Friday, March 23, 2012

Poetry Friday...William Butler Yeats

Leda and the Swan  (1928)
A sudden blow: the great wings beating still
Above the staggering girl, her thighs caressed
By the dark webs, her nape caught in his bill,
He holds her helpless breast upon his breast.

How can those terrified vague fingers push
The feathered glory from her loosening thights?
And how can body, laid in that white rush,
But feel the strange heart beating where it lies?

A shudder in the loins engenders there
The broken wall, the burning roof and tower
And Agamemnon dead.
                                 Being caught up,
So mastered by the brute blood of the air,
Did she put on his knowledge with is power
Before the indifferent beak could let her drop?


When I first read this poem as an undergrad in college, I was shocked and in awe of how brilliant William Butler Yeats was.  His use of symbolism, allegory, and mythology are pure genius!  An Irish play-write and poet, Yeats became one of the most influential writers in the 20th century and went on to win the Nobel Prize for Literature (the first Irishman to do so).  His most famous and respected writing, however, came after winning the Nobel.  That's saying something!  During his adolescence, Yeats fell hard for a woman, Maud Gonne, who, unfortunately, never returned his deeply felt love.  She denied him at every moment and eventually married someone other than Yeats, which devastated and angered him  This, rightfully so, shaped a lot of his poetry.  Finally, at the age of 51, Yeats found a love match in Georgie Hyde-Lees, a woman 26 years his junior.  Their marriage was a success, despite his frequent forays later on in the relationship.  Yeats' later poetry soon took a much different tone than that of his earlier writing.  As the above poem shows, the language became more forceful.  The images more violent.  Perhaps this was a reflection of Ireland during the time, in combination with his own personal struggles with religion and politics, that led to this shift.  Whatever is was, Yeats will forever be considered one of the preeminent writers that Ireland ever produced and will endure as one of my favorite poets.  

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