Guest poem submitted by Priya Chakravarthi:
(Poem #1020) A Prayer For My Daughter
Once more the storm is howling, and half hid Under this cradle-hood and coverlid My child sleeps on. There is no obstacle But Gregory's wood and one bare hill Whereby the haystack- and roof-levelling wind, Bred on the Atlantic, can be stayed; And for an hour I have walked and prayed Because of the great gloom that is in my mind. I have walked and prayed for this young child an hour And heard the sea-wind scream upon the tower, And under the arches of the bridge, and scream In the elms above the flooded stream; Imagining in excited reverie That the future years had come, Dancing to a frenzied drum, Out of the murderous innocence of the sea. May she be granted beauty and yet not Beauty to make a stranger's eye distraught, Or hers before a looking-glass, for such, Being made beautiful overmuch, Consider beauty a sufficient end, Lose natural kindness and maybe The heart-revealing intimacy That chooses right, and never find a friend. Helen being chosen found life flat and dull And later had much trouble from a fool, While that great Queen, that rose out of the spray, Being fatherless could have her way Yet chose a bandy-leggèd smith for man. It's certain that fine women eat A crazy salad with their meat Whereby the Horn of Plenty is undone. In courtesy I'd have her chiefly learned; Hearts are not had as a gift but hearts are earned By those that are not entirely beautiful; Yet many, that have played the fool For beauty's very self, has charm made wise, And many a poor man that has roved, Loved and thought himself beloved, From a glad kindness cannot take his eyes. May she become a flourishing hidden tree That all her thoughts may like the linnet be, And have no business but dispensing round Their magnanimities of sound, Nor but in merriment begin a chase, Nor but in merriment a quarrel. O may she live like some green laurel Rooted in one dear perpetual place. My mind, because the minds that I have loved, The sort of beauty that I have approved, Prosper but little, has dried up of late, Yet knows that to be choked with hate May well be of all evil chances chief. If there's no hatred in a mind Assault and battery of the wind Can never tear the linnet from the leaf. An intellectual hatred is the worst, So let her think opinions are accursed. Have I not seen the loveliest woman born Out of the mouth of Plenty's horn, Because of her opinionated mind Barter that horn and every good By quiet natures understood For an old bellows full of angry wind? Considering that, all hatred driven hence, The soul recovers radical innocence And learns at last that it is self-delighting, Self-appeasing, self-affrighting, And that its own sweet will is Heaven's will; She can, though every face should scowl And every windy quarter howl Or every bellows burst, be happy still. And may her bridegroom bring her to a house Where all's accustomed, ceremonious; For arrogance and hatred are the wares Peddled in the thoroughfares. How but in custom and in ceremony Are innocence and beauty born? Ceremony's a name for the rich horn, And custom for the spreading laurel tree.
I was taught this poem in school and it remains one of my favourites. Despite the seeming simplicity of its theme the poem has a deep political undercurrent and Yeats' trademark cynicism. Yeats was deeply involved in Irish politics, particularly the struggle for freedom from England. His verse, even after Ireland's independence, reflected pessimism about the political situation in his country and the rest of Europe. In fact the howling storm with which the poem opens refers to the gathering clouds in Ireland's political scene. In the course of his political activities Yeats met an extremely beautiful rebel called Maud Gonne and was influenced by her strength of character and political ideas. Maud however chose to marry a man who Yeats considered to be an intellectual pygmy. The "old bellows full of angry wind" is a scathing reference to this man and the part about Helen and Venus is meant to refer to Maud. The daughter in this poem is the product of his marriage with Georgie Hyde Lees who was said to be rather plain. So much of the ability to appreciate poetry depends on how it was taught in one's formative years. When I learnt this poem in school I remember the teacher analyzing every line and explaining the allegory to Irish folklore in great detail. Priya. [Moreover] "We all of us have or ought to have a group of poems we admire greatly but dislike. There is so much high art in 'A Prayer for My Daughter', admirably set forth by the Yeatsians, that the poem compels great respect. 'Under Ben Bulben', and some other famous poems by Yeats, will be seen someday as structures of cant and rant, but 'A Prayer for My Daughter" has the ritualistic strength of Spenser at his strongest, no matter what it is that here informs the ritualism. As a wholly coherent work, it disarms formalist criticism, and further possesses an excellence rarely attained by any poem of celebration, by providing an epitome of the values it praises and desires. In its eighty lines we are given a complete map of Yeats' social mind, at least of that mind in the act of idealization." -- Harold Bloom, "Yeats" Bloom, for once, gets it absolutely right. I cannot bring myself to sympathize with the social and moral philosophy this poem seems to espouse, but I have to admit that it's beautifully written: Yeats at his fascinating best. thomas.