A Prayer for My Daughter

By William Butler Yeats 1865–1939
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 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, being chosen, found life flat and dull,   
And later had much trouble from a fool;   
While that great Queen that rose out of the spray,   
Being fatherless, could have her way,   
Yet chose a bandy-leggèd smith for man.   
It's certain that fine women eat   
A crazy salad with their meat   
Whereby the Horn of Plenty 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.   
Oh, 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 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.

Originally published in Poetry, November 1919.

Source: Poetry (November 1919).

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This poem originally appeared in the November 1919 issue of Poetry magazine

November 1919
 William Butler Yeats

Biography

William Butler Yeats is widely considered to be one of the greatest poets of the twentieth century. He belonged to the Protestant, Anglo-Irish minority that had controlled the economic, political, social, and cultural life of Ireland since at least the end of the seventeenth century. Most members of this minority considered themselves English people who merely happened to have been born in Ireland, but Yeats was staunch in . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Birth & Birthdays, Men & Women, Parenthood, Living, Relationships

POET’S REGION Ireland

SCHOOL / PERIOD Modern

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