William Butler Yeats

(13 June 1865 – 28 January 1939 / County Dublin / Ireland)

Easter, 1916


I have met them at close of day
Coming with vivid faces
From counter or desk among grey
Eighteenth-century houses.
I have passed with a nod of the head
Or polite meaningless words,
Or have lingered awhile and said
Polite meaningless words,
And thought before I had done
Of a mocking tale or a gibe
To please a companion
Around the fire at the club,
Being certain that they and I
But lived where motley is worn:
All changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.

That woman's days were spent
In ignorant good-will,
Her nights in argument
Until her voice grew shrill.
What voice more sweet than hers
When, young and beautiful,
She rode to harriers?
This man had kept a school
And rode our winged horse;
This other his helper and friend
Was coming into his force;
He might have won fame in the end,
So sensitive his nature seemed,
So daring and sweet his thought.
This other man I had dreamed
A drunken, vainglorious lout.
He had done most bitter wrong
To some who are near my heart,
Yet I number him in the song;
He, too, has resigned his part
In the casual comedy;
He, too, has been changed in his turn,
Transformed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.

Hearts with one purpose alone
Through summer and winter seem
Enchanted to a stone
To trouble the living stream.
The horse that comes from the road.
The rider, the birds that range
From cloud to tumbling cloud,
Minute by minute they change;
A shadow of cloud on the stream
Changes minute by minute;
A horse-hoof slides on the brim,
And a horse plashes within it;
The long-legged moor-hens dive,
And hens to moor-cocks call;
Minute by minute they live:
The stone's in the midst of all.

Too long a sacrifice
Can make a stone of the heart.
O when may it suffice?
That is Heaven's part, our part
To murmur name upon name,
As a mother names her child
When sleep at last has come
On limbs that had run wild.
What is it but nightfall?
No, no, not night but death;
Was it needless death after all?
For England may keep faith
For all that is done and said.
We know their dream; enough
To know they dreamed and are dead;
And what if excess of love
Bewildered them till they died?
I write it out in a verse -
MacDonagh and MacBride
And Connolly and pearse
Now and in time to be,
Wherever green is worn,
Are changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.

Submitted: Monday, January 13, 2003

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  • John Hill (7/20/2009 8:20:00 AM)

    It isn't the most amazing poem ever written but it is a very impressive effort. For a sensitive man to attempt to deal with the doomed and futile events that saw friends executed as terrorists (and remember, that's what the English saw them as) and to express that balance between admiration and despair in a phrase like 'a terrible beauty' or recognise the dreadful imperative that has driven terrorists (or 'freedom fighters' depending on your view) to kill in the name of peace - 'too long a sacrifice/can make a stone of the heart' is wonderful. The measured, questioning cadences and the remarkably homely imagery make this a timeless poem. He may have thought some very silly things but this poem is not one of them. (Report) Reply

  • Cynthia Ventura (6/14/2008 7:12:00 PM)

    This is the most amazing poem ever written. The imagery and emotion his words evoke wash over me anew every time I read this poem. Do yourself a favor and read anything by Yeats you can get your hands on and memorize this poem! (Report) Reply

  • Gloria Rogers (4/2/2006 11:58:00 AM)

    My grandparents lived through this terrible time in Ireland... I was born in Dublin, Eire and was raised with the knowledge of the terrible things that had occurred, but this poem is incredible... this is the first time I have read this poem... and it cuts to the heart. (Report) Reply

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