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“John Kinsella’s Lament for Mrs Mary Moore” by W.B. Yeats

The best Irish poetry is always longing. Often melancholy.

Yeats is most famous for “When You are Old,” a┬áThomas Kinkade painting put into words.

When You are Old

When you are old and grey and full of sleep,
And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;

How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true,
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face;

And bending down beside the glowing bars,
Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled
And paced upon the mountains overhead
And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.

[Thomas Kinkade, Candlelight Cottage, 1996. Thomas Kinkade Studios]

But Yeats could go beyond the indulgent and borderline saccharine with a poem like Lament. There’s nothing saccharine about a prostitute or a mistress. But we have longing.

What shall I do for pretty girls
Now my old bawd is dead?

John Kinsella’s Lament for Mrs Mary Moore

by W.B. Yeats (1865-1939)

A bloody and a sudden end,
Gunshot or a noose,
For Death who takes what man would keep,
Leaves what man would lose.
He might have had my sister,
My cousins by the score,
But nothing satisfied the fool
But my dear Mary Moore,
None other knows what pleasures man
At table or in bed.
What shall I do for pretty girls
Now my old bawd is dead?

Though stiff to strike a bargain
Like an old Jew man,
Her bargain stuck we laughed and talked
And emptied many a can;
And O! but she had stories,
Though not for the priest’s ear,
To keep the soul of man alive,
Banish age and care,
And being old she put a skin
On everything she said.
What shall I do for pretty girls
Now my old bawd is dead?

The priests have got a book that says
But for Adam’s sin
Eden’s Garden would be there
And I there within.
No expectation fails there,
No pleasing habit ends,
No man grows old, no girl grows cold,
But friends walk by friends.
Who quarrels over halfpennies
That plucks the trees for bread?
What shall I do for pretty girls
Now my old bawd is dead?

Read by Tom O’Bedlam