Day # 9 – 30 Days, 30 Readings: William Butler Yeats, “A Model For The Laureate”

A photograph of William Butler Yeats on 24 Jan...
A photograph of William Butler Yeats on 24 January 1908 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As William Butler Yeats said in a letter to Dorothy Wellessley in 1937, “Politics, as the game is played today, are so much foul lying.” It’s impossible for a thinking person not to be bothered by politics in these United States of late, when it seems that the government, local and national is being bought and sold. In today’s poem though Yeats is looking at politics from a different view, questioning priorities of love and politics. Without getting into the story of King Edward VIII’s abdication from the throne to marry his American divorcee lover… Oh well, I guess I’ve already gotten into it, haven’t I? Well, in another letter to Wellessley Yeats voiced his approval of that action saying that the poem below, “is the kind of thing I would have written had I been made Laureate, which is perhaps why I was not made Laureate.”  Whatever else one may say about love and politics, Yeats does seem to have his priorities.

I asked my mentor once, “Who is your favorite modern poet?”

He replied emphatically, “Yeats!”

“Yeats is incredible, but he’s not very modern,” I said.

“I’m doing the best I can.” To be fair there are some other great modern poets of whom George approves, and I’ll be reading some of them this month. But this one is for my cranky old teacher and mentor, a strong and soulful man named George Phister. It was written in the year before Mr. Yeats died.

A Model for the Laureate
On thrones from China to Peru 
All sorts of kings have sat 
That men and women of all sorts 
proclaimed both good and great; 
And what's the odds if such as these 
For reason of the State 
Should keep their lovers waiting, 
        Keep their lovers waiting? 

Some boast of beggar-kings and kings 
Of rascals black and white 
That rule because a strong right arm 
Puts all men in a fright, 
And drunk or sober live at ease 
Where none gainsay their right, 
And keep their lovers waiting, 
        Keep their lovers waiting. The Muse is mute when public men 
Applaud a modern throne: 
Those cheers that can be bought or sold, 
That office fools have run, 
That waxen seal, that signature. 
For things like these what decent man 
Would keep his lover waiting, 
        Keep his lover waiting?

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