Halloween Poetry: W. B. Yeats, “All Souls’ Night”

All Souls’ Night

By W.B. Yeats

Midnight has come and the great Christ Church bell

And many a lesser bell sound through the room;

And it is All Souls’ Night.

And two long glasses brimmed with muscatel

5 Bubble upon the table. A ghost may come;

For it is a ghost’s right,

His element is so fine

Being sharpened by his death,

To drink from the wine-breath

10 While our gross palates drink from the whole wine.

I need some mind that, if the cannon sound

From every quarter of the world, can stay

Wound in mind’s pondering,

As mummies in the mummy-cloth are wound;

15 Because I have a marvellous thing to say,

A certain marvellous thing

None but the living mock,

Though not for sober ear;

It may be all that hear

20 Should laugh and weep an hour upon the clock.

Horton’s the first I call. He loved strange thought

And knew that sweet extremity of pride

That’s called platonic love,

And that to such a pitch of passion wrought

25 Nothing could bring him, when his lady died,

Anodyne for his love.

Words were but wasted breath;

One dear hope had he:

The inclemency

30 Of that or the next winter would be death.

Two thoughts were so mixed up I could not tell

Whether of her or God he thought the most,

But think that his mind’s eye,

When upward turned, on one sole image fell;

35 And that a slight companionable ghost,

Wild with divinity,

Had so lit up the whole

Immense miraculous house

The Bible promised us,

40 It seemed a gold-fish swimming in a bowl.

On Florence Emery I call the next,

Who finding the first wrinkles on a face

Admired and beautiful,

And by foreknowledge of the future vexed;

45 Diminished beauty, multiplied commonplace;

Preferred to teach a school

Away from neighbour or friend,

Among dark skins, and there

Permit foul years to wear

50 Hidden from eyesight to the unnoticed end.

Before that end much had she ravelled out

From a discourse in figurative speech

By some learned Indian

On the soul’s journey. How it is whirled about

55 Wherever the orbit of the moon can reach,

Until it plunge into the sun;

And there, free and yet fast,

Being both Chance and Choice,

Forget its broken toys

60 And sink into its own delight at last.

I call MacGregor Mathers from his grave,

For in my first hard spring-time we were friends,

Although of late estranged.

I thought him half a lunatic, half knave,

65 And told him so, but friendship never ends;

And what if mind seem changed,

And it seem changed with the mind,

When thoughts rise up unbid

On generous things that he did

70 And I grow half contented to be blind!

He had much industry at setting out,

Much boisterous courage, before loneliness

Had driven him crazed;

For meditations upon unknown thought

75 Make human intercourse grow less and less;

They are neither paid nor praised.

but he’d object to the host,

The glass because my glass;

A ghost-lover he was

80 And may have grown more arrogant being a ghost.

But names are nothing. What matter who it be,

So that his elements have grown so fine

The fume of muscatel

Can give his sharpened palate ecstasy

85 No living man can drink from the whole wine.

I have mummy truths to tell

Whereat the living mock,

Though not for sober ear,

For maybe all that hear

90 Should laugh and weep an hour upon the clock.

Such thought — such thought have I that hold it tight

Till meditation master all its parts,

Nothing can stay my glance

Until that glance run in the world’s despite

95 To where the damned have howled away their hearts,

And where the blessed dance;

Such thought, that in it bound

I need no other thing,

Wound in mind’s wandering

100 As mummies in the mummy-cloth are wound.

W. B. Yeats

For more see Paul Muldoon :

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Related video added by Juan Cole

National Geographic: “Halloween History”