Sunday Night Journal, October 28, 2018
Sunday Night Journal, November 4, 2018

52 Poems, Week 44: Why Should Not Old Men Be Mad? (Yeats)


Why should not old men be mad?
Some have known a likely lad
That had a sound fly-fisher's wrist
Turn to a drunken journalist;
A girl that knew all Dante once
Live to bear children to a dunce;
A Helen of social welfare dream,
Climb on a wagonette to scream.
Some think it a matter of course that chance
Should starve good men and bad advance,
That if their neighbours figured plain,
As though upon a lighted screen,
No single story would they find
Of an unbroken happy mind,
A finish worthy of the start.
Young men know nothing of this sort,
Observant old men know it well;
And when they know what old books tell,
And that no better can be had,
Know why an old man should be mad.


I've been trying to avoid posting more than one poem by any poet in this series, and there are a number of people who should be included but haven't yet been. So why am I doing another one by Yeats? The problem with some of the not-included--and I'm thinking primarily of Shakespeare, Keats, and Eliot here--is that their great work is lengthy, and I don't want to do excerpts. I guess one of Keats's odes might do for a blog post, but the one I really want is "The Eve of St. Agnes," which is several hundred lines.  

I really wish Yeats had come up with something better than "social welfare dream" with which to praise the woman whom I assume to be his great unrequited love, Maud Gonne. I wonder what the description meant to him. To me and I suspect to many of our time it conjures up a social worker, which may be a praiseworthy occupation, or in some cases may not, but in any case isn't an image that makes the heart beat faster, and doesn't seem at all compatible with "Helen." (See "No Second Troy" for comparison.)

I'm also a little puzzled by the "lighted screen." Something on which insects are examined, maybe? Anyway, the idea is plain enough.

--Mac is the proprietor of this blog.



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Movie screen?


Yeah, I thought of that, and it could be, but seems unlikely. There's an implication that it would provide a complete and completely honest view, which I certainly don't associate with movies.

Also it's hard to imagine Yeats at the movies. :-) Though they had been around for a while when the poem was published in the late '30s.

I was thinking not so much of content on the movie screen, but that it's up there writ large for all to see.


Could be. Pretty obscure though.

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