Poet's Choice

By Robert Pinsky
Sunday, March 11, 2007

"A blizzard of bloodstained paper" amid "raging fires."

This image comes not from some poet's overwrought fantasy but from a news story about the recent suicide-bombing at "a popular book market" in Baghdad.

Blood and fire, in phrases quieter than these, appear in the sixth poem of "Meditations in Time of Civil War," by the Irish poet William Butler Yeats (1865-1939). The poem contrasts its blood and fire with the idea of domestic shelter, embodied by a bird's nest (the stare, related to "starling"), by a bee's hive, by "a house burned" -- and by the poet's own study window:


The bees build in the crevices

Of loosening masonry, and there

The mother birds bring grubs and flies.

My wall is loosening; honey-bees,

Come build in the empty house of the stare.

We are closed in, and the key is turned

On our uncertainty; somewhere

A man is killed, or a house burned,

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