Monday, December 24, 2007

That is no country for old men . . .

Sailing To Byzantium (by W.B. Yeats. Notice that Cormack McCarthy's allusion to this poem is unscrupulous, as is his tendentious book and movie which inform us that the country is going to the devil and to prove it shows us the devil himself, incarnate as the man from nowhere, Chigurr; he's even got his own little thunderbolt.)

That is no country for old men. The young
In one another's arms, birds in the trees
--those dying generations-- at their song,
The salmnon-falls, the mackeral-crowded seas,
Fish, flesh or fowl, commend all summer long
Whatever is begotten, born or dies.
Caught in that sensual music all neglect
Monumments of unageing intellect.

An aged man is but a paltry thing,
A tattered coat upon a stick, unless
Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing
For every tatter in its mortal dress,
Nor is there singing school but studying
Monuments of its own magnificence;
And therefore I have sailed the seas and come
To the holy city of Byzantium.

O sages standing in God's holy fire
As in the gold mosaic of a wall,
Come from the holy fire, perne in a gyre,
And be the singing masters of my soul.
Consume my heart away; sick with desire
And fastened to a dying animal
It knows not what it is; and gather me
Into the artifice of eternity.

Once out of nature I shall never take
My bodily form any natural thing,
But such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make
Of hammered gold and gold enameling
To keep a drowsy emperor awake;
Or set upon a golden bough to sing
To lords and ladies of Byzantium
Of what is past or passing or to come.

W. B. Yeats

I thought of this famous poem of escape after I had written the following poem of my own:

As the old year drags
and the holy days sag
toward their usual conclusion,
and the fastidious mind gags
on its xmas stew of dreck and delusion,
Kathy and Piers make their escape--
NOT by plane, that's clear
(Abandon hope all ye who enter here)--
across the sublime landscape,
now not quite imaginable,
of the ancient prarie ocean.

Yeats' poem is modern, all the books agree about that. So what does that make mine? (Assuming it deserves to called a poem at all.) Postmodern? I don't think so.

I don't think I like Yeats' poem as much as I used to. The artifice of eternity (whatever that means) shrinks into something profoundly trivial, a stupid, mechanical bird singing to stupid people.

The phrase 'artifice of eternity' is ambiguous but the point is clear enough: eternity, like everything else is a human invention. It was Yeats, after all, who said (in 1919) that humanity has invented the whole shebang, "lock, stock and barrel, out of [its] bitter soul."

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