The first time I heard Yeats, I was recovering from eye surgery that did not go well. The doctor simply could not wake me up. I remember the feeling of being under water, trying to surface, and then going under again and again. I remember finally waking and seeing my mother, terrified, by my bed. She was reading aloud from a collected book of poetry to pass the time. I didn't understand the poems, but I felt well enough to respond with two lines. And this, of course, meant I was truly awake again. She was so excited, she repeated my lines a few times and read the poem again. The poem has always sounded a little to me like the feeling of being under anesthesia with Druids and dreams and a Fergus lurking around.
TO THE RUDE NOSE UPON THIS FACE OF MINE
Red nose, freckled nose, rude nose of all my days!
Get away from my eyes, Nose, so that I may see a new way.
My lines make sense only if you are cross-eyed, and you are hoping that the operation has cured you.
TO THE ROSE UPON THE ROOD OF TIME
by: William Butler Yeats
RED Rose, proud Rose, sad Rose of all my days!
Come near me, while I sing the ancient ways:
Cuchulain battling with the bitter tide;
The Druid, grey, wood-nurtured, quiet eyed,
Who cast round Fergus dreams, and ruin untold;
And thine own sadness, whereof stars, grown old
In dancing silver-sandalled on the sea,
Sing in their high and lonely melody.
Come near, that no more blinded by man's fate,
I find under the boughs of love and hate,
In all poor foolish things that live a day,
Eternal beauty wandering on her way.
Come near, come near, come near -- Ah, leave me still
A little space for the rose-breath to fill!
Lest I no more hear common things that crave;
The weak worm hiding down in its small cave,
The field-mouse running by me in the grass,
And heavy mortal hopes that toil and pass;
But seek alone to hear the strange things said
By God to the bright hearts of those long dead,
And learn to chaunt a tongue men do not know
Come near; I would, before my time to go,
Sing of old Eire and the ancient ways:
Red Rose, proud Rose, sad Rose of all my days.
Nin Andrews is the author of 5 full collections of poetry and 6 chapbooks. She is also the editor of a book of translations of the Belgian poet, Henri Michaux. Her literary comics are posted on Best American Poetry's Blog on Monday mornings.