Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Pun on the word "Coole"

I promised to talk a bit about Yeats and Gregory, so here I go.

Saturday last we visited Thoor Ballylee and Coole Park, the homes of W.B. Yeats and Lady Augusta Gregory, respectively. For those of you who don't know much about Yeats and Gregory, follow the Wikipedia links I have attached to their names, and let me just say briefly that they were two of the most important figures of the Irish Literary Revival at the beginning of the 20th century. I could go on because, well, that's what this whole class is about, but I will keep it short so I can expound on my visit to these historic sites.

Thoor Ballylee, the tower and cottage that Yeats restored, was his home for about ten years from 1919 to 1929. At the moment the tower is flooded from the uncommon rains that racked the country last winter, but the magic of the place is still alive.

As we stood in the shadow of the tower, reading some of Yeats's tower poems, the sky turned dark and the rain started, just as Yeats would have wanted.

From there, we headed just up the road to Coole Park, the family estate of Lady Gregory, a meeting place of great minds during her day. Yeats wrote of Coole house, "This house has enriched my soul out of measure because here life moves without restraint through spacious forms." Everyone important from back then was invited and came to Coole Park, with one notable exception: James Joyce. He was the bad boy of Irish Literature, so he refused to come. The house itself was demolished in 1941, nine years after Gregory's death, so today, a large empty lot and stairs that lead to nowhere are all that remain.

Our class sat in the sun a stone's throw from the Autograph Tree to read Yeats's poetry about Coole Park. The Autograph Tree bears the initials of lots of great figures, including W. B. Yeats, G. B. Shaw, and J. M. Synge. Back then, you knew you were a lesser poet if Lady Gregory didn't ask you out to the tree.

We finished the afternoon by wandering the grounds, strolling through woods that felt like the late home of fairies, before electricity came to the West and they all vanished.

All day, I was struck with the wonder of reading Yeats's work in the places where it was composed and inspired. It's easy as you walk through the woods or stand by the tower to see how Yeats found such poetic creativity here. He was lucky to have such a generous and caring patron as Lady Gregory and the places she made available to him.

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