Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Three Poems By W.B. Yeats

I meant to make this post yesterday, on St. Patrick's Day, but I figure that twenty-four hours of lag time is small potatoes (sorry, I couldn't resist) when you consider how pathetically sparse my blogging has been in general. But more on that to come in a subsequent post.

So, as a kind of literary toast to the holiday and my own partially Irish heritage, I decided to post a few poems by William Butler Yeats, Irish writer, theater man, and passionate advocate for his country's independence in the early twentieth century, during the last violent throes of British rule. He is also, as it happens, one of my favorite poets (along with fellow Irishman Seamus Heaney).

I've always felt that Yeats was a master when it came to negotiating the line between the constraints of poetic meter and the easy, unaffected patterns of natural speech. His metered poetry (which is most, if not all of it) doesn't normally feel metered to me. Although his language is certainly formal, too precise and beautiful to be truly spontaneous, it only rarely will strike me as forced or overwrought. His poems are often so well crafted, to put it another way, that they threaten to conceal their own craft. Yeats summed up this idea much more eloquently than I can in his poem "Adam's Curse": "...A line will take us hours maybe; / Yet if it does not seem a moment's thought / Our stitching and unstitching has been naught."

Yeats is a well-loved poet, of course, much quoted and taught and studied, so I tried to choose poems that might be unknown to the average reader. I also picked shorter ones since, let's face it, nobody wants to read a long poem on a blog (or maybe a poem of any length, period, but I'll take my chances). And in the spirit of snake-charming saints and peat bogs and blarney, I also looked for poems that captured some aspect of Ireland, whether it be a piece of the landscape, the name of a person or place, or even a hint of that fluid, indefinable music that can only be found in Irish speech. Bain sult as! (Enjoy!)

The Lake Isle of Innisfree

I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made:
Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.

And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight's all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet's wings.

I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,
I hear it in the deep heart's core.


Indignant at the fumbling wits, the obscure spite
Of our old Paudeen in his shop, I stumbled blind
Among the stones and thorn-trees, under morning light;
Until a curlew cried and in the luminous wind
A curlew answered; and suddenly thereupon I thought
That on the lonely height where all are in God's eye,
There cannot be, confusion of our sound forgot,
A single soul that lacks a sweet crystalline cry.

At the Galway Races

There where the course is
Delight makes all of the one mind,
The riders upon the galloping horses,
The crowd that closes in behind:
We, too, had good attendance once,
Hearers and hearteners of the work:
Aye, horsemen for companions,
Before the merchant and the clerk
Breathed on the world with timid breath.
Sing on: somewhere at some new moon,
We'll learn that sleeping is not death,
Hearing the whole earth change its tune,
Its flesh being wild, and it again
Crying aloud as the racecourse is,
And we find hearteners among men
That ride upon horses.