Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 480
Here are some quotes from "Ben Bulben" by Yeats:
Swear by those horsemen, by those women,
Complexion and form prove superhuman,
Yeats composes stanzas based on his artistic inspiration. In the first stanza, he writes about the "Witch of Atlas," the subject of a mystical poem by Shelley. He also writes in the lines above about the supernatural women who are supposed to haunt Ben Bulben, a mountain in western Ireland. By asking the reader of the poem to swear by these two kinds of mystical creatures, Yeats invites them into the world of the supernatural and into the mythical imagination.
Though grave-diggers' toil is long,
Sharp their spades, their muscle strong,
They but thrust their buried men
Back in the human mind again.
In the second stanza, Yeats writes about the way in which the soul achieves immortality. He contrasts the physical digging of the grave diggers, which seems to suggest finality, with the immortality of the soul. He says that people's parting from loved ones is brief, as their souls are reborn in eternity. As Yeats wrote this poem shortly before he died, these lines were perhaps meant to comfort himself as well.
Michael Angelo left a proof
On the Sistine Chapel roof,
Where but half-awakened Adam
Can disturb globe-trotting Madam
Till her bowels are in heat,
In the fourth stanza, Yeats goes back through time and describes works of art that awaken people's spirituality. He speaks about Michelangelo, who painted the roof of the Sistine Chapel. Michelangelo's rendering of Adam in the painting can cause a tourist to be jarred out of complacency and to feel great emotion even now, Yeats writes. He implores modern artists to find this same kind of fervor and inspiration in their works of art, and he believes that different forms of art, including poetry, sculpture, and painting, have the capacity to bring people to spiritual realizations.
Sing the peasantry, and then
Hard-riding country gentlemen,
The holiness of monks, and after
Porter-drinkers' randy laughter;
In the fifth stanza, Yeats addresses himself to Irish poets in particular. He tells them to look to the past and to the subject matter of their own country, including everyone from the peasants to gentlemen to monks. By writing about Irish subjects, they will continue the greatness of Irish poetry, whose strength and power Yeats believed in. He says that they should include subjects and people from all walks of life in what they write.
Cast a cold eye
On life, on death.
Horseman, pass by!
In the final lines of the poem, Yeats includes the epitaph written on his grave. The last stanza describes his coming death. On his grave, which is to be made of limestone instead of marble, he will carve these lines, which are not conventional. They tell the reader to continue to fight for inspiration and to emulate the horsemen of yore.