In remembrance of Yeats in Italy

I woke this morning to a grey murky sky, one with the possibly of becoming what my Dad would call a soft day. The neighbours were unusually noisy playing a game of musical cars. Revving engines are not the most cheerful way to be woken. Bleary eyed, I head into the kitchen and, in automatic mode, I open my laptop to check emails and updates etc. the usual weekly routine, but today is Saturday. This glorious fact was emphasised when I saw an old friend had posted Sailing to Byzantium, by W.B. Yeats. Today is the 13th of June; Yeats’ birthday. An unusual but wonderful way to start the weekend, reading the writings of Yeats.

It is 150 years since William Butler Yeats was born and we are still awed by him.

Yeats is one of Ireland’s most famous and recognisable poets and playwrights. All school children are taught at least three or four poems throughout their school career. I regularly have the opening lines of When You Are Old; “When you are old and grey and full of sleep/And nodding by the fire, take down this book,/And slowly read, … ” repeating in my head. While this line goes on this is where my memory stops, for this image of comfortable old age and remembrances is to me the image of the perfect dotage.

While attending I.T. Sligo, I was surrounded by the ghostly presence of Yeats. He was the invited guest of most establishments in town. His life-sized statute was a reassuring presence I passed everyday. He graced thousands of tourists photographs and was a worthy conversationalist to many students on raucous nights out. They were known to have in-depth and life affirming conversations with poet in the wee hours. He was supposedly a great listener and a wise advisor.

I was first introduced to Yeats when I was about eleven years old and he has been with me since. However, my understanding of Yeats’ talent wasn’t until I was much older, and it is a dawning that repeats periodically. One such dawning occurred while on honeymoon in Italy, on a morning of heavy downpours. It was the most perfect morning.

To the sound of drumming rain I wrote of a little village, Rapallo, with it’s gentle way of life and it’s unassuming elegance. On the veranda of our hotel, Hotel Canali, a beautiful 1920’s hotel, set slightly above the village in the tree clad hills, we relaxed and relished the enforced peacefulness imparted by the drenching rains. We spent our time sitting outside, in the warm air under a old fashioned barber striped awning sipping on espressos and nibbling on biscotti. There were glimmers of small patches of blue across the bay, but the clouds hadn’t decided which direction they wished to head.

I used the time to catch up on my diary entry and wrote of the sights and joys of our travels from Florence up to the Genoese seaside town of Rapallo. Florence had been a mad dash of three days from museum to museum and enthralling experiences of restaurants in the middle of an early summer tourist hot spot. The beauty and heritage of Florence lay side by side with tacky souvenir shops, noise of rivalling languages competing with the ears of the silent and the building heat of warm suns. It was magnificent and exhausting. In contrast was Rapallo.

Rapallo is a small seaside village with winding cobble-stoned streets. Iconic mature restaurants face onto the gently lapping water of a horse-shoed shaped bay, specialising in the classic meals of Italy alongside outstanding wines. While the tourists mingle and wander, the locals pass through on their way to work, school or doing the messages.

I flicked back through the older entries and fell across a poem. I had written it out in long hand, no copying and pasting to print. I discover a comfort and slow absorption of a poem when I write it out properly, in my good handwriting. Care and thought had been taken for me to write the ideal poem for this gloriously peaceful morning.

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 the pavements grey,
I hear it in the deep heart’s core.

On my last evening in Italy, I discovered a exquisite copy of a dual language (Italian-English) book of poems. The complete poems of Yeats – now I only need an Italian to read The Lake Isle of Innisfree aloud.

In remembrance of the birth of W.B. Yeats in 1865, I will read and immerse myself in his poems – the perfect way to spend a soft morning.