The Cap and Bells
By W. B. Yeats (1865-1939)
The jester walked in the garden:
The garden had fallen still;
He bade his soul rise upward
And stand on her window-sill.
It rose in a straight blue garment,
When owls began to call:
It had grown wise-tongued by thinking
Of a quiet and light footfall;
But the young queen would not listen;
She rose in her pale night-gown;
She drew in the heavy casement
And pushed the latches down.
He bade his heart go to her,
When the owls called out no more;
In a red and quivering garment
It sang to her through the door.
It had grown sweet-tongued by dreaming
Of a flutter of flower-like hair;
But she took up her fan from the table
And waved it off on the air.
'I have cap and bells,’ he pondered,
'I will send them to her and die’;
And when the morning whitened
He left them where she went by.
She laid them upon her bosom,
Under a cloud of her hair,
And her red lips sang them a love-song
Till stars grew out of the air.
She opened her door and her window,
And the heart and the soul came through,
To her right hand came the red one,
To her left hand came the blue.
They set up a noise like crickets,
A chattering wise and sweet,
And her hair was a folded flower
And the quiet of love in her feet.
I've been in love with the poetry of William Butler Yeats since I first discovered it when I was 17, and I think he was one of the greatest poets of all time. I am not alone in this; he was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1923.
He was also one of the most romantic of poets, and I picked this piece for its lovely romanticism. Perhaps it was only in fantasy and allegory that he could bring the sorrows of love to such a fine, romantic conclusion as this. Poor Yeats was unhappy in love most of his life, yearning after the beloved of his youth, who didn't love him back for very long, It was only quite late in life that he found the right wife. So his love poems, though intense, tend to be sad, cynical or both. He was also a very political poet, but again his experiences tend to make his political poems angry or despairing. He was a spiritual seeker, and his spiritual life tended towards the magickal. (He was a prominent member of the Order of the Golden Dawn.) Love poems, political poems, spiritual/magickal poems — no wonder I like him. He even wrote some poems with considerable feminist sensitivity.
Yet what he creates above all is beauty. He excels at it; there's no-one to touch him. He began as the most lyrical and musical of poets. In his maturity he explored uglier, tougher moods and topics, but never lost that beauty of language in which he is supreme.