& occasionally about other things, too...

Sunday, April 30, 2017

WB Yeats


WB Yeats
In early April I participated in the Spur festival in Toronto. This year, I had to restrict myself to just a couple of programs – a documentary on WB Yeats and a panel discussion on journalism. The film A Vision: The Life and Death of WB Yeats (2013) by Alan Gilsenan.

“The film is a response to Yeats' vast body of work. A visual – and avowedly experimental – ‘film-poem’, to coin an uneasy term. Using solely the words of WB Yeats, the filmmakers attempted to take the viewer on a cinematic journey of sorts into Yeats’ extraordinary imagination. 

"It is a biography of a kind, but not in any conventional way. Yet, beyond Yeats’ popular profile and his cultural tourist caché, little is really known of his complex life, despite having articulated it so completely, so creatively. In so many ways, Yeats dreamt up his life. He fashioned his own majestic screenplay and we are – endlessly – the beneficiaries.”

A panel discussion followed the film on the significance of Yeats'poetry. The panellists were Mary Noonan, Adam Crothers and Charles Foran. You may listen to the discussion here: 


Yeats is important to many Indians, especially those over 60, and with some interest in poetry. My father, Meghnad Bhatt, a poet in Gujarati language, loved Yeats. Whenever he was invited to a wedding, he’d write his own unique message of greeting, but each message always ended with the line ‘tread softly for you tread on dreams’. I picked up the line without knowing it is from Yeats’s poem.

Aedh 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.

 A journalist friend who had done English literature and had studied Yeats gave me a collection of Yeats poems in the 1980s. The collection was meant to be an introduction for neophytes and had some of his best and most cherished poems. Even a cursory reading of Yeats would reveal his comprehensive influence on 20th-century modern thought. His Second Coming is one of the most anthologized poems in English continues to be as relevant today, nearly a century later. It was written in the aftermath of the First World War. Here’s just the first stanza.

The Second Coming

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

In the Wild Old Wicked Man, he captures the essence of life’s struggles.

'All men live in suffering,
I know as few can know,
Whether they take the upper road
Or stay content on the low,
Rower bent in his row-boat
Or weaver bent at his loom,
Horseman erect upon horseback
Or child hid in the womb.
Daybreak and a candlc-cnd.

'That some stream of lightning
From the old man in the skies
Can burn out that suffering
No right-taught man denies.
But a coarse old man am I,
I choose the second-best,
I forget it all awhile
Upon a woman's breast.'
Daybreak and a candlc-end.

And here’s another, about imitators

To A Poet, Who Would Have Me Praise Certain Bad Poets, Imitators Of His And Mine

You say, as I have often given tongue
In praise of what another's said or sung,
'Twere politic to do the like by these;
But was there ever dog that praised his fleas?

Here are a few links to Yeats poems



The audio recording of the panel discussion was done at the Spur festival. I don't have any copyright over the recording. 

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