“Poetry must resemble prose, and both must accept the vocabulary of their time.”
On October 11, 1936, the BBC invited William Butler Yeats to share a meditation on modern poetry. In the surviving recording, available courtesy of the PennSound archive at my alma mater — which has previously given us rare audio of Gertrude Stein, Charles Olson, and Adrienne Rich — Yeats discusses the tendency of poets from older traditions to criticize the modern school and points to Dame Edith Sitwell (1887-1964) as an echelon of modern poetry at its most powerful.
[Edith Sitwell’s] language is a traditional language of literature — twisted, torn, complicated, choked here and there by strange resemblances, unnatural contacts, forced upon us by some violence beating in our blood, some primitive obsession that civilization can no longer exorcise. I find her obscure, exasperating, delightful. I think I like her best when she seems a child — terrified and delighted in the story it is inventing.
Here is one of Sitwell’s exquisite poems Yeats references:
CLOWNS’ HOUSESBeneath the flat and paper sky
The sun, a demon’s eye,
Glowed through the air, that mask of glass;
All wand’ring sounds that passSeemed out of tune, as if the light
Were fiddle-strings pulled tight.
The market-square with spire and bell
Clanged out the hour in Hell;The busy chatter of the heat
Shrilled like a parakeet;
And shuddering at the noonday light
The dust lay dead and whiteAs powder on a mummy’s face,
Or fawned with simian grace
Round booths with many a hard bright toy
And wooden brittle joy:The cap and bells of Time the Clown
That, jangling, whistled down
Young cherubs hidden in the guise
Of every bird that flies;And star-bright masks for youth to wear,
Lest any dream that fare
–Bright pilgrim–past our ken, should see
Hints of Reality.Upon the sharp-set grass, shrill-green,
Tall trees like rattles lean,
And jangle sharp and dissily;
But when night falls they signTill Pierrot moon steals slyly in,
His face more white than sin,
Black-masked, and with cool touch lays bare
Each cherry, plum, and pear.Then underneath the veiled eyes
Of houses, darkness lies–
Tall houses; like a hopeless prayer
They cleave the sly dumb air.Blind are those houses, paper-thin
Old shadows hid therein,
With sly and crazy movements creep
Like marionettes, and weep.Tall windows show Infinity;
And, hard reality,
The candles weep and pry and dance
Like lives mocked at by Chance.The rooms are vast as Sleep within;
When once I ventured in,
Chill Silence, like a surging sea,
Slowly enveloped me.
Complement with 13 songs based on the poetry of Yeats.
Yeats on modern poetry - with special mention of T S Eliot.
Auden reads : In Memory of W B Yeats:
"A Drinking Song"-WB Yeats-Irish Poetry-Short Sad Poem-Famous Classic Poetry-Poems About Live
A Drinking Song by William Butler Yeats...
Yeats on the London Underground.
Sailing to Byzantium
W. B. Yeats, 1865 - 1939
That is no country for old men. The young In one another’s arms, birds in the trees —Those dying generations—at their song, The salmon-falls, the mackerel-crowded seas, Fish, flesh, or fowl, commend all summer long Whatever is begotten, born, and dies. Caught in that sensual music all neglect Monuments of unageing intellect. An aged man is but a paltry thing, A tattered coat upon a stick, unless Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing For every tatter in its mortal dress, Nor is there singing school but studying Monuments of its own magnificence; And therefore I have sailed the seas and come To the holy city of Byzantium. O sages standing in God’s holy fire As in the gold mosaic of a wall, Come from the holy fire, perne in a gyre, And be the singing-masters of my soul. Consume my heart away; sick with desire And fastened to a dying animal It knows not what it is; and gather me Into the artifice of eternity. Once out of nature I shall never take My bodily form from any natural thing, But such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make Of hammered gold and gold enamelling To keep a drowsy Emperor awake; Or set upon a golden bough to sing To lords and ladies of Byzantium Of what is past, or passing, or to come.