For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel's sake. The great affair is to move. ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON

Saturday, 23 July 2011

Drumcliffe: Passing By



St Columba's church, Drumcliffe, lies a few miles north of Sligo, in the shadow of Ben Bulben mountain, and next to a busy main road. WB Yeats's grandfather, John Yeats, was Rector here in the early years of the nineteenth century.


Two carved swans are fixed to the west door of the church. The swan was an imortant symbol for Yeats, signifying the permanence of art and the notion of the ideal - contrasted with the impermanence and the imperfection of life. In his poem The Wild Swans At Coole Yeats reflects upon a constant preoccupation of both writer and artist - the potential, indeed inevitable death of the creative imagination: But now they drift on the still water, / Mysterious, beautiful; / Among what rushes will they build, / By what lake's edge or pool / Delight men's eyes when I awake some day / To find that they have flown away?


In the churchyard you will find this fine old Celtic cross.


Yeats was buried at Drumcliffe, and here is his tombstone, inscribed with that famously enigmatic epitaph: Cast a cold Eye / On Life, on Death. / Horseman, pass by.

What does Yeats have to say to me, then, regarding what lies beyond life and death? I find that he stoically bids me cast a cold eye on both. I do not think he is saying 'Don't engage with life' but rather 'don't look for answers.' I think he is saying 'If you are looking for answers as to what lies beyond life and death, I can't help you. You must look somewhere else. Horseman, pass by.' DERICK BINGHAM The Eye Of The Heart 


In the Yeats Tavern, Drumcliffe, we found a series of affectionately tongue-in-cheek prints about WBY, which amused us at the time. Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee, / And live alone in the bee-loud glade. / And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow ... WB YEATS The Lake Isle Of Innisfree


Behind the Yeats Lodge B&B, a mist-capped and mystical Ben Bulben crouches in the background, while two satellite dishes and other modern paraphernalia dominate the foreground.



Irish poets, learn your trade,
Sing whatever is well made,
Scorn the sort now growing up
All out of shape from toe to top,
Their unremembering hearts and heads
Base-born products of base beds.


WB YEATS Under Ben Bulben

3 comments:

The Weaver of Grass said...

What we found when we travelled around Ireland and stopped at churches - the church yards usually had some of those lovely old glass domes with wax flowers underneath - I loved them and would really love one but you never see them here these days.

George said...

Enjoyed all of these photos, Robert, especially the one of Yeats' tombstone. I also enjoyed your interpretation of the epitaph and find myself in agreement. The message for me has always been, as you say, to remain stoical — and perhaps a little skeptical — in the face of both life and death.

Goat said...

That is a great picture with the satellite dishes etc. I don't know much about Yeats, but your post was a good start.