William Butler Yeats (1865-1939)
Below is one of my favorite poems by William Butler Yeats, who, to my mind, is the greatest poet writing in English in the 20th Century.
An Irish Airman Foresees His Death
by William Butler Yeats
I know that I shall meet my fate Somewhere among the clouds above; Those that I fight I do not hate, Those that I guard I do not love; My country is Kiltartan Cross, My countrymen Kiltartan’s poor, No likely end could bring them loss Or leave them happier than before. Nor law, nor duty bade me fight, Nor public men, nor cheering crowds, A lonely impulse of delight Drove to this tumult in the clouds; I balanced all, brought all to mind, The years to come seemed waste of breath, A waste of breath the years behind In balance with this life, this death.
It is one of my favourites too (Yeats was talking about Lady Gregory’s son, wasn’t he?). And I love this too:
Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.
(He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven)
Apparently it was widely believed that the poem was referring to Major Robert Gregory.