Saturday, February 2, 2013

Irish Lit: Poetry in Week Three

Scrambling to catch up, before the middle of the term!

We read Yeats in week three, and for our blog post, we're supposed to take one poem, and address a few points. They are:
1. What is this poem "about"?
2. Who is the speaker (or speakers) in the poem?
3. What is its tone or mood? Does the tone change?
4. Comment on any images in the poem.
5. Does the language itself have any notable features (e.g. is it plain or ornate, difficult or easy, colloquial or scholarly)?
6. Is the poem itself musical and rhythmical to the ear or is it more of a textual experience?
And now, for your entertainment, I shall attempt to do all of this on a high wire. No. Not a high wire. A high aware(ness) that this is my own personal public blog of ordinary me, me doing this, here, now. I'm going to talk about this poem without numbering my answers. I'm just going to talk.

It's not hard. It's Yeats.

It's not easy. It's Yeats.

Yeats of the old school. Yeats of the era of Serious British Education, the native Dubliner, Yeats. Yeats who longed to "build up a national tradition, a national literature, which shall be none the less Irish in spirit from being English in language" because Yeats loved Ireland. William Butler Yeats turned his Ireland into words in stanzas, and these stanzas shimmer with his love.

The b
eauty of his poetry transcends time and space, and, I think, it even transcends Yeats himself. Here. I'll show you what I mean. This is a recording of his own reading of "The Lake Isle of Innesfree," -- he reads his poem in a completely dated and sonorous style which we, today, can find melodramatic and just a little silly. The text of the poem is below the imbedded video, so you can read along.

The Lake Isle of Innisfree

I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree, 
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made: 
Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee; 
And live alone in the bee-loud glade. 

And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow, 
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings; 
There midnight's all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow, 
And evening full of the linnet's wings. 

I will arise and go now, for always night and day 
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore; 
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey, 
I hear it in the deep heart's core. 

He sounds like he learned public speaking from men in black robes who stood in high pulpits or behind lecterns at the front of cavernous naves and classrooms, before the era of the false intimacy of the microphone. And, of course, he did. (Our era's public speaking all sounds like a revival tent meeting or a night club act, if you ask me. He's dated, but at least he's not trying to whip me to a fervor by shouting - then whispering - then shouting -  his emotional manipulations. He wants us to hear the poem.)

But it bothered me a little to hear his reading of his own poetry. His reading sounds as if he is trying to stay in speech, but he hears a tune in his head. It sounded like the reading of a canticle when you're used to chanting it musically. Maybe, though, he didn't hear a melody, but only the long, drawn-out rhythms of the inhale and exhale of a vacation at the lake. Maybe this is the slow pace of the kind of snoring a boy could do in a hammock in the yard.

His words could have been easily understood by the boy he used to be. There is nothing too scholarly or ornate to understand - at least, not if the listener has ever loved the peace of a place like that. But a boy in a hammock might not catch the exhausted tones of the man who wrote these words. It takes a man to know what sort of effort is meant by the need to "arise and go" - from a life of noise and stink of town, and from the constant clamor or too many people being too busy in a far too mechanized world. The boy would not wonder if that tired, sighing man might even be longing for the quiet and completely natural state of death itself.

From his own explanations of the poem (found here), it's easy enough to tell that this is him - his own self - Mr. Yeats - remembering a very real time and place, and the splash of water that made him feel like this memory made him feel. His own boyhood is being remembered. Like anyone whose family roots are visited in holidays and kept alive by a parent (in his case, a mother) who sang its songs to him, his love of Ireland is as deep as his own skeleton and muscles. There, he can have the sounds of crickets and bees. The lapping water of a lake at the edges of a lake sound like peace for him - beans growing where those bees are the loudest thing to listen to sounds like the best kind of noise in the world - especially when he's standing on the unyielding, grey pavement of the modern city, far, far from his deep heart's core. 

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