Saturday, March 19, 2011

Within the Celtic Twilight

One of the milder swans of Coole
I know it’s a few days late for St. Patrick’s Day, but I just ran across this brilliant description by the great English short story writer V.S. Pritchett of his first encounter with W.B. Yeats in Dublin in 1923.
“It is a choking and confusing experience to meet one’s first great man when one is young. These beings come from another world and Yeats studiously created that effect. Tall, with grey hair finely rumpled, a dandy with negligence in collar and tie and with the black ribbon dangling from the glasses on a short, pale and prescient nose – not long enough to be Roman yet not sharp enough to be a beak – Yeats came down the stairs towards me, and the nearer he came the further away he seemed. His air was bird-like, suggesting one of the milder swans of Coole and an exalted sort of blindness…
He was only man I have known whose natural speech sounded like verse. He sat me in the fine first floor of his house. After the years, all that remains with me is a memory of candles, books, woodcuts, the feeling that here was Art. And conversation. But what about? I cannot remember. The exalted voice flowed over me. The tall figure, in uncommonly delicate tweed, walked up and down, the voice becoming more resonant, as if he were on a stage. At the climax of some point about the Gaelic revival, he suddenly remembered he must make tea, in fact a new pot, because he had already been drinking tea. The problem was one of emptying the old tea pot. It was a beautiful pot and he walked the room with the short steps of an aesthete, carrying it in his hand. He came towards me. He receded to the bookcase. He swung round the sofa. Suddenly with Irish practicality he went straight to one of the two splendid Georgian windows of the room, opened it, and out went those barren leaves with a swoosh, into Merrion Square.”
It is a passage that tells you everything you need to know about the poet – both good and bad – and even more about the very young man observing him. A perfect vignette.

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