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Posts Tagged ‘W.B. Yeats’

Berryman and Yeats Light Up

October 24, 2014 | by

Tomorrow marks the centenary of John Berryman’s birth.

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Craven_a_virginia_s_20_h_white_red_with_a_cat_jamaicaI went in and asked for Mr. Yeats. Very much like asking, “Is Mr. Ben Jonson here?” And he came down. He was much taller than I expected, and haggard. Big, though, big head, rather wonderful looking in a sort of a blunt, patrician kind of way, but there was something shrunken also. He told me he was just recovering from an illness. He was very courteous, and we went in to tea. At a certain point, I had a cigarette, and I asked him if he would like one. To my great surprise he said yes. So I gave him a Craven “A” and then lit it for him, and I thought, Immortality is mine! From now on it's just a question of reaping the fruits of my effort. He did most of the talking. I asked him a few questions. He did not ask me any questions about myself, although he was extremely courteous and very kind. At one point he said, “I have reached the age when my daughter can beat me at croquet,” and I thought, Hurrah, he's human! I made notes on the interview afterward, which I have probably lost. One comment in particular I remember. He said, “I never revise now”—you know how much he revised his stuff—“but in the interests of a more passionate syntax.” Now that struck me as a very good remark. I have no idea what it meant and still don't know, but the longer I think about it, the better I like it. He recommended various books to me by his friend, the liar, Gogarty, and I forget who else. The main thing was just the presence and existence of my hero.

—John Berryman, The Art of Poetry No. 16, 1972

 

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An ad for Berryman‘s books from our Winter 1972 issue, in which his Art of Poetry interview appeared.

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To Suit the Occasion

October 20, 2014 | by

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School of Martin Van Meytens, Coronation Banquet for the Holy Roman Emperor Joseph II in Frankfurt, 1764.

In the spring of 2000, The Paris Review published an issue dedicated to poetry—dubbed, in fact, the Poetry Issue—including a series of prompts for poets and an essay by Robert Pinsky, who was then the U.S. Poet Laureate. Pinsky is seventy-four today; an excerpt of his essay, “Occasional Poetry and Poetry on Occasions,” follows.

What does it mean that so many distinguished and gifted poets responded to the somewhat goofy games and assignments suggested by The Paris Review for this issue? Not just willingly, but with spirit, they have composed poems to strange titles like “An Empty Surfboard on a Flat Sea” and “Lavatory in a Cathedral,” written commentaries on worksheets—written, in other words, to suit the occasion.

Occasions have elicited poems throughout history: coronations, birthdays, weddings, victories, executions, seductions (successful and unsuccessful), births, and deaths have their genres and great examples. Poems responding to specific circumstances have ranged from the agonized majesty of Yeats’s “Easter 1916” to the humblest good-humored verses produced for benign laughs at the office retirement party or a family anniversary. Donne wrote “the Anniversaries” on assignment and Marvell’s “Upon Appleton House” is the most gloriously entertaining in-group, after-dinner speech in the language.

Does this play of talent in response to occasions and assignments tell us anything about the art of poetry? Many poets have been unwilling or unable to write on assignment, in response to circumstance but even their work has been used after the fact—quoted in speeches, inscribed in stone, read at the graveside or after the victory. (Anyone who writes or studies poetry can remember being asked for something suitable to be recited at a wedding or a funeral.)

Occasional poetry is a reminder that poetry is related to speech a little bit in the way dance is related to walking: it is more playful, as well as more serious. Poetry’s medium is not merely light as air, it is air: vital and deep as ordinary breath. Read More »

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Strawberries and Cream and Spinal Injuries

January 28, 2014 | by

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Yeats at age fifty-eight, via Wikimedia Commons

Today marks the seventy-fifth anniversary of W. B. Yeats’s death.

Ottoline had what she called her Thursday parties, at which you met a lot of writers. Yeats was often there. He loosened up a great deal if he could tell malicious stories, and so he talked about George Moore. Yeats particularly disliked George Moore because of what he wrote in his book Hail and Farewell, which is in three volumes, and which describes Yeats in a rather absurd way. Moore thought Yeats looked very much like a black crow or a rook as he walked by the lake on Lady Gregory’s estate at Coole. He also told how Yeats would spend the whole morning writing five lines of poetry and then he’d be sent up strawberries and cream by Lady Gregory, and so Yeats would have to get his own back on George Moore. Another thing that amused Yeats very much for some reason was Robert Graves and the whole saga of his life with Laura Riding. He told how Laura Riding threw herself out of a window without breaking her spine, or breaking it but being cured very rapidly. All that pleased Yeats tremendously.

—Stephen Spender, the Art of Poetry No. 25

 

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T. S. Eliot’s “The Cultivation of Christmas Trees”

December 18, 2013 | by

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In 1927, Richard de la Mare had an idea for some Christmas cards. Because he was a production director at London’s Faber & Gwyer, his cards were festive poetry pamphlets that could be sent to clients and sold to customers for one shilling a piece. Because two years earlier Geoffrey Faber had lured a banker from Lloyd’s Bank to work as an editor at his publishing house, Faber & Gwyer had T. S. Eliot to contribute to the series.

Named for Shakespeare’s sprite, the Ariel poems each addressed the Christmas holiday or a seasonal theme. G. K. Chesterton, Thomas Hardy, D. H. Lawrence, Siegfried Sassoon, Vita Sackville-West, Edith Sitwell, and W. B. Yeats all contributed. The Ariel series followed a strict formula: identical cardboard bindings; title, illustrator, author, and occasionally an illustration on the cover; and two interior sheets folded to make four pages. The first page repeated the title information; the following three featured the poem and an original illustration.

T. S. Eliot wrote six poems for the series: “The Journey of the Magi” (1927), “A Song for Simeon” (1928), “Animula” (1929), “Marina” (1930), “Triumphal March” (1931), and, later when the series was revived, “The Cultivation of Christmas Trees” (1954). Only thirty-four lines long, that final poem is like a whisper in the whirlwind of dramatic plays and long poems that characterize most of Eliot’s later work. “The Cultivation of Christmas Trees” came decades after “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” (1917) and The Waste Land (1922), years after Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats (1939) and The Four Quartets (1943).

I think of Eliot’s Christmas trees every year around this time: when firs, pines, and spruces appear in living rooms, storefronts, and town squares around the country. Eliot wrote the poem when he was sixty-six years old. His voice is wizened, yet wistful as he reaches through all the years of his life to recover “the spirit of wonder” from his earliest Christmases. Though formal and serious, the poem seems almost saccharine when compared to his earlier work. It will surprise many that the poet of fragments and ruins eventually turned his attention to the pretty packages and bright lights of Christmas. Read More »

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“repeat, repeat, repeat; revise, revise, revise”: Poets Mourning Poets

November 19, 2012 | by

“I used to want to live / to avoid your elegy,” Robert Lowell confessed in “For John Berryman.”

The death of one poet is an extraordinary occasion for another poet. It is like the day a stonemason dies and another has to carve his headstone. Like a rough ashlar, the elegy sits waiting to be shaped into a memorial for the one who is gone. The death of a poet so great as Jack Gilbert last week pains, but also promises remembrances fitting the one who died.

Gilbert devoted most of his elegies to his wife, Michiko Nogami, but poets have forever elegized one another. We can trace the canon through the poems that poets have written to mourn their own: Henri Cole grieving Elizabeth Bishop; Bishop remembering Robert Lowell; Lowell lamenting the death of John Berryman; Berryman longing for Roethke, Jarrell, Hughes, Plath, Schwartz, and William Carlos Williams; W.H. Auden elegizing Yeats; Shelley bemoaning the loss of Keats; all the way back to Ovid mourning Orpheus.

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In Which Richard Burton Discusses Poetry

October 16, 2012 | by

Friday, October 20, Capo Caccia

On Sunday morning I read poetry at the Union with Wystan Auden. He read a great deal of his own poetry including his poems to Coghill and MacNeice. Both very fine conversation pieces I thought but read in that peculiar sing-song tonelessness colourless way that most poets have. I remember Yeats and Eliot and MacLeish, who read their most evocative poems with such monotony as to stun the brain. Only Dylan could read his own stuff. Auden has a remarkable face and an equally remarkable intelligence but I fancy, though his poetry like all true poetry is all embracingly and astringently universal, his private conceit is monumental. The standing ovation I got with the ‘Boast of Dai’ of D. Jones In Parenthesis left a look on his seamed face, riven with a ghastly smile, that was compact of surprise, malice and envy. Afterwards he said to me ‘How can you, where did you, how did you learn to speak with a Cockney accent?’ In the whole piece of some 300 lines only about 5 are in Cockney. He is not a nice man but then only one poet have I ever met was—Archie Macleish. Dylan was uncomfortable unless he was semi-drunk and ‘on.’ MacNeice was no longer a poet when I got to know him and was permanently drunk. Eliot was clerically cut with a vengeance. The only nice poets I’ve ever met were bad poets and a bad poet is not a poet at all—ergo I’ve never met a nice poet. That may include Macleish. For instance R. S. Thomas is a true minor poet but I’d rather share my journey to the other life with somebody more congenial. I think the last tight smile that he allowed to grimace his features was at the age of six when he realized with delight that death was inevitable. He has consigned his wife to hell for a long time. She will recognize it when she goes there.

From The Richard Burton Diaries, edited by Chris Williams, Yale University Press, 2012. Copyright © 2012 Swansea University.

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