3.20.2009

Another “I should have gone to grad school but I didn’t so I’m taking it out on you” Post.

In my recent Yeats-reading fervor, I’ve been doing some external research (ahem, Wikipedia*, or Wikipaedia if you want to be fancy) on the man’s life. I know, I know, skimming a wiki page doesn’t count as “research,” but for all its shortcomings (lies, inaccuracies, completely made-up bullshit), it still provides a good lot of information, especially when it comes to lists of works – or oeuvres, if you want to be fancy**.

So I was reading Yeats’ list of works last night, deciding which of his poems or stories to tackle next, and I noticed an interesting statement in his bio.

“In 1997, (Yeats’) biographer R. F. Foster observed that Napoleon's dictum that to understand the man you have to know what was happening in the world when he was twenty ‘is manifestly true of W.B.Y.’”

I’d never heard that dictum, as I haven’t made a study of Napoleon’s quotes part of my oeuvre (ok, ok, I’ll stop). But I’m amazed at how true it seems. It brings to mind something I’m always yammering about – authenticity*** in writing. I recently accosted a new friend on the same subject, when he innocently asked who some of my favorite writers are. I’m sure he expected a list of four or five, not a three-page email explaining why, exactly, I adore Kay Boyle’s Death of a Man (because it is so tethered to its cultural and physical landscape, because it couldn’t have existed in any other time or place, because without the events of the world at the time of its writing, I wouldn’t have a highlighted, dog-eared copy of it on my bookshelf today).

And what I love about Yeats’ work (the little I’ve read) is sort of the same. He writes in the language of Ireland – his work firmly rooted in the landscape. But even so, he integrates mysticism and magic and possibility, which, in Ireland in the 1900s, one might truly have needed. Those weren’t the years of the Celtic Tiger, after all.

So it’s that. It’s that he can be authentic while spinning tales.

But good lord, no one asked. Next post? Back to pictures of dogs and climbing. I promise.

*Want to learn more about Wikiality? Check this out.

** I’ve been thinking about pretentious language lately, about how we use all-dolled-up words when a word in sweatpants would do. Part of it, I think, stems from cultural colloquialisms – the English of New England and the English of SoCal are vastly different. Same with the English of North America and that of the UK, especially in the way we hedge, or stall for time, or avoid saying what we want to say. Here, we’re prone to long “uummms,” and lots of “like, I means.” There, they say far cuter and more charming things, like, “so it would."

***I have no idea where my obsession with authenticity in writing came from. It’s especially weird because I read almost exclusively fiction…of course, I also frequently say, “there’s no such thing as fiction…it all comes from somewhere.”

2 comments:

littlesack said...

haha. I've never read Yeates (no college english classes), but ill put it on my list.

little happinesses said...

heh. I do the exact opposite when I read poems or stories: I could care less about what's happening in the poet's world at the time. I like to read things without having to know the context, even though I'll admit there are times when it's way better if you have some real event in the world to hook the poem/story on to.

That being said, I've always liked "Easter 1916" with its "terrible beauty is born" line over and over. You've probably read it, but if not you should check it out:)

Also (I promise I'll stop talking about Yeats too, but DAMN dude, poetry:), one of my favorite lines ever: "Hearts are not had as a gift but hearts are earned/ By those that are not entirely beautiful." I love it:)