dead Brits or Irishmen

I’ve been reading Yeats and Blake. Quite by accident (even though there are no accidents).

Yeats has been to me until now a vague jumble of Things Fall Apart, Leda and the Swan, Innisfree, terrible beauty, Irish airmen and Irish nationalism. So I spent some time over the past few days reading up on his life and situating him chronologically, emotionally, poetically. Ditto with, a century earlier, William Blake (another accident, truly), who was an even vaguer jumble to me of Tyger, Tyger, Little Lamb, Jerusalem, the world in a grain of sand and engravings.

They are both a little more sorted in my head now. Attractive to me is that they both have this ‘before and after’ Songs of Innocence/Songs of Experience motif going. I thought first that Blake offers both as two sides of the same coin, whereas Yeats seemed to grow into the second as a repudiation of the first, but now am not so sure.

I could have warned you, but you are young,
So we speak a different tongue.
But I am old and you are young,
And I speak a barbarous tongue.

— Yeats in To A Child Dancing in the Wind.

I’ve spent some time listening to various recordings of different Yeats and Blake pieces (no offense, WBY, but yikes to this one). I’ve confirmed that I’m pretty much a text-dependent poetry reader — don’t expect me to listen to a new piece textless and get anything worth getting out of a poem. The written text is the (sine qua non) anchor and information base for me.

Also, it’s been interesting to read metered poetry on an extended basis and learn how unexpected meter combinations can throw me off if I fail to focus and identify the patterns before hoping for enjoyment. Innisfree is a good example — three lines of iambic hexameter followed suddenly by a line of tetrameter. WTF?! Byzantium another — five lines of pentameter, two lines of trimeter, one of pentameter. The whole can be very muddling and anti-enjoyment (to me) until I have worked out the overall pattern.

I have to apologize to Blake for mentally relegating him to Child’s Garden of Versedness all these years, as he is way more complicated than any box or label in my ken. (I’m still not that keen on his engravings, though.)

Favorite Blake take-aways from this period of focus are a renewed respect for and interest in “Tyger! Tyger!”, as well as the two pieces quoted in posts below: the third stanza from Mad Song (the first two don’t live up to the third, in my view) and the Sick Rose, which is amazingly dark and sinister and unsettling.

Favorite Yeats take-aways are old ones like The Second Coming, Leda and the Swan and the Lake Isle of Innisfree. New favorites are the Song of Wandering Aengus and Sailing to Byzantium.

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Nic Sebastian

Nic is the author of Forever Will End On Thursday and Dark And Like A Web. She founded the now-archived Whale Sound site and is co-founder of The Poetry Storehouse. Nic blogs at Very Like A Whale and Voice Alpha.

6 thoughts on “dead Brits or Irishmen”

  1. Wonder if Yeats would like being called a Dead Brit. Sure, he gets anthologized with the British poets, but what’s the point of being a professional Irishmen, if people are going to lump you in with guys from London?

  2. The way it’s divided up in my head at the moment is dead Brits (and/or Irish) versus dead Americans or dead Bengalis or dead Africans, for example, but you are quite correct — neither Dublin nor Sligo are anywhere but in the Republic of Ireland.

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