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His Phoenix

William Butler Yeats

There is a queen in China, or maybe it’s in Spain,
And birthdays and holidays such praises can be heard
Of her unblemished lineaments, a whiteness with no stain,
That she might be that sprightly girl trodden by a bird;
And there’s a score of duchesses, surpassing womankind,
Or who have found a painter to make them so for pay
And smooth out stain and blemish with the elegance of his mind:
I knew a phoenix in my youth, so let them have their day.

The young men every night applaud their Gaby’s laughing eye,
And Ruth St.  Denis had more charm although she had poor luck;
From nineteen hundred nine or ten, Pavlova’s had the cry
And there’s a player in the States who gathers up her cloak
And flings herself out of the room when Juliet would be bride
With all a woman’s passion, a child’s imperious way,
And there are—but no matter if there are scores beside:
I knew a phoenix in my youth, so let them have their day.

There’s Margaret and Marjorie and Dorothy and Nan,
A Daphne and a Mary who live in privacy;
One’s had her fill of lovers, another’s had but one,
Another boasts, ‘I pick and choose and have but two or three.’
If head and limb have beauty and the instep’s high and light
They can spread out what sail they please for all I have to say,
Be but the breakers of men’s hearts or engines of delight:
I knew a phoenix in my youth, so let them have their day.

There’ll be that crowd, that barbarous crowd, through all the centuries,
And who can say but some young belle may walk and talk men wild
Who is my beauty’s equal, though that my heart denies,
But not the exact likeness, the simplicity of a child,
And that proud look as though she had gazed into the burning sun,
And all the shapely body no tittle gone astray.
I mourn for that most lonely thing; and yet God’s will be done:
I knew a phoenix in my youth, so let them have their day.
Online text © 1998-2014 Poetry X. All rights reserved.
From The Wild Swans at Coole | 1919
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