The documentary we saw in class didn’t say much about Bernadette Devlin, the Catholic civil rights activist in Northern Ireland who was a major political opponent to Ian Paisley. I was curious about her role in the Troubles, and I found that as a member UK parliament from 1969 to 1974 she helped to form a slightly more moderate political party and militant group from Sinn Fein and the IRA. However, she brazenly supported the blanket protest, dirty protest and hunger strikes. These sympathies won her dangerous enemies, and in 1981 the UVF tried to kill Devlin and her husband in their home. Heany, as a Catholic in Northern Ireland, undoubtedly knew that his poems would be scrutinized for the same sympathies as Devlin’s and by the same enemies. What happened to Devlin over her life (she’s 66 now) really drives home for me the level of personal danger that came with getting involved in Northern Irish politics at the time, and may partly explain why Heany was so slow to touch such issues.
I read that on January 16, 1981, three men broke into Devlin’s house in Ulster, Northern Ireland, and shot her and her husband in front of their children. The shooters somehow got past the British troops stationed as guards around her house and kicked in the door, but were promptly arrested upon exiting the house after the shooting was done. The implications are that the British troops were in league with the shooters, sent by the UFF (Ulster Freedom Fighters, the militant branch of the UVF) and agreed to arrest them after Devlin and her husband were killed. This interview is from 1982, a year after the attack. The chillingly detached way with which Devlin talks about her injuries and the suspicious failure of the British guards to stop the gunmen speaks her devotion to her cause, and her acceptance that her opposition to Loyalists like Ian Paisley makes her an enemy of the British. A warning, the quiet, 4 minute interview may be disturbing to watch.
I was looking for more information on Jean McConville, one of 17 people that “disappeared” because of the IRA. Apparently, there is a documentary about this group, titled “Disappeared” but I couldn’t find it online, only reviews/overviews. What I did find, was an article from The Telegraph about a man, Ivor Bell, currently being charged with the murder of Jean McConville in December 1972. This is the link: http://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/sunday-life/news/gerry-adams-youre-next-jean-mcconvilles-daughter-tells-sinn-fein-president-hell-follow-ira-veteran-ivor-bell-to-dock-30118353.html
This second link is a description of the night Jean was taken by IRA members, according to Agnes, one of Jean’s children.
This list consists of a few (of so many!) pop culture–and not-so-pop-culture, but notable!– references to W.B. Yeats. I began by merging together some existing lists I found online, and when verifying those references or searching for related images, videos, and links I would often stumble upon other Yeats references. This list is by no means complete, but is a decent start at chronicling the seemingly endless references to William Butler Yeats and his poetry.
X-Men: Legacy #23 – “Slouching Towards Bethlehem” released by Marvel (March 2014)
“When You Are Old” Manga by julian peters comics (2012)
Peters has several adaptations of classic poems including Yeats’s “When You are Old.”
If you click on the link to see the full comic you’ll see that Peters has depicted Yeats himself as Love (the external Yeatsian “being” that has fled and “hid his face amid a crowd of stars.”) Contrast this to Yeats’s notion that emotions, like love, are external beings (a sort of “demon”) that could come and go as it pleased. Peters’s adaptation suggests perhaps there is more will involved than Yeats believed.
Kevin Smith’s Batman: The Widening Gyre, DC Comics (August 2009 through July 2010)
**Spoiler alert for those who care…**
Batman: The Widening Gyre is a limited six-issue comic book series written by Kevin Smith and illustrated by Walt Flanagan. The series is a continuation of Smith’s 3-issue limited series Batman: Cacophony, the first of Smith’s Onomatopoeia trilogy. Batman Bellicosity, due in 2014 (?) will conclude the trilogy.
Issue #1 (pictured above) begins in a Jewish temple in Gotham City. Baron Blitzkrieg has teamed up with the Atomic Skull to attempt to destroy Torah Scrolls dating back to 1878 that had been smuggled out of Berlin shortly after Kristallnacht. After Batman, Robin, and Nightwing defeat Blitzkrieg and Atomic Skull, Batman heads off to Arkham Asylum to discover it completely overgrown with vegetation. Poison Ivy has turned Arkham into a fortress to protect herself from the anti-hero, Etrigan the Demon. Batman and Etrigan battle and just as it looks like Etrigan is about to strike the final blow another masked figure appears clad in black with a silver cape, donning a demon-like mask resembling a goat head and saves Batman.
So, what does this all have to do with Yeats?
Obviously The Widening Gyre is a reference to Yeats’s poem “The Second Coming.” The cover of issue #1 depicts a chaotic arrangement of satanic symbols, perhaps referencing the “mere anarchy” about to be “loosed upon [Gotham City]” and the coming of the rough beast.
While the beginning of the first issue seemingly has little to do with one of the main plots of the series–Batman’s encounters with the mysterious new vigilante who Batman eventually begins to consider as his possible replacement–it is interesting that the series should open in a Temple with Baron Blitzkrieg attempting to destroy the Scrolls. “The Second Coming” was published shortly after the end of WWI and with the aftermath of the war fresh in Yeats’s memory, he produced an apocalyptic poem reminiscent of the violence that dominated the world at this time. It seems appropriate then for Smith to begin his series with the villain Baron Blitzkrieg and his Neo-Nazi ring. Just as Germany seemed to be ushering in a new antithetical era with the violence of WWI, Baron Blitzkrieg sets up what will perhaps be Gotham City’s antithetical era–complete with a new hero.
Besides Baron Blitzkrieg and the Atomic Skull, Batman confronts “A gallery of [his] failures” in Arkham Asylum: The Mad Hatter, Tweedledum, The Riddler, Two-Face, and The Joker locked away in their cells which are being overgrown with plant life thanks to Poison Ivy. It is in these frames where “The ceremony of innocence is drowned”; where the people of Gotham see victories, “Batman’s Trophy Case”, Batman himself sees “a pageant of [his] shortcomings.” The reader is given the feeling that, surely, this center cannot hold…
This, however, is only the beginning of the series. Issue #1 ends with a mysterious masked figure who comes to Batman’s rescue and later identifies himself as “Baphomet.”
Baphomet appears again in part two: “The Falconer” when Batman has to choose between capturing a villain or saving a child. Batman, being as predictable as he is, obviously opts to save the child and fears he has let the villain escape. To his surprise, however, Baphomet has already captured the villain and turned him over to the cops while Batman was saving the little girl.
It’s unclear who, in this issue, “The Falconer” is supposed to be…Batman, I suppose? And is Baphomet now supposed to be the falcon that cannot hear? At the end Batman is knocked out by Cornelius Stirk and is left unconscious until the third issue, “Things Fall Apart.” It’s also possible that at this point Kevin Smith is just picking random lines from the poem to title each part of the series. I tried searching for interviews with Kevin about why he chose a Yeats poem to refer to in this series, but with no luck.
*Edit* Smith actually is just going line by line in the poem as he titles each issue:
#1: “Turning and Turning”
#2: “The Falconer”
#3: “Things Fall Apart”
#4: “The Centre Cannot Hold”
#5: “Mere Anarchy”
#6: “The Blood-Dimmed Tide is Loosed”
Given the events in each part it doesn’t seem that Kevin had “The Second Coming” in mind the entire time he was writing the series–except for the fact that Baphomet himself may turn out to be the “rough beast, its hour come round at last…” Besides the ending, which I refuse to give away because it is THAT good, “The Widening Gyre” shifts away from the poem as Baphomet continues to pique Batman’s interest and Batman’s relationship with Silver St. Cloud (a former love interest) develops. I will say that the ending of “The Widening Gyre” lines up again with the poem in that it may prove to be apocalyptic, both to Gotham City and to Batman himself. Unfortunately, Kevin Smith answers to no one, even DC, when it comes to deadlines and we may have to wait until 2025 for this Second Coming.
Vice President Biden to the European Parliament, “Easter Sunday, 1916” (2010)
If you are really that interested in hearing Biden quote Yeats you can hear him read a line from “Easter Sunday, 1916” about 48 seconds into the clip. I feel like he doesn’t understand the context of the poem…at all.
Star Trek: Mere Anarchy, which originally began as a series of e-books, is a six book epic covering thirty years of Star Trek history. Each novella was written by a different author and is now available as a single-volume, trade paperback. The titles of each individual novella are also taken from “The Second Coming.”
“Slouching Towards Bethlehem” by Robert James (2008)
The title to the album references “The Second Coming”
Bright Eyes “Four Winds” (2007)
Your class, your caste, your country, sect, your name or your tribe
There’s people always dying trying to keep them alive
There’s bodies decomposing in containers tonight
In an abandoned building where
Squatters made a mural of a Mexican girl
With fifteen cans of spray paint and a chemical swirl
She’s standing in the ashes at the end of the world
Four winds blowing through her hair
But when great Satan’s gone… the Whore of Babylon…
She just can’t sustain the pressure where it’s placed
The Bible’s blind, the Torah’s deaf, the Qur’an’s mute
If you burned them all together you’d get close to the truth still
They’re pouring over Sanskrit on the Ivy League moons
While shadows lengthen in the sun
Cast all the school and meditation built to soften the times
And hold us at the center while the spiral unwinds
It’s knocking over fences crossing property lines
Four Winds, cry until it comes
And it’s the Sum of Man slouching towards Bethlehem
A heart just can’t contain all of that empty space
It breaks. It breaks. It breaks.
Well I went back by rented Cadillac and company jet
Like a newly orphaned refugee retracing my steps
All the way to Cassadaga to commune with the dead
They said, “You’d better look alive”
And I was off to old Dakota where a genocide sleeps
In the Black Hills, the Badlands, the calloused East
I buried my ballast. I made my peace.
Heard Four Winds, leveling the pines
But when great Satan’s gone… the Whore of Babylon…
She just can’t remain with all that outer space
She breaks. She breaks. She caves. She caves.
Elyn Saks’s The Center Cannot Hold: My Journey Through Madness (2007)
Must Love Dogs (2005)
Christopher Plummer reads “Brown Penny”
Cormac McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men (2005)
The title is from Yeats’s “Sailing to Byzantium”
The Hold Steady – ‘Chicago Seemed Tired Last Night’ (2005)
The Hold Steady references Yeats himself twice in the song. Lyrics and some explanatory notes can be read here.
Bill Clinton’s My Life: The Presidential Years (2005)
From the book:
Bono was a big supporter of the peace process, and for my efforts he gave me a gift he knew I’d appreciate: a book of William Butler Yeats’s plays inscribed by the author and by Bono, who wrote, irreverently, “Bill, Hillary, Chelsea–This guy wrote a few good lyrics–Bono and Ali.” The Irish aren’t known for understatement, but Bono pulled it off. (p. 293)
Steven Spielberg’s Artificial Intelligence: AI (2001)
Robin Williams, as the voice of a computer named “Mr. Know,” whispers a few lines of Yeats’s “The Stolen Child” to Haley Joel Osment: “Come away, O human child! / To the waters and the wild / With a faery, hand in hand, / For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.”
Bono talks to Erik Philbrook of Playback Magazine (2001)
I remember as a child, growing up in Ireland. We were taught the poetry of William Butler Yeats. I must have been ten years old. The teacher said, “and then Yeats went through his dry period. He had a writing block and he couldn’t write about anything.” I remember putting up my hand, and saying “Well, why didn’t he write about that?” And the teacher just looked at me and said, “Oh, be quiet.” But that is exactly the answer to the writing block. You write about your own emptiness, and we’ve done that for years now.
Joni Mitchell’s “Slouching Towards Bethlehem” (1991)
Another reference to “The Second Coming” is Joni Mitchell’s song “Slouching Towards Bethlehem” off her 1991 album Night Ride Home.
Anthony Hopkins reads “He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven” to himself in the film 84 Charing Cross Road (1987)
Oliver Stone’s Wall Street (1987)
I couldn’t find a clip of the actual line, but apparently somewhere in this film Michael Douglas (as Wall Street big shot Gordon Gekko) says, “So the falcon’s heard the falconer, huh?”
Here’s the trailer:
The Smiths’ “Cemetry Gates” (1986)
Yeats (and Keats!) earns a shoutout from Morrissey in the song, but he chooses Oscar Wilde…
A dreaded sunny day
So I meet you at the cemetry gates
Keats and Yeats are on your side
A dreaded sunny day
So I meet you at the cemetry gates
Keats and Yeats are on your side
While Wilde is on mine
So we go inside and we gravely read the stones
All those people, all those lives
Where are they now?
With loves, and hates
And passions just like mine
They were born
And then they lived
And then they died
It seems so unfair
I want to cry
You say : “‘Ere thrice the sun done salutation to the dawn”
And you claim these words as your own
But I’ve read well, and I’ve heard them said
A hundred times (maybe less, maybe more)
If you must write prose/poems
The words you use should be your own
Don’t plagiarise or take “on loan”
‘Cause there’s always someone, somewhere
With a big nose, who knows
And who trips you up and laughs
When you fall
Who’ll trip you up and laugh
When you fall
You say : “‘Ere long done do does did”
Words which could only be your own
And then produce the text
From whence was ripped
(Some dizzy whore, 1804)
A dreaded sunny day
So let’s go where we’re happy
And I meet you at the cemetry gates
Oh, Keats and Yeats are on your side
A dreaded sunny day
So let’s go where we’re wanted
And I meet you at the cemetry gates
Keats and Yeats are on your side
But you lose
‘Cause weird lover Wilde is on mine
Van Morrison’s “Crazy Jane On God” (1984)
The Defenders #97 – “Slouching Toward Bethlehem” released by Marvel (July 1, 1981)
Joan Didion’s Slouching Towards Bethlehem (1968)
Slouching Towards Bethlehem is a collection of essays and mainly describes Didion’s experiences in California during the 1960s.
Didion prefaces the collection by calling attention to the relevance of “The Second Coming”:
… for several years now certain lines from the Yeats poem which appears two pages back have reverberated in my inner ear as if they were surgically implanted there. The widening gyre, the falcon which does not hear the falconer, the gaze blank and pitiless as the sun; those have been my points of reference, the only images against which much of what I was seeing and hearing and thinking seemed to make any pattern.
A Terrible Beauty, film—retitled The Night Fighters for its U.S. release (1960)
When asked about his relationship to Yeats in an interview with The Paris Review, Achebe responds:
I wouldn’t make too much of that. I was showing off more than anything else. As I told you, I took a general degree, with English as part of it, and you had to show some evidence of that. But I liked Yeats! That wild Irishman. I really loved his love of language, his flow. His chaotic ideas seemed to me just the right thing for a poet. Passion! He was always on the right side. He may be wrongheaded, but his heart was always on the right side. He wrote beautiful poetry. It had the same kind of magic about it that I mentioned the wizard had for me. I used to make up lines with anything that came into my head, anything that sounded interesting. So Yeats was that kind of person for me. It was only later I discovered his theory of circles or cycles of civilization. I wasn’t thinking of that at all when it came time to find a title. That phrase “things fall apart” seemed to me just right and appropriate.
Though Achebe admits he didn’t have a complete grasp on Yeats while writing Things Fall Apart the two, both being a colonized people, have similar views on language in regards to colonization. In a speech entitled, “The African Writer and the English Language” (1975) Achebe said:
Is it right that a man should abandon his mother tongue for someone else’s? It looks like a dreadful betrayal and produces a guilty feeling. But for me there is no other choice. I have been given the language and I intend to use it. (Thiong’o, p. 263)
Yeats too had been given the language and, like most in Ireland, did not speak Irish and thus had to write in English:
We had no Gaelic, but paid great honour to the Irish poets who wrote in English, and quoted them in our speeches. I could have told you at that time the dates of the birth and death, and quoted the chief poems, of men whose names you have not heard, and perhaps of some whose names I have forgotten. I knew in my heart that the most of them wrote badly, and yet such romance clung about them, such a desire for Irish poetry was in all our minds, that I kept on saying, not only to others but to myself, that most of them wrote well, or all but well. (“Ideas of Good and Evil”)
Ray Bradbury’s The Golden Apples of the Sun (1953)
Bradbury takes the title of his anthology of 22 short stories from a line in Yeats’s poem, “The Song of Wandering Aengus.” The last three lines of the poem are also included in the beginning of the book.
Though I am old with wandering
Through hollow lands and hilly lands,
I will find out where she has gone
And kiss her lips and take her hands;
And walk among long dappled grass,
And pluck till time and times are done
The silver apples of the moon,
The golden apples of the sun.
I’d like to comment on a section of the documentary we watched today, particularly the part where Brendan Hughes discussed the IRA’s decision to kill Jean McConville, the mother of ten who they believed was passing information to the British Army. I found it troubling that Hughes was so adamant that she should’ve been executed, and that the main source of contention within the IRA was about where to hide her body, not about whether or not they ought to kill a mother of ten.
I think the IRA’s absolute certainty about executing McConville is a testament to the fact that sectarianism and adherence to absolute principles can promote dehumanization: they saw her as a traitor, and not a person just doing what she could to get by. Hughes’ testimony that he sees the decision as wrong now is a sign, to me, that he’s attempted to rationalize the things he’s done, but I still find it disturbing that he elaborated more on the conflict about disposing of her body than on the conflict that should arise in the decision to kill a mother of ten.
I admire Heaney’s honesty about his struggle with his principles in light of his identity in the scheme of the conflict. He is not absolute. I find comfort in the end of Exposure: he comes across to me as painfully human, being reminded of “The diamond absolutes”, yet knowing he is neither “internee nor informer”, and finding his place in exile, listening and interpreting the conflict around him – “feeling/ Every wind that blows”. I wonder if Heaney, in Hughes’ shoes, would have spoken out against the decision to execute McConville. In light of poems like Punishment, it’s possible that he would have resigned himself to silence, despite any empathy he might have felt for her. As I see him gaining a voice throughout North, and finding ways in which to discuss violence, I begin to think that Heaney did speak out against violence, particularly in poems like The Grauballe Man, where he emphasized the tragedy of death, “the actual weight/ of each hooded victim/ slashed and dumped”.
In order to play this presentation you need to download Google Earth on to your computer. If you simply Google, Google Earth, it will be the first thing that comes up and it is a free download. Once you have downloaded it, simply click on the above link and it will take you directly to the kmz file containing the presentation. Simply download that onto your computer and it should automatically open in Google Earth or if not, simply open it with Google Earth.. The presentation WILL NOT play correctly until you click on Google Earth on the top left side of your screen and hit preferences for a mac, or if you have a PC go to tools and then options. Once in options or preferences, click on touring and check the bubble labeled “Show balloon when waiting at features” and change the time between features setting to 3 seconds and the wait at features time to 15 seconds. Once these are hanged click on apply and then OK. Once that is complete, highlight the downloaded presentation with you mouse and click play (the small folder button with the play button next to it. This is located at the center left of your screen directly above the “Earth Gallery” Enjoy!
As I read the poems in Heaney’s 1975 collection, North, I recognized ritual as an important topic that appears in both Yeats and Heaney’s poetry. Just as Yeats plays were influenced by the Japanese Noh theater, and his poetry by the ritualized aristocratic manner, Heaney emphasizes the importance of the ritual of violence to Ireland’s history. The poem “The Grauballe Man” recounts “each hooded victim, slashed and dumped.” The Grauballe Man was found preserved in a bog with his throat slit. This scenario is similar to the brutality occurring between Protestants and Catholics when Heaney was writing these poems. In “Punishment,” he describes this violence as “exact and tribal, intimate revenge.” This “exact” action reminds me of Yeats’ admiration of the precision of the Irish upper class, whose repeated formalities distinguish them from the lower classes. Although I first thought of these poets as fundamentally different, particularly when it comes to style (Yeats’ structured form vs. Heaney’s free verse), I am finding that they are more similar than they appear.
The bog people are preserved so well due to low temperatures, very little oxygen, and acidic water that maintains the skin and hair (“his rusted hair”), but erodes the bone, as can be seen in their deflated looking bodies.
It has been suggested that the Tollund Man was executed by hanging as a sacrifice to appease the gods, which adds another interesting level to Heaney’s poem about him (“Bridegroom to the goddess”) as a possible commentary on the effects of religious extremism in Ireland.
The Grauballe Man, though executed by a slit throat (“The chin is a visor / raised above the vent / of his slashed throat”) instead of hanging, is also assumed to have been killed as a sacrifice.
The Atlantic put out this articleon Yeats January 28 this year. Besides their shameless plug that Yeats had 3 poems published in their magazine the month of his death, their gloss of his career touches “Man and the Echo,” “The Circus Animals’ Desertion,” and “Politics,” poems that we went over in detail. It is satisfying to know that any of us could go on and on about any poem or life event mentioned here.
In class we talked about the performative nature of the men inside the house welcoming the adolescent into the adult and masculine process of grieving, signaled by shaking his hand and saying that they were “sorry for my trouble.” While this in and of itself is a pivotal moment in the youth’s life, as he is accepted into the performative ritual o being a man. It would seem that he has no choice in this matter, as we all inevitably grow old and must come to accept it. We didn’t focus on the speaker’s father in class and I think that he adds a really important dimension to the speakers concept of masculinity in the poem. When the adolescent arrives home for the funeral, “In the porch I met my father crying.” I think this is important because as an adolescent the speaker is still trying to figure out what is is to be a man, and his father is giving him an alternative option to the performative alternative going on inside the house. It is also important that his father is essentially on the outside as he is displaying his emotions and breaking the ‘code’ of masculinity, therefore he is not a part of the inclusive masculine community on the inside of the house. This scenario creates a disconnect with the speaker’s father that has been seen previously in other poems. Perhaps this lack of leadership on how to react in a time of tragedy in a masculine fashion and leaving the adolescent boy to learn from other men how to perform is a reason for this apparent disconnect between the speaker and his father.
While reading “Politics” the final poem we read by Yeats, I was reminded of something Doggett said earlier in the semester: that we read Yeats for his poetry, not his politics. The speaker wonders how he can focus on politics when so distracted by a woman, “How can I, that girl standing there, / My attention fix… / on…politics.” The speaker seems to deny the importance of politics in favor of romance: “There’s a politician / That has both read and thought / And maybe what they say is true / Of war and war’s alarms, / But O that I were young again / And held her in my arms.”
This poem can be considered problematic from a political point of view; people should not simply ignore “war and war’s alarms” for the sake of romance. Actually, much of Yeats’ politics (in regards to women, class, etc.) that we have read in his poetry prove problematic. However, I think there is a time and place to be politically conscious, and a separate time and place to indulge in romance and art and that place is poetry. Yeats may have been right in some respect that people can lose their artistic beauty to political fanaticism, like Maud. If you get too caught up in the politics of poetry, you might lose out on its aesthetic beauty. Though, that is not to say that politics in poetry should be ignored. Rather, I think political criticism and aesthetic appreciation should be held separate.