On this day in 1939, William Butler Yeats breathed his last breath. His last words, while living in France were, “If I die bury me up there [at Roquebrune cemetery] and then in a year’s time when the newspapers have forgotten me, dig me up and plant me in [County] Sligo.”
Well, the War broke out and they had to put off the re-interment a while, but in Sept. 1948 the Flower-class corvette LÉ Macha (01) of the Irish Navy escorted the poet’s remains from France to Drumcliffe, County Sligo, for reburial, taken aboard after a funeral march from Nice to the ship with band, trumpeters and military honors from a company of French Chasseurs Alpins troops.
Gang-plank goes ashore from the first Irish warship, the LE Macha. Photograph Defence Forces
As a tribute, my favorite work of the great Irishman.
Sailing to Byzantium
That is no country for old men. The young
In one another’s arms, birds in the trees
– Those dying generations – at their song,
The salmon‐falls, the mackerel‐crowded seas,
Fish, flesh, or fowl, commend all summer long
Whatever is begotten, born, and dies.
Caught in that sensual music all neglect
Monuments of unageing intellect.
An aged man is but a paltry thing,
A tattered coat upon a stick, unless
Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing
For every tatter in its mortal dress,
Nor is there singing school but studying
Monuments of its own magnificence;
And therefore I have sailed the seas and come
To the holy city of Byzantium.
O sages standing in God’s holy fire
As in the gold mosaic of a wall,
Come from the holy fire, perne in a gyre,
And be the singing‐masters of my soul.
Consume my heart away; sick with desire
And fastened to a dying animal
It knows not what it is; and gather me
Into the artifice of eternity.
Once out of nature I shall never take
My bodily form from any natural thing,
But such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make
Of hammered gold and gold enamelling
To keep a drowsy Emperor awake;
Or set upon a golden bough to sing
To lords and ladies of Byzantium
Of what is past, or passing, or to come.
Also, the 295-foot Samuel Beckett-class offshore patrol vessel LÉ William Butler Yeats (P63), is the newest addition to the Irish Naval Service, who treasure a tradition of naming their warships after poets.