First Love

Yeats is really the master of moon poetry. There are so many moon poems to choose from it seems  just to pick one. Much of his philosophical systematizing was based on the moon’s cycle, which produced poems as different as the violent ‘Blood and the Moon’, and the quiet, insinuating ‘The Cat and the Moon’, which compares the crescent moon to a cat’s pupils. He had begun mooning much earlier, of course, and in successive versions of ‘The Sorrow of Love’ its moon changes from ‘curd-pale’ to ‘crumbling’ to ‘climbing’, as it is emptied of poeticisms the better to stand starkly symbolic. Perhaps these revisions inspired a bitter love poem that insisted itself on me and made me reread it again and again recently – with some of its language stripped astonishingly bare (it was written the same year as ‘Sailing to Byzantium’, in 1926) it reads almost like a brutal folk tale, and the coldness and frenzy and longing of it seems properly lunatic.

First Love

Though nutured like the sailing moon
In beauty’s murderous brood,
She walked awhile and blushed awhile
And on my pathway stood
Until I thought her body bore
A heart of flesh and blood.

But since I laid a hand thereon
And found a heart of stone
I have attempted many things
And not a thing is done,
For every hand is lunatic
That travels on the moon.

She smiled and that transfigured me
And left me but a lout,
Maundering here, and maundering there,
Emptier of thought
Than the heavenly circuit of its stars
When the moon sails out.

(from ‘A Man Young and Old’, The Tower 1928)

~ by thebicyclops on November 23, 2011.

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