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.


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

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

    Yeah, he's pretty hot.

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

  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.

  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.

  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!

  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? :-)

  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.

  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.

  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?)   ;)


Thank you for taking the time to say you've been here.

I am sorry to say that I don't publish anonymous comments unless I know you through your initials, first name or blog name. I don't publish comments that have ANY kind of commercial or 'for sale' links.

You are Invited to Scroll Down! :-)

Please feel free to scroll down and look at the followers list, badges, photos and tons and tons of great links!

Search This Blog

In Memory of Bobbie

In Memory of Bobbie
Almost There

ARTLEX Art Dictionary

Kick Homophobia in The Butt: Add Your Name to the List of Supporters

Kick Homophobia in The Butt:  Add Your Name to the List of Supporters
click photo

Northampton Prop 8 Protest

Northampton Prop 8 Protest

It's Only Love

It's Only Love
See More Elopment Pictures here

Million Doors for Peace

Lines and Colors

Lines and Colors
A New Art Resource I Just Discovered!

Emily Dickinson - The Belle of Amherst

Emily Dickinson - The Belle of Amherst
"When the Amherst sphinx styled herself a pagan, she meant she didn’t believe in the biblical God. What sort of deity, if any, she did believe in is hard to pinpoint."
-- Gary Sloan, "Emily Dickinson: Pagan Sphinx,"

National Protest Against Prop 8

National Protest Against Prop 8

My Daughters

My Daughters

Code Pink

"The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice."
~Martin Luther King Jr.
Love and compassion is the Universal religion. That is my religion.
~ The Dalai Lama

Blog Archive

Fair Use

I believe that the images and writing posted here fall under the "fair use" section of the U.S. copyright law, as they are intended for educational purposes and are not in a medium that is of commercial nature.



Blog Widget by LinkWithin