, , ,


Early 20th century tinplate clockwork toy duck.

From ‘George’s Ghosts: A New Life of W.B. Yeats’ by Brenda Maddox (1999) pp. 209-210.

“Yeats was once more living at the Savile Club in London, working on ‘A Vision’, when George wrote to remind him that Michael had just passed his third birthday. One of the servants had given the boy a clockwork train. Seeing his fascination with it, she suggested that Yeats buy him a mechanical toy. Yeats did as he was told. He took himself to Harrods [. . . ] For his small son, he selected a mechanical duck that waved its wings and chimed when pulled along on a string. Two years later he was to write:

Once out of nature I shall never take
My bodily form from any natural thing,
But such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make 
Of hammered gold and gold enamelling
To keep a drowsy Emperor awake;
Or set upon a golden bough to sing
To lords and ladies of Byzantium
Of what is past, or passing, or to come.

‘Sailing to Byzantium’ from ‘The Tower’ (1928)

Did what may be the best-known bird in English-language poetry after Keats’s nightingale come from Harrods’ toy department?”