Jane Austen on William Butler Yeats (sort of)

I must admit, I don’t recall reading any of Yeats until recently, when, in the course of Ethan’s schooling, over a week or so, we read through several of his poems together.  (Ethan is in 6th grade;  we homeschool.)  One of the many joys — for me — of homeschooling is that I get to learn all sorts of things that were lacking or inadequate or simply forgotten in my own education.  I discovered, reading with Ethan, that I love Yeats’ poetry, at least what I’ve read.  Not only do I just like his style, I feel like I completely get what Yeats is trying to say, and, feeling similarly myself, obtain even more of… a feeling of kinship (or something) with the author, and a greater appreciation for the poems themselves.

However, that isn’t necessarily a fantastic thing.

I was reminded of Jane Austen’s Persuasion.  At one point, Anne, the heroine, meets a fairly minor character in the story, a Captain Benwick.  (This is all from memory, so please forgive me if I have some details skewed.)  At first, Anne is delighted with Benwick, because he so loves poetry, as does she.  It didn’t take too many conversations, though, for Anne to become alarmed about Benwick’s poetry “habit.”  See, Benwick was — very understandably — depressed because of the recent death of his fiance.  Anne’s concern was that, in his state, it wasn’t wise that Benwick was absolutely immersing himself in melancholy poetry.  Rather than the morose verse that was his particular taste, whereby he found sympathy and consolation, Anne encouraged him to at least also read some lighter fare — poetry that would lift his senses, rather than further depress them.

I felt the wisdom of Anne’s/Jane’s words as I read and re-read Yeats’ The Lake Isle of Innisfree:

I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made:
Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee;
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.

And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight’s all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet’s wings.

I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,
I hear it in the deep heart’s core.

I have decided that there are a couple reasons why, for me, this is a particularly unwise poem on which to dwell:

  1. By nature, I could be a hermit.  Seriously.  There is definitely a loner-longing in my flesh that isn’t necessarily a good thing.  God has not called me to be a hermit — indeed, I wonder if hermitting is right for any Christian — so much of Christian life is about our participation in the Body of Christ, in the church, both as a worldwide whole, and in the local church.  We need to give, and we need to receive from others.  Not much giving or receiving going on in a handmade cabin on an isle by oneself.  This poem would certainly appeal to hermits.
  2. I need to bloom where I’m planted.  Even though I don’t adore the desert, I have discovered that it is important that I at least appreciate the desert, and not forever ache for green hills and trickling streams and tall trees, for the desert is where I am, where God has me, where my own dear husband loves.  Same with the city.  At heart, I don’t feel remotely like a city girl.  Yet, here I am, on the edges of a gigantic metropolis.  Resenting the city, resenting the desert is not a state of mind where I can allow myself to dwell.  Reading of Yeats continually hearing the lapping of the waters, deep in his heart, whilst on the grey pavement really illustrates exactly what I’m trying not to do. 

I shared all of this with Ethan — how I love the Innisfree poem, and why it isn’t the wisest thing for me to dwell on it, including Jane Austen’s thoughts on the subject.  Although I have greatly enjoyed all the discussions that poetry has brought up between my 11yo son and myself, I don’t know if that was the best thing to be dumping on him, either.  I think he was rather startled at the revelation that his mom has hermit tendencies.  But, it made me feel particularly warm that he totally understood my thoughts on the Body of Christ, and on blooming where one is planted.  He’s a good kid.  🙂


About Karen Joy

I'm a partially-homeschooling mother of six -- 3 boys ages 19, 17 and 15 years old, and three girls: 11, 8, and 3. I like birding, reading, writing, organic gardening, singing, playing guitar, hiking, the outdoors, and books. I very casually lead a very large group of homeschooling families in the Phoenix area. I have a dear hubby who designs homes for a local home builder and who is the worship pastor of our church. I live in the desert, which I used to hate, but now appreciate.

Posted on September 30, 2008, in Books I'm Reading, Christian Living, Christianity, Homeschooling, Introspective Musings, Life in the Desert, Poetry, The Kids. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Yeats has long been a favourite of mine, since I discovered him at the age of 17. Every decade or so I’m drawn back and he reads in a different way. I think Byzantium would be my favourite, followed by All Hallows Eve and Sailing To Byzantium. My office looks out over a leafy square which is always full of young students in the summer so I often have cause to ponder the first few lines of the last poem:

    “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.”

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