Verse > W.B. Yeats > Responsibilities and Other Poems

W.B. Yeats (1865–1939).  Responsibilities and Other Poems.  1916.

12. The Three Hermits

THREE old hermits took the air 
By a cold and desolate sea, 
First was muttering a prayer, 
Second rummaged for a flea; 
On a windy stone, the third,         5
Giddy with his hundredth year, 
Sang unnoticed like a bird. 
‘Though the Door of Death is near 
And what waits behind the door, 
Three times in a single day  10
I, though upright on the shore, 
Fall asleep when I should pray.’ 
So the first but now the second, 
‘We’re but given what we have earned 
When all thoughts and deeds are reckoned  15
So it’s plain to be discerned 
That the shades of holy men, 
Who have failed being weak of will, 
Pass the Door of Birth again, 
And are plagued by crowds, until  20
They’ve the passion to escape.’ 
Moaned the other, ‘They are thrown 
Into some most fearful shape.’ 
But the second mocked his moan: 
‘They are not changed to anything,  25
Having loved God once, but maybe, 
To a poet or a king 
Or a witty lovely lady.’ 
While he’d rummaged rags and hair, 
Caught and cracked his flea, the third,  30
Giddy with his hundredth year, 
Sang unnoticed like a bird. 



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