Nov 7, 2009

A Touch More on Yeats

Apse mosaic at Sant-Apollinaire in Classe

I worry about overkill in my posts on poetry, especially the last two, where I hope to show or remind people of the richness of language when poetry is done well, even in a seemingly simple work like "The Cat and the Moon." Though I realize the technical talk runs the risk of pushing people away, my hope is to send or return folks to poetry. In spite of all the readings, conferences, and MFAs in poetry, it remains an art in need of a much broader fan base.

With no plan for my next entry, let me use an Altadenahiker question as the entry to a short post for today (I heard that sigh of relief . . . ). In the latest visitor comments, AH asks, “What's your favorite Yeats?"

Without looking at a table of contents, the Yeats poems that leap to mind are "Sailing to Byzantium" ( and "The Second Coming" (

But the last stanza of "The Circus Animals' Desertion," is also superb, I think, especially the final two lines. It’s one of Yeats's last poems, in which he summarizes his career, its themes, important characters and tropes. Frankly, I find the middle three stanzas rather tedious. But the first stanza is excellent, and all of it sets up this conclusion:

Those masterful images because complete
Grew in pure mind, but out of what began?
Old kettles, old bottles, and a broken can,
Old iron, old bones, old rags, that raving slut
Who keeps the till. Now that my ladder’s gone,
I must lie down where all the ladders start,
In the foul rag and bone shop of the heart.

* *


Anonymous said...

Now I remember why I liked Yeats. Thank you.

Barbaro said...

The last line is one for the record books, certainly.

But I must confess, I don't "get" Yeats. I've tried: I've read dozens of his poems, even visited his house in Dublin and grave in ??? (killer epitaph, by the way), but he continues to leave me cold. Formalism in its death throes. Way too many classical illusions, too little honest confession(alism).

Had enough heresy yet?

Banjo52 said...

AH, great.

Barbaro, not heresy, but a real response would mean a longer dialogue than this space allows. Also, I doubt if anyone can force someone else to LIKE a poet or poem. By trying that kind of coercion, teachers have been failing students for decades--or centuries? But your response interests me, and I'll try to find a forum for it before too long. Also, if too many classical allusions, how about all those Gaelic allusions?

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