CELT document E910001-055

Meditations in Time of Civil War

William Butler Yeats

Meditations in Time of Civil War

    1. Meditations in Time of Civil War

    Ancestral Houses

  1. SURELY among a rich man s flowering lawns,
    Amid the rustle of his planted hills,
    Life overflows without ambitious pains;
    And rains down life until the basin spills,
    And mounts more dizzy high the more it rains
    As though to choose whatever shape it wills
    And never stoop to a mechanical
    Or servile shape, at others' beck and call.  p.17
    Mere dreams, mere dreams! Yet Homer had not Sung
    Had he not found it certain beyond dreams
    That out of life's own self-delight had sprung
    The abounding glittering jet; though now it seems
    As if some marvellous empty sea-shell flung
    Out of the obscure dark of the rich streams,
    And not a fountain, were the symbol which
    Shadows the inherited glory of the rich.
    Some violent bitter man, some powerful man
    Called architect and artist in, that they,
    Bitter and violent men, might rear in stone
    The sweetness that all longed for night and day,
    The gentleness none there had ever known;
    But when the master's buried mice can play.
    And maybe the great-grandson of that house,
    For all its bronze and marble, 's but a mouse.
    O what if gardens where the peacock strays
    With delicate feet upon old terraces,
    Or else all Juno from an urn displays
    Before the indifferent garden deities;
    O what if levelled lawns and gravelled ways
    Where slippered Contemplation finds his ease
    And Childhood a delight for every sense,
    But take our greatness with our violence?  p.18
    What if the glory of escutcheoned doors,
    And buildings that a haughtier age designed,
    The pacing to and fro on polished floors
    Amid great chambers and long galleries, lined
    With famous portraits of our ancestors;
    What if those things the greatest of mankind
    Consider most to magnify, or to bless,
    But take our greatness with our bitterness?
  2. 2. My House

  3. An ancient bridge, and a more ancient tower,
    A farmhouse that is sheltered by its wall,
    An acre of stony ground,
    Where the symbolic rose can break in flower,
    Old ragged elms, old thorns innumerable,
    The sound of the rain or sound
    Of every wind that blows;
    The stilted water-hen
    Crossing Stream again
    Scared by the splashing of a dozen cows;
    A winding stair, a chamber arched with stone,
    A grey stone fireplace with an open hearth,
    A candle and written page.
    i{Il Penseroso's} Platonist toiled on
    In some like chamber, shadowing forth  p.19
    How the daemonic rage
    Imagined everything.
    Benighted travellers
    From markets and from fairs
    Have seen his midnight candle glimmering.
    Two men have founded here. A man-at-arms
    Gathered a score of horse and spent his days
    In this tumultuous spot,
    Where through long wars and sudden night alarms
    His dwinding score and he seemed castaways
    Forgetting and forgot;
    And I, that after me
    My bodily heirs may find,
    To exalt a lonely mind,
    Befitting emblems of adversity.
  4.  p.20

    3. My Table

  5. Two heavy trestles, and a board
    Where Sato's gift, a changeless sword,
    By pen and paper lies,
    That it may moralise
    My days out of their aimlessness.
    A bit of an embroidered dress
    Covers its wooden sheath.
    Chaucer had not drawn breath
    When it was forged. In Sato's house,
    Curved like new moon, moon-luminous
    It lay five hundred years.
    Yet if no change appears
    No moon; only an aching heart
    Conceives a changeless work of art.
    Our learned men have urged
    That when and where 'twas forged
    A marvellous accomplishment,
    In painting or in pottery, went
    From father unto son
    And through the centuries ran
    And seemed unchanging like the sword.
    Soul's beauty being most adored,
    Men and their business took
    Me soul's unchanging look;
    For the most rich inheritor,
    Knowing that none could pass Heaven's door,  p.21
    That loved inferior art,
    Had such an aching heart
    That he, although a country's talk
    For silken clothes and stately walk.
    Had waking wits; it seemed
    Juno's peacock screamed.
  6. 4. My Descendants

  7. Having inherited a vigorous mind
    From my old fathers, I must nourish dreams
    And leave a woman and a man behind
    As vigorous of mind, and yet it seems
    Life scarce can cast a fragrance on the wind,
    Scarce spread a glory to the morning beams,
    But the torn petals strew the garden plot;
    And there's but common greenness after that.
    And what if my descendants lose the flower
    Through natural declension of the soul,
    Through too much business with the passing hour,
    Through too much play, or marriage with a fool?
    May this laborious stair and this stark tower
    Become a roofless ruin that the owl
    May build in the cracked masonry and cry
    Her desolation to the desolate sky.  p.22
    The primum Mobile that fashioned us
    Has made the very owls in circles move;
    And I, that count myself most prosperous,
    Seeing that love and friendship are enough,
    For an old neighbour's friendship chose the house
    And decked and altered it for a girl's love,
    And know whatever flourish and decline
    These stones remain their monument and mine.
  8. 5. The Road at My Door

  9. An affable Irregular,
    A heavily-built Falstaffian man,
    Comes cracking jokes of civil war
    As though to die by gunshot were
    The finest play under the sun.
    A brown Lieutenant and his men,
    Half dressed in national uniform,
    Stand at my door, and I complain
    Of the foul weather, hail and rain,
    A pear-tree broken by the storm.
    I count those feathered balls of soot
    The moor-hen guides upon the stream.
    To silence the envy in my thought;  p.23
    And turn towards my chamber, caught
    In the cold snows of a dream.
  10. 6. The Stare's Nest by My Window

  11. The bees build in the crevices
    Of loosening masonry, and there
    The mother birds bring grubs and flies.
    My wall is loosening; honey-bees,
    Come build in the empty house of the state.
    We are closed in, and the key is turned
    On our uncertainty; somewhere
    A man is killed, or a house burned,
    Yet no cleat fact to be discerned:
    Come build in he empty house of the stare.
    A barricade of stone or of wood;
    Some fourteen days of civil war;
    Last night they trundled down the road
    That dead young soldier in his blood:
    Come build in the empty house of the stare.
    We had fed the heart on fantasies,
    The heart's grown brutal from the fare;
    More Substance in our enmities
    Than in our love; O honey-bees,
    Come build in the empty house of the stare.
  12.  p.24

    7. I see Phantoms of Hatred and of the Heart's Fullness and of the Coming Emptiness

  13. I climb to the tower-top and lean upon broken stone,
    A mist that is like blown snow is sweeping over all,
    Valley, river, and elms, under the light of a moon
    That seems unlike itself, that seems unchangeable,
    A glittering sword out of the east. A puff of wind
    And those white glimmering fragments of the mist sweep by.
    Frenzies bewilder, reveries perturb the mind;
    Monstrous familiar images swim to the mind's eye.
    'Vengeance upon the murderers,' the cry goes up,
    'Vengeance for Jacques Molay.' In cloud-pale rags, or in lace,
    The rage-driven, rage-tormented, and rage-hungry troop,
    Trooper belabouring trooper, biting at arm or at face,
    Plunges towards nothing, arms and fingers spreading wide
    For the embrace of nothing; and I, my wits astray
    Because of all that senseless tumult, all but cried
    For vengeance on the murderers of Jacques Molay.
    Their legs long, delicate and slender, aquamarine their eyes,
    Magical unicorns bear ladies on their backs.
    The ladies close their musing eyes. No prophecies,
    Remembered out of Babylonian almanacs,
    Have closed the ladies' eyes, their minds are but a pool
    Where even longing drowns under its own excess;  p.25
    Nothing but stillness can remain when hearts are full
    Of their own sweetness, bodies of their loveliness.
    The cloud-pale unicorns, the eyes of aquamarine,
    The quivering half-closed eyelids, the rags of cloud or of lace,
    Or eyes that rage has brightened, arms it has made lean,
    Give place to an indifferent multitude, give place
    To brazen hawks. Nor self-delighting reverie,
    Nor hate of what's to come, nor pity for what's gone,
    Nothing but grip of claw, and the eye's complacency,
    The innumerable clanging wings that have put out the moon.
    I turn away and shut the door, and on the stair
    Wonder how many times I could have proved my worth
    In something that all others understand or share;
    But O! ambitious heart, had such a proof drawn forth
    A company of friends, a conscience set at ease,
    It had but made us pine the more. The abstract joy,
    The half-read wisdom of daemonic images,
    Suffice the ageing man as once the growing boy.

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Title (uniform): Meditations in Time of Civil War

Author: William Butler Yeats

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Electronic edition compiled and proof-read by: Beatrix Färber and Rebecca Daly

Funded by: School of History, University College, Cork

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1. First draft.

Extent: 2268 words

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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: E910001-055

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

First published 1896 in the journal London Mercury 7, (January 1923), 232–38 and in The Dial 74.1 (January 1923), 50–56.

Source description

Literature (a small selection)

  1. W. B. Yeats, The Autobiography of William Butler Yeats, consisting of Reveries over childhood and youth, The trembling of the veil, and Dramatis personae (New York 1938).
  2. Richard Ellmann, Yeats: The Man and the Masks. Corrected edition with a new preface (Oxford 1979). [First published New York 1948; reprinted London 1961.]
  3. Peter Allt and Russell K. Alspach, The variorum Edition of the Poems of W.B. Yeats (New York: Macmillan 1957).
  4. W. B. Yeats, Essays and Introductions (New York: Macmillan 1961).
  5. W. B. Yeats, Explorations: selected by Mrs W. B.Yeats (London/New York: Macmillan 1962).
  6. Richard Ellmann, The Identity of Yeats (New York 1964).
  7. Norman Jeffares, A New Commentary on the Poems of W.B. Yeats (Stanford 1984).
  8. Helen Vendler, Our Secret Discipline: Yeats and Lyric Form (Oxford/New York 2007).
  9. A general 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 (1924). ‘Meditations in Time of Civil War’. In: The Cat and the Moon: and certain Poems‍. Ed. by William Butler Yeats. Dublin: Cuala Press, pp. 16–25.

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

  author 	 = {William Butler Yeats},
  title 	 = {Meditations in Time of Civil War},
  editor 	 = {William Butler Yeats},
  booktitle 	 = {The Cat and the Moon: and certain Poems},
  publisher 	 = {Cuala Press},
  address 	 = { Dublin},
  date 	 = {1924},
  pages 	 = {16–25}


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Creation: By William Butler Yeats (1865–1939). c.1922

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  • The poem is in English. (en)

Keywords: literary; poetry; W. B. Yeats; 20c; Irish Civil War

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(Most recent first)

  1. 2015-02-11: Typo submitted by Takeo Yamamoto corrected. (ed. Beatrix Färber)
  2. 2014-02-01: SGML and HTML files created. (ed. Beatrix Färber)
  3. 2014-01-28: TEI header created; file parsed and validated. (ed. Beatrix Färber)
  4. 2014-01-24: Structural markup applied according to CELT practice; bibliographical details provided. (ed. Rebecca Daly)
  5. 1996: First proofing. (ed. Students at the CELT Project, UCC)
  6. 1996: Text captured (data capture Donnchadh Ó Corráin)

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