William Butler Yeats



A Reason for Keeping Silent
[On Being Asked for a War Poem]

I think it better that at times like these
We poets keep our mouths shut, for in truth
We have no gift to set a statesman right;
He’s had enough of meddling who can please
A young girl in the indolence of her youth
Or an old man upon a winter’s night.

in The Book of the Homeless (Le Livre des Sans-Foyer), ed. Edith Wharton (New York, London: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1916), 45.

An Irish Airman Foresees His Death

I know that I shall meet my fate,
Somewhere among the clouds above;
Those that I fight I do not hate,
Those that I guard I do not love;
My country is Kiltartan Cross,
My countrymen Kiltartan’s poor,
No likely end could bring them loss
Or leave them happier than before.
Nor law, nor duty bade me fight,
Nor public men, nor cheering crowds,
A lonely impulse of delight
Drove to this tumult in the clouds;
I balanced all, brought all to mind,
The years to come seemed waste of breath,
A waste of breath the years behind
In balance with this life, this death.

William Butler Yeats, The Wild Swans at Coole (1919)

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William Butler Yeats

© [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

William Butler Yeats (b. June 13, 1865, in Sandymount, d. January 28, 1939 in Menton), Irish poet, two-term senator and 1923 Nobel Prize winner, was not a fan of war poetry. When asked in 1915 to contribute a poem to an anthology edited by Edith Wharton to benefit her war charities, he thus responded with “A Reason for Keeping Silent.” In 1918, the tragic death in war of Robert Gregory moved him to write “An Irish Airman Foresees His Death.”