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William Butler Yeats: A Prayer for My Daughter 

Once more the storm is howling, and half hid

Under this cradle-hood and coverlid

My child sleeps on. There is no obstacle

But Gregory’s Wood and one bare hill

Whereby the haystack and roof-levelling wind,

Bred on the Atlantic, can be stayed;

And for an hour I have walked and prayed

Because of the great gloom that is in my mind.

I have walked and prayed for this young child an hour,

And heard the sea-wind scream upon the tower,

And under the arches of the bridge, and scream

In the elms above the flooded stream;

Imagining in excited reverie

That the future years had come

Dancing to a frenzied drum

Out of the murderous innocence of the sea.

May she be granted beauty, and yet not

Beauty to make a stranger’s eye distraught,

Or hers before a looking-glass; for such,

Being made beautiful overmuch,

Consider beauty a sufficient end,

Lose natural kindness, and maybe

The heart-revealing intimacy

That chooses right, and never find a friend.

Helen, being chosen, found life flat and dull,

And later had much trouble from a fool;

While that great Queen that rose out of the spray,

Being fatherless, could have her way,

Yet chose a bandy-leggèd smith for man.

It’s certain that fine women eat

A crazy salad with their meat

Whereby the Horn of Plenty is undone.

In courtesy I’d have her chiefly learned;

Hearts are not had as a gift, but hearts are earned

By those that are not entirely beautiful.

Yet many, that have played the fool

For beauty’s very self, has charm made wise;

And many a poor man that has roved,

Loved and thought himself beloved,

From a glad kindness cannot take his eyes.

May she become a flourishing hidden tree,

That all her thoughts may like the linnet be,

And have no business but dispensing round

Their magnanimities of sound;

Nor but in merriment begin a chase,

Nor but in merriment a quarrel.

Oh, may she live like some green laurel

Rooted in one dear perpetual place.

My mind, because the minds that I have loved,

The sort of beauty that I have approved,

Prosper but little, has dried up of late,

Yet knows that to be choked with hate

May well be of all evil chances chief.

If there’s no hatred in a mind

Assault and battery of the wind

Can never tear the linnet from the leaf.

An intellectual hatred is the worst,

So let her think opinions are accursed.

Have I not seen the loveliest woman born

Out of the mouth of Plenty’s horn,

Because of her opinionated mind

Barter that horn and every good

By quiet natures understood

For an old bellows full of angry wind?

Considering that, all hatred driven hence,

The soul recovers radical innocence

And learns at last that it is self-delighting,

Self-appeasing, self-affrighting,

And that its own sweet will is heaven’s will,

She can, though every face should scowl

And every windy quarter howl

Or every bellows burst, be happy still.

And may her bridegroom bring her to a house

Where all’s accustomed, ceremonious;

For arrogance and hatred are the wares

Peddled in the thoroughfares.

How but in custom and in ceremony

Are innocence and beauty born?

Ceremony’s a name for the rich horn,

And custom for the spreading laurel tree.

Public Domain. Originally published in Poetry, November 1919.


William Butler Yeats (1865-1939)

4 comments on “William Butler Yeats: A Prayer for My Daughter 

  1. Rose Mary Boehm
    March 24, 2023

    Always loved Yeats.


  2. Loranneke
    March 24, 2023

    Such deep heart-intelligence!


    • Vox Populi
      March 24, 2023

      Yes, I went to Ireland in 1974 to study Yeats and Joyce. The stay changed my life.


      Liked by 1 person

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