I had not heard from Mr. Yeats in years. He was buried in my bookshelf with other old friends, tucked away in closed pages, long gone. Or so I thought–until this past October when I visited Ireland, a country in love with writing and with its writers–especially with William Butler Yeats.
In the interest of compression, the story goes like this: My husband and I were leaving the National Museum of Ireland where we saw the Cashel Man preserved in the Irish peat bogs. He was buried during the early Bronze Age, 2,000 BC, making him 4,000 years old! (They had bogs; we have blogs.)
As we left, we saw a notice for a Yeats exhibit next door at the Irish National Library. “Oh my gosh,” I said to my husband, “we have to go in.” And there, as if Yeats too had emerged from the bogs of my memory, I found him still alive. I heard his sonorous voice reading “The Lake Isle of Innisfree.” His words were music. The images of Innisfree were projected onto transparent screens: the bees, the clover, the land. I listened as other Irish poets read more of his poems. I was transfixed. One of my favorite poets, the complicated William Butler Yeats, whose poems sent me spiraling as a college student, was here alive and well. For the next hour, we made our way around the exhibit, visiting smaller rooms with multiple inter-active exhibits that captured his loves, his marriage, his politics, his interest in the occult, his writing, and finally his death and re-burial in Ireland. As we left, I knew that my love for Yeats had never really been lost.
If you won’t be making a trip to Ireland anytime soon, you can visit the Irish National Library exhibit and take a virtual tour. Go to The Life and Works of William Butler Yeats.
A few weeks after we returned from Ireland, I opened my e-mail to find that Yeats was still speaking to me. There in my mailbox was his poem, “Aedh Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven” (Poem-a-Day, Academy of American Poets). Go to a Video Homage to “Aedh Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven” for a lovely reading of this poem.
Over the past several weeks, I’ve met many times with my friend, W. B. Yeats, reading his poems and biography and tracking him down on the internet. I discovered a favorite poem, “When You Are Old,” one of his best-loved poems, written when he was quite young. As an extra bonus, I found a wonderful love story related to “When You Are Old” from the Favorite Poem Project (founded by former Poet Laureate, Robert Pinsky) about a young woman, her grandfather, and her husband-to-be. The lovely video shows how one poem can connect several people and give meaning to each of their lives. Click here to watch it: “Yeats, When You Are Old,” Favorite Poem Project.
When You Are Old
Writing Ideas: Take the phrase “My Love Affair with _________.” Try out different words to fill in the blank: “My Love Affair with the Ocean,” “My Love Affair with My ’62 White Buick Convertible,” “My Love Affair with Chopin or Elvis.” Don’t think too much about it. Just write for at least ten minutes. There’s passion there–and longing. I know.