Tuesday, March 17, 2009

A Visit to Yeats Country

This being St. Patrick's Day, a visit to Thoor Ballylee, the small fortified structure William Butler Yeats restored in Galway, might be appropriate. To be truthful, when the world gets to be too much, just the thought of such a place is a solace and his poetry is a balm for my soul.
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Built in the sixteenth-century, the tower house beside the Cloon River was lived in by Yeats and his daughters, but fell in disrepair after his death in 1939. Restored in 1965, Yeats wrote "The Winding Stair" and "The Tower Poems" here. Loving the quiet peace of the place, he once wrote that "To leave here is to leave beauty behind". For those of us whose ancestors left that island over a hundred years ago now, the pull can still be felt. Notably, the last spot between Ireland and America is nearby Yeats' tower and under the towering Ben Bulben, a natural promontory near the sea, seen at the end of this post.

The poet wrote to another friend that "We are in our Tower and I am writing poetry as I always do here, and, as always happens, no matter how I begin, it becomes love poetry before I am finished with it", and remarked "as you see I have no news, for nothing happens in this blessed place but a stray beggar or a heron." The Lake at Innisfree, in County Sligo, was one of the other spots in Yeats Country that drew him and fed his soul all his life, even when he was caught up in the tumult surrounding the Irish Troubles and leading the Celtic Twilight Revival of interest in Gaelic language and literature, as well as the creation of the Abbey Theatre.

I WILL arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made:
Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.

And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the mourning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight's all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet's wings.

I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,
I hear it in the deep heart's core.

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