Humanities › Literature Under Ben Bulben by William Butler Yeats Last Poem by Yeats Writes His Epitaph Share Flipboard Email Print Culture Club / Contributor / Getty Images Literature Poetry Favorite Poems & Poets Poetic Forms Best Sellers Classic Literature Plays & Drama Quotations Shakespeare Short Stories Children's Books By Bob Holman & Margery Snyder Poetry Experts B.A., English and American Literature, University of California at Santa Barbara B.A., English, Columbia College Bob Holman and Margery Snyder are nationally-recognized poets who have been featured on WNYC and NPR. our editorial process Bob Holman & Margery Snyder Updated May 10, 2017 Irish Nobel laureate poet William Butler Yeats penned "Under Ben Bulben" as the last poem he would ever write. It is fitting that he wrote the last three lines to be the epitaph inscribed on his gravestone. The poem is a last will and testament for Yeats' artistic and spiritual vision. His uses the legendary women and horsemen of the area to embody the spiritual wholeness and immortality. He calls on humanity, artists, and poets to continue to produce their art. Ben Bulben is the rock formation in County Sligo, Ireland, where Yeats is buried as he foretells in this poem. Ben, or binn means peak or mountain. Bulben comes from ghulbain, which means jaw or beak. The mountain is a destination for those following the passport trail of Yeats' life. The last line of Under Ben Bulben is used as the title for Larry McMurtry's first novel, "Horseman, Pass By." Under Ben Bulbenby William Butler Yeats (1938) I Swear by what the sages spokeRound the Mareotic LakeThat the Witch of Atlas knew,Spoke and set the cocks a-crow. Swear by those horsemen, by those womenComplexion and form prove superhuman,That pale, long-visaged companyThat air in immortalityCompleteness of their passions won;Now they ride the wintry dawnWhere Ben Bulben sets the scene. Here’s the gist of what they mean. II Many times man lives and diesBetween his two eternities,That of race and that of soul,And ancient Ireland knew it all.Whether man die in his bedOr the rifle knocks him dead,A brief parting from those dearIs the worst man has to fear.Though grave-diggers’ toil is long,Sharp their spades, their muscles strong.They but thrust their buried menBack in the human mind again. III You that Mitchel’s prayer have heard,“Send war in our time, O Lord!”Know that when all words are saidAnd a man is fighting mad,Something drops from eyes long blind,He completes his partial mind,For an instant stands at ease,Laughs aloud, his heart at peace.Even the wisest man grows tenseWith some sort of violenceBefore he can accomplish fate,Know his work or choose his mate. IV Poet and sculptor, do the work,Nor let the modish painter shirkWhat his great forefathers did.Bring the soul of man to God,Make him fill the cradles right. Measurement began our might:Forms a stark Egyptian thought,Forms that gentler Phidias wrought.Michael Angelo left a proofOn the Sistine Chapel roof,Where but half-awakened AdamCan disturb globe-trotting MadamTill her bowels are in heat,Proof that there’s a purpose setBefore the secret working mind:Profane perfection of mankind. Quattrocento put in paintOn backgrounds for a God or SaintGardens where a soul’s at ease;Where everything that meets the eye,Flowers and grass and cloudless sky,Resemble forms that are or seemWhen sleepers wake and yet still dream.And when it’s vanished still declare,With only bed and bedstead there,That heavens had opened. Gyres run on;When that greater dream had goneCalvert and Wilson, Blake and Claude,Prepared a rest for the people of God,Palmer’s phrase, but after thatConfusion fell upon our thought. V Irish poets, learn your trade,Sing whatever is well made,Scorn the sort now growing upAll out of shape from toe to top,Their unremembering hearts and headsBase-born products of base beds.Sing the peasantry, and thenHard-riding country gentlemen,The holiness of monks, and afterPorter-drinkers’ randy laughter;Sing the lords and ladies gayThat were beaten into the clayThrough seven heroic centuries;Cast your mind on other daysThat we in coming days may beStill the indomitable Irishry. VI Under bare Ben Bulben’s headIn Drumcliff churchyard Yeats is laid.An ancestor was rector thereLong years ago, a church stands near,By the road an ancient cross.No marble, no conventional phrase;On limestone quarried near the spotBy his command these words are cut: Cast a cold eye On life, on death. Horseman, pass by!