Wisdom Lost

The opening stanza to W.B. Yeat’s famous poem “Sailing to Byzantium” ominously begins;

‘ That is no country for old men.’

Almost a century later Cormac McCarthy would coin the phrase as the title for his best selling novel. The Coen brothers would follow, based upon McCarthy’s novel, to create the Academy Award winning film of the same title featuring the Captive Bolt Pistol toting character portrayed by Javier Bardem.

Yeats, in his wildest of dreams, could not have imagined becoming the progenitor of the hit man Anton Chigurh. No – what Yeats had in mind begins in the second stanza;

‘ An aged man is but a paltry thing,
A tattered coat upon a stick, unless’…

Yes – unless, as he continues in the same stanza;

‘Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing
For every tatter in its mortal dress,
Nor is their singing school but studying
Monuments of its own magnificence;’…

These monuments of magnificence commemorate the true harbingers of wisdom. The timeless wisdom embedded in the works of a Heraclitus, an Aristotle, a Joyce, and an Adam Smith.

Yeats, in the fourth and final stanza of the poem metaphorically proclaims the preservation of mortal wisdom through the work of goldsmiths who;

‘…hammered gold and gold enameling
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.’

Yeats implored us not to neglect true wisdom. We have: at our peril, and the current economic Armageddon upon us created by the money masters and their warmongering cohorts have brought the world as we know it, to the brink, by pursuing avarice instead of wisdom.

The poem “Sailing to Byzantium” is part of a collection included in “The Collected poems of W.B. Yeats,” edited by Richard J. Finneran.

William Butler Yeats was an astonishing artist and personality of the late 19th century and early 20th century, a poet’s, poet whose influence continues to this day. In the words of the preeminent Irish historian and Yeats’s biographer Roy Foster, “ like all of us, he lived out his life constantly expecting various kinds of future… but, as with everyone, the expected future never happened. Unlike most of us, he possessed a protean ability to shift his ground, repossess the advantage, and lay claim to authority – always with an eye to how people would see things afterwards.”

THAT, is wisdom personified!

Bill Sodomsky