Happy Birthday W.B. Yeats

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The Winding Stair; by William Butler Yeats

My Soul. I summon to the winding ancient stair;
set all your mind upon the steep ascent,
upon the broken, crumbling battlement,
upon the breathless starlit air,
upon the star that marks the hidden pole;
fix every wandering thought upon
that quarter where all thought is done:
Who can distinguish darkness from the soul

my Self. The consecretes blade upon my knees
is Sato’s ancient blade, still as it was,
still razor-keen, still like a looking-glass
unspotted by the centuries;
that flowering, silken, old embroidery, torn
from some court-lady’s dress and round
the wodden scabbard bound and wound
can, tattered, still protect, faded adorn

my Soul. Why should the imagination of a man
long past his prime remember things that are
emblematical of love and war?
Think of ancestral night that can,
if but imagination scorn the earth
and intellect is wandering
to this and that and t’other thing,
deliver from the crime of death and birth.

my Self. Montashigi, third of his family, fashioned it
five hundred years ago, about it lie
flowers from I know not what embroidery –
heart’s purple – and all these I set
for emblems of the day against the tower
emblematical of the night,
and claim as by a soldier’s right
a charter to commit the crime once more.

my Soul. Such fullness in that quarter overflows
and falls into the basin of the mind
that man is stricken deaf and dumb and blind,
for intellect no longer knows
is from the Ought, or knower from the Known –
that is to say, ascends to Heaven;
only the dead can be forgiven;
but when I think of that my tongue’s a stone.

II

My Self. A living man is blind and drinks his drop.
What matter if the ditches are impure?
What matter if I live it all once more?
Endure that toil of growing up;
the ignominy of boyhood; the distress
of boyhood changing into man;
the unfinished man and his pain
brought face to face with his own clumsiness;

the finished man among his enemies?
How in the name of Heaven can he escape
that defiling and disfigured shape
the mirror of malicious eyes
casts upon his eyes until at last
he thinks that shape must be his shape?
And what’s the good of an escape
if honour find him in the wintry blast?

I am content to live it all again
and yet again, if it be life to pitch
into the frog-spawn of a blind man’s ditch,
a blind man battering blind men;
or into that most fecund ditch of all,
the folly that man does
or must suffer, if he woos
a proud woman not kindred of his soul.

I am content to follow to its source
every event in action or in thought;
measure the lot; forgive myself the lot!
When such as I cast out remorse
so great a sweetness flows into the breast
we must laugh and we must sing,
we are blest by everything,
everything we look upon is blest.

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El Camino

Monet

Kahlil Gibran famously describes parents as archers and children as the arrows in his book “The Prophet”.  Parents provide the stablility, the bow, the platform from which children can launch into the future to pursue their dreams.

Aja Monet describes it in a different way here.  I live in the bloodline. We are all a product of our heritage.  We are all a product of the blood, the genes that we receive from our ancestors.  But more than that we are a product of the achievements and choices of our forebears.  I was the road you took here. I am la Camina. I was the way.

I too am the Grandchild of a revolutionary.  In Ireland we can now search the Census online for 1901 and 1911.  My Grandfather, Jeremiah Clancy, was living in Nicholas Street in St Mary’s Parish in Limerick City, aged 6 in the first census.  His mother Ellen, was head of the household because my Great Grandfather Paddy passed away in 1896.  Grandad was living with his sisters Delia and Annie and his brother Paddy.  I remember them all very well.  We used to visit my Clancy relatives in Limerick and Kilbane each year on the way to holidays in Kilkee.  The aunts never married.  They were spinster aunts to my father.  Paddy married our Great Aunt Hannah and they had a house in Grace Park Road, Drumcondra.  Paddy and Hannah separated in an Ireland where such things seldom happened and he returned to Limerick to end his days in Kilbane as the postmaster.  I grew up thinking of him as a bachelor.

By 1911 Ellen had passed away, not reaching her 58th year.  Paddy, Annie and Delia moved down the street to live with their older sister Lissie and her husband Francis McNamara.  They had four boys of their own, two boarders and a servant.  Busy house.  My Granddad was elsewhere.  In 1911 he is to be found in Smyth’s, Ballygar where he was a 16 year old apprentice in the Hotel business.

Sometime during World War 1 he was photographed in his Volunteer uniform firing a graveside volley (front row right hand side).

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He also pops up in this photo, the dashing chap in the back row sporting the dicky bow, probably his hotel uniform shirt and tie.:

ClancyJ

They are all wearing lilies, suggesting a commemoration of the Easter 1916 rising so it may be 1917 or 1918 putting him at around 22 years of age, which looks about right.  So these photos are the earliest evidence we have of his road to revolution.  He was later arrested for leading a military parade in 1918.  His defense in court was that it was a religious procession.  My brother Jerry thinks the second photo was the first taken, on the basis that he is wearing only a partial uniform in the second photo, but is fully kitted out in the kneeling shot.

He never left the military life and following the overthrow of British rule in Ireland 1922  he became a professional soldier.  He joined the Free State Army in Tipperary, served a time in Limerick before being posted first to Kilbride, Wicklow and later to GHQ in Dublin, housed in McKee Barracks in Dublin, where my Father grew up.  My parents were raised in a new Ireland.  It was the world described by William Butler Yeats as “No Country for Old Men” (Sailing to Byzantium).  A land where those who fought for our freedom rose to become the new political class.  It was a social democracy, a meritocracy where class and past heritage were more of a hindrance than a help.  It was an evolving society of potential and possibility where a hungry person could define their destiny.

This is the path that was mapped for me and my siblings.  You make your future, you define your success, everything is possible through hard work, dedication and desire.  I wonder if we have lost something of this attitude in Ireland today?  Where are next years revolutionaries?

 

What my Grandmother meant to say was; by Aja Monet Bacquie

I taste of salt. My fingers cannot sit still. I smuggled
tears from smile to smile. When I became too tired
to run, I swam. What love does not reach beyond
borders? I swam. I rose. I flew. I dreamed. I fell in
love with litte to no food. I belonged to no where,
no one, no thing. I fell in love with everywhere, every
one, everything. I was hungry and cold. I hated hunger
and cold. I hated everywhere with no food. I hated
everyone with everything. It was different. I was
a woman. I was stupid. I was waiting to become
more than what happened, more than a bird fleeing
it’s country, to bathe in being afar, more than a land
scape or an image to cast a shadow on, the flip
of a tricky coin, seductress of men, visions aching
for a new story to tell you. My children, riding on
the dragonflies of sacrifice, I left them. I turned back
many times, I almost became the devil they wanted
but I left. A devil, nonetheless. I was a woman ahead
of her time. I shimmered in the scars. I live in
the bloodline. I imagine more than broken families.
I come from the laughter of aspiring lovers, the lure
of trembling in anothere’s arms. What about what
I wanted? What of the loss – of culture, of dreams,
of home? There were many secrets. We fled from
the revolution. I could not protect my children from
everywhere. I made offerings. I cleansed. I repented.
I am their mother. I am not God. I was a Candela.
I glowed. I was luminous. I lit up the room. I was
the light gleaming in the Sierra Maestra at night. I was
the mountains. I swayed the sunrise, yearning. I danced.
I was a witch they could not burn. I was la Fuega. I am
their mother. I am not God. I made choices. I made peace
with them. I was a woman ahead of her time. I was
the road you took here. I am la Camina. I was the way.

Topless towers burnt down

Sophia_schliemann_treasure

Was this the face that launched a thousand ships and burnt the topless towers of Ilium? asked Christopher Marlowe in Dr Faustus.

Ilium, the city of Troy, canvas of heroes.  On the fields of Troy Homer introduced us to Ajax, Agamemnon, Menelaus, Priam, Hector, Paris and a cast of thousands.  Achilles the almost invincible and his lover Patroclus.  Cassandra who saw the future but was cursed never to be believed.  The wily Odysseus, AKA Ulysses and his 20 year journey home.  The seeds planted in Troy have germinated and multiplied to inspire a wealth of literature from ancient to modern times.

The Julii Caesares, who gave us Caesar and Augustus, claimed descent from the hero Aeneas who fled from burning Troy with his bride, a daughter of Priam.  Virgil made a career of that tale in the court of the First Emperor of Rome.

It was ostensibly on this day, April 24th in the year 1184 BC that Troy was sacked and burned by the Greeks.  For many that was as far as the myth went.  Then Heinrich Schliemann, a German Businessman, decided that there was no smoke without fire.  So he read Homer as a travel guide instead of as a legend.  He followed the clues and lo and behold he found the ancient city.  Burned, exactly as described.

He bedecked his wife in the jewelry he found there and put her on display for high society to see.  Then he followed more clues and found the tomb of Agamemnon at Mycenae.  A new form of archaeology was born and led to many discoveries all over the world.  Today the science has evolved to the point where Satellite images from earth orbit are being used to search for ancient sites.

 

No Second Troy; by William Butler Yeats

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,
or hurled the little streets upon the great,
had they but courage equal to desire?
What could have made her peaceful with a mind
that nobleness made simple as a fire,
with beauty like a tightened bow, a kind
that is not natural in an age like this,
being high and solitary and most stern?
Why, what could she have done, being what she is?
Was there another Troy for her to burn?

10-4

G_W_Russell_Bathers

Bathers, G.W. Russell

April tenth can be written as 10-4.  Anyone who ever used a CB radio or a walkie talkie knows that this is an acknowledgement code, a response to a message which means “message received and understood”.  The manner in which messages are received and understood is an interesting semiotic.  It gives us clues to “tribal” affiliations.

Some examples might be:

Hooah = US Army and Cavalry,  Oorah = US Marines (USMC),  Hooyah = US Navy,  Aye Sir = US Navy, Aye Aye Sir = Royal Navy / USMC, Roger/ Copy/ Wilco = Trained radio operators – especially maritime, Romeo = Australian version of Roger, Sir Yes Sir = usually grunts in basic training.

Today is also the birthday of George William Russell, one of the leading lights of the Irish Literary Revival.  I am not a great fan of his poetry, but I do love his paintings.  I find his poetic style to be a bit over-garnished, but he does have an ear for the Irish cadence and the unique nature of Hiberno-English syntax.  He was a mystic and many of his poems are filled with allusions to mysticism and turgid with symbology.   He would understand the significance of the semiotics above, and would be careful to use the right ones.

Willam Butler Yeats and his fellow members of the Golden Bough shared Russell’s love of the obscure forces that shape our supposed history.  Russell himself used a symbol as a pseudonym, writing as AE, or more properly ᴁ.

This poem is about an ostensible Celtic goddess, Danu or Dana.  Ostensible because there is no record of the Goddess, but she is extrapolated from the “People of the Goddess Dana”, the Tuatha Dé Danann in the Irish Language.  Danu is a Hindu river goddess.  Proto Indo-European language roots associate Danu with rivers across Europe, the most obvious being the Danube.  In the more modern Ireland we have a singer, Dana (Rosemary Scallon) who was our first winner of the Eurovision song contest, and we also have a traditional Irish music group called Danú, from Dungarvan.   They have a guitarist with a beautiful name and a better pedigree.  Dónal Clancy is son of Liam, one of the Clancy Brothers.

Dana ; by George William Russell

I am the tender voice calling “Away,”
whispering between the beatings of the heart,
and inaccessible in dewy eyes
I dwell, and all unkissed on lovely lips,
lingering between white breasts inviolate,
and fleeting ever from the passionate touch,
I shine afar, till men may not divine
whether it is the stars or the beloved
they follow with rapt spirit. And I weave
my spells at evening, folding with dim caress,
aerial arms and twilight dropping hair,
the lonely wanderer by wood or shore,
’till, filled with some deep tenderness, he yields,
feeling in dreams for the dear mother heart
he knew, ere he forsook the starry way,
and clings there, pillowed far above the smoke
and the dim murmur from the duns of men.
I can enchant the trees and rocks, and fill
the dumb brown lips of earth with mystery,
make them reveal or hide the god. I breathe
a deeper pity than all love, myself
mother of all, but without hands to heal:
Too vast and vague, they know me not. But yet,
I am the heartbreak over fallen things,
the sudden gentleness that stays the blow,
and I am in the kiss that foemen give
pausing in battle, and in the tears that fall
over the vanquished foe, and in the highest,
among the Danaan gods, I am the last
council of mercy in their hearts where they
mete justice from a thousand starry thrones.

 

Lady Gregory’s Birthday

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March 15th the Ides of March and that fateful day for one Julius Caesar in the year 44 BC.  After the death of Caesar his adopted nephew, Octavian, rose to power in Rome and became the first Emperor.   The senate awarded him the title “Augustus” in 27 BC, meaning “The illustrious one”.

In 1852 on Roxborough Estate in Galway a young girl was born to to Frances Persse and was named Isabella Augusta Persse.  She grew up and married Sir William Henry Gregory and became Lady Gregory.  She Co-founded and Managed the Abbey Theatre, Ireland’s National Theatre with William Butler Yeats, Edward Martyn, John Millington Synge etc.

Lady Gregory was a prolific playwright but her greatest legacy to Ireland was as a folklorist.  She learned the Irish language and established a school on her estate.  Then she collected and published a huge body of folk material.  She was the Irish version of the Brothers Grimm.

Here is one of her translations, a sinful, sexual and blasphemous piece of beauty:

Donal Óg; Anonymous 8th Century Irish poem.

Translation by Isabella Augusta (Lady Gregory)

 

It is late last night the dog was speaking of you;
the snipe was speaking of you in her deep marsh.
It is you are the lonely bird through the woods;
and that you may be without a mate until you find me.

You promised me, and you said a lie to me,
that you would be before me where the sheep are flocked;
I gave a whistle and three hundred cries to you,
and I found nothing there but a bleating lamb.

You promised me a thing that was hard for you,
a ship of gold under a silver mast;
twelve towns with a market in all of them,
and a fine white court by the side of the sea.

You promised me a thing that is not possible,
that you would give me gloves of the skin of a fish;
that you would give me shoes of the skin of a bird;
and a suit of the dearest silk in Ireland.

When I go by myself to the Well of Loneliness,
I sit down and I go through my trouble;
when I see the world and do not see my boy,
he that has an amber shade in his hair.

It was on that Sunday I gave my love to you;
the Sunday that is last before Easter Sunday.
And myself on my knees reading the Passion;
and my two eyes giving love to you for ever.

My mother said to me not to be talking with you today,
or tomorrow, or on the Sunday;
it was a bad time she took for telling me that;
it was shutting the door after the house was robbed.

My heart is as black as the blackness of the sloe,
or as the black coal that is on the smith’s forge;
or as the sole of a shoe left in white halls;
it was you that put that darkness over my life.

You have taken the east from me; you have taken the west from me;
you have taken what is before me and what is behind me;
you have taken the moon, you have taken the sun from me;
and my fear is great that you have taken God from me!

 

Happy Birthday WB Yeats

Yeats

WB Yeats by Louis Le Brocquy

In the world of poetry there is an insufficiency of superlatives to describe WB Yeats.

His epitaph reads:

Cast a cold Eye

On Life,  on Death

Horseman pass by.

 

When you are old; by William Butler Yeats

WHEN you are old and grey 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 upon the mountains overhead
And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.

Happy Birthday Countee Cullen

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African Americans had a brief flowering of liberty and creativity in the Reconstruction Era following the Civil War in the USA.  This was brought to a sharp end by the rise of the Ku Klux Klan and the passing of the Jim Crow laws.

In the 1920’s there was a cultural, social and literary flowering of creativity by the grandchildren of the reconstruction era negroes.  Known at the time as the New Negro Movement it is now called the Harlem Renaissance.  Countee Cullen was one of the leading lights of this movement.

This poem is interesing to me because it is so evocative of the WB Yeats “He Wishes for the cloths of heaven”.  While Yeats wrote of the lovers angst Cullen’s poem speaks of discrimination and racism.  Here we are today 100 years on from the Harlem Renaissance and it seems that the struggle for equality for African Americans has seen little advance.  Despite the Civil Rights movement, the Black Panther Party, Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X the USA still appears to be dangerous ground on which to be a black person.

For a Poet; by Countee Cullen

I have wrapped my dreams in a silken cloth,
And laid them away in a box of gold;
Where long will cling the lips of the moth,
I have wrapped my dreams in a silken cloth;
I hide no hate; I am not even wroth
Who found the earth’s breath so keen and cold;
I have wrapped my dreams in a silken cloth,
And laid them away in a box of gold.