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September 1913 - W. B. Yeats

In this poem Yeats is commenting on the employers of Dublin who locked out their workers in the General Strike of 1913 and the crowd of middleclass commercial interests who did not support him when he appealed for money to build an Art Gallery to house the newly acquired famous Lane Collection. It is a scathing criticism of the mercenary materialism he felt was rampant in Ireland at that time.

What need you, being come to sense,
But fumble in a greasy till
And add the halfpence to the pence
And prayer to shivering prayer, until
You have dried the marrow from the bone?
For men were born to pray and save:
Romantic Ireland's dead and gone,
It's with O'Leary in the grave.

Yet they were of a different kind,Willam-Butler-Yeats
The names that stilled your childish play,
They have gone about the world like wind,
But little time had they to pray
For whom the hangman's rope was spun,
And what, God help us, could they save?
Romantic Ireland's dead and gone,
It's with O'Leary in the grave.

Was it for this the wild geese spread
The grey wing upon every tide;
For this that all that blood was shed,
For this Edward Fitzgerald died,
And Robert Emmet and Wolfe Tone,
All that delirium of the brave?
Romantic Ireland's dead and gone,
It's with O'Leary in the grave.

Yet could we turn the years again,
And call those exiles as they were
In all their loneliness and pain,
You'd cry, 'Some woman's yellow hair
Has maddened every mother's son':
They weighed so lightly what they gave.
But let them be, they're dead and gone,
They're with O'Leary in the grave.


Yeats is my favorite poet.
I love the refrain
Who, please, is O'Leary?
How did he get in the grave?
I'm afraid my knowledge of Irish history is limited.
John O'Leary (1830-1907) was a Tipperary man who was very active in rebelling against English power over Ireland during the 19th cent. Like many of those with the same romantic idea of a free Ireland he suffered for his beliefs.

In 1865 O'Leary was arrested in England, tried on Conspiracy charges and sentenced to twenty years penal servitude. He served nine years in English prisons before being sent into exile in Paris in 1874. O'Leary returned to Ireland in 1885 and lived with his sister.
Have you heard The Waterboys' "An Appointment with Mr Yeats" in which Yeats' words are set to music? It's excellent.
I'm afraid not. But I shall remedy that as soon as I can. Thank you.
Youtube link to Waterboys' version of "September 1913". The album tracks are varied in genre. This one's more contemporary but other tracks are folk, blues etc. An intriguing experiment which, on the whole, works really well I found. Mike Scott cites Yeats as a major formative influence.