Creepy old (honest) poets like W.B. Yeats

Been working hard on the rewrite. My head has been spinning from echoes of advice from admired writers, things I’ve read and heard uttered. I’ve taken it all into consideration during this time I’ve been hunting down the true focus and theme for this first installment of the series for which Slash of Crimson was but the prelude.

And so, while the final details of this climax jackrabbit around and tease the hunter’s aim, I’d like to share a few things about this process and some thoughts about a poet whose work has always inspired useful thoughts about the writing process.

I’ve often heard enthusiasts for literary realism decry William Butler Yeats as a bit of an ideological William Blake spin-off. Granted a more musical, more rhythmic and concise spin-off, but many still consider him an impractical dreamer. Oft quoted poem “The Second Coming” describes the doom of a century as a monstrous creature, “A shape with lion body and the head of a man” (“The Second Coming”, W.B. Yeats). Whether looking at Yeats from the perspective of a traditional literary scholar or a horror writer, this metaphor was born to fuel wacky interpretations offered by conspiracy theorists, to live out the late centuries of our epoch as the zeitgeist of humanity’s hideous, small-minded and savagely apocalyptic behavior.

But my point here, as I work on what will really be the first installment of The Crimes of Heaven and Hell, is that the details of scary images matter. A good symbol, even if it is fictional, grounds itself in a cultural truth of any given time. Stephen King’s Jack Torrance never existed, but abusive fathers in the Twentieth Century certainly did. It is one of the reasons, when talking with friends who say they “don’t read fiction”, I reply that there is no such thing as fiction. Only stories symbolic and less symbolic (some effective, some ineffective).

Because Yeats himself was also a realist. His dreamy renderings of poems like “The Lake Isle of Innisfree” and “The Lover Mourns The Loss of Love” are tempered with a relentless quest for a sound tether to a natural object. Because whether interpreting someone else’s work or revising your own, there is another oft quoted line worth taking into consideration:  “Cast a cold eye/ On life, on death.” (“Under Ben Bulben”, W.B. Yeats). His main purpose here was not to be creepy, though that’s a nice side effect. He was rather trying to say in a more musical way: “DON’T BULLSHIT YOURSELF.” His symbol of a cold eye means an honest eye. Connotations of it also being an “evil” eye are subordinate to this first meaning, that of an objective eye.

It’s also a nice segue to mentioning that creepy eyes feature largely in the upcoming installment of The Crimes of Heaven and Hell. So, onward with the writing. I’ll be posting more on this book as I get to the submission stage and find out in which form and venue it will be released. I’ll also reveal the new title when the time comes. In the meantime, it’s back to the shed and the cold stare.

One response to “Creepy old (honest) poets like W.B. Yeats

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