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

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

2. The Grey Rock

POETS with whom I learned my trade, 
Companions of the Cheshire Cheese, 
Here’s an old story I’ve re-made, 
Imagining ’twould better please 
Your ears than stories now in fashion,         5
Though you may think I waste my breath 
Pretending that there can be passion 
That has more life in it than death, 
And though at bottling of your wine 
The bow-legged Goban had no say;  10
The moral’s yours because it’s mine. 
When cups went round at close of day— 
Is not that how good stories run?— 
Somewhere within some hollow hill, 
If books speak truth in Slievenamon,  15
But let that be, the gods were still 
And sleepy, having had their meal, 
And smoky torches made a glare 
On painted pillars, on a deal 
Of fiddles and of flutes hung there  20
By the ancient holy hands that brought them 
From murmuring Murias, on cups— 
Old Goban hammered them and wrought them, 
And put his pattern round their tops 
To hold the wine they buy of him.  25
But from the juice that made them wise 
All those had lifted up the dim 
Imaginations of their eyes, 
For one that was like woman made 
Before their sleepy eyelids ran  30
And trembling with her passion said, 
‘Come out and dig for a dead man, 
Who’s burrowing somewhere in the ground, 
And mock him to his face and then 
Hollo him on with horse and hound,  35
For he is the worst of all dead men.’ 
We should be dazed and terror struck, 
If we but saw in dreams that room, 
Those wine-drenched eyes, and curse our luck 
That emptied all our days to come.  40
I knew a woman none could please, 
Because she dreamed when but a child 
Of men and women made like these; 
And after, when her blood ran wild, 
Had ravelled her own story out,  45
And said, ‘In two or in three years 
I need must marry some poor lout,’ 
And having said it burst in tears. 
Since, tavern comrades, you have died, 
Maybe your images have stood,  50
Mere bone and muscle thrown aside, 
Before that roomful or as good. 
You had to face your ends when young— 
’Twas wine or women, or some curse— 
But never made a poorer song  55
That you might have a heavier purse, 
Nor gave loud service to a cause 
That you might have a troop of friends. 
You kept the Muses’ sterner laws, 
And unrepenting faced your ends,  60
And therefore earned the right—and yet 
Dowson and Johnson most I praise— 
To troop with those the world’s forgot, 
And copy their proud steady gaze. 
‘The Danish troop was driven out  65
Between the dawn and dusk,’ she said; 
‘Although the event was long in doubt, 
Although the King of Ireland’s dead 
And half the kings, before sundown 
All was accomplished.’

                    ‘When this day
Murrough, the King of Ireland’s son, 
Foot after foot was giving way, 
He and his best troops back to back 
Had perished there, but the Danes ran, 
Stricken with panic from the attack,  75
The shouting of an unseen man; 
And being thankful Murrough found, 
Led by a footsole dipped in blood 
That had made prints upon the ground, 
Where by old thorn trees that man stood;  80
And though when he gazed here and there, 
He had but gazed on thorn trees, spoke, 
“Who is the friend that seems but air 
And yet could give so fine a stroke?” 
Thereon a young man met his eye,  85
Who said, “Because she held me in 
Her love, and would not have me die, 
Rock-nurtured Aoife took a pin, 
And pushing it into my shirt, 
Promised that for a pin’s sake,  90
No man should see to do me hurt; 
But there it’s gone; I will not take 
The fortune that had been my shame 
Seeing, King’s son, what wounds you have.” 
’Twas roundly spoke, but when night came  95
He had betrayed me to his grave, 
For he and the King’s son were dead. 
I’d promised him two hundred years, 
And when for all I’d done or said— 
And these immortal eyes shed tears— 100
He claimed his country’s need was most, 
I’d saved his life, yet for the sake 
Of a new friend he has turned a ghost. 
What does he care if my heart break? 
I call for spade and horse and hound 105
That we may harry him.’ Thereon 
She cast herself upon the ground 
And rent her clothes and made her moan: 
‘Why are they faithless when their might 
Is from the holy shades that rove 110
The grey rock and the windy light? 
Why should the faithfullest heart most love 
The bitter sweetness of false faces? 
Why must the lasting love what passes, 
Why are the gods by men betrayed!’ 115
But thereon every god stood up 
With a slow smile and without sound, 
And stretching forth his arm and cup 
To where she moaned upon the ground, 
Suddenly drenched her to the skin; 120
And she with Goban’s wine adrip, 
No more remembering what had been, 
Stared at the gods with laughing lip. 
I have kept my faith, though faith was tried, 
To that rock-born, rock-wandering foot, 125
And the world’s altered since you died, 
And I am in no good repute 
With the loud host before the sea, 
That think sword strokes were better meant 
Than lover’s music—let that be, 130
So that the wandering foot’s content. 



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