Tag: W.B. Yeats

Leda e il cigno

Wednesday, 28 November, 2018

According to the Greek myth that inspired the great W.B. Yeats poem, Zeus took the form of a swan and seduced Leda on the same night she slept with her husband King Tyndareus. Recently, a brilliant fresco depicting the event was unearthed in Pompeii and the artwork is best described in the original Italian:

Bellissima e sensuale, il corpo statuario solo parzialmente coperto da un drappo dorato, la regina Leda sembra incrociare languida lo sguardo di chi la avvicina. Tra le gambe di lei, in una posa che non potrebbe essere più esplicita, c’è il potente Zeus che per possederla si è trasformato in un grande cigno bianco e che secondo il mito insieme con il marito Tindaro, re di Sparta, diventerà il padre dei suoi quattro figli, i gemelli Castore e Polluce, ma anche la bella Elena, nel cui nome si scatenerà la guerra di Troia, e Clitennestra, che diventerà la moglie del re Agamennone.

Leda and the Swan

Here’s how Pliny the Younger recalled the eruption of Vesuvius in AD 79 that destroyed Pompeii and preserved the fresco of Leda and the Swan:

“Ashes were already falling, not as yet very thickly. I looked round: a dense black cloud was coming up behind us, spreading over the earth like a flood.

‘Let us leave the road while we can still see,’ I said, ‘or we shall be knocked down and trampled underfoot in the dark by the crowd behind.’

We had scarcely sat down to rest when darkness fell, not the dark of a moonless or cloudy night, but as if the lamp had been put out in a closed room.

You could hear the shrieks of women, the wailing of infants, and the shouting of men; some were calling their parents, others their children or their wives, trying to recognize them by their voices. People bewailed their own fate or that of their relatives, and there were some who prayed for death in their terror of dying. Many besought the aid of the gods, but still more imagined there were no gods left, and that the universe was plunged into eternal darkness for evermore.”


Swift and Kavanagh: United by a common language

Friday, 1 December, 2017 0 Comments

“The Fame our Writers is usually confined to these two Islands, and it is hard it should be limited in Time, as much as Place, by the perpetual Variations of our Speech.” So wrote Jonathan Swift in 1712. He was concerned about the state of the English language so he penned a public letter to Robert Harley, leader of the government, proposing the appointment of a group of experts to advise on English usage. His model was the Académie Française, which had been supervising French since 1634.

A Proposal for Correcting, Improving and Ascertaining the English Tongue advocated that “some Method should be thought of for ascertaining and fixing our Language for ever,” and this should be done, argued Swift, “by rejecting ‘very defective’ grammatical forms and restoring some antiquated words ‘on account of their Energy and Sound.'” Like all such proposal down through the long history of English, it came to nothing, and no official overseer of the language exists.

Swift’s advocacy of “proper” English reminds us that Ireland, despite its relatively small population, has produced some of the most gifted writers of the language. Oscar Wilde, W.B. Yeats, George Bernard Shaw, James Joyce and Samuel Beckett are up there with Swift, and Bram Stoker and C.S. Lewis can be added to the list, if one is feeling expansionary. The poet Patrick Kavanagh belongs in this pantheon, too, because his language a mix of of Swift’s classicism and the Hiberno-English that was used by all those who tilled the “stony grey soil of Monaghan.” In 1948, in Poetry in Ireland To-day, he noted:

“Having written all this another question arises in my mind — the question as to whether it will be necessary to our native identity to carry on an artificial ‘Celtic Mode or ‘Note’ — now that the Gaelic language is dead. To carry on such an artificial language would be to be false if it did not arise naturally from life. It is not, as I have said before, language that denotes a man’s spiritual identity.”

And with that, we end our celebration of the 350th anniversary of the birth of the satirist Jonathan Swift and our commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the death of the poet Patrick Kavanagh. Our posts this week have paid tribute to these two significant figures in global and Anglo-Irish letters. To recap: On Monday, we had a joke by Swift; Tuesday, a poem by Kavanagh; Wednesday, we looked at Swift’s Drapier’s Letters, and yesterday we had Kavanagh’s take on the entire Irish literary racket.

“Proper words in proper places make the true definition of style,” said Jonathan Swift and Patrick Kavanagh followed his advice. Long may the two of them be remembered.

A Proposal by Swift


Ms Niamh advances towards Bethlehem

Friday, 10 November, 2017 0 Comments

“And except on a certain kind of winter evening — already dark and bitter with a wind off the river, when I would be walking very fast toward a bus and would look in the bright windows of brownstones and see cooks working in clean kitchens and imagine women lighting candles…” That evocative image of New York City is from Slouching Towards Bethlehem, a famous collection of essays by Joan Didion published in 1968 that takes its title from the poem The Second Coming by W. B. Yeats.

Today, Niamh O’Brien advances towards our modern Bethlehem and we wish her luck in her ventures and with her adventures in New York. A pair of mother’s gloves and a prayer to Saint Anthony will ensure her well-being in the Big Apple, no doubt.

Niamh

“And except on a certain kind of winter evening — six-thirty in the Seventies, say, already dark and bitter with a wind off the river, when I would be walking very fast toward a bus and would look in the bright windows of brownstones and see cooks working in clean kitchens and and imagine women lighting candles on the floor above and beautiful children being bathed on the floor above that — except on nights like those, I never felt poor; I had the feeling that if I needed money I could always get it.” — Joan Didion, Slouching Towards Bethlehem


I hear lake water lapping

Sunday, 5 November, 2017 0 Comments

Killarney

The Lake Isle of Innisfree

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.

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.

W. B. Yeats (1865 – 1939)


Philip Larkin at 95

Wednesday, 9 August, 2017 0 Comments

Today marks what would have been the 95th birthday of the English poet Philip Larkin. He rejected the romantic style of W.B. Yeats and Dylan Thomas and focused instead on intense personal emotion. “I have no enemies. But my friends don’t like me,” said Larkin. There is no sentimentality or self-pity in his work, which is why he continues to be so original, so refreshing, so great. Every word here is true.

Home Is So Sad

Home is so sad. It stays as it was left,
Shaped to the comfort of the last to go
As if to win them back. Instead, bereft
Of anyone to please, it withers so,
Having no heart to put aside the theft

And turn again to what it started as,
A joyous shot at how things ought to be,
Long fallen wide. You can see how it was:
Look at the pictures and the cutlery
The music in the piano stool. That vase.

Philip Larkin (1922 – 1985)

Mick Upton and Mick Meade


A bevy of mysterious, beautiful swans

Sunday, 10 July, 2016 0 Comments

A group of swans in flight becomes “a wedge,” but it’s called “a bevy” on the water. The genus Cygnus has its own terminology of the collective and the literature also offers “a colony of swans” and, best of all, “a whiteness of swans.” When W.B. Yeats observed The Wild Swans at Coole, he was taken by their transitory nature:

“But now they drift on the still water
Mysterious, beautiful;
Among what rushes will they build,
By what lake’s edge or pool
Delight men’s eyes, when I awake some day
To find they have flown away.”

Wild swans


Drinking and singing with Yeats

Sunday, 14 June, 2015 1 Comment

“Mad Ireland hurt you into poetry” said W.H. Auden to W. B. Yeats, who was born 150 years ago yesterday. He was one of the great figures of 20th century letters and no greater tribute can be paid to the man than to say that his verse is filled with eternal verity.

A Drinking Song

Wine comes in at the mouth
And love comes in at the eye;
That’s all we shall know for truth
Before we grow old and die.
I lift the glass to my mouth,
I look at you, and I sigh.

W. B. Yeats (13 June 1865 – 28 January 1939)


The blog post that put Twitter into play

Friday, 12 June, 2015 0 Comments

Last Wednesday, venture capitalist Chris Sacca wrote a lengthy post (circa 8,500 words) titled What Twitter Can Be. Yesterday, Twitter’s chief executive Dick Costolo said he’s quitting and co-founder Jack Dorsey will step in as interim CEO. So what did Sacca say? Well, he urged Twitter to be bolder: “It needs to place more bets with potentially oversized payoffs. It needs to question aspects of Twitter it has taken for granted. It needs to operate with smaller teams that require less permission to make change happen. Twitter can afford to build the wrong things. However, Twitter cannot afford to build the right things too slowly.”

The options facing Dorsey now are limited. He can tweak the strategy Costolo outlined last November, or he can be bold, as Sacca advises, and dumb Twitter down while filling the feeds with ads. Or he can sell the company. Either way, the choices are stark and the Twitter that we’ve come to know and love is about to change dramatically, and for the worse. Sacca and his fellow investors want a payday and they know where the money is to be found. One does not have to share his vision or like his motives, but his honesty deserves admiration:

“For example, Twitter NBA could build off of the company’s fantastic relationship with the league and include a focused and live-driven stream full of the very best Tweets and the instant-replay video content under the company’s existing Amplify deal. NBA fans would be thrilled to use that app while the game is on and the ease of advertising in that app would generate plenty of money to share back with the content partners. The same approach would work for the biggest global soccer and cricket leagues as well as the WNBA, NFL, MLB, and NHL. Twitter should consider integrating a fantasy partner like Draft Kings as well to make it a must-open app. While there are a number of fantastic mobile experiences for hardcore fans, no one has built the perfect live-action companion app for casual sports viewers. Twitter has the best shot at it.”

“All changed, changed utterly: A terrible beauty is born,” tweeted W. B. Yeats, who was born 150 years ago.


Heart of stone

Sunday, 13 October, 2013 0 Comments

“Too long a sacrifice / Can make a stone of the heart,” noted W. B. Yeats. He compares the steadfastness of the Irish revolutionaries’ resolve to that of stone in Easter, 1916. Their hearts are said to be “enchanted to a stone”. Stone is a symbol of hardness in matters of the heart for the […]

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