Touch of a Poet

February 13, 1998 at 12:00 AM EDT

ROBERT PINSKY, Poet Laureate: It may be that when we think of poetry and Valentine’s Day and love, we think of words that are like a box of chocolates, or like lace doilies in a pink heart.

But the experience of love can be like the experience of a dragon or a serpent. It can be powerful. It can be frightening. The poem I’m going to read to you, by William Butler Yeats, captures the dragon of sexuality, the liberation of love, the power and strangeness of the emotion, very memorably.

It’s the fourth poem from his sequence “A Woman Young and Old.” It is spoken by the woman, and it’s called “Her Triumph.”

Her Triumph

I did the dragon’s will until you came
Because I had fancied love a casual 
Improvisation, or a settled game 
That followed if I let the kerchief fall:
Those deeds were best that gave the minute wings
And heavenly music if they gave it wit; 
And then you stood among the dragon-rings. 
I mocked, being crazy, but you mastered it 
And broke the chain and set my ankles free,
Saint George or else a pagan Perseus; 
And now we stare astonished at the sea,
And a miraculous strange bird shrieks at us.