Poem introduction

Yeats had perhaps a unique ability to write about the grand themes of civilisation and history, but to ground them in everyday terms, as in this poem written a year before his death. The woman referred to but not named in the second stanza is Helen of Troy.

Long-legged Fly

That civilisation may not sink,
Its great battle lost,
Quiet the dog, tether the pony
To a distant post;
Our master Caesar is in the tent
Where the maps are spread,
His eyes fixed upon nothing,
A hand under his head.

Like a long-legged fly upon the stream
His mind moves upon silence.

That the topless towers be burnt
And men recall that face,
Move most gently if move you must
In this lonely place.
She thinks, part woman, three parts a child,
That nobody looks; her feet
Practise a tinker shuffle
Picked up on a street.

Like a long-legged fly upon the stream
Her mind moves upon silence.

That girls at puberty may find
The first Adam in their thought,
Shut the door of the Pope's chapel,
Keep those children out.
There on that scaffolding reclines
Michael Angelo.
With no more sound than the mice make
His hand moves to and fro.
Like a long-legged fly upon the stream
His mind moves upon silence.

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William Butler Yeats

W. B. Yeats

1The Stare's Nest by my Window


2The Second Coming


3Sailing to Byzantium


4Leda and the Swan


5The Wild Swans


6The Song of Wandering Aengus


7Long Legged Fly


Books by William Butler Yeats