When I think of the works of WB Yeats, it is mostly to his early love poetry that I am first drawn.
In it, his impassioned, naturalistic articulation of the bliss and frustrations of love, enveloped in a cloak of natural beauty, are things that deeply move. He manages to express the complex experience that it is to feel at all – towards person or place – and how such feelings can change a soul.
“And I shall have some peace there
For peace comes dropping slow
Dropping from the veils of the morning
To where the crickets sing”
Yeats, for me, is the one-eyed king of gentle sensitivities, at least in my personal kingdom-of-the-blind, where the daily cares of life conspire to make me believe that success is simply about being efficient.
As I cycle around Yeats’ country, here in Sligo, I am struck by the natural vividness of the place – all the more redolent for the number of boarded-up and derelict buildings which seem to emanate, like ribbons of disappointment, from the heart of Sligo town.
“We’ll always have Paris”, is Rick’s consolation to Ilsa as he urges her to move on from Casablanca. Bogart’s character knows that, even when her world changes, conjuring true feelings of the past will help her endure.
Sligo, I thought, may indeed be down on its uppers, but at least it has Yeats – spinner of dreams and talisman of peace – to haul it through.
I am here now, at Yeats’ grave, which lies in Drumcliff, as decreed in his poem ‘Under Benbulben’.
“Under bare Ben Bulben’s head
In Drumcliff churchyard Yeats is laid.
An ancestor was rector there
Long years ago, a church stands near,
By the road an ancient cross.
No marble, no conventional phrase;
On limestone quarried near the spot
By his command these words are cut:
Cast a cold eye
On life, on death.
Horseman, pass by!”
To my distraction, in his death, his is a most unquiet sleep.
Unquiet because the N15, a national route linking Sligo with Donegal, lies immediately on the perimeter of the graveyard, and the whizzing of vehicles is not just a gentle murmur but a constant, rolling thunder.
Visiting his grave is an experience dissonant in the extreme.
This has made me think about our responsibilities, as a people, not just to our daily lives – the important stuff of hand and mouth – but to the honouring of the things that make us who we are.
I recall a dear friend telling me that the most upsetting part of a flood which destroyed her home was the obliteration of most of her family’s photo albums.
Getting from Sligo to Bundoran is indeed important. And so is the preservation of the burial place of one of our great poets, the location of which he prescribed is versed detail.
We are often, by our politicians, presented scenarios such as these as if they are a matter of needing to choose. But in fact it is a false choice.
I demand both a great route to Bundoran and a great acknowledgment of the role of Yeats in our cultural narrative.
To solve such knotted issues we need to attract the smartest people into Irish politics, and remunerate them accordingly. I have in mind a politics that is mature enough to wisely weigh national purpose with local desires, and not believe it is a trade-off.
Whatever happened in the planning of the N15 roadway, the result is patently wrong-headed.
Yet it was built nonetheless.
Yeats, a senator in his latter years, described himself as ‘a smiling public man’, an implicit acknowledgement of the impotence of political life.
I’m done with the ‘smiling public men’ of politics who have led our country on a merry dance, diluting our lives by a lack of vision, talent and empathy.
When I look at the blind politics which placed a teeming national route on the steps of Yeats’ grave, I feel it is time for us all to cast a cold eye, next time we visit the ballot box.
Brian McIntyre. August 2013
About Rothar Republic
My name is Brian McIntyre. During late July and August 2013 I am cycling the coast and borders of the Republic of Ireland, and using the opportunity to raise money for charity (The Peter McVerry Trust).
In the lead-up to the 100th anniversary of 1916, I’m interested to see how our little country is doing. Cycling its perimeter, observing and talking to its people, is my own way of taking the lie of the land.
I figure this is a 27 day-long expedition covering about 2,200km.
All monies go directly to the Peter McVerry Trust which supports young homeless people in Dublin to break the cycle of homelessness and move towards independent living.
If easier, consider sending me a pledge through private message.