Tuesday, December 11, 2007

byzantium now

so, it turns out that the phrase "no country for old men" comes from a poem called "Sailing to Byzantium" by William Butler Yeats. a great irish poet of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. . the poem starts:

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.

the young who play and love in each other's arms, and the birds that sing, and the salmon swimming upstream to spawn - they're all about life, and fullness, and joy. old men don't belong there. it's not their world anymore.
Yeats wrote the poem in 1927, when he was in his 60s. an "old man," especially a hundred years ago. so, what do you do? just check out? or find some other possibility? Yeats writes,

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,

what if that's what we did? we clapped our hands, and sang, to celebrate every tatter, every wound, every seeming mistake, every moment of loss, every place where our bodies and minds carry the marks of our life and aging and path? then an aged man - or any man - won't be small, paltry, empty, but loud and full and beautiful.

i'm for celebrating now - and not waiting til i'm an old man.
this past weekend i was with 35 or so other journey men at a retreat in the woods. we celebrated our whole stories - tatters, joys - our souls clapped hands and sang, and louder still, for every tatter in this life - and we remembered that each of us is a son of god. not just "even with" all the tatters - but especially with what we think are the tatters. all of it is sacred.
that's what Yeats calls "Byzantium," a city where he can go and be recreated once he's left this life and is "out of nature." he talks about going there after he dies.
we experienced byzantium this past weekend.
when have you? in the sunset? in the stars? in the face of another human being? in your own suffering? or joy? in prayer? in great (or not that great) art? in cooking? in singing? in quiet? in gardening? in just be-ing?

2 comments:

Craig said...

catching up on reading blogs. it takes going to california, putting my feet in the ocean and centering myself. I can do it here but it's much more spiritual when I go home..

Speaking of Yeats, "The Second Coming" is my favorite.

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?


Things fall apart, the centre cannot hold......

Peace my friend.

journeyingrick said...

THAT ROCKS!!! WHAT A PERFECT POEM!!!