Archive | March, 2012

William Butler Yeats 1865-1939. Wonderful Irish crackpot.

24 Mar

Of course William Butler Yeats was an Anglo-Irish crackpot:self-obsessed; into witchcraft and the occult; apocalyptic visionary for the future; incurable romantic; sometime stalker of the charismatic Maud Gonne. His dismay at the money-grabbing middle-classes was matched by his inability to reconcile the brutal heroism of the Easter Rising of 1916, in Dublin with his own deeply-felt nationalism.

And yet he revered the ‘terrible beauty’ of ‘MacDonagh and MacBride and Connelly and Pearse’ the shakers and movers of the IRA who died for their cause. His was a softer search for ‘Irishness’: in myth and landscape; art and drama; love and friendship.

Teaching Yeats is tough. His poems can be technical, enormously varied, romantic, indulgent; terse,dense; bonkers, impenetrable; uplifting, revelatory.  Getting to know him over time provides lasting pleasure, an unending and contrasting resorce of rythm and discord, warmth and bitterness, joy and disappointment. Above all, truth.

The sentimental romance and derivative poeticisms of his early poetry are, simply, arresting – often beautiful. Wandering Aegus of folklore myth searches life-long for his love, whom he has only once glimpsed – it’s a delicious, joyous search but always with hope:

Though I am old with wandering

Through hollow lands and hilly lands,

I will find out where she has gone,

And kiss her lips and take her hands;

And walk among long dappled grass,

And pluck till time and times are done

The silver apples of the moon,

The golden apples of the sun.

W.B.’s story is always at the romantic heart of these folklore musings. That means his unrequited love for Maud Gonne and, indeed, Ireland. He switches easily from things pastoral and mythological to himself.

I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree

And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made..

He sees himself as the fok-hero; a throwback whose Irish pulse beats out the tunes of the West of Ireland as walks the streets of London

….on the pavements grey,

I hear it in the deep heart’s core. 

This ability to see the heroic as well as its tawdry opposite is at the core of Yeats’ greatness. Love and friendship are all; a vision of a better life – of the aesthetic, of time-honoured values; of a striving for what is  noble, honest  and of good report.

When I think of the fragility of young love my mind trips easily into  Tread softly because you tread on my dreams. Yeats’ unrequited love for Maud Gonne is captured in so many places and could provide an anthology for the lachrymose Kleenex brigade: The Pity of Love,The Sorrow of Love, When You Are Old, Never Give All The Heart etc ad infinitum. MG has a bloody lot to answer for. But it’s all lovely.  And the range of imagery surprises. The tough, near brutal, rhetorical love poem No Second Troy suggests that love for this passionate woman was inescapable for she had:

                                                    a mind

That nobleness made simple as a fire,

With beauty like a tightened bow, a kind

That is not natural in an age like this..

His great friend Robert Gregory, shot down in the First World War was loved somewhat similarly for a carefree, perhaps careless dynamism captured in the wonderful An Irish Airman Foresees His Death.

I know that  shall meet my fate

Somewhere among the clouds above;

Those that I fight  do note hate,

Those that I guard I do not love;

Here a timeless reminder of war’s absurdity but also the paradox of life, death, love, friensdships and fate which Yeats both embraced and wrestled with. He lost his best friend but his love for this noble renaissance man is enshrined in In Memory of Major Robert Gregory.

Soldier, scholar, horseman, he,

As ’twere all life’s epitome.

What made us dream that he could comb grey hair?

I think of bankers’ bonuses, of Carlos Tevez, of the murdered, innocent French schoolchildren; of British binge drinkers vomiting on the early morning streets our major cities (and elsewhere); of Guantanamo, Afghanistan, Syria, Sudan, rainforests and the arctic thaws. The extraordinary excesses and abuses of our lives have blunted the edges of proportion, decency, morality. We have bludgeoned ourselves into a hypnotic acceptance of what is – and our vision is blurred – even blinded – to what should be.

Yeats saw all this too. He hypothesises what Christ might find if he returned for a  Second Coming- indeed what sort of ‘Christbeast’ the early 20th century might have spawned:

And what rough beast,its hour come round at last

slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

The poem has the image of a gyre, spinning out of control – civilisation seemimgly at its extreme, depraved limit – Things fall apart the centre cannot hold;/Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world. It’s uncomfortably close to our desensitised world of acceptance of : greed,  environmental disaster, human suffering, conflict and war, religious disharmony and the unstoppable mantra of ‘grow the economy’.

Yeats was a celebrated figure of post partition Ireland – a senator, politician, eminence grise of the inter World War years. He, however, dwelt on his (and our) failings and, in so doing was both indulgent and achingly memorable. He was a grumpy old man, recognising that, An aged man is but a paltry thing/A tattered coat upon a stick. But he loved his friends, his country and his values. These stand out in his poetry, often underpinned by a craftsmanship that was fine-tuned over a lifetime and needs more attention that this brief blog. As an old politician he chuntered:

How can I, that girl standing there,

My attention fix

On Roman or on Russian

Or on Spanish politics….

He concludes simply:

..O that I were young again

And held her in my arms

So while there was a continuing sense of disillusionment – even failure – finding its last expression in The Circus Animals’ Desertion – we are left with the sense of a rich life of energy and involvement and contribution. The declaiming last poem Under Ben Bulben is a typical call-to-arms:

Irish poets learn your trade

Sing whatever is well made,

He is passing the baton of purveying Ireland’s heritage through art and language to the next generation. He is sceptical that the challenge can be met by base born products of base beds but he set his stall out before the turn of the century:

Know, that I would accounted be

True brother of a company

That sang, to sweeten Ireland’s wrong,

Ballad and story, rann and song.

His dismay at what the world was doing to itself never overwhelmed him. He thought of that girl; he thought of Ireland’s ballad and story; he smiled at the thought of horseman, racing past his grave, no time to stop – just wave and ‘pass by’.

Barry Davies got it right…

23 Mar

Barry Davies got it right….

Barry Davies got it right…

23 Mar

He did, didn’t he? Barry wasn’t being blinded by Kirsty Young’s deliciousness when he revealed that on his Desert island, memory of the GB Men’s Hockey gold winning performance in Seoul ’88 outstripped all other sports achievements he had witnessed. Cup finals and Wimbledon. World Cups and World title fights. Golfing greats and grand prix grids. For all his long years at the microphone, Bazza was most moved by a bunch of dedicated amateurs, led by Dodds the doc in centre mid, protected by Taylor the teach between the sticks and spearheaded by crusher Kerly, the ferocious hockey bum up front.

I’m hoping that you already know why. Flash forward 24years to the moral maze of a Tevez reverse pass which put Samir Nasri in for a possibly Man City Premiership title. Or reflect on the £6million per annum paid out for the failure of Mr Capello. Barton the averagely talented thug tweeting while stuffing his £80,000 per week into his portfolio; Terry on £150,000 magnanimously saying that he’ll support Di Matteo until the season’s end. And dear old Barry, who has commentated on more soccer matches than most of us have had pints of beer (FA Chairmen excluded) plumps for the excitement of a sport which boasts no cash incentives at all.

Is it only me who thinks that soccer is dull? The pre-match travel and chat and pub, followed by post match analysis and pub, is so much better better than the boring 90 minutes sandwiched inbetween. Goals not given when they are further over the line than a Jim Davison joke; perfectly good goals being ruled out for offside; countless penalty appeals for shirt-tugging waved away by hapless officials and scoffed at by Hansen et al as part and parcel of the game. The more I watch the more uneasy and uninterested I become. I switch over, turn off; catch the end to see the score; worry that, as a lifelong fan, I couldn’t care less. And the Tevez affair tells us just how far down the toilet our national game has been flushed.

This summer will be so much more uplifting than last. The punishing endeavour of athletes who win and who lose; the hope, ambition and glorious naivety of sportsmen and women on a journey of discovery where the taking part really is as much as the winning. Pride and passion before greed. That’s what our Bazza saw in the heroics of the hockey gold medallists. It took him back to the simple fun of youth sport; reminded him of why he had spent a lifetime playing and watching sport; reinvigorated his belief in the power of sport to transform, to make us all feel better.

I have a ticket for the hockey. I don’t care who plays whom. I want some of that Seoul spirit that Barry Davies has bottled and taken to his Desert Island. As for soccer’s dire state…well perhaps, only perhaps, Lionel Messi can breathe some life into a game which celebrates lowest common denominators and highest common pay packets.

About Sorro…simply.

21 Mar

About Sorro…simply..

A footballer and a friend

20 Mar

Strange how Fabrice and Mike are linked. The former is a 23year old footballer fighting for his life following a heart attack at White Hart lane; the latter my great friend and colleague who died of a heart attack on 10th Feb 2012, aged 58. My thoughts are with them both today and we all hope that the small signs of improvement for the young man will augur well for a full recovery.

And dear Mike Wilkinson. An outstanding educator in the Mr Chips mould. Not for him the tick-boxing and jargon of the new-age teaching profession. No. A teacher of compassion and insight, of fun and professionalism; a man who knew what he was doing and why he was there.

Although the language – the poetry, scripture, words and music – of his memorial was fitting, eloquent and uplifting, we, the congregation, still struggled to make the words match our feelings. We struggle to make sense of a death at 58, never mind the problems encountered with those younger. Perhaps we did better in the pub afterwards, oiled as Mike would have been, so the anecdotes rolled off tongues and those living enjoyed being together, a closeness that, for a while, gave a security from private thoughts of Mike that follow me now.

And then a friend sent a poem. One he had been struggling with. His attempt to say something more than conversational, hoping that structure and form would give greater meaning. He did well and I felt moved to push on as the word post – after, after life, after death – moved around my head and linked with so many thoughts, words, images, ideas. I hope this works a little.

Post Mike

I must repeat that HE IS DEAD

Until the words repeated so

Become the truth and what is said

Becomes what I don’t want to know.



And so much Harveys left to drink!

The ragged shaving; balding head;

That smile, my friend, still makes me think –


Still. Stills of you are in my head.

A slide show on repeating loops.

The truth seems not that YOU ARE DEAD.

It’s me, my heart, my spirit droops.

Hello. I am , simply, Sorro.

19 Mar

My thanks to Mark White for suggesting I move into online communication. You can find his really thought-provoking arts blog at Whitemarkarts. Mark, now freelance, was an outstanding Head of Art at Cranbrook School and is a brilliant art-historian. We have various ties which bind us, one of which is the appalling treatment I had at the hands of a sneering Art teacher circa 1962 at Kingston Grammar School.

This – and my own general sloth at school (save for prodigious efforts on the sports field) – did not put me off spending 35years as a teacher. I was never a sneering type and so my cup has been more than half-full these last four decades. There’s plenty to smile about and this site will, I hope make visitors smile, think, engage, outrage, enrage, stimulate, giggle even.

If  language and words that fit occasions are what you seek visit me occasionally and see what I have got. If you want an alternative take on news of the day; want a funny view of things – or a sad one; want to know what a 60 year old who has spent all his life with younger people thinks, well come back to me. I’m moving around and you will know where. I read a lot and you will know what. Things that move me will, I hope, move you.


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