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Quotes of the day: W.B. Yeats

Published Friday, June 13, 2014 @ 12:00 AM EDT
Jun 13 2014

William Butler Yeats (June 13, 1865 - January 28, 1939) was an Irish poet and one of the foremost figures of 20th century literature. A pillar of both the Irish and British literary establishments, in his later years he served as an Irish Senator for two terms. Yeats was a driving force behind the Irish Literary Revival and, along with Lady Gregory, Edward Martyn, and others, founded the Abbey Theatre, where he served as its chief during its early years. In 1923 he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature (the first Irishman so honored) for what the Nobel Committee described as "inspired poetry, which in a highly artistic form gives expression to the spirit of a whole nation." Yeats is generally considered one of the few writers who completed their greatest works after being awarded the Nobel Prize; such works include The Tower (1928) and The Winding Stair and Other Poems (1929). (Click here for full Wikipedia article)


All women dote upon an idle man
Although their children need a rich estate.
No man has ever lived that had enough
Of children’s gratitude or woman’s love.

Do not wait to strike till the iron is hot; but make it hot by striking.

Does the imagination dwell the most
Upon a woman won or woman lost?

Evil comes to us men of imagination wearing as its mask all the virtues. I have certainly known more men destroyed by the desire to have wife and child and to keep them in comfort than I have seen destroyed by drink and harlots.

How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true,
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face.

I hate journalists. There is nothing in them but tittering jeering emptiness. They have all made what Dante calls the Great Refusal, - that is they have ceased to be self-centered, have given up their individuality... The shallowest people on the ridge of the earth.

I heard the old, old men say,
'All that's beautiful drifts away
Like the waters.'

I knew a phoenix in my youth, so let them have their day.

I know that I shall meet my fate
Somewhere among the clouds above;
Those that I fight I do not hate,
Those that I guard I do not love;

I think you can leave the arts, superior or inferior, to the conscience of mankind.

In dreams begin responsibilities.

Life moves out of a red flare of dreams
Into a common light of common hours,
Until old age bring the red flare again.

Man can embody truth but he cannot know it.

Nothing that we love over-much
Is ponderable to our touch.

O love is the crooked thing,
There is nobody wise enough
To find out all that is in it,
For he would be thinking of love
Till the stars had run away
And the shadows eaten the moon.

One day when I was twenty-three or twenty-four this sentence seemed to form in my head, without my willing it, much as sentences form when we are half-asleep: 'Hammer your thoughts into unity.' For days I could think of nothing else, and for years I tested all I did by that sentence.

Seek out reality, leave things that seem.

So long as all is ordered for attack, and that alone, leaders will instinctively increase the number of enemies that they may give their followers something to do.

That is no country for old men. The young
In one another’s arms, birds in the trees
-Those dying generations—at their song,
The salmon-falls, the mackerel-crowded seas,
Fish, flesh, or fowl, commend all summer long
Whatever is begotten, born, and dies.
Caught in that sensual music all neglect
Monuments of unaging intellect.
(Sailing to Byzantium)

The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.

The only business of the head in the world is to bow a ceaseless obeisance to the heart.

The problem with some people is that when they aren't drunk, they're sober.

Think like a wise man but express yourself like the common people.

Though leaves are many, the root is one;
Through all the lying days of my youth
I swayed my leaves and flowers in the sun;
Now I may wither into the truth.

Too long a sacrifice
Can make a stone of the heart.

We make out of the quarrel with others, rhetoric, but of the quarrel with ourselves, poetry.

When I think of all the books I have read, and of the wise words I have heard spoken, and of the anxiety I have given to parents and grandparents, and of the hopes that I have had, all life weighed in the scales of my own life seems to me a preparation for something that never happens.

Words are always getting conventionalized to some secondary meaning. It is one of the works of poetry to take the truants in custody and bring them back to their right senses.

Categories: Quotes of the day, W.B. Yeats


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