Guest poem sent in by Matt Chanoff
(Poem #1144) The Stare's Nest by My Window
The bees build in the crevices Of loosening masonry, and there The mother birds bring grubs and flies. My wall is loosening; honey-bees, Come build in the empty house of the stare. We are closed in, and the key is turned On our uncertainty; somewhere A man is killed, or a house burned. Yet no clear fact to be discerned: Come build in the empty house of the stare. A barricade of stone or of wood; Some fourteen days of civil war: Last night they trundled down the road That dead young soldier in his blood: Come build in the empty house of the stare. We had fed the heart on fantasies, The heart's grown brutal from the fare, More substance in our enmities Than in our love; O honey-bees, Come build in the empty house of the stare.
("Meditations in Time of Civil War - VI", 1928) Note: stare: starling The build-up of US troops facing Iraq seems ready to boil over into war, sometime around Valentine's day. I was thinking about love and war, and came across this Yeats, which seems brilliantly about both. The thing this poem does for me is not to compare love and war (passion, intensity, uncertainty, etc.) and not to contrast them either (intimacy vs distance, hope vs dread etc). Rather, it talks about both in the same terms, meaning different things by the terms. Look at the second stanza. The text there is war, but the subtext is love going wrong. Then look at the last stanza. There, the text is love and the subtext war. I don't understand the central metaphor. I thought at first that the house of the stare (starling) had been vacated, and then the bees moved in, and I was wondering if Yeats was thinking of the bees in terms of their honey or in terms of their stings, or maybe their military-like organization. But the mother birds "bring" grubs and flies, so why is the house empty? And why are there multiple mothers? Don't know. Maybe the point isn't so much about the birds vs bees, but about the collapse of the masonry which lets both in, and echoes with the barricade in stanza 3. Anyway, the last stanza is just haunting, and I thought deserved a place on Minstrels even though Yeats is so well represented already. Matt