Recently I have been enjoying discovering Yeats and Kipling. Two poems in particular I have read over and over, and though I understand only a little of what they mean, they are a joy to listen to or to read aloud, and reminded me how wonderful a poem can be - and how clumsy it makes all other forms of writing appear.
See below for links to both poems in their wonderful, flowing entirety. It is the combination of lyrical language and imagery that strikes at common truth that made me fall for them, and the theme they share of the poets strife to achieve a work of art that made me want share them in a single blog.
As I read the end of the first stanza of the Fisherman:
"The clever man who cries/ The catch cries of the clown/The beating down of the wise/And great Art beaten down"
it takes me a while to realize what it is that I love about it. It is not the meaning of the words necessarily, for, like many a Bob Dylan song, I love the way they sounds while appreciating little as to what they mean. Rather it is the clever, beautiful use of language, the alliteration, the rhyming, the re-use of "cries" and simply the image it creates.
I feel the same when I read (from conundrum of the workshops)
"The tale is as old as the Eden Tree - and new as the new-cut tooth -
For each man knows ere his lip-thatch grows he is master of Art and Truth;
And each man hears as the twilight nears, to the beat of his dying heart,
The Devil drum on the darkened pane: "You did it, but was it Art ?"
Oh to be able to write like that.
Imagery that strikes at common truth
Often the best thing a poem can do is make a reader sit back and think >> yes, boy is that true >>.
Certainly there are moments in both poems that do this for me. In particular:
[The Fisherman] "The living men that I hate,
The dead man that I loved". So often in our fields we admire great figures of the past, but despise well-known contemporaries.
[Conundrum..] "We have learned to whittle the Eden Tree to the shape of a surplice-peg,". An Ironic outlook on the achievements of the human race: wasteful, useless. "
[Conundrum..] And each man hears as the twilight nears, to the beat of his dying heart,
The Devil drum on the darkened pane: "You did it, but was it Art ? ". Art or not, most will look back on their lives with similar worries.
Yeats' Fisherman is not real. He is an idealised character who "is but a dream". In considering him Yeats relays the task all poets and artists and in fact all humans place before themselves; to create that one perfect work of art, as "cold and passionate as the dawn".
Kipling deals with a similar problem: "You did it....but was it Art?", a question which is as "old as the eden tree" . Despite our progress as a race, to the stage where we can whittle the he Eden Tree to the shape of a surplice-peg, we are no closer to knowing what makes art art than "our Father Adam was". We can put a man on the moon, build buildings like this
, but we are no closer to solving the most fundamental of human question. An anecdote I heard concerning a cab driver who'd had Bertrand Russel in his back seat. When asked what it had been like to meet the great philosopher he responds: "I asked him 'so what's it all about eh?' Point is, the bugger didn't have a clue".
Do read the full versions:
And before I go.....With the recent, much-mourned death of Seamus Heaney I realized with sadness that I had never gotten round to reading any of his poetry. As I set about changing that I came across this amusing verse which the Nortern-Ireland-born poet penned in response to his inclusion in an anthology of British poets:
"Don't be surprised if I demur, for,
be advised my passport's green.
No glass of ours was ever raised
to toast the queen"
I really must read some of his work.