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This article is taken from PN Review 30, Volume 9 Number 4, March - April 1983.

Poets on Stilts: Yeats and some Contemporaries Donald Davie

ONE of the poems of Yeats that has attracted least attention is in Last Poems. It is called 'High Talk' ; and one reason why it is seldom noticed is, I should like to think, that it ends with Yeats at his most foolish and least plausible. However, up to the last three lines it contains much that is pleasing, and it addresses itself to one feature of Yeats's writing which I think we should, in 1982, be particularly concerned with:


Processions that lack high stilts have nothing that catches the eye.
What if my great-grand-dad had a pair that were twenty foot high,
And mine were but fifteen foot, no modern stalks upon higher,
Some rogue of the world stole them to patch up a fence or a fire.
Because piebald ponies, led bears, caged lions, make but poor
  shows,
Because children demand Daddy-long-legs upon his timber toes,
Because women in the upper storeys demand a face at the pane,
That patching old heels they may shriek, I take to chisel and
  plane.

Malachi Stilt-Jack am I, whatever I learned has run wild,
From collar to collar, from stilt to stilt, from father to child.
All metaphor, Malachi, stilts and all. A barnacle goose
Far up in the stretches of night; night splits and the dawn breaks
  loose ;
I, through the terrible novelty of light, stalk on, ...


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