Saturday, March 16, 2013

Saint William Butler

16th March 2013

My agent got a thumbs up this week (well, maybe not that enthusiastic - he got a green light) for a little compensation to me from the publisher for my publishing date being set back. He asked them to provide me with postcards to promote the book, presumably sporting the book cover (which hasn't been chosen yet) and the date of publication, which as we all know is now March 1st. Curses.  The good thing about this is that, once they put the date on the postcards, they won't be able to move it around any more.
The other good thing is I get to choose the book cover before too long. I used to think an author got to come up with a book cover, but I have been told by the powers on high that it is the art department, which would take offense at my suggestions, as though it were a vote of no confidence. I hope they give me some good options - no studs in kilts and women in high heels. This is a particular bugbear for my agent, so I am hoping he exerts a little pressure here. He's quite good at that.
Tomorrow is Saint Patrick's Day, a holiday I didn't even know existed utill I moved to the US. How many people in Scotland are going to celebrate Saint Patrick? But there is a lot to be said for the Emerald Isle. Its history is similar to Scotland's, in that it was (and in Scotland's case, still is) a victim of English imperialism. Ireland, however, managed to preserve more of its mythology and its connection with its ancient past than did Scotland. Ireland also managed to slough off English propoganda earlier, and have a populace that actually believed in its ability to be its own soverign self. In Scotland, the brainwashing has had a more lasting effect, perhaps because the hammering has been more persistent.
Anyway, not to wax lyrical on the subject of Scottish Independence (though I would be happy to) let's remind ourselves that Ireland has produced an uncanny number of great writers. I am currently reading a very nicely written book about Ireland, its geography and mythology called "The Red Haired Girl From The Bog," which reminds us how far removed we are from the mythos, how great the migration that has taken place in our sensibilities from our hearts to our heads in this post-enlightenment age.
There is James Joyce, for one. Seamus Heaney, for another. Oscar Wilde, Samuel Beckett, George Bernard Shaw. Edna O'Brien. Frank McCourt. And then there is William Butler Yeats, whose poetry is more than an arrangement of mere words. It is an ocean into which you fall and are subsumed again into the mythic consciousness of the race.
Try this: And aged man is but a paltry thing, a tattered coat upon a stick, unless soul clap its hands and sing and louder sing for every tatter in its mortal dress.
And this (and then I'll stop) - my most favouritist poem, not just of his but in all of the English language:

I went out to the hazel wood
Because a fire was in my head
Cut and peeled a hazel wand
And hooked a berry to a thread
And when white moths were on the wing
And moth-like stars were flickering out
I hooked a berry to a string
And caught a little silver trout.

When I had laid it on the floor
And gone to blow the fire aflame
Something rustled on the floor
And someone called me by my name.
It had become a glimmering girl
With apple blossom in her hair
Who called me by my name and ran
And vanished in the brightening air.

Though  I am old with wandering
Through hollow lands and hilly lands
I will find out where she has gone
And taste her lips
And take her hands
And walk among long dappled grass
And pluck 'till time and times are done
The silver apples of the moon
The golden apples of the sun.

I have that off by heart, because that's where it belongs - in the heart. It's called, "The Song Of Wandering Aengus." Thank you, William Butler. The poor man spent most of his adult life in pursuit of Maude Gonne, a handsome tall woman who has a history in her own right, being a leader in the Irish movement. She never gave in to him, though. Was she crazy?
Anyway, a great tradition in Irish literature, because they never lost their story-telling. Somehow the church didn't manage (though it tried) to stem a great literary imagination.
In Scotland, we had John Knox who, heir to John Calvin, was good at stamping things out (except his desire for young girls - he married one at the age of 58. Ah, the sexual intrigue of the church!) We had the witch burnings, and we had a lot of cowering, especially on the part of Scottish women. Creativity is the first thing to go when you put a people in a box, when you tell them to be something they are not.
Still, Scotland has had its share of writers. Robert Burns, for one (a man who resisted all boxes.) We have a great writer in Lewis Grassic Gibbon - Sunset Song, one of my favourite books. We have Walter Scott and Robert Louis Stevenson. We have JK Rowling, who isn't really Scottish, though she penned her first Harry Potter words in a small cafe on George the Fourth Bridge in Edinburgh (a fact advertised these days in the cafe window!)
Outside my window the clouds are uncharacteristically low over Colorado, the wind unusually swift and moiling. It reminds me of a morning in Scotland.

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