While in Ireland, I went twice to the William Butler Yeats exhibit at the National Library of Ireland. It’s a really good exhibit. Before going, I probably knew more than the average American about Yeats, but not much more. This exhibit really made the learning fun and interesting. It’s a great look at a time and place in Irish history that was fermenting with experimental art and revolutionary politics.
I liked that it showed the creative bent of the Yeats family. His father, sisters, and brother were all artists. They’ve been called the “most creative family in Irish history.” I also noted that his mother is described mainly by her depression and withdrawal. Families are complex.
As a poet, one of my favorite parts of the exhibit was the section that unpacks Yeats’ process for writing poems. Drafts and drafts of original handwritten sheets are in the exhibit with explanations of why he made the revisions that he did. I was especially intrigued by the “prose sketch” he did before any poem. He outlines what he was trying to achieve; made lists of images and words; worked out basic rhyme schemes and meter; and finally set about actually writing the verse.
But the best thing for the readers here is that the whole exhibit is online. It’s a truly amazing feat of interactive learning. The National Library has the most Yeats archival material of anyplace in the world and most of it has been sorted and presented in this exhibit. I spent hours in the actual exhibit and will probably spend hours more scouring the online version. Take a peek!
And since it’s All Hallows Weekend, I thought I’d include a little ghostly scrap.
All Souls’ Night
By William Butler Yeats
Midnight has come and the great Christ Church bell
And many a lesser bell sound through the room;
And it is All Souls’ Night.
And two long glasses brimmed with muscatel
Bubble upon the table. A ghost may come;
For it is a ghost’s right,
His element is so fine
Being sharpened by his death,
To drink from the wine-breath
While our gross palates drink from the whole wine. …