'A Prayer for my Daughter' - W.B. Yeats

Yeats writes 'A Prayer for my Daughter' in 1919 and publishes in 1921 as part of his poetry collection Michael Robartes and the Dancer. 'A Prayer for my Daughter' immediately follows 'The Second Coming' and presents a formal and thematic cure for the 'blood dimmed tide' unleashed in the famously apocalyptic poem. Here is the poem:


A Prayer for my Daughter


Once more the storm is howling, and half hid   

Under this cradle-hood and coverlid   

My child sleeps on. There is no obstacle   

But Gregory's Wood and one bare hill   

Whereby the haystack and roof-levelling wind,   

Bred on the Atlantic, can be stayed;   

And for an hour I have walked and prayed   

Because of the great gloom that is in my mind.

I have walked and prayed for this young child an hour,

And heard the sea-wind scream upon the tower,

And under the arches of the bridge, and scream

In the elms above the flooded stream;

Imagining in excited reverie

That the future years had come   

Dancing to a frenzied drum   

Out of the murderous innocence of the sea.

May she be granted beauty, and yet not   

Beauty to make a stranger's eye distraught,   

Or hers before a looking-glass; for such,   

Being made beautiful overmuch,   

Consider beauty a sufficient end,   

Lose natural kindness, and maybe   

The heart-revealing intimacy   

That chooses right, and never find a friend.

Helen, being chosen, found life flat and dull,   

And later had much trouble from a fool;   

While that great Queen that rose out of the spray,   

Being fatherless, could have her way,   

Yet chose a bandy-leggèd smith for man.   

It's certain that fine women eat   

A crazy salad with their meat   

Whereby the Horn of Plenty is undone.

In courtesy I'd have her chiefly learned;   

Hearts are not had as a gift, but hearts are earned   

By those that are not entirely beautiful.   

Yet many, that have played the fool

For beauty's very self, has charm made wise;   

And many a poor man that has roved,   

Loved and thought himself beloved,   

From a glad kindness cannot take his eyes.

May she become a flourishing hidden tree,   

That all her thoughts may like the linnet be,   

And have no business but dispensing round   

Their magnanimities of sound;   

Nor but in merriment begin a chase,   

Nor but in merriment a quarrel.   

Oh, may she live like some green laurel   

Rooted in one dear perpetual place.

My mind, because the minds that I have loved,   

The sort of beauty that I have approved,   

Prosper but little, has dried up of late,   

Yet knows that to be choked with hate   

May well be of all evil chances chief.   

If there's no hatred in a mind   

Assault and battery of the wind   

Can never tear the linnet from the leaf.

An intellectual hatred is the worst,   

So let her think opinions are accursed.   

Have I not seen the loveliest woman born

Out of the mouth of Plenty's horn,   

Because of her opinionated mind   

Barter that horn and every good   

By quiet natures understood   

For an old bellows full of angry wind?

Considering that, all hatred driven hence,   

The soul recovers radical innocence   

And learns at last that it is self-delighting,

Self-appeasing, self-affrighting,   

And that its own sweet will is heaven's will,   

She can, though every face should scowl   

And every windy quarter howl   

Or every bellows burst, be happy still.

And may her bridegroom bring her to a house   

Where all's accustomed, ceremonious;   

For arrogance and hatred are the wares   

Peddled in the thoroughfares.   

How but in custom and in ceremony   

Are innocence and beauty born?   

Ceremony's a name for the rich horn,   

And custom for the spreading laurel tree.


The harmony of rhyme with theme changes the pace, tone and texture of the militarised reality of 'Easter 1916', turning into the nightmare birth of 'The Second Coming', into prayer-form where musical relations to both natural and cosmic order weave meter and rhyme to synchronise parent-child with reader-text in an incantation to dispel disease. By comparing the different moods as tones in the sound patterns across the verses the nature of the cure proposed for internal sickness and external anarchy is orchestrated. Each stanza offers counterpointed quatrains with the short couplet in lines six and seven enclosed by the longer meter and rhyme of five and eight to form a musical Tower of syntax protecting innocence from harm. Each stanza is held together by a strong period or semi-colon at the centre as diction and syntax offer a formal cure for ‘the centre cannot hold’ in ‘The Second Coming’.


The second stanza sets ‘the sea-wind scream’ as dominant note running over line three before it is held in the centre with a semicolon as the rhythm quickens to shorter tetrameter:

I have walked and prayed for this young child an hour
And heard the sea-wind scream upon the tower,
And under the arches of the bridge, and scream
In the elms above the flooded stream;
Imagining in excited reverie
That the future years had come,
Dancing to a frenzied drum,
Out of the murderous innocence of the sea.

The changed pace of the second quatrain shifts from exterior to interior as imagination transforms time into order. In contrast stanza six bears the ‘linnet’ song to again centre the sound-effect in ‘magnanimities’ and repeating ‘nor but in merriments’ before the sounding brass of Maud Gonne turns the Horn of Plenty into call to war in the next verse. The prayer’s power to restore inner harmony is completed as a direct reversal of 'The Second Coming's' destroyed 'ceremonies of innocence':

Considering that, all hatred driven hence,
The soul recovers radical innocence
And learns at last that it is self-delighting,
Self-appeasing, self-affrighting,
And that its own sweet will is Heaven’s will;
She can, though every face should scowl
And every windy quarter howl
Or every bellows burst, be happy still.

Yeats offers his daughter a poetic cure for the violence and cruelty he saw in the world.




Other Yeats materials:


'Leda and the Swan'

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