Tomorrow, January 28th, marks the anniversary of the death in 1939 of the great Irish poet and Nobel Laureate, William Butler Yeats.
W.B.Yeats has been a part of my life pretty much from the day I was born, with my mother quoting lines of his work. One of her favourites, when I’d be getting into a tizz-wizz over something would be:
She bid me take life easy,
as the grass grows on the weirs;
But I was young and foolish,
and now am full of tears.
(From: W.B. Yeats, Down by the Salley Gardens)
W.B. Yeats’ poetry was a fundamental part of English in school and it was there that I fell in love with The Wild Swans at Coole. I associate the poem very much with my birthday in October, just when we’d be getting settled back into the first term after the long summer holidays.
I have looked upon those brilliant creatures,
And now my heart is sore.
All’s changed since I, hearing at twilight,
The first time on this shore,
The bell-beat of their wings above my head,
Trod with a lighter tread.
(From: W.B. Yeats, The Wild Swans at Coole)
It was when I was a student at Trinity College, Dublin that I became acutely aware of the broader context of W.B. Yeats’ life and was very taken by the fact that his brother, Jack Yeats, was such a brilliant artist. His painting, The Liffey Swim, was one which I used to go and admire endlessly in the National Gallery of Ireland.
But, most of all, I found myself wondering endlessly about W.B. Yeats’ love life and especially the whole issue of unrequited love which was something he battled with, like so, so many people. The poem The White Birds, which he wrote after the love of his life, Maud Gonne, rejected his marriage proposal is never far from my mind:
I am haunted by numberless islands, and many a Danaan shore, Where Time would surely forget us, and Sorrow come near us no more; Soon far from the rose and the lily, and fret of the flames would we be, Were we only white birds, my beloved, buoyed out on the foam of the sea!
(From: W.B Yeats, The White Birds)
It seemed only natural that I would read W.B. Yeats’ poetry to our son from when he was very young and there were precious, precious nights when we would share absolute gems while he drifted off to sleep. So many lines spring to mind as I recall those nights but none more than these:
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.
(From: W.B. Yeats, The Lake Isle of Innisfree)
One of my proudest achievements in recent years has been running a Poetry Thread on Linkedin. It has been a little oasis in a crazy world and it seemed only natural that I would choose a line from W.B. Yeats to start if off:
‘Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.’
(From W.B. Yeats, Aodh Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven)
And, as I’ve aged and read more and more poetry, I still think that W.B. Yeats’ poem, When You Are Old, is the best love poem ever written. The lines that I simply adore from it are these:
How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true,
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face;
(From W.B. Yeats, When You Are Old )
Tonight, on the eve of W.B. Yeats’ anniversary, I feel incredibly fortunate to have been soaked in his poetry throughout my life. I hope it will continue to travel with me, like an old friend, forever more.
“A sense of humor is just common sense, dancing.” (Clive James)
This gem was sent to me in an email by a guy who has been an on and off contributor to my Poetry Thread on Linkedin, which has been weaving away for over three years now. He’s one of those people who has an amazing capacity to say the right thing at the right time.
Ever since I got the email a few days ago, I’ve been wondering what common sense dancing would look like and that thought process has brought me on all sorts of light hearted journeys but I keep coming back to this particular image of my late father:
Dad just loved to laugh, was a brilliant dancer and was full of common sense.
What makes this photo so humorous to me is the fact that Dad is sitting on grass and I can just hear him say: ‘ Who’s that bloody eejit?’ He got pneumonia as a kid from sitting on dewy grass after playing handball with his friends. He nearly died from it and spent the best part of a year in bed. We were never, ever, ever let sit on grass when he was around, unless there was a waterproof groundsheet beneath us.
I’d love to hear/see what images float into your head when you think of Humour as common sense, dancing.
Here’s a bit of Irish dancing to get those images tapping!
Saturday night was special for me as I went to a poetry reading by arguably America’s best known and most well-loved contemporary poet at the Kilkenny Arts Festival. I have been reading his work for the last three years now since he was catapulted into my consciousness via the poetry thread that I set up on Linkedin back in September 2011.
I was a tad apprehensive about even attending the event because I felt that past readings in Kilkenny by Irish greats like Seamus Heaney, Michael Longely, Paul Muldoon and Paul Durcan were setting the bar very high and I felt I was setting myself and Billy Collins up for a messy anti-climax. But the dithers were dissolved by hearing Seamus Heaney’s quiet urgings to just go and enjoy what was to be enjoyed and learn what was to be learned.
Well, Billy Collins didn’t even look like I imagined he would from the photos I’d seen. He kinda stood out as he was wearing red trousers that were very definitely 0f the arty kind.
I’d been expecting a Woody Allen type accent but it was much less American and can only be described as velvety.
Billy Collins’ poetry is ‘simple’ on the face of it and is about the most mundane of things. It reminded me of occasions when I’ve seen world class sportspeople, like Seve Ballesteros, Bjorn Borg, Sonia O’Sullivan – it all seemed so easy, effortless and natural but you know that there has to have been a lifetime’s dedication, training and determination involved as well.
Billy Collins can have you guffawing, blubbering, doing mental somersaults all in the space of a few lines. How he turns the world inside out, upside down, takes it on full force or just caresses it gently to peer inside is beyond me.
The reading and subsequent Q&A were tantalisingly short but it’s only now that I’m beginning to process words that Billy Collins scattered around the Parade Tower of Kilkenny Castle. I guess they will surface in all sorts of different contexts over the coming months, years.
For now, I can’t stop thinking of how he talked about how writing a poem is something he does as a single experience. As he said, when he gets an idea, It’s game on, and there isn’t a question of writing a stanza and then heading off to a movie. No, the draft is written in a notebook, and subsequent revisions are about improving, improving, improving ….. be it rhythm, assonance or whatever. When he finally puts the poem on computer, its shape is crucially important because, for him, a poem is like a piece of sculpture.
Oh, and I loved how he talked about poem titles ~ some, he sees as just icing but others are fundamental to the whole poem.
Lots and lots to ponder ~ and you’re right Billy Collins, women want more than similes!
And you’re also right to wonder which American poets are ‘big’ over here in Ireland. For me, it’s Emily Dickinson, T.S. Eliot, Galway Kinnell and YOU.
I’m interested to hear what others think on the matter!
The Kilkenny Arts Festival is a major highlight in my year and my first thought is always about the poets who will be reading there.
As I opened the Programme for this year, I thought of the wondrous evening in 2009 when I sat spellbound, just weeks after my mother’s death, listening to Seamus Heaney read as if I was the only person in St. Canice’s Cathedral. Nothing will ever take away that precious memory.
I pondered on just what poet could take my breath away even half as much as Seamus Heaney and doubted that anyone could.
However, I felt a frantic beating of my heart when I saw that Billy Collins, Poet Laureate of the US (2001-2003), will be reading at this year’s Festival. To tell the truth, I did about ten double-takes and re-checks just to be sure to be sure that it is THEBilly Collins whom I’ve come to love with a grand passion since being well introduced to him on my poetry thread on Linkedin.
While I don’t want to wish the Summer away, I can’t wait for August 16th at the Parade Tower of Kilkenny Castle. What I would give to have a chance to talk with this man who has written so many poems that I adore. I can feel Seamus Heaney smiling as I write this. Well, you might, Seamus; but no matter what you’ll always be my number one!
Walking Across the Atlantic
I wait for the holiday crowd to clear the beach
before stepping onto the first wave.
Soon I am walking across the Atlantic
thinking about Spain,
checking for whales, waterspouts.
I feel the water holding up my shifting weight.
Tonight I will sleep on its rocking surface.
But for now I try to imagine what
this must look like to the fish below,
the bottoms of my feet appearing, disappearing.
Oh I know The Festival of Colour, Creativity and Connection ended on November 30th BUT how could I reject this gem of a photograph, especially as it had to travel all the way from India:
Asha is a dear friend, from India, who I met through my poetry thread on Linkedin. She is one of those people that you feel you have known forever, such is her ability to lend colour, poetry, warmth and light to life.
When I saw her email arriving today, I immediately felt the need to respond in poetry and this one has been playing on my mind all day:
When I am an old woman I shall wear purple
With a red hat which doesn’t go, and doesn’t suit me.
And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves
And satin sandals, and say we’ve no money for butter.
I shall sit down on the pavement when I’m tired
And gobble up samples in shops and press alarm bells
And run my stick along the public railings
And make up for the sobriety of my youth.
I shall go out in my slippers in the rain
And pick flowers in other people’s gardens
And learn to spit.
You can wear terrible shirts and grow more fat
And eat three pounds of sausages at a go
Or only bread and pickle for a week
And hoard pens and pencils and beermats and things in boxes.
But now we must have clothes that keep us dry
And pay our rent and not swear in the street
And set a good example for the children.
We must have friends to dinner and read the papers.
But maybe I ought to practice a little now?
So people who know me are not too shocked and surprised
When suddenly I am old, and start to wear purple.
I only realised today that Van and Bob came into my life on the same day, October 5th, 2011.
No, I’m not talking about Van Morrison and Bob Dylan. Rather, I’m referring to two American men who connected with me through the poetry thread that I started on Linkedin back in late September, 2011, and who are pillars of ongoing fun, support, sensitivity and sheer friendship.
This pair have been instrumental in introducing me to all sorts of creative works and in deepening my love for others. Van has a huge interest in Mark Twain, who was such a part of my growing up, and he has also sprung the most delicious surprises on the poetry thread, like bringing me to the poetry, as well as the songs, of Leonard Cohen.
Knowing of my love for bridges, Bob sent me this photograph for The Festival of Colour, Creatvity and Connection:
It doesn’t surprise me in the least that it’s a bit surreal as Bob loves to stretch minds and emotions. I reckon this is the teacher coming out in him as well as the multi-layered man that he is.
So with Thanksgiving looming, I want to send special thanks to Van and Bob for lending such colour to my life and for knowing how to make me smile. This is for you!
India has come to hold a special place in my heart ever since I became friendly with an Indian woman, called Fay, who was writing her postgraduate thesis in sociology in Trinity College, Dublin at the same time as I was. I loved her style and most of all her sincerity, kindness and strong gentleness. We’d ponder ‘big questions’ over endless cups of tea and as we walked up Dawson Street late in the evening towards out respective abodes.
Back around 2000, my late parents began attending an Indian family doctor here in Tramore. Like Fay, he is a wonderful ambassador for his native country and has a deep, deep sense of the meaning of the word ‘care.’ I would, without doubt, count him as one of the people I have been most fortunate to meet in my life.
And more recently, I have met a dear friend, Asha, through our shared love of poetry. She was one of the early contributors to my poetry thread on Linkedin which I started almost two years ago now. She brings India to life for me in all sorts of ways, through poetry, photographs, humour, empathy, and even gentle reminders of the time difference between Ireland and India!
Speaking of poetry, I am fascinated by the fact that Ireland’s W.B. Yeats developed a strong friendship and working relationship with the great Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1961.) Tagore won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1913 and these lines of his are among my favourites because they highlight a generosity of spirit that I have come to associate with India and its people.
There is room for you. You are alone with your few sheaves of rice.
My boat is crowded, it is heavily laden, but how can I turn you
I have become increasingly aware of the poetry of Maya Angelou over the last 18 months or so when I initiated a poetry thread on the Linkedin Group ~ TED: Ideas Worth Spreading from my home here in Ireland.
The poem from Maya Angelou that has been posted over and over as the poem that is most profound for contributors is this one from this amazing woman who was born on April 4th, 1928:
Pretty women wonder where my secret lies. I’m not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size But when I start to tell them, They think I’m telling lies. I say, It’s in the reach of my arms The span of my hips, The stride of my step, The curl of my lips. I’m a woman Phenomenally. Phenomenal woman, That’s me.
I walk into a room Just as cool as you please, And to a man, The fellows stand or Fall down on their knees. Then they swarm around me, A hive of honey bees. I say, It’s the fire in my eyes, And the flash of my teeth, The swing in my waist, And the joy in my feet. I’m a woman Phenomenally. Phenomenal woman, That’s me.
Men themselves have wondered What they see in me. They try so much But they can’t touch My inner mystery. When I try to show them They say they still can’t see. I say, It’s in the arch of my back, The sun of my smile, The ride of my breasts, The grace of my style. I’m a woman
Phenomenally. Phenomenal woman, That’s me.
Now you understand Just why my head’s not bowed. I don’t shout or jump about Or have to talk real loud. When you see me passing It ought to make you proud. I say, It’s in the click of my heels, The bend of my hair, the palm of my hand, The need of my care, ‘Cause I’m a woman Phenomenally. Phenomenal woman, That’s me.
I remember talking to someone years ago about ‘Love’s young dream’ and being caught on the hop with her response, ‘Oh, you mean Love’s old hat …..’ I certainly realised then that Lovehas different guises and I’ve been keeping an eye out for them ever since as well as being rocked all over the place by many of them as I’ve travelled through life.
So, that’s the background to the theme of a Poetry Gathering which I was initiated on my poetry thread on the Linkedin Group: TED ~ Ideas Worth Spreading. The thread has been weaving since September 2011 and I’ve written about it here before:
This Love Gathering ran from midnight on Valentine’s Day to midnight last night.
I wondered was I kinda stretching it by extending it beyond the confines of Valentine’s Day and running it beyond rather than before the day that is so associated with Love.
Well, let me tell you, it was quite an experience with love of all descriptions being raised by people from all round the world through the works of published poets who have been writing about love forever, it seems.
This morning, though, there a sense of being totally buoyed up by the power and passion of the whole thing but also severe withdrawals. So, let me bring you one of the poems that emerged in the course of the few days. It’s by the wonderfully talented Michael Donaghy (1954-2004), who was born into an Irish family in New York and later moved to Britain where he was a key part of the poetry scene and of a number of Irish music groups:
For the present there is just one moon, though every level pond gives back another.
But the bright disc shining in the black lagoon perceived by astrophysicist and lover,
is milliseconds old. And even that light’s seven minutes older than its source.
And the stars we think we see on moonless nights are long extinguished. And, of course,
this very moment, as you read this line, is literally gone before you know it.
Forget the here-and-now. We have no time but this device of wantonness and wit.
Make me this present then: your hand in mine, and we’ll live out our lives in it.