In Memory of W. B. Yeats
by W. H. Auden
September, 1939  


He disappeared in the dead of winter:


The brooks were frozen, the airports almost deserted,


And snow disfigured the public statues;


The mercury sank in the mouth of the dying day.


What instruments we have agree


The day of his death was a dark cold day.




Far from his illness


The wolves ran on through the evergreen forests,  
The peasant river was untempted by the fashionable quays;  
By mourning tongues 10
The death of the poet was kept from his poems.  
But for him it was his last afternoon as himself,  
An afternoon of nurses and rumours;  
The provinces of his body revolted,  
The squares of his mind were empty, 15
Silence invaded the suburbs,  
The current of his feeling failed; he became his admirers.  
Now he is scattered among a hundred cities  
And wholly given over to unfamiliar affections,  
To find his happiness in another kind of wood 20
And be punished under a foreign code of conscience.  
The words of a dead man  
Are modified in the guts of the living.  
But in the importance and noise of to-morrow  
When the brokers are roaring like beasts on the floor of the Bourse, 25
And the poor have the sufferings to which they are fairly accustomed,  
And each in the cell of himself is almost convinced of his freedom,  
A few thousand will think of this day  
As one thinks of a day when one did something slightly unusual.  
What instruments we have agree 30
The day of his death was a dark cold day.  
You were silly like us; your gift survived it all:  
The parish of rich women, physical decay,


Yourself. Mad Ireland hurt you into poetry.  
Now Ireland has her madness and her weather still, 35
For poetry makes nothing happen: it survives  
In the valley of its making where executives  
Would never want to tamper, flows on south  
From ranches of isolation and the busy griefs,  
Raw towns that we believe and die in; it survives, 40
A way of happening, a mouth.  






Earth, receive an honoured guest:


William Yeats is laid to rest.


Let the Irish vessel lie


Emptied of its poetry.




In the nightmare of the dark


All the dogs of Europe bark,


And the living nations wait,


Each sequestered in its hate;




Intellectual disgrace


Stares from every human face,


And the seas of pity lie


Locked and frozen in each eye.




Follow, poet, follow right


To the bottom of the night,


With your unconstraining voice


Still persuade us to rejoice;




With the farming of a verse


Make a vineyard of the curse,


Sing of human unsuccess


In a rapture of distress;




In the deserts of the heart


Let the healing fountain start,


In the prison of his days


Teach the free man how to praise.



September, 1939 — this is the date of composition; Yeats had died on January, 1939, in Menton, France. he was buried in France, but his body was returned to Ireland to be re-interred in 1948.
mercury — mercury is used in thermometers to indicate temperature
Bourse — the Paris stock exchange
All the dogs of Europe bark— World War II began with the German invasion of Poland on 1 September, 1939, but most people had recognized months before that it was likely, if not inevitable.