Louis Esterhuizen. Die sterwensberou van W.B. Yeats


Gister, 75 jaar gelede op 28 Januarie 1939, het William Butler Yeats (foto) in ‘n gastehuis, waar hy tuisgegaan het aan die Franse Riviera, gesterf. En om dié dag te herdenk het The Atlantic ‘n berig geplaas oor die drie gedigte van Yeats wat ten tye van sy dood in die tydskrif se uitgawe vir Januarie 1939 verskyn het. Op hierdie stadium was Yeats, in die ouderdom van 73, ‘n Nobelpryswenner, voormalige lid van die Ierse Senaat, mede-oprigter van die Nasionale Teater in Ierland en ‘n digter in die volle swang van sy ambag.

En tog was hierdie laaste gedigte uit die pen van hierdie befaamde digter ‘n priemende aftakeling van eiebelang en selfwaarde; verse deurspek met verwyt en berou:  “(T)here was no gentle beauty in the three poems by Yeats that appeared in The Atlantic in January 1939, the month the poet died. All of them are brutal pieces of deathbed reckoning,” skryf The Atlantic se beriggewer.  “In Man and the Echo, the poet stands in front of a blank cliff face, racked by guilt over his role in the 1916 Easter Rising”:

I lie awake night after night
And never get the answers right.
Did that play of mine send out
Certain men the English shot?
Did words of mine put too great strain
On that woman’s reeling brain?
Could my spoken words have checked
That whereby a house was wrecked?
And all seems evil until I
Sleepless would lay down and die.

Ook in die daaropvolgende gedig  The Circus Animal’s Desertion dryf hy die spot met sy loopbaan as skrywer: “My circus animals were all on show,” skryf hy en vervolg met bittere selfverwyt omreder hy nooit daarin kon slaag om uitdrukking aan sy “suiwere” visie te gee nie; lê hy ten slotte op ‘n ashoop “filled with broken, hideous things”: “Now that my ladder’s gone, / I must lie down where all the ladders start / In the foul rag and bone shop of the heart.”

In die laaste van die drie gedigte, Politics, beskryf Yeats ‘n patetiese ou man wat smag na die arms van ‘n jonger vrou. Volgens The Atlantic se berig, die volgende: “This wasn’t far from the truth: Yeats spent his last decade carrying on with women half his age, and even had a vasectomy-like operation to improve his sexual ‘vigor’. “ Ook Yeats se vrou se skrywe aan hom word aangehaal:  “’When you are dead, people will talk about your love affairs,’ wrote Yeats’s much-younger wife, George, in a letter to her husband, ‘but I shall say nothing, for I will remember how proud you were.’”

Volgens JennieRothenberg Girtz, beriggewer by The Atlantic, het die Indiese filosofie van Vendata ‘n bepalende invloed op Yeats se lewens- en wêreldbeskouing gehad in sy laaste jare. Volgens die Vendata is die heelal ‘n illuasie en die mens gefragmenteerd. Sy haal Yeats aan wat Vendata soos volg in die vertaling van die Mandukya Upanishad beskryf het:

Whereas we are fragmentary, forgetting, remembering, sleeping, waking, spread out into past, present, future, permitting to our leg, to our finger, to our intestines, partly or completely separate consciousnesses, it is the ‘unbroken consciousness of the Self,’ the Self that never sleeps, that is never divided, but even when our thought transforms it, it is still the same.

Haar eie slotsom is soos volg: “At the end of his life, Yeats seemed to be loosening his grip on that small, fragmentary self. The three Atlantic poems show him shedding the very last vestiges of his pride and dignity—his literary greatness, his sexual magnetism—everything that made him William Butler Yeats. As W.H. Auden put it, after his friend and mentor was buried in the ground: “Let the Irish vessel lie / Emptied of its poetry.”

By wyse van kopknik en huldeblyk aan een van die gootste digters wat ooit geleef het, plaas ek hieronder WH Auden se gedig oor sy gestorwe vriend en leermeester.


In Memory of W. B. Yeats



He disappeared in the dead of winter:

The brooks were frozen, the airports almost deserted,

And snow disfigured the public statues;

The mercury sank in the mouth of the dying day.

What instruments we have agree

The day of his death was a dark cold day.


Far from his illness

The wolves ran on through the evergreen forests,

The peasant river was untempted by the fashionable quays;

By mourning tongues

The death of the poet was kept from his poems.


But for him it was his last afternoon as himself,

An afternoon of nurses and rumours;

The provinces of his body revolted,

The squares of his mind were empty,

Silence invaded the suburbs,

The current of his feeling failed; he became his admirers.


Now he is scattered among a hundred cities

And wholly given over to unfamiliar affections,

To find his happiness in another kind of wood

And be punished under a foreign code of conscience.

The words of a dead man

Are modified in the guts of the living.


But in the importance and noise of to-morrow

When the brokers are roaring like beasts on the floor of the Bourse,

And the poor have the sufferings to which they are fairly accustomed,

And each in the cell of himself is almost convinced of his freedom,

A few thousand will think of this day

As one thinks of a day when one did something slightly unusual.


What instruments we have agree

The day of his death was a dark cold day.



     You were silly like us; your gift survived it all:

     The parish of rich women, physical decay,

     Yourself. Mad Ireland hurt you into poetry.

     Now Ireland has her madness and her weather still,

     For poetry makes nothing happen: it survives

     In the valley of its making where executives

     Would never want to tamper, flows on south

     From ranches of isolation and the busy griefs,

     Raw towns that we believe and die in; it survives,

     A way of happening, a mouth.




          Earth, receive an honoured guest:

          William Yeats is laid to rest.

          Let the Irish vessel lie

          Emptied of its poetry.


          In the nightmare of the dark

          All the dogs of Europe bark,

          And the living nations wait,

          Each sequestered in its hate;


          Intellectual disgrace

          Stares from every human face,

          And the seas of pity lie

          Locked and frozen in each eye.


          Follow, poet, follow right

          To the bottom of the night,

          With your unconstraining voice

          Still persuade us to rejoice;


          With the farming of a verse

          Make a vineyard of the curse,

          Sing of human unsuccess

          In a rapture of distress;


          In the deserts of the heart

          Let the healing fountain start,

          In the prison of his days

          Teach the free man how to praise.


(c) W.H. Auden (Uit: Another Time, 1940: Random House. Copyright



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Een Kommentaar op “Louis Esterhuizen. Die sterwensberou van W.B. Yeats”

  1. Maria Snyman :

    ‘n Vreeslike gedagte – groot geeste gaan swaarder dood. Ek dink byvoorbeeld ook aan Madiba. Derrida (2003: 178) sluit sy meestersverhandeling af met ‘n aanhaling uit ‘n opmerking wat Husserl nie lank voor sy dood gemaak het en waarin hy dit duidelik maak dat hy nie geweet het dit is so swaar om dood te gaan nie, want sê hy:

    (…) Just when I am getting to the end and when everything is finished for me, I know that I must start everything again from the beginning . . .