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Yeats On YouTube

By Anthony Madrid


I was memorizing Yeats’s “Easter 1916,” a poem that has a powerful spell on me, despite my not giving a fook about Yeats or Ireland. There is a part in the beginning of the piece that was giving me some trouble. Here’s how the poem starts (I transcribe from memory):

I have met them at close of day
Coming with vivid faces
From counter or desk among gray
Eighteenth-century houses.
I have passed with a nod of the head
Or polite meaningless words
Or have lingered a while and said
Polite meaningless words,
And thought before I had done
Of a mocking tale or a gibe
To please a companion
Around the fire at the club
Being certain that they and I
But lived where motley is worn
All changed, changed utterly—
A terrible beauty is born.

The trouble spot is the line “To please a companion.” I never knew what to do with that line in performance. Obviously no one wants

of a MOCKing TALE or a GIBE
to PLEASE a comPAN-ee-UN

—So what should be done instead?—

I came up with a solution I thought was pretty excellent, and indeed I started to imagine I had not only solved the problem, but had basically done so by accessing Yeats’s consciousness. I felt I had his personal OK as to what he wanted, rhythmically, at that spot. Then, occurs to me: “Surely there is a recording of Yeats reading or reciting the poem online somewhere. I have only to look. Seek and ye shall be vindicated.”

And perhaps there is indeed such a recording somewhere. All I know is I couldn’t find it. Instead, I found a couple of recordings by my fellow enthusiasts giving the great poem a whirl. One of these recordings was truly a disgusting abuse of God’s patience (complete with lite, cornball hornpipe soundtrack, cf. the movie The Titanic), but the other recording was actually pretty OK—except for the line in question. That was simply left flat on its back: awkward and unrhythmic.

Now, my laptop was glue-gunned together in 2005. It has no camera; it has no mic. And I am stuck with it ’til after 2012 taxes (I have to see if we have any money left, etc.). HOWEVER, you who are reading this, you probably have a couple deals just like this one I’m talking about here. Perhaps you have some way of reading or reciting a favorite poem, and you know it solves some fucked-up problem very elegantly. Or maybe you just know for a fact your students get off on your style. Your students or your herd of lovers or whatever. Good. So why don’t you put that stuff up on YouTube?

Look, there are a lot of you out there I would gladly watch reciting gibberish all day. Especially if you were going from memory. I want to know what you people like! Go on there and recite some stuff in French, why don’t you. Can you do Russian? I have a couple things memorized in Anglo-Saxon . . . .

Seriously: Who among you could resist watching, say, Cathy Wagner singing medieval lyrics to her own melodies? “The fish is in the frith” as a Country-Western song. She does it at readings! You ever seen her read? It’ll fuck up your shit. I could name a bunch of people who should do this.

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Posted in Featured Blogger on Wednesday, April 3rd, 2013 by Anthony Madrid.