goes out. (Wise Man sees Angel.)]

What are you? Who are you?
I think I saw some like you in my dreams,
When but a child. That thing about your head,—
that brightness in your hair—that flowery branch;
But I have done with dreams, I have done with dreams.
I am the crafty one that you have called.
Wise Man
How that I called?
I am the messenger.
Wise Man
What message could you bring to one like me?
(Turning the Hour-glass) That you will die when the last grain of sand
Has fallen through this glass.
Wise Man
I have a wife.
Children and pupils that I cannot leave:
Why must I die, my time is far away?
You have to die because no soul has passed
The heavenly threshold since you have opened school,
But grass grows there, and rust upon the hinge;  p.142 And they are lonely that must keep the watch.
Wise Man
And whither shall I go when I am dead?
You have denied there is a purgatory,
Therefore that gate is closed; you have denied
There is a heaven, and so that gate is closed.
Wise Man
Where then? For I have said there is no hell.
Hell is the place of those who have denied;
They find there what they planted and what dug.  p.143 A Lake of Spaces, and a Wood of Nothing,
And wander there and drift, and never cease
Wailing for substance.
Wise Man
Pardon me, blessed Angel,
I have denied and taught the like to others.
But how could I believe before my sight
Had come to me?
It is too late for pardon.
Wise Man
Had I but met your gaze as now I met it—
But how can you that live but where we go
In the uncertainty of dizzy dreams  p.144 Know why we doubt? Parting, sickness and death,
The rotting of the grass, tempest and drouth,
These are the messengers that came to me.
Why are you silent? You carry in your hands
God's pardon, and you will not give it me.
Why are you silent? Were I not afraid,
I'd kiss your hands—no, no, the hem of your dress.
Only when all the world has testified,
May soul confound it, crying out in joy,
and laughing on its lonely precipice.
What's dearth and death and sickness to the soul
That knows no virtue but itself? Nor could it,  p.145 So trembling with delight and mother-naked,
Live unabashed if the arguing world stood by.
Wise Man
It is as hard for you to understand
Why we have doubted, as it is for us
To banish doubt—what folly have I said?
There can be nothing that you do not know:
Give me a year—a month—a week—a day,
I would undo what I have done—an hour—
Give me until the sand has run in the glass.
Though you may not undo what you have done,
I have this power if you but find one soul,  p.146 Before the sands have fallen, that still believes,
One fish to lie and spawn among the stones
till the great fisher's net is full again,
you may, the purgatorial fire being passed,
Spring to your peace.

[Pupils sing in the distance.

“Who stole your wits away and where are they gone?”
Wise Man
My pupils come,
Before you have begun to climb the sky
I shall have found that soul. They say they doubt,
But what their others dinned into their ears
Cannot have been so lightly rooted up;
Besides, I can disprove what I once proved—  p.147 And yet give me some thought, some argument,
More mighty than my own.
For I am weary of the weight of time.

[[Angel goes out. Wise Man makes a step to follow and pauses. Some of his pupils come in at the other side of the stage.]

First Pupil
Master, master, you must choose the subject.

[Enter other pupils with Fool, about whom they dance; all the pupils may have little cushions on which presently they seat themselves.]

Second Pupil
Here is a subject — where have the Fool's wits gone? (singing)
Who dragged your wits away
Where no one knows?
Or have they run off
On their own pair of shoes?
Give me a penny.
First Pupil
The Master will find your wits.
Second Pupil
And when they are found, you must not beg for pennies.
Third Pupil
They are hidden somewhere in the badger's hole,
But you must carry an old candle end
If you would find them.
Fourth Pupil
They are up above the clouds.
Give me a penny, give me a penny.
First Pupil (singing)
I'll find your wits again,
Come, for I saw them roll.
To where old badger mumbles
In the black hole.
Second Pupil (singing)
No, but an angel stole them
The night that you were born,
And now they are but a rag,
On the moon's horn.
Wise Man
Be silent.
First Pupil
Can you not see that he is troubled?

[All the pupils are seated.]

Wise Man
What do you think of when alone at night?
Do not the things your mothers spoke about,
Before they took the candle from the bedside,
Rush up into the mind and master it,
Till you believe in them against your will?
Second Pupil (to first pupil)
You answer for us.
Third Pupil (in a whisper to the first pupil)
Be careful what you say;
If he persuades you to an argument,
He will but turn us all to mockery.
First Pupil
We had no minds until you made them for us;  p.151 Our bodies only were our mother's work.
Wise Man
You answer with incredible things.
It is certain that there is one,—though it may be but one —
Believes in God and in some heaven and hell—
In all those things we put into our prayers.
First Pupil
We thought those things before our minds were born,
But that was long ago—we are not children.
Wise Man
You are afraid to tell me what you think
Because I am hot and angry when I am crossed.
I do not blame you for it; but have no fear,  p.152 For if there's one that sat on smiling there,
As though my arguments were sweet as milk
yet found them bitter, I will thank him for it,
If he but speak his mind.
First Pupil
There is no one, Master,
There is not one but found them sweet as milk.
Wise Man
The things that have been told us in our childhood
Are not so fragile.
Second Pupil
We are no longer children.
Third Pupil
We all believe in you and in what you have taught.
Other Pupils
All, all, all, all, in you, nothing but you.
Wise Man
I have deceived you—where shall I go for words—
I have no thoughts—my mind has been swept bare.
The messengers that stand in the fiery cloud,
Fling themselves out, if we but dare to question.
And after that, the Babylonian moon
Blots all away.
First Pupil (to other pupils)
I take his words to mean
That visionaries, and martyrs when they are raised
Above translunary things, and there enlightened,  p.154 As the contention is, may lose the light,
And flounder in their speech when the eyes open.
Second Pupil
How well he imitates their trick of speech.
Third Pupil
Their air of mystery.
Fourth Pupil
Their empty gaze.
As though they'd looked upon some winged thing,
And would not condescend to mankind after.
First Pupil
Master, we have all learnt that truth is learnt
When the intellect's deliberate and cold,  p.155 As it were a polished mirror that reflects
An unchanged world; and not when the steel melts,
Bubbling and hissing, till there's naught but fume.
Wise Man
When it is melted, when it all fumes up,
They walk, as when beside those three in the furnace
The form of the fourth.
First Pupil
Master, there's none among us
That has not heard your mockery of these,
Or thoughts like these, and we have not forgot.
Wise Man
Something incredible has happened—
someone has come  p.156 Suddenly like a grey hawk out of the air,
And all that I declared untrue is true.
First Pupil (to other pupils)
You'd think the way he says it, that he felt it.
There's not a mummer to compare with him.
He's something like a man.
Second Pupil
Give us some proof.
Wise Man
What proof have I to give, but that an angel
An instant ago was standing on that spot.

[The pupils rise]

Third Pupil
You dreamed it.
Wise Man
I was awake as I am now.
First pupil (to the others)
I may be dreaming now for all I know.
He wants to show we have no certain proof
Of anything in the world.
Second Pupil
There is this proof that shows we are awake—we have all one world
While every dreamer has a world of his own,
And sees what no one else can.
Third Pupil
Teigue sees angels. So when the Master says he has seen an angel,
He may have seen one.
First Pupil
Both may still be dreamers;
Unless it's proved the angels were alike.
Second Pupil
What sort are the angels, Teigue?
Third Pupil
That will prove nothing,
Unless we are sure prolonged obedience
has made one angel like another angel
As they were eggs.
First Pupil
The Master's silent now:
For he has found that to dispute with us—
Seeing that he has taught us what we know—
Is but to reason with himself. Let us away,
and find if there is one believer left.
Wise Man
Yes, yes. Find me but one that still believes
The things that we were told when we were children.
Third Pupil
He'll mock and maul him.
Fourth Pupil
From the first I knew
He wanted somebody to argue with.

[They go.]

Wise Man
I have no reason left. All dark, all dark!

[Pupils return laughing. They push forward fourth pupil.]

First Pupil
Here, Master, is the very man you want.  p.160 He said, when we were studying the book,
That maybe after all the monks were right,
and you mistaken, and if we but gave him time,
He'd prove that it was so.
Fourth Pupil
I never said it.
Wise Man
Dear friend, dear friend, do you believe in God?
Fourth Pupil
Master, they have invented this to mock me.
Wise Man
You are afraid of me.
Fourth Pupil
They know well. Master,
That all I said was but to make them argue.
They've pushed me in to make a mock of me,
Because they knew I could take either side
And beat them at it.
Wise Man
If you believe in God,
You are my soul's one friend. [Pupils laugh.] Mistress or wife,
can give us but our good or evil luck
Amid the howling world, but you shall give
Eternity, and those sweet-throated things
That drift above the moon.

[The pupils look at one another and are silent.]

Second Pupil
How strange he is.
Wise Man
The angel that stood there upon that spot,
Said that my soul was lost unless I found out
One that believed.
Fourth Pupil
Cease mocking at me, Master,
For I am certain that there is no God
Nor immortality, and they that said it
Made a fantastic tale from a starved dream
To plague our hearts. Will that content you. Master?
Wise Man
The giddy glass is emptier every moment,
And you stand there, debating, laughing and wrangling.  p.163 Out of my sight! Out of my sight, I say.

[He drives them out.]

I'll call my wife, for what can women do,
That carry us in the darkness of their bodies,
But mock the reason that lets nothing grow
Unless it grow in light. Bridget, Bridget.
A woman never ceases to believe,
Say what we will. Bridget, come quickly, Bridget.

[Bridget comes in wearing her apron. Her sleeves turned up from her arms which are covered with flour.]

Wife, what do you believe in? Tell me the truth,
And not—as is the habit with you all—
Something you think will please me.
Do you pray?  p.164 Sometimes when you're alone in the house, do you pray?
Prayers—no, you taught me to leave them off long ago. At first I was sorry, but I am glad now, for I am sleepy in the evenings.
Wise Man
Do you believe in God?
Oh, a good wife only believes in what her husband tells her.
Wise Man
But sometimes, when the children are asleep
And I am in the school, do you not think
About the Martyrs and the saints and the angels,  p.165 And all the things that you believed in once?
I think about nothing—sometimes I wonder if the linen is bleaching white, or I go out to see if the crows are picking up the chicken's food.
Wise Man
My God,—my God! I will go out myself.
My pupils said that they would find a man whose faith I never shook—they may have found him.
Therefore I will go out—but if I go,
The glass will let the sands run out unseen.
I cannot go—I cannot leave the glass.
Go call my pupils—I can explain all now,
Only when all our hold on life is troubled,  p.166 Only in spiritual terror can the Truth
Come through the broken mind—
as the pease burst
Out of a broken pease-cod.

[He clutches Bridget as she is going.]

Say to them,
That Nature would lack all in her most need,
Could not the soul find truth as in a flash,
Upon the battle-field, or in the midst
Of overwhelming waves, and say to them —
But no, they would but answer as I bid.
You want somebody to get up an argument with.
Wise Man
Look out and see if there is any one
There in the street—I cannot leave the glass,  p.167 For somebody might shake it, and the sand
if it were shaken might run down on the instant.
I don't understand a word you are saying. There's a crowd of people talking to your pupils.
Wise Man
Go out and find if they have found a man
Who did not understand me when I taught
Or did not listen.
It is a hard thing to be married to a man of learning that must always be having arguments.

[She goes out.]

Wise Man
Strange that I should be blind to the great secret,
And that so simple a man might write it out
Upon a blade of grass or bit of rush
With naught but berry juice, and laugh to himself
Writitng it out, because it was so simple.

[Enter Bridget followed by the Fool.]

Give me something; give me a penny to buy bacon in the shops and nuts in the market, and strong drink for the time when the sun is weak.
I have no pennies. (To Wise Man) Your pupils cannot find anybody to argue with you. There's nobody in the whole country with  p.169 belief enough for a lover's oath. Can't you be quiet now, and not always wanting to have arguments. It must be terrible to have a mind like that.
Wise Man
Then I am lost indeed.
Leave me alone now, I have to make the bread for you and the children.

[She goes into kitchen.]

Wise Man
Children, children!
Your father wants you, run to him.

[Children run in.]

Wise Man
Come to me, children. Do not be afraid.  p.170 I want to know if you believe in Heaven,
God or the soul—no, do not tell me yet;
You need not be afraid I shall be angry,
Say what you please—so that it is your thought—
I wanted you to know before you spoke,
That I shall not be angry.
First Child
We have not forgotten, Father.
Second Child
Oh no, Father.
Both children
(As if repeating a lesson) There is nothing we cannot see, nothing we cannot touch.
First Child
Foolish people used to say that there was, but you have taught us better.
Wise Man
Go to your mother, go—yet do not go. What can she say? If am dumb you are lost;
And yet, because the sands are running out,
I have but a moment to show it all in. Children,
the sap would die out of the blades of grass
Had they a doubt. They understand it all,
Being the fingers of God's certainty,
Yet can but make their sign into the air;
But could they find their tongues they'd show it all;
But what am I to say that am but one,  p.172 When they are millions and they will not speak—

[Children have run out.]

But they are gone; what made them run away?

[The Fool comes in with a dandelion.]

Look at me, tell me if my face is changed.
Is there a notch of the fiend's nail upon it
Already? Is it terrible to sight?
Because the moment's near.

[Going to glass.]

I dare not look,
I dare not know the moment when they come. No, no, I dare not. (Covers glass.)
Will there be a footfall,
Or will there be a sort of rending sound,
Or else a cracking, as though an iron claw  p.173 Had gripped the threshold stone?

[Fool has begun to blow the Dandelion.]

What are you doing?
Wait a minute—four—five—six.
Wise Man
What are you doing that for?
I am blowing the dandelion to find out what hour it is.
Wise Man
You have heard everything, and that is why
You'd find what hour it is—You'd find that out,
That you may look upon a fleet of devils
Dragging my soul away. You shall not stop,  p.174 I will have no one here when they come in,
I will have no one sitting there—no one—
And yet—and yet—there is something strange about you.
I half remember something. What is it?
Do you believe in God and in the soul?
So you ask me now. I thought when you were asking your pupils, “Will he ask Teigue the Fool? Yes, he will, he will; no, he will not—yes, he will.” But Teigue will say nothing. Teigue will say nothing.
Wise Man
Tell me quickly.
I said, “Teigue knows everything, not  p.175 even the green-eyed cats and the hares that milk the cows have Teigue's wisdom”; but Teigue will not speak, he says nothing.
Wise Man
Speak, speak, for underneath the cover there
The sand is running from the upper glass,
And when the last grain's through, I shall be lost.
I will not speak. I will not tell you what is in my mind. I will not tell you what is in my bag. You might steal away my thoughts. I met a bodach on the road yesterday, and he said, “Teigue, tell me how many pennies are in your bag; I will wager three pennies that there are  p.176 not twenty pennies in your bag; let me put in my hand and count them.” But I gripped the bag the tighter, and when I go to sleep at night I hide the bag where nobody knows.
Wise Man
There's but one pinch of sand, and I am lost
If you are not he I seek.
O, what a lot the Fool knows, but he says nothing.
Wise Man
Yes, I remember now. You spoke of angels.
You said but now that you had seen an angel.
You are the one I seek, and I am saved.
Oh no. How could poor Teigue see angels? Oh, Teigue tells one tale here, another there, and everybody gives him pennies. If Teigue had not his tales he would starve.

[He breaks away and goes out.]

Wise Man
The last hope is gone,
And now that it's too late I see it all,
We perish into God and sink away
into reality—the rest's a dream.

[The Fool comes back.]

There was one there there —by the threshold stone, waiting there; and he said, “Go in, Teigue, and tell him everything that he asks you. He will give you a penny if you tell him.”
Wise Man
I know enough, that know God's will prevails.
Waiting till the moment had come—that is what the one out there was saying, but I might tell you what you asked. That is what he was saying.
Wise Man
Be silent. May God's will prevail on the instant,
Although His will be my eternal pain.
I have no question: It is enough, I know what fixed the station
Of star and cloud.
And knowing all, I cry
That what so God has willed
On the instant be fulfilled,
Though that be my damnation.  p.179 The stream of the world has changed its course,
And with the stream my thoughts have run
Into some cloudy thunderous spring
That is its mountain source—
Aye, to some frenzy of the mind,
For all that we have done's undone,
Our speculation but as the wind.

[He dies.]

Wise man—Wise man, wake up and I will tell you everything for a penny. It is I, poor Teigue the Fool. Why don't you wake up, and say, “There is a penny for you, Teigue?” No, no, you will say nothing. You and I, we are the two fools, we know everything, but we will not speak.

[Angel enters holding a casket.]

O, look what has come from his mouth! O, look what has come from his mouth—the white butterfly! He is dead, and I have taken his soul in my hands;  p.180 but I know why you open the lid of that golden box. I must give it to you. There then, (he puts butterfly in casket) he has gone through his pains, and you will open the lid in the Garden of Paradise. (He closes curtain and remains outside it.) He is gone, he is gone, he is gone, but come in everybody in the world and look at me.
“I hear the wind a blow
I hear the grass a grow,
And all that I know, I know.”
But I will not speak, I will run away.

[He goes out.]


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Title statement

Title (uniform): The Hour-Glass

Author: William Butler Yeats

Responsibility statement

Electronic edition compiled and proof-read by: Beatrix Färber and Eileen O'Donovan

Funded by: School of History, University College, Cork

Edition statement

1. First draft.

Extent: 7110 words

Publication statement

Publisher: CELT: Corpus of Electronic Texts: a project of University College, Cork

Address: College Road, Cork, Ireland—http://www.ucc.ie/celt

Date: 2014

Distributor: CELT online at University College, Cork, Ireland.

CELT document ID: E910001-054

Availability: The works by W. B. Yeats are in the public domain. This electronic text is available with prior consent of the CELT programme for purposes of private or academic research and teaching.

Notes statement

“A friend suggested to me the subject of this play, an Irish folk-tale from Lady Wildes' Ancient Legends. I have for years struggled with something which is charming in the naive legend but a platitude on the stage. I did not discover till a year ago that if the wise man humbled himself to the fool and received salvation as his reward, so much more powerful are pictures than words, no explanatory dialogue could set the matter right. I was faintly pleased when I converted a music-hall singer and kept him going to Mass for six weeks, so little responsibility does one feel for those to whom one has never been introduced; but I was always ashamed when I saw any friend of my own in the theatre. Now I have made my philosopher accept God's will, whatever it is, and find his courage again, and helped by the elaboration of verse, have so changed the fable that it is not false to my own thoughts of the world.” (Yeats, p. 188)

Source description


  • A bibliography is available online at the official web site of the Nobel Prize. See: http://nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/literature/laureates/1923/yeats-bibl.html

The edition used in the digital edition

Yeats, William Butler (1916). ‘The Hour-Glass’. In: Responsibilities and other Poems‍. Ed. by William Butler Yeats. New York: The Macmillan Company, pp. 119–180.

You can add this reference to your bibliographic database by copying or downloading the following:

  author 	 = {William Butler Yeats},
  title 	 = {The Hour-Glass},
  editor 	 = {William Butler Yeats},
  booktitle 	 = {Responsibilities and other Poems},
  publisher 	 = {The Macmillan Company},
  address 	 = {New York},
  date 	 = {1916},
  pages 	 = {119–180}


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Project description: CELT: Corpus of Electronic Texts

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Correction: Text has been proof-read twice.

Normalization: The electronic text represents the edited text. Lines (or parts of them) reproduced in italics in the printed edition are tagged hi rend="ital".

Hyphenation: The editorial practice of the hard-copy editor has been retained.

Segmentation: div0= the individual poem, stanzas are marked lg.

Interpretation: Names of persons (given names), and places are not tagged. Terms for cultural and social roles are not tagged.

Profile description

Creation: By William Butler Yeats (1865–1939).

Date: 1912

Language usage

  • The play is in English. (en)
  • One word is in Irish. (ga)

Keywords: literary; play; W. B. Yeats; 20c

Revision description

(Most recent first)

  1. 2014-24-01: File proofed (2) to p. 140, more encoding applied; header created. (ed. Beatrix Färber)
  2. 2014-02-02: File proofed (2) to end; more encoding applied; file parsed and validated; note added to header; SGML and HTML files created. (ed. Beatrix Färber)
  3. 2013-02-12: First proofing; structural encoding applied. (ed. Eileen O'Donovan)
  4. 2013-02: Text captured. (data capture Eileen O'Donovan)

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