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A Deep-Sworn Vow

February 8, 2017

Others because you did not keep
That deep-sworn vow have been friends of mine;
Yet always when I look death in the face,
When I clamber to the heights of sleep,
Or when I grow excited with wine,
Suddenly I meet your face.

–W.B. Yeats, 1917

COMMENTARY: Just one of Yeats’ memorable little love poems from his middle period. The “you” in the poem almost certainly refers to Maud Gonne, but there’s no telling what the vow refers to. Interesting that Yeats uses “friends” in the second line instead of “lovers.” It changes the register and provides a contrast, in its understatement, to the delirious amplitude of the next three lines.

Musically, the trick of separating the subject of the sentence from the object by a long adverbial clause (“Others (because you did not keep that deep-sworn vow) have been friends”) creates a breath-held waiting in the center of the line, a tenuous pause that clenches and releases into the rapid lines before the close.

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