Adam's Curse
        --- William Butler Yeats

We sat together at one summer’s end,
That beautiful mild woman, your close friend,   
And you and I, and talked of poetry.
I said, ‘A line will take us hours maybe;
Yet if it does not seem a moment’s thought,   
Our stitching and unstitching has been naught.   
Better go down upon your marrow-bones   
And scrub a kitchen pavement, or break stones   
Like an old pauper, in all kinds of weather;   
For to articulate sweet sounds together
Is to work harder than all these, and yet   
Be thought an idler by the noisy set
Of bankers, schoolmasters, and clergymen   
The martyrs call the world.’
                                          And thereupon
That beautiful mild woman for whose sake   
There’s many a one shall find out all heartache   
On finding that her voice is sweet and low   
Replied, ‘To be born woman is to know—
Although they do not talk of it at school—
That we must labour to be beautiful.’
I said, ‘It’s certain there is no fine thing   
Since Adam’s fall but needs much labouring.
There have been lovers who thought love should be   
So much compounded of high courtesy   
That they would sigh and quote with learned looks   
Precedents out of beautiful old books;   
Yet now it seems an idle trade enough.’

We sat grown quiet at the name of love;   
We saw the last embers of daylight die,   
And in the trembling blue-green of the sky   
A moon, worn as if it had been a shell   
Washed by time’s waters as they rose and fell   
About the stars and broke in days and years.

I had a thought for no one’s but your ears:   
That you were beautiful, and that I strove   
To love you in the old high way of love;
That it had all seemed happy, and yet we’d grown   
As weary-hearted as that hollow moon.

Dear W. B. --

For years I've heard the echoes of your speech,
thought of schoolmasters and clergymen bent
on denying sweet sounds, determined to put us
on our marrow-bones, to make us scrub our
poor remarks from their pavements, exiled 
from any academy or church. I hear you 
in that yellow moon, the crackle of daffodil
thrusting up from frozen beds, the creak 
of our maple against the mossing roof. 
Taste you in a swallow of flattening beer, flat acrid 
at the back of my throat.
                                      Now I've grown past 
the middle of my life, bones twisting, poetry holding
my coat and snickering, I still struggle to be good, to 
earn "beautiful" as I fling sweet sounds against these
invisible walls, to find the old highways of "love," 
but only end up tired and heavy-hearted, waiting 
in the dark for some glorious mystery,

your voice the finest sandpaper against my 
fragile skin, mansplaining in the growing gloom, 
pontificating outside my invisible prison. 
And the "mild" woman's voice as it rises to meet you
confesses the weight of your charge: that she
(and I) be "beautiful," working like garden statues
with blank eyes in the twilight, inspiring your
incisive words, and so destined to become yet
another echo of your ancient voice, captured
forever (or until we rot) in one of your dusty books.

Suggested soundtrack: The Pretenders, “Back on the Chain Gang”