Nice piece by Eileen Battersby in today's Irish Times to commemorate the 70th anniversary of W.B. Yeats' death:
I wonder what poems he'd write about Ireland if he was still alive today.IN A SMALL room in the south of France, a patient wife maintains a deathbed vigil. It is January 28th, 1939. While the world moves closer to war, the dying man struggles for breath. He is William Butler Yeats, a Nobel literature laureate and artist of defining stature. Shortly after 2pm, he will pass into eternity; his body will linger in a temporary grave in Roquebrune for more than nine years before making the final journey home to Ireland and a quiet churchyard in Co Sligo.
In life he was famous. In death he has become immortal, a national poet, an eccentric seer, whose love of country never deflected his rise as an international artist. His vision is romantic, heroic, epic. His art told his story while also shaping the identity of the nation he wanted Ireland to be. His legacy is so immense many Irish poets simply looked elsewhere. Austin Clarke and Patrick Kavanagh had their own voice, leaving the young Thomas Kinsella to battle Yeats’s ghost alone. Yeats emulated Swift’s sense of being driven by a responsibility to his country, while the first Irish writer since to share this cohesively responsible approach is playwright Brian Friel, who openly confronted the conflict in Northern Ireland while exploring the competing national cultures within Ireland. Yeats, quoted by schoolchildren and statesmen, cast a huge shadow and continues to do so...
Anyway, here's Sailing To Byzantium in his honour:
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.