He Wishes His Beloved Were Dead
WERE you but lying cold and dead,
And lights were paling out of the West,
You would come hither, and bend your head,
And I would lay my head on your breast;
And you would murmur tender words,
Forgiving me, because you were dead:
Nor would you rise and hasten away,
Though you have the will of the wild birds,
But know your hair was bound and wound
About the stars and moon and sun:
O would, beloved, that you lay
Under the dock-leaves in the ground,
While lights were paling one by one.
— W. B. Yeats
She wishes her lover were living
Were you but risen warm and living,
and new light birthing red in the east,
You would come to me, and be forgiving,
And I would stir that inner beast;
And you would growl with violent features,
Forgiveness rescinded for those living:
Thus you would keep us both a-bed,
though you are the fiercest of God’s creatures,
So know your hands were gripped and slipped
from round the earth and air and sea:
O would, fair foe, that you’d read
Of the tortures through my body’d ripped
while new light birthed above me.
— Delilah Des Anges
One of the more effective ways to dissect a poem is to pastiche it or parody it. It helps a remarkable amount with any kind of writing, in fact: in an attempt to produce a credible replica in terms of style or pacing or in the case of a poem, rhyme, rhythm, and theme – or to invert it – it is necessary to study it. It is a little like tracing over a picture and changing some of the features.
In He Wishes His Beloved Were Dead, there is a more complex pattern than appears at first glance, and in attempting to adhere to it line by line it becomes clear. The first four lines are standard quatrain: abab, but the next four break into daed, and the remaining five are fgefg. This overall pattern, ababdaedfgefg, is not so simple – and there is further complication! The first f line has an internal rhyme – bound and wound – and the closing g line also encapsulates a variation on the first of the two b lines: And lights were paling out of the West, becomes, While lights were paling one by one.
With this complexity it is impressive to be able to create a sense, an argument, while stepping still to the tune of the rhyme scheme. Trying to recreate it makes it a little easier to appreciate how difficult it must have been to write, even if you, like me, aren’t the biggest fan of Yeats.
Throughout this month I will be nagging readers to donate to MSF