Women and Politics and Beauty: Yeats

the poem:

In Memory of Eva Gore-Booth and Con Markiewicz

by WB Yeats

Written 1927 published 1933


The light of evening, Lissadell,
Great windows open to the south,
Two girls in silk kimonos, both
Beautiful, one a gazelle.
But a raving autumn shears
Blossom from the summer's wreath;
The older is condemned to death,
Pardoned, drags out lonely years
Conspiring among the ignorant.
I know not what the younger dreams -
Some vague Utopia - and she seems,
When withered old and skeleton-gaunt,
An image of such politics.
Many a time I think to seek
One or the other out and speak
Of that old Georgian mansion, mix
Pictures of the mind, recall
That table and the talk of youth,
Two girls in silk kimonos, both
Beautiful, one a gazelle.

Dear shadows, now you know it all,
All the folly of a fight
With a common wrong or right.
The innocent and the beautiful
Have no enemy but time;
Arise and bid me strike a match
And strike another till time catch;
Should the conflagration climb,
Run till all the sages know.
We the great gazebo built,
They convicted us of guilt;
Bid me strike a match and blow.

Observations: The opening image is immensely, strikingly beautiful, but the poem as a whole is strange to modern eyes and ears. Yeats wrote a lot about the loss of women’s beauty (or girls’ beauty as – very much of his time – he puts it), and eventually, amid the well-phrased regrets, you want to say: maybe there was more to life for them than being beautiful for you and then losing it.

Con Markiewicz had an extraordinary life, well worth looking up: she was the first woman elected to the British Parliament, though she never took her seat, and she was ‘condemned to death, pardoned’ (this is no metaphor) for her role in the 1916 Irish Easter Rising. She was Minister of Labour in the new Irish Government, surely one of the first women ever to hold such a role, and her ‘lonely years’ were spent in admirable-sounding political activity.

Both she and her sister Eva had died in the 16 months  before Yeats wrote this.

Here he rhymes 'politics' with 'mix': another of his poems has these lines:

How can I, that girl standing there,
My attention fix
On Roman or on Russian
Or on Spanish politics?

His most famous poem is probably The Second Coming. The great Marilyn Robinson says this in When I was a Child I read books:

WB Yeats wrote of the world in his time, “The best lack all conviction, and the worst / Are full of passionate intensity.” As we nod in recognition, it is important to remember that Yeats’s sympathies were with fascism.

Links up with: A
Japanese kimono, and a Korean one, and the whole Chinese robe thing here and here and here. Irish women and their love affairs here.

The picture is a cheat as it is, plainly, one woman and her reflection. It was painted by Alfred Stevens and is called
La Parisienne Japonaise.