Featured Poem: Ephemera, by W.B Yeats

This week’s poem is recommended by Kirsty McHugh of the OUP Blog and Otherstories. Thanks Kirsty.

I only read this poem by Yeats recently because of an essay I was writing, but I was immediately struck by the sadness and resignation that runs through it. We see a couple in the autumn of their relationship, and we overhear their final conversation: the muted agreement that the “love is waning”. While the poem itself is shot through with the imagery that came to characterize Yeats’s early work of nature, trees, and the cyclical life of the soul, it is also one of the most poignant and stunning evocations of dying love that I have ever read.

Ephemera by WB Yeats (written 1884, published 1889)

‘Your eyes that once were never weary of mine
Are bowed in sorrow under pendulous lids,
Because our love is waning.’

And then she:
‘Although our love is waning, let us stand
By the lone border of the lake once more,
Together in that hour of gentleness
When the poor tired child, Passion, falls asleep:
How far away the stars seem, and how far
Is our first kiss, and ah, how old my heart!’

Pensive they paced along the faded leaves,
While slowly he whose hand held hers replied:
‘Passion has often worn our wandering hearts.’

The woods were round them, and the yellow leaves
Fell like faint meteors in the gloom, and once
A rabbit old and lame limped down the path;
Autumn was over him: and now they stood
On the lone border of the lake once more:
Turning, he saw that she had thrust dead leaves
Gathered in silence, dewy as her eyes,
In bosom and hair.

‘Ah, do not mourn,’ he said,
‘That we are tired, for other loves await us;
Hate on and love through unripining hours.
Before us lies eternity; our souls
Are love, and a continual farewell.’

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