Thursday, October 11, 2012

Now that my ladder's gone

William Blake

I rode down 5th Avenue at three in the morning in a taxi, new to the city and enraptured, already. Much was broken but much was beginning, and when the taxi came to a stop, I peered through the windshield from the dark back of the car and wondered aloud what was going on. The circus is in town, the driver said, in a thick accent, and just then I saw them, the animals, giraffes and elephants, some horses, a zebra, walking across 5th Avenue in an orderly line, making their way toward Madison Square Garden, horns honking, lights shining, eyes blinking, a fantastical mirage.

This morning, I'm thinking that we make art and beauty, literally, out of shit. That that is my impulse and, I imagine, many others'.

Here's a Yeats poem that I haven't thought about in a while.

The Circus Animals' Desertion


I sought a theme and sought for it in vain,
I sought it daily for six weeks or so.
Maybe at last, being but a broken man,
I must be satisfied with my heart, although
Winter and summer till old age began
My circus animals were all on show,
Those stilted boys, that burnished chariot,
Lion and woman and the Lord knows what.


What can I but enumerate old themes,
First that sea-rider Oisin led by the nose
Through three enchanted islands, allegorical dreams,
Vain gaiety, vain battle, vain repose,
Themes of the embittered heart, or so it seems,
That might adorn old songs or courtly shows;
But what cared I that set him on to ride,
I, starved for the bosom of his faery bride.

And then a counter-truth filled out its play,
'The Countess Cathleen' was the name I gave it;
She, pity-crazed, had given her soul away,
But masterful Heaven had intervened to save it.
I thought my dear must her own soul destroy
So did fanaticism and hate enslave it,
And this brought forth a dream and soon enough
This dream itself had all my thought and love.

And when the Fool and Blind Man stole the bread
Cuchulain fought the ungovernable sea;
Heart-mysteries there, and yet when all is said
It was the dream itself enchanted me:
Character isolated by a deed
To engross the present and dominate memory.
Players and painted stage took all my love,
And not those things that they were emblems of.


Those masterful images because complete
Grew in pure mind, but out of what began?
A mound of refuse or the sweepings of a street,
Old kettles, old bottles, and a broken can,
Old iron, old bones, old rags, that raving slut
Who keeps the till. Now that my ladder's gone,
I must lie down where all the ladders start
In the foul rag and bone shop of the heart. 

-- William Butler Yeats

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