Monday, March 9, 2009 12 Comments

From 'Nineteen Hundred and Nineteen' (Yeats)

Many ingenious lovely things are gone
That seemed sheer miracle to the multitude,
Protected from the circle of the moon
That pitches common things about. There stood
Amid the ornamental bronze and stone
An ancient image made of olive wood -
And gone are Phidias' famous ivories
And all the golden grasshoppers and bees.

We too had many pretty toys when young;
A law indifferent to blame or praise,
To bribe or threat; habits that made old wrong
Melt down, as it were wax in the sun's rays;
Public opinion ripening for so long
We thought it would outlive all future days.
O what fine thought we had because we thought
That the worst rogues and rascals had died out.

All teeth were drawn, all ancient tricks unlearned,
And a great army but a showy thing;
What matter that no cannon had been turned
Into a ploughshare? Parliament and king
Thought that unless a little powder burned
The trumpeters might burst with trumpeting
And yet it lack all glory; and perchance
The guardsmen's drowsy chargers would not prance.

Now days are dragon-ridden, the nightmare
Rides upon sleep: a drunken soldiery
Can leave the mother, murdered at her door,
To crawl in her own blood, and go scot-free;
The night can sweat with terror as before
We pieced our thoughts into philosophy,
And planned to bring the world under a rule,
Who are but weasels fighting in a hole.

He who can read the signs nor sink unmanned
Into the half-deceit of some intoxicant
From shallow wits; who knows no work can stand,
Whether health, wealth or peace of mind were spent
On master-work of intellect or hand,
No honour leave its mighty monument,
Has but one comfort left: all triumph would
But break upon his ghostly solitude.

But is there any comfort to be found?
Man is in love and loves what vanishes,
What more is there to say? That country round
None dared admit, if such a thought were his,
Incendiary or bigot could be found
To burn that stump on the Acropolis,
Or break in bits the famous ivories
Or traffic in the grasshoppers or bees.


--- William Butler Yeats (1922)

12 Comments:

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March 9, 2009 at 11:14 PM  
Blogger Daniel A. Nagy said...

Up for annotation at thiblo.com.

-- second spammer ;-)

March 10, 2009 at 1:40 AM  
OpenID eigenman said...

Oh Yeats.. how gloomy.

I like it. It's maybe a little more measured and circumspect than, say, The Second Coming.

March 10, 2009 at 5:03 AM  
Blogger Alrenous said...

Should probably turn comment moderation on.

March 10, 2009 at 5:48 AM  
Blogger G. M. Palmer said...

I've only seen it written 1919.

Hm.

And Menc can delete the random characters, he doesn't need to turn on moderation (which is several steps too many).

March 10, 2009 at 6:42 AM  
Anonymous Benedict@Large said...

"Man is in love and LOVES WHAT VANISHES,
What more is there to say?"

Contrast this with Spinoza, several centuries earlier:

"To love that which is infinite is to feel joy which is free from all sorrow."

Spinoza's "Infinite" is so both in space and time. Spinoza's love is thus boundless and unending; the Universe itself, viewed by him as all there is and god.

Yeats is troubled and distraught, having fallen into the trap of loving what is transient. Spinoza, the "god-intoxicated" atheist, ostracized by his own people for the sacrilege of false god, lives a life of quiet peace and tranquility, rejecting professorial appointment, and insisting only upon an earned modest accommodation, grinding glass and making lenses, in order to help others see.

March 10, 2009 at 3:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

From my long ago adolescence, a Yeats parody:

W.B. Yeats Visits Disneyland

Let bleak, aged Byzantium crumble,
And shrouded Venice sink into its mire!
From ruins the droves are born and stumble,
We, sewer rats of middle-class desire!

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