Guest poem submitted by Sunil Iyengar:
(Poem #511) Beautiful Lofty Things
Beautiful lofty things; O'Leary's noble head; My father upon the Abbey stage, before him a raging crowd. "This Land of Saints", and then as the applause died out, "Of plaster Saints"; his beautiful mischievous head thrown back. Standish O'Grady supporting himself between the tables Speaking to a drunken audience high nonsensical words; Augusta Gregory seated at her great ormolu table Her eightieth winter approaching; "Yesterday he threatened my life, I told him that nightly from six to seven I sat at this table The blinds drawn up"; Maud Gonne at Howth station waiting a train, Pallas Athena in that straight back and arrogant head; All the Olympians; a thing never known again.
In light of the recent Larkin poem somebody contributed, "MCMXIV," I think Yeats' last line might be taken as a precedent for the English poet's conclusion, "Never such innocence again." I can't say whether "Beautiful Lofty Things" had a direct bearing on the Larkin poem (both lyrics cap a charming catalogue of reminiscences with the rueful "never again"), but if somebody can dig up Larkin's 1973 Oxford Anthology of English Verse, perhaps he or she can settle the question. I am confident, however, that Larkin featured other late Yeats poems in his collection; these are often elegaic pieces about W.B.'s Irish associates. (For example, I recall Larkin's inclusion of "In Memory of Eva Gore-Booth and Con Markievicz" and "The Municipal Gallery, Revisited.") But focus on "Beautiful Lofty Things" (circa 1938) for its plainspoken evocation of the characters, scenes and events that mattered most to the poet. Or it may not be that they "mattered most," necessarily, but at any rate the images assail him like a torrent, line for line, ending with the solitary vision of his unrequited love, Maude Gonne. Even the act of "waiting a train" seems to echo the poet's longing at the end of life. Other images: John O'Leary was an Irish patriot (1830-1907), mentioned in an earlier Yeats poem, "September 1913," with the refrain: "Romantic Ireland's dead and gone;/It's with O'Leary in the grave." The poet's father, J.B. Yeats, is quoted as defending John Synge's play, "The Playboy of the Western World," before a jeering mob at Abbey Theatre. (Consult the collected letters between father and son for a profile of this remarkable man -- a painter and lecturer who died in New York .) Standish O'Grady was an Irish historian and novelist. Augusta Gregory, herself a playwright and folklorist, was connected with Yeats and the Celtic Revival from its earliest days. She died in 1932. According to Yeats editor Richard J. Finneran, the quote within the poem refers to Lady Gregory's response when threatened by a tenant during the Irish Civil War. The references to "Pallas Athena" and "All the Olympians" apotheosize this gallery of heroes into Greek divinities. It is not often appreciated how seriously Yeats took friendship, but we have only to cite his oft-quoted verses from another gallery ("Municipal"): "Think where man's glory most begins and ends And say my glory was I had such friends." Sunil Iyengar.