Saturday, 13 June 2015

Running to Paradise - W.B. Yeats

Happy 150th birthday William Butler Yeats... the great Irish poet was born  in Sandymount on 13 June 1865. He spent time in my South London neck of the woods, conducting occult experiments on the site of what is now the Horniman Museum in Forest Hill,  visiting Madame Blavatsky in Norwood, and speaking at Southwark Irish Literary Club. Some even claim that his spirit inspired the campaign to save Oxleas Wood - a popular spot for runners - in the 1990s!

1900 portrait by his father, John Butler Yeats
His 1916 poem Running to Paradise is (I think) a reflection on the great leveller of death and ageing. The swift 'bare heel' of youth will end up in an 'old sock'; and in death - whether you believe in the after life or a cold lifeless grave - 'the king is but as the beggar'. So, like the beggar in the poem, we might as well run like the wind.

Running to Paradise (1916)

As I came over Windy Gap
They threw a halfpenny into my cap,
For I am running to Paradise;
And all that I need do is to wish
And somebody puts his hand in the dish    
To throw me a bit of salted fish:
And there the king is but as the beggar.

My brother Mourteen is worn out
With skelping his big brawling lout,
And I am running to Paradise;
A poor life do what he can,
And though he keep a dog and a gun,
A serving maid and a serving man:
And there the king is but as the beggar.

Poor men have grown to be rich men,
And rich men grown to be poor again,
And I am running to Paradise;
And many a darling wit’s grown dull
That tossed a bare heel when at school,
Now it has filled an old sock full:
And there the king is but as the beggar.

The wind is old and still at play
While I must hurry upon my way,
For I am running to Paradise;
Yet never have I lit on a friend
To take my fancy like the wind
That nobody can buy or bind:
And there the king is but as the beggar.

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