contemplativeinquiry

This blog is about contemplative inquiry

Tag: Celtic Renaissance

POEM: SAILING TO BYZANTIUM

I’ve had a request for the full text of W. B. Yeats’ poem Sailing to Byzantium and so this post is devoted to it.

1

That is no country for old men. The young

In one another’s arms, birds in the trees

-Those dying generations – at their song,

The salmon falls, the mackerel crowded seas,

Fish, flesh or fowl, commend all summer long

Whatever is begotten, born, and dies.

Caught in that sensual music all neglect

Monuments of unageing intellect.

II

An aged man is but a paltry thing,

A tattered coat upon a stick, unless

Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing

For every tatter in its mortal dress,

Nor is there any singing school but studying

Monuments of its own magnificence;

And therefore I have sailed the seas and come

To the holy city of Byzantium.

III

O sages standing in God’s holy fire

As in the gold mosaic of a wall,

Come from the holy fire, perne in a gyre*,

And be the singing masters of my soul.

Consume my heart away; sick with desire

And fastened to a dying animal

It knows not what it is; and gather me

Into the artifice of eternity.

IV

Once out of nature I shall never take

My bodily form from any natural thing,

But such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make

Of hammered gold and gold enamelling

To keep a drowsy Emperor awake;

Or set upon a golden bough to sing

To lords and ladies of Byzantium

Of what is past, or passing, or to come.

  • “Perne in a gyre” – ‘pern’ is another name for spool, and ‘to pern’ or ‘perne’ is to move with a circular, spinning motion; a gyre is Yeats’ symbol for circular movements in history – In A Vision Yeats said that “each age unwinds the threads another age had wound”.

Yeats, W. B. Poems of W. B. Yeats London: MacMillan & Co, 1964 (Selected with an introduction and notes by A. Norman Jeffares)

SAILING TO BYZANTIUM

This post is inspired by The Byzantine Tarot, a collaboration between two notable talents – John Matthews as writer and Cilla Conway as artist. It’s an excellent piece of work, but this post is not a review. It’s about two of the major trumps and their effect on me.

I impulse-bought the pack about a month ago. I didn’t get it for divination. I wanted it for the iconography of the major trumps, though in fact all the cards are carefully chosen and beautifully rendered. Part of the integrity of this tarot is that the images are drawn from the culture they reference – a culture itself very busy with sacred images, though at times its ruling circles reacted against them. Cilla Conway’s work is a wonderful evocation of this culture and its imagery, an imagery consciously crafted in the service of Christian Orthodoxy*.  It’s an interesting subject for a tarot pack, since the tarot form itself introduces an element of gnostic subversion into the work.

In the Byzantine Tarot, Sophia appears as the Papesse/High Priestess. She mediates “between the higher and lower realms of creation, watching over the Holy Fool on his journey and guiding those who seek her blessings to find their own path through the world”. In the apparent world, Byzantine Orthodoxy had no vacancy for a Papesse/High Priestess, and was not in business to encourage people to find their own way unless it was also the Churches’ way. The Fool of this tarot is a Holy Fool and draws on the history of the Desert Fathers, though the specific image is from Moscow, for the Slav world inherited the Orthodox tradition and the role of the Holy Fool. There is a happy reframing of these formidable world-renouncing ascetics in the text. A naked, haloed man steps outside his cell raising his hands towards the dove of the Holy Spirit and “prepares to step off into the air above the sea, asking without words to be allowed to access the joy and wonder of the world”. He is said to represent ‘crazy wisdom’, also known to Sufi and Buddhist tradition.

I feel engaged with these images, but not close to the Orthodox Church. Fortunately good images transcend doctrine. They have a larger suggestive power. I see a Goddess, depicted in one card as an angelic intercessor and in the other as a dove. I see a devotee who is a completely opened up. I’m learning how development works in spirals. A few years ago I was taken up with the image of Sophia and this modified my experience of Druidry. It was initially her influence that got me to explore meditative disciplines and see through the eye of contemplation more systematically. When my exploration took me further East, my specific sense of Sophia began to diminish.

Two tarot images have brought her back into my life. Now that she’s in my life, I have to move on from the specific images, for all their potent catalyst role. In relation to my life and practice, the Sophia depicted is too hierophantic and static. I like the Holy Fool icon, but the ‘Crazy Wisdom’ references in the text open up unwelcome possibilities of dogmatic intuitionism and licensed abuse-by-Guru that we find in Crazy Wisdom Masters from many traditions.

If I want to orient myself to the ‘Holy Fool’ archetype, there are lines within W. B. Yeats’ poem Sailing to Byzantium, which act as a better guide. He starts with the complaint “That is no country for old men” – Ireland, but more essentially the world of “whatever is begotten, born and dies, caught in … sensual music”. Then he says:

“An aged man is but a paltry thing,

A tattered coat upon a stick, unless

Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing

For every tatter in its mortal dress.”

On my reading the world of begetting, birthing and dying – with all its sensual music – is absolutely fine and to be celebrated. It’s the being “caught” in it that’s the problem. For there is another dimension. The seven directions operate vertically as well as horizontally, with eternity at the centre, within, around and throughout.  Sophia reminds me of this, and it changes everything.

* Early in the 4th century C.E. the Roman Emperor Constantine began the Christianisation of the Empire and moved the capital eastwards from Rome to the old Greek city of Byzantium which he rebuilt and modestly renamed Constantinople. Two hundred years later when Orthodox Christianity was dominant and enforceable, a new Cathedral of Hagia Sophia (Holy Wisdom) became the greatest building of the city. It still is in some ways, having survived two conversions since the fall of the city in 1453, first into a mosque and later into a museum in today’s Istanbul.

Matthews, John & Conway, Cilla The Byzantine Tarot: Wisdom from an Ancient Empire London: Connections Book Publications, 2015

Yeats, W. B. Poems of W. B. Yeats London: MacMillan & Co, 1964 (Selected with an introduction and notes by A. Norman Jeffares)

POEM: ARTHUR

Behind storm-fretted bastions gray and bare

Flame-crested warriors of Cunedda’s line

Feast in a gold ring, – their targes shine

Along the wall and clang to gusts of air;

And in the shadow, torches blown aflare

Reveal a chief, half human, half divine,

With brooding head, starred by the Dragon Sign,

Hung motionless in some undreamed despair.

But when he starts, three torques of twisted gold

Writhe on his breast, for voices all men fear

Wail forth the battle-doom dead kings have borne;

And as the mead-hall fills with sudden cold,

Above the wind-tossed sea his heart can hear

The strange gods calling through their mystic horn.

Arthur is one of Six Celtic Sonnets written by Thomas Samuel Jones and included in From the Isles of Dream: Visionary Stories and Poems of the Celtic Renaissance, selected by John Matthews and with a foreword by Robin Williamson (Floris Books, 1993).

Thomas Samuel Jones (1882-1932) came from Welsh and Irish stock and was born in Oneida County, New York State, near the Adirondack Mountains. Each of the six sonnets reflects a facet of Celtic tradition. They were originally published in 1930 as part of the collection Aknahton and Other Sonnets. For those of us who resonate with Druid and Celtic spirituality, they are part of our modern cultural ancestry.

POEM: MAY UPON ICTIS

Far out at sea beneath rich Tyrian sails

The merchants watch a ghostly mountain spread

Terrific dawn-wings fired with cloudy red,

And cease their barter over purple bales;

Wild headland flames to headland; in the dales

Hushed warriors wait, for now torqued chief may tread

That dim white forest where the vanished dead

Gather like birds before the spume-drenched birds.

Around the mount barbaric trumpets cry;

Then Ictis thunders through her altar-stone

Long-cloven by a god’s mysterious rune;

And pinnacle between the earth and sky

Her savage prophet stands, majestic, lone,

Helmed with the sun and girdled with the moon.

May upon Ictis is one of Six Celtic Sonnets written by Thomas Samuel Jones and included in From the Isles of Dream: Visionary Stories and Poems of the Celtic Renaissance, selected by John Matthews and with a foreword by Robin Williamson (Floris Books, 1993). Ictis, or Iktin, is or was an island described as a tin trading centre in the Bibliotheca Historica of the Sicilian-Greek historian Diodoris Siculus, writing in the first century BC. While Ictis is widely accepted to have been an island somewhere off the southern coast of what is now England, scholars continue to debate its precise location. Candidates include St Michael’s Mount and Looe Island off the coast of Cornwall, the Mount Batten peninsula in Devon, and the Isle of Wight further to the east.

Thomas Samuel Jones (1882-1932) came from Welsh and Irish stock and was born in Oneida County, New York State, near the Adirondack Mountains. Each of the six sonnets reflects a facet of Celtic tradition. They were originally published in 1930 as part of the collection Aknahton and Other Sonnets. For those of us who resonate with Druid and Celtic spirituality, they are part of our modern cultural ancestry.

POEM: A DRUID TOWN

A sunless maze of tangled lanes enfold

The magic dwellings of the forest race,

Whose hidden shapes are flames that leave no trace

At mid-moon when the Druid’s dream is told;

The shadows of enchanted orchards hold

Red thatch of wings and woad-stained doors that face

The wandering stars, and guard the sacred place

Where faery women thread their warps with gold

The dragon knight shall lose his strength of hand

Nor ever raise his long leaf-shapen shield,

If he but follow where the white deer roam;

And never will the mariner reach land

When harps ring seaward as the dawn fires yield

The golden caer upon the ninth wave’s foam.

A Druid Town is one of Six Celtic Sonnets written by Thomas Samuel Jones and included in From the Isles of Dream: Visionary Stories and Poems of the Celtic Renaissance, selected by John Matthews and with a foreword by Robin Williamson (Floris Books, 1993).

Thomas Samuel Jones (1882-1932) came from Welsh and Irish stock and was born in Oneida County, New York State, near the Adirondack Mountains. Each of the six sonnets reflects a facet of Celtic tradition. They were originally published in 1930 as part of the collection Aknahton and Other Sonnets. For those of us who resonate with Druid and Celtic spirituality, they are part of our modern cultural ancestry.

POEM: TALIESIN

An unfamiliar (at least to me) image of Taliesin. One of ‘Six Celtic Sonnets’ by Thomas Samuel Jones, first published in 1930. Taken from the ‘Isles of Dream’, an anthology of work from the ‘Celtic Renaissance ‘.

On lonely shores where dreams are drifted sand

He follows to the end a star’s bright course,

A ghostly hunter without hound or horse,

The warrior-bard, last of the Druid band;

But still his wizard harp rings in his hand

Beside the Stream of Sorrow’s hidden source,

Still from a breaking heart his wild songs force

Their way into the god’s mysterious land.

Dauntless he sings, and sees the drear woods turn

To golden orchards by the river bed

Where healing waters of the rainbow run;

And past the valley near great peaks that burn

With beaconing fire the hero-bard is led

Up toward the Dragon City of the Sun.

Taliesin is one of Six Celtic Sonnets written by Thomas Samuel Jones and included in From the Isles of Dream: Visionary Stories and Poems of the Celtic Renaissance, selected by John Matthews and with a foreword by Robin Williamson (Floris Books, 1993).

Thomas Samuel Jones (1882-1932) came from Welsh and Irish stock and was born in Oneida County, New York State, near the Adirondack Mountains. Each of the six sonnets reflects a facet of Celtic tradition. They were originally published in 1930 as part of the collection Aknahton and Other Sonnets. For those of us who resonate with Druid and Celtic spirituality, they are part of our modern cultural ancestry.

POEM: CAER SIDI

Poetry from the ‘Celtic Renaissance’ – one of ‘Six Celtic Sonnets’  written by Thomas Samuel Jones and first published in 1930. Taken from ‘The Isles of Dream’, an anthology by John Matthews.

 

Alone, unarmed, the Dragon King must go

To seek the Cauldron by a magic shore,

For gleaming harness wrought of wizard ore

Is powerless against an unknown foe;

The lonely Caer, walled with the flaming Bow,

Lifts dark enchanted horns where wild seas roar,

And in the moon’s white path a mystic door

Moves to strange music only Merlins know.

Within, vast shapes and awful shadows start,

While deathless gods who hold the way-worn stairs,

Do ghostly battle with a hero’s soul;

But at his eagle cry their thronged shields part,

And from the cloven fire the Chieftain bears

High in his mighty grasp the star-rimmed Bowl.

Caer Sidi is one of Six Celtic Sonnets written by Thomas Samuel Jones and included in From the Isles of Dream: Visionary Stories and Poems of the Celtic Renaissance, selected by John Matthews and with a foreword by Robin Williamson (Floris Books, 1993).

Thomas Samuel Jones (1882-1932) came from Welsh and Irish stock and was born in Oneida County, New York State, near the Adirondack Mountains. Each of the six sonnets reflects a facet of Celtic tradition. They were originally published in 1930 as part of the collection Aknahton and Other Sonnets. For those of us who resonate with Druid and Celtic spirituality, they are part of our modern cultural ancestry.

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