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John Kinsella's Lament for Mrs Mary Moore -- William Butler Yeats

(Poem #918) John Kinsella's Lament for Mrs Mary Moore
 A bloody and a sudden end,
   Gunshot or a noose,
 For Death who takes what man would keep,
   Leaves what man would lose.
 He might have had my sister,
   My cousins by the score,
 But nothing satisfied the fool
   But my dear Mary Moore,
 None other knows what pleasures man
   At table or in bed.
       What shall I do for pretty girls
       Now my old bawd is dead?

 Though stiff to strike a bargain
   Like an old Jew man,
 Her bargain stuck we laughed and talked
   And emptied many a can;
 And O! but she had stories,
   Though not for the priest's ear,
 To keep the soul of man alive,
   Banish age and care,
 And being old she put a skin
   On everything she said.
       What shall I do for pretty girls
       Now my old bawd is dead?

 The priests have got a book that says
   But for Adam's sin
 Eden's Garden would be there
   And I there within.
 No expectation fails there,
   No pleasing habit ends,
 No man grows old, no girl grows cold,
   But friends walk by friends.
 Who quarrels over halfpennies
   That plucks the trees for bread?
       What shall I do for pretty girls
       Now my old bawd is dead?
-- William Butler Yeats
 From "Last Poems, 1936-39".
 Note on typography: the final couplet of each stanza is in italics in the
original, and unindented.

 A magnificent and touching elegy that paints a vivid picture of the
confused emotions of mourning. The poem's narrator, John Kinsella, is
initially angry with Death, with its arbitrary (and cruel) high-handedness
in taking away the one person he cannot do without, his "dear Mary Moore".
Rage, though, gives way to nostalgia, as he reflects tenderly on the times
spent his sweetheart, times filled with a bawdy joy, a fierce lust for life,
passionate and true. And nostalgia is in turn replaced by a wistfulness, a
longing for release, into a paradise where "No man grows old, no girl grows
cold / But friends walk by friends". This is a closure of sorts, though not,
perhaps, an entirely peaceful one.

 Note especially the (characteristically brilliant) use of a refrain: "What
shall I do for pretty girls / Now my old bawd is dead?", which captures both
the desolation of impending loneliness and the quality of the love that
Kinsella feels for Moore, a love that's based not on prettiness or passion,
but on comfort, and companionship, and closeness. Beautifully done.


[Minstrels Links]

William Butler Yeats is one of my favourite poets:
Poem #1, The Song of Wandering Aengus
Poem #21, Sailing to Byzantium
Poem #32, An Irish Airman Foresees His Death
Poem #60, Byzantium
Poem #79, Red Hanrahan's Song About Ireland
Poem #160, The Realists
Poem #237, The Ballad of Father Gilligan
Poem #289, The Second Coming
Poem #309, The Lake Isle of Innisfree
Poem #324, Three Movements
Poem #407, Solomon and the Witch
Poem #436, When You Are Old
Poem #451, Leda and the Swan
Poem #511, Beautiful Lofty Things
Poem #577, The Cat and the Moon
Poem #597, He wishes for the Cloths of Heaven
Poem #641, The Road at My Door
Poem #655, No Second Troy

Dylan Thomas is said to have liked today's poem very much; his own work
shares many of its qualities:
Poem #14, Prologue
Poem #38, Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night
Poem #58, The Force that Through the Green Fuse Drives the Flower
Poem #138, Fern Hill
Poem #225, Poem In October
Poem #270, Under Milk Wood
Poem #335, After the Funeral (In memory of Ann Jones)
Poem #405, Altarwise by Owl-Light (Stanzas I - IV)
Poem #476, In my craft or sullen art
Poem #568, Especially when the October Wind

32 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

yael55 said...

Hello Editors of minstrels,

Thought to draw your attention to a somewhat less endearing
use of metaphor the poet incorporates in this poem.
I am referring to the verse:

> Though stiff to strike a bargain
> Like an old Jew man,

That Yeats uses it is one thing, to present the poem without an
attempt of reference to it is another...

Frank O'Shea said...

A fine example of one of Yeats's later poems. Thank you.

Yeats is one of the few poets whose work improved with age. In his later
years, he entered a kind of second puberty, comforted by independent and
worldly women (Georgie is said to have been aware of this and tolerated -
encouraged? - it). One of those was Dorothy Wellesley, the bisexual wife of
the future Duke of Wellington (who was homosexual, although they had two
children). I mention this because one of his best later poems is "The Three
Bushes", an adaptation of a Wellesley poem. It has a priest who, unlike
those mentioned in today's poem, was wise and understood the tale of love
told by the chambermaid. There is a beautiful recording of the poem by the
late Siobhan McKenna.

Frank O'Shea

R.D. Eno said...

I wonder what others think of the first four lines. On whom does Kinsella
wish a violent death? On himself? On all of us? Or on Death himself? If
the last, then Yeats misplaced -- in each version, as I recall -- the
comma, which should come after "Death", not at the end of the second
line. Why should Kinsella wish a violent death as a consequence of or
riposte to Death's unmerciful foolishness? It makes more sense to wish it
in revenge, in reprisal. Such a reading also protects the rage of the
opening stanza against any imputation of self-reproach or suicidal
depression (which Yeats, with his aversion to "passive suffering" would
have detested). Of course, my reading requires subjecting the canonical
text to a typographical amendment. Can someone suggest a reading that
preserves the comma in its present position?

R.D. Eno
32 Thistle Hill Road
Cabot VT 05647

"Don't be too righteous or too wise." (Kohelet -- Ecclesiastes -- Solomon

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