Thursday, 5 February 2015

Yeats - once synonymous with 'yawn', now...

Forced to study it = doomed to hate it.  

This was certainly true of most of the literature I had to read at school, and also as an adult (warning folks, this is the hidden danger of joining random book clubs whose members you don't know - or worse, think you know...).  

But this is not the case with Yeats.  Admittedly, as my title suggests, there was a time when the mere mention of W.B. would send me off on a "Not now, I'm a bit busy" attempt at trying to escape an enthusiastic Yeatsophile without causing offence.  

Now.  I wouldn't go so far as to paint myself as a massive fan, but I have come to appreciate, no, er,... enjoy his poetry.  I can't quite put my finger on why this should be.  I've not studied Yeats recently - his poetry has not been presented to me in a new light by an inspiring and talented tutor.  So why should his poems suddenly appeal?  

Perhaps it's an age thing.  

I do think that my tastes in literature have changed over the years.  "OBVIOUSLY!" I hear you cry.  When we're little we like Where The Wild Things Are and Enid Blyton, we progress to The Lord of The Rings, the 'classics', an array of chick lit aimed at 20-somethings in the marketing industry (that may just be me), and, hopefully, we continue to increase our horizon of literary interest as we move through our lives - taking influences from new friends and experiences, changing politics and lifestyles, etc. etc.  

But, and this is quite a big but, poetry often does not feature too highly on our mental 'must reads' lists, let alone on our bookshelves.  

Poetry is something that you need to take a bit more time over.  You read and re-read a poem.  You go through a process of meaning-making on a micro-scale with poetry.  At first it might not make a great deal of sense - you may get a general sense of what the poem is about, but sections may be a bit unclear.  You re-read it.  This time, the meaning becomes more crystalised, but secondary or tertiary meanings appear through the mist.  Eventually, when you find a poem you love, everything in it becomes laden with meaning - every word and every blank space where, perhaps, a line ends 'early' or in the spaces between stanzas.  Even every bit of punctuation, or lack of, adds meaning to the poem.  

But this takes time.  And when there are so many books on your 'must reads' list, who's got time to re-read a poem over and over and over again?  

Not me Sir!  

And in many ways I have less time now than I did when I was a young whippersnapper.  Yet somehow poetry has made it into my tightly-packed schedule.  And Yeats has made it into my bedside stack of books (along with a couple of other poetry tomes). 

So I've made it my nightly ritual not to limit myself to a few chapters, but to include a few stanzas as well.

I highly recommend it and urge you to do the same.