May 19, 2023

Where My Books Go

         Today’s poem is not exactly fantasy in its own right, but it certainly evokes magic.  It was used as a preface by William Butler Yeats to Irish Fairy Tales, published in 1892.

Where My Books Go

All the words that I gather,
   And all the words that I write,
Must spread out their wings untiring,
   And never rest in their flight,
Till they come where your sad, sad heart is,
  And sing to you in the night,
Beyond where the waters are moving,
   Storm-darken’d or starry bright.

        The first line is often quoted as “All the words that I utter,” and I do actually like that version better.  But I am unable to track down where that version comes from and whether it’s actually Yeats’s edit, or a misquotation.  (If anyone can actually tell me where the “utter” version originated, I’d be happy to hear it.)
        This poem, as I said, is magical, and it describes the magic of books: to cross oceans, to pierce darkness, to fly from heart to heart, and to bring comfort.  At any rate, that’s certainly my wish for my own books!  Unlike most of Yeats’s poetry, this one is very simple: no allusions to mythological figures, no allegories for the politics of the day, no deeply layered meanings…  Just a vision of the power of story.  Though simple, however, it is not simplistic, because the beauty of the images gives this short poem intensity.
        William Butler Yeats (Ireland, 1865-1939) is hardly an obscure poet, and given his love of mythology and Irish folktales, it’s no wonder that he’s appeared in this blog before.  You can revisit The Stolen Child and The Song of Wandering Angus.  But really, if any poem or book has ever come where your heart is, you can attest to the truth of this poem.  Whether your heart was sad before the words flew to it, or simply became more full of joy after, you know where books can go.  And any time I hear from a reader that any of my words (or pictures) have done that for them, it reminds me exactly why I keep doing this.

[Picture: Greenwood Cove, Mendocino Coast, five-color multi-block wood block print by Tom Killion, 2004 (Image from]

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