Yeats and the Land of Heart’s Desire

Yeats’ writing, for me, is haunting, mystical, and indescribably lovely.  It’s that lovliness that leaves you with a sweet tender heart-ache of longing for something intangible.

Tonight on the way home from church I read The Land of Heart’s Desire, a one act play he wrote. It might have been his first, I’m not sure.  I finished it and thought, “Well.  That was strange, pretty, and kind of disappointing.”  And then I thought of a couple of the lines a few more times and went over them in my head.  I shook my head to clear the cobwebs and thought again that it really wasn’t one of Yeats’ best efforts.  Then I thought again of  dances
deep in the dewy shadow of a wood, starlight on mountain tops, lovely but sly fairy children, milk, new-married brides and bitter tongues.

Rounds of deeds and days.

Wrecked Angels setting snares…

It isn’t Yeats’ best work.  I prefer his poetry and his strange stories about growing up in Ireland.  But what on earth did he mean by it all?  I kept wondering what he meant his audience to make of this freakish tale?

There is or was, if Yeats be true, an old story that on May Eve the fairy folk would come tempting and calling to new brides, begging for milk and fire, and if the bride succumbed to their invitation, she died, or left and never returned,

It is just such a May Eve in this play and there is a new married bride, living in an thatched cottage with her stout young husband who loves her dear but doesn’t quite understand her, her father-in-law who admires her, but doesn’t really sympathize much with her daydreams and yearnings, and her mother-in-law who harps and carps at her to stop her day-dreaming and do her work, and never speaks a word that isn’t sharp and critical.   There are other characters, a few, but these are at the center, and of course, the faeries come, in the guise of an old woman who is thirsty, of a child with face as pale as water before dawn, of an old man seeking a bit of fire for his pipe, and finally, another strange faerie child, who in the end, of course, steals away the new married bride.

The bride is not loathe to go.  After another sharp scolding from her mother -in-law for putting the whole household at risk of a curse because she’s given both milk and fire to strangers on May eve, she lashes out, and says she doesn’t care, and cries:

“Come, faeries, take me out of this dull house!
Let me have all the freedom I have lost;
Work when I will and idle when I will!
Faeries, come take me out of this dull world,
For I would ride with you upon the wind,
Run on the top of the dishevelled tide,
And dance upon the mountains like a flame.”

Her husband loves her and speaks kind words and brings her back the hearth for a moment, but he loves her beauty and her youth, not her dreams.  Still, she tells him,

“O, you are the great door-post of this house,
And I the branch of blessed quicken wood,
And if I could I’d hang upon the post,
Till I had brought good luck into the house.”

The fairie child comes, singing, and strangely, it is the father-in-law who welcomes her and brings her in, and the bitter-tongued mother-in-law who brings her honey and speaks kindly to the fae child, and the priest who never thinks it odd that the strange child is horrified by the cross hanging upon the wall, so he hids it in another room for her, and once all the charms against her have been rendered useless by her doubled edged flattery of those whose responsibility it was to guard and protect, the fairie child dances and sings,

“The wind blows out of the gates of the day,
The wind blows over the lonely of heart,
And the lonely of heart is withered away.””

And the new married bride hears fingers at the door and feet upon the lawn, and a calling that nobody else hears, and the fairy continues to dance and sing, and she tells the bride she heard her call for her once, so she sent her messengers and when they were given fire and milk, she heard the call again, so she has come for the bride, and she tells the human girl to come with her to the woods and waters and pale lights, but in the going, she will have to shed her mortal hopes.  The young husband calls her and tells her how he loves her, and almost she stays, but the fairy calls again, calling her a white bird, and the sound of dancing is closer, and the new married bride….

Dies.  The husband springs forward to hold her corpse while outside there are shadowy figures, and perhaps a white bird, dancing off and away back into the woods, singing:

“The wind blows out of the gates of the day,

The wind blows over the lonely of heart,
And the lonely of heart is withered away.
While the faeries dance in a place apart,
Shaking their milk-white feet in a ring,
Tossing their milk-white arms in the air
For they hear the wind laugh and murmur and sing
Of a land where even the old are fair,
And even the wise are merry of tongue
But I heard a reed of Coolaney say,
When the wind has laughed and murmured and sung
The lonely of heart is withered away.”

I don’t know whether the bride is happy or sad wherever she is.  I don’t know if the fairies told her the truth or lied and the afterlife in fairy land as a white bird is pleasant or a thing for her to regret for eternity. I don’t know if he meant to be a proto-feminist (for space I left out the bits about how her elders counsel that having children will settle her down, and she be better off if she’ll church the butter and tend the cows instead of reading old books and daydreaming).  I don’t know what Yeats meant for us to make of it all.

But he touched on a deep, deep truth.  It wasn’t the chores or the children that might come later or the domesticity that plucked and scratched and dragged on the strings of her soul But he touched on a deep, deep truth.  and made her leave.  It wasn’t even only the bitter haranguings and naggings of her mother-in-law.  Nobody understood her heart’s desire or even cherished it for her. There was nobody there to say, “I know just how you feel.  Sometimes I feel that, too.”

It was the lonely heart that withered away and made her vulnerable to the fairies.

 

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Good Literature as Therapy and More

Reading good books nourishes the soul and mind. It strengthens us emotionally and intellectually.  It gives us ideas and characters to think about and learn from.  Good stories fill the imagination and crowd out petulance and worry, selfishness and hamster wheel cycles of unsolvable worries.  They give us mental vacations from our problems and at the same time, tools that can help us deal with those problems.

Another value of all good literature is in cultivating within us the ability to see other perspectives, developing the imagination that allows to put ourselves in somebody else’s shoes.

If you cannot accurately and fairly and humanely lay out the position of those you disagree with, you don’t really have a position of your own, but rather, a caricature of yourself as well as others. Shakespeare and other great literature is at its best not when we nod to ourselves smugly and say ‘yes, he says exactly what I think,’ but when it surprises us and we think, “Oh. I never thought of it that way before.”

 

But mostly, good stories are worth reading because we are humans and good stories are good stories.  It’s axiomatic but also true.

 

(see also:

good stories.  It’s axiomatic but also true.

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/nov/26/move-over-freud-literary-fiction-is-the-best-therapy)

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From Ancient China to Modern Uganda

At a recent library book sale I picked up a lovely little hardback book on Chinese Emperors by Ma Yan.  It really is beautiful.  It’s lushly illustrated, with stunning images on nearly every single page.  It’s not enough to make a stand alone resource for Chinese history, but it’s an exquisite little jewel of a supplement.   I’m delighted with it and quite grateful to the son-in-law who happened to choose to go to that sale at the last minute and brought me along with him.  We only had about half an hour to browse, which didn’t give me a lot of time to really choose carefully, so I am odiously pleased with myself for spotting this one and slipping it in my totebag.

One of the earliest of the Chinese empires was the Shang, who ruled during the Bronze age.

According to this website, they were the first to have written records, and they set the tone for culture in subsequent dynasties.  They developed beautiful craftsmanship in silks, metallurgy, and more.

The little book I brought home says, “The Shang was one of the more developed of the many tribes that lived downstream of the Yellow River.  They were more advanced in husbandry compared to other tribes….

From the bronze artifacts of the Shang period and the earliest form of Chinese characters inscribed on bones and turtle shells, we can conclude that the Shang already grasped many skills such as animal taming, fish farming, and land cultivation for survival.  While the green bronze works mark the level of the Shang industrialization, stone sculptures found in Anyang reveal glimpses of the Shang lifestyle at the time: masters of slaves are shown, wearing thin hats, pointed shoes, robes and long skirts tied with white belts.  Music and dance were appreciated in court….”

According to the website: “The Shang Dynasty was the peak of the slavery trade among the three ancient Chinese dynasties. The ruling class consisted of slaveholders….”

This remarkably advanced civilization with a strong penchant for the arts and a highly developed set of skills in multiple crafts also practiced human sacrifice, and slaves were often sacrificed.  The practice of human sacrifice either began or intensified during the final two centuries of the dynasty.  During those two hundred years, over 13,000 human beings were ritually slaughtered. When this dynasty fell, much like the Aztecs thousands of years later, it was partially because the slaves joined a rebellion and fought those masters of slaves.  More here, where we read that:

“Anyang is the name of a modern city in Henan Province of eastern China that contains the ruins of Yin, the massive capital city of the late Shang Dynasty (1554 -1045 BC.”

The Ruins of Yin in Anyang are a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage attraction and a museum area.

I found this all interesting partly just because I am curious and interested in all kinds of things related to Asia these days.  But also because of the brouhaha in the last year or two when the author of a Y.A. novel was hounded by her fellow culture warriors in the cancel culture wars because she depicted slavery in a world where dark skinned equivilants of Africans were *not* the slaves, and many of those in cancel culture were apparently unaware that slavery had ever existed in any other culture but North America’s during the 17th thru 19th centuries or that any other culture but African culture had been enslaved by outsiders.

Most of the human sacrifices in Anyang were outsiders, based on research on their bones and diets, and they were slaves, according to the city’s written records.  And I find it interesting because in spite of the fact that the culture and city were built on the backs of slavery and human sacrifice, it’s a world cultural heritage site and Antifa types are not rioting to burn down the tributes to this culture.

I suspect that pre-industrialization, it was next to impossible to build any kind of lasting cultural dynasty only possible when a leisure class is possible, and this would require some form of slavery and servitude, somewhere.

Slavery didn’t end in Korea until 1930, although reforms and other efforts to reduce its numbers had been occuring over the previous 200 years.  It exists now,again, in North Korea.

It hasn’t ended, because human labour in some areas is cheaper than dirt, and human greed and depravity exist in every era and area.

Migrants from West AFrican countries are openly sold in slave markets in Libya.

Women and girls are bought in Uganda and enslaved in the Middle East.  If they are murdered by their ‘owners’ there, sometimes the owner will inform their families back in Uganda that if they want to bury their loved one, they must buy their bodies back again.

International Justice Mission estimated that roughly 40.3 million individuals are currently in some form of slavery, and that of those, 1 in 4 of the victims is a child.

 

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Learning About Culture Through Observation

One of the things David Livermore of Cultural Intelligence recommends you do is similar to what naturalists and scientists do- and that is observe, just sit back quietly and observe as much as you can. There’s really no detail to insignificant. Notice everything, down to details like what utensils are used, how are they used, how do people seat themselves at a restaurant, how is the food served, what pictures are on the walls, what other decorations are there, what happens when somebody sneezes or coughs or drops something, what happens when they buy something at the store, what interactions occur, who says what to whom, how do they pay, when they beckon somebody, what does that look like, adn if they count out points on their fingers do they start with the pinky or the forefinger? The thumb? How do they gesture for a cab? What happens when they laugh? Just spend a of time in a new culture immersed in all kinds of attentive watching of as much detail as possible.

Once you have collected those detailed observations, you will draw some conclusions.
Tentative conclusions, held to lightly, with care. In fact, he even says it’s better not to draw any at all for a long time, but this is hard for human beings to do. We are designed to look for patterns, to draw conclusions based on what we see. But you have to be super cautious about that, because trying to draw conclusions from your observations is very likely going to be fraught with error. Even the actual observations you make can be ‘wrong,’ because the very things you notice or overlook will be influenced by who you are, where you come from, your culture, the assumptions you bring that you don’t even know you have. So many of your conclusions are going to be wrong, or at best, incomplete. Your conclusions will certainly be filtered through your own culture.

A Korean friend noted that when Koreans pull out money from their wallets they sort of hunker over it, keeping the wallet tightly closed so nobody can see what’s in it. Americans mostly, in her opinion (and, she said other people’s opinions, too) were flambouyant about, flaunting the contents of their wallet, opening it wide, showing off what they had. SHe and other Koreans thought it was part of the pride that seems to central to American culture to her.

I am not even sure she believed me when I told her that no, if an American ever opened his wallet in front of her by acting secretive about its contents, that was a sign that the American didn’t trust her or the environment. It was not pride, but trust, a sign that the wallet holder believes the people around are honest.

I didn’t tell her, but I had assumed the close, tight way Koreans opened their wallets to pay at a restaurant was because they didn’t trust people, and assumed theives were around looking to see how much they had to take advantage of them or commit a crime.

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The Modern Book Burners

Rod Dreher has a good post to read here.

Instapundit has a screenshot of the tweet a woke teacher proudly posted of books in dumpsters.

Y’all.   This is not new.  Over 20 years ago in Nebraska school libraries were purging their libraries the same way- they weren’t allowed to sell the books or give them away.  The reason I knew about it is because an acquaintance and fellow homeschooler was also a sort of itinerant teacher- he taught one of the subjects that had been cut back so far the schools no longer paid a full time salary- they paid enough to have somebody come in and teach the subject 2-4 times a month.  He loved his subject and thought it was important for kids, and he needed the income so he got hired on by several schools and just sort of traveled around all week, teaching at one school, then another.  He was a cool, interesting guy with stories to tell an dhe was a good listener, so people had stories to tell him.  He and his wife had purchased an old school building and moved into it.  They lived in one of those itty bitty midwestern towns that stays alive by sheer grit and community spirit, even when the state takes away their schools and post office.  They staged music shows and plays for the community in their school/house, and they kept the school library open and checked out books to the public.

More than once, school librarians would quietly tell him what was happening and offer to pass their books on to him.  His wife told me it was wild, like some drug deal.  He’d pull up late at night and they’d quietly load the books in his pick up truck, cover them with a tarp, and he’d bring them home and they’d stock their library shelves.

I checked out books from their private library, and they had stickers from school libraries all around that part of the state.

Twenty years ago.

 

Five years ago my husband was working in our local schools and he found the same thing happening, and not all the staff were happy about it.  The school librarian quietly set aside books marked for destruction for him and he brought them home or to our eldest daughter for rescue.

We need people who don’t hate western Civilization on the school boards, in the classrooms, in the administration.

 

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