William Butler Yeats

A Dialogue of Self and Soul


My Soul: I summon to the winding ancient stair;  
Set all your mind upon the steep ascent, 
Upon the broken, crumbling battlement, 
Upon the breathless starlit air, 
'Upon the star that marks the hidden pole;  
Fix every wandering thought upon 
That quarter where all thought is done: 
Who can distinguish darkness from the soul?  

My Self: The consecrated blade upon my knees 
 Is Sato's ancient blade, still as it was, 
Still razor-keen, still like a looking-glass  
Unspotted by the centuries; 
That flowering, silken, old embroidery, torn  
From some court-lady's dress and round  
The wooden scabbard bound and wound  
Can, tattered, still protect, faded adorn.
My Soul: Why should the imagination of a man  
Long past his prime remember things that are  
Emblematical of love and war? 
Think of ancestral night that can, 
If but imagination scorn the earth 
And intellect is wandering 
To this and that and t'other thing, 
Deliver from the crime of death and birth.
My Self: Montashigi, third of his family, fashioned it  
Five hundred years ago, about it lie 
Flowers from I know not what embroidery -- 
Heart's purple -- and all these I set 
For emblems of the day against the tower  
Emblematical of the night, 
And claim as by a soldier's right 
A charter to commit the crime once more.
My Soul: Such fullness in that quarter overflows  
And falls into the basin of the mind 
That man is stricken deaf and dumb and blind, 
For intellect no longer knows 
Is from the Ought or Knower from the Known -
That is to say, ascends to Heaven; 
Only the dead can be forgiven; 
But when I think of that my tongue's a stone.

My Self: A living man is blind and drinks his drop.  
What matter if the ditches are impure? 
What matter if I live it all once more? 
Endure that toil of growing up; 
The ignominy of boyhood; the distress 
Of boyhood changing into man; 
The unfinished man and his pain 
Brought face to face with his own clumsiness;
The finished man among his enemies? -- 
How in the name of Heaven can he escape 
That defiling and disfigured shape 
The mirror of malicious eyes 
Casts upon his eyes until at last 
He thinks that shape must be his shape? 
And what's the good of an escape 
If honour find him in the wintry blast?
I am content to live it all again 
And yet again, if it be life to pitch 
Into the frog-spawn of a blind man's ditch, 
A blind man battering blind men; 
Or into that most fecund ditch of all, 
The folly that man does 
Or must suffer, if he woos 
A proud woman not kindred of his soul.
I am content to follow to its source 
Every event in action or in thought; 
Measure the lot; forgive myself the lot! 
When such as I cast out remorse 
So great a sweetness flows into the breast 
We must laugh and we must sing, 
We are blest by everything, 
Everything we look upon is blest.

spoken = Leon Fernandez