Saturday, March 23, 2019


At 7:45 this evening I sat in a chair, reading a poem by W. B. Yeats. As I looked to the left out the front window, I could see the last light of the day -- pale pink-blue, with an undertone of yellow -- above the silhouettes of the Olympic Mountains to the west.  The waters of Puget Sound, which had been dotted with sailboats in the morning and afternoon (the first race of the season), were still and empty, save for a single freighter leaving port, headed north.  Bound where?

At that moment, to my right, beyond the window that faces the back garden, a robin began to sing.  The garden, in the shadow of the house, was already dark.  Yet the robin -- somewhere in a cherry tree or an apple tree (I could not see him or her) -- sang and sang.

As the robin sang, I read this poem:

   Gratitude to the Unknown Instructors

What they undertook to do
They brought to pass;
All things hang like a drop of dew
Upon a blade of grass.

W. B. Yeats, The Winding Stair and Other Poems (Macmillan 1933).


Giffard Lenfestey (1872-1943), "Evening, the Stream"


Issa's Untidy Hut said...


Smiling, very broadly. Thank you &, of course, W.B.

It is a fine measure of the best of poets to see how they will out, given 4 lines or less. Here, not unlike that robin, the poet passes with flying colors.

Don Wentworth

Stephen Pentz said...

Mr. Wentworth: Thank you. I'm pleased you liked the post. The poem is lovely, isn't it? Commentators tie it to Yeats' delvings in esoteric religion, A Vision, etc. Nice to know, I suppose, but I simply find the last two lines to be beautiful and true. As you know, Yeats has several wonderful four-line poems: "The Coming of Wisdom with Time," "The Nineteenth Century and After," and "Spilt Milk," for instance. (As well as some fine five- and six-line poems.)

I agree with you about a good four-line poem being one measure of a poet. When it comes to four-line poems, my favorite is Walter de la Mare. Believe it or not, I once counted: there are 39 four-line poems in his Collected Poems (which only includes his poems for adults; I suspect there are quite a few more in his poems for children -- which are actually poems for adults as well). Yeats is stiff competition, but I think this poem by de la Mare goes well with Yeats' poem:


That shining moon -- watched by that one faint star:
Sure now am I, beyond the fear of change,
The lovely in life is the familiar,
And only the lovelier for continuing strange.

(Memory and Other Poems, 1938.)

Thank you very much for visiting again.

Don Wentworth said...


Delightful poem by de la Mare (and Night as companion) and so you have sent me off skittering to the Collected Poems for a glimpse at some more (there seems to have been two volumes - plus a Complete - well, we'll see what the library sends. I'm hoping for the two volumes in one, published in 1979).

I agree that the Yeats' may be esoteric in origin and, also, never mind. "The Coming of Wisdom with Time" hardly needs a body, the title being so spot-on. Oh, but what a body!

The title of "The Nineteenth Century and After" adds the famed 4th dimension we all struggle with from time-to-time to an already flushed out piece. I shuddered a bit - I must have been feeling this as something of an abstract of The Second Coming.

All of these have an air, in a positive way, of the cemetery. We have quite a large one nearby which we delight in for frequent walks. These would be fine, indeed, set in stone there.

It's been awhile since I've read the Yeats' pieces and never, I think, did I do so with just the 4-liners. Thank you so much for that! And the wonder full posting, as always.


Bruce Floyd said...

I have not taken count but I'd guess that no major poet wrote more four-line poems than Emily Dickinson. Again, I am just guessing, but after decades of reading her poems, almost 1800 of them, I'd wager ten to fifteen percent of her poems consist of only four lines, and many of them are good poems, some of them great poems. A good poet, those like Years are Walter de la Mare, can catch infinity in the diminutive confines of four lines. One can, to steal a part of something Hamlet says,"be bound in a nutshell and count [oneself] a king of infinite space."

Here's a Dickinson poem that speaks a truth that, it seems to me, cannot be paraphrased. To even attempt to "retell" the poem would be heresy. With this poem one can read it, and then one must be silent.

There is no Silence in the Earth--so silent
As that endured
Which uttered would discourage Nature
And haunt the World.

Stephen Pentz said...

Don: Thank you very much for the follow-up thoughts, and please accept my apologies for the delay in responding. I think "an air . . . of the cemetery" (a fine phrase) is a good thing. Your phrase, together with your anecdote of taking strolls in the graveyard, go together well with a favorite poem of mine which, coincidentally, I revisited this past week: "In a Breton Cemetery" by Ernest Dowson. I also agree that Yeats' short poems would look fine set in headstones.

A quick bibliographical note on the various editions of de la Mare's "collected" poems. The most comprehensive edition is indeed "The Complete Poems," published by Faber and Faber in 1969: it includes all of his previously-published poems for both adults and children, as well as previously unpublished and/or uncollected poems. "The Collected Poems," published by Faber in 1979, only contains his "adult" poems. The companion volume is "The Collected Rhymes and Verses," published by Faber in 1970, which only contains his poems for children. But, as de la Mare was wont to say, his "children's verse" was for "children of all ages." Which is entirely true.

Thank you again. I hope you'll return soon.

Don Wentworth said...


Thanks so much for sorting the bibliographic conundrum. I ended up getting the "Collected Poems" from the library - I'll have to check, but I'm not sure if any of the libraries in the local system have the complete.

Looking forward to reading your latest post, so I'll leave these thoughts here for now (giving you time for other activities!). I appreciate your cogent, insightful responses.


Stephen Pentz said...

Bruce: What a wonderful poem! Thank you very much for sharing it. You are exactly right: "one can read it, and then one must be silent."

Thank you as well for pointing out Dickinson's proclivity for four-line poems: I wasn't aware of the numbers. (And, by the way, thank you for sharing a number of them with us over the years.) Your thought that "a good poet . . . can catch infinity in the diminutive confines of four lines" is lovely, and perfect. Dickinson certainly does it time and time again. The quotation from Shakespeare is marvelous, and applies both to four-line poems in particular, and to poetry in general, I think. Yes, catching infinity, however briefly, is a good thing.

As always, thank you for opening new doors.

Stephen Pentz said...

Don: The Collected Poems will do the trick. I'll leave you to serendipity, but I cannot resist a few suggestions: "Days and Moments;" "Solitude;" "Winter Evening;" "Afraid." Happy reading! Thank you again for your follow-up thoughts.