Monday, June 13, 2011

Yeats Springs Eternal: Happy Birthday WBY!

Happy Birthday to you, William Butler Yeats!   I am inspired by a myriad of poets, but perhaps you inspire me most of all;
your ear and your adoration of poetry, and also your care for folk art, your passion for politics, your willingness to be a public poet, your spiritual openness. When I began to write critical prose, I read your Essays and Introductions looking for an authentic way into my own critical voice, and when I began writing memoir, I studied yours.  Here are photos of me being blown away at the exhibit about you in the National Library in Dublin, taken by Ted Deppe just after he asked if I were Yeats' incarnation.  Sometimes I think so. ..

And now it seems I, like you, have started a theater company.  Poets Theater of Maine got an employee ID number last week, opened our first play, Wolf Song, this weekend, and today, on the auspicious date of your birthday, I am going to put the first deposit in the bank account.  I feel you with me today, I honor you, and I thank you. 

Yeats is often acknowledged as one of the poets who knew how to write about age, but he is not as often acknowledged as one of the poets who knew how to write about youth. I have heard "The Lake Isle of Innisfree" discounted as a sentimental piece, not as rich or complex as the mature Yeats. Why not instead appreciate it as a poem of youth, of the direct passion of youth for the natural world, of youth's close attention to the inner spring of the soul's necessity?

It's one of the first poems of his I loved, and still count as one of my all time favorites.  Last time I was in Ireland at the Stonecoast residency, I did my over-the-top imitation of him reciting it and we all laughed.

 I hope you would have laughed as well, William! Many happy returns!


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 honeybee, 
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 the water lapping with low sounds by the shore; 

While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements gray, 

I hear it in the deep heart's core.


Sylvanna said...

I am just beginning to explore Yeats' works myself. It seems at first sad that it's taken me until now to get reach him, yet at once right.

Gary B. Fitzgerald said...


Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: a waste of desert sand;
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Wind shadows of the indignant desert birds.

The darkness drops again but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

William Butler Yeats - 1919

Annie Finch said...

It's wonderful how poets come to us in their own time, at the right time...!

Emily said...

Here's a wonderful online Yeats exhibition.


Annie Finch said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Annie Finch said...

Thank you--Actually, this link is to the online version of the same exhibition at the National Library in Dublin where the photos above were taken! It really is a superb exhbit.

Lyle Daggett said...

I first read Innisfree probably 40 years ago, one summer (August, probably) during high school, in a small cabin on the north shore of Lake Superior. Fine clear weather, mildly warm during the days, coolish at night.

(It can, sometimes, get seriously chilly at night on the lake during the summer, requiring clothing layers. Though not on that particular occasion.)

I had a thick Selected Poems of Yeats from the library. A heavily wooded, heavily rocky shoreline, sometimes high bluffs. The granite cliffs and basalt boulders along that part of Lake Superior are something like 2 billion years old, among the oldest exposed rock in the world.

In looking back, I've always remembered a moon on the lake at night that weekend, though that could be my imagination embellishing. But light breeze over dark water. (Not chilly, but the night was cool enough that I left the windows closed.)

In the BBC Poetry Archive page for Yeats are links to online audio of him reading three of his poems, The Lake Isle of Innisfree among them. The page is here. (It apparently requires Adobe Flash Player version 10. The page includes a link for downloading the flash player.)

Annie Finch said...

Lyle, thanks for the atmospheric story which I'm sure Yeats would have appreciated, and the link!! Yes, this is exactly the audio version of Innisfree that I like to "channel" in my own performance . . .

J.A. Roney said...

"The Stolen Child," my favorite--