Has there ever been an unrequited love that’s paid more poetic dividends than WB Yeats’s decades long pursuit of unyielding Maud Gonne?*
[cue Robert Johnson: “All my love’s in vain.”]
Here’s a slight sampling:
She bid me take life easy, as the grass grows on the weirs;
But I was young and foolish, and now am full of tears.
“Down by the Salley Gardens”
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.
“When You Are Old”
Half close your eyelids, loosen your hair,
And dream about the great and their pride;
They have spoken against you everywhere,
But weigh this song with the great and their pride;
I made it out of a mouthful of air,
Their children’s children shall say they have lied.
“He Thinks of Those Who Have Spoken Evil of His Beloved”
O Heart! O Heart, if she’d but turn her head
You’d know the folly of being comforted.
“The Folly of Being Comforted”
Never give all the heart, for love
Will hardly seem worth thinking of
To passionate women if it seem
Certain, and they never dream
That it fades out from kiss to kiss;
For everything that’s lovely is
But a brief, dreamy, kind delight.
O never give the heart outright,
For they, for all smooth lips can say,
Have given their hearts up to the play.
And who could play it well enough
If deaf and dumb and blind with love?
He that made this knows all the cost,
For he gave all his heart and lost.
“Never Give All the Heart”
I could go on and on, but allow me just one more:
We sat grown quiet at the name of love;
We saw the last embers of daylight die,
And in the trembling blue-green of the sky
A moon, worn as if it had been a shell
Washed by time’s waters as they rose and fell
About the stars and broke in days and years.
I had a thought for no one’s but your ears:
That you were beautiful, and that I strove
To love you in the old high way of love;
That it had all seemed happy, and yet we’d grown
As weary-hearted as that hollow moon.
Given this inspiration, perhaps I should lament I’ve never suffered unrequited love.
I have, on the other hand, suffered numerous unrequited crushes, but compared to the unstaunched hemorrhaging of Yeats’s heart, my rejections add up to so many mosquito bites scratched to the point of bleeding but fairly soon forgotten.
Not very inspiring, not the stuff of poetry, merely the stuff of doggerel.
The Lazy Muse of Unrequited Crushes
She sleeps till one each afternoon,
The lazy muse of unrequited crushes.
Never gazes at the waning moon,
Stomps around my brain on crutches,
Lisping doggerel with an interrogative lilt,
Ransacking my drafty garret,
Looking for an obscure line to lift
From Mrs. Elizabeth Barrett
Browning. Womp, womp.
*When Yeats told Gonne he wasn’t happy without her, she replied, “Oh yes, you are, because you make beautiful poetry out of what you call your unhappiness and are happy in that. Marriage would be such a dull affair. Poets should never marry. The world should thank me for not marrying you.” Norman A. Jeffares, W.B. Yeats, a New Biography.