An Irish Airman forsees his Death
I know that I shall meet my fate
Somewhere among the clouds above:
Those that I fight I do not hate,
Those that I guard I do not love:
My country is Kiltartan Cross,
My countrymen Kiltartan’s poor,
No likely end could bring them loss
Or leave them happier than before.
Nor law, nor duty bade me fight,
Nor public men, nor cheering crowds,
A lonely impulse of delight
Drove to this tumult in the clouds;
I balanced all, brought all to mind,
The years to come seemed waste of breath,
A waste of breath the years behind
In balance with this life, this death.
I was pleased to discover this week that at the very least, a small fraction of William Butler Yeats’ early work is in the public domain. That made me happy. We’ll be having quite a bit of Yeats around here for the next little while, because not only did he write good poetry, I actually know a bit about him.
This is the third poem in the 1919 version of The Wild Swans at Coole. The preceding poem is “In Memory of Major Robert Gregory” and there is little doubt that this is Yeats speaking for Royal Flying Corps Major Robert Gregory, the son of his friend, fellow-writer, collaborator, and patron, Lady Gregory.
Robert Gregory was shot down and killed over Italy in 1918.