The Rose upon the Rood of Time

_MG_2070-1000This poem uses surreal imagery to describe visions of an imaginary world from the point of view of a man before and after his burial. In the first stanza, the man is in a crowd, thinking about his beloved, but he is shaken out of his ease when a pile of fish sing about a forgotten isle where people love eternally. The man next wanders on the beach of Lisadell, and the worms too sing about the isle, though he doesn’t understand them. Again, at Scanavin, the grass sings to him. In the final stanza, we find the man buried under the hill of Lugnagall where he hopes to know eternal peace. But the worms proclaim that God has made a beautiful pattern in the sky. The man does not rest in peace. The title of this poem is somewhat misleading. The man in the poem is invited to contemplate Faeryland, but he repeatedly fails to do so. He cannot « listen » to the songs of the fish, the worms, the grass, who could tell him of Faeryland. Faeryland, in this poem, might be thought of as a place of universals and absolutes, where truths are unqualified by human context. The man never gives up his petty loves and hates, and so cannot attain eternity even in his death. The naturalistic imagery in the poem, as well as the specific place names that Yeats assigns to where the man wanders, stems from his experience as a youth in Sligo. Sligo is a county in westernmost Ireland, a place that Yeats said affected his poetry more than anywhere else in the world. The images of fish, worms and other natural creatures also resonate with Yeats’ expressed aim in « The Rose upon the Rood of Time » that he wishes to notice the lowly things in the world, not just the searing bright things. Indeed, in this poem, it is the lowly, overlooked creatures who contain a spark of divinity. They are the key to eternal contemplation. The man, like many of us, remains deaf to them. « The Man Who dreamed of Faeryland » is similar to « Who goes with Fergus ? » in that the poet implicitly urges Irish men and women to return to nature. Indeed, « Faeryland » evokes very strongly the spirit of the druids, who felt that all natural things contain the divine. Yeats asks that his countrymen reflect upon the land that they purport to love and defend in their political battles. He also suggests that the ultimate value in life is to be found in such contemplation, not in the temporary concerns of politics.


He stood among a crowd at Drumahair;
His heart hung all upon a silken dress,
And he had known at last some tenderness,
Before earth took him to her stony care;
But when a man poured fish into a pile,
It seemed they raised their little silver heads,
And sang what gold morning or evening sheds
Upon a woven world-forgotten isle
Where people love beside the ravelled seas;
That Time can never mar a lover’s vows
Under that woven changeless roof of boughs:
The singing shook him out of his new ease.

He wandered by the sands of Lissadell;
His mind ran all on money cares and fears,
And he had known at last some prudent years
Before they heaped his grave under the hill;
But while he passed before a plashy place,
A lug-worm with its grey and muddy mouth
Sang that somewhere to north or west or south
There dwelt a gay, exulting, gentle race
Under the golden or the silver skies;
That if a dancer stayed his hungry foot
It seemed the sun and moon were in the fruit:
And at that singing he was no more wise.

He mused beside the well of Scanavin,
He mused upon his mockers: without fail
His sudden vengeance were a country tale,
When earthy night had drunk his body in;
But one small knot-grass growing by the pool
Sang where – unnecessary cruel voice –
Old silence bids its chosen race rejoice,
Whatever ravelled waters rise and fall
Or stormy silver fret the gold of day,
And midnight there enfold them like a fleece
And lover there by lover be at peace.
The tale drove his fine angry mood away.

He slept under the hill of Lugnagall;
And might have known at last unhaunted sleep
Under that cold and vapour-turbaned steep,
Now that the earth had taken man and all:
Did not the worms that spired about his bones
Proclaim with that unwearied, reedy cry
That God has laid His fingers on the sky,
That from those fingers glittering summer runs
Upon the dancer by the dreamless wave.
Why should those lovers that no lovers miss
Dream, until God burn Nature with a kiss ?
The man has found no comfort in the grave.

William Butler Yeats (1865-1939)

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