Monday, February 21, 2011

Imagined healing

It was a early morning, and the mist was clearing at Great Zimbabwe. At the exit sat a fallen tree that was being carved by an extrovert sculptor willingly sharing of his work in progress. It was to be an image of the Zimbabwe king, sheltering his people, a king after the order of David, restoring peace to his country. A king out of time, redeeming time. Peace would descend if the statue were shaped, raised and honoured aright.

This effortless blend of traditions - African and Biblical - creating a sacred harmony, embodying Tradition is what Yeats found in Ireland.

The sculptor reminded me of Paddy Flynn, from whom Yeats gleaned most of the stories in The Celtic Twilight:

"A little bright eyed man who lived in a leaky and one-roomed cabin in the village of Ballisdore...He was a great teller of tales, and unlike our common romances knew how to empty heaven, hell, and purgatory, faeryland and earth, to people his stories. He did not live in a shrunken world, but knew of no less ample circumstances than did Homer himself."

I have been reading Katheleen Raine's last book of essays on Yeats: "W B Yeats and the Learning of the Imagination". It makes for compelling account of Yeats' learning in traditional wisdom. By tradition here we mean that atemporal imaginative vision of the truth of things that becomes embodies and re-embodied in particular patterns of living, ways of living naturally orientated to the sacred.

That embodiment can be so natural, so much a part of the shared reality of life, touching all its aspects, that it cannot be separated out from everyday life, and that life can be seen operating at many levels, seamlessly. A simple poem, enjoyed as such, can be seen, with different eyes or the sames eyes looking differently, as a metaphysical statement compelling because of its absorbed simplicity and rightness.

Yeats, by his own acknowledgement, was:

"We were the last romantics - chose for a theme
Traditional sanctity and loveliness;
Whatever's written in what poets name
The book of the people; whatever man can bless
The mind of man or elevate a rhyme;
But all is changed, that high horse riderless,
Though mounted in the saddle Homer rode
Where the swan drifts on the darkening flood."

Pegasus, the horse of inspiration, appears riderless, without guiding into accepted form and the swan, soul's symbol, is adrift in a dark sea.

That easy connection between sacred reality and everyday is cast asunder - Yeats' prophesied it, and yet also called forth its eventual return, when materialism (as a premise) withers and mind is seen as the root of reality (and all that flows from this in configuring a sacred universe).

But as it withers 'here' in the 'West' that homed Yeats' three provincial centuries of matter's dominance, it lives elsewhere - in a wood carver in Zimbabwe who knows the power of imagination to offer healing.

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