Tuesday, June 14, 2011

A poem read after the Republican debate, by W.B. Yeats

Yeats, photographed in 1923

"Why Should Not Old Men Be Mad?"

William Butler Yeats

Why should not old men be mad?

Some have known a likely lad

That had a sound fly-fisher's wrist

Turn to a drunken journalist;

A girl that knew all Dante once

Live to bear children to a dunce;

A Helen of social welfare dream,

Climb on a wagonette to scream.

Some think it a matter of course that chance

Should starve good men and bad advance,

That if their neighbours figured plain,

As though upon a lighted screen,

No single story would they find

Of an unbroken happy mind,

A finish worthy of the start.

Young men know nothing of this sort,

Observant old men know it well;

And when they know what old books tell

And that no better can be had,

Know why an old man should be mad.

"Why Should Not Old Men be Mad?" appears in The Collected Poems of W.B. Yeats. Yeats (1865-1939) was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1923, and was aware of the symbolic value of an Irish winner so soon after Ireland had gained independence. His reply to many of the letters of congratulations sent to him contained the words: "I consider that this honor has come to me less as an individual than as a representative of Irish literature, it is part of Europe's welcome to the Free State." Yeats used his acceptance lecture at the Royal Academy of Sweden to present himself as a standard-bearer of Irish nationalism and Irish cultural independence. As he remarked, "The theatres of Dublin were empty buildings hired by the English travelling companies, and we wanted Irish plays and Irish players."

No comments: