CELT document E930001-100

Supernatural Songs

William Butler Yeats


    Supernatural Songs

    1. Ribh at the Tomb of Baile and Aillinn

  1. Because you have found me in the pitch-dark night
    With open book you ask me what I do.
    Mark and digest my tale, carry it afar
    To those that never saw this tonsured head  p.284
    Nor heard this voice that ninety years have cracked.
    Of Baile and Aillinn you need not speak,
    All know their tale, all know what leaf and twig,
    What juncture of the apple and the yew,
    Surmount their bones; but speak what none have heard.
  2. The miracle that gave them such a death
    Transfigured to pure substance what had once
    Been bone and sinew; when such bodies join
    There is no touching here, nor touching there,
    Nor straining joy, but whole is joined to whole;
    For the intercourse of angels is a light
    Where for its moment both seem lost, consumed.
  3. Here in the pitch-dark atmosphere above
    The trembling of the apple and the yew,
    Here on the anniversary of their death,
    The anniversary of their first embrace,
    Those lovers, purified by tragedy,
    Hurry into each other's arms; these eyes,
    By water, herb and solitary prayer
    Made aquiline, are open to that light.
    Though somewhat broken by the leaves, that light
    Lies in a circle on the grass; therein
    I turn the pages of my holy book.
  4. 2. Ribh denounces Patrick

  5. An abstract Greek absurdity has crazed the man,
    A Trinity that is wholly masculine. Man, woman, child
    (daughter or son),
    That's how all natural or supernatural stories run.
  6. Natural and supernatural with the self-same ring are wed.
    As man, as beast, as an ephemeral fly begets, Godhead begets Godhead,
    For things below are copies, the Great Smaragdine Tablet said.  p.285
    Yet all must copy copies, all increase their kind;
    When the conflagration of their passion sinks, damped by the body or the mind,
    That juggling nature mounts, her coil in their embraces twined.
  7. The mirror-scaled serpent is multiplicity,
    But all that run in couples, on earth, in flood or air, share God that is but three,
    And could beget or bear themselves could they but love as He.
  8. 3. Ribh in Ecstasy

  9. What matter that you understood no word!
    Doubtless I spoke or sang what I had heard
    In broken sentences. My soul had found
    All happiness in its own cause or ground.
    Godhead on Godhead in sexual spasm begot
    Godhead. Some shadow fell. My soul forgot
    Those amorous cries that out of quiet come
    And must the common round of day resume.
  10. 4. There

  11. There all the barrel-hoops are knit,
    There all the serpent-tails are bit,
    There all the gyres converge in one,
    There all the planets drop in the Sun.
  12.  p.286

    5. Ribh considers Christian Love insufficient

  13. Why should I seek for love or study it?
    It is of God and passes human wit.
    I study hatred with great diligence,
    For that's a passion in my own control,
    A sort of besom that can clear the soul
    Of everything that is not mind or sense.
  14. Why do I hate man, woman or event?
    That is a light my jealous soul has sent.
    From terror and deception freed it can
    Discover impurities, can show at last
    How soul may walk when all such things are past,
    How soul could walk before such things began.
  15. Then my delivered soul herself shall learn
    A darker knowledge and in hatred turn
    From every thought of God mankind has had.
    Thought is a garment and the soul's a bride
    That cannot in that trash and tinsel hide:
    Hatred of God may bring the soul to God.
  16. At stroke of midnight soul cannot endure
    A bodily or mental furniture.
    What can she take until her Master give!
    Where can she look until He make the show!
    What can she know until He bid her know!
    How can she live till in her blood He live!
  17. 6. He and She

  18. As the moon sidles up
    Must she sidle up,
    As trips the scared moon  p.287
    Away must she trip:
    'His light had struck me blind
    Dared I stop'.
  19. She sings as the moon sings:
    'I am I, am I;
    The greater grows my light
    The further that I fly.'
    All creation shivers
    With that sweet cry.
  20. 7. What Magic Drum?

  21. He holds him from desire, all but stops his breathing lest
    primordial Motherhood forsake his limbs, the child no longer rest,
    Drinking joy as it were milk upon his breast.
  22. Through light-obliterating garden foliage what magic drum?
    Down limb and breast or down that glimmering belly move his mouth and sinewy tongue.
    What from the forest came? What beast has licked its young?
  23. 8. Whence had they come?

  24. Eternity is passion, girl or boy
    Cry at the onset of their sexual joy
    'For ever and for ever'; then awake
    Ignorant what Dramatis personae spake;
    A passion-driven exultant man sings out
    Sentences that he has never thought;
    The Flagellant lashes those submissive loins
    Ignorant what that dramatist enjoins,
    What master made the lash. Whence had they come,
    The hand and lash that beat down frigid Rome?
    What sacred drama through her body heaved
    When world-transforming Charlemagne was conceived?
  25.  p.288

    9. The Four Ages of Man

  26. He with body waged a fight,
    But body won; it walks upright.
  27. Then he struggled with the heart;
    Innocence and peace depart.
  28. Then he struggled with the mind;
    His proud heart he left behind.
  29. Now his wars on God begin;
    At stroke of midnight God shall win.
  30. 10. Conjunctions

  31. If Jupiter and Saturn meet,
    What a cop of mummy wheat!
  32. The sword's a cross; thereon He died:
    On breast of Mars the goddess sighed.
  33. 11. A Needle's Eye

  34. All the stream that's roaring by
    Came out of a needle's eye;
    Things unborn, things that are gone,
    From needle's eye still goad it on.
  35.  p.289

    12. Meru

  36. Civilisation is hooped together, brought
    Under a rule, under the semblance of peace
    By manifold illusion; but man's life is thought,
    And he, despite his terror, cannot cease
    Ravening through century after century,
    Ravening, raging, and uprooting that he may come
    Into the desolation of reality:
    Egypt and Greece, good-bye, and good-bye, Rome!
    Hermits upon Mount Meru or Everest,
    Caverned in night under the drifted snow,
    Or where that snow and winter's dreadful blast
    Beat down upon their naked bodies, know
    That day brings round the night, that before dawn
    His glory and his monuments are gone.

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Title statement

Title (uniform): Supernatural Songs

Author: William Butler Yeats

Responsibility statement

Electronic edition compiled and proof-read by: Beatrix Färber

Funded by: School of History, University College, Cork

Edition statement

1. First draft.

Extent: 1910 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: E930001-100

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 1934 in The King of the Great Clock-Tower. That version contains only the first eight parts of the poem. A revised and enlarged version published in 'A Full Moon in March' (see n.2 under 'Editions' below).

Source description


  1. W. B. Yeats, The King of the Great Clock-Tower (=A Full Moon in March) (Dublin: Cuala Press 1934)
  2. W. B. Yeats, A Full Moon in March, part 3, 'Parnell's Funeral and other Poems' (London 1935).
  3. W. B. Yeats, The King of the Great Clock-Tower, and Commentaries and Poems [Facsimile reprint of 1st edition, Dublin 1934] (Shannon: Irish University Press 1970).
  4. W. B. Yeats, 'The Collected Poems of W. B. Yeats', A new edition', edited by Richard J. Finneran, 1983 [reprinted].

Literature (selection)

  1. T. K. Dunseath, 'Yeats and the Genesis of Supernatural Song', ELH 28/4, December 1961, 399–416.
  2. Helen Vendler, 'New Wine in Old Bottles: Yeats's 'Supernatural Songs'', The Southern Review, Spring 1991, 399–406.
  3. Patrick F. Sheeran, 'Legends of the Supernatural in Anglo-Irish Literature: The Migration of Signs: Third Response to Brian Earl's Paper', Béaloideas 60/61 (1992/92), 157–160.
  4. Helen Vendler, Our Secret Discipline: Yeats and Lyric Form (Oxford/New York 2007).
  5. 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 (1991). ‘Supernatural Poems’. In: The Collected Poems of W. B. Yeats‍. Ed. by Richard J. Finneran. London: Macmillan Press, pp. 283–289.

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

  author 	 = {William Butler Yeats},
  title 	 = {Supernatural Poems},
  editor 	 = {Richard J. Finneran},
  booktitle 	 = {The Collected Poems of W. B. Yeats},
  publisher 	 = {Macmillan Press},
  address 	 = { London},
  date 	 = {1991},
  pages 	 = {283–289}


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Project description: CELT: Corpus of Electronic Texts

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The whole poem.

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Profile description

Creation: By William Butler Yeats (1865–1939). between March 1933 and December 1934

Language usage

  • The poem is in English. (en)

Keywords: literary; poetry; W. B. Yeats; 20c; Supernatural

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(Most recent first)

  1. 2014-02-06: SGML and HTML files created. (ed. Beatrix Färber)
  2. 2014-02-04: TEI header created; file parsed and validated. Structural markup applied according to CELT practice. (ed. Beatrix Färber)
  3. 1996?: First proofing. (ed. Students at the CELT Project, UCC)
  4. 1996?: Text captured (data capture Students at the CELT Project, UCC)

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