The Little Review (littlereview) wrote,
The Little Review

Poem for Sunday

Meditations in Time of Civil War: The Stare's Nest By My Window
By William Butler Yeats

The bees build in the crevices
Of loosening masonry, and there
The mother birds bring grubs and flies.
My wall is loosening; honey-bees,
Come build in the empty house of the stare.

We are closed in, and the key is turned
On our uncertainty; somewhere
A man is killed, or a house burned,
Yet no clear fact to be discerned:
Come build in the empty house of the stare.

A barricade of stone or of wood;
Some fourteen days of civil war;
Last night they trundled down the road
That dead young soldier in his blood:
Come build in the empty house of the stare.

We had fed the heart on fantasies,
The heart's grown brutal from the fare;
More substance in our enmities
Than in our love; O honey-bees,
Come build in the empty house of the stare.


From Poet's Choice in The Washington Post Book World by Robert Pinsky, who begins by talking about the graphic images used to describe the recent bombing a a book market in Baghdad. The poem above, the sixth in Yeats' "Meditations in Time of Civil War" about the Irish conflict in the 1920s, "contrasts its blood and fire with the idea of domestic shelter, embodied by a bird's nest (the stare, related to 'starling'), by a bee's hive, by 'a house burned' -- and by the poet's own study window...'my wall is loosening' refers not only to the fragility of all the shelters we construct; a figurative or psychological wall seems to be loosening as well, possibly a demarcation of certainty or a protection from the violent realities of Ireland's civil war."

Pinsky adds that Yeats does not mention whether the dead soldier was Protestant or Catholic, nor which side the dead man or the burned house stood on. "The minimal information, the understatement, expresses the terrible 'uncertainty' of the historical moment...contrary to the notion of the poet as a dealer in fantasies, while politicians must deal with reality, this poem deplores the brutal fantasies of rhetoric. It speaks sadly from the world of books, regarding the world of sectarian rhetoric and of actual blood and fire."

It was a magnificent 60+ degree day, so we went downtown to Theodore Roosevelt Island, where there is a memorial to the last great Republican environmentalist president and the closest thing to a nature sanctuary in the immediate flight path to National Airport. There were a lot of cars in the lot but everyone must have been very spread out on the island paths, because we saw very few people and it was very quiet apart from birds and the occasional airplane. There are great views of many major DC monuments from the island at this time of year since there aren't leaves obscuring them, and the wood ducks seemed to be pairing off for the mating season.

Approaching the monument through the woods, the statue appears dwarfed by the trees...

...but a few steps up the hill, he towers over the marble plaza.

There are quotes by Roosevelt around the monument. My children were amused by this one because it mentions "game boys."

No cars can get to the island; it is accessible only by this footbridge or by rowboat.

It would be a very lovely, quiet sanctuary were it not for the planes that fly low overhead on the way to Reagan National.

Watched The Libertine, which I had heard mixed things about but which stars Johnny Depp, Tom Hollander and Jack Davenport as well as Francesca Annis, Samantha Morton and John Malkovitch, so I knew there would be lots to enjoy and perverse POTC parallels, which there were in abundance. (I see why the people I know who most love this film are Sparrington fans!) I thought the film was uneven -- trying to make political statements about sexuality is fraught at best, and like the various Marquis de Sade films I've seen, this one works better in some places than others. I wasn't crazy about any of the women's roles, they were all much too easily swayed by icky charm or some notion of loyalty or both -- the one declaration of independence seems like too little, too late. But the cinematography is terrific, the acting is mostly superlative and the location filming is highly enjoyable.

Losing an hour of sleep, so better get to bed!

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