Poetry... Happy birthday Yeats: one of the greatest, ever
This year is the 150th anniversary of the birth of WB Yeats. We should be immensely proud of him. He is clearly the greatest poet in English of the 20th century. There is, in fact, a case to be made for holding him as the greatest ever with the exception of the Bard of Avon, William Shakespeare.
When I was on the board of Yeats and Lady Gregory's theatre, the Abbey, I came across someone who had actually a poem written to her by Yeats. Her name was Anne Gregory, and she was the granddaughter of Lady Gregory. She was only 10 when he read it to her. She wasn't greatly impressed and shrugged her shoulders.
"Not as romantic as I would have liked," she said sniffily.
Anne Gregory was in her twenties when she heard the poem on the BBC and recognised that she had been commemorated in a masterpiece. Read the poem out loud and you will find that it is its very simplicity that gives it its powerful effect.
Yellow, for instance, is not exactly the most endearing of colours. But under the magic of poetry, it can glow like gold. Using a phrase like 'hair-dye' is hardly romantic, but under Yeats' touch, it becomes a marvellous hue.
When you've finished it, a perfect picture of a young girl with shimmering hair has come before you.
For Anne Gregory
'Never shall a young man,
Thrown into despair
By those great honey-coloured
Ramparts at your ear,
Love you for yourself alone
And not your yellow hair'
'But I can get a hair-dye
And set such colour there,
Brown, or black, or carrot,
That young men in despair
May love me for myself alone
And not my yellow hair.'
'I heard an old religious man
But yesternight declare
That he had found a text to prove
That only God, my dear,
Could love you for yourself alone
And not your yellow hair.'
WB Yeats 1865-1939