Thursday, February 22, 2007

Struck by Yeats

Stumbled across an online harvard lecture on WB Yeat's poem Among School Children where this following stanza from the poem jumped out at me:

(as you read these lines, picture me, a youthful mother, looking upon her son, whom someday she knows will ask questions about life that she may never be able to answer.

Yeats, here, is ruminating over some of these questions as he is invited to a montessori school in Dublin as a guest before young pre-schoolers.)

What youthful mother, a shape upon her lap
Honey of generation had betrayed,
And that must sleep, shriek, struggle to escape
As recollection or the drug decide,
Would think her son, did she but see that shape
With sixty or more winters on its head,
A compensation for the pang of his birth,
Or the uncertainty of his setting forth?

These astounding lines.

Dylan's birth forced questions about our mortality upon me. Questions about what the point of life is - for me, the worries of the uncertainties of "his setting forth", what he'll be like at sixty.

Just as Yeats here looks on at his audience of pre-schoolers, and also wonders if his own mother would have found "the pang of his birth" worthwhile.

After all, at the end, we all become "old scarecrows", with physical death the unavoidable fate that awaits us all. For me, the truth becomes more painful realising that I most likely won't stick around long enough to see my son at sixty.

Yeats, by that age, was an accomplished poet, a Nobel Laureate, at least.

By earthly achievements, he's arrived. And yet, it is interesting that even he, realising himself a "sixty year-old public smiling man" at this montessori school in Dublin, wonders if all our endeavours end up being "O self-born mockers of man's enterprise".

Anyway, the professor delivering this lecture, Vendler, is well worth listening to, if you're interested:


I asked E the other night about God.

And something Rick Warren said in the 40 Days of Purpose programme. Or rather, what the Bible says, and something Warren uses to remind us about our eternal purposes.

Firstly, our lives are about God, not about us. That's ok with me.

It's just that the second thing he says, is that we are made for eternity. That raises questions for me.

Eternity, or infinity, by definition, has no beginning nor end. Certainly, our God is the alpha and omega, both the beginning and the end.

Yet, if we are made for eternity, how is it that we all had a starting point ie. our births? Where were we, viz. God before we were born? If my personal relationship with God is eternal, where did it begin?

I asked Elroy if truly we existed in some form before we were born. Perhaps as Plato had imagined it, an ideal form of us existed, and then on an appointed day we are cast into a fallen world screaming in its shadows, grasping for the truth of who we are and what we are meant to be. And only at the consumation of our physical death, would we truly comprehend the nature of our existence in God's eternal plan.

Obviously, E. said that I was thinking too much again.

I guess I'll just have to put this down as another thing I must remember to ask my Lord and Master when I meet Him!

1 comment:

  1. It's odd, but you can't imagine how thankful I felt when you said today that you'd be bringing your family along with you when you head west later this year.

    Children, as Yeats observed, distort time. They make us wonder about things far in the future, cherish the very moment upon which we stand and recollect memories we once thought forgotten. Time stretches infinitely long when they cry and speed up when they're cheerful.

    Maybe time isn't rendered as we see it - a time line with a beginning and an end. Maybe it's really all encapsulated in all the richness you can pack in a single moment. The very substance of God makes time irrelevant, which we feebly grasp as eternity.