The Three Beggars

A poem by William Butler Yeats

‘Though to my feathers in the wet,
I have stood here from break of day,
I have not found a thing to eat
For only rubbish comes my way.
Am I to live on lebeen-lone?’
Muttered the old crane of Gort.
‘For all my pains on lebeen-lone.’

King Guari walked amid his court
The palace-yard and river-side
And there to three old beggars said:
‘You that have wandered far and wide
Can ravel out what’s in my head.
Do men who least desire get most,
Or get the most who most desire?’
A beggar said: ‘They get the most
Whom man or devil cannot tire,
And what could make their muscles taut
Unless desire had made them so.’
But Guari laughed with secret thought,
‘If that be true as it seems true,
One of you three is a rich man,
For he shall have a thousand pounds
Who is first asleep, if but he can
Sleep before the third noon sounds.’
And thereon merry as a bird,
With his old thoughts King Guari went
From river-side and palace-yard
And left them to their argument.
‘And if I win,’ one beggar said,
‘Though I am old I shall persuade
A pretty girl to share my bed’;
The second: ‘I shall learn a trade’;
The third: ‘I’ll hurry to the course
Among the other gentlemen,
And lay it all upon a horse’;
The second: ‘I have thought again:
A farmer has more dignity.’
One to another sighed and cried:
The exorbitant dreams of beggary,
That idleness had borne to pride,
Sang through their teeth from noon to noon;
And when the second twilight brought
The frenzy of the beggars’ moon
They closed their blood-shot eyes for naught.
One beggar cried: ‘You’re shamming sleep.’
And thereupon their anger grew
Till they were whirling in a heap.

They’d mauled and bitten the night through
Or sat upon their heels to rail,
And when old Guari came and stood
Before the three to end this tale,
They were commingling lice and blood.
‘Time’s up,’ he cried, and all the three
With blood-shot eyes upon him stared.
‘Time’s up,’ he cried, and all the three
Fell down upon the dust and snored.

‘Maybe I shall be lucky yet,
Now they are silent,’ said the crane.
‘Though to my feathers in the wet
I’ve stood as I were made of stone
And seen the rubbish run about,
It’s certain there are trout somewhere
And maybe I shall take a trout
If but I do not seem to care.’

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