Thursday, June 13, 2013

Heart Mysteries and Circus Animals and W.B. Yeats' Birthday

Maud Gonne, the Irish revolutionary and Yeats' unrequited love and me, Elizabeth Aquino, showing my unrequited love for WB Yeats.

It's William Butler Yeats' birthday today, and even though he was born nearly 150 years ago and wrote of a world vastly different than our own, his poetry still resonates deeply with me. As a young woman, I was completely enamored with nearly everything he wrote and struck, especially,  by his unrequited love for the beautiful revolutionary, Maud Gonne. The title of this blog is a line from one of my favorite poems called Adam's Curse, and the recording of his recitation of a very early poem, The Lake Isle of Innisfree, still gives me shivers, especially when he says and live alone in the bee-loud glade.

Here's a copy of one of his last poems, one of my favorites. If you're not a poetry lover -- or even liker -- or if you're unfamiliar with Yeats, the first two parts of the poem look back on the poet's writing and life, his labors and the things he felt were important. He references a few of his poems and themes, and if you find that language difficult, you might scan all the way down to the last stanza which has, I think, some of the most powerful, beautiful and humbling lines ever written. 

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. 


  1. And tears sprung to my eyes.

  2. I loved Yeats as a young woman as well, but what really interests me here is how much you look like Maud, down to the expression in your eyes and the tilts of your heads. Spirited and strong.



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