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f08_schultz_352_f - E l i f l t t l 3 t i f g l f l f...

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Unformatted text preview: E l i f l t t l 3 t i f g l f l f READING YEATS IN POPULAR CULTURE The mass culture of the electronic age is frequently characterized, especially by contemporary devotees of Adorno, as an agent of hegemony, a tool for the manufacture of political consent. Advertisements, television, Hollywood movies, popular music and most newspapers and magazines are seen as vehiv cles of the ruling ideology: financed by global capital, driven by the power of the market and designed to promote passive consumerism. Certainly mass culture is more visible than culture created by ‘the people’. Folksong, street games, poetry slams and other communal rituals, all of which require an oral rather than a print or electronic medium and highlight performance rather than consumption, may continue to flourish, but they are necessarily less potent as agents of ideological saturation than television or the Internet. Yet it seems pointless, as well as elitist, to attempt to defend the barricades of ethi- cal, aesthetic and political value erected to distinguish both ‘high’ and ‘folk’ art from the manipulative inauthenticity of commercial ‘mass: culture. One of the numerous challenges of cultural studies is to discover if and how new media, new technologies and the new habits of spectatorship they have cre— ated can meaningfully incorporate and transform the classics of the past. Antony Easthope has argued persuasively for a practice of cultural studies that, instead of replacing the analysis of the canon with analysis of, say, adver- tising or soap operas, recognizes ‘a necessity to read high and popular [texts] together” (167). The boundaries between ‘high’ and ‘low’ culture are too porous to be strictly policed. lndeed, bizarre and interesting things happen on boundaries. In a recent issue of the magazine UFO Universe, a long and surprisingly well-informed article on Yeats uses ‘Leda and the Swan' and ‘The Second Coming to demon- strate that the poet foresaw ‘not only the modern phenomenon of alien abduc- tions, but also the coming of alien/human hybrids and even the sighting of a Sphinx-like face on Mars’ (Chambers).l In this contemporary context, Yeats‘s ‘shape with lion body and the head of a man‘ (Poems 187') occupies the same cultural space as reports of paranormal cattle—niaiming in New Mexico and Speculation about the American government’s secret collaboration with extra- terrestrials. Such a collocation of Yeats and UFOs may offend the purists, but it is entirely appropriate. Rationalist intellectuals deride popular millenarian- ism, but Yeats never met a supernatural manifestation he did not like, or at least investigate, and throughout his life his interest in the occult was as New Age as that of any Southern Californian theosophist.2 ‘The Second Corning) 193 194 Ireland's Others and the alien abduction scenario both attempt to make sense of a universe apparently Spinning out of control, to explain the unexplainable by reference to a paranoid system of secret knowledge. Perhaps because so many of the ter~ rible events of the twentieth century seem to defy rational explanation. ‘The Second Coming‘ is currently one of the best»known poems in the English- speaking world. So many writers, politicians, journalists, advertisers and car- toonists regularly cite it that William Safire has suggested its number should be retired (LPoliticians’), Yeats’s presence in contemporary popular culture, as a non-verbal icon or a source of poetic allusions, may reflect either a modernist or a postmodernist aesthetic, In the modernist aesthetic, subscribed to by Yeats himself, meaning may be elusive and difficult but close attention will usually uncover it. In the unified modernist work (and indeed in the modernist reading that most of us still practise), the text signifies all over: every detail is important, and there- fore some knowledge of the original is indispensable to the interpretation of a literary allusion. Although at the dawn of the age of mass media traditional culture was already fragmented, high modernist artists clung to the heritage of \Nestern civilization: T. S. Eliot’s ‘heap of broken images” (Poems 63) or Ezra Pound's ‘two gross of broken statues“ (Personae 188). If we do not know The Tempest or Tristan und Isolde, for example, our understanding of The Waste Land will be impoverished. To a modernist writer or reader, it matters that we recognize Yeats as the source and authorial guarantor of phrases such as ‘Things fall apart”, ‘the centre cannot hold“, or ‘Slouches towards Bethlehem”. Contemporary postmodernist culture, on the other hand, has supposedly abolished the ‘depth’ model of literary and cultural enquiry. Terry Eagleton satirically paraphrases the postmodern ethic: ‘if only we could kick our meta- physical nostalgia Ior truth, meaning and history . , . we might come to rec- ognize that . . . fragments and surfaces [are] all we ever have, kitsch [is] quite as good as the real thing because there is in fact no real thing’ (Against 143). In this view, the shards of culture that we unearth can never be reassembled into a statue and Yeats's phrases float free of their origin in his poem, In the absence of any meaningful historical sense, our references to the classic works of the past function as pastiche (depthless and mechanical copying) rather than intertextuality (the production of significance out of the relationship between two discrete texts and contexts). If this is so, we might ask why any- one should refer to Yeats at all; critics hostile to postmodernism would doubt- less answer that, while the poet’s relation to meaning and truth (that is to history and ethics) has vanished, his status as a commodity fetish has never been higher. Without having to read him, American consumers understand that the postmodernist ‘Yeats’ signifies cultural capital. Indeed, the Sears advertisement in Fig. 7 demonstrates the use of a volume of Yeats’s poetry as a fashion statement. The headline ‘Come see the softer side of Sears= pairs with the androgynous cuteness of the young male model to suggest that reading poetry is not a macho activity. Since this is a /RI Fig. 7', The SofterSi. ‘Back to School Sa who buys the Col this good—looking his cool, Yeats's pc henleys’ and ‘this vidualists, so the t ment’. Should he is reassured that S the rightness of ti Nothing indicate: perused the come dent of the meani Shaken loosef college-age youth, modern America t npt to make sense of a universe n the unexplainable by reference 'haps because so many of the ter- 3 defy rational explanation, ‘The :t-known poems in the English- , journalists, advertisers and car— ias suggested its number should 7 culture, as a non—verbal icon or t a modernist or a postmodernist Jed to by Yeats himself, meaning 3n will usually uncover it. In the iodernist reading that most of us y detail is important, and there- pensable to the interpretation of he age of mass media traditional nist artists clung to the heritage ‘oken images’ (Poems 63) or Ezra ae 188). If we do not know The )ur understanding of The Waste riter or reader, it matters that we I guarantor of phrases such as r ‘Slouches towards Bethlehem’. the other hand, has supposedly cultural enquiry Terry Eagleton ‘if only we could kick our meta- ;tory . . . we might come to rec— III we ever have, kitsch [is] quite fact no real thing’ (Against 143). tearth can never be reassembled their origin in his poem. In the 1r references to the classic works 1nd mechanical copying) rather ificance out of the relationship ’liS is so, we might ask why any- 0 postmodernism would doubt— ) meaning and truth (that is to is a commodity fetish has never merican consumers understand al capital. . 7 demonstrates the use of a nt. The headline ‘Come see the )us cuteness of the young male a macho activity Since this is a Reading Yeats in Popular Culture 195 Come. seems: soiersicieof Sears the right look... henley & vesl 14.99 each Ba youmlf. me A shammum. You're looking {or wmlm...fnr damn tome mum manual and brusde bmleye m m octave: Regularity mes-sax Med um mm mm' suede vest Regularly ‘20 a rd-ygAu “.1 gun“ I: a. IW: nun-m. m mwmwmaunmm Stripemmmmmmmm. I .- Fig. 7. The Softer Side. of Sears. ‘Back to School Sale’ the target audience is the sensitive college kid, the kind who buys the Collected Poems rather than using the Norton Anthology. For this good-looking lover of verse, and for all those who would like to emulate his cool, Yeats’s poetry must be equated with the purchase of ‘colorful cotton henleys’ and ‘this happenin’ suede vest’. Poets and readers of poetry are indi— vidualists, so the prospective consumer is urged to ‘Be yourself. Make a state— ment’. Should he worry that being himself might expose him to ridicule, he is reassured that Sears has ‘the right look’; and the volume of Yeats guarantees the rightness of the look by demonstrating that Sears knows the right poet. Nothing indicates that either the advertisers or the model have actually perused the contents of the book. ‘Poetry’ and ‘Yeats’ have a value indepen- dent of the meaning of words. Shaken loose from his historical context and used to promote suede vests to college-age youth, Yeats as icon fits comfortably into the mass culture of post~ modern America that is censured by Eagleton and Jameson. In The Bridges of i. x. P, flat it its ES, #4“ as r is; 196 Ireland’s Others Madison County (1995), Francesca (Meryl Streep) and Robert (Clint Eastwood) also make use of what we may call the Sears Yeats: she drops an unattributed misquotation from the ‘Song of Vt’andering Aengusi, ‘when white birds lit should be moths] are on the wing’, into an invitation to dinner, he recognizes the line as belonging to Yeats, and we see a brief shot of her (like the Sears model) clutching the Collected Poems. They both know the right poet, though perhaps not all that well. \Nhen they meet again, he continues the “Song of Wane dering Aeng‘us’ (mis)quotation game with ‘the silver apples of the moon, and [sicl golden apples of the sun’, In case we missed the point, she promptly names the poet and supplies the title, while he continues: ‘Good stuff, Yeats . . . music, economy, sensuousness. beauty, magic, all that appeals to my Irish ancestry’. This breathtakingly banal list has all the resonance of 21 Sears catalogue: the commodity on display is lrishness, and the come-on is romance. Not all the consumerist versions of Yeats are equally depthless or deraci- nated, however. When the ln'sh put the poet‘s face on the twenty—punt note, were they celebrating the tourist revenue that he continues to generate or remembering that he was an actively engaged chairman of the committee that created newly independent lreland’s first and most handsome metal coinage? Surely profit and history are here symbolically and aptly allied. That banknote (affectionately nicknamed a ‘Yeat' by the poets descendants) has been retired. but, from his summer school in Sligo t0 the tea towels, T—shirts and coffee mugs imprinted with his image or a few lines from his verse, Yeats permeates the culture the Irish sell to foreign tourists,3 and even to themselves. Journal- ism about the Troubles in the North could hardly survive without reference to ‘Easter 19l 6’; depending on the writer’s attitude to the IRA, either ‘a terri- ble beauty is born’ or ‘too long a sacrifice can make a stone of the heart“. The audio-visual presentation at the Pearse Museum in Dublin is called ‘This Man Kept a School’, which must strike Visitors unfamiliar with ‘Easter 19] 6’ as a distinctly peculiar title. lrish academics are equally in Yeats’s linguistic debt: the respected historian Joe Lee uses ‘The Second Coming’, written in 1919, to explicate the postnindependence years, which in fact contradicted Yeats’s prophecy of political apocalypse: ‘lt was due in a large measure to him [Cos- grave] that things did not fall apart, that the centre did hold, that not so many but so few of the rough beasts slouching through the Ireland of the twenties would reach their blood soaked Bethlehems’ (Lee 174). Lee’s allusion is tightly bound to the context of the original, but the philosopher Richard Kearney deftly moves the poem away from its material origins towards the more abstract world of theory: ‘After deconstruction, we are told, the centre cannot hold’ (Postnationalist 62). Yeats is not the only literary source for merchandisers and academics: James joyce, as much the presiding spirit of Dublin as Yeats is the avatar of Sligo and Gort, rivals him in the memorabilia stakes, and has even usurped his place on the banknotes.4 Other writers, like Synge, have acquired a sum— mer school of their own. The ‘heritage’ industry has attracted considerable hostility: like the film i pretative centres are de versal chorus of praist suggests that it is not 5 lematic, but the politic effect of their placemei the difference betweer museum at Strokestov which the Irish past ca the Yeats Summer Schn ocally the commerciali who originally produc stray poem lodges in tl that ‘high art’ should r Regrettably or not, to lights an aspect of lre grange, and less frag Lascaux Two, divert t the ‘aura’, to use Benj be conscious of miss‘ poetry, on the other i tion, and is immeasui One of the charge capital is that it leads of classical music or similarly, Helen Venc like ‘cutting off the h criminate between t) that poems are inhei facts such as passage Burren: Since bi But sad How Wi Whose Shakespeare’s answ( Perhaps ‘1 will arise the immortality that paid the poetic darn ciple that there is n cated phrase could intellectual end of LI reep) and Robert (Clint Eastwood) s Yeats: she drops an unattributed g Aengus‘, ‘when white birds [it invitation to dinner, he recognizes a brief shot of her (like the Sears both know the right poet, though tin, he continues the “Song ofWan- he silver apples of the moon, and .sed the point, she promptly names .nues: ‘Good stuff, Yeats . , . music, hat appeals to my Irish ancestry’. sonance of a Sears catalogue: the :ome-on is romance. 5 are equally depthless or deraci- et’s face on the twenty—punt note, that he continues to generate or d chairman of the committee that d most handsome metal coinage? ly and aptly allied. That banknote :t’s descendants) has been retired, 1e tea towels, T-shirts and coffee is from his verse, Yeats permeates and even to themselves journal— bardly survive without reference ittitude to the IRA, either ‘a terri- tn make a stone of the heart’. The turn in Dublin is called ‘This Man infamiliar with ‘Easter 1916’ as a equally in Yeats’s linguistic debt: 20nd Coming‘, written in 1919, to hich in fact contradicted Yeats”s e in a large measure to him [Cos— centre did hold, that not so many rough the Ireland of the twenties (Lee 174). Lees allusion is tightly he philosopher Richard Kearney terial origins towards the more an, we are told, the centre cannot r merchandisers and academics: f Dublin as Yeats is the avatar of lia stakes, and has even usurped .ike Synge, have acquired a surn~ lustry has attracted considerable Reading Yeats in Popular Culture 197 hostility: like the film versions ofjane Austen and E. M. Forster, Irish inter- pretative centres are deplored as pap for the culturally dispossessed.5 The uni» versal chorus of praise for the Famine Museum at Strokestown, however, suggests that it is not so much the existence of heritage centres that is prob— lematic, but the political angle at which their contents are displayed, or the effect of their placement on the landscape they purport to explicate" And, as the difference between the failed Celtworld theme park and the successful museum at Strokestown demonstrates, the economic and ideological uses to which the Irish past can be put are infinitely variable. As a former Director of the Yeats Summer School in Sligo, I find myself unable to condemn unequiv- ocally the commercialization of the Irish literary heritage. Like most of those who originally produced it, I am glad when literature sells, even gladder if a stray poem lodges in the luggage ofan otherwise indifferent traveller. The idea that ‘high art’ should remain uncontaminated by money is a Romantic fiction. Regrettably or not, tourism is a fact of Irish life; and literary tourism high- lights an aspect of Ireland’s past that is as real as the passage grave at New- grange, and less fragile. The planned simulacrum of Newgrange will, like Lascaux Two, divert the flow of tourist traffic and prevent the destruction of the ‘aura’, to use Benjamin’s term, of the original. But most tourists will still be conscious of missing Newgrange One. The experience of reading Yeats’s poetry, on the other hand, does not depend on the possession of a first edi— tion, and is immeasurably enriched by an acquaintance with Ireland. One of the charges most often levelled against the exploitation of cultural capital is that it leads to a vulgarization and trivialization of ‘high art”. The use of classical music or images in television advertising incenses some critics,7 similarly, Helen Vendler argues that “ripping a line or two out of a poem” is like ‘cutting off the head of the Apollo Belvedere‘.8 But it is necessary to dis— criminate between types of exploitation. Shakespeare pointed out long ago that poems are inherently less vulnerable to tourist depredations than arte- facts such as passage graves or ecologically sensitive natural treasures like the Burren: Since brass, nor stone, nor earth, nor boundless sea, But sad mortality o’ersways their power, How With this rage shall beauty hold a plea, Whose action is no stronger than a flower? (Sonnet 65) Shakespeare’s answer is that ‘in black ink my love may still shine bright”. Perhaps ‘I will arise and go now’ inscribed on a coffee mug was not precisely the immortality that Shakespeare had in mind, but as long as the royalties are paid the poetic damage is hard to calibrate, One might even invoke the prin- ciple that there is no such thing as bad publicity: acquaintance with a trun— cated phrase could induce curiosity about the whole poem. At the more intellectual end of the exploitation scale, the various summer schools are even 198 Ireland’s Others harder to censure, since their aim is to deepen rather than fragment or trivi— alize the experience of literature, Though the competing attractions of Guin- ness and scenery should not he underestimated, most literary tourists do not attend summer schools in order to avoid reading the works of the featured writer, whoever he (usually he) may be. Sometimes, of course, the iconic Yeats is used in spectacularly inappropri— ate contexts: for example, there used to be a daycare centre in Sli go called ‘The Stolen Child” whose proprietors had surely never read that slightly sinister poem about a little boy abducted by the fairies. (‘The Stolen Child’ was more aptly quoted on Dublin posters warning the public about cot death.)9 But sometimes the context is perfectly apropos, as when the line ‘I will aiise and go now, and go to Innisfree’ was used to caption the home page of the North West Tourist Guide on the World Wide Web. '0 Yeats, who was one of the first poets to broadcast on the radio, would have been delighted by his presence in cyberspace, and indeed ‘The Lake Isle of lnnisfree‘ was among the texts he chose to transpose from print into the new audio technology. As one of his most famous and best-loved poems, it was a felicitous choice for the new pop- ular medium, The volume in which it appears, Poems 1895, which was reprinted fifteen times in Yeats’s lifetime, continued to satisfy the taste of the poetry-buying public long after he had published his more difficult modernist work.11 And its appeal has lasted: in a 1999 Poetry Ireland poll, ‘The Lake Isle of Innisfree" headed the list of one hundred favourite Irish poems (Dorgan) ‘The Lake Isle of lnnisfree" taps into the perennial longing for a peaceful life close to nature, a longing also exploited by the producers of holiday brochures and the purveyors of second homes, and of course by the tourist promoters of the West who placed it on their website: i will arise and go now, and go to lnnisfree, And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made: Nine bean—rows will I have there, a hive for the honeybee. And live alone in the bee-loud glade. 1 will arise and go now. for always night and day I hear lake water lapping With low sounds by the shore; While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey, I hear it in the deep heart’s core. (Poems 39) This longing is strongest when the speaker is standing, as Yeats was, ‘on the roadway, or on the pavements grey” of urban London. Ironically, Yeats‘s imme- diate inspiration was a futuristic piece of advertising, “a fountain in a shop window which balanced a little ball upon its jet’. This modern mechanical device intersected with his intense homesickness for Sligo to produce the auditory illusion of lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore” (Auto- biographies 153), According to the poet‘s daughter Anne, Sligo ‘represented a kind of Shangri-La= to the Yeats children because their mother‘s loathing of i ? London and longing fo borrowed his opening return to the house of appropriate, then, that Dublin and Holyhead i: ably carries more touris wish encoded in its nan dren to come home. An ingenious Engli cultural artefact, which This sequence suggests impossibility of placing or ill, art and consume] La has contributed rich the West, as a rural Edei that most elusive and dropping slow’. Conseq consciousness that refu: her essential identity sc trial Revolution. In this figure, though one who 1999 his summer schor But the pastoral ha: cosmopolitan Latin p0: from the pressures of 1" Industrial Revolution g; Pastoral is so hackneyec the anti—pastoral, whicl the nasty habits of real s seldom romantic about provided Yeats with his detail of the ‘nine bean- ple of years, and the sec failed to come up. The persisrence of 1 material conditions of ii sustained by absence. 15 not desire what we alre: the thing we cannot h strategies. In his poem forms into direct relatic ‘domestic pastoral” cont ing used to sell tea, bui contrast with his own )en rather than fragment or trivia ie competing attractions of Guin— ated, most literary tourists do not eading the works of the featured used in spectacularly inappropri~ daycare centre in Sligo called The i never read that slightly sinister ies, (‘The Stolen Child’ was more 1e public about cot death.)9 But as when the line ‘I will arise and )tion the home page of the North .10 Yeats, who was one of the first been delighted by his presence in inisfree’ was among the texts he ' audio technology. As one of his felicitous choice for the new pop— ppears, Poems 1895, which was ntinued to satisfy the taste of the .shed his more difficult modernist Poetry Ireland poll, “The Lake Isle favourite Irish poems (Dorgan). perennial longing for a peaceful ed by the producers of holiday nes, and of course by the tourist ir website: nnisfree, ay and wattles made: hive for the honey-bee. e. iight and day sounds by the shore; 1 the pavements grey, oems 39) is standing, as Yeats was, ‘on the London. ironically, Yeats’s imme— dvertising, ‘a fountain in a shop its jet'. This modern mechanical .ckness for Sligo to produce the _ low sounds by the shore’ (Auto- ighter Anne, Sligo ‘represented a ecause their mother’s loathing of E l i 2 a i i . 3 _i i i Reading Yeats in Popular Culture 199 London and longing for her native place permeated the household,12 Yeats borrowed his opening cadence from the prodigal son, who on deciding to return to the house of his father announces: ‘I will arise and go’. It seems appropriate, then, that Irish Ferries’ newest vessel on the route between Dublin and Holyhead is called ‘The Isle of Innisfree’, Though the boat prob- ably carries more tourists and emigrants than returning natives, the symbolic wish encoded in its name, as in the poem itself, is for Ireland’s expatriate chil— dren to come home. An ingenious English advertisement prompts the production of a high cultural artefact, which in its turn promotes the services of an Irish ferryboat. This sequence suggests the inevitable hybridity of cultural processes, and the impossibility of placing a cordon sanitaire around the verbal icon. For good or ill, art and consumerism have things to say to each other. Yeats‘s Shangri» La has contributed richly to the Bord Failte mystique of Ireland, particularly the West, as a rural Eden in which the stressed-out foreign vacationer can find that most elusive and precious of commodities, the peace that ‘comes dropping slow’. Consequently Yeats is sometimes accused of nurturing a false consciousness that refuses to recognize Ireland‘s urban modernity and locates her essential identity somewhere west of the Shannon and before the indus» trial Revolution. In this he is linked with Eamon de Valera, an equally iconic figure, though one who currently generates somewhat less tourist revenue: in 1999 his summer school attracted only five participants (Ruarte). But the pastoral has always been a consciously ‘fake’ genre. Created by cosmopolitan Latin poets like Virgil and Theocritus as an imaginary break from the pressures of life at the imperial court, it was born well before the Industrial Revolution gave us something we really needed to get away from. Pastoral is so hackneyed as to have generated, as long ago as the Renaissance, the anti-pastoral, which reminds the weekend shepherd of bad weather and the nasty habits of real sheep. People who make their living in the country are seldom romantic about it. Even Thoreau, whose rural retreat at Walden Pond provided Yeats with his blueprint for the simple life and the oddly specific detail of the ‘nine bean—rows’, stayed in his own ‘small cabin” for only a cou— ple of years, and the second season he neglected his beans, which accordingly failed to come up. The persistence of pastoral has less to do with the longing for different material conditions of life than it does with desire itself, which is created and sustained by absence. AS Socrates says in Plato’s Symposium (76—7), we can- not desire what we already possess; desire is therefore always displaced onto the thing we cannot have. He might have been talking about marketing strategies. In his poem ‘Essential Beauty’, Philip Larkin brings Plato’s ideal forms into direct relation to the culture of advertising and its teleology The ‘domestic pastoral’ contained in the idealized images of comfort and wellbe— ing used to sell tea, butter or cigarettes does not merely pain the viewer by contrast with his own imperfect and unbeautiful life, it actually beckons 200 Ireland's Others through perfection towards oblivion. ‘Dying smokers” are granted a vision of the woman whose unattainable image prompted them to purchase a partic— ular brand, ‘Smiling, and recognising, and going dark’ (Witsttn 42). In an urban culture, peace, solitude and natural beauty are metaphors for the impossible perfection that cannot be achieved except in death, the ultimate return home — to heaven or the mothers womb, according to your Christian or Freudian interpretative bias. In The Loved One (1948) Evelyn Waugh satirically relocates ‘The Lake Isle of Innisfree’ to the AmeriCan never-never land, California, where it becomes a part of popular funerary culture. In Whispering Glades, Waugh’s parody of Forest Lawn cemetery, burial plots on the Lake Isle command the top prices. As the boatman says, ‘they’ve certainly got it fixed up poetic. It’s named after a very fancy poem. They got beevhives. Once they had bees too, but folks was always getting stung so now it’s done mechanical and scientific; no sore fannies and plenty ofpoetry’ (82). Once again we can follow a trajectory from the mechanical fountain in urban London, via Yeats’s deliberately constructed Irish pastoral, back to Waugh’s buzzing beehives, in which the narrator sees ‘a tiny red eye which told that the sound—apparatus was working in good order’ (83—4). The artifice of the Lake Isle in Whispering Glades, like Yeats’s golden bird in “Sailing to Byzantium’, is the artifice of eternity. Waugh’s intention is comprehensively satirical: both Yeats’s fantasy island and its literal-minded American simulacrum are being sent up. Whispering Glades is an expensive thanatological theme park and, in Waugh’s early-post- modern vision of California, poetry and Irishness are commodities that can be produced by machines. The boatman observes that, although the original cus- tomers for the Lake Isle’s luxury plots were supposed 10 be Irish-Americans, ‘it seems the Irish are just naturally poetic and won’t pay that much for plant- ings [burialsl’ (82). Unlike the ‘good style Jews” who can afford to purchase their last home in a holiday paradise, Waugh’s Irish are savvy consumers who can recognize the difference between natural and artificial poetry Only for— eigners are taken in by the Celtic kitsch. The pastoral myth of the West of Ireland as a maternal heaven is similarly satirized in john Ford’s classic 1952 movie, The Quiet Man, in which the name ‘Inisfree’ (spelt with only one ‘n’) becomes a synecdoche for an entire land— scape. Shot mostly on location, the filmjuxtaposes picturesque images of the village of Cong, the mountains of Connemara and the beaches near Clifden as if these widely scattered places were all in easy walking distance of each other, and calls them ‘Inisfree’. Ford‘s violence to topography tells an imaginative truth about the way a literary artefact has become the lens through which outsiders see the West, In its turn, his film has coloured the landscape it re- organized: the Connemara location of a famous scene is now called ‘The Quiet Man Bridge’. The film opens with the appearance of a stranger who confounds the expectations of the Irish. For the locals, Inisfree is not a symbol of paradise but a source of incorr and catch trout. An A camera or a fishing Tl steps out of the railwa‘ rather than the need tc stereotypical Irish fail long—winded discussio of Yeats's famous poert Abbey actor Barry Fitz says, with a brisk flou‘ sion are doubled, at ll who starred in the the. trot away the camera locals, one of whom a: to Inisfree?” The opening of F0 poem; but like the po deploys the myth of r ‘quiet, peace-loving ma Pittsburgh and haunted to return to the Irish 0 Pollexfen, Sean Thornt their lost origins: ‘Ever my mother told me abt another word for heave far from being heaven, whom he buys the cott; The Quiet Man is a l satirical commentary or epitomized in de Valera the home ofa peop ing, of a people w leisure to the thing with cosy homeste sounds of industry, youths and the laug for the wisdom of s Ford’s fantasy West is a fields, golden sands, the serene elders get up off are all compulsive gamb sumption). Ford anticip tres when the widow Til kers’ are granted a vision of them to purchase a partic~ ; dark’ (Whitsun 42). In an uty are metaphors for the :cept in death, the ultimate according to your Christian :ally relocates ‘The Lake lsle lifornia, where it becomes a Glades, Waugh’s parody of .le command the top prices, :1 up poetic, lt’s named after ' had bees too, but folks was ical and scientific; no sore can follow a trajectory from [[515 deliberately constructed _ in which the narrator sees ratus was working in good rispering Glades, like Yeats’s :e of eternity .1: both Yeats‘s fantasy island being sent up. Whispering and, in \Naugh’s early-posh are commodities that can be it, although the original cus- iosed to be Irish—Americans, )n‘t pay that much for plant- who can afford to purchase sh are savvy consumers who d artificial poetry. Only for— maternal heaven is similarly 'uiet Man, in which the name lecdoche for an entire land- ,es picturesque images of the i the beaches near Clifden as ilking distance of each other, )graphy tells an imaginative )me the lens through which :oloured the landscape it re— :ene is now called ‘The Quiet tranger who confounds the 2 is not a symbol of paradise Reading Yeats in Popular Culture 201 but a source of income: a place where tourists come to take photographs and catch trout. An American who arrives with a sleeping bag instead of a camera or a fishing rod is an anomaly. As Sean Thornton (John Wayne) steps out of the railway carriage and into a world governed by conversation rather than the need to keep the trains running on time (post—Mussolini this stereotypical Trish failing becomes a virtue), an absurdly tangential and long~winded discussion about the best way to get to lnisfree keeps the title of Yeats’s famous poem in the forefront of the audience’s mind. The former Abbey actor Barry Fitzgerald finally rescues Wayne. ‘lnisfree? This way’, he says, with a brisk flourish of his carriage whip. The layers of Yeatsian allue sion are doubled, at least for those who recognize Fitzgerald as someone who starred in the theatre Yeats helped to found. As Wayne and Fitzgerald trot away the camera pans deliberately across the sceptical faces of the locals, one of whom asks dubiously, ‘I wonder, now, why a man would go to lnisfree?’ The opening of Ford’s film thus challenges the opening line of Yeats’s poem; but like the poem and its namesake the ferryboat, Ford’s film also deploys the myth of reverse emigration, of coming home to lreland. The ‘quiet, peace—loving man‘ of the title, an Irish-American burnt out on life in Pittsburgh and haunted by a tragic accident in the boxing ring, is determined to return to the Irish cottage where he was born. Like Yeats’s mother Susan Pollexfen, Sean Thornton’s mother has kept alive in her child the dream of their lost origins: ‘Ever since 1 was a kid living in a shack near the slag heaps my mother told me about lnisfree and White 0‘ Mom. lnisfree has become another word for heaven to me.’ The locals view things differently: ‘lnisfree is far from being heaven, Mr Thornton’, says the sardonic widow Tillane, from whom he buys the cottage. The Quiet Man is a brilliant exercise in having it both ways. It provides a satirical commentary on the cultural ideology of forties and fifties Ireland, as epitomized in de Valera’s much derided vision of his country as the home of a people who valued material wealth only as the basis for right liv— ing, of a people who were satisfied with frugal comfort and devoted their leisure to the things of the spirit - a land whose countryside would be bright with cosy homesteads, whose fields and villages would be joyous with the sounds of industry, with the romping of sturdy children, the contests of athletic youths and the laughter of comely maidens, whose firesides would be forums for the wisdom of serene old age. (Speeches 466) Ford’s fantasy West is at once gorgeously ‘authentic’ (real Technicolor green fields, golden sands, the comeliest of maidens) and cheerfully subversive (the serene elders get up off their deathbeds at the prospect of a fight, the priests are all compulsive gamblers and there is nothing frugal about the alcohol con- sumption). Ford anticipates the present debate on tourism and heritage cen- tres when the widow Tillane asks Sean Thornton if he plans to turn White 0’ 202 Ireland’s Others Morn into a national shrine to the Thornton family and charge admission. Paradoxically, the economy of the present—day village of Cong is sustained in part on its representation as ‘Inisfree’, a place that never was, and there is indeed a Quiet Man Heritage Cottage which “will give the visitor a total Quiet Man experience. Designed as a replica of “White-O’Mornin” [sic] Cottage, all furnishings, artefacts and costumes are authentic reproductions”.l3 Whatever an authentic reproduction may be, the phrase suits the film per~ fectly White 0‘ Morn was always a heritage cottage. Thornton is determined to recreate his birthplace in the image of his exiled mother’s dream, and the film projects the white thatched cottage as a fantasy return to the womb. As he works to spruce up the picture—perfect outside, painting the woodwork a Clichéed bright green, the Anglican vicar and his wife pay him a visit. Mrs Playfair, an unlikely metacntic of film aesthetics, recognizes that the cottage, which was indeed built on a Hollywood set and looks remarkably unreal, is a simulacrum, kitsch rather than the real thing. In a layered moment of irony she exclaims, ‘It looks just as Irish cottages ought to, but so seldom do. And Only an American would have thought of emerald green’. Postcard Ireland, the Emerald Isle, signifies primarily to people who do not live there: it is a product of emigrant nostalgia and tourist demand. Like White 0’ Mom itself, it is always already a replica. Together with round towers, high crosses, castles and monasteries, the thatched cottage remains a dominant feature of the marketable landscape, outnumbered in contemporary photographic catalogues only by the facades ofpubs.” In Neil jordan’s The Butcher Boy (1997). the hero Francie runs away from small-town Ireland to Dublin, and while he is in the city he buys for his mother a plaster model of one of these ‘cosy homesteads’, an urban fantasy of everything his own squalid Irish home is not, When the colleen who sits play- ing the harp outside the thatched cottage comes to surreal life as the notori— ously transgressive rock star Sinead O’Connor (who also plays the Virgin Mary), the joke is at the expense of de Valera’s ‘comely maidens? and the stereotypical national image, the woman with the harp.15 The Quiet Man, which foregrounds pub facades and Celtic crosses and even features the bottom of Yeats's tower in a semi—disguised visual quotation, is itself a catalogue of romantic “Images of Ireland” that are exploited and undermined at the same time. Sean Thornton is even more impractical than the Years of ‘Innisfree’: instead of ‘fr'ugal’ beans, he plants extravagant roses round his ‘small cabin‘ in honour of his mother, who evoked them constantly in her memories of the cottage. The symbolic connection of roses with fan— tasy is continued throughout the film: when his new wife Mary Kate (Mau— reen O’Hara) refuses to consummate their marriage because her dowry has not been paid, Thornton in his turn refuses to plant vegetables, although he continues to nurture his rose garden. No children, no cabbages. To Mrs Play» fair, however, a flower is just a flower. She offers Thornton a pot plant as a housewarming gift and even accompanies it with a line of poetry, but the line she chooses, ‘A primro misquotes ‘Peter Bell’, Playfair’s pedantic corrn next line ends with “h enough to take the wei; go and look it up. For meaning: Challenging Thornton’s free, Fords invocation i maternal fantasy represr Mrs Playfair’s dismissal hope you aren’t one, I\ Yeats and his romantit reminds Thornton that of the heart: the best fe Yeats is not the only contribution: The Quiet ous past, independent grounding of the word restaging of The Phlbe affectionate irony at the Synge and de Valera is n foot, red—headed Mary sun—dappled green land perspective permits hin postcard fantasy produi never again seen in pH Quiet Man continues [( even as it acknowledgr kitsch is hard to tell fro Such irony rs not cl work. For example, it I rated 1986 film, Peggy ‘When You Are Old ant ity and value, as ‘the re of Ronsard, is a poem 2 Yeats anticipates the olc in dreams to her youth advantage of his devotit family and charge admission. village of Cong is sustained in e that never was, and there is Will give the visitor a total Quiet ite-O”Mornin”” [sic] Cottage, all tic reproductions”.13 -e, the phrase suits the film per- )ttage. Thornton is determined :xiled mother’s dream, and the antasy return to the womb, As side, painting the woodwork a his wife pay him a visit. Mrs cs, recognizes that the cottage, d looks remarkably unreal, is a In a layered moment of irony .ght to, but so seldom do. And erald green”. Postcard Ireland, : who do not live there: it is a 1nd. Like White 0” Morn itself, ;, castles and monasteries, the of the marketable landscape, catalogues only by the facades ’7), the hero Francie runs away he is in the city he buys for his imesteads’, an urban fantasy of Vhen the colleen who sits play- es to surreal life as the notori- or (who also plays the Virgin ra’s ‘comely maidens” and the the harp. 15 acades and Celtic crosses and :mi—disguised visual quotation, 'eland” that are exploited and is even more impractical than is, he plants extravagant roses r, who evoked them constantly connection of roses with fan— iis new wife Mary Kate (Mau— trriage because her dowry has I plant vegetables, although he ren, no cabbages. To Mrs Play— fers Thornton a pot plant as a th a line ofpoetry, but the line Reading Yeats in Popular Culture 203 she chooses, ‘A primrose by a river's brink”, is deliberately anti-poetic. She misquotes ‘Peter Bell”, one of Wordsworth’s dullest poems. The Reverend Playfair”s pedantic correction of her rhyme—word, “brim”, not “brink”. The next line ends with “him” ’, indicates that Ford’s literary allusion is precise enough to take the weight of a modernist reading, demands, indeed, that we go and look it up. For Wordsworths Peter Bell, nature is empty of symbolic meaning: A primrose by a river‘s brim A yellow primrose was to him And it was nothing more. (64) Challenging Thornton’s conviction that the shortest way to heaven is via Inis» free, Ford”s invocation of Peter Bell’s materialism exposes and undercuts the maternal fantasy represented by the roses and the emerald-green cottage door. Mrs Playfairs dismissal of the imagination, ‘Poets are so silly, aren”t they? I do hope you aren”t one, Mr Thornton’, teases not only Wordsworth, but also Yeats and his romantic disciple the Quiet Man. Mrs Playfair trenchantly reminds Thornton that dreams are nourished in the foul rag—and—bone shop of the heart: the best fertilizer for roses, she says, is horse manure. Yeats is not the only writer ofthe Irish Renaissance whom Ford lays under contribution: The Quiet Man, with its feisty heroine, stranger with a murder- ous past, independent and amorous widow, horseracing on the sands, fore— grounding of the word ‘shift’ and glorification of violence, is an optimistic restaging of The Playboy of the Western World. Ford’s complex but ultimately affectionate irony at the expense of the images of Ireland produced by Yeats, Synge and de Valera is matched by self—irony: when Thornton first sees a bare- foot, red-headed Mary Kate herding her implausibly clean flock through a sun-dappled green landscape, he asks, ‘Is she real? She can’t be”. His American perspective permits him to understand that this rural vision of Mary Kate is a postcard fantasy produced by his own emigrant nostalgia, and indeed she is never again seen in proximity to a sheep. Yet Ford wants it both ways: The Quiet Man continues to eXploit stereotypes of the pastoral West of Ireland even as it acknowledges that Inisfree is far from being heaven. Sometimes kitsch is hard to tell from the real thing. Such irony is not characteristic of later American appropriations of Yeatss work, For example, it is wholly absent from Francis Ford Coppola‘s under- rated 1986 film, Peggy Sue Got Married, which uses Yeatss early love poem ‘When You Are Old and Grey and Full of Sleep‘ as a guarantor of authentic- ity and value, as ‘the real thing”. ‘When You Are Old", itself an appropriation of Ronsard, is a poem about movement though time. In a circular trajectory; Yeats anticipates the old age of his beloved, and then imagines her returning in dreams to her youth (the present of his poem), in which she failed to take advantage of his devotion: ‘1 204 Ireland’s Others 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. (Poems 41) Peggy Sue Got Married, which employs literal time travel, reverses the direct tional loop of Yeats’s poem. The presently middle-aged Peggy Sue (Kathleen Turner) becomes a young girl again but retains her knowledge of the future she has already experienced. This return to her high-school days permits her to enjoy a brief affair with the poet Michael, a ‘commie beatnik weirdo‘ whom she had vainly admired in her youth. Where Yeats‘s poem looks forward only in order to look back in regret (Murmur, a little sadly, how love fled”). Peggy Sue goes back in order to find out what she missed, and to decide not to regret it. Michael is a handsome young man, but his poetry is terrible. When he recites his own lines as a prelude to seducing Peggy Sue, she is turned off by his disgusting imagery: “Razor shreds of rat puke fall on my bare arms”, In Glamour magazine, a list of the “Most overrated things about love” contains the item ‘Him writing you poetry, unless he’s Yeats”,16 and Michael swiftly gets the seduction back on track by recourse to a better love poet than himself. His hand unbuttons Peggy Sue’s blouse as Yeats’s lines roll off his tongue: 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. (Poems 41) Lest he be suspected of plagiarism, he adds hastily, ‘I didn’t write that. That‘s Yeats’. Peggy Sue is duly overcome by poetic emotion, but not too much to whisper, ‘No more rat puke — try and write something beautiful’. In other words, something a bit more like the Master. Michael’s hilarious response, ‘l‘ll respect you for eternity’, resonates at the end of the film, when Peggy Sue wakes up from her time travel to find at her bedside a volume of his poetry dedicated to her and called, in homage to Yeats’s lines, The Pilgrim Soul. Unlike The Bridges of Madison County, which never engages more than superficially with ‘The Song of Wandering Aengus’, its facile marker for lrishness, Peggy Sue Got Married uses ‘When You Are Old’ to clever and subtle effect. Michael takes good care to acknowledge his poetic debts: for him the Author is still alive and well and guarantees the authenticity of his work. Other cinematic Yeats quoters are not initially so scrupulous. A young flyer’s deliber- ate plagiarism of ‘An Irish Airman Foresees His Death’ frames the action sequences of Memphis Belle, British producer David Puttnam’s 1990 film about the last mission of the most famous American bomber of World War 11. The film works hard to emphasize the distinctive ethnicity of this poetry-loving American airman. An army PR man, who is doing a feature on the crew for Life magazine in an attempt to ‘sell’ the war to less—than-enthusiastic folks back S l i home, tells us in voice-eve Daly. “A” student, editor 0 day after he graduated fror out the movie: he has flan rocks as good luck charn moments, is the Irish class can hardly compete with ‘1 character his major drama identity The scene in which t} detail. The mission is del: climb out of their plane tt ing titles identify the date edge of a cornfield being machine. Since harvesting an obvious seasonal absur American farmer’s son Cla work. Clay, who has ‘one machine, The shot of the tower of an ancient Englisl here are Tradition, Land 2 belong to the Irish—Americ is a good deal more confli country of ancestral origir. Danny’s link to his Arr mates. Unlike the captain, no romantic interest waitir not imagine what he will rookie airman that he is n: The director’s choice of Yr tional limbo, drained of af' as airman. His situation is tension is palpable as the) airfield, neither embarked light bombing of the Gerr has been writing poetry ir nervous jokiness pervades most of them. But as Dan Airman Foresees His Deatl played on the harmonica, the silence at the end of t] Sue Got Married, popula homage to high culture. C the presence of ‘the real th of sleep, 1 this book, sofl look idows deep. (Poems 41) 11 time travel, reverses the direc- iiddle-aged Peggy Sue (Kathleen tins her knowledge of the future ier high~school days permits her 1 ‘commie beatnik weirdo’ whom Yeats’s poem looks forward only ittle sadly, how love fled’), Peggy ie missed, and to decide not to , but his poetry is terrible. When cing Peggy Sue, she is turned off at puke fall on my bare arms”. In 3d things about love” contains the ts“,15 and Michael swiftly gets the :tter love poet than himself. His ; lines roll off his tongue: glad grace, se or true, in you, ging face. (Poems 41) hastily, ‘I didn‘t write that. That’s c emotion, but not too much to a something beautiful’. In other Michael’s hilarious response, ‘l’ll nd of the film, when Peggy Sue ‘ bedside a volume of his poetry ts’s lines, The Pilgrim Soul, Unlike engages more than superficially acile marker for Irishness, Peggy clever and subtle effect. ge his poetic debts: for him the re authenticity of his work. Other "upulous. A young flyers deliber- 15 His Death” frames the action David Puttnam’s 1990 film about in bomber of World War H. The e ethnicity of this poetry~loving sing a feature on the crew for Life essethan-enthusiastic folks back Reading Yeats in Popular Culture 205 home, tells us in voice-over: ‘This kid couldn’t be more Irish if he tried. Danny Daly. “A” student, editor of the school paper, valedictorian, he volunteered the day after he graduated from college’. Danny’s irishness is emphasized through— out the moxie: he has flaming red hair, he writes poems, he distributes sham— rocks as good luck charms, and his theme song, which recurs at climactic moments, is the Irish classic “Danny Boy”. 'An lrish Airman Foresees His Death” can hardly compete With ‘Danny Boy‘ as a pop cultural artefact, but it gives the character his major dramatic moment and is used to define his hybrid cultural identity, The scene in which the poem is spoken is loaded with symbolic visual detail. The mission is delayed by bad weather over the target, and the men climb out of their plane to await new orders for take—off. Although the open— ing titles identify the date as 13 May 1943, the Memphis Belle is parked at the edge of a cornfield being harvested by a man with a horseedrawn reaping machine. Since harvesting in England takes place in late August, the film risks an obvious seasonal absurdity in order to bond one member of the crew, the American farmer’s son Clay, with the British rustic who can’t make his reaper work. Clay, who has ‘one just like it at home”, offers to fix the picturesque machine. The shot of the lush, ripe cornfield also conveniently takes in the tower of an ancient English church; the national values being visually invoked here are Tradition, land and Religion, But neither the land nor the religion belong to the lrish-American Danny, whose historical relationship to England is a good deal more conflicted than that of the aptly named Clay, and whose country of ancestral origin is neutral in the war against Germany. Danny’s link to his American ‘home’ is also more tenuous than that of his mates. Unlike the captain, for whose girlfriend the plane is named, Danny has no romantic interest waiting for him at the end of his tour of duty, and he can» not imagine what he will be doing after the war is over. He confides to a rookie airman that he is not particularly looking forward to leaving the base. The director’s choice of Yeats’s poem locates Danny in a political and emo— tional limbo, drained of affective ties except to his comrades and his vocation as airman, His situation is shared to a lesser extent by the whole crew, whose tension is palpable as they wait between life and death at the margin of the airfield, neither embarked upon nor relieved of their hazardous duty: the day— light bombing of the German city of Bremen. When they notice that Danny has been writing poetry in a notebook and ask him to recite some, an air of nervous jokiness pervades the scene, ‘Poetry’, elite culture, is too serious for most of them. But as Danny, after much hesitation, launches into ‘An Irish Airman Foresees His Death’, backed by a few quiet phrases from ‘Danny Boy‘ played on the harmonica, the internal audience’s resistance is overcome, and the silence at the end of the recitation is daringly stretched out. As in Peggy Sue Got Married, popular culture pays unconditional and non-ironical homage to high culture. Characters and audience understand that they are in the presence of ‘the real thing’: 206 Ireland's Others I know that I shall meet my fate Somewhere among the clouds above; "hose that 1 fight I do not hate, "hose that I guard I do not love; Nor law, nor duty bade me fight, Nor public men, nor cheering crowds, A lonely impulse of delight Drove to this tumult in the clouds; I balanced all, brought all to mind, The years to come seemed waste of breath, A waste of breath the years behind 1n balance with this life, this death. (Poems 135) Unlike the other airmen, the audience is privileged to observe that Danny’s notebook contains nothing but crossed~0ut lines of poetry: he speaks Yeats’s words because he has none of his own. This plagiarism comes back to haunt him later, but his theft is rhetorically and performatively appropriate. The ‘1’ who voices Yeats’s poem belongs to a ventriloquized dramatic speaker, whom Danny has been carefully constructed to resemble. Yeats’s historical Irish airman was Major Robert Gregory, the only son of his friend Lady Augusta Gregory, who was shot down over Italy in 1918. Yeats removes the hyphen from Gregory’s ethnic identity, but he was an Anglo-Irish— man who volunteered to serve in the British Royal Air Force. Danny has a sim— ilarly hybrid cultural allegiance. The details of his character (Irish—American, volunteer, valedictorian, poet, editor, college graduate, radio operator, photog- rapher, apparently doomed youth) are drawn not only from ‘An Irish Airman Foresees I-Iis Death”, but also from Yeats’s elegy ‘In Memory of Major Robert Gregory’, which laments the untimely loss of a multi—talented Renaissance man: Soldier, scholar, horseman, he, And all he did done perfectly As though he had but that one trade alone. (Poems 134-) As Yeats‘s elegy also tells us, Gregory was a painter; the more modern but equally visual Danny may have trouble finishing a poem, but he is never with- out his camera. Although these subtle parallels will escape most audiences, and none of the American reviews that I have found mention Yeats at all, it is nevertheless clear that the British production team used his World War 1 poem not only to produce an intensely quiet moment before the ‘tumult in the clouds’ begins, but to devise an oblique way of suggesting the ethnic corn, plexities of Irish—American involvement in World \Nar 11. The poem is an appropriate vehicle with which to raise the question of tangled political loyalties, since they are the essence of its subject. During World War I, conscription Easter Rising of 1916 had gory‘s decision to voluntee tion to serve could be seen Irish nationalist, and as ele Yeats could not straightfo Empire that had executed t rifice in individualist, non balanced evocation of politi 1 fight [the Germans] 1 do n love’. Because it names a s] quatrain about Kiltartan an tion with lines that could dc law, nor duty bade me figh Irish-Americans were in fat side of their old enemy, O’Brien, Danny has left be] gies into the current fight. Having jettisoned the c subjective explanation of C impulse of delight” so inten breath'. Activating a paradc that only a close encounter always wondered whether friend’s poem, which com because he got his kicks or exciting battle sequence it ‘ about flying is confirmed by Airline Pilot asserts that the pilots, many of whom keep pocket” (Hayhurst 28).17 The film’s use of the poe on whether they know, as I torical Memphis Belle survii the characters get back alive several of them along the v for death. When he is wour the cliche appears to be clos a last confession of his plag the melodramatic gesture th stopped; he is literally balan successful administration ( predictability and cancel t poem correctly — ‘Yeats. Yea te ab ove; re; ht, crowds, luds; tind, ate of breath, hind eath. (Poems 135) rivileged to observe that Danny’s lines of poetry: he speaks Yeats’s ; plagiarism comes back to haunt erforrnatively appropriate. The ‘I’ oquized dramatic speaker, whom emble. {obert Gregory, the only son of his t down over Italy in 1918. Yeats entity, but he was an Anglo-Irish- Royal Air Force. Danny has a sim— of his character (Irish-American, graduate, radio operator, photog- n not only from ‘An Irish Airman egy ‘In Memory of Major Robert of a multi‘talented Renaissance de alone. (Poems 134) a painter; the more modern but ring a poem, but he is never with— llels will escape most audiences, re found mentlon Yeats at all, it is ion team used his World War I et moment before the ‘tumult in way of suggesting the ethnic com- Vorld War II. h which to raise the question of re essence of its subject. During Reading Yeats in Popular Culture 207 World War I, conscription was never extended to Ireland, which since the Easter Rising of 1916 had been in open rebellion against the Empire. Gree gory’s decision to volunteer for a war in which he had no technical obliga- tion to serve could be seen as a statement of his allegiance to Britain. As an Irish nationalist, and as elegist of the Irish rebels executed after the Rising, Yeats could not straightforwardly celebrate a death in the service of the Empire that had executed them, and was thus forced to justify Gregory’s sac- rifice in individualist, non-political terms. Hence the curious, rhetorically balanced evocation of political disinterestedness in the first verse: ‘Those that I fight [the Germans] I do not hate /Those that I guard [the English] I do not love”. Because it names a specific Irish geographical location, Yeats’s second quatrain about Kiltartan and its people is cut, and Danny resumes his recita— tion with lines that could describe any non—conscripted Irish-American: ‘Nor law, nor duty bade me fight, /Nor public men, nor cheering crowds’. Many Irish—Americans were in fact opposed to America's entry into the war on the side of their old enemy, England. But, like Frank McGuinness’s jamie O’Brien, Danny has left behind ancient quarrels in order to throw his ener— gies into the current fight. Having jettisoned the conventional reasons for enlistment, Yeats offers a subjective explanation of Gregory’s motivation: he is animated by ‘A lonely impulse of delight” so intense that it renders both past and future ‘A waste of breath’. Activating a paradox familiar to students of masculinity, he suggests that only a close encounter with death can make a man feel fully alive. I have always wondered whether poor Lady Gregory was much consoled by her friend’s poem, which comes perilously close to saying that her son died because he got his kicks out of high-risk behaviour; but as a lead—in to an exciting battle sequence it works extremely well. Moreover, Yeatss intuition about flying is confirmed by an impeccable source: an article in the magazine Airline Pilot asserts that the poem ‘enjoys almost cult status among fighter pilots, many of whom keep (or kept) it folded in their wallet or in a flightsuit pocket” (Hayhurst 28).17 The film’s use of the poem will resonate differently for viewers depending on whether they know, as I originally did not, that the whole crew of the his— torical Memphis Belle survived The war-movie formula requires that some of the characters get back alive, but in the interests of pathos it usually sacrifices several of them along the way Yeats‘s lines mark the romantic Irish dreamer for death. When he is wounded and the film flashes back to the poem scene, the cliche appears to be closing in. Danny purges his Catholic conscience with a last confession of his plagiarism from a Protestant poet and falls back with the melodramatic gesture that usually signals cinematic demise. His heart has stopped; he is literally balanced between life and death. It takes his friend Val‘s successful administration of CPR to rescue the moment from sentimental predictability and cancel the misleading poetic omens. In attributing the poem correctly — ‘Yeats. Yeats wrote that. W B. Yeats. I couldn’t . . .’ — Danny m “wees, ,,,. 208 Ireland's Others transfers the death foreseen away from himself and back to the original Irish Airman. Plagiarism, it seems, can be fatal: better to cite your sources. I have given a detailed modernist reading to what I consider Memphis Belle’s modernist use of Yeats because, whether or not the audience recognizes them, the political resonances evoked by the poem in its cinematic context are as coherent and meaningful as those of the original. The allusion signifies in depth. When I consider contemporary appropriations of a better—known poem, ‘The Second Coming’, I am less certain that a modernist reading is appropriate. One line in particular, ‘Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold’, has entered the language so completely that it is normally used without attri- bution, especially by the headline writers and journalists of the New York Times, for whom it is a perennial resource. ‘Will the Center Hold?“ they enquire; or (more often) they lament that ‘The Center Isn't Holding”. A recent book on the Supreme Court reassures us that The Center Holds. Still, for every writer who uses the phrase without knowing or caring where it comes from, there is another for whom, as the New York Times’s ‘Metropolitan Diary’ asserts, ‘Yeats is “The center cannot hold" ’15 Yet this is a curiously unpoetic line to have acquired such Wide currency. There is nothing remarkable about the diction, except the degree of its abstraction. How can we explain its immense popularity? Perhaps, like Shake» speare’s ‘To be or not to be“, lack of particularity is the secret of its success. ‘Things fall apart’ — but what things? ‘The centre cannot hold’ — but where is the centre? Centre is a relative term: One man’s centre is another woman’s periphery. Apart from the falcon image, which is seldom quoted, the opening section of ‘The Second Coming’ is the ultimate ‘fill—in—the-blanks‘ poem. Lack- ing nouns, Yeats’s superlative adjectives allow quoters to designate their own ‘best’ and ‘worst’, as Yeats himself was the first to do. Drafts of the poem reveal that his immediate inspiration was the political chaos in Europe after \Vorld War I. In 1919 when the poem was written, Yeats saw the Communist revo- lution in Russia as the major threat to world stability, but in 1938 he re1nter~ preted ‘The Second Coming‘ as a prophecy of fascism.19 He got away with this volte—face because in the process of revision he had obliterated all the specifics. Irish poems like ‘September 1913’ and ‘Easter 1916‘ name names and mention places, but in ‘The Second Coming’ the loss of local reference allows for multiple readings. The twentieth-century record of genoeide and mass death in two world wars, the Holocaust, the Gulags, Rwanda and Bosnia renders an image as generalized and yet as menacing as ‘the blood~dinimed tide’ endlessly applicable. Although for some readers the poems durability derives from its elegant restatement of the Second Law of Thermodynamics, for most American politicians and journalists ‘the center‘ that either holds or falls apart is Amer- ican democraCy. As Al Gore graciously conceded the recent presidential elec— tion and George W Bush responded in kind, John McCain prodaimed triumphantly, ‘The center holds‘.20 An earlier NPR broadcast that highlighted E g i E the outbreak of Yeats- Democrats and Republi are equally fond of the November 1995, Bill C clear that the responsit away from division, to and diverse people, ll'll There is irony in Clinto democrat himself and e mony. But the tight-win diametrically opposed presidency by suggestin ‘We’re going to roll thi dream. I am not going [1 B. Yeats, wrote these Wt devastating war: “Thing: take about the date of power of Yeats‘s reinterr alignment of ‘the center is just as tendentious as The global, indeed demonstrated by the te Yeatss apocalyptic poerr the opening voice—over, peace. A self—contained place of commerce anc aliens. A shining beacor of science fiction, and century America is tran like the Narns, the Min human beings, engaging ‘last best hope for peace‘ 1862 State of the Unic Departure' (02/11/1994 down in honor or dish meanly lose our last bes is called ‘Revelations’ (0‘. War oratory as a wamir and aliens in an apocaly ‘Revelations’ demor alludes to one of the p which describes the adv end of the world. In thi: comes back from the on and back to the original Irish r to cite your sources. to what I consider Memphis 1r not the audience recognizes 2m in its cinematic context are ginal. The allusion signifies in ipriations of a better-known 1 that a modernist reading is ipart; the centre cannot hold’, ; normally used without attri- ljournalists of the New York Will the Center Hold?‘ they Zenter Isn’t Holding”. A recent 1e Center Holds. Still, for every r caring where it comes from, Times’s ‘Metropolitan Diary’ acquired such wide currency 3n, except the degree of its pularity? Perhaps, like Shake- ty is the secret of its success. e cannot hold’ — but Where is is centre is another woman’s s seldom quoted, the opening ill-in-the-blanks’ poem. Lack— uoters to designate their own I do. Drafts of the poem reveal chaos in Europe after World ats saw the Communist revo- bility, but in 1938 he reinter- ‘cism.Ig He got away with this 1 he had obliterated all the id ‘Easter 1916‘ name names ig’ the loss of local reference 1tury record of genocide and e Gulags, Rwanda and Bosnia nacing as ‘the blood-dimmed bility derives from its elegant rnamics, for most American r holds or falls apart is Amer- :l the recent presidential elec— 1, John McCain proclaimed PR broadcast that highlighted i E i i i i i E l x Reading Yeats in Popular Culture 209 the outbreak of Yeats—quoting among American politicians revealed that Democrats and Republicans, from Gore to his polar opposite Pat Buchanan, are equally fond of the Irish poet‘s resonant phraseology (‘Politicians’l In November 1995, Bill Clinton told the Democratic Leadership Council, ‘It is clear that the responsibility of the United States today is to lead the world away from division, to show the world that the center can hold; that a free and diverse people, through democratic means, can form a lasting union’. There is irony in Clinton’s appropriation of Yeats, who was far from being a democrat himself and expected the Apocalypse rather than American hege- mony. But the right-wing Republican Robert Dornan found Yeats adaptable to diametrically opposed purposes when he announced his 1996 run for the presidency by suggesting that, although Clinton was destroying the country, ‘We‘re going to roll this decay back. We're going to restore the American dream. I am not going to watch as things fall apart. My favorite poet, William B. Yeats, wrote these words in 1939, the year Hitler began the world’s most devastating war: “Things fall apart. The center cannot hold” ’.21 Dornan‘s mis- take about the date of ‘The Second Coming‘ demonstrates the compelling power of Yeats‘s reinterpretation of the poem as an augury of fascism. but his alignment of ‘the center’ with the Republican version of the American Dream is just as tendentious as Clinton’s enrolment of Yeats as a Democrat. The global, indeed the galactic applicability of ‘The Second Coming’ is demonstrated by the television science fiction series Babylon 5, which takes Yeats’s apocalyptic poem more seriously than the politicians do. According to the opening voicecver, the Babylon 5 space station is ‘our last best hope for peace. A self—contained world five miles long, located in neutral territory A place of commerce and diplomacy for a quarter of a million humans and aliens. A shining beacon in space. all alone in the night’. Allegory is a staple of science fiction, and the use of Babylon 5 as an analogue for twentieth— century America is transparent. Babylon 5 is a melting pot in which ‘aliens’ like the Narns, the Minbari and the Centauri live in precarious amity with human beings, engaging in ‘commerce and diplomacy” and clinging to their “last best hope for peace’. The phrase ‘our last best hope’ comes from Lincoln’s 1862 State of the Union speech, cited at length in the episode ‘Points of Departure” (02/11/1994): ‘The fiery trial through which we pass will light us down in honor or dishonor to the last generation. We shall nobly save or meanly lose our last best hope’, In the following episode of Babylon 5, which is called ‘Revelations’ (09/11/1994), ‘The Second Coming” joins Lincoln’s Civil War oratory as a warning about saving or losing the Union between humans and aliens in an apocalyptic galactic war. ‘Revelations’ demonstrates that even aliens appreciate Yeats. The title alludes to one of the poet's major sources, the biblical Book of Revelation, which describes the advent of the seven-headed beast, the Antichrist and the end of the world, In this episode, G’Kar, the Narn ambassador to Babylon 5. comes back from the outermost rim of known space with news of the return 210 Ireland's Others of ‘an ancient race described in our Holy Books” who come from ‘a dark and terrible place called Z’ha’dumi, which has been ‘dead for a thousand years’. These ‘shadows’, as they are called, are figures for the Satanic enemy in the perennial struggle between good and evil that animates so much fantasy and science fiction, As he describes them, G'Kar’s language is saturated with Yeat— sian echoes: he declares that ‘something is moving, gathering its forces, and that ‘after a thousand years the darkness has come again’. Unlike the joure nalists and politicians who borrow Yeats’s most famous phrases Without grappling with the complexity and obscurity of the poem from which they are taken, the writerjohn Michael Straczynski has read the difficult middle section of ‘The Second Coming”, although in deference to his mass audience he refrains from quoting it, sticking instead to the best known parts, the opening and the last two lines. G’Kar shows his fellow~Narn NaToth that he has been reading a human book. ‘l’ve been studying their literature for a while, and I came across this. it would seem that they may be wiser than we had thought: Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world, The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere The ceremony of innocence is drowned; And what rough beast, its hour come round at last, Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?’ Even if the sight of a spotted green creature reciting Yeats makes you laugh, Babylon 5 takes its poetry dead seriously, and television writer Straczynski mounts a defence of literary value that many English professors committed to postmodernist scepticism about hierarchies and absolutes would be embar— rassed to offer: One aspect of the Yeats quote, and the Lincoln quote . . . is that I think a lot of folks at some point tuned out of, or aren’t interested in, literature and poetry because 1hey've never really been exposed to it. 50 Just to be a little subversrve, I work some of it into the show. i choose that which has meaning to the show, and the characters, in the hopes that . . . viewers will dig out the original mate— rial and he exposed to some *really* nifty writing. Granted that television must entertain at minimum; it should also elevate and ennoble and educate, and this is too good an opportunity to waste, provided one does not become didactic about it.22 You could hardly get less postmodern than that. Not only does Straczy‘nski think of poetry and history, Yeats and Lincoln, as ‘the real thing', but he also hopes that his viewers will return to the originals and be ennobled by them. Although Yeats is not named in the episode itself, Straczynski posted the .5 l , 5 i ‘- t 1 E l t "mum mm «w.,w.'«'m.~. .. was .~.Ww~umwmumwmm-_ 1......” .m...n.m.-mm,w Meow» -Mw~ 5 g l l l i complete text of the pet away from canonical WV culture. some popular t fashioned way. A now defunct serie lennium, offers a less rev: ing’, which is juxtapose create a paranoid scenar divination and apocalyp to see you dance on the is drowned’, as he watcl a kitchen knife. The kil sees AlDS as one of the cede the end of the WOI series, Frank, is blessed l ness: he experiences in created by the mass mt suggest a postmodern 5 their originating Autho from a blurred videotap ments. These fragments preted correctly, and in ; poem to the understanc who look as if they have Lit. The poor quality of niche in the world of tl the ominously blood—s2 comfortable platitudes c Even soap opera, st and the least likely to l act. In 1995 ABC‘s One to lnishcrag, an island Thornheart, an implaus Dublin, who provides 2 to the American medi islands where time stan ents of poetry and terrl and even the milkman paramilitary organizat'tc verbal decor when Fan of those proto—soap-opi ent of the sword in the orchestrated by two co love poem, ‘Brown Pen looks” who come from ‘a dark and been ‘dead for a thousand years‘, ,ures for the Satanic enemy in the hat aniniates so much fantasy and r’s language is saturated with Yeat— nioving, gathering its forces‘, and has come again’. Unlike the jour- s’s most famous phrases without ‘ity of the poem from which they nski has read the difficult middle in deference to his mass audience sad to the best known parts, the us his fellow-Nam NaToth that he en studying their literature for a m that they may be wiser than we nnot hold; he world, ;ed, and everywhere drowned; r come round at last, 3 be born?’ ~e reciting Yeats makes you laugh, and television writer Straczynski y English professors committed to s and absolutes would be embar- ncoln quote . . . is that I think a lot of n’t interested in, literature and poetry :1 to it. So just to be a little subversive, - that which has meaning to the show, viewers will dig out the original mate— 1 writing. Granted that television must ate and ennoble and educate, and this avided one does not become didactic :1 that. Not only does Straczynski oln, as ‘the real thing’, but he also iginals and be ennobled by them. )de itself, Straczynski posted the l g j l l l i i l i Reading Yeats in Popular Culture 211 complete text of the poem on the Babylon 5 Lu rher’s Guide. As theorists turn away from canonical works and great men towards the analysis of popular culture, some popular culture revalorizes the canon in a resoundingly old- fashioned way. A now defunct series from the creator of The X—Files, Chris Carter’s Mil- lennium, offers a less reverent but no less canonical take on ‘The Second Com- ing‘, which is juxtaposed with Nostradamus and the Book of Revelation to create a paranoid scenario that mirrors Yeats’s own obsession with occultism, divination and apocalypse. in the pilot episode a serial killer mutters, “I want to see you dance on the blood-dimmed tide , . . The ceremony of innocence is drowned’. as he watches a stripper whom he will later hack to death with a kitchen knife. The killer, whose other targets are HIV—positive gay males, sees AIDS as one of the great plagues that will, according to Revelation, pre— cede the end of the world. Like the speaker of Yeats’s poem, the hero of the series, Frank, is blessed or cursed with the power to see into the heart of dark- ness: he experiences in his own mind the images of evil and destruction created by the mass murderer. The hip cinematic techniques of Millennium suggest a postmodern sensibility, in which Yeats‘s words might float free of their originating Author, and indeed, as Frank attempts to decipher them from a blurred Videotape of the killer, they appear simply as disjointed frag- ments. These fragments, however, are meant to be reconstructed and inter- preted correctly, and in a clunky realist scene Frank quotes and explicates the poem to the understandably baffled members of Seattle’s police department, who look as if they have been abruptly returned to the horrors of Sophomore Lit. The poor quality of the series notwithstanding, Yeats finds an appropriate niche in the world of the paranoid and paranormal, and Millennium reflects the ominously blood-saturated tone of the poem more accurately than the comfortable platitudes of Clinton and Dornan. Even soap opera, supposedly among the lowest of mass cultural genres and the least likely to be juxtaposed with high art, has got in on the Yeats act. In 1995 ABC’s One Life to Live sent one of its heroines, Marty Saybrooke, to lnishcrag, an island off the west coast of Ireland. There she met Patrick Thornheart, an implausibly sexy professor of literature from Trinity College Dublin, who provides a textbook demonstration of what ‘lrishness’ means to the American media. To Aran sweaters, pubs and stories of magical islands where time stands still, Patrick adds the indispensable lrish ingredi— ents of poetry and terror, Scattering lines of Yeats (‘You’re in Ireland now, and even the milkman quotes Yeats’), lie flees the Men of 2], a shadowy paramilitary organization meant to evoke the IRA. Yeats becomes more than verbal decor when Patrick and Marty. after frustrations and delays worthy of those proto-soap-opera characters Tristan and Isolde (to whose expedi- ent of the sword in the bed Patrick refers), finally make love.23 The scene is orchestrated by two complete recitations of Yeats’s not particularly famous love poem, ‘Brown Penny’. 1.2;; «we: 3 t 'r“ gm; ;: . _ , Jaw In... .. '5: x ,1 pm”. (Edna 212 Ireland's Others iwhispered, ‘I am too young‘, And then, ‘1 am old enough‘; Wherefore I threw a penny To find out ifI might love, ‘Go and love, go and love, young man, if the lady be young and fair‘. Ah, penny, brown penny, brown penny, i am looped in the loops of her hair. (Poems 98) The Manhattan Barnes and Noble sold out of Yeats’s poems the day after this episode was broadcast, and Patrick Thornheart’s home page on the Web (now discontinued) used to reproduce the full text of every poem he ever quoted — eight of them by Yeats. During the subsequent convolutions of the plot, the lines ‘Ah penny, brown penny, brown penny N am looped in the loops ofher hair’ acquired talismanic erotic status In honour of Yeats’s refrain and Thorn— heart’s body, his enthusiastic Internet fan club members called themselves ‘Loopers’. The conclusion suggested by my examples is not a particularly fashion- able one. It is that, at least in the case of Yeats, theorists of postmodern cul~ ture have somewhat exaggerated the demise of the Author, the dispersal of the canon and the abandonment of ‘truth, meaning and history“. Unlike subver~ sive ’zines and art house movies, which have a minority appeal, much main— stream popular culture maintains an ‘awkward reverence’ (Larkins phrase) for a Norton Anthology version of the past. Although literacy levels in America are not especially high, most college graduates have taken required Sopho- more Literature classes, in which ‘The Second Coming” is a perennial standby. (Together with ‘The Lake isle of innisfree’ it frequently appears on the Web pages of those who are fond of launching ‘My Favourite Poems’ into cyber- space.) Even in a genre — soap opera — that embodies the essence of kitsch, nostalgia for the real thing survives. One Life to Live emphasizes the difference between itself and Yeats by granting the superior intensity of poetry; an inten» sity foreign to the redundant and repetitive aesthetic of soap opera, as the double rendition of ‘Brown Penny’ emphasizes. if we find the effect senti— mental and melodramatic, we may still be intrigued by the way Yeats’s poetry functions, and is appreciatively received, within a medium antithetical to his own lyric economy. Perhaps the high-cultural centre does not exactly hold, nevertheless, in Auden’s powerful phrase, ‘The words of a dead man 1’ Are modified in the guts of the living’ (Poems 197). Discussions of politics between tradition and I comitant explosion of ized religion and the g North combine to sug thing of the past. Acct beginning of the third r ibly demonstrates the This apparently uncriti ization dismays postco: who argue that we neet place modernity abovr progress that represent: Such a narrative, they ( ity for lreland7s painfu atavistic feud between of liberation. Lloyd sug plicity with the forces indigenous forms of re nial modernity” Urelana Declan Kiberd has a displayed in so many co for example) might be through the implicatior enslaved to tradition. T dan’s attempt to do for t vides a concrete examp/ funded work of popula popular mood that rejer as ‘de Valera’s lreland‘, i and a hero who was no Collins. jordan’s manoei that, as David Lloyd has developments that nev developments, Lloyd hi‘ advocated by James Co ...
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This note was uploaded on 02/01/2009 for the course ENGL 3xx taught by Professor Schultz during the Spring '09 term at Saint Louis.

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