William Butler Yeats died 77 years ago today at 2.30pm in a small upstairs room at the Hôtel Idéal Séjour in Roquebrune Cap Martin. The room had a wrought-iron balcony overlooking the Mediterranean, his final vista. Yeats’s wife, George, and his last mistress, Edith Shackleton Heald, were at his bedside. They took turns holding vigil over his body that night.
“He disappeared in the dead of winter:
The brooks were frozen, the airports almost deserted,
The snow disfigured the public statues;
The mercury sank in the mouth of the dying day.
What instruments we have agree
The day of his death was a dark cold day.”
So begins W. H. Auden’s poem ‘In Memory of W.B. Yeats’. It is a powerful and memorable elegy on the death of a public figure. Written in 1940, it commemorates the death of the poet in 1939, a critical year for the world at large. Read here in its entirety by Garvan McGrath it is a fitting close to the 150th anniversary celebrations of 2015.
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