Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Joni Mitchell Meets William Butler Yeats

Note: I revised and corrected (so many embarrassing mistakes!) this post from 2008 a bit and I'm republishing it for National Poetry Month.

sketch by John Singer Sargent
 I'm a huge Joni Mitchell fan. Being a teen in the mid-seventies, my favorite of Joni's music is not what was once categorized as folk, but her recordings since the mid-70's beginning with Hejira. From there I worked my way back to her folk beginnings. Even early on, Joni created a genre all of her own and remains to date an influence on countless songwriters, singers and musicians.

In this song, Mitchell takes the classic Yeats poem The Second Coming, slightly alters the words and writes a musical composition to it. My only complaint about Joni's version is that although she stayed fairly true to the original, she should have left it entirely as it was written. Others believe she shouldn't have touched it all. I'll let you decide.

(On a side note: Am I the only poetry nerd who thinks that Yeats was hot?  ;-)


 Slouching Toward Bethlehem from the CD Night Ride Home, 1991
Joni Mitchell
based on the poem by W.B. Yeats




Turning and turning in the widening gyre*
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
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;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming!
Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in the sands of the desert.
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

William Butler Yeats

*gyre -Yeats called each cycle of history a "gyre"--literally a circular or spiral turn. (He pronounced it with a hard "g.") He had a complicated system detailed in his book A Vision that proposed history as a series of 2,000 year eras, each of which begins and ends with some apocalyptic event in which the divine (in a Christian or some other form) inserts itself into human history resulting in cataclysmic historical and mythological consequences.

11 comments:

  1. i think he has a beautiful mouth in that drawing!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Beautiful! I was not familiar with this one. Thank you.

    Yeah, he's pretty hot.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Even this straight guy can see that he's hot.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Yes. beautiful mouth, hot and sexy. And we also like the poetry, right? :-)

    Seriously, Yeats wrote so much politcal poetry that I don't understand at all. But a couple of his poems are among the ones I've connected to the most, ever. This is one of them.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Hallo PS, Winston sent me.

    Oh the beautiful Yeats, and Joni Mitchell. Have not heard that song before, though am a big fan of BLUE, and have both the vinyl, (old now) and the CD. Great stuff.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Hi, ainelivia

    Blue is so many people's favorite album by Joni. And it's no wonder. I think you will like Night Ride Home, from which the song STB is on. It's much more acoustic and lyrical than her recordings of the 80s. Every track on that CD is excellent, in my opinion.

    Thank you so much for stopping by and come again!

    ReplyDelete
  7. Aaaagh, Gina, it doesn't get better than this - Joni and Yeats together yet!

    I hadn't known this one before - thank you.

    If Clannad can do The Sally Gardens, an early Yeats poem (admittedly more traditional), then why shouldn't Joni do Slouching Towards Bethlehem/The Second Coming?

    By the way, exactly a year ago, I published a little something on Yeats! Coincidence or serendipity or what? :-)

    ReplyDelete
  8. Oh, that is beautiful, Francis - Clannad doing Yeats, I mean!

    To add to the serendipity of my life, today would have been my 26th wedding anniversary, had I stayed married to my daughters' father.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Ah yes, Hejira followed by Don Juan's Reckless Daughter was when she really took off musically.

    You're correct that Yeats was very hot. Joni's version of this one did nothing to spoil my enjoyment of the poem.

    ReplyDelete
  10. What a great melding of art forms and incredible talents! Thanks for your passion about Joni, it was one of the great learning experiences of my life.

    And Happy Anniversary, regardless of the eventual disposition of that blessed but complicated stage of our lives; I cherish those days every time I talk to our beautiful daughters, and wouldn't trade it for the world!

    (P.S. - Wasn't I always a day late?)   ;)

    ReplyDelete

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