Thoughts due to informal blackmail.

Backstory:

There has been a long-running argument between myself and a friend on whether Harry Potter is Literature (off topic: recently been wondering whether to post some writing on here arguing for the fact).  One of my English teachers says that it isn’t – the other says it is. The teacher who supports that HP is Lit, Miss Larkin, commented on a post of mine recently saying that she would tell my friend that Harry Potter isn’t Literature if I didn’t post a blog on my thoughts to a radio documentary on W.B. Yeats. To ensure that the reputation of HP (and my personal dignity) is upheld – here is a blog post on just that.

The radio documentary was called “A Terrible Beauty” and focused on the lives and works of W.B. Yeats and Seamus Heaney. In class we have been focusing on Yeats – and so I will not be blogging here very much about the segments of the radio broadcasts that were about Heaney. The broadcast, present by Finton O’Toole explored these poets, both of whom aspired to be the people and poets of Ireland – representing the nation.

The broadcast started by highlighting the fact that the idea of country is important to the Irish – as well as literary heritage. A poet is someone who speaks memorable truths in an authoritative way, One thing the broadcast emphasised at the beginning was the fact that poets have power. Both Yeats and Heaney had deep connections with Irish land and tradition, and wrote especially from conflicts within the country.  They were v. different people, Yeats was a Protestant middle class writing about Irish revolutions in the 1910s, whereas Heaney was a rural Catholic who wrote about the Irish troubles.

One of my favourite quotes from the broadcast was this:

“Yeats had a gift of beating the scrap metal of day to day life into a ringing bell”

When Yeats grew up the authority was held in the British state – and thus he was part of the revolution that wanted cultural authority. He was considered an urban intellectual speaker

I found it very interesting that the broadcast had recordings of Yeats introducing and reciting one of his poems. He almost sung that poem, chanting it. It was also interesting to hear Heaney’s impression of Yeats – and how Yeats inspired his writing.

What was central about Yeats was that he spoke for Ireland, yet was complicated and ambiguous. He was interested in the mythological west of Ireland, the Anglo-Irish country. He related to this heavily Protestant area naturally. He identified with the Protestant minority – embracing the area and was proud to be part of the Anglo-Irish community, especially due to other members of the minority – Emmet etc. He recites his Protestant heritage in ‘September 1913’ – “For this Edward Fitzgerald died, And Robert Emmet and Wolfe Tone,” yet in ‘Easter 1916’ he cites those with a more Republican background, “I write it out in a verse – MacDonagh and MacBride And Connolly and Pearse”.

Having been the national poet of Ireland, identifying with this area soiled his reputation – and he was ridiculed by many and lost respect from his younger contemporaries. His relationship with the younger poets of his time varied – to some he was kind and affectionate yet to others he was fiercely and dismissively critical.  

Yeats was a part of a movement that believed that Irish authenticity was rooted in authentic Gaelic traditions that had been corrupted by English rule. Some cultural revolutionaries considered him unauthentic – as he hadn’t always lived in Ireland, he had an English family and didn’t speak Gaelic. Yeats contributed an outspoken voice about Ireland at the time, he wanted it to be more open. He was a great public poet, speaking directly about conflict, yet was also outside it.

In the broadcast we also heard the voice of Maud Gonne (which I found fascinating, she sounded completely different to my imagination) who reacted to accusations about Yeats, agreeing that he was a snob.

I found the broadcast to be very insightful and helped me understand more about Yeats’ life and the times he lived in.

Thanks for reading,

Jack

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