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W.B. Yeats (1865–1939). The Wild Swans at Coole. 1919.

2. In Memory of Major Robert Gregory


NOW that we’re almost settled in our house

I’ll name the friends that cannot sup with us

Beside a fire of turf in the ancient tower,

And having talked to some late hour

Climb up the narrow winding stair to bed:

Discoverers of forgotten truth

Or mere companions of my youth,

All, all are in my thoughts to-night, being dead.


Always we’d have the new friend meet the old,

And we are hurt if either friend seem cold,

And there is salt to lengthen out the smart

In the affections of our heart,

And quarrels are blown up upon that head;

But not a friend that I would bring

This night can set us quarrelling,

For all that come into my mind are dead.


Lionel Johnson comes the first to mind,

That loved his learning better than mankind,

Though courteous to the worst; much falling he

Brooded upon sanctity

Till all his Greek and Latin learning seemed

A long blast upon the horn that brought

A little nearer to his thought

A measureless consummation that he dreamed.


And that enquiring man John Synge comes next,

That dying chose the living world for text

And never could have rested in the tomb

But that, long travelling, he had come

Towards nightfall upon certain set apart

In a most desolate stony place,

Towards nightfall upon a race

Passionate and simple like his heart.


And then I think of old George Pollexfen,

In muscular youth well known to Mayo men

For horsemanship at meets or at racecourses,

That could have shown how purebred horses

And solid men, for all their passion, live

But as the outrageous stars incline

By opposition, square and trine;

Having grown sluggish and contemplative.


They were my close companions many a year,

A portion of my mind and life, as it were,

And now their breathless faces seem to look

Out of some old picture-book;

I am accustomed to their lack of breath,

But not that my dear friend’s dear son,

Our Sidney and our perfect man,

Could share in that discourtesy of death.


For all things the delighted eye now sees

Were loved by him; the old storm-broken trees

That cast their shadows upon road and bridge;

The tower set on the stream’s edge;

The ford where drinking cattle make a stir

Nightly, and startled by that sound

The water-hen must change her ground;

He might have been your heartiest welcomer.


When with the Galway foxhounds he would ride

From Castle Taylor to the Roxborough side

Or Esserkelly plain, few kept his pace;

At Mooneen he had leaped a place

So perilous that half the astonished meet

Had shut their eyes, and where was it

He rode a race without a bit?

And yet his mind outran the horses’ feet.


We dreamed that a great painter had been born

To cold Clare rock and Galway rock and thorn,

To that stern colour and that delicate line

That are our secret discipline

Wherein the gazing heart doubles her might.

Soldier, scholar, horseman, he,

And yet he had the intensity

To have published all to be a world’s delight.


What other could so well have counselled us

In all lovely intricacies of a house

As he that practised or that understood

All work in metal or in wood,

In moulded plaster or in carven stone?

Soldier, scholar, horseman, he,

And all he did done perfectly

As though he had but that one trade alone.


Some burn damp fagots, others may consume

The entire combustible world in one small room

As though dried straw, and if we turn about

The bare chimney is gone black out

Because the work had finished in that flare.

Soldier, scholar, horseman, he,

As ’twere all life’s epitome.

What made us dream that he could comb grey hair?


I had thought, seeing how bitter is that wind

That shakes the shutter, to have brought to mind

All those that manhood tried, or childhood loved,

Or boyish intellect approved,

With some appropriate commentary on each;

Until imagination brought

A fitter welcome; but a thought

Of that late death took all my heart for speech.