An Irish Airman Foresees his Death

January 24, 2007 at 12:05 am 2 comments

W.B. Yeats

Listen

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.

I can’t imagine running a theme on War poetry that doesn’t include this one.

Here it is then – the breathlessness of self-realisation, of that weightless and lonely moment when you rise above your own life, watching the things of the world fall away until they seem like toys, wrapped in the cocoon of the your thoughts and balanced precariously between life and death, triumph and surrender. Beyond self-interest, beyond heroism, there is only this quiet apprehension of the self as ephemeral and therefore worth celebrating, and this final effort to exult in what you have somehow become. This is freedom, true, but it is also a lack of gravity, a lack of horizons to hold and be held by. This is the just bearable lightness of being.

Poetry just doesn’t get better than this.

Entry filed under: English, Falstaff, War Poetry, William Butler Yeats. Tags: .

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