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Two Songs Of A Fool -- William Butler Yeats

Guest poem submitted by Deepak Srinivasan:
(Poem #1599) Two Songs Of A Fool

 A speckled cat and a tame hare
 Eat at my hearthstone
 And sleep there;
 And both look up to me alone
 For learning and defence
 As I look up to Providence.

 I start out of my sleep to think
 Some day I may forget
 Their food and drink;
 Or, the house door left unshut,
 The hare may run till it's found
 The horn's sweet note and the tooth of the hound.

 I bear a burden that might well try
 Men that do all by rule,
 And what can I
 That am a wandering-witted fool
 But pray to God that He ease
 My great responsibilities?


 I slept on my three-legged stool by the fire.
 The speckled cat slept on my knee;
 We never thought to enquire
 Where the brown hare might be,
 And whether the door were shut.
 Who knows how she drank the wind
 Stretched up on two legs from the mat,
 Before she had settled her mind
 To drum with her heel and to leap?
 Had I but awakened from sleep
 And called her name, she had heard.
 It may be, and had not stirred,
 That now, it may be, has found
 The horn's sweet note and the tooth of the hound.
-- William Butler Yeats
When I read this poem in my wanderings I was struck by a strange unease on
reading it. For whatever reason, this poem has dark elements in it. Song I,
I think, tells a tale of fatalism and acceptance of what the future may
hold. It is one that would probably be a folk tale. There is little of edge
in it. And suddenly in song II we are drawn into the world where risks have
fearful consequences. A more real world and not so idyllic as the first.
"drinking the wind" - isn't that what people who live on the edge do? Those
who are in strange alleys in the night, or those who are fighting a war
below the radar of the common man? I don't know. There is some magnetism
about it, and, of course among the two animals which else but the hare would
be drawn to it. Not the quiet, cautious, cunning cat!! Maybe I am reading
too much into it and perhaps there are better interpretations to be sure. I
just get the feeling that I am on the brink peering into a Lord of the Rings
trilogy that, it seems, few cultures evoke as effectively as those of the
islands off the continent. Not only does this poem stir up strange feelings
and hint at forgotten experiences, but also does so with a cadence and rhyme
that makes it roll off the tongue so easily. How much more can one ask for?


53 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

Mallika Chellappa said...

Maybe you're reading too much into it.
They are just, after all the songs of a fool.
The first thinks he controls and is
responsible for the lives of others;
the second doesn't even try to exercise
due diligence.
Both are faults, hence the title.MC

Anonymous said...

You can never read too much into a poem-- that is the point of poetry-- an expression beyond normal language-- read into it!

The first fool does not think he is in control. He appeals to Providence and God, but also to a sense of duty. And isn't this a contradiction? If God is in control of all outcomes (Providence), then what duty could one rationally have? Is the God-based sense of duty foolish?

The second fool has no such illusion of Providence. This fool struggles with a contradiction of his own: while his actions (not giving consideration to leaving the door open or to the whereabouts of the hare) show a denial of having any control over events, he nonetheless wonders the 'what if' he would have acted differently. Is it foolish to surrender to a future of 'what ifs'?

What unites these fools? It seems to me that they both fail to take responsibility for their own actions and outcomes, and act rationally and independently, with a sense of efficacy ("proactive" as the bureaucrats like to say).

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