Poetry Review: “Wild Swans at Coole” by W.B. Yeats

"Autumn Stream" (photo by m.a.h. hinton)

“Autumn Stream” (photo by m.a.h. hinton)

The first snow of the year arrived earlier this week in the North County. Light layers of white dust eddied across asphalt streets and driveways and caught in the crotch of trees and in the crevices of outdoor things. Snow like that is not real snow, but it is a real reminder of what is to come.

All the trees have been bare for awhile now. Outside at my feeders, juncos seem to have come and gone replaced again by black-capped chickadees. A week ago a piliated woodpecker alighted briefly on an ash tree in my front yard before continuing its rounds… but for the most part, November in my front yard belongs to crows and blue jays.

November in the North Country is the most difficult to define. Some years it is full winter, while others, like this year, it seems merely transitional… October extended. May in the North Country is a month that makes us feel young and full of hope. November is the one that makes us feel nostalgic for the many  things we have lost.

 

The Wild Swans at Coole
The trees are in their autumn beauty,
The woodland paths are dry,
Under the October twilight the water
Mirrors a still sky;
Upon the brimming water among the stones
Are nine-and-fifty swans.

 

The nineteenth autumn has come upon me
Since I first made my count;
I saw, before I had well finished,
All suddenly mount
And scatter wheeling in great broken rings
Upon their clamorous wings.
I have looked upon those brilliant creatures,
And now my heart is sore.
All’s changed since I, hearing at twilight,
The first time on this shore,
The bell-beat of their wings above my head,
Trod with a lighter tread.

 

Unwearied still, lover by lover,
They paddle in the cold
Companionable streams or climb the air;
Their hearts have not grown old;
Passion or conquest, wander where they will,
Attend upon them still.

 

But now they drift on the still water,
Mysterious, beautiful;
Among what rushes will they build,
By what lake’s edge or pool
Delight men’s eyes when I awake some day
To find they have flown away?
 

Listening with a pencil and my ear, these are the lines I marked:

But now they drift on the still water,
Mysterious, beautiful;
Among what rushes will they build,
By what lake’s edge or pool
Delight men’s eyes when I awake some day
To find they have flown away?

 

 

Yeats is the poet I have read most closely and explored most deeply: volumes of essays, all his plays a couple of times, and his poetry, of course. If I made a list of poetic lines that most often return unbidden to me over the years, most of those lines would be his. If I made another list of poets I wish I could memorize in toto, Yeats would head that list as well

If you could know Whitman and Yeats and Shelley and Keats and Wordsworth and Shakespeare and Blake and Milton by heart….now that would be a wonderful thing. The next best thing, of course, is to have them on the Kindle app of your iPhone. And I do. Along with Sandburg and Frost and Arnold and Browning and Tennyson and….

Winter comes but I am ready… armed with poetry and Thoreau. I am fearful, but not without hope.

 

 

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