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Having reviewed over 1200 books on this blog, I have now written two myself. Motherdarling is a story about a search for a missing Will which reveals long-hidden family secrets. The Kids of God is a thriller set in a dystopia ruled by fascist paramilitaries. Both are available as paperbacks and on Kindle through Amazon. I live in Canterbury, England. I lived for more than thirty years in Bedford. Having retired from teaching; I became a research student at the University of Bedfordshire researching into Liminality. I achieved my PhD in 2019. I am now properly retired. I love reading! I enjoy in particular fiction (mostly great and classic fiction although I also enjoy whodunnits), biography, history and smart thinking. Follow me on twitter: @daja57

Wednesday, 13 March 2019

W B Yeats; poems selected by Seamus Heaney

I don't really know my Yeats. I was impressed and surprised.

This work is arranged chronologically. 

The young Yeats is very much a nature poet. He celebrates an Ireland which is predominantly rural. 
Thus, for example, the first poem in the collection is The Indian Upon God in which the narrator listens to animals and plants as each describes God. For the moorhen God is a big bird, for the Lotus he is a plant, for the deer "He is a gentle roebuck; for how else, I pray, could He/ Conceive a thing so sad and soft, a gentle thing like me?", for the peacock a peacock. It has a theological point (Man makes God in his image) but it is a pretty little poem. The next poem, The Stolen Child, is about the tradition that the faeries lure and steal children; it compares the world of faery, of rural nature, favourably with a world that is “full of troubles/ And is anxious in its sleep.

The young Yeast is very much concerned with physical love. A narrator is with his sweetheart and in the first ‘set up’ stanza: "She bid me take love easy, as the leaves grow on the tree;/ But I, being young and foolish, with her would not agree." and in the second ‘consequence’ stanza: "She bid me take love easy, as the grass grows on the weirs;/ But I was young and foolish, and now am full of tears." In The Collar-Bone of a Hare, he seems to celebrate free love: "...the best thing is / To change my loves while dancing / And pay but a kiss for a kiss." In Broken Dreams he sees a once beautiful old woman: "There is grey in your hair./ Young men no longer suddenly catch their breath/ When you are passing"

These poems have relatively simple rhyming schemes, often couplets. Later poems have more complex structures but Yeats throughout remains committed to rhyme and rhythm. The later poems begin to reference a classical education, talking of Leda and the Swan, and Helen of Troy.

There are also political poems. Yeats lived through (and knew the actors involved in) the Easter Uprising and the Civil War that gave birth to the modern Eire. There are poems that mourn and heroise the dead and there are poems that make clear the often indiscriminate savagery of fighting. For example, in An Irish Airman Foresees his Death, the eponymous airman protests that he isn’t flying because of law or duty and he knows that his “countrymen Kiltartan’s poor” will neither lose nor benefit from what he does but he is flying because he loves it. In Easter 1916 the narrator remembers seeing the ordinary men going to begin their rebellion:  "Coming with vivid faces/ From counter or desk among grey/ Eighteenth-century houses" and recognises that this is a moment of transformation: "All changed, changed utterly: / A terrible beauty is born." But in Meditations in time of civil war he observes: "Last night they trundled down the road /That dead young soldier in his blood" and in Nineteen hundred and nineteen the nightmare gets worse: 

Now things are dragon-ridden, the nightmare

Rides upon sleep: a drunken soldiery
Can leave the mother, murdered at her door,
To crawl in her own blood, and go scot-free;
The night can sweat with terror as before
We pieced our thoughts into philosophy,
And planned to bring the world under a rule,
Who are but weasels fighting in a hole.


Near the end Yeats has multiple references to the old man that he has become. He also starts using song structures, particularly with refrains. 

I think of all of it my favourite poem was Leda and the Swan. The sonnet is a fourteen pline poem written in iambic pentameters with a strict rhyming scheme which traditionally has love at its subject matter. This poem celebrates, in erotic language, the coupling of Leda, a woman, with Zeus in the form of a Swan; this led to Leda giving birth to an egg from which Helen of Troy is hatched who causes the devastating Trojan War. So this act of love causes multiple deaths. Thus Yeats has a thirteen line sonnet with the final line anattached and unrhymed, as if to demonstrate within the form itself that love has gone wrong. 
A sudden blow: the great wings beating still

Above the staggering girl, her thighs caressed

By the dark webs, her nape caught in his bill,
He holds her helpless breast upon his breast.

How can those terrified fingers push
The feathered glory from her loosening thighs?
And how can body, laid in that white rush, 
But feel the strange heart beating where it lies? 

A shudder in the loins engenders there
The broken wall, the burning roof and tower
And Agamemnon dead.
                                     Being so caught up, 
So mastered by the brute blood of the air, 
Did she put on his knowledge with his power
Before the indifferent beak could let her drop


Immortal lines:
He wishes for the Cloths of Heaven
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.
The Coming of Wisdom with Time
Though leaves are many, the root is one;
Through all the lying days of my youth
I swayed my leaves and flowers in the sun;
Now I may wither into the truth.


The second coming
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.


Among school children
How can we know the dancer from the dance?

In memory of Eva Gore-Booth and Con Markiewicz
The innocent and the beautiful
Have no enemy but time

I thoroughly enjoyed this selection of great poetry and I thank my mate Fred for this introduction to a great poet. Fred's impeccable taste may be seen from the reviews of the other books he has lent to me:
The Fred Collection

  • A Time of Gifts: a wonderful travel book about a man walking through Europe between the wars; beautifully written
  • Dynasty: the story of the first Roman emperors by the wonderful historian Tom Holland
  • The Song of Achilles a wonderful novel by Madeline Miller
  • Defying Hitler by Sebastian Haffner; a memoir of a man who grew up in Germany during hyper-inflation and the rise of the Nazis
  • The Feather Thief by Kirk Wallace: a true story of a world obsessed with tying feathers and the crime that this provoked
  • Amo, Amas, Amat ,,, and all that by Harry Mount: a book that tried but failed to encourage me to learn Latin
  • Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders: a Booker Prize winning novel narrated by ghosts
  • The Ancient Olympics by Nigel Spivey: an informative yet readable introduction to the Olympic Games of Ancient Greece.

March 2019

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