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Revisiting Yeats

I am re-reading Richard Ellman's fine biography of W. B. Yeats. Unlike so many biographies, even by Ellmann (see Joyce and Wilde), this one is fairly short. But even so, I can conclude that Yeats was a very curious man (in the many senses of the word), and probably my favorite poet. My favorite poem of his likely changes each time I read him. But here is today's:

 

 
I
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.
II
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.
III
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.
IV
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.

 

 

Comments 6

 
Rosy Cole on Saturday, 01 June 2024 12:01

101 reasons to be depressed: W B Yeats.( :-) ) Very fine poem, though. But there is another side of the coin and I am sufficiently veteran who knows that it exists!

101 reasons to be depressed: W B Yeats.( :-) ) Very fine poem, though. But there is another side of the coin and I am sufficiently veteran who knows that it exists!
Stephen Evans on Saturday, 01 June 2024 13:54

No doubt :)

What an image of the afterlife for a poet though - set upon a golden bough to sing. that is what out poems are, fashioned and golden, to outlast our frail selves.

No doubt :) What an image of the afterlife for a poet though - set upon a golden bough to sing. that is what out poems are, fashioned and golden, to outlast our frail selves.
Rosy Cole on Sunday, 02 June 2024 10:41

What if only God is listening?

Thomas Gray should have said:

Full many a flower is born to blush unseen,
And yield its sweetness to the desert air.


To believe in this turns life the right way up.

What if only God is listening? Thomas Gray should have said: [i]Full many a flower is born to blush unseen, And [b]yield[/b] its sweetness[b] to[/b] the desert air.[/i] To believe in this turns life the right way up.
Stephen Evans on Sunday, 02 June 2024 14:42

We don't need Thomas Gray to write it - we have you!

We don't need Thomas Gray to write it - we have you!
Rosy Cole on Sunday, 02 June 2024 15:47

Thomas Gray's poem is beautiful. Strangely, I don't find his 'Elegy' depressing. Just reflective and wistful. Universally truthful in any age or culture. I just like a glimpse of the Context beyond when, for instance, Mary's Magnificat comes to life in the present and the future.

Thomas Gray's poem is beautiful. Strangely, I don't find his 'Elegy' depressing. Just reflective and wistful. Universally truthful in any age or culture. I just like a glimpse of the Context beyond when, for instance, Mary's Magnificat comes to life in the present and the future.
Stephen Evans on Sunday, 02 June 2024 18:11

I suspect Yeats would have agreed with you, though in his poetry his beliefs survived as images and symbols.

I suspect Yeats would have agreed with you, though in his poetry his beliefs survived as images and symbols.
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