Home  »  The Wild Swans at Coole  »  32. Upon a Dying Lady

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

32. Upon a Dying Lady

Her Courtesy

WITH the old kindness, the old distinguished grace

She lies, her lovely piteous head amid dull red hair

Propped upon pillows, rouge on the pallor of her face.

She would not have us sad because she is lying there,

And when she meets our gaze her eyes are laughter-lit,

Her speech a wicked tale that we may vie with her

Matching our broken-hearted wit against her wit,

Thinking of saints and of Petronius Arbiter.

Certain Artists bring her Dolls and Drawings

Bring where our Beauty lies

A new modelled doll, or drawing,

With a friend’s or an enemy’s

Features, or maybe showing

Her features when a tress

Of dull red hair was flowing

Over some silken dress

Cut in the Turkish fashion,

Or it may be like a boy’s.

We have given the world our passion

We have naught for death but toys.

She turns the Dolls’ Faces to the Wall

Because to-day is some religious festival

They had a priest say Mass, and even the Japanese,

Heel up and weight on toe, must face the wall

—Pedant in passion, learned in old courtesies,

Vehement and witty she had seemed—; the Venetian lady

Who had seemed to glide to some intrigue in her red shoes,

Her domino, her panniered skirt copied from Longhi;

The meditative critic; all are on their toes,

Even our Beauty with her Turkish trousers on.

Because the priest must have like every dog his day

Or keep us all awake with baying at the moon,

We and our dolls being but the world were best away.

The End of Day

She is playing like a child

And penance is the play,

Fantastical and wild

Because the end of day

Shows her that some one soon

Will come from the house, and say—

Though play is but half-done—

‘Come in and leave the play.’—

Her Race

She has not grown uncivil

As narrow natures would

And called the pleasures evil

Happier days thought good;

She knows herself a woman

No red and white of a face,

Or rank, raised from a common

Unreckonable race;

And how should her heart fail her

Or sickness break her will

With her dead brother’s valour

For an example still.

Her Courage

When her soul flies to the predestined dancing-place

(I have no speech but symbol, the pagan speech I made

Amid the dreams of youth) let her come face to face,

While wondering still to be a shade, with Grania’s shade

All but the perils of the woodland flight forgot

That made her Dermuid dear, and some old cardinal

Pacing with half-closed eyelids in a sunny spot

Who had murmured of Giorgione at his latest breath—

Aye and Achilles, Timor, Babar, Barhaim, all

Who have lived in joy and laughed into the face of Death.

Her Friends bring her a Christmas Tree

Pardon, great enemy,

Without an angry thought

We’ve carried in our tree,

And here and there have bought

Till all the boughs are gay,

And she may look from the bed

On pretty things that may

Please a fantastic head.

Give her a little grace,

What if a laughing eye

Have looked into your face—

It is about to die.