Happy St. Patrick’s Day to everyone lucky enough to have a bit of Ireland in them, and to everyone who is Irish just for a day! My grandmother was proudly, fiercely Irish, a Roman Catholic from Northern Ireland – she used to tell my English father that she didn’t hold his heritage against him, since it wasn’t really his fault he was born English! My mum was only half Irish, but she grew up surrounded by her mother’s large Irish immigrant family, which essentially colonised a Toronto suburb in the 1950’s and 1960’s. I’m only 1/4 Irish (though like most Europeans I’m probably far more mixed than that), but on St. Patrick’s Day I’m happy to embrace that quarter for all it’s worth, and to celebrate my Irish heritage.
The Irish are a poetic people with a long and proud literary tradition, and they have produced some of Europe’s best-known and most beloved poets. In honour of this most Irish of days, here is one of my favourite poems, from the incomparable Irish poet and statesman William Butler Yeats.
When You Are Old
When you are old and grey and full of sleep,
And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;
How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true,
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face;
And bending down beside the glowing bars,
Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled
And paced upon the mountains overhead
And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.