Tuesday, 17 April 2012


Came across a great poem I didn't know by Yeats today. Perhaps I was impressed because of my weakness for coffee shops, alluded to in the comments on my previous post.

Part III from Vaccillation

My fiftieth year had come and gone,
I sat, a solitary man,
In a crowded London shop,
An open book and empty cup
On the marble table-top.

While on the shop and street I gazed
My body of a sudden blazed;
And twenty minutes more or less
It seemed, so great my happiness,
That I was blesséd and could bless.

I then went on to discover the rest of Vaccillation. This passage in particular, caught my eye:

Test every work of intellect or faith,
And everything that your own hands have wrought
And call those works extravagance of breath
That are not suited for such men as come
proud, open-eyed and laughing to the tomb.

It resonated with several things I've come across in the last few days. There was Rachel Fenton (of the snow like thought blog), in an interesting interview about her graphic poetry, wondering aloud if one can be an optimistic nihilist. And also Werner Herzog, saying in a Guardian interview, of a brush with death:

 "It's of no significance... Everyone has come close, sometimes very close. It has no significance on how I conduct my life. I'm simply not afraid. It's not in my dictionary of behaviour."

(Tha whole interview is well worth a read, especially for the Herzogian anecdotal evidence which backs up  his statement).


GOAT said...

Great lines there. As a fellow coffee-shop habitue I recognised those symptoms in the first verse immediately, as you probably did as well. It's the caffeine! It's a drug, after all, and its ability to clarify and focus the mind are well documented. I've had many, many epiphanies while sitting in a cafe with an open book, staring into space full of purpose, wonder, a sense of liberation.

No wonder I was disappointed to get here and find that most Koreans drink shots of sweetened INSTANT COFFEE in tiny paper cups! PHILISTINES.

Elisabeth said...

Half way through life and so much more to come but death has to be a bog part of it. Oh blow.

Elisabeth said...

I meant a 'big' part of it, but it could just as well be a bog.

Andrew Shields said...

The "test" stanza takes some careful pondering, and even then it takes some more. The pondering itself must run the risk of being "extravagance of breath."

The Weaver of Grass said...

I cannot help but wonder from whence your coffee shop addiction came.

Dominic Rivron said...

Thanks for these comments!

GOAT: I don't think it's the caffeine. I say so as I'm an inveterate decaff drinker and yet recognise exactly the epiphanic experiences both you and Yeats describe. I can only think that the kick we get from coffee is from its deliciously bitter taste.

(Oh, and I remember well your description of Korean coffee-culture from reading what the goat wrote!)

Elisabeth: "Bog" was an excellent if accidentally selected choice. Why should we stick to bog-standard English usage?

AS: It's funny stuff, poetry. Sometimes it seems opaque, other times clear as daylight.

WG: Goat's description of his epiphanic experiences describes the attraction well.

Rachel Fenton said...

I really liked the last lines of the article: "Martin Luther was asked, what would you do if tomorrow the world would come to an end, and he said, 'I would plant an apple tree today.' I think it sums up exactly the human condition.

I think it's the wealer of Yeats' poems in terms of structure, but for content he's nailed it.

Perhaps I should drink coffee.

Thank you so very much for the mention - very lovely of you.

Kat Mortensen said...

That's such a strange line: While on the shop and street I gazed...blazed
But it really hits you. Somehow he manages to convey that epiphany state of bliss and also out failure to act beyond our good intentions.
(iPod errors are inevitable)

GOAT said...

You get epiphanies from decaf? Imagine what a nice strong latte could do!