‘The falcon cannot hear the falconer’


My blogging buddy, I call him CBC, made an insightful comment in response to my latest rants against the current actions- and lack of response to questions about those actions- of our elected government officials yesterday.

He hit the nail on the head. AND made me all glowy with the realization that there are people out there who still can- and will- quote Yeats.

I love Yeats. I’ve talked about that before (when speaking about a beloved band and in the context of my enduring love affair with a number of Irish poets.  No one writes like the Irish. No one).

I’ve always considered Easter 1916 my fave (although The Stolen Child comes close)- and, given what week it is, that little gem is an appropriate theme to recollect as people the world over wear the green.

Words. They can be so beautiful when they are strung together with finesse that their perfection physically hurts. I just re-read Easter for the first time in a long time. Ouch.

He has this other poem, though, that reallyreally speaks to a place to which my brain has been turning more often than not, of late. Its very title sooooo speaks to my wheelhouse, my heart’s home, the focus of my days… Thanks for bringing it back to the forefront of my head, CBC (as I keep writing, trying to make sense of my whirring thoughts, I can’t stop remembering a paper I wrote about the poem, oh so very many years ago. Wish I knew where that was…).

The Second Coming was written, with all its wondrous apocalyptic imagery, as an allegory for post-WWI Europe. Such was the confusion and societal flux after the war that the anxieties seemed to be spinning out of control in a world in which the centre, the foundation, had been completely lost- or, perhaps, just forgotten.

Yeats spoke in terms of ‘the gyre’- which begins at a point and spirals ever-outward from its origin. The image represents an historical cycle- one of about 2000 years, beginning with the birth of the Xian era. He believed that all history is cyclical, and that his time, the beginning of the 20th century, marked the end of the Xian cycle. The new era- of industrialization and materialism and warfare (enacted on a global scale)- slouches from its cradle in response to the anarchy that has been loosed upon the world.


Chills. You see, the gyre has spun so far distant that it can’t remember its origins.

Part of this separation from our foundation?

‘The falcon cannot hear the falconer’.

I’m sort of thinking that the real problem- the one in the here and now, the one that I was railing against yesterday and the day before, heck, the one I’ve been railing against in most of the posts I’ve ever written on this here blog- the one that’s leading us inexorably to things falling apart completely? It’s more about the fact that the falcons are actively no longer listening to the falconers.

Indulge me as I extend a metaphor, for a second, won’t you?

Falconry, the hunting of wild game in its natural habitat using a trained bird of prey, has been around for a really long time. Like, since my friends in Mesopotamia were setting the stage for civilization and writing the foundational myths that would contribute to the development of that Big Book O’Stories that certain people, still, like to quote oh-so-very-much.

The falconers train and direct the falcons. They guide their development. There is a close relationship of respect between the trainer and the bird- and the bird is meant to hear and respond to the directives of its trainer as part of the give-and-take of this relationship.

Sort of like how things are meant to work in the relationship between political leaders and the citizens who elected them.

Canada is a representative democracy.

Representative democracies are founded on the principle of elected officials representing a group of people.

The House of Commons is a democratically elected body, whose members (MPs) are elected according to simple-plurality (‘first-past-the-post’) in each of the country’s ridings or electoral districts. Like all members of parliament, prime ministers are elected to represent their electoral constituents first and foremost. If they lose their support then, consequently, they are no longer entitled to be prime minister. Like all members of parliament, prime ministers (and leaders of the other parties, and cabinet ministers) are subject to the direction of their constituents- the people who elected them, as their representatives, to act according to the direction of the electorate. (synopsized from the Wikipedia)

That’d be us. Each and every citizen of this country that I love, who took the time to fulfill our civic responsibility to cast a vote for the best-possible representation in our houses of political power.

Our falcons aren’t listening to us. They have spun so far from the central foundation that its hold is becoming increasingly tenuous.

They aren’t listening to the letters they are sent, or the protests that are organized, or the challenges put to them by the media and the scientists and the academics and the lawyers…

Our falcons- especially the falcon-in-chief- are off hunting in Mespotamia (quite literally), regardless of whether or not the falconers agree with what they are doing. The falcons want to give themselves more power- to both fly further afield and for a longer period of time and to remove the jesses that allow the falconers to maintain their say in what the falcons might do.

I’m not usually all that attached to the minute-by-minute minutia that makes up most of social media. I play the game, now and again, since some of it can be pretty good for keeping contact with people and catching up on stuff that you might otherwise forget about (especially since I seem to be having more and more senior moments with each passing day), and videos of cats doing cute things are always welcome. But I’m not tied to my computer or a smart phone (the one I have is decidedly un-smart. Like Homer Simpson SMRT) to any great extent.

What with the non-response I received from one of our political parties yesterday, I’ve been following a few people on the social media a little more closely than is my usual wont. I feel like I need to keep an eye on just what’s happening as this whole thing- now both Bill C-51 AND the PM’s insane and unsubstantiated  proposition to parliament that the Canadian ‘mission’ in Iraq should be extended- and expanded to include Syria- plays out.

I’ve signed petitions, checked in with human rights and social justice groups, watched news feeds for the hashtags #C51 and #rejectfear. And you know what? I’ve seen some actual, honest-to-goodness progress…

Like this indication that public support for the Bill is decreasing, significantly, as citizens take the time to actually pay attention to the thing. Or this article, based on findings straight out of CSIS (you remember, that intelligence-gathering agency that the PM wants to provide with more power under the terms of the Bill) that states that ‘lone wolf’ attacks- like the admittedly-horrible recent events in Ottawa and Quebec- ‘more often come from white supremacists and extreme right-wing ideologies than from Islamic radicalism.’

Hmm. Interesting.

The CSIS documents ‘explicitly warn that the notion the Western world is at war with Islam plays into terrorist recruitment strategies. “International terrorist groups place a high priority on radicalizing Westerners who can be used to carry out terrorist attacks in their home countries,” the documents read. “The narrative that the West is at war with Islam continues to exert a very powerful influence in radicalizing individuals and spreads quickly through social media and online fora.”’

There was evidence enough of some level of positive progress out there in the interworld that I’m renewed in my determination to hold our leaders to account for their actions- and proposed legislation- while reminding them who, really, is boss.

I encourage you all to do the same.

Let them know that, while they might be birds of prey and play a crucial role in maintaining the health of our ecosystem, our political leaders remain answerable to the electorate that permits them to fly on their behalf.

Listen up, raptors. We determine where you get to fly- and when it might be time to cage you. Permanently. Keep that mind. It may well be that a lot of things may, in fact, ‘change, change utterly‘ in the coming months.

If we work together, the revelation at hand just might herald the birth of beauty, rather than a misshapen, rough beast born out of the fires of fear and the empty words of political expediency.

Hoping and hoping
As if by my weak faith
The spirit of this world
Would heal and rise
Vast are the shadows
That straddle and strafe
And struggle in the darkness
Troubling my eyes

Farewell, Seamus. Seamus fare well.

I have to admit.  With a very few exceptions, I’m not a huge fan of poetry.  By that I mean I don’t read a whole lot of it on a regular basis.

Don’t get me wrong, I do appreciate coolcats like the Romantics- Blake, Lord Byron, Shelley, Keats- but I honestly think that I’m almost more interested in their histories than in their poetry (man, they lived some crazy lives!)

Ages ago I memorized both the Rime of the Ancient Mariner and Kubla Khan – I do that, memorize stuff somewhat randomly*- but again, the whole story behind Coleridge, and the interruption of the composition of the latter poem is so rich, the poetry is almost- for me at least- secondary to the history behind the poetry.

(*Like all good Canadians I memorized Robert W. Service’s ‘The Cremation of Sam McGee’ (what?  All Canadians don’t do that?  I thought it was a requirement for passport renewal?) and still use it as one of my meditative prompts.  When my brain is running too fast, I have a whole selection of poems and songs I run through my head to calm myself down. ‘There are strange things done in the midnight sun by the men who moil for gold…’ has saved my sanity more than once.  Johnny Cash recorded a spoken verse version of the poem.. It’s awesome- look for it.)

These days I tend to only engage with poetry set to music- those great lyrics and lyricists some of which/whom I’ve referenced here at colemining repeatedly.  I love my songsmiths- and the ability they have to turn catchy phrases and match them with corresponding chords.  Wish I could do that.

But there are some poets I retain a close relationship with (i.e guys I still pull off the shelf and read from time to time) and, interestingly, they all hail from the Emerald Isle.

I spoke about my love for William Butler Yeats here, how his mix of mythological themes and legendary traditions with elements of history can alternately chill the blood and warm the cockles of the heart.

A number of years ago- while taking Irish language and Celtic studies Undergraduate courses, my (fantastic) prof exposed me to the poetry of Cathal Ó Searcaigh, largely because he writes in Irish and reading him would help with my language learning.  It did.  But more than that, it helped me to understand the language- since Irish is imbued with poetry and music in its very foundations.

Cathal, from the Gaeltacht in County Donegal (a place close to my heart) did a reading at a Writer’s Fest one year (interestingly, it was on the same night as Wade Davis.  I spoke about that here) and listening to him read- and speak- in his quietly lyrical voice, was a pretty powerful experience.

And then there is Seamus.

Poet, Playwright, Translator, Professor, Nobel Laureate.  Like Yeats- to whom he was often compared- he is a born storyteller and used historical and mythological themes and images to describe and illuminate the vagaries of the contemporary world.

How can you look at this picture and not regret never having had the opportunity to have shared a drink with the man?

The Burial at Thebes, his 2004 play based on Sophocles’ Antigone critiques G.W. Bush’s administration and foreign policies.  Seamus equated W. with Creon, who vacilated between preaching about upholding the will of the gods and the importance of family and ignoring these things in favour of the furtherance of his own political expediency.

His body of work is vast and comprehensive, and in light of his recent passing, has been examined and discussed far more impressively than I can possibly accomplish in a short post of remembrance and reverence.  But I had to say something about him.

And about Station Island.

His 1984 collection of poems is all about discovery- of self-identity, spirituality and vocation.  He uses the geography, mythology, history and religions of Ireland, imbued as it is with controversy and tension, to describe his own internal and realized pilgrimages to figure things out.

St. Patrick’s Purgatory, on Station Island, dates from the 5th century and in legendary tradition is the entrance to Hell.  When Patrick, despairing of his would- be converts’ commitment to his message without substantiated proof, prayed to his god, he was shown the entrance as a means to demonstrate the existence of heaven, hell and purgatory.

The third section of the collection is called ‘Sweeney Redivivus’ evoking the story of Buile Shuibhne– ‘Mad Sweeney’, the legendary Irish king who is cursed by St. Ronan for his temper and opposition to the establishment of a Christian Church in his lands.

Station Island is an epic collection, with far more going on in its great depths than I can begin to encompass.  But for me it is a very personal work.  It came into my life in a period when I was trying to sort things out.  Career direction, personal relationships, you know- LIFE.  And somehow it seems to keep popping up whenever I need it to help me revisit those very same things.

It happened again this week, this time as a result of the saddest of circumstances- its author’s passing, at the age of 74.

Yesterday, the National Press described him, and his poetry, in this way:

“He left behind a half-century’s body of work that sought to capture the essence of his experience: the sour smells and barren beauty of Irish landscapes, the haunting loss of loved ones and of memory itself, and the tormented soul of his native Northern Ireland.

As one of the world’s premier classicists, he translated and interpreted ancient works of Athens and Rome for modern eyes and ears. A bear of a man with a signature mop of untamed silvery hair, he gave other writers and fans time, attention, advice – and left a legacy of one-on-one, life-changing moments encouraged by his self-deprecating, common-man touch.”

The Globe and Mail (via the New York Times) had this to say:

“Mr. Heaney’s poetry had a primeval, epiphanic quality and was often suffused with references to ancient myths – Celtic, of course, but also those of ancient Greece. His style, linguistically pyrotechnic, was at the same time conspicuously lacking in the obscurity that can attend poetic pyrotechnics.

At its best, his work had both a meditative lyricism and an airy velocity. His lines might carry a boggy melancholy, but they also, as often as not, communicated the wild onrushing joy of being alive.”

To me, he epitomizes the way that we learn, share and adapt the stories that come before us, using them to help make sense of our lives and experiences.  He was one of my many tutors, helping to show me the power and the value of myth and history and how understanding of these things should inform our present and future.

With beauty and wit and compassion.  Myth, history and life.

He will be missed, sorely.  But he has left us with volumes of wisdom to help us carry on figuring things out.

Fare well indeed, Seamus.  And thank you.

Songs that can change a life #2

I’m thinking that I just must have too much on the go of late (contrary to what some detractors I could name might have to say.  Self-employed does NOT mean UNemployed).

While perusing the drafts of posts that I have started and forgotten about lost my train of thought not yet completed I saw that title up there ^ ^^ and honestly couldn’t for the life of me remember just what that life-changing song (#2) might be.  Didn’t even remember starting the thing to be completely honest.  And certainly didn’t remember searching the YouTube and linking in this:

Methinks the Shuffle Daemon is now controlling me, as well as my iPod.  Haven’t heard that song in AGES.

So, hello Waterboys, how’ve you been?  C’mon in and grab a beer.  It’s been far too long since we spent some quality time together.

This song, their best-known and most commercially successful, was my first exposure to the Waterboys, but it definitely was not to be my last.  I was going through a folk-rock- type music phase at the time and their sound significantly resonated with that period in my life.

The Whole of the Moon is from the 1985 album This is the Sea and I distinctly remember rushing to Sam’s on Yonge Street to pick up the tape almost immediately after hearing the single on CFNY for the first time.  The album got tonnes of playtime on the ol’ Walkman, but The Whole of the Moon got more than the rest.  If I had instead bought the vinyl LP, the grooves would most certainly have been worn more deeply on that particular song.

Musically it is quite spectacular and theatrical- with its antiphonal trumpets, falsetto vocals and a sax solo near the end.  But, as always, it was the lyrics that really drew me in and wouldn’t let me go.  The referencing of legendary creatures and places- ‘every precious dream and vision underneath the stars’– made me want to become a person like the one in the song.

A person who sees not the smaller part of things, but the entirety, and who looks upon that whole with childlike wonder, even when in danger of climbing ‘too high too far too soon‘.  I still aspire to that goal.

The magic referenced in The Whole of the Moon was echoed on the Waterboys’ 1988 album, Fisherman’s Blues,  especially in the musical version of William Butler Yeats’ beautiful poem The Stolen Child.  The track is a combination of their usual dreamy music and Mike Scott’s vocals with the addition of the incredible recitation of the poem by the Irish sean-nós actor, singer, songwriter and poet Tomás Mac Eoin.

The traditionally Irish feel of the music behind the lyrics brings the poem to life in an incredible way.  Yeats is among my favourite poets.  His love and use of the myths of the Irish Twilight, as well as his recounting of the historical events that marked his time, are musical in their very language.

Hearing a native Irish speaker (and singer) recount the story of the human child, stolen from his familiar surroundings in order to dance with the faeries ‘far off by furthest Rosses’ because the ‘world’s more full of weeping than he can understand’ sparked something atavistic in me.

In part because of the cadence of the music in the Waterboys version, I have no trouble at all remembering every line of the beautiful poem.  Even single lines can still cause an incredible shiver to run the length of my spine.

I had read Yeats before hearing the Waterboys’ version, but I admit that I had never read Yeats.  The song- and this poem, followed by the rest of his collected works upon deeper examination- made me feel Yeats and the power of his poetry.  And that depth of feeling led to the discovery of a body of myths that had previously been somewhat outside of my wheelhouse.

I learned Irish so that I could read the traditional- and contemporary- words of the poets of that storied isle in the original language while hearing their music in my head.

The myths and songs of  the Celts speak to the world in so many iterations.  The Whole of the Moon was a catalyst that exposed me to the study and love of its cultural milieu and took me further down my road to discover and appreciate the mythologies of the world.  Life-changing indeed.  Thanks Lads.