The White Birds

A couple weeks back, Peachy and I hunted up some Irish poems to aid our observance of St. Patrick’s feast.  The search brought to my attention several pieces by Yeats I’d not encountered prior.  This poem in particular struck me, as it seemed that Yeats had anticipated my questions about the life of seabirds and composed accordingly.

(He probably didn’t, really; he wrote it after Maud Gonne said she’d rather be a seagull than any other bird, and also that she’d rather not marry him.  But mayhaps he had a touch of clairvoyance in his disappointment.)


I would that we were, my beloved, white birds on the foam of the sea!

We tire of the flame of the meteor, before it can fade and flee;
And the flame of the blue star of twilight, hung low on the rim of the sky,
Has awakened in our hearts, my beloved, a sadness that may not die.

A weariness comes from those dreamers, dew-dabbled, the lily and rose;
Ah, dream not of them, my beloved, the flame of the meteor that goes,
Or the flame of the blue star that lingers hung low in the fall of the dew:
For I would we were changed to white birds on the wandering foam: I and you!

I am haunted by numberless islands, and many a Danaan shore,
Where Time would surely forget us, and Sorrow come near us no more;
Soon far from the rose and the lily, and fret of the flames would we be,
Were we only white birds, my beloved, buoyed out on the foam of the sea!

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