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Adam’s Curse

 

We sat together at one summer's end,

That beautiful mild woman, your close friend,

And you and I, and talked of poetry.

I said, "A line will take us hours maybe;

Yet if it does not seem a moment's thought,

Our stitching and unstitching has been naught.

Better go down upon your marrow-bones

And scrub a kitchen pavement, or break stones

Like an old pauper, in all kinds of weather;

For to articulate sweet sounds together

Is to work harder than all these, and yet

Be thought an idler by the noisy set

Of bankers, schoolmasters, and clergymen

The martyrs call the world."

And thereupon

That beautiful mild woman for whose sake

There's many a one shall find out all heartache

On finding that her voice is sweet and low

Replied, "To be born woman is to know—

Although they do not talk of it at school

That we must labor to be beautiful."

I said, "It's certain there is no fine thing

Since Adam's fall but needs much laboring.

There have been lovers who thought love should be

So much compounded of high courtesy

That they would sigh and quote with learned looks

Precedents out of beautiful old books;

Yet now it seems an idle trade enough."

 

We sat grown quiet at the name of love;

We saw the last embers of daylight die,

And in the trembling blue-green of the sky

A moon, worn as if it had been a shell

Washed by time's waters as they rose and fell

About the stars and broke in days and years.

 

I had a thought for no one's but your ears:

That you were beautiful, and that I strove

To love you in the old high way of love;'

That it had all seemed happy, and yet we'd grown

As weary-hearted as that hollow moon.  

1903

 

 

1.         you, Maud Gonne (gun), the Irish revolutionary Yeats loved and made the subject of many early poems. Her portrait appears on page 551. 2. marrow-bones, knees. 3. the old high way of love, medieval and renaissance ideals of love and courtesy, with all the elaborate conventions accompanying them that governed aristocratic sexuality.

 

The Frog Prince

 

I am a frog

I live under a spell

I live at the bottom

Of a green well

 

And here I must wait

Until a maiden places me

On her royal pillow

And kisses me

In her father's palace.

 

The story is familiar

Everybody knows it well

But do other enchanted people feel as nervous

As I do? The stories do not tell,

 

Ask if they will be happier

When the changes come,

As already they are fairly happy

In a frog's doom?

 

I have been a frog now

For a hundred years

And in all this time

I have not shed many tears.

 

I am happy, I like the life,

Can swim for many a mile

(When I have hopped to the river)

And am for ever agile.

 

And the quietness,

Yes, I like to be quiet

I am habituated

To a quiet life,

 

But always when I think these thoughts

As I sit in my well

Another thought comes to me and says:

It is part of the spell

 

To be happy

To work up contentment

To make much of being a frog

To fear disenchantment

 

Says, It will be heavenly

To be set free

Cries, Heavenly the girl who disenchants

And the royal times, heavenly,

And I think it will be.

 

Come then, royal girl and royal times,

Come quickly,

I can be happy until you come

But I cannot be heavenly,

Only disenchanted people

Can be heavenly

 

                1937

English IV