Friday, July 17, 2009

Politics by William Butler Yeats

I am going to try to avoid too many posts that begin this way but . . . several years ago, when I was losing my mind from too much pressure, sadness, and despair from long days working on death penalty cases, I taped this poem on the wall of my office to help get some perspective. I read it to mean that beauty - holding life and love in your arms - eclipses even the big dramas in the world. I took it as a directive to try to forget about my clients, their tragic cases, and their awful lives and circumstances for the night, to go home and be with N., to drive through the streets with her taking in the city we love, and not to forget that I got into this odd brand of human rights work because I cared about actual people, including the ones in my life.

I apologize to anyone who has heard me try to recite it from memory while drunk. I was only trying to remind myself.

by William Butler Yeats

'In our time the destiny of man presents its meanings in political terms.' -Thomas Mann

How can I, that girl standing there,
My attention fix
On Roman or on Russian
Or on Spanish politics?
Yet here's a travelled man that knows
What he talks about,
And there's a politician
That has both read and thought,
And maybe what they say is true
Of war and war's alarms,
But O that I were young again
And held her in my arms.


  1. Billy -

    There is a lovely version of this Yeats poem recorded by Karl Wallinger of World Party. I found it about a decade ago on a CD entitled Now And In Time To Be: A Musical Celebration Of The Works Of W.B. Yeats. It has a gentle wistfulness about it.

    Fred O.

  2. Spitball, Thanks for letting me know. I'll look it up (though its hard to imagine it as a song).