We always tend to make too much of holidays like New Years. Let’s face it: All it means is a new template overlaid on the same old time period. Although I will probably still be awake at midnight, it is only because I am usually still awake at midnight. I don’t really care about somebody dropping the ball on Times Square, and I certainly will not watch any Year in Review shows or other New Years specials.
When I was a little kid, I marveled that in the year 2000, I would be 55 years old. That seemed so old to me back then. Now that I am twenty years past that milestone, or should I say millstone, I am not so quick to generalize about the passing of time. That what time does. It passes.
As William Butler Yeats wrote in his play The Countess Cathleen:
The years like great black oxen tread the world,
And God the herdsman goads them on behind,
And I am broken by their passing feet.
Despite everything, I wish all of you well. May the New Year bring you peace, health, and prosperity. And if it doesn’t, just soldier on.
As I lurch into another tax season (hopefully my last), images of peace have a stronger hold on me, and virtually nothing is as peaceful as the scene described in William Butler Yeats’s poem “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 honeybee,
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.
We’re Bringing Back Those Cheery Days of Yesteryear
Last month’s midterm election has soured me on American politics.What with the growing inequality between the rich and … everybody else; with the increasing police violence and “open carry” of firearms; with the growing respectability of organizations such as the NRA and the Ku Klux Klan—with all this and more I think we as a nation are transitioning toward a really, really bad time that is just now waiting in the wings, waiting for the Confederate battle flag to be hoisted on the Capitol Building in Washington, perhaps?
I’m not so simplistic as to think that a Hitler-like dictator is next. But with such a small number of Americans exercising their right to vote, maybe we’re just not that interested any more. We have our own cabaret: We take it with us on our smart phones and MP3 players. Maybe we won’t replicate German history of 75 years ago, but we may come close. As long as Taylor Swift is cooing in our ears, we just don’t give a rat’s patoot about anything else.
Look Familiar to You?
We call the ultra-wealthy the 1%, and they’re much like the mustachioed tycoon in George Grosz’s illustration above. Note that the poor man on the left is getting the boot. Today’s styles might be different, but the direction is substantially the same.
I will of course resist. I vote in every election, even when I don’t detect a clear demarcation between the varying candidates. We live in the world described by William Butler Yeats in his poem “The Second Coming”:
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
William Butler Yeats is one of my favorite Twentieth Century poets, and one of my favorites among his poems is “An Irish Airman Foresees His Death.” Although deeply shrouded in skepticism, the poem speaks to all people who find themselves somewhere between a rock and a hard place:
An Irish Airman Foresees His Death
I know that I shall meet my fate
Somewhere among the clouds above;
Those that I fight I do not hate,
Those that I guard I do not love;
My country is Kiltartan Cross,
My countrymen Kiltartan’s poor,
No likely end could bring them loss
Or leave them happier than before.
No law, nor duty bade me fight,
Nor public men, nor cheering crowds,
A lonely impulse of delight
Drove to this tumult in the clouds;
I balanced all, brought all to mind,
The years to come seemed waste of breath,
A waste of breath the years behind
In balance with this life, this death.
Kiltartan is a barony in Ireland’s County Galway, home to Augusta, Lady Gregory. Also, it was the occasional residence of the poet himself.
I am particularly drawn to the final quatrain, in which the airman makes an existential decision to fly for the RAF despite his lack of loyalty to the British cause and uncertainty that his people would be worse off if the Kaiser won. He appears to have been a young wastrel who hazards his life in an uncertain cause, joying only in the delight of flying into battle.
Whenever the Greek God Zeus was felt attracted toward mortal women, he disguised himself as someone or something else and just raped them. That happened in the case of Europa (either as a bull according to Ovid or as an eagle according to Robert Graves); Danae (as a golden shower—hey, I don’t make this stuff up); Callisto (as the Goddess Artemis); and Alcmene (as her husband who was away at war at the time).
Probably the most famous coupling was with Leda, for which Zeus became a swan. The result was Helen of Troy and Polydeuces. Leda’s legitimate children by King Tyndareus of Sparta were Castor and Clytemnestra. You may recall that Clytemnestra married Agamemnon and later murdered him in his bath when he returned from the Trojan War.
The above photo was taken earlier today by me at the Getty Villa in Malibu, one of the best collections of ancient Greek and Roman antiquities in the New World.
All this comes out in this magnificent poem by William Butler Yeats:
Leda and the Swan by W. B. Yeats
A sudden blow: the great wings beating still
Above the staggering girl, her thighs caressed
By the dark webs, her nape caught in his bill,
He holds her helpless breast upon his breast.
How can those terrified vague fingers push
The feathered glory from her loosening thighs?
And how can body, laid in that white rush,
But feel the strange heart beating where it lies?
A shudder in the loins engenders there
The broken wall, the burning roof and tower
And Agamemnon dead.
Being so caught up,
So mastered by the brute blood of the air,
Did she put on his knowledge with his power
Before the indifferent beak could let her drop?