It's been ages since I visited Yeats...
(Poem #641) The Road at My Door
An affable Irregular, A heavily-built Falstaffian man, Comes cracking jokes of civil war As though to die by gunshot were The finest play under the sun. A brown Lieutenant and his men, Half dressed in national uniform, Stand at my door, and I complain Of the foul weather, hail and rain, A pear-tree broken by the storm. I count those feathered balls of soot The moor-hen guides upon the stream. To silence the envy in my thought; And turn towards my chamber, caught In the cold snows of a dream.
... but not ages since we last ran him on the Minstrels. The reason is tolerably obvious - whenever I sharpen my pencil for a commentary on the master, I find myself pre-empted by a guest submission. Not this time, though - this time I'm determined to do the pre-empting myself. First, some background: today's poem forms part of a sequence titled 'Meditations in Time of Civil War'. George Macbeth writes: "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. Ireland was still small enough in the early twentieth century for one man to feel its problems personally and mould great poetry out of them. No English poet has been able during the last fifty or sixty years to do this for more than one particular region. This more than anything else establishes Yeats' preeminence" . I find the phrase "no English poet" in the above passage especially noteworthy. For Yeats is _not_ an English poet; he's an Irish poet, and therein lies all the difference. It's impossible to read his work without taking into cognizance the people, places and politics that gave rise to it, the distinctly Irish concerns that inform it. What's especially remarkable is the way this concentration of vision  never degenerates into mere insularity... Another (somewhat related) point: the ability to move effortlessly between the specific instance and the overarching theme is one of the defining qualities of Yeats' work; today's poem (written during the Irish upheavals of the 1920s, when Yeats was in his sixties) exhibits this ability in buckets. The anecdote told is straightforward enough, but Yeats does more than just tell a story: he touches upon the themes of death and glory (and their undeniable attraction even to an old man like himself) and contrasts them with the peace and stability and, well, homeliness exemplified by the moor-hen's chicks. The final couplet bears repeating: "And turn towards my chamber, caught In the cold snows of a dream." It bespeaks yet another change in the poem's direction: this time, into the realms of poignancy and loss, the 'saddest words of tongue and pen'. The shift in tone is almost palpable... thomas. PS. I need hardly mention (this being Yeats) that the language is never short of brilliant... utterly simple, yet it captures the moods he wishes to evoke to a nicety. I wish I knew how he did it - I can't even begin to explain the magic of his spell.  'Poetry 1900-1975', ed. George Macbeth, pub. Longman. Highly recommended.  Political vision, that is. His spiritual, romantic and philosophical themes are another matter entirely: although they're equally 'concentrated', they showcase a width and range rarely matched and almost never exceeded.  For of all sad words of tongue or pen, The saddest are these: "It might have been!" -- John Greenleaf Whittier, from the poem 'Maud Muller' The poem as a whole is unmemorable, but these two lines have (justly) attained immortality. The idea of 'possibility', especially as symbolized by the open road, has been covered before on the Minstrels; see the links section below. [Links] You want Yeats poems? You've got 'em. Click on [broken link] http://www.cs.rice.edu/~ssiyer/minstrels/index_poet.html and scroll down to near the end. Interestingly enough, of the 17 Yeats poems run so far (including today's), 8 have been guest submissions, 8 have been my own choices, and 1 is due to Martin. Poems about the idea of "The Road at My Door": Tolkien, "The Road Goes Ever On", poem #4 Millay, "The Unexplorer", poem #49 Martin once did a theme on roads: Rossetti, "Uphill", poem #47 Frost, "The Road Not Taken", poem #51 and the Millay mentioned above. I'm sure there are more, but nothing springs to mind at the moment. [Statistics Update] (You really really need to know this stuff. I kid you not.) The most popular poets on the Minstrels are 0. Anon: 19 poems 1. William Butler Yeats: 17 (including today's poem) 2. William Shakespeare: 15 3. Rudyard Kipling: 13 4. T. S. Eliot: 11 5. W. H. Auden: 10 6. Robert Browning: 10 7. Dylan Thomas: 10 8. J. R. R. Tolkien: 9 Six out of the above eight made their first appearance within 20 days of our starting the list (no surprise there); the exceptions are Auden (almost two months) and Browning (two and a half). The most popular first name is William (58), which is streets ahead of John (37), Robert (34) and Thomas (30). There are no less than four poems on the Minstrels titled 'Untitled'. The most popular adjective on the Minstrels is _not_ 'evocative', despite what some people would have you think <grin>.