Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?
These well known words, not only in reference to the poem itself, but as phrases themselves, are the words of the Anglo-Irish poet William Butler Yeats. Anglo-Irish poetry refers to poetry written by Irish poets in English; these poems were written originally in English, not translated from Irish.
For those of you who have been following the NRXN subreddit, you may have found this video linked by yours truly. Bowden, that English lion of reaction, does a review of the political dimensions of Yeats’ poetry, which is not my specialty. There are complaints that his lecture is so little about Yeats – but yet if you listen to it, it will give you an understanding of Irish politics and the political-culture of the 19th-20th centuries in Ireland that gives important context to Yeats’ work.
As works of art, Yeats’ poems tend to stand on their own and speak with their own voice. The philosopher of knowledge Polanyi said that one defining characteristic of a work of art – not art as mere artifice or technique, but what we mean when we use the term – is that it can stand on its own outside of direct reference to its creator. It is allopoiesis. Much of what we do is autopoiesis – recreating a simple copy of what we are. Heteropoiesis (this is probably just a term I hashed together so don’t take it too seriously) would be creating something not merely distinct but different from one’s self. This is important to understand because it is strictly impossible. Thus if someone has created something that seems not merely distinct from (as a work of art) but different from the creator, it is a sign they are deceiving you. Such deception is stock and trade of our literary culture now, so be on watch for heteropoiesis.
Allopoiesis means that the artist loses control of their work, much in the way people lose control of their children. The old saying is, “Like an arrow fired surely hits its target, so a child well raised will not stray from their path.” (If anyone wishes to offer the original text, feel free. I’ve freely paraphrased.) Aside from Kyudo, whose path is different than we might think, the arrow once-released is now at the whim of the weather and the laws of nature; so it is with art.
This is one reason why ‘cultural appropriation’, if it exists, cannot exist within our cultural tradition. For, if I can appropriate a work of art, it was by definition not a work of art, mere mimicry and autopoiesis. There is a temptation of an artist to try to hold on to their art (consider the copyright on a cultural icon like Mickey Mouse) and “Cultural Appropriation” is sort of like lazy copyright for the illiterate. Copyright as a theory exists not to refute or reduce the truth of allopoiesis, but because of it. A Pelican missile follows the laser target designator; why? Because targets move and the wind blows. The original gunpowder weapon, the fire-lance, was much like a Pelican missile; that man (probably a Chinese fellow) having seen a Pelican missile, would he have said it was wrong? More than likely he would have wished to know how it was that we could get the projectile to follow the light. So it is with art; copyright provides direction, but cannot override the laws of nature. The arrow has left the quiver.
Yeats was involved with a number of esoteric movements such as Golden Dawn and some of this is visible in his poetry. Despite this, his vision, as Bowden says, is for a different Europe, one of aristocratic character. He believed in a cyclical theory of history before Spengler popularized it, and this idea of rebirths appears in a number of poems, sometimes in direct conflict with the claims of his Christian belief. (– despite this he would be possibly the least contradictory figure who is not explicitly orthodox in hist time, I think.)
His work is also influenced by other mythologies, such as the Bhagavad Gita, consider his poem “The Indian Upon God”, which is about the contradiction of the native monotheism of all creatures with their tendency towards projection, which unchecked produces either a multitude of gods, or a God with multitudes of avatars (the latter is typical of the Hindu tradition.)
He is a carrier and guardian of older traditions of poetry, which even during his time were in full collapse. Only in his most whimsical moments does the poet T.S. Eliot find a voice similar to Yeats’. The reason for this is simple: liberal power viewed Yeats as an Irishman, a non-threatening white identity. Thus he was permitted for a time to speak in an authentic voice, and receive a Nobel Prize, while, as Bowden notes, our ‘English’ poetry might be represented by something as reprehensible as Maya Angelou, as though we men of English descent have no identity at all.
Because of this folly regarding the operation of liberal power, we get a glimpse at what genuine English-speaking poetry might be like in a different world. One of Yeats’ goals was to develop the Irish archetypes for the Irish, an important job of the bard or storyteller; a mythologization. This does not mean falsification or deception but rather a teasing-out of symbols and ideas that are rooted in ancestry, and form the background to the way a person sees the world. We are allowed to believe this in a poetic fashion about ‘people of color’ but not about ourselves. That delusion ends now.
In my youth I tried to write poetry but had no models; it served primarily as an academic exercise in rhyming. Then, when I was in college (and not because of college but in spite of it) I ran into this poem:
I went out to the hazel wood,
Because a fire was in my head,
And cut and peeled a hazel wand,
And hooked a berry to a thread;
And when white moths were on the wing,
And moth-like stars were flickering out,
I dropped the berry in a stream
And caught a little silver trout.
When I had laid it on the floor
I went to blow the fire a-flame,
But something rustled on the floor,
And someone called me by my name:
It had become a glimmering girl
With apple blossom in her hair
Who called me by my name and ran
And faded through the brightening air.
Though I am old with wandering
Through hollow lands and hilly lands,
I will find out where she has gone,
And kiss her lips and take her hands;
And walk among long dappled grass,
And pluck till time and times are done,
The silver apples of the moon,
The golden apples of the sun.
My favorite poet is W. B. Yeats, and my favorite collection is ‘The Wind Among the Reeds’. I prefer his early poetry (the first four collections: Crossways, The Rose, Wing Among the Reeds, In the Seven Woods.) Though of course, all of it is good in comparison to what often passes for verse in our day.
All things uncomely and broken, all things worn out and old,
The cry of a child by the roadway, the creak of a lumbering cart,
The heavy steps of the ploughman, splashing the wintry mould,
Are wronging your image that blossoms a rose in the deeps of my heart.
The wrong of unshapely things is a wrong too great to be told;
I hunger to build them anew and sit on a green knoll apart,
With the earth and the sky and the water, remade, like a casket of gold
For my dreams of your image that blossoms a rose in the deeps of my heart.
We can draw a great deal of inspiration from his work; these lines in particular
“I hunger to build them anew and sit upon a green knoll apart”
Are significant to his involvement in esoteric political-cultural movements. Also see “Into the Twilight” and “To his Heart, bidding it have no Fear“. As with Goethe these associations leave a bad taste, but yet his sentiment here – his ambition here – is laudable. We may disagree that the proper response to these thoughts is Rosicrucianism, but we cannot disagree that we also have these thoughts. We can take inspiration from his ambition and choose to follow a more narrow way.
Here is my imitation of his style (which is similar to my own:)
We mark the times, not knowing, my love
What shall become of us, not knowing
And what is there to know, below or above
That would take the place – stand beside
We walk hand in hand, though woe betide
That we died together here, as going
Down to the lake to see the fish play
It is not for us, my love, not knowing
That we live on, that this is not the day
When some Jove would find our hospitality
And make each into an immortal tree–
It is not for us that we are going.
I will leave you with a poem of his which I’ve set to music (though I’ve not yet made a good enough recording; that will have to wait.)
The Jester walked in the garden:
The garden had fallen still;
He bade his soul rise upward
And stand on her window-sill.
It rose in a straight blue garment,
When owls began to call:
It had grown wise-tongued by thinking
Of a quiet and light footfall;
But the young queen would not listen;
She rose in her pale night gown;
She drew in the heavy casement
And pushed the latches down.
He bade his heart go to her,
When the owls called out no more;
In a red and quivering garment
It sang to her through the door.
It had grown sweet-tongued by dreaming,
Of a flutter of flower-like hair;
But she took up her fan from the table
And waved it off on the air.
‘I have cap and bells’ he pondered,
‘I will send them to her and die;’
And when the morning whitened
He left them where she went by.
She laid them upon her bosom,
Under a cloud of her hair,
And her red lips sang them a love song:
Till stars grew out of the air.
She opened her door and her window,
And the heart and the soul came through,
To her right hand came the red one,
To her left hand came the blue.
They set up a noise like crickets,
A chattering wise and sweet,
And her hair was a folded flower
And the quiet of love in her feet.