Among School Children by W. B. Yeats

 I
  I walk through the long schoolroom questioning; 
  A kind old nun in a white hood replies; 
  The children learn to cipher and to sing, 
  To study reading-books and history,  
  To cut and sew, be neat in everything 
  In the best modern way — the children’s eyes 
  In momentary wonder stare upon 
  A sixty-year-old smiling public man.  

 II 
  I dream of a Ledaean body, bent  
  Above a sinking fire, a tale that she 
  Told of a harsh reproof, or trivial event 
  That changed some childish day to tragedy — 
  Told, and it seemed that our two natures blent 
  Into a sphere from youthful sympathy,  
  Or else, to alter Plato’s parable, 
  Into the yolk and white of the one shell.      

III 
  And thinking of that fit of grief or rage 
  I look upon one child or t’other there 
  And wonder if she stood so at that age —  
  For even daughters of the swan can share 
  Something of every paddler’s heritage — 
  And had that colour upon cheek or hair, 
  And thereupon my heart is driven wild: 
  She stands before me as a living child.      

IV  
  Her present image floats into the mind — 
  Did Quattrocento finger fashion it 
  Hollow of cheek as though it drank the wind 
  And took a mess of shadows for its meat? 
  And I though never of Ledaean kind  
  Had pretty plumage once — enough of that, 
  Better to smile on all that smile, and show 
  There is a comfortable kind of old scarecrow.      


  What youthful mother, a shape upon her lap 
  Honey of generation had betrayed,  
  And that must sleep, shriek, struggle to escape 
  As recollection or the drug decide, 
  Would think her son, did she but see that shape 
  With sixty or more winters on its head, 
  A compensation for the pang of his birth,  
  Or the uncertainty of his setting forth?    
 
VI 
  Plato thought nature but a spume that plays 
  Upon a ghostly paradigm of things; 
  Solider Aristotle played the taws 
  Upon the bottom of a king of kings;  
  World-famous golden-thighed Pythagoras 
  Fingered upon a fiddle-stick or strings 
  What a star sang and careless Muses heard: 
  Old clothes upon old sticks to scare a bird.      

VII 
  Both nuns and mothers worship images,  
  But those the candles light are not as those 
  That animate a mother’s reveries, 
  But keep a marble or a bronze repose. 
  And yet they too break hearts — O Presences 
  That passion, piety or affection knows,  
  And that all heavenly glory symbolise — 
  O self-born mockers of man’s enterprise;    

VIII 
  Labour is blossoming or dancing where 
  The body is not bruised to pleasure soul, 
  Nor beauty born out of its own despair,  
  Nor blear-eyed wisdom out of midnight oil. 
  O chestnut tree, great rooted blossomer, 
  Are you the leaf, the blossom or the bole? 
  O body swayed to music, O brightening glance, 
  How can we know the dancer from the dance? 

W. B. Yeats
Yeats2
W. B. Yeats
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