Monday, September 27, 2010

Marking Time - Sailing to Byzantium

This past week I had the pleasure of having my two nieces here at the house, and the younger one brought her toddler and infant along.  Since Mother died seven years ago, I haven't seen the older one at all, and the younger one only at Christmas.  But then Big Sister moved to my city, only blocks away, and now that long absence seems to be over.  We all went out to lunch (Mac's Pizza Shack), five females ranging from almost sixty to almost six months.  It was a delight, even when the toddler helped herself to ice from my plastic tumbler.  We caught up on each others lives, laughed, ate too much.  I tend to think of these young women the girls as they were in this 1993 photo, and think of myself as I was too, though these days I have bifocals and silver hair.  It is strange in many ways not having children to help gauge the passing of time.  They are both grown up, dealing with children, relationships, jobs.  The boys are in college. How did this happen?

I recently re-read Sailing to Byzantium, and the poem means more and more to me each year.  Yeats
seems to say that it is a terrible thing to lose the vigor and energy of youth, but that a person might find a measure of immortality through art. I suppose for Yeats that is true.

Sailing to Byzantium
by William Butler Yeats

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.

An aged man is but a paltry thing,
A tattered coat upon a stick, unless
Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing
For every tatter in its mortal dress,
Nor is there singing school but studying
Monuments of its own magnificence;
And therefore I have sailed the seas and come
To the holy city of Byzantium.

O sages standing in God's holy fire
As in the gold mosaic of a wall,
Come from the holy fire, perne in a gyre,
And be the singing-masters of my soul.
Consume my heart away; sick with desire
And fastened to a dying animal
It knows not what it is; and gather me
Into the artifice of eternity.

Once out of nature I shall never take
My bodily form from any natural thing,
But such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make
Of hammered gold and gold enamelling
To keep a drowsy Emperor awake;
Or set upon a golden bough to sing
To lords and ladies of Byzantium
Of what is past, or passing, or to come.

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