Tag Archives: Irish Literature

Y- Yeats On Life…Letters To Dead Poets

For the last six weeks, I’ve been working on a series of Letters to Dead Poets, which have been inspired by my own experiences of reading these poems, being inspired by the poets as well as the happenings in my own life.  I’ve re-read poems, discovered new poets, as my footsteps have forged ahead through virgin soil. Yet, there has also been this other force, which writers through the ages have called “the muse”. Yet, who or what is it really? Could it be the spirits of poets past posting ideas into my head like letters into a mail box? Is it my subconscious mind or even God?

Irish poet William Butler Yeats had a strong belief in the supernatural, which is reflected in his response.

 …………….

“The world is full of magic things, patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper.”
― W.B. Yeats

Dear Rowena,

“Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.”
― W.B. Yeats

At last, I finally received your letter. I’ve repeatedly tried reaching you throughout the last month, watching as you’ve plucked out but a select few of my colleagues to receive your letters. It’s been an agonising wait, not knowing whether I would be chosen. Thank you. Your letter means the world to me. I am most honoured…and relieved!

By the way, if I ever come back on a more permanent basis, I’m going to change my name to Aardvark. I spent most of my life waiting, waiting…A,B, C,L,M,Q…! Even after death, it’s taken an eternity to get to “Y”!

Getting back to your letter, my dear, you asked so many questions. Too many, for me to respond to each one individually and give each their due. Besides, I am but a poet and “what can be explained is not poetry”.

yeats1.jpg

However, before I offer a few over-arching observations, please know that “I have believed the best of every man. And find that to believe is enough to make a bad man show him at his best, or even a good man swings his lantern higher.”

Yeats By Rohan Gillespie Stephen St Sligo

Wisdom – WB Yeats:

“There are no strangers here; Only friends you haven’t yet met.”

“People who lean on logic and philosophy and rational exposition end by starving the best part of the mind.”

“This melancholy London – I sometimes imagine that the souls of the lost are compelled to walk through its streets perpetually. One feels them passing like a whiff of air.”

“Happiness is neither virtue nor pleasure nor this thing nor that but simply growth, We are happy when we are growing.”

“You know what the Englishman’s idea of compromise is? He says, Some people say there is a God. Some people say there is no God. The truth probably lies somewhere between these two statements.”

“Being Irish, he had an abiding sense of tragedy, which sustained him through temporary periods of joy.”

“Why should we honour those that die upon the field of battle? A man may show as reckless a courage in entering into the abyss of himself.”

“Every conquering temptation represents a new fund of moral energy. Every trial endured and weathered in the right spirit makes a soul nobler and stronger than it was before.”

“All empty souls tend toward extreme opinions.”

“We make out of the quarrel with others, rhetoric, but of the quarrel with ourselves, poetry.”

Knowing how you’re a romantic at heart, here are a few thoughts about love:

 “Never give all the heart, for love
Will hardly seem worth thinking of
To passionate women if it seem
Certain, and they never dream
That it fades out from kiss to kiss;
For everything that’s lovely is
But a brief, dreamy, kind delight.
O Never give the heart outright,
For they, for all smooth lips can say,
Have given their hearts up to the play.
And who could play it well enough
If deaf and dumb and blind with love?
He that made this knows all the cost,
For he gave all his heart and lost.”
― W.B. Yeats, In the Seven Woods: Being Poems Chiefly of the Irish Heroic Age

“WINE comes in at the mouth
And love comes in at the eye;
That’s all we shall know for truth
Before we grow old and die.
I lift the glass to my mouth,
I look at you, and sigh.”
― W.B. Yeats

Of course, being an Irishman, love is also touched by tragedy…

 “A mermaid found a swimming lad,
Picked him up for her own,
Pressed her body to his body,
Laughed; and plunging down
Forgot in cruel happiness
That even lovers drown.”
― W.B. Yeats

By the way, the questions haven’t stopped since I reach Byzantium. Indeed, my journey has barely begun. Eternity awaits!

“Come Fairies, take me out of this dull world, for I would ride with you upon the wind and dance upon the mountains like a flame!”

Yours,

WB Yeats

Y-Sailing To Byzantium, William Butler Yeats: #atozchallenge.

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.

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.

William Butler Yeats

Through the use of various poetic techniques, Yeats’s “Sailing to Byzantium” describes the metaphorical journey of a man pursuing his own vision of eternal life as well as his conception of paradise.

Written in 1926 (when Yeats was 60 or 61), “Sailing to Byzantium” is Yeats’ definitive statement about the agony of old age and the imaginative and spiritual work required to remain a vital individual even when the heart is “fastened to a dying animal” (the body). Yeats’s solution is to leave the country of the young and travel to Byzantium, where the sages in the city’s famous gold mosaics could become the “singing-masters” of his soul. He hopes the sages will appear in fire and take him away from his body into an existence outside time, where, like a great work of art, he could exist in “the artifice of eternity.” In the final stanza of the poem, he declares that once he is out of his body he will never again appear in the form of a natural thing; rather, he will become a golden bird, sitting on a golden tree, singing of the past (“what is past”), the present (that which is “passing”), and the future (that which is “to come”).

Interpretation

Yeats wrote in a draft script for a 1931 BBC broadcast:

I am trying to write about the state of my soul, for it is right for an old man to make his soul, and some of my thoughts about that subject I have put into a poem called ‘Sailing to Byzantium’. When Irishmen were illuminating the Book of Kells, and making the jeweled croziers in the National Museum, Byzantium was the centre of European civilization and the source of its spiritual philosophy, so I symbolize the search for the spiritual life by a journey to that city.[1]”

Wikipaedia