Saturday, March 15, 2008

St. Patrick's Day: The Great Yeats

Our Man in Bangkok (aka Tim Footman), having his own poetic Anglo-Saxon soul, drew our attention to The Guardian’s recent “seven greatest poets of the 20th century” thing.

Why 7? No idea.

Here’s their list: Philip Larkin, Sylvia Plath, Ted Hughes, Seamus Heaney, T.S. Eliot, W.H. Auden, Sigfried Sassoon.

We can all argue a poet here and there, but not to include Yeats on a list of greatest poets is insanity.

OMIB suggested that Yeats was “disqualified for excess Irishness.” And it’s true that much of his brilliant verse speaks directly to Irish folklore and history.

But so much more speaks about love in the most intimate yet universal ways. His unrequited infatuation with Maud Gonne carved deep sorrow into his heart, and he wrote from there for everyone, no nationalism showing at all, except in the intensity of feeling.

When You Are Old

WHEN you are old and gray 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 among the mountains overhead
And hid his face among a crowd of stars.

He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven

HAD I the heavens' embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with the golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and half-light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet

But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams beneath your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams...

No Second Troy

Why should I blame her that she filled my days
With misery, or that she would of late
Have taught to ignorant men most violent ways
. . . .
Why, what could she have done, being what she is? Was there another Troy for her to burn?