Sunday, 12 July 2015

Writing - 150th of W B Yeats

Monday is the 150th anniversary of the birth of Irish poet William Butler Yeats. He was one of the foremost figures in 20th century literature.

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W B Yeats 1865 - 1939

I enjoy celebrating the artistic figures of the past and the works they produce. The purpose of such exercise is part of my own literary education and an excuse to indulge myself in the words of the acclaimed.
Yeats seems to have been a man very much at the mercy of external influences, who's work reflected the conflicts he felt over current affairs. He was in fact a political man spending two terms as an Irish senator. 
W B Yeats also had a life long interest in mysticism, the occult and astrology; yet more influences on his early work, in particular. In 1916 at the age of 51 he married a girl twenty six years his junior which, against all advice by her friends, was a success and produced two children, Anne and Michael. Yeats had affairs but his wife was philosophical saying,

'When you are dead, people will talk about your love affairs, but I shall say nothing, for I will remember how proud you were."

Yeats in 1933

W B Yeats was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1923 "for his always inspired poetry, which in a highly artistic form gives expression to the spirit of a whole nation". The man himself always replied to praise on his success, that it was an award to Irish literature.

Yeats died in France in 1939. His wish, expressed to Georgie, his wife, was to be buried in France as quickly as possible with the minimum of fuss. She said that his actual words were,

'if I die bury me up there (at Roquebrune) then in a year's time when the newspapers have forgotten me, dig me up and plant me in Sligo'

W B Yeats epitaph came from one of his later poems,

Cast a cold eye
On Life, on Death
Horseman, pass by!

Quite a character by all accounts. One of his most famous poems is the Second Coming written in 1919 in the aftermath of the first World War.

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    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?

An excellent image of the return of Jesus in godly format and unhappy at the war-faring antics of mankind.

God Bless