This week I picked number 28 from the top 100 Irish poems list. Another feature yet again from the great Yeats. This was written by Yeats in the latter half of his life. At the time of writing this poem, Yeats was in his 60’s and wrote it after a visit to a Convent School at Waterford for children between the ages of four to seven years in 1926.
Like other poems by Yeats such as ‘The Ballad Of Father Gilligan‘, he spent a lot of time reflecting on his older life. I think that the visit to the school helped Yeats see life as a whole or circle, that most of us all go through in some shape or form.
It’s a rather long poem. I hope you enjoy it. Be sure to comment below with what you thought about it.
Among School Children
II walk through the long schoolroom questioning;A kind old nun in a white hood replies;The children learn to cipher and to sing,To study reading-books and history,To cut and sew, be neat in everythingIn the best modern way—the children’s eyesIn momentary wonder stare uponA sixty-year-old smiling public man.III dream of a Ledaean body, bentAbove a sinking fire, a tale that sheTold of a harsh reproof, or trivial eventThat changed some childish day to tragedy—Told, and it seemed that our two natures blentInto a sphere from youthful sympathy,Or else, to alter Plato’s parable,Into the yolk and white of the one shell.IIIAnd thinking of that fit of grief or rageI look upon one child or t’other thereAnd wonder if she stood so at that age—For even daughters of the swan can shareSomething of every paddler’s heritage—And had that colour upon cheek or hair,And thereupon my heart is driven wild:She stands before me as a living child.IVHer present image floats into the mind—Did Quattrocento finger fashion itHollow of cheek as though it drank the windAnd took a mess of shadows for its meat?And I though never of Ledaean kindHad pretty plumage once—enough of that,Better to smile on all that smile, and showThere is a comfortable kind of old scarecrow.VWhat youthful mother, a shape upon her lapHoney of generation had betrayed,And that must sleep, shriek, struggle to escapeAs recollection or the drug decide,Would think her son, did she but see that shapeWith sixty or more winters on its head,A compensation for the pang of his birth,Or the uncertainty of his setting forth?VIPlato thought nature but a spume that playsUpon a ghostly paradigm of things;Solider Aristotle played the tawsUpon the bottom of a king of kings;World-famous golden-thighed PythagorasFingered upon a fiddle-stick or stringsWhat a star sang and careless Muses heard:Old clothes upon old sticks to scare a bird.VIIBoth nuns and mothers worship images,But those the candles light are not as thoseThat animate a mother’s reveries,But keep a marble or a bronze repose.And yet they too break hearts—O PresencesThat passion, piety or affection knows,And that all heavenly glory symbolise—O self-born mockers of man’s enterprise;VIIILabour is blossoming or dancing whereThe body is not bruised to pleasure soul,Nor beauty born out of its own despair,Nor blear-eyed wisdom out of midnight oil.O chestnut tree, great rooted blossomer,Are you the leaf, the blossom or the bole?O body swayed to music, O brightening glance,How can we know the dancer from the dance?