09 January 2014

Poetry Thursday - The Old Men Admiring Themselves in the Water by William Butler Yeats

Yeats lived here, on Fitzroy Road, Primrose Hill
by William Butler Yeats 
     HEARD the old, old men say,
    'Everything alters,
    And one by one we drop away.'
    They had hands like claws, and their knees
    Were twisted like the old thorn-trees
    By the waters.
    'All that's beautiful drifts away
    Like the waters.'

    (via poetry-archive.com, which has lots more Yeats poems)

    Yeats (1865-1939) was born in Ireland, and is buried there, via a short stay in a French graveyard. The Yeats family lived in London between 1867 and 1880, and returned to London in 1887. From 1895-1919 Yeats lived in a house in Woburn Buildings, which I passed daily on the way to work, and it was seeing that plaque that sparked my interest in his life and poetry. (Quite possibly we had to memorise "The Lake Isle of Innisfree", with its nine bean rows and bee-loud glade, in school ... exact words now forgotten, but still a favourite poem.) Near Woburn Walk, in Tavistock Square, is a memorial tree to Yeats, planted in 1997.

    He had an interesting life, one way and another, and won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1923. A summation of his poetry: "Yeats' early poems are imbued with images from the legends of Celtic mythology. The poetry of his middle years were influenced by his unrequited love for the revolutionary Maude Gonne and his involvement in the Irish Nationalist movement. The poems of his later years are more bleak and heavily influenced by the symbolism of the occult."

No comments: