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The Stare's Nest by My Window -- William Butler Yeats

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.
-- William Butler Yeats
           ("Meditations in Time of Civil War - VI", 1928)

  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.


35 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

Richard_Moore said...

[broken link]

.For neither Lowell nor Auden did the catastrophe actually occur. For
this we might turn to Yeats' Meditations in Time of Civil War and, in
particular, to The Stare's Nest by my Window. Yeats is trapped in his
house in the country during the Irish civil war, looking on helplessly
at the results of the nationalism that he has helped to promote: "Last
night they trundled down the road / That dead young soldier in his
blood". He is forced to accept, in words that feel equally applicable
today, that

We had fed the heart on fantasies,
The heart's grown brutal from the fare

and begs the honey bees to "build in the empty house of the stare", a wish
for order and sweetness that parallels Yeats' own turning from political
engagement to greater absorption in literary symbolism..............

Richard K. Moore, Librarian
Orange County Department of Education
200 Kalmus Drive, B-1027
P.O. Box 9050
Costa Mesa, CABfax)
[broken link]

libbyhart said...

This part of Yeats' mediation also covers the intensity of what Ireland
was and what they desired. It proves that sometimes what you wish for
just might come true - and how for many this can often be more of a
curse than a blessing. It is interesting to note Yeats' patriotism but
his hesitation while he witnesses the reality of what this brings. This
comes over beautifully in the lines: 'We had fed the heart on fantasies,
/ The heart's grown brutal from the fare'. Matt's idea about bees is
interesting - the army reference, etc. The bees loosening the masonry
for me represents the anxiety and uncertainty of a nation in turmoil.

If we are to talk about war I have a very good Bertolt Brecht poem
(which I don't have with me at present but can send you later in the
day) if you are interested. I happened to read it the other day and
found it pertinent for today's events. Just let me know if you are

Libby Hart

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john r walker said...

The honey Bee is , I think, a reference to Dean Swifts trope for Wisdom: the honey bee, that wanders far, harms no one, and brings us "honey and wax" -Sweetness and light. Who would not wish for honey and wax in the midst of a civil war?

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