Sunday Poetry: The Old Stone Cross, by William Butler Yeats

The Old Stone Cross

A statesman is an easy man,
He tells his lies by rote;
A journalist makes up his lies
And takes you by the throat;
So stay at home’ and drink your beer
And let the neighbours’ vote,
Said the man in the golden breastplate
Under the old stone Cross.

Because this age and the next age
Engender in the ditch,
No man can know a happy man
From any passing wretch;
If Folly link with Elegance
No man knows which is which,
Said the man in the golden breastplate
Under the old stone Cross.

But actors lacking music
Do most excite my spleen,
They say it is more human
To shuffle, grunt and groan,
Not knowing what unearthly stuff
Rounds a mighty scene,
Said the man in the golden breastplate
Under the old stone Cross.

– William Butler Yeats

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After a typical week of struggling with politicians and journalists, followed by my attempt to take a 3 hour written exam this afternoon to become a certified beer judge, the first stanza of this poem struck me as extraordinarily appropriate.

By no means do I think this is one of Yeats’ greatest poems – but it is an indication of Yeats’ mastery of poetry that when I woke up this morning and thought I ought to post something involving beer as this week’s Sunday Poetry, I came across a well-wrought poem penned by Yeats.

I’m off to study the malting process! It’s cramming time.

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