by NONA BLYTH CLOUD
Next Sunday is Bloomsday, the day in 1904 that the events in the James Joyce novel Ulysses take place. I confess I have only read pieces of it, because it’s so densely written, and some of it I just don’t get. But it has put me in an Irish mood, and there’s a giant of Irish poetry, one of my all-time favorite poets, whose birthday anniversary was yesterday, the 13th of June.
As I from time to time remind you, Dear Readers, this weekly series is an introduction to the poets profiled here, a starting point for you to discover their work in more depth on your own. This has seldom been more true than it is today. The collected works of today’s poet-playwright take up fourteen volumes, so this will be only the barest glimpse.
William Butler Yeats (1865–1939) is admired as one of the greatest poets of the 20th Century. He is a key figure in the Irish Literary Revival (also ironically called the Celtic Twilight), and a co-founder of the Abbey Theatre with Lady Augusta Gregory (see Word Cloud: COOLE – link below).
Though he viewed himself as Irish, his family were Anglo-Irish, and he was moved back and forth as a child between living in Ireland and in England, as the demands of his father’s career as an artist dictated. William was enrolled in Dublin’s Metropolitan School of Art from 1884 to 1886.
He also rather neatly fits the definition of of that great Scrabble word quixotic: idealistic, romantic, visionary, utopian, extravagant, starry-eyed, and unworldly.
Sailing to Byzantium
That is no country for old men. The young
In one another’s arms, birds in the trees,
—Those dying generations—at their song,
The salmon-falls, the mackerel-crowded seas,
Fish, flesh, or fowl, commend all summer long
Whatever is begotten, born, and dies.
Caught in that sensual music all neglect
Monuments of unageing intellect.
An aged man is but a paltry thing,
A tattered coat upon a stick, unless
Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing
For every tatter in its mortal dress,
Nor is there singing school but studying
Monuments of its own magnificence;
And therefore I have sailed the seas and come
To the holy city of Byzantium.
O sages standing in God’s holy fire
As in the gold mosaic of a wall,
Come from the holy fire, perne in a gyre,
And be the singing-masters of my soul.
Consume my heart away; sick with desire
And fastened to a dying animal
It knows not what it is; and gather me
Into the artifice of eternity.
Once out of nature I shall never take
My bodily form from any natural thing,
But such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make
Of hammered gold and gold enamelling
To keep a drowsy Emperor awake;
Or set upon a golden bough to sing
To lords and ladies of Byzantium
Of what is past, or passing, or to come.