Sunday, October 18, 2009

Yeats--"The Dolls" (1914)

A DOLL in the doll-maker's house
Looks at the cradle and bawls:
That is an insult to us.
But the oldest of all the dolls
Who had seen, being kept for show,
Generations of his sort,
Out-screams the whole shelf: Although
There's not a man can report
Evil of this place,
The man and the woman bring
Hither to our disgrace,
A noisy and filthy thing.
Hearing him groan and stretch
The doll-maker¹s wife is aware
Her husband has heard the wretch,
And crouched by the arm of his chair,
She murmurs into his ear,
Head upon shoulder leant:
My dear, my dear, oh dear,
It was an accident.

Oh Yeats. I've never loved you much. The greatest English language poet of the 20th century, more experts say of you than of any other, and I don't love you. It is mostly me, there is no question of that of course. I have never taken the time to learn either to feel or read you properly. But I think it is a little bit you. That foppish hairstyle, for one thing, has always really bothered me. And the whole Maud Gonne drama. Artists of your stature are supposed to be either dominating alpha males who set the very terms of the common consciousness through force of will, or completely insane and misunderstood geniuses, like Van Gogh. You, Yeats, always come across as affected and prideful in a pitifully bourgeois manner, which I cannot help but imagine has infected your poetry. Always simpering for the camera--have you no innate gravitas, man! What a fuss did people make, and still do make, over the Abbey Theater, and the Nobel Prize, and your strivings on behalf of the Irish people, and your love affairs as an old man--all of which you did achieve, yes, and also thought much of yourself for specifically, such as is not in keeping with the tone, and thus the dignity, of an artist of your supposed stature.
Oh Yeats, yours is a most frustrating variety of greatness if I have ever seen it. A great understanding of this your lovely poem is inaccessible to me. The contrast between art and life, yes, and the imagery is affecting, yes, and the imperfect, uncontrollable nature of life, yes, and how appalling it is, yes, and then in line seventeen the word 'murmurs', yes, always laden with meaning, I never use it myself except when I wish to convey an idea of deeper than usual import. But what there is more than this, what I would need to put together to absorb, I cannot do it. I have read it over 50 times, and I think I am certain it is a pretty good poem, but I feel...nothing for it.

I have some pictures of my pretty edition of Yeats's poems which I have not gotten around to uploading or downloading or whatever loading that operation is onto the computer. There is another Yeats poem coming up, so I will put them up then. The obtaining of this book was another occasion where I stopped off at an old used book barn on Route 9 on the way to Vermont, left the family in the car and ran into the store to get the book. The necessary quickness of this purchase caused the proprietor, who you would think would be happen to be making a sale ($8.50 it was), made a comment along the lines of 'couldn't go any longer without some Yeats, eh', which annoyed me at the time, in part no doubt because the circumstance of my having this big Yeats collection on display is a big fraud anyway, not that I don't like the language and even the themes, but I just don't get it on that visceral level where poetry has to hit you. I'm sure the guy was just looking to make small talk, but being a squirrelly bookish fellow has no idea how to do it without coming off as pretentious. I did not handle the situation with the grace that I should have liked to.

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