Quotes to like or puzzle over: “There comes a time when you realize that everything is a dream, and only those things preserved in writing have any possibility of being real.” ― James Salter, All That Is
William Butler Yeats was born on June 13, 1865, and died on January 28, 1939. Another of our favorites has a June birthday: Egon Schiele, born June 12, 1890, and died October 31, 1918. Egon died from the flu pandemic just two days after his wife and baby. Willy died in a small attic room with both his wife and mistress at his side. Could there be more of a contrast in life and times?
And then of course one an artist (Schiele) and the other a poet and writer. Yet who knows what heights Schiele might have reached had he lived. He too wrote a bit of poetry and letters. Both consider what it is that makes an artist, and what it is that is in the special makings of things that make some reach for the Heavens (whatever that means) and others content to be earthbound.
Egon Schiele: Self Portrait with Physalis, 1912
Both saw Beauty and Terror in everything in the world. The gift to us is that they tried so valiantly to share it with us, sometimes succeeding, if we but eyes to see. Imagine.
Time and again. I come back to Yeats, and his prophetic words from ‘The Second Coming’. “The ceremony of innocence is drowned. The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.” Personally, I don’t associate Yeats’ language with religion, or politics or war. For me it represents a far deeper internal mythology; the one that presents us with the cold choice of a hero’s journey or a sleep that lasts for eternity. NB
This was posted by Nick Bantock, along with the photo (appropriately) of a postcard. Bantock is the author of Griffin & Sabine, and others of their books, the trilogy of which I have. And I will tell of that at some further post coming up.
So, Bantock and Yeats too, as we continue to read our way through our self-isolation. Our quarantine. Who better?
I seem to have floundered off the page again. I would be worried if it mattered.
Strange places in the hovel of memories: 1. Years back—where? Was it Michigan? When I lived in the house on the 10 acre woods. The first dream was that of the whippets. Whippets had long been of some significance although I didn’t know of what. They frequently appeared in my life and were witnessed by the boy and the girl. And then, I dreamed I found a pair of them and took them into the garage there, to the house on the edge of that wood, to wait for their people to arrive and rescue them. (Whippets always appeared in a pair, in reality and in dreams.) And so they did. The next day, out walking with Kate-the-golden-one, down that country road, appeared two whippets, trotting alone and in tandem. I coaxed them into the garage and phoned a radio station then playing at the house, to give the information and request an announcement. The song to go along with the find was “The Happy Wanderer.” (It was a station of oldies.) Not long after the announcement there was a phone call from the whippet people who then came to get them. Of course they had just lost them, of course they just happened to be listening to that station.
2. The dream that night was of the raven. Raven or crow, I tend to favor ravens. I found a raven on that very country road, a wounded creature who could not fly. I took it in and gave it great care and nursing. When I was not at home I kept it in my utility room so it could be enclosed and yet have some room. Safety, freedom, and constraint. Noble intentions, noble gifts. Except the beautiful iridescent creature tore a hole right through the wall. There was a plaster and dry wall and two-by-four mess blown clear through to the kitchen. The next day, walking down that same country road, a neighbor came out to ask me if I wanted to take in a crow. He had found an injured one and couldn’t care for it himself. Was I interested? I gracefully declined. I didn’t want the mess of the feathered beauty tearing apart the house, leaving the white mist of drywall powder to cover us there.
It is after all, a murder of crows and an unkindness of ravens.
I told the kids who told me I made too much of such things, which I did. I was crazed to know the meaning of them. I had one foot on shore and one at sea…into a fog of meaning and being, into a dream world not called, delivered without quest or anchor. But I could not read the sign. How will I ever know if everything was a dream, if anything was real?
Last night I got up at four a.m. to read The Winter’s Tale. I wanted to understand what the king said at the end, when he touched the statue of his wife—old now, and gone—and he said she was warm. Who does that—this waking to read? Isn’t that crazy even for me?
Still, it looks like red rock canyon. So many places of country roads, so many places left behind. No one then to love the pilgrim soul, or the moments of sad grace.
Once, many years ago, in a park, I left this world for another. I don’t know how I got to the park, why I was there. It may have been part of some event—a birthday, a picnic—something. I walked off by myself, following the chain-link fence that separated the park from the river flowing by on the other side. Perhaps I was looking for a break in the fence so that I could sit next to the water, dangle my feet in the current. I didn’t find a break in the fence, but I noted a duck nest and a mama duck, the dull mallard color denoting the female, blending with the undergrowth next to the fence. It was stepping down, bending past the nest, into it that left the waving air of ether that pushed me into itself. I don’t know how long I was there, inside that funnel of other, or what it meant. I just knew that I was there. I had a sense that I was invisible to the people standing outside, though I didn’t know for certain. I could not see out. I was just there. And then I walked out, the other end away from the duck nest. I tried to go back, to find the nest again, but I could not. I went back to the picnic, joined some others—strangers I knew. And then the day passed like any other, like thousands of other days in a park where we would eat sandwiches and laugh in the sunlight, spend those infinite high school days of summer.
Some weeks later, much later, I tried to find the park again. That was strange too, as I don’t recall ever being there before or since. I don’t know how I found it, but I did. I took the walk along the fence, watching the undergrowth as I went, willing the nest to reappear. But it did not. No matter how much I looked or how far I walked, I could find nothing. No nest, no doorway, no path. Nothing. Perhaps I had taken some flight of fancy, launched some capsule of time which only landed in memory. And then, on that day, it returned to the nothingness of disbelief.
In the “Irish Times” on Saturday, Fintan O’Toole declared there is a Yeats Test that can be applied to determine the state of the world. It’s simple: the more quotable Yeats seems to commentators and politicians, the worse things are.
After the election of Donald Trump, there was a massive surge in online searches for Yeats’s magnificently doom-laden The Second Coming. From data collected by Frank McNally, the poem was more quoted in newspapers the first seven months of 2016 than in any other year of the past three decades.
That’s saying a lot.
But more to the point, it hasn’t stopped. On a Twitter account called Widening Gyre, lines from the poem are sent out into cyberspace without further comment.
“The centre cannot hold” was tweeted or retweeted 499 times on June 24th, 2016, the morning after the Brexit vote. It has continued to appear 38 times a day. It also appeared 249 times in newspapers in the first seven months of 2016. Best of all, Yeats’s lines can be claimed by right, left and centre. And they are.
“Things Fall Apart” And more from The Second Coming
“mere anarchy is loosed upon the world”; “The ceremony of innocence is drowned”; and “The best lack all conviction, while the worst/Are full of passionate intensity”
Black, White, Left or Right, Yeats has become a man for all seasons. And poetry “is loosed upon the land.”