To a Wealthy Man who Promised a Second Subscription
to the Dublin Municipal Gallery
if it were Proved the People Wanted Pictures
You gave but will not give again
Until enough of Paudeen's pence
By Biddy's halfpennies have lain
To be 'some sort of evidence,'
Before you'll put your guineas down,
That things it were a pride to give
Are what the blind and ignorant town
Imagines best to make it thrive.
What cared Duke Ercole, that bid
His mummers to the market place,
What th' onion-sellers thought or did
So that his Plautus set the pace
For the Italian comedies?
And Guidobaldo, when he made
That grammar school of courtesies
Where wit and beauty learned their trade
Upon Urbino's windy hill,
Had sent no runners to and fro
That he might learn the shepherds' will.
And when they drove out Cosimo,
Indifferent how the rancour ran,
He gave the hours they had set free
To Michelozzo's latest plan For the San Marco Library,
Whence turbulent Italy should draw
Delight in Art whose end is peace,
In logic and in natural law
By sucking at the dugs of Greece.
Your open hand but shows our loss,
For he knew better how to live.
Let Paudeens play at pitch and toss,
Look up in the sun's eye and give
What the exultant heart calls good
That some new day may breed the best
Because you gave, not what they would
But the right twigs for an eagle's nest!
William Butler Yeats, December 1912.
This poem, as is fairly clear from the title, was basically written to solicit more money from a patron. It's a rather flattering piece that plays to the donor's vanity by asking him to consider great patrons of the past like Cosimo de Medici and Duke Ercole II d'Este, and essentially asking him to forget whether the people want art or not - rather to allow people of learning to appreciate it for its own sake.
See...In a more civilized age, even the spam was beautiful!
Another interesting thing to note is its inclusion of "Art whose end is peace", a line from Coventry Patmore (1823 - 1896) originating with Horace (65-8 BC), which Yeats also used as an epigram to Explorations. It is a poetic maxim that is interesting and complex in the way that Keats' "Beauty is truth, truth beauty..." is. It has recently resurfaced in Seamus Heaney's "The Harvest Bow", though he phrases it "The end of art is peace", which gives it an interesting ambiguity if "end" is read as a pun.