Now as at all times I can see in the mind’s eye,
In their stiff, painted clothes, the pale unsatisfied ones
Appear and disappear in the blue depth of the sky
With all their ancient faces like rain-beaten stones,
And all their helms of silver hovering side by side,
And all their eyes still fixed, hoping to find once more,
Being by Calvary’s turbulence unsatisfied,
The uncontrollable mystery on the bestial floor.
I love Yeats’ brevity, his poetic irritation with the fixity of history. Reading Yeats I feel the familiar is in jeopardy, shipwrecked. Where do these new narratives take us and how will we survive their freshly laundered versions of history? His intensely wrought poems capture something irksome perhaps; unresolved feelings that persist and are re-addressed, re-expressed. We feel disorientated, joing the Magi, accepting their fallibility as our own.
Here the poet is strangely captivated , even haunted by these ‘magi’ figures, whose overly adorned appearance suggests that the material has inflicted its seductive powers over the the spiritual. Yet they are not happy. They are ‘stiff’ and therefore lack fluidity of movement, the ‘naturalness’ of being themselves, absent because they are not satisfied, they are not convinced. Time has not healed their cynicism. The birth of Jesus and even his crucifxion, remain events that have not settled into any final understanding or release from the cynicism of despair.
A terrible imaginative residue lingers on:
If we cannot believe in the two central events of the Christian story then what will convince us of transcendence? Only perhaps the dramatic irony of the second coming, where the ‘anti-christ’ visitor is wholly evil and bent on human destruction, the utter degradation of the human spirit. We have created our own negative ‘master’ thief of the spiritual, out of our failure to believe and accept God’s gift and grace. ‘Turbulence’ persists until we create apocalyptic events that overtake us and presumably, we vanish into that ‘blue depth of sky’ or into the ‘bestial floor’? But vanish we must and we will?
Reading Yeats reminds us of how to wonder.
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