March 12, 2011

W.B. Yeats: Images of Ireland

I savoured every page of this beautiful book. It's a book of photographs of places in Ireland that were important to Yeats, with excerpts from his poems and writings to illustrate each photo. In an introductory essay about Yeats's life, the author says:

Ireland's mountains and lakes, its hills and valleys, its small towns and smaller villages are everywhere in Yeats's poetry. Places had an almost sacramental importance to him...he was always a great chanter of name upon name...

It's this chanting of places and names that, as I read, came back to me so forcefully from 40 years ago when I first studied Yeats in university: "Romantic Ireland's dead and gone/It's with O'Leary in the grave" and "I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree" and The Wild Swans at Coole, which "...scatter wheeling in great broken rings/ Upon their clamorous wings," and so many more. I dare not begin to quote.

The power and beauty of Yeats - his passion for life, for where he lives, who he knows, and the richness of the culture he embraces - grabbed me all over again. I cherish the idea of being so steeped in your own culture and geography. I regret that my own elders could never say for sure where they came from and were so reluctant to talk about the past.

The photos by Alain Le Garsmeur, according to the book jacket "one of Britain's leading photographers," are simply luminous. I got lost in them, wanted to walk the hills, explore the castles and the great old houses and cottages, stand by the lakes and murmur the poems as I stood there.

This book transported me, and also made me believe in fairies again. How could you not?

The wind blows out of the gates of the day,
The wind blows over the loney of heart,
And the lonely of heart is withered away.
While the faeries dance in a place apart,
Shaking their milk-white feet in a ring,
Tossing their milk-white arms in the air;
For they hear the wind laugh and murmur and sing
Of a land where even the old are fair.
And even the wise and merry of tongue;
But I heard a reed of Coolaney say,
'When the wind has laughed and murmured and sung
The lonely of heart is withered away!'

1 comment: