Great Quotes: To the Sad Dancer and the Dancing Dead

By Last Updated: October 14, 2020Views: 4297

Anyone who has read Watership Down may remember this quotation from the start of chapter 16:

He said, “Dance for me,” and he said
“You are too beautiful for the wind
To pick at, or the sun to burn.” He said
“I’m a poor tattered thing, but not unkind
To the sad dancer and the dancing dead.”

Sidney Keyes, along with with Alun Lewis and Keith Douglas, is considered one of the great poets of WWII. Keyes was something of a prodigy writing more than 110 poems in his short lifetime. Commissioned into the Queens Own West Kent Regiment, he was sent to Tunisia in March 1943. He was killed in action one month before his 21st birthday.

During combat he was said to have continued writing, none of these poems survive. Below is the full version of the poem cited above.

Four Postures of Death

He said, “Dance for me,” and he said
“You are too beautiful for the wind
To pick at, or the sun to burn.” He said
“I’m a poor tattered thing, but not unkind
To the sad dancer and the dancing dead.”

So I smiled and a slow measure
Mastered my feet and I was happy then.
He said, “my people are gentle as lilies
And in my house there are no men
To wring your young heart with a foolish pleasure.”

Because my boy had crossed me in a strange bed
I danced for him and was not afraid.
He said, “You are too beatuiful for any man
To finger; you shall stay a maid
For ever in my kingdom and be comforted.”

He said, “You shall be my daughter and your feet move
In finer dances, maiden; and the hollow
Halls of my house shall flourish with your singing.”
He beckoned and I knew that I must follow
Into the kingdom of no love.

From Death and the Maiden, Four Postures of Death, by Sidney Keyes

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