‘Lapis Lazuli’ by William Butler Yeats
(for Harry Clifton)
I have heard that hysterical women sayThey are sick of the palette and fiddle-bow,Of poets that are always gay,For everybody knows or else should knowThat if nothing drastic is doneAeroplane and Zeppelin will come out,Pitch like King Billy bomb-balls inUntil the town lie beaten flat.All perform their tragic play,There struts Hamlet, there is Lear,That’s Ophelia, that Cordelia;Yet they, should the last scene be there,The great stage curtain about to drop,If worthy their prominent part in the play,Do not break up their lines to weep.They know that Hamlet and Lear are gay;Gaiety transfiguring all that dread.All men have aimed at, found and lost;Black out; Heaven blazing into the head:Tragedy wrought to its uttermost.Though Hamlet rambles and Lear rages,And all the drop scenes drop at onceUpon a hundred thousand stages,It cannot grow by an inch or an ounce.On their own feet they came, or on shipboard,Camel-back, horse-back, ass-back, mule-back,Old civilisations put to the sword.Then they and their wisdom went to rack:No handiwork of CallimachusWho handled marble as if it were bronze,Made draperies that seemed to riseWhen sea-wind swept the corner, stands;His long lamp chimney shaped like the stemOf a slender palm, stood but a day;All things fall and are built againAnd those that build them again are gay.Two Chinamen, behind them a third,Are carved in Lapis Lazuli,Over them flies a long-legged birdA symbol of longevity;The third, doubtless a serving-man,Carries a musical instrument.Every discolouration of the stone,Every accidental crack or dentSeems a water-course or an avalanche,Or lofty slope where it still snowsThough doubtless plum or cherry-branchSweetens the little half-way houseThose Chinamen climb towards, and IDelight to imagine them seated there;There, on the mountain and the sky,On all the tragic scene they stare.One asks for mournful melodies;Accomplished fingers begin to play.Their eyes mid many wrinkles, their eyes,Their ancient, glittering eyes, are gay.
W. B. Yeats, “Lapis Lazuli” from The Poems of W. B. Yeats: A New Edition, edited by Richard J. Finneran. Copyright 1933 by Macmillan Publishing Company, renewed © 1961 by Georgie Yeats. Reprinted with the permission of A. P. Watt, Ltd. on behalf of Michael Yeats.
Source: The Collected Poems of W. B. Yeats (1989)