Tuesday, June 8, 2010

In our class This Spring we read a number of poems and poets, from the turn of the 18th century through the turn of the 21st century. I found no poem stopped me as much as the W.B. Yeats poem “Easter, 1916.” I found its subject and tone to have very different flavors. The subject is an uprising of a few Irishmen and women against the British Empire. These souls stood up against a giant, risking the respect of their fellow countrymen and women, their lives and their reputations. Yeats writes this poem as an outsider, impressed by the sacrifice but not necessarily sharing the views of these acquaintances of his.
Yeats, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature early in life is best known for his later poetry. His poems often dealt with the themes of the contrast of art and life, masks (a theme his plays often shared,) and the ideal of beauty and ceremony contrasting with the noise and interruption of modern life (-Biography).
Yeats was a lifelong patriot to his home country, even serving in the senate of a young and free Ireland in the 1920s, but deplored the violence of his more nationalistic acquaintances. Of these acquaintances he mentions four in particular in his poem. While he doesn’t name any of the four Major John Macbride, Patrick Pearse, Thomas MacDonagh, and Constance Georgine Markiewicz are commonly believed to be the four.
Major John MacBride, not believed to have been involved in the initial planning of the uprising nonetheless joined out of a sense of duty and honor. Not a favorite of Yeats he was rumored (possibly by Yeats) to have been abusive to his former wife and his son Sean. Yeats however was strongly influenced in his opinion by his feelings for the ex Mrs. J. MacBride Maude Gonne.
Patrick Pearse and Thomas Macdonagh are mentioned in the same passage as starting a school. Pearse started and ran the St. Edna’s School for Boys where the children were taught in their home Gaelic language. In the prospectus for the school the school’s goals were to “Instruct pupils in a love of the Irish language, Educate pupils in a love of chivalry and self-sacrifice, and to
Teach pupils to have "charity towards all"; a "sense of civic social duty". However the Gaelic language version of this same prospectus said that youths "should spend their lives working hard and zealously for their fatherland and, if it should ever be necessary, to die for it” (Trueman). The children were taught to read and write in their own language and were taught how to shoot as well.
Thomas MacDonagh an Irish nationalist loved his country and the language that made his country home for him. He was intrinsic in the starting of the St. Edna’s School for boys that he helped his friend Pearse start but left their to become a professor of English at the National University. Macdonagh was a poet and an idealist and wrote his wife from prison “
I am ready to die, and I thank God that I am to die in so a holy a cause. My country will reward my deed richly. I counted the cost of this, and I am ready to pay it." His son went on to follow in his footsteps in a way to become a predominent poet, playwright, songwriter and judge.
The last of the four is by no means the least important. She is the first of the four to appear in the poem. Constance Georgine Markiewicz both designed the uniforms of the uprisings militia and composed its anthem. Sentenced to death for her part her sentence was commuted to life in prison. In 1917 London decreed an amnesty for all imprisoned that had taken a part in the uprising and she was released from prison. She would return to prison twice more in life as well as be the first woman elected to the British House of Commons. She abstained from serving her term on the House of Commons in line with her political beliefs.
The insurrection of Easter, 1916 only lasted a few days. It angered the residents of Dublin who were often clubbed and beaten by the members of the rebellion while trying to defend their buildings, and ended with 14 people being put to death. The participants in the uprising counted on weapons that never came and surprise that was not really to be had. The lasting effect of the rebellion was to create and “awful beauty” and solidify in most of Ireland a desire for self rule. One year later the participants that were not ruled to be at the head of the uprising and who only received jail time were granted amnesty and released and five years later most of Ireland was granted self rule.
Ireland is still divided and the army that was born of that moment in history is still fighting today. Thanks to a long lasting cease fire the war is being faught with words rather than bullets today. What would Yeats write about today?
I think he’d write about a united Ireland, one that fosters literature and thought rather than bluster and argument.

Trueman, Chris. “Patrick Pearse.” History Learning Site UK. 2010. Web. June
6th, 2010.
"William Butler Yeats - Biography". Nobelprize.org. 8 Jun 2010

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Eating Well

This summer Lisa and I will be traveling to the great Midwest. The people, the food, the places are all different from our home here in the Pacific Northwest. Sheboygan is one stop for a few days in our trip. We will be participating in the John Michael Kohler Summer arts Festival; http://www.jmkac.org/ While there we will be sampling some of the local fair. City Bakery is listed in Road Food.com as an incredible place for fresh pastries. I may not be a big pastry man but a good pastry is a good pastry! Also on my game plan is the double Brat at the Charcoal Inn. The one thing about road trips is one must eat well while on the road. This I believe.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

William Butler Yeats and the Irish Uprising

William Butler Yeats wrote about many things but his poem about the short lived Irish uprising is especially moving. He is writing about the effects of the uprising and the acquaintances of his that were hung or imprisoned for their part in it. Out of all the poets I've read recently, Wordsworth, Keats, Kipling, Eliot, William Butler Yeats has moved me the most.

I have met them at close of day
Coming with vivid faces
From counter or desk among grey
Eighteenth-century houses.
I have passed with a nod of the head
Or polite meaningless words,
Or have lingered awhile and said
Polite meaningless words,
And thought before I had done
Of a mocking tale or a gibe
To please a companion
Around the fire at the club,
Being certain that they and I
But lived where motley is worn:
All changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.

That woman's days were spent
In ignorant good-will,
Her nights in argument
Until her voice grew shrill.
What voice more sweet than hers
When, young and beautiful,
She rode to harriers?
This man had kept a school
And rode our winged horse;
This other his helper and friend
Was coming into his force;
He might have won fame in the end,
So sensitive his nature seemed,
So daring and sweet his thought.
This other man I had dreamed
A drunken, vainglorious lout.
He had done most bitter wrong
To some who are near my heart,
Yet I number him in the song;
He, too, has resigned his part
In the casual comedy;
He, too, has been changed in his turn,
Transformed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.

Hearts with one purpose alone
Through summer and winter seem
Enchanted to a stone
To trouble the living stream.
The horse that comes from the road.
The rider, the birds that range
From cloud to tumbling cloud,
Minute by minute they change;
A shadow of cloud on the stream
Changes minute by minute;
A horse-hoof slides on the brim,
And a horse plashes within it;
The long-legged moor-hens dive,
And hens to moor-cocks call;
Minute by minute they live:
The stone's in the midst of all.

Too long a sacrifice
Can make a stone of the heart.
O when may it suffice?
That is Heaven's part, our part
To murmur name upon name,
As a mother names her child
When sleep at last has come
On limbs that had run wild.
What is it but nightfall?
No, no, not night but death;
Was it needless death after all?
For England may keep faith
For all that is done and said.
We know their dream; enough
To know they dreamed and are dead;
And what if excess of love
Bewildered them till they died?
I write it out in a verse -
MacDonagh and MacBride
And Connolly and Pearse
Now and in time to be,
Wherever green is worn,
Are changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.

Yeats, William Butler. Easter, 1916. The Norton Anthology of English Literature, Volume B. Eighth Edition. WW Norton and Co. 2006.

Monday, May 17, 2010

morning commute (05/17/2010)

The first hint came
As I hurried through the dark streets
Trying to get to work
Before the rain came

Large drops introduced themselves
Hi, we're what's to come
I made it inside, bike locked outside
And watched the familiar rainfall.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Road Trip 2010

As I prepare for doing the shows in the Midwest this year I think about all the things you need to do to get ready. The one thing I don't have to worry about is coffee. The Seattle coffee explosion of the eighties has even reached now to places like Montana and the Dakotas. There is a Starbucks every 100 to 150 miles along I90 so you can always plan on a clean bathroom, wi-fi and a cup of coffee. Late night driving is a little more problematic. Truck stop bathrooms are always an iffy affair and the coffee? Oh my.
Wisconsin however is a great destination. As long as you know where to look the food is good and the people are friendly. I'm looking forward to this summer and the crazy long distance driving we'll have to do. Look for on the road blogs this summer. I plan on reading a lot, eating a lot, and trying some of those Wisconsin micro brews (Milwaukee has some great beer.)
Reading for the trip;
Walden, The Forgers Spell, John Keats Poetry, Shades of Grey
This summer I'll get to do the reading I put off during the school year.

So It Goes

"Everything was beautiful and nothing hurt."
Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse Five

This quote is from the tombstone for Billy Pilgrim the main character from Vonnegut's book Slaughterhouse Five. He believed that all time existed always, as if every moment of time was frozen in amber and could be visited at will. Free will was a figment of Human imagination and everything is, as, and always will be. This absurd notion is Vonnegut's way of poking fun at our society, at the "inevitability" of war. It is also a coping mechanism for Billy Pilgrim (as well as Vonnegut) who witnessed the destruction of Dresden by firebombing at the end of World War II.

Whether or not the firebombing of Dresden was justified Vonnegut's feeling that human beings were bound to kill each other off was strengthened every time he looked around. After World War II he watched as we participated in the Korean War, the Vietnam War, The Gulf War and finally at the very end of his life he watched as an out of control administration took us into Iraq and Afghanistan. His last years were spent in speaking in his indomitable manner against the wars and especially Bush and his administration. He never failed when given the opportunity to dig a little at our 43rd president.
"I have the humorist Paul Krasner to thank for pointing out a big difference between George W Bush and Hitler: Hitler was elected."
Kurt Vonnegut, written for a speech at Clowes Hall Indianapolis, April 27th, 2007 given by his son as he had passed away only a few weeks before. Published in Armageddon in Retrospect a collection of previously unpublished writings.
Also in this speech he ends it with as his son says in the aforementioned book Is "as good a way as any for him to say goodbye."
"And I thank you for your attention, and I'm outta here."
Kurt Vonnegut-
November 11, 1922 – April 11, 2007
"So it Goes."