The unpurged images of day recede;
The Emperor's drunken soldiery are abed;
Night resonance recedes, night walkers' song
After great cathedral gong;
A starlit or a moonlit dome disdains
All that man is,
All mere complexities,
The fury and the mire of human veins.
Before me floats an image, man or shade,
Shade more than man, more image than a shade;
For Hades' bobbin bound in mummy-cloth
May unwind the winding path;
A mouth that has no moisture and no breath
Breathless mouths may summon;
I hail the superhuman;
I call it death-in-life and life-in-death.
Miracle, bird or golden handiwork,
More miracle than bird or handiwork,
Planted on the star-lit golden bough,
Can like the cocks of Hades crow,
Or, by the moon embittered, scorn aloud
In glory of changeless metal
Common bird or petal
And all complexities of mire or blood.
At midnight on the Emperor's pavement flit
Flames that no faggot feeds, nor steel has lit,
Nor storm disturbs, flames begotten of flame,
Where blood-begotten spirits come
And all complexities of fury leave,
Dying into a dance,
An agony of trance,
An agony of flame that cannot singe a sleeve.
Astraddle on the dolphin's mire and blood,
Spirit after spirit! The smithies break the flood,
The golden smithies of the Emperor!
Marbles of the dancing floor
Break bitter furies of complexity,
Those images that yet
Fresh images beget,
That dolphin-torn, that gong-tormented sea.
- Byzantium, by William Butler Yeats
This is the follow-up poem by Yeats to his Sailing to Byzantium, one of my favorites in my 20s. This poem, written only three years later, is a call-back where the narrator explores the city of legend he aspired to reach in the earlier poem. It makes me realize the aspiration to be a crafted mechanical bird, immortal, singing to lords and ladies of the past, present, or things to come is a way out of the trappings of age and a way into existence of art into posterity, but does not convey the mire, the nature and swamp and meat of life that gives beauty. The poem above seems more sage, an initiate regarding new arrivals. Art as a process of burning and refining. Sensible. Suits an accomplished genius like Yeats. Feels like the only things I have to share are laden messes, to convey the muck and the ooze of it all. I've not gained the knack for refinement yet.
While typing this, the itching from a new haircut trickles down my neck through the collar of my t-shirt and sweatshirt. Seeing the amount of silver compared to brown (once natural blonde!) that falls in clumps over the haircut cape while sitting in the chair continues to amuse. The buzzing and tugging and trimming that comes from a woman cutting my hair always feels more intimate than it should be. If there's not much chit-chat, I tend to tip higher, but I still tip pretty high because in a small way grooming by someone's hands feels like a moment. The race between my hair turning to silver, and whether I have hair left at all, tends to not amuse. As my hair has waned over the last two decades, I determined to improve my personality to compensate. But, as in so many such resolutions, I've let up on THAT a bit. The curmudgeon will out.
As I get to the tasty sludge of a dark hot cocoa at a high end, but not quite aristocratic, chocolateria, three Asian women are having a spirited conversation in a language that is not Japanese nor Chinese. Their pace is quick. Their voices complement each other, and it's a relief to NOT know enough of their words to eavesdrop. Mild melodic background. Light laughter. I'm tempted to place my smartphone on the small coffee table between them and record their voices for future background noise.
And, like that, I've resolved I like Sailing to Byzantium better. The narrator laments, aspires, but is not accomplished enough, it has not yet reached the holy city. November is National Novel Writing Month, and I need to get ramped up on my project.