The Twilight of October


As we end October and welcome November, let’s take a few moments to reflect on the ten months of 2016. How many of those New Year’s Resolutions are still vivid and reachable?

Perhaps, to assist in answering the question, let’s turn to a man born in Sandymount, Dublin on June 13, 1865.  June is a good month in which to be born in the Northern Hemisphere since it is the ending of Spring and the beginning of Summer.

His name was William Butler Yeats.  He was a Nobel Prize Winner, a poet, an essayist and a playwright. I was introduced to Yeats in secondary English by Mrs. F.

In his poem The Wild Swans at Coole, Yeats reflects on Autumn and his life:

The trees are in their autumn beauty,

The woodland paths are dry,

Under the October twilight the water

Mirrors a still sky;

Upon the brimming water among the stones

Are nine-and-fifty swans.

The nineteenth autumn has come upon me

Since I first made my count;

I saw, before I had well finished,

All suddenly mount

And scatter wheeling in great broken rings

Upon their clamorous wings.

Nineteen years ago the poet, the man, had first observed this scene of pastoral beauty.  You can detect the sadness in his voice as he wrote those words at the end of his October.

For us nineteen years ago was 1997.  It seems so long ago.

We were counting down to the new millennium.  The 20th Century had its share of tragedies and triumphs.

We all were hoping the next 1000 years would usher in a new birth for the human race with glorious prospects on the horizon for both us and our planet traversing the cosmos. With our imagination and hands, we contemplated our first steps into the cosmic ocean to touch Mars and beyond.

Unfortunately, so far the 21st Century has been filled with overwhelming grief for millions, especially women and children.  Extremism, violence, scarcities, wars and natural calamities seem to be plagues with no end in sight.

Going back to Yeats:

I have looked upon those brilliant creatures,

And now my heart is sore.

All’s changed since I, hearing at twilight,

The first time on this shore,

The bell-beat of their wings above my head,

Trod with a lighter tread.

Unwearied still, lover by lover,

They paddle in the cold

Companionable streams or climb the air;

Their hearts have not grown old;

Passion or conquest, wander where they will,

Attend upon them still.

But now they drift on the still water,

Mysterious, beautiful;

Among what rushes will they build,

By what lake’s edge or pool

Delight men’s eyes when I awake some day

To find they have flown away?

The swans go about their lives with little thought about tomorrow.  For them today is the reality of their existence.

The aging Yeats wonders whether, in the future when he once again gazes upon the mystery and beauty of the bucolic life on the lake, will the swans be there?  That’s the question we face in 2016 as we count down to 2017.

The pastoral scenes of our youth or the cheerfulness of our New Year’s Eves reveal one poignant fact.  We age and drift along in our human vessel toward the ultimate climax on the human seas of life.

I don’t know if Yeats ever returned to Coole to meditate on the swans in October or walk in the autumn woods.  For us our Coole swans are still with us—our New Year’s Resolutions, hopes and dreams.

As time elapses in our latter years, we should visit our Cooles often.  For when encased in those majestic scenes of the past and present, we relish the memories of our lives.

May our hearts not grow old.  May our passion for life ever guide us because  we are wanderers, cosmic wanderers.

When the twilight of October touches us, may we have truly not simply lived, but thrived in our pursuits, hopes and dreams.  For us our conquest is to taste the ambrosia from the shoreline trees of the cosmic ocean.

G. D. Williams © 2016

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William Butler Yeats (June 13, 1865 – January 28, 1939)

Yeats is one of the few writers whose greatest works were written after the award of the Nobel Prize. Whereas he received the Prize chiefly for his dramatic works, his significance today rests on his lyric achievement. His poetry, especially the volumes The Wild Swans at Coole (1919), Michael Robartes and the Dancer (1921), The Tower (1928), The Winding Stair and Other Poems(1933), and Last Poems and Plays (1940), made him one of the outstanding and most influential twentieth-century poets writing in English.


William Butler Yeats was one of the greatest English-language poets of the 20th century and received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1923.

Born in Ireland in 1865, William Butler Yeats published his first works in the mid-1880s while a student at Dublin’s Metropolitan School of Art. His early accomplishments include The Wanderings of Oisin and Other Poems (1889) and such plays as The Countess Kathleen (1892) and Deirdre (1907).


In 1867, when Yeats was only two, his family moved to London, but he spent much of his boyhood and school holidays in Sligo with his grandparents. This country—its scenery, folklore, and supernatural legend—would colour Yeats’s work and form the setting of many of his poems. In 1880 his family moved back to Dublin, where he attended the high school. In 1883 he attended the Metropolitan School of Art in Dublin, where the most important part of his education was in meeting other poets and artists.

Yeats was never fully at home in the material world. His poems are filled with references to hidden things: the fairies, the Druids, the “far-off, most secret, and inviolate Rose.” Just before he died, Yeats was especially taken with the Indian philosophy of Vedanta, which teaches that the whole universe is an illusion.


Mentone, France, Jan. 29 (AP). — Mr. Yeats died in the little French Riviera town of Roquebrune, after a short illness, at a boarding house where he and his wife had been staying.

When he labored at his chosen craft, that of writing poetry, essays and plays, Mr. Yeats frequently let his mind roam far afield in the realm of fancy, and it is for the gentle beauty of such works that he was hailed by many as the greatest poet of his time in the English language.


Welcome to Coole-Garryland Nature Reserve

Coole Park, in the early 20th century, was the centre of the Irish Literary Revival. William Butler Yeats, George Bernard Shaw, John Millington Synge and Sean O’ Casey all came to experience its magic. They and many others carved their initials on the Autograph Tree, an old Copper beech still standing in the walled garden today.