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13.7: A Prayer for My Daughter

[1]

Once more the storm is howling, and half hid
Under this cradle-hood and coverlid
My child sleeps on.  There is no obstacle
But Gregory’s wood[2] and one bare hill
Whereby the haystack- and roof-levelling wind.
Bred on the Atlantic, can be stayed;
And for an hour I have walked and prayed
Because of the great gloom that is in my mind.

I have walked and prayed for this young child an hour
And heard the sea-wind scream upon the tower,
And-under the arches of the bridge, and scream
In the elms above the flooded stream;
Imagining in excited reverie
That the future years had come,
Dancing to a frenzied drum,
Out of the murderous innocence of the sea.

May she be granted beauty and yet not
Beauty to make a stranger’s eye distraught,
Or hers before a looking-glass, for such,
Being made beautiful overmuch,
Consider beauty a sufficient end,
Lose natural kindness and maybe
The heart-revealing intimacy
That chooses right, and never find a friend.

Helen[3] being chosen found life flat and dull
And later had much trouble from a fool,
While that great Queen,[4] that rose out of the spray,
Being fatherless could have her way
Yet chose a bandy-legged smith[5] for man.
It’s certain that fine women[6] eat
A crazy salad with their meat
Whereby the Horn of plenty[7] is undone.

In courtesy I’d have her chiefly learned;
Hearts are not had as a gift but hearts are earned
By those that are not entirely beautiful;
Yet many, that have played the fool
For beauty’s very self, has charm made wise.
And many a poor man that has roved,
Loved and thought himself beloved,
From a glad kindness cannot take his eyes.

May she become a flourishing hidden tree
That all her thoughts may like the linnet be,
And have no business but dispensing round
Their magnanimities of sound,
Nor but in merriment begin a chase,
Nor but in merriment a quarrel.
O may she live like some green laurel
Rooted in one dear perpetual place.

My mind, because the minds that I have loved,
The sort of beauty that I have approved,
Prosper but little, has dried up of late,
Yet knows that to be choked with hate
May well be of all evil chances chief.
If there’s no hatred in a mind
Assault and battery of the wind
Can never tear the linnet from the leaf.

An intellectual hatred is the worst,
So let her think opinions are accursed.
Have I not seen the loveliest woman[8] born
Out of the mouth of plenty’s horn,
Because of her opinionated mind
Barter that horn and every good
By quiet natures understood
For an old bellows full of angry wind?

Considering that, all hatred driven hence,
The soul recovers radical innocence
And learns at last that it is self-delighting,
Self-appeasing, self-affrighting,
And that its own sweet will is Heaven’s will;
She can, though every face should scowl
And every windy quarter howl
Or every bellows burst, be happy still.

And may her bridegroom bring her to a house
Where all’s accustomed, ceremonious;
For arrogance and hatred are the wares
Peddled in the thoroughfares.
How but in custom and in ceremony
Are innocence and beauty born?
Ceremony’s a name for the rich horn,
And custom for the spreading laurel tree.

1921

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  1. Yeats was 54 when his first child, a daughter Ann, was born on February 26, 1919.  An artist, she never married and died in 2001.  Yeats’s son, two years younger, was an Irish politician. He died in 2007, survived by three daughters and a son. 
  2. On Lady Gregory’s property (cf. “The Wild Swans at Coole”), and near the ancient Norman tower, Thoor Ballylee, in Galway, which Yeats renovated, and where he lived, on and off, from his marriage in 1917 until his death. 
  3. See “No Second Troy,” note 1. 
  4. Venus, the goddess of love. 
  5. Vulcan, lame; i.e., bandy-legged, blacksmith to the gods. 
  6. Yeats is likely thinking of Maud Gonne, who married a man vastly inferior, in Yeats’s opinion, to him. 
  7. In Greek myth, the horn of the goat that suckled the chief of the gods, Zeus, filling Zeus with nectar and ambrosia; hence, the horn of plenty is a symbol of abundance, “plenty.” 
  8. Maud Gonne again. 
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