Many ingenious lovely things are gone That seemed sheer miracle to the multitude, Protected from the circle of the moon That pitches common things about. There stood Amid the ornamental bronze and stone An ancient image made of olive wood— And gone are Phidias’ famous ivories And all the golden grasshoppers and bees.
We too had many pretty toys when young; A law indifferent to blame or praise, To bribe or threat; habits that made old wrong Melt down, as it were wax in the sun’s rays; Public opinion ripening for so long We thought it would outlive all future days. O what fine thought we had because we thought That the worst rogues and rascals had died out.
All teeth were drawn, all ancient tricks unlearned, And a great army but a showy thing; What matter that no cannon had been turned Into a ploughshare? Parliament and king Thought that unless a little powder burned The trumpeters might burst with trumpeting And yet it lack all glory; and perchance The guardsmen’s drowsy chargers would not prance.
Now days are dragon-ridden, the nightmare Rides upon sleep: a drunken soldiery Can leave the mother, murdered at her door, To crawl in her own blood, and go scot-free; The night can sweat with terror as before We pieced our thoughts into philosophy, And planned to bring the world under a rule, Who are but weasels fighting in a hole.
He who can read the signs nor sink unmanned Into the half-deceit of some intoxicant From shallow wits; who knows no work can stand, Whether health, wealth or peace of mind were spent On master-work of intellect or hand, No honour leave its mighty monument, Has but one comfort left: all triumph would But break upon his ghostly solitude.
But is there any comfort to be found? Man is in love and loves what vanishes, What more is there to say? That country round None dared admit, if such a thought were his, Incendiary or bigot could be found To burn that stump on the Acropolis, Or break in bits the famous ivories Or traffic in the grasshoppers or bees.
—William Butler Yeats (1922)