September 1913

Famous poem first published one hundred years ago

 

September 1913, or Romance in Ireland as it was originally titled, was first published in this newspaper a century ago tomorrow.

It is meditation on the materialism, greed, and cultural parochialism of the time.

The workers of Dublin were being locked out and at the same time there was a shameful lack of support for the proposed gallery of modern art that Hugh Lane was so vigorously campaigning for.

Yeats’s message could not have been more political: there was no space for ordinary Irish people who wished to better their circumstances, or for those who considered access to art essential for the city.

Fumbling in greasy tills by those in positions of power is an image that still resonates 100 years later.

SEPTEMBER 1913

by William Butler Yeats

What need you, being come to sense,
But fumble in a greasy till
And add the ha’pence to the pence
And prayer to shivering prayer, until
You have dried the marrow from the bone;
For men were born to pray and save?,
Romantic Ireland’s dead and gone,

It’s with O’Leary in the grave.
Yet they were of a different kind,
The names that stilled your childish play,
They have gone about the world like wind,
But little time had they to pray
For whom the hangman’s rope was spun,
And what, God help us, could they save?
Romantic Ireland’s dead and gone,
It’s with O’Leary in the grave.

Was it for this the wild geese spread
The grey wing upon every tide;
For this that all that blood was shed,
For this Edward Fitzgerald died,
And Robert Emmet and Wolfe Tone,
All that delirium of the brave?
Romantic Ireland’s dead and gone,
It’s with O’Leary in the grave.
 

Yet could we turn the years again,
And call those exiles as they were
In all their loneliness and pain,
You’d cry ‘Some woman’s yellow hair
Has maddened every mother’s son’:
They weighed so lightly what they gave.
But let them be, they’re dead and gone,
They’re with O’Leary in the grave.