Sunday, July 13, 2008

Sweet Well-Waters

It's late Friday afternoon. I nurse an Irish coffee in a still corner of a nearly empty Matt Molloy's. The strains of John Carty's fiddle (see video below) emanate from the sound system. Premium T. shops while I read Yeats' forward to A Book Of Irish Verse, an anthology he compiled in 1895 to demonstrate the literary prowess of Irish poets writing. Yeats assembled the volume of English-language poems and songs as a rejoinder to the Young Ireland movement, which held that, to be legitimate, poetry must advance the cause of Irish nationalism. Although a nationalist himself, Yeats believed that an authentic Irish poetry was not incompatible with high literary standards and indeed required them. I haven't delved into the poetry yet, but it's hard to imagine that any of it exceeds that matchless prose of his preface.

On a minor Irish poet: "Indeed, his few but ever memorable successes are enchanted islands in grey seas of stately impersonal reverie and description, which drift by and leave no definite recollection. One needs, perhaps, to perfectly enjoy him, a Dominican habit, a cloister, and a breviary."

On Dublin's Trinity College: "...the mother of many verse writers and of few poets..."

"An enemy to all enthusiasms, because all enthusiasms seemed her enemies, she has taught her children to look neither to the world about them, nor into their own souls where some dangerous fire might slumber."

On traditional songs: "The poor peasant of the eighteenth century could make fine ballads by abandoning himself to the joy or sorrow of the moment, as the reeds abandon themselves to the wind which sighs through them, because he had about him a world where all was old enough to be steeped in emotion."

On his hopes for Irish poetry: "I have, indeed, but little doubt that Ireland, communing with herself in Gaelic more and more, but speaking to foreign countries in English, will lead many that are sick with theories and with trivial emotion, to some sweet well-waters of primeval poetry."

The great poet explains the background of "The Lake Isle Of Innisfree" and then reads one of his most well-known works here.

P. S. One reason why I love the internet: This morning, I'm sitting here in Ireland reading the sports page from the Boston Globe while listening to New Orleans' WWOZ-FM.


1 comment:

Joannie said...


"...nor into their own souls where some dangerous fire might slumber."

That's the trick, isn't it?