WB Yeats is the most important poet of the twentieth century. Shockingly, there’s a lot of debate about that, and no doubt you may find much of it more convincing than anything written here, but he dragged the entire stagnant art away from the Victorian stuffiness and rigidity of Tennyson’s later years and, for a while, into something approaching mass popularity. He wrote vividly in the style of ancient Irish bards about the big guns of Irish myth, and his dream was so fully realised in his work that it still lives on today in some of the more kitsch ideas surrounding Ireland. Faeries and wild lovers and so on.
His work became increasingly pessimistic into his old age, as his spectacularly unusual personal life upset and the world-changing events of the 1910s and 20s undermined much of what he had so ardently believed. Yeats’ chequered biography is all over the internet, and are worth a read if you have any illusions about what a Nice Man WB is.
What’s slightly more uplifting for a Thursday morning, and on National Poetry Day of all days, is one of his earlier poems, and one that still stands as one of the most perfectly-formed lyrics in English. It’s almost certainly written with Maud Gonne in mind, who Yeats held up for decades as his unrequited muse. But before that all went horribly wrong he wrote some amazing love poems, full of surprising ideas and generosity. Try forgetting this one.
He wishes for the cloths of Heaven
Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.
We love poetry at Calm Your Beans. Tell us your favourites in the comments section or on facebook and perhaps we will feature them in future weeks.