William Butler Yeats

Fergus and the Druid

{Fergus} This whole day have I followed in the rocks,
And you have changed and flowed from shape to shape,
First as a raven on whose ancient wings
Scarcely a feather lingered, then you seemed
A weasel moving on from stone to stone,
And now at last you wear a human shape,
A thin grey man half lost in gathering night.

{Druid} What would you, king of the proud Red Branch kings?

{Fergus} This would I Say, most wise of living souls:
Young subtle Conchubar sat close by me
When I gave judgment, and his words were wise,
And what to me was burden without end,
To him seemed easy, So I laid the crown
Upon his head to cast away my sorrow.

{Druid} What would you, king of the proud Red Branch kings?

{Fergus} A king and proud! and that is my despair.
I feast amid my people on the hill,
And pace the woods, and drive my chariot-wheels
In the white border of the murmuring sea;
And still I feel the crown upon my head.

{Druid} What would you, Fergus?

{Fergus} Be no more a king
But learn the dreaming wisdom that is yours.

{Druid} Look on my thin grey hair and hollow cheeks
And on these hands that may not lift the sword,
This body trembling like a wind-blown reed.
No woman's loved me, no man sought my help.

{Fergus} A king is but a foolish labourer
Who wastes his blood to be another's dream.

{Druid} Take, if you must, this little bag of dreams;
Unloose the cord, and they will wrap you round.

{Fergus} I See my life go drifting like a river
From change to change; I have been many things --
A green drop in the surge, a gleam of light
Upon a sword, a fir-tree on a hill,
An old slave grinding at a heavy quern,
A king sitting upon a chair of gold --
And all these things were wonderful and great;
But now I have grown nothing, knowing all.
Ah! Druid, Druid, how great webs of sorrow
Lay hidden in the small slate-coloured thing!

Photograph of W.B. Yeats