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

22. The People

‘WHAT have I earned for all that work,’ I said,

‘For all that I have done at my own charge?

The daily spite of this unmannerly town,

Where who has served the most is most defamed,

The reputation of his lifetime lost

Between the night and morning. I might have lived,

And you know well how great the longing has been,

Where every day my footfall should have lit

In the green shadow of Ferrara wall;

Or climbed among the images of the past—

The unperturbed and courtly images—

Evening and morning, the steep street of Urbino

To where the duchess and her people talked

The stately midnight through until they stood

In their great window looking at the dawn;

I might have had no friend that could not mix

Courtesy and passion into one like those

That saw the wicks grow yellow in the dawn;

I might have used the one substantial right

My trade allows: chosen my company,

And chosen what scenery had pleased me best.’

Thereon my phoenix answered in reproof,

‘The drunkards, pilferers of public funds,

All the dishonest crowd I had driven away,

When my luck changed and they dared meet my face,

Crawled from obscurity, and set upon me

Those I had served and some that I had fed;

Yet never have I, now nor any time,

Complained of the people.’
All I could reply

Was: ‘You, that have not lived in thought but deed,

Can have the purity of a natural force,

But I, whose virtues are the definitions

Of the analytic mind, can neither close

The eye of the mind nor keep my tongue from speech.’

And yet, because my heart leaped at her words,

I was abashed, and now they come to mind

After nine years, I sink my head abashed.