24 SEPTEMBER 1948, Page 10



The remains of W. B. Yeats, Ireland's greatest poet and dramatist, were last week brought back from Mentone, where he died in 1939, in the Eire corvette Maclut,' in accordance with the poet's wish that he should be buried at Drumcliffe, Sligo.

IT was a fine celebration. He had told us that "dizzy dreams can spring from the dry bones of the dead," but we were not in the mood to speculate thus with him last Friday. There was too much going on ; the day was crowded, and sometimes even clangorous with public and private pride. And it was both right and easy that the mood of the occasion was a smiling one ; right, because Ireland's very great son, her sure immortal, the greatest poet in English since Wordsworth, was by his own wish coming home from wide and various wanderings—home at last from the French Medi- terranean shore—to take up his perpetual rest, completing the bright ring of the poetic life, under the grey hills of his childhood—a conclusive, right event which must lift the dullest spirit ; and easy, it was easy to enjoy and savour it, because one knew that nine years would have done their natural work in the hearts that had loved the man, and because our sense of the world's loss of the poet has been tempered and even removed by increasing awareness of all that it gained through his life.

So Friday was something of a festival, and if that word has a free-and-easy ring, so much the better is it here. For we are not very good at ceremony in Ireland, and our warmly meant attempts at it in Galway. and Sligo tended to go wrong on us here and there—only thereby causing us to smile at ourselves and enjoy our occasion by that much the more. Thus, when the corvette Macha '—first ship of Ireland's own navy to enter Mediterranean waters—sailed into Galway Harbour on the morning's high tide, all of us waiting alongside were delighted with her prettiness and pleased to -reflect on the honour she had done herself in this first felicitous commission; but we did not ask, or get, Royal Navy precision in the ritual of bringing the poet ashore ; and nobody minded that the CitY Fathers were gowned or not gowned as their fancies dictated, or that one of them—no doubt with a cold in his head—very splendid from neck to toe in red and purple silk, kept nervously doffing and donning his favourite old brown felt hat. What we did get—the important thing—was a shining Galway morning, a lovely light outlining the noble town and the graceful ship with the still figures on its deck—the poet's wife, his son, his daughter, his famous, white-haired brother—and a communal mood

of welcome and gratitude as the great, tall coffin came at last to land.

In Sligo at midday the weather was turning towards sadness, but there was no rain yet, and the people were out from every closed-up house and shop th claim and acclaim their poet. He was met at the city boundary: Sean MacBride, Minister for External Affairs, received him there ; so did other members of the Government, so did Eamonn de Valera, so did the Mayor and Corporation of Sligo. And the pipers of Sligo piped him into town. As Jack Yeats had said in the Galway hotel the evening before: "They have a lovely pipers band in Sligo." He lay in state an hour before the Town Hall, while Sligo milled delightedly about him, and Dublin, all the thronging, famous Dubliners, a little out of things perhaps at this point, a shade reduced and hungry, sought hastily for lunch.

In the afternoon the rain fell as we turned northward for Drum- cliffe. Ben Bulben was draped in cold rain, and the long quays and drained-out waters of Sligo Harbour recalled us to tho. ughts of his later work, of its unsparing, iron relentlessness " . . that stern colour and that delicate line that are our secret discipline." Rain or no rain, the streets and the roads, the grassy banks and hillocks all the way were crowded. There seemed to be children in thousands watching him go past ; peering through hazel-branches or over wet stone walls one saw the faces of Crazy Jane and Toin O'Roughley and Red Hanrahan and Dervorgilla ; and every signpost that we passed bore some great word from his poems.

Drumcliffe Church and graveyard stand on a little grey-green plateau below Ben Bulben. The landscape all about carries the mist and the grey weather as its natural adornment, and the undu- lating, dreaming, spacious beauty of this part of Sligo County lays instant claim upon the heart. No wonder indeed, one thought, standing under the tall, sighing elms by the open grave, no wonder he desired to be laid down here in this most noble place—he who said that he was- "jealous . . . for those grey mountains that are still lacking their celebration." He need no longer be jealous ; they have been celebrated now and partake henceforward of his immortality.

He was met at his grave-side by a silver-haired bishop with a silver crozier ; there were five attendant clergymen, and friends of all kinds and degrees, old friends and -young friends—and some ghostly ones, too, maybe, come back for the day—pressed about his family, and tried in vain, against the wind and the sighing of the trees, to hear some of the great phrases of the committal scrvice. The rain continued to fall ; the turned earth gave up a pungent smell and rooks cawed from the tree-tops. The prayers were over soon, and the grave-diggers began to clank their shovels, but people waited to see the grave filled and the laurel wreath laid on it, and waited on in the rain still to hear the Mayor of Sligo speak his short, valediction.

One overheard amusing things: "'0 Death, where is thy sting ? ' Sure, that isn't in the Burial Service at all ! That's from Abide With Me.'" And: "Stop pushing, man ! You'll have me into the ' grave." "Sure, wouldn't it be a great honour for 'you to get a leg in there ? " And: "Did, you ever read anything he wrote ? " "Well, I did, mind you. tis high-class stuff, of course—but in my private opinion the most of it is great rambling."

When the Dubliners got back at dusk to their hotel fires, their tea and toast and their glasses of whisky, they all struck one as singularly peaceful and friendly, as if secretly enriched ; the talk on all sides seemed gentle and laudatory ; there was no malice to be heard, for once: Thoughts ran inevitably on greatness, and most of that lively company of Yeats's mourners were surely thinking with- out a grudge of what a glorious fate it is, when the earthly end has come, to have been a great poet. "The years like great black oxen tread the world," but the poet -escapes from them, taking on, immortality ; and that day in Sligo we enjoyed vicariously his high fortune, and were glad to know that his dreaming bones were home and safe in Drumcliffe. It had indeed been an exhilarating thing to travel the last bit of the road with him, the road that all his life he had resolved to tread.