I memorized this poem years ago when I was working in theater and also pursuing a degree in a new field. It struck me as the perfect fit when I used it as the introduction to a research paper on stress and health. To me, it describes the reaction of the human spirit to the demands of work—work we once chose with idealism and commitment but which now consumes us. William Butler Yeats, no doubt, rewrote the poem many times to achieve such simplicity and strength, yet the words seem to rush out in a flow of passion.
My father was my role model in many ways, the kind of person I aspire to be, with his gentleness, humor, open-mindedness, warmth, community engagement and enjoyment of the arts. He retired early from his management job to run his own small business selling specialized supplies to bird watchers. In many ways he was a cautious person, but he had the courage to risk a change when it was time. People tell me I’ve been glowing since I decided to retire early. Revisiting this poem after I’ve acted on the need it expresses, I get more out of it than ever.
How does it speak to you?
The Fascination of What’s Difficult
The fascination of what’s difficult
Has dried the sap out of my veins and rent
Spontaneous joy and natural content
Out of my heart. There’s something ails our colt
That must, as if it had not holy blood
Nor on Olympus leaped from cloud to cloud
Shiver under the lash, strain, sweat and jolt
as though it dragged road metal. My curse on plays
That have to be set up in fifty ways,
On the day’s war with every knave and dolt,
Theater business, management of men.
I swear before the dawn comes round again
I’ll find the stable and pull out the bolt.