The creative person’s life is full of bunny trails, astonishments/surprises (most pulled off by the powerful imagination which hides out, resides in the murk of the unconscious. It will not be thwarted; it will prevail.).
One thing leads to another. But never linearly or directly. Opening those boxes of my drawings, watercolors and prints a few days ago popped my Pandora’s cork.
The funny tableau above (I did it a few years ago and found it again today) was ignited by a cadre of sneaky synapses in my head, after I encountered—once again and by accident—Yeats’ heart-rending poem about a lost love. One presumes the poem was for Maud Gonne, the actress and fiery impulsive Irish Revolutionary. So many of his poems were for her, about her, on her etc. He was totally in her thrall for much of his life, for found her soooo exciting, just irresistible and ineffably beautiful. No man swooned more over a woman than Yeats did over Maud Gonne. He proposed to her—and was rejected—at least four times. At any rate, when he wrote it, Maud was long gone. She married another Irish revolution hero, Major John McBride (who was eventually executed by the British). Yeats finally gave it up, had a daughter he adored almost as much and moved on. (Though you could say it made him a maudlin older man.)
I think this silly tableau might have been my take on Maud’s reaction when she got the news Yeats was actually “over it.” Femme Fatales don’t like losing even one fan from their fanatic following. It just must have incinerated her–haha—maybe. Firebrands after all need an audience (stokers) or they turn to cinders…. And certainly having Yeats writing immortal poems about her, and publishing them just everywhere, must have been super publicity, right? Not every woman has the greatest poet of her age at her feet crowing about her constantly at the top of his lungs. For the public persona Maud it was truly an enviable position to be the muse and inspiration of W.B Yeats himself.
Even if he didn’t melt her heart or turn her on at least he wrote good “copy” for her act.
Maud couldn’t stand McBride after a while either and dumped him too. But she had her consolations, all those poems everyone still reads and reponds to rhapsodically, and her son Sean McBride did her proud as well. Active in the United Nations for decades, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1974. So Maud died–still a “babe” in the eyes of history–at at the ripe old age of 86.
One wonders if she had Yeats poem in her lap, “nodding by the fire” when her own well banked conflagration of sensibilities went out at last.
WHEN YOU ARE OLD
When you are old and grey and full of sleep,
And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;
How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true,
But one man loved the pilgrim Soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face;
And bending down beside the glowing bars,
Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled
And paced upon the mountains overhead
And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.
WILLIAM BUTLER YEATS 1865 – 1939
Sigh … okay, one more anguished poem from Yeats that sums it all up, his idolatry and unrequited love. The root of the problem, he finally saw, was that Maud was mythic, a woman of epic dimensions, and, Alas! He was not . . .
NO SECOND TROY
Why should I blame her that she filled my days
With misery, or that she would of late
Have taught to ignorant men most violent ways,
Or hurled the little streets upon the great,
Had they but courage equal to desire?
What could have made her peaceful with a mind
That nobleness made simple as a fire,
With beauty like a tightened bow, a kind
That is not natural in an age like this,
Being high and solitary and most stern?
Why, what could she have done being what she is?
Was there another Troy for her to burn?
That woman must have really been hot if the images he uses throughout his poetry are any indication of her effect on people. She was the stuff of legend, larger than life, a “face that launched a thousand ships,” and changed the course of history. For Yeats, I think she came to represent, in all its passions and contradictions, Ireland itself.