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.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Sunday Snipppet

It's National Poetry Month in the United States. I try throughout the year to post a few poems on The Pagan Sphinx. And when April rolls around, I kick it up a notch. I'm experimenting with posting poems  (or snippets of) by poets that I'm not familiar with. Previously I've gone with trusted favorites such as Emily Dickinson, Yeats, William Carlos Williams, e.e. cummings and Anne Sexton.

The poem for this Sunday is by Charles Bukowski. I've read him in quick spurts in the past. Usually while dusting my bookshelves! It always takes me all day to dust because I pull out a book and start reading. Before I'm aware of it, I've picked up and leafed through a dozen. Reading, dreaming, reminiscing...and sneezing from the dust!

When I went to dust the stacks this time, though, I was missing my one collection of Bukowski so I took myself over to Raven Books in Greenfield (electric kool-aid moment) and browsed the poetry and fiction sections. I came home with Charles Bukowski's Sifting Through the Madness for the Word, the Line, the Way and Kurt Vonnegut's God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater.

Perhaps in another installment of Sunday Snippet, I will take a passage from the latter. I've been on a Vonnegut kick recently, when I was really never a huge fan of his in the past. I did meet Kurt Vonnegut once and shook his hand but it was so uneventful in terms of actual details, that I won't get into it.  Well, I did get into it. That was it!

And now without further gibber, is the Charles Bukowski poem:


about competition

the higher you climb
     the greater the pressure

those who manage to
                                                                  endure
                                                                  learn
                                                                  that the distance
                                                                  between the
                                                                  top and the
                                                                  bottom
                                                                  is
                                                                  obscenely
                                                                  great.

                                                                 and those who
                                                                 succeed
                                                                 know
                                                                 this secret:
                                                                 there isn't
                                                                 one.

~Charles Bukowski


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