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Tag: William Butler Yeats

The Magi for the Epiphany

Saturday, 6 January, 2018 1 Comment

Something unexpected took place in Bethlehem and the otherworldly magi, who “appear and disappear in the blue depth of the sky”, are doing their best to comprehend the incomprehensible. It’s a long way from Bethlehem to Bloomsbury, but that was where William Butler Yeats was living in 1914 when he wrote The Magi. In a mere eight lines, he follows the journey of the three wise men with “ancient faces” that resemble “rain-beaten stones”, who are forever watching and waiting, “all their eyes still fixed, hoping to find once more” the thing that will satisfy their search for meaning.

Is Yeats saying that the world has yet to discover the meaning of Christ’s brief time on earth? Is it so that we cannot be fulfilled until “the uncontrollable mystery” is decrypted? Today, the quest for the secret of “the uncontrollable mystery” is increasingly fervent. Anthony Levandowski, for example, is the “Dean” of a brand new Silicon Valley religion called Way of the Future that worships artificial intelligence.

The Magi

Now as at all times I can see in the mind’s eye,
In their stiff, painted clothes, the pale unsatisfied ones
Appear and disappear in the blue depths of the sky
With all their ancient faces like rain-beaten stones,
And all their helms of silver hovering side by side,
And all their eyes still fixed, hoping to find once more,
Being by Calvary’s turbulence unsatisfied,
The uncontrollable mystery on the bestial floor.

William Butler Yeats

Yeats uses a series of “s”-sounding words — stones, stiff, still, silver, side by side, unsatisfied — to paint a picture of the mysterious Magi, who wear “stiff, painted clothes” and “helms of silver”. His use of alliteration and repetition underpins the characteristics of the “unsatisfied ones”. On this Feast of the Epiphany, let us hope that they, and all of us, find some satisfaction this year.

The Sacred Heart Lamp


And the merry love the fiddle

Saturday, 17 January, 2015 0 Comments

As well as playing the fiddle, Toner Quinn has numerous strings to his bow. Together with Benedict Schlepper-Connolly and Simon Doyle, he publishes the award-winning Journal of Music, and he gives lectures, talks and concerts at home and abroad. Galway was the venue for this splendid performance with Malachy Bourke and Brian Bourke.

“For the good are always the merry,
Save by an evil chance,
And the merry love the fiddle
And the merry love to dance.”

The Fiddler of Dooney, William Butler Yeats


Autumn scene minus eight-and-fifty swans

Sunday, 20 October, 2013 0 Comments

The trees are in their autumn beauty, The woodland paths are dry, Under the October twilight the water Mirrors a still sky; Upon the brimming water among the stones Are nine-and-fifty swans. But now they drift on the still water, Mysterious, beautiful; Among what rushes will they build, By what lake’s edge or pool Delight […]

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A Drinking Song

Sunday, 30 December, 2012 0 Comments

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. William Butler Yeats

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Reading Camille Paglia reading Yeats

Friday, 29 June, 2012

After reading The Second Coming by William Butler Yeats, Camille Paglia wrote: “Yeats’s ‘The Second Coming’ has gained in prophetic power with each decade of the twentieth and now twenty-first century, from the rise of fascism and nuclear warfare to the proliferation of international terrorism. It expresses the melancholy realization that man, yearningly drawn to […]

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