Poem of the Day: ‘The Fiddler of Dooney’

It was the early Willy Yeats who gave us ‘The Fiddler of Dooney,’ set here for St. Patrick’s Day.

Via Wikimedia Commons
W.B. Yeats (detail). Via Wikimedia Commons

Before he made his modernist turn — transforming himself into as great a poet as the 20th-century would know — William Butler Yeats (1865–1939) was a wildly successful late-romantic young Irish poet: “Willy Yeats,” as he was sometimes known by his readers, for he had the gift of making himself seem a friend and companion — different from the later “William Butler Yeats” who looked out from his tower above the literary scene. And it was this early Willy Yeats who gave us “The Fiddler of Dooney,” set here for St. Patrick’s Day: trimeter quatrains in the voice of an Irish fiddler who expects the joy he brings through his songs are better even than the prayers of his priest brother and cousin. A St. Patrick’s offering. “Four or five miles from Innisfree, there’s a great rock called Dooney Rock where I had often picnicked when a child,” he later wrote. “And when in my 24th year I made up a poem about a merry fiddler I called him ‘The Fiddler of Dooney’ in commemoration of that rock and of all those picnics. The places mentioned in the poem are all places near Sligo.”

The Fiddler of Dooney
by William Butler Yeats

When I play on my fiddle in Dooney,
Folk dance like a wave of the sea;
My cousin is priest in Kilvarnet,
My brother in Moharabuiee.

I passed my brother and cousin: 
They read in their books of prayer;
I read in my book of songs
I bought at the Sligo fair.

When we come at the end of time,
To Peter sitting in state,
He will smile on the three old spirits,
But call me first through the gate;

For the good are always the merry,
Save by an evil chance,
And the merry love the fiddle
And the merry love to dance:

And when the folk there spy me,
They will all come up to me,
With ‘Here is the fiddler of Dooney!’
And dance like a wave of the sea.


With “Poem of the Day,” The New York Sun offers a daily portion of verse selected by the Sun’s poetry editor, Joseph Bottum of Dakota State University, with the help of a North Carolina poet, Sally Thomas. Tied to the day, or the season, or just individual taste, the poems will be typically drawn from the lesser-known portion of the history of English verse. In the coming months we will be reaching out to contemporary poets for examples of current, primarily formalist work, to show that poetry can still serve as a delight to the ear, an instruction to the mind, and a tonic for the soul.

The New York Sun

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