Gratitude to the Unknown Instructors
William Butler Yeats
What they undertook to do
They brought to pass;
All things hang like a drop of dew
Upon a blade of grass.
The difference between “bring” and “take” that too many teachers have mentioned too many times opens the first half of the poem. The undertaking is that of a deed: the instructors sought nothing for themselves but responsibility. The result is a taking from them; “they brought to pass.” They were successful.
But they have passed on. We can infer this from the dew image: perhaps this is the morning dew. If so, the first half of the poem is situated in darkness. It was night, it is the past. We shift from “What” to “All things,” though, and the image is still one of potential. This is strange; we can compound the problem by imagining the early morning, where it is not quite light out even. Perhaps what has been “brought to pass” is not quite rationality. (cf. Heidegger’s essay “Language:” language speaks not what is known about the beings as much as what is unknown.)
“Like” – the use of simile – unfolds the whole. If he had said “All things, a drop of dew” and made the identification of “all beings” and the “dew” metaphorical, he would have been in a sense incorrect. We know all things are not a drop of dew because drops of dew fall and aid the grass in growing. The beings are distant; the whole is for what we strive. The potential is actual in this case. The growth will happen, increasingly cognizant of why it is happening. That water of life is not a revelation, but sitting upon us as we strive toward. The distance is a closeness; the “unknown instructors” are ones we have had every day.