Wednesday, August 30, 2006

W.B. Yeats

William Butler Yeats (1865-1939)was an Irish poet and playwright who lived through the turn of the twentieth century, saw Eire gain its independence from Britain, and propped up the country's dramatic arts--the crowning accomplishment being the founding of the Abbey Theatre in 1904. His poems range from historical to political, lyrical to mythical. It should be noted in the context of the violence in Northern Ireland at the time of Betrayal, that some of his most puissant verses are those regarding the last years of the bloody struggle to have a free Irish state.

I'm including a few poems that, to me, seem to resonate with the play:

"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 midight's all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of 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;
Whilte I stand on the raodway, or on the pavements gray,
I hear it in the deep heart's core.

from "Easter 1916"

I have met them at close of day
Coming with vivid faces
From counter or desk among grey
Eighteenth-century houses.
I have passed with a nod of the head
Or polite meaningless words,
Or have lingered awhile and said
Polite meaningless words,
And thought before I had done
Of a mocking tale or a gibe
To please a companion
Around the fire at the club,
Being certain that they and I
But lived where motley is worn:
All changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.

"Adam's Curse"

We sat together at one summer's end
That beautiful mild woman your close friend
And you and I, and talked of poetry.
I said, "A line will take us hours maybe,
Yet if it does not seem a moment's thought
Our stiching and unstitching has been naught.
Better go down upon your marrow bones
And scrub a kitchen pavement, or break stones
Like an old pauper in all kinds of weather;
For to articulate sweet sounds together
Is to work harder than all these and yet
Be thought an idler by the noisy set
Of bankers, schoolmasters, and clergymen
The martyrs call the world."

And thereupon
That beautiful mild woman for whose sake
There's many a one shall find out all heartache
On finding that her voice is sweet and low
Replied: "To be born a woman is to know--
Although they do not talk of it at school--
That we must labour to be beautiful."

I said, "It's certain there is no fine thing
Since Adam's fall but needs much labouring.
There have been lovers who thought love should be
So much compounded of high courtesy
That they would sigh and quote with learned looks
Precedents out of beautiful old books;
Yet now it seems an idle trade enough."

We sat grown quiet at the name of love.
We saw the last embers of daylight die
And in the trembling blue-green of the sky
A moon, worn as if it had been a shell
Washed by time's waters as they rose and fell
About the stars and broke in days and years.

I had thought for no one's but your ears;
That you were beautiful and that I strove
To love you in the old high way of love;
That it had all seemed happy, and yet we'd grown
As weary hearted as that hollow moon.


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