(Poem #21) Sailing to Byzantium
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.
from 'The Tower', 1928 Another Yeats poem, so soon after the first one? Yes indeed. As Amit commented on my very first posting, "Yeats' peoms resonate with my feelings in a way that few others' poems do." I couldn't agree more. There's a certain magic to his words which I can't even begin to describe, much less analyze or understand. Suffice to say that this list will be seeing a lot more of Yeats in the future :-). Biographical Note (from good old Louis Untermeyer): Born at Sandymount, Dublin, in 1865, the son of John B. Yeats, the Irish artist, the greater part of William Butler Yeats' childhood was spent in Sligo. Here he became imbued with the power and richness of native folk-lore; he drank in the racy quality through the quaint fairy stories and old wives' tales of the Irish peasantry. (Later he published a collection of these same stories.) It was in the activities of a "Young Ireland" society that Yeats became identified with the new spirit; he dreamed of a national poetry that would be written in English and yet would be definitely Irish. In a few years he became one of the leaders in the Celtic revival. He worked incessantly for the cause, both as propagandist and playwright; and, though his mysticism at times seemed the product of a cult rather than a Celt, his symbolic dramas were acknowledged to be full of a haunting, other-world spirituality. (See Preface.) The Hour Glass (1904), his second volume of "Plays for an Irish Theatre," includes his best one-act dramas with the exception of his unforgettable The Land of Heart's Desire (1894). The Wind Among the Reeds (1899) contains several of his most beautiful and characteristic poems. Another Biographical Note, this one from George Macbeth: ... Yeats shared [Kipling's and d'Annuncio's] fascination with poetry as a public art, almost a branch of rhetoric... [He] is now generally regarded as the greatest English poet of the century... ... Yeats is not, however, an English poet at all; he is an Irish poet. His work can be seen as falling into three periods: the early, rather misty, mythological poems of the Celtic twilight period, the concrete particularising poems of his middle years, and the more dandified, violemt mythological poems which occupied him at the end of his life... His greatest successes [were in] writing about his friends and he causes for which they spoke, fought and died... Irish history and Irish politics came alive to Yeats through the doings of people he knew and loved. His best work is a commentary on the history of a whole country at the establishment of its freedom, a period of agonising crisis seen through the eyes of a particularly sensitive and involved member of it... Macbeth's comments on 'Sailing to Byzantium': ... the myth of Byzantium as a magical city where life was entirely transmuted into art inspired Yeats to some of his finest poetic flights... He seems to give life beyond this world a special sort of concrete grace and ceremony... Finally, my own (somewhat disconnected) thoughts: There's a shimmering, almost ethereal grace to this poem... at the same time, I can't help being dazzled by its richness and complexity of allusion and connotation... every time I read it, a thousand historical and mythologial associations spring to my mind... the language is vintage Yeats, as vibrant and rich and bewitchingly beautiful as ever... all in all, a true work of art... thomas.