WB Yeats and his grave

yeats' grave

Under Ben Bulben by WB Yeats
Under bare Ben Bulben's head
In Drumcliff churchyard Yeats is laid.
An ancestor was rector there
Long years ago, a church stands near,
By the road an ancient cross.
No marble, no conventional phrase;
On limestone quarried near the spot
By his command these words are cut:

Cast a cold eye
On life, on death.
Horseman, pass by!

published 1933. Part VI
observations: WB Yeats wrote his own burial instructions, and put them into verse – this is part of a much longer poem.

Ben Bulben is a remarkable mountain lowering over this part of Sligo. Like the moon, it seems to follow you round as you drive through the beautiful countryside. (And you can make stupid jokes: ‘Old Ben Bulben is an atmospheric mountain overlooking the grave, not an aged Irish yokel.’)

On a recent trip to Ireland I wanted to do some Yeats touring – as one friend said ‘Nothing says fun holiday day out like a trip to a dead poet’s grave.’Yeat's grave 2

The house at Lissadell – this entry – is very close to the graveyard at Drumcliff where Yeats is buried.

Or is he?

Shockingly, it has recently been suggested that the bones are not necessarily his. He died and was buried in the south of France in 1939: the transfer of his remains to Ireland didn’t happen till 1948. And now it seems there was trouble identifying the right bits – see this article here.

I still enjoyed my journey to his grave – and although there is a café and giftshop onsite (!!!) they are not nearly as tacky as that sounds.

Here’s another poem by Yeats, published in 1904:

Never Give All the Heart by WB Yeats
Never give all the heart, for love
Will hardly seem worth thinking of
To passionate women if it seem
Certain, and they never dream
That it fades out from kiss to kiss;
For everything that’s lovely is
But a brief, dreamy, kind delight.
O never give the heart outright,
For they, for all smooth lips can say,
Have given their hearts up to the play.
And who could play it well enough
If deaf and dumb and blind with love?
He that made this knows all the cost,
For he gave all his heart and lost.

More Yeats here and here, and another beautiful Irish poem here.

With thanks to the photographers and fellow-visitors.


  1. I'm always fascinated by those kinds of mysteries, Moira. Are those really Yeats' bones? If not, what happened to them? It's all so interesting. It's good to know that his gravesite is kept more or less tourist-junk free. And I do have to love the fact that he was so specific about his burial instructions.

    1. I like to imagine the French authorities' consternations: they get a request from the Irish govt (I think) for a great poet's bones, and they're not too sure where they are. I think we'd all try to find something to send over there in a coffin....

  2. Truly fascinating, Moira. We know so little about the real lives of writers and poets.

    1. Yeats is a particularly fascinating example, because he was so open about some things, and wrote about everything, but I always feel he was a slippery character and you don't quite know what he was about...

  3. Lovely to read Yeats here - and find out more of his history. Never Give All the Heart is beautiful. Ben Bulben reminds me of the Scurr on the Isle of Eigg. Many, many moons ago I had my honeymoon in a small croft under its shadow...

    1. That sounds lovely, lucky you.

      Yeats on a good day writes beautiful poetry...

  4. "Nothing says ruined holiday day out like a trip to a dead poet’s grave."

  5. I think it is wonderful when a poet has a grave with a cafe and gift shop. Says to me a lot of people are interested in him. Better than Disneyland (any version).

    1. That's a lovely way of looking at it, I am going to remember your charm and grace next time I am tempted to be grumpy about something similar....


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