Poetic justice: WB Yeats’ stay in London finally celebrated | WB Yeats


Homesickness often brings other expatriates together and stimulates the creative impulse, prompting exiled artists to take up the brush or poets the pen. So the unveiling this week of a new tribute to the scorching Irish talent of the 20th century who wrote about his native land from the English capital should come as no surprise.

What is perhaps surprising is how long it took. After all, William Butler Yeats was not just a great literary star in Ireland. He can also claim to be the only full-time Nobel Prize-winning poet brought up in England.

Today, after a campaign by fans of Yeats’ work, including Sir Bob Geldof and actors Ciarán Hinds, Jeremy Irons, Sinéad Cusack and Ruth Negga, the long-awaited new public sculpture will finally celebrate the poet’s London life.

WB Yeats in 1911. Photography: George C Beresford/Getty Images

The sculpture, which will be unveiled by former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams on Tuesday, is the work of British sculptor Conrad Shawcross, and its arrival in a leafy London square will mark the end of a slow process of recognition in the region where Yeats grew up and lived until his fifties. The Bedford Park enclave in west London is also where he created some of the most popular poems ever written in English, including The Lake Isle of Innisfree. In British polls of favorite lyric works, Yeats is consistently the most successful.

As Geldof said, “Bedford Park is where the national poet found out what it was like to be impoverished, an outcast, an exile, became obsessed with a woman who would haunt his life and birth the greatest poetry of the 20th century. Surrounded by her extraordinary family and radically revolutionary neighbors, Bedford Park propelled the beautiful young poet into the maelstrom of poetry that would birth a nation.

Project organizers say the sculpture will be a fitting gateway to the park, which was the world’s first garden suburb, with its carefully preserved architecture from the Arts and Crafts movement.

English Heritage originally suggested a blue plaque be put up on the house in Blenheim Road, Chiswick, west London, where the young Yeats met the inspirational and radical figure of Maud Gonne and co-founded Irish Literary Society. Yeats’ parents had brought the family to Victorian England to settle in the village by the River Thames which was being built “for communal happiness” by Dublin-born Jonathan Carr. Soon the park, which had its own inn, shops, church, art school and social club, had attracted an eclectic, bohemian crowd and had become a magnet for creative activism.

Now, to misquote the phrase from the poet’s famous 1916 Easter poem, “a shimmering beauty will be born” when Williams reveals the shimmering metal tower of Shawcross. The work was partly funded by a £25,000 prize from the Royal Academy, as well as public donations and support from the London Borough of Hounslow and the Irish Embassy.

Bedford Park

For Cahal Dallat, a local contemporary poet and founder of the project, the new sculpture will be “a dazzling piece that reflects the genius of Yeats” as well as a fitting memorial to the “exiled longing” expressed by the poet.

Around the base of the artwork are words from Yeats’ poem, He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven, inscribed in stone. But the line that inspired Shawcross isn’t his best-known phrase, “tread softly because you’re treading on my dreams,” but the earlier verses that first impressed him when he heard Hinds read the verse. when the project was launched in 2018.

“If I had the embroidered sheets of heaven,

Forged in golden and silver light,

The blue and the dark and the dark fabrics

Of night and light and darkness…”

Some have already compared his 4.5 meter high work to falling autumn leaves. Others to a flock of white birds that appear in Yeats’s work, or to the flight of angels from Yeats’s Bedford Park period poems and the cover of his 1895 volume, Poems. But interpretations must be free, for as Yeats’ father, artist John Butler Yeats, once wrote to him in a letter dated between 1911 and 1916: “What can be explained is not poetry.”

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