5.01.2013

Crazy Yeats, W.B.

Goodbye, April, and hello, May, and goodbye Poetry Month.  I figured we might as well finish off the poetry celebration with one last post, this time concerning Alz's favorite poet, William Butler Yeats.

File:WB Yeats nd.jpg
Yeats was pretty cute when he was young.
Source: Wikipedia
Basically this guy was an Irish poet (a major player in the Irish Literary Revival) and he loved being Irish and loved Ireland and had such national pride that when politics started heading south and his beloved country was threatened by whatever was going on in the world at the time, well, there's a reason most of his poetry has a political bent, ranging from subtle imagery to overt commentary.  And since Ireland often got the short end of the stick either due to external or internal strife, a great deal of his poetry is angsty.

Being so gung-ho about his nationality and its rich mythological history, Yeats collected and recorded Irish fairytales and folklore (printed in the aptly-titled collection Irish Fairy and Folk Tales), and many of his poems contain mythical references and figures such as Fergus and Cuchulainn.  And since a lot of Irish mythology and folklore is kind of tragic, a great deal of his poetry is angsty.

File:William Butler Yeats by John Singer Sargent 1908.jpg
The first time I saw this portrait of Yeats
by John Singer Sargent, I was like WHOAH,
Yeats, I loved you before for your poetry
and now I get to love you for more
superficial reasons.
Source: Wikipedia
He was also a thoroughgoing spiritualist and mystic and was a deeply involved member of the Golden Dawn.  Many hermetic symbols and motifs appear in his poetry, oftentimes so subtly done that you'd think nothing of him talking about a rose or the number three--then you take a class on Yeats (my professor wanted to call the class Crazy Yeats but apparently the school wouldn't let him so he called it something like The Golden Dawn Movement/Magical Occultism) and find out that yeah, the rose was symbolic of Ireland as well as magic and the number three is a magically potent number for etc. reasons.  And since Yeats' interest in hermeticism shaped his view of the world and therefore world politics and world politics weren't making him happy at the time, a great deal of his poetry is angsty.

Poor Yeats had a sorry history in romance as his true love and muse, Maud Gonne, refused to marry him even though he proposed to her no less than four times over the course of ten years.  And then she went and married an Irish nationalist that Yeats hated.  Eventually she separated from her husband, who was later executed by the British in 1916 during the Easter Rising, and a few months later Yeats proposed again only to be shot down again.  Later he married another woman and had a relatively successful marriage, but Maud was forever his inspiration, both as an angel and the curse of unrequited love.  So naturally, as you might expect, a great deal of his poetry is, well, pretty damn angsty.

Anyway, I could go on about how I love his way with words, and both the depths and the shallows of his poetry--by which I mean I love how some of his poems have more layers than a prize-winning onion (my class notes on "The Second Coming" are copious) while others are simply what they are ("The Stolen Child" is about fairies stealing a child, and while you could always interpret it to have oceanic depths of meaning and insight and political commentary, it is pretty much just a wistful poem about Irish fairies and the loss of innocence). But instead of babbling on overmuch, I'll just share with you some photographic evidence of how well I paid attention during Yeats class.

This was our main text: The Collected Poems of W.B. Yeats edited by Richard J. Finneran.
I did actually pay attention during lecture because the class was taught by two profs who were knowledgeable, witty, extremely intelligent old dudes on tenure who knew they could do what they wanted with the class and that was exactly what they did--classes consisted mainly of long rambling lecture punctuated by hilarious anecdotes and critical insight, followed by close reading and discussion of selected poems.  I concentrated better though when my hands were busy so besides jotting down notes in my book, I also doodled a lot.  I doodled more and more as the class went on, since I'd had a previous class with one of the two professors that featured a Yeats section and so it was stuff I'd already learned.

My notes are sometimes as scarce as a single line.  For instance, here is a section of the poem "The Two Trees":
Beloved, gaze in thine own heart,
The holy tree is growing there;
From joy the holy branches start,
And all the trembling flowers they bear.
The changing colours of its fruit
Have dowered the stars with merry light;
The surety of its hidden root
Has planted quiet in the night;
The shaking of its leafy head
Has given the waves their melody,
And made my lips and music wed,
Murmuring a wizard song for thee.
For which my critical note was as follows

"A holy pineapple?"
Lest you think me analytically challenged, well, I mean, I do have real notes for other poems.  But since this is the very first note written in this book, it should give you some idea of what the rest of the book looks like.

For instance, this page of "Easter, 1916" is a mix of WTF-ery and legit analysis and discussion:

Top half of the page. Click to enlarge.

Bottom half of the page. Click to enlarge.
Some pages have doodles that kind of sort of relate to the poem at hand:

A windblown Alz on a page that mentions a stormy day.
That relates, right?  RIGHT?
"II: Crazy Jane Reproved"
A happy dolphin with the caption "SO LONG AND THANKS FOR ALL THE FISH!"
"Byzantium"

"ZEUS PWNS!" The ^Lightning Struck^ Tower
Then there are pages that feel more like a timeline, reminding me of what else I was into at the time:

That's a leetle L from Death Note sitting in the margin of
"Michael Robartes and the Dancer".
The upper left note says, "As an old dude Yeats doesn't have as much
creativity/inspiration anymore. D:"
Then below that is a penguin with the note, "Not the most kind and noble,
chivalrous penguin in the universe, but cute."
Then there's Aslan and a note saying "mythological figures".
Then there's a fox, and all the way to the right is Cheese-kun from Code Geass.
Top right: Mokona from Magic Knight Rayearth.
Top left: Kero-chan from Cardcaptor Sakura.
So we've all got our literary crushes--and while I don't think I love good ol' Willy B. Yeats as much as Krispy loves Ray Bradbury, I'd be lying if I said I didn't have a soft spot in my black and withered heart for this angst-ridden lovelorn Irish nationalist poet.

Aww yeah!
Aww Yeats!
What about you?  Have you got a favorite poet, a favorite poem, or a literary crush?

4 comments:

Jaime Morrow said...

I really should read more poetry than I do. I have no less than four anthologies sitting on the shelf right behind me. I enjoyed this bit of W. B. Yeats' work.

At least one of the aforementioned anthologies is a bit marked up from one of my literature courses in university. It doesn't have doodles though, so it's nowhere near as cool as yours! ;-)

Connie Keller said...

I read some of Yeats' work in college. But my professor was mean and nasty (some people actually cried in class), and I think that really affected our entire class's opinion of Yeats.

Hmm. Maybe I should re-read some of his work.

My poet crush is Robert Browning.

linda said...

love your doodles! :D

The Golden Eagle said...

Interesting excerpt from that poem! Thanks for the history about Yeats.