A terrible beauty has been sold.
A rare first edition of one of William Butler Yeats' most political poems, “Easter 1916,” was told Wednesday at Adam's auctioneers in central Dublin to an anonymous bidder for $9,600 — roughly double the forecast price.
Auction house director David Britton said the original copy of the poem — one of just three known to exist worldwide — received exceptional interest from bidders because it appealed to enthusiasts both of Yeats and of Ireland's independence struggle from Britain.
Yeats wrote the poem in the months following the Easter rebellion of 1916, when guerrillas seized key Dublin government buildings for a week before surrendering to British forces.
The poet distributed only 25 copies of the poem at first, for fear that wider publication might stir violence. Just three copies are known to remain today; the other two are in the National Library in Dublin and the British Library in London.
The Dublin public initially condemned the rebels for bringing ruin to the capital, but turned fiercely anti-British when the rebellion's commanders were executed within days. A new wave of rebels eventually secured independence for the predominantly Catholic south of Ireland in 1922, then fought a self-destructive civil war over the terms of the treaty with Britain.
The poem reflects Yeats' own deep ambivalence to his countrymen's willingness to resort to violence against Britain. It also gives an insight into the far greater bloodshed that lay ahead.
Its most famous concluding lines lament that, through Britain's decision to put the rebel leaders to the firing squad, Irish hearts had been hardened beyond repair.
“Now and in time to be,
Wherever green is worn,
Are changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.”