Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Dense fog, heavy air, deep green grass, and the lilacs tensely weighted with buds. One ray of sun, and they will explode into flower.

Yesterday I began working on my next Conversation chapter: Robert Hayden and narrative. Today, more of the same, and sourdough bread baking, and band practice, and boy driving.

Oklahoma's tornado destruction burdens my thoughts, as does the little girl found murdered in the woods a few towns away from where I sit. Here, in this very spot where I write, peace is overwhelming. The only sound I hear is a clutch of goldfinches arguing on a fir branch and my husband dropping a breakfast plate into the dishwasher. Safety is a narrow bridge over razor wire, over sharp stones, over blackened burnt pines.
The Lake Isle of Inisfree 
W. B. Yeats 
I will arise and go now, and go to Inisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made:
Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honeybee,
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 midnight's all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the 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;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,
I hear it in the deep heart's core.


Christopher said...


To Meath of the pastures,

From wet hills by the sea,

Through Leitrim and Longford, 

Go my cattle and me.

I hear in the darkness 

Their slipping and breathing -

I name them the bye-ways 

They're to pass without heeding;

Then, the wet, winding roads, 

Brown bogs with black water; 

And my thoughts on white ships 

And the King o' Spain's daughter.

O! farmer, strong farmer! 

You can spend at the fair; 

But your face you must turn 

To your crops and your care.

And soldiers - red soldiers! 

You've seen many lands; 

But you walk two by two, 

And by captain's commands.

O! the smell of the beasts, 

The wet wind in the morn; 

And the proud and hard earth 

Never broken for corn;

And the crowds at the fair, 

The herds loosened and blind, 

Loud words and dark faces

And the wild blood behind.

(O! strong men; with your best 

I would strive breast to breast, 

I could quiet your herds 

With my words, with my words.)

I will bring you, my kine, 

Where there's grass to the knee; 

But you'll think of scant croppings 

Harsh with salt of the sea.

Pádraic Colum [1881-1972]

Dawn Potter said...

Oh, beautiful . . . and that strange parenthetical stanza when the rhyme scheme changes. What a lovely move that is.

Christopher said...

It's always there, that verse, at least in all the versions I've seen. The one I posted here was given to me by the Irish writer, Paddy Linehan, who learned it from his father in Cork at the age of 8 or 9. That would have been just after the war, and Paddy says he was by that time already nostalgic and alcoholic.

I love the Yeats -- I love all Yeats, in fact, but it's rarely real.

Like all poetry it's concocted -- it's the reader makes it real, and the reader has to be strong and ready.

(Of strong men; with your best 

I would strive breast to breast, 

I could quiet your herds 

With my words, with my words.)


Christopher said...

"Art is a house that tries to be haunted" -- that's much on my mind, obviously.

Yeats tried very hard to inhabit his houses with theosophical apparitions, but fortunately he wasn't very good at that (if he had been who would ever have bothered with "The Lake Isle of Ininisfree," which is teeming with esoteric allusions!). Most of the spiritualist stuff, the numbers, symbols, portentous apparitions, visions, colors, beasts, and secret blisses draw a blank in his poems while the WORDS slouch magnificently toward Bethlehem to be born. As simple, indeed as simplistic, as that -- and the foul rag and bone shop of the heart to be sure. That's idiot genius, like love's mansion.

Yeats' genius was his simplicity, complicated guy that he was -- and his weakness over-simplification. But we forgive him completely for that because he was Irish, or felt he was, anyway, and sacrificed himself on that altar. And we fly on those Irish wings of his to be safe and simple on any number of islands, not just Innisfree.

Which incidentally is a small, windswept island in Sligo bay, now all in ruins. In the 5th Century it sheltered St. Columba for awhile on the wild flight from Ireland which would take him first to Oronsay and eventually on to Iona in the Hebrides -- that's far, and dangerous! Innisfree is in relatively sheltered waters and low lying, so it was an easy target for the Vikings who raided it numerous times, and the monasteries were all pillaged. I rowed ashore there in my dinghy in 1991 – there’s no easy access or any real shelter from the swell. And yes, I wanted to stay there for ever but I tell you, Dawn, it makes Harmony, Maine look like Monhegan!

In reality Innisfree is neither bucolic nor safe. Yes, it’s most certainly and profoundly spiritual, but you show me the spirituality that isn’t founded on ashes, or any insight at all that's not also bitter.


Christopher said...

Dear Dawn,
I wonder if this might lead to another "Conversation" in your book?

It seems to me that one way we "try" during the creative process is by allowing ourselves to consider alternatives that are the least likely ones, so to speak, the least probable, logical, consistent, or even decent. We stumble upon all sorts of things in a poem this way, indeed poems that we thought we knew begin to speak back to us, sometimes even with contempt for what we thought we were saying. Like the last line in "Elegy for a One Night Stand."

I'm sure that's one of the reasons why you are so fierce about NOT SAYING ANYTHING about one of your poems, because, if it's really haunted, you really don't know where you're at anymore!

Try "Wild Nights" for that, and just imagine what Emily Dickinson must have gone through in making her peace with that poem. Indeed, perhaps she just had to give up on it, it got so haunted-- or was she utterly exhausted by it, as if she were its a lover!

Indeed, is that how she became a lover in the first place, and why she wasn't a virgin?


Dawn Potter said...

In the book I'm fairly sure I touch on this idea of surprise in the making of art . . . of the artist at the mercy of her creation even as she is its manipulator. The puppet-master is throttled by her puppets.

Christopher said...

Sorry to be still stuck back here, Dawn -- at least you don't have to worry that anybody will be bothered by my obsessions, they're so out of date.

I like the puppet-master idea a lot, though I think "puppeteer" might be a better word for it. It's about a rare symbiotic skill, and when it's skillfully done the blending is magical. There's a huge amount of it everywhere in southeast asia, Bali and Thailand in particular, and so many ingenuous ways of burying the puppeteer in the puppet! For the skill lies in self-effacement as much as in your ability to control.

You have to try to be like that as a poet too, I think, you have to try really hard to hang in there even as the poem evolves quite beyond you. Indeed, it's only when the poem takes over and forces you to see something you never imagined that you’ve become a true puppeteer. Otherwise you're just a stage manager, I'd say – a sort of front-of-house manager, a door-man or ticket seller!

The strategies I had in mind might go something like this, though I feel sure you've covered them all:

1.) What’s the turning point of the poem, the fulcrum or hinge?

2.) What’s the most unlikely moment in the poem?

3.) What’s the key to the poem, what word or image? What’s the secret-code moment?