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The Old Age Of Queen Maeve Analysis



Author: poem of William Butler Yeats Type: poem Views: 18

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A certain poet in outlandish clothes

Gathered a crowd in some Byzantine lane,

Talked1 of his country and its people, sang

To some stringed instrument none there had seen,

A wall behind his back, over his head

A latticed window.  His glance went up at time

As though one listened there, and his voice sank

Or let its meaning mix into the strings.



Maeve the great queen was pacing to and fro,

Between the walls covered with beaten bronze,

In her high house at Cruachan; the long hearth,

Flickering with ash and hazel, but half showed

Where the tired horse-boys lay upon the rushes,

Or on the benches underneath the walls,

In comfortable sleep; all living slept

But that great queen, who more than half the night

Had paced from door to fire and fire to door.

Though now in her old age, in her young age

She had been beautiful in that old way

That's all but gone; for the proud heart is gone,

And the fool heart of the counting-house fears all

But Soft beauty and indolent desire.

She could have called over the rim of the world

Whatever woman's lover had hit her fancy,

And yet had been great-bodied and great-limbed,

Fashioned to be the mother of strong children;

And she'd had lucky eyes and high heart,

And wisdom that caught fire like the dried flax,

At need, and made her beautiful and fierce,

Sudden and laughing.

                         O unquiet heart,

Why do you praise another, praising her,

As if there were no tale but your own tale

Worth knitting to a measure of sweet sound?

Have I not bid you tell of that great queen

Who has been buried some two thousand years?



When night was at its deepest, a wild goose

Cried from the porter's lodge, and with long clamour'

Shook the ale-horns and shields upon their hooks;

But the horse-boys slept on, as though some power

Had filled the house with Druid heaviness;

And wondering who of the many-changing Sidhe

Had come as in the old times to counsel her,

Maeve walked, yet with slow footfall, being old,

To that small chamber by the outer gate.

The porter slept, although he sat upright

With still and stony limbs and open eyes.

Maeve waited, and when that ear-piercing noise

Broke from his parted lips and broke again,

She laid a hand on either of his shoulders,

And shook him wide awake, and bid him say

Who of the wandering many-changing ones

Had troubled his sleep.  But all he had to say

Was that, the air being heavy and the dogs

More still than they had been for a good month,

He had fallen asleep, and, though he had dreamed

     nothing,

He could remember when he had had fine dreams.

It was before the time of the great war

Over the White-Horned Bull and the Brown Bull.



She turned away; he turned again to sleep

That no god troubled now, and, wondering

What matters were afoot among the Sidhe,

Maeve walked through that great hall, and with a sigh

Lifted the curtain of her sleeping-room,

Remembering that she too had seemed divine

To many thousand eyes, and to her own

One that the generations had long waited

That work too difficult for mortal hands

Might be accomplished, Bunching the curtain up

She saw her husband Ailell sleeping there,

And thought of days when he'd had a straight body,

And of that famous Fergus, Nessa's husband,

Who had been the lover of her middle life.



Suddenly Ailell spoke out of his sleep,

And not with his own voice or a man's voice,

But with the burning, live, unshaken voice

Of those that, it may be, can never age.

He said, 'High Queen of Cruachan and Magh Ai,

A king of the Great Plain would speak with you.'

And with glad voice Maeve answered him, 'What king

Of the far-wandering shadows has come to me,

As in the old days when they would come and go

About my threshold to counsel and to help?'

The parted lips replied, 'I seek your help,

For I am Aengus, and I am crossed in love.'

'How may a mortal whose life gutters out

Help them that wander with hand clasping hand,

Their haughty images that cannot wither,

For all their beauty's like a hollow dream,

Mirrored in streams that neither hail nor rain

Nor the cold North has troubled?'

                                   He replied,

'I am from those rivers and I bid you call

The children of the Maines out of sleep,

And set them digging under Bual's hill.

We shadows, while they uproot his earthy housc,

Will overthrow his shadows and carry off

Caer, his blue-eyed daughter that I love.

I helped your fathers when they built these walls,

And I would have your help in my great need,

Queen of high Cruachan.'

                         'I obey your will

With speedy feet and a most thankful heart:

For you have been, O Aengus of the birds,

Our giver of good counsel and good luck.'

And with a groan, as if the mortal breath

Could but awaken sadly upon lips

That happier breath had moved, her husband turned

Face downward, tossing in a troubled sleep;

But Maeve, and not with a slow feeble foot,

Came to the threshold of the painted house

Where her grandchildren slept, and cried aloud,

Until the pillared dark began to stir

With shouting and the clang of unhooked arms.

She told them of the many-changing ones;

And all that night, and all through the next day

To middle night, they dug into the hill.

At middle night great cats with silver claws,

Bodies of shadow and blind eyes like pearls,

Came up out of the hole, and red-eared hounds

With long white bodies came out of the air

Suddenly, and ran at them and harried them.



The Maines' children dropped their spades, and stood

With quaking joints and terror-stricken faces,

Till Maeve called out, 'These are but common men.

The Maines' children have not dropped their spades

Because Earth, crazy for its broken power,

Casts up a Show and the winds answer it

With holy shadows.' Her high heart was glad,

And when the uproar ran along the grass

She followed with light footfall in the midst,

Till it died out where an old thorn-tree stood.



Friend of these many years, you too had stood

With equal courage in that whirling rout;

For you, although you've not her wandering heart,

Have all that greatness, and not hers alone,

For there is no high story about queens

In any ancient book but tells of you;

And when I've heard how they grew old and died,

Or fell into unhappiness, I've said,

'She will grow old and die, and she has wept!'

And when I'd write it out anew, the words,

Half crazy with the thought, She too has wept!

Outrun the measure.

                    I'd tell of that great queen

Who stood amid a silence by the thorn

Until two lovers came out of the air

With bodies made out of soft fire.  The one,

About whose face birds wagged their fiery wings,

Said, 'Aengus and his sweetheart give their thanks

To Maeve and to Maeve's household, owing all

In owing them the bride-bed that gives peace.'

Then Maeve:  'O Aengus, Master of all lovers,

A thousand years ago you held high ralk

With the first kings of many-pillared Cruachan.

O when will you grow weary?'

                              They had vanished,

But our of the dark air over her head there came

A murmur of soft words and meeting lips.






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