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Book Title: Collected Poems: Yeats|
The author of the book: W.B. Yeats
The size of the: 391 KB
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Reader ratings: 4.9
Format files: PDF
Date of issue: February 28th 2003
ISBN 13: 9780330316385
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"For books continue each other, in spite of our habit of judging them separately."
This quote from Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One's Own comes to my mind when I sit down to have a closer look at one of my favourite poets. For it wasn’t Yeats I was searching for when I went through my shelves today. It was Things Fall Apart, Chinua Achebe’s classic novel. Seeing Yeats in the shelf, however, I remembered that the title is from his famous poem “The Second Coming”, and I opened the earmarked poetry collection, full of post-its and comments. And sure enough, there was a pink post-it showing the way to the lines I wanted:
“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;...”
Knowing the story of Things Fall Apart, it makes my heart break to think of the proud falcon in his natural habitat, suddenly threatened by the falconer with his sly methods and superior weapons, killing out of pleasure - a careless sportsmanship. This story in my mind takes a leap to present times, seeing it is still just as relevant, in many places, and I am mourning the contemporary falcon’s lost spirit in a world of falconers, destroying things because they can. The centre cannot hold.
Reading on, I get curious to see where all my sticky notes indicate that my attention was sharpened, and of course, I find my handwriting next to a poem on a young man going to war. How could I not, reading this the last time in conjunction with The Poems Of Wilfred Owen?
“An Irish Airman Foresees his Death
I know that I shall meet my fate
Somewhere among the clouds above;
Those that I fight I do not hate,
Those that I guard I do not love;
The sad truth of World War I, best expressed maybe in poetry or novels like All Quiet on the Western Front. And as a counterpoint, with a sticky note in a different colour:
“On Being Asked For A War Poem
I think it better that in times like these
A poet’s mouth be silent, for in truth
We have no gift to set a statesman right;
He has had enough of meddling who can please
A young girl in the indolence of her youth,
Or an old man upon a winter’s night.”
I remember pondering on the conundrum of accepting these lines as perfect truth while also being grateful that Yeats had not remained silent after all, that he had expressed his thoughts over and over again, in dramatic, long, narrative poems and short, lyrical ones, in stories of common people and kings and queens, in real-life poems and fairy tales. He had not been silent at all, but he resisted the command to produce poetry for politicians, to shout out the ancient heroic ideal “dulce et decorum est pro patria mori” before sending soldiers to living hell.
He wrote his own truth, and that of the island he loved and the culture he cherished. To review all his poems, and make them justice, would be a life time’s work. My favourite love poem is to be found in his collection as well:
“When You are Old
When you are old and grey and full of sleep,
And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;
How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true,
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face;
And bending down beside the glowing bars,
Murmur, a little sadly, how love fled
And paced upon the mountains overhead
And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.”
I can’t read that often enough. “The pilgrim soul in you” sends a shiver down my spine every single time. Before I close the collection, my eye catches a poem that is not earmarked yet, that I must have read without thinking much about it last time. But now, it yells out its truth to me in a disturbing way:
“Why should not Old Men be Mad?”
Why should not old men be mad?
Some have known a likely lad
That had a sound fly-fisher’s wrist
Turn to a drunken journalist;
A girl that knew all Dante once
Live to bear children to a dunce;
A Helen of social welfare dream
Climb on a wagonette and scream.
Some think it a matter of course that chance
Should starve good men and bad advance,
That if their neighbours figured plain,
As though upon a lighted screen,
No single story would they find
Of an unbroken happy mind,
A finish worthy of the start.
Young men know nothing of this sort,
Observant old men know it well;
And when they know what old books tell,
And that no better can be had,
Know why an old man should be mad.”
It may be a sign of me getting older that I identify more and more with the disillusion of experience, but at the same time, reading poetry like this makes me feel passionately involved in life still!
Yeats is a timeless treat!
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Read information about the authorWilliam Butler Yeats (pronounced /ˈjeɪts/) was an Irish poet and dramatist, and one of the foremost figures of 20th century literature. A pillar of both the Irish and British literary establishments, in his later years Yeats served as an Irish Senator for two terms. He was a driving force behind the Irish Literary Revival, and along with Lady Gregory and Edward Martyn founded the Abbey Theatre, serving as its chief during its early years. In 1923 he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature for what the Nobel Committee described as "inspired poetry, which in a highly artistic form gives expression to the spirit of a whole nation." He was the first Irishman so honored. Yeats is generally considered one of the few writers who completed their greatest works after being awarded the Nobel Prize; such works include The Tower (1928) and The Winding Stair and Other Poems (1929).
Yeats was born and educated in Dublin but spent his childhood in County Sligo. He studied poetry in his youth, and from an early age was fascinated by both Irish legends and the occult. Those topics feature in the first phase of his work, which lasted roughly until the turn of the century. His earliest volume of verse was published in 1889, and those slow paced and lyrical poems display debts to Edmund Spenser and Percy Bysshe Shelley, as well as to the Pre-Raphaelite poets. From 1900, Yeats' poetry grew more physical and realistic. He largely renounced the transcendental beliefs of his youth, though he remained preoccupied with physical and spiritual masks, as well as with cyclical theories of life.
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