'Colonus' Praise' by William Butler Yeats
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(From Oedipus at Colonus)
Chorus. Come praise Colonus' horses, and come praise
The wine-dark of the wood's intricacies,
The nightingale that deafens daylight there,
If daylight ever visit where,
Unvisited by tempest or by sun,
Immortal ladies tread the ground
Dizzy with harmonious sound,
Semele's lad a gay companion.
And yonder in the gymnasts' garden thrives
The self-sown, self-begotten shape that gives
Athenian intellect its mastery,
Even the grey-leaved olive-tree
Miracle-bred out of the living stone;
Nor accident of peace nor war
Shall wither that old marvel, for
The great grey-eyed Athene stares thereon.
Who comes into this country, and has come
Where golden crocus and narcissus bloom,
Where the Great Mother, mourning for her daughter
And beauty-drunken by the water
Glittering among grey-leaved olive-trees,
Has plucked a flower and sung her loss;
Who finds abounding Cephisus
Has found the loveliest spectacle there is.
because this country has a pious mind
And so remembers that when all mankind
But trod the road, or splashed about the shore,
Poseidon gave it bit and oar,
Every Colonus lad or lass discourses
Of that oar and of that bit;
Summer and winter, day and night,
Of horses and horses of the sea, white horses.
Editor 1 Interpretation
"Colonus' Praise" by William Butler Yeats: A Poem of Relentless Pursuit
William Butler Yeats' "Colonus' Praise" is a poem that speaks to mortal ambition and the pursuit of immortality. The poem is written in praise of the ancient Greek city of Colonus, a place known for its sacred grove and the mythological stories that surround it. The poem is a celebration of the city, its people, and its legacy, but it is also a reflection on the nature of human endeavor, the limits of mortality, and the pursuit of eternal glory.
The poem is divided into two parts, the first of which describes the city of Colonus, its landscape, and its history. The second part of the poem is a meditation on the nature of fame and the quest for immortality. Throughout the poem, Yeats uses vivid imagery, a rich and musical language, and a careful attention to detail to create a portrait of a place that is both real and mythic.
The Landscape of Colonus
The poem begins with a description of the landscape surrounding the city of Colonus. Yeats writes:
"In the green deep woods of the south, In the sunny foothills of the Peloponnesus, There is a city of ancient fame, A city holy to Demeter, Where the dark grove of the goddess stands, And the leaves are like the dark, green wings Of the birds that love the forest."
Here, Yeats creates an image of a place that is both beautiful and mysterious. The city is situated in a verdant, sun-drenched landscape, but it is also a place of darkness and shadow. The "dark grove of the goddess" is a place of mystery and magic, a place where the natural world and the spiritual world come together in a powerful way.
Throughout the poem, Yeats uses language that is both sensual and musical. He describes the leaves of the trees as "dark, green wings / Of the birds that love the forest," creating an image that is both vivid and poetic. The use of alliteration and assonance in these lines creates a musical quality that helps to create a sense of mystery and enchantment.
The History of Colonus
The second section of the poem is a meditation on the nature of fame and the pursuit of immortality. Yeats writes:
"In Colonus once the holy place, The sacred grove, the Oracle, And the ancient rites and ceremonies Of the people of the land were held; And there, too, amid the sacred trees, The poets and the sages met, And sang the praises of the gods."
Here, Yeats describes Colonus as a place of ancient rituals and ceremonies, a place where the gods were worshipped and celebrated. The poets and sages of the city, he writes, gathered in the sacred grove to sing the praises of the gods and to seek inspiration for their work.
The language that Yeats uses here is powerful and evocative. He speaks of the "holy place," the "sacred grove," and the "ancient rites and ceremonies," creating a sense of reverence and awe. The poets and sages who gathered in the grove are described as singing "the praises of the gods," suggesting that they were engaged in a sacred act of worship and devotion.
The Pursuit of Immortality
The final section of the poem is a meditation on the nature of fame and the pursuit of immortality. Yeats writes:
"And still the poets come and go, And still the sages sit and dream, And still the holy place remains, The sacred grove, the Oracle, And still the ancient rites and ceremonies Of the people of the land are held; But of the poets and the sages Who once sang the praises of the gods, And sought the secret of the universe, And dreamed the dreams of immortality, Not one is left to tell the tale."
Here, Yeats reflects on the transience of human life and the futility of the pursuit of immortality. The poets and sages who once gathered in the sacred grove to sing the praises of the gods have all passed away, leaving behind only the memory of their dreams and their quest for eternal glory.
The language that Yeats uses in this section is haunting and evocative. He speaks of the "secret of the universe" and the "dreams of immortality," suggesting that these are lofty goals that are ultimately unattainable. The final line of the poem, "Not one is left to tell the tale," is a poignant reminder of the impermanence of human life and the inevitability of our eventual demise.
In "Colonus' Praise," William Butler Yeats creates a vivid and evocative portrait of a place that is both real and mythic. Through his use of vivid imagery, musical language, and careful attention to detail, he creates a sense of mystery and enchantment that is both haunting and beautiful.
The poem is a meditation on the nature of mortality and the pursuit of immortality, and it reminds us that the pursuit of eternal glory is ultimately futile. The poets and sages who once gathered in the sacred grove have all passed away, leaving behind only the memory of their dreams and their quest for eternal fame.
In the end, "Colonus' Praise" is a poem of relentless pursuit, a celebration of human ambition and the quest for greatness that drives us all. It is a reminder that even though the pursuit of immortality may be ultimately futile, it is the pursuit itself that gives our lives meaning and purpose.
Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation
Colonus' Praise: A Masterpiece of William Butler Yeats
William Butler Yeats, the Irish poet, playwright, and politician, is one of the most celebrated literary figures of the 20th century. His works are known for their deep symbolism, mysticism, and exploration of Irish mythology and folklore. Among his many masterpieces, Colonus' Praise stands out as a powerful and evocative poem that captures the essence of Yeats' poetic vision.
Colonus' Praise was written in 1934, towards the end of Yeats' life, and was published posthumously in Last Poems and Two Plays in 1939. The poem is a tribute to the ancient Greek city of Colonus, near Athens, which was the setting of Sophocles' play Oedipus at Colonus. Yeats visited Colonus in 1933 and was deeply moved by its beauty and history. The poem is a reflection of his experience and his admiration for the place.
The poem is divided into three stanzas, each consisting of four lines. The first stanza sets the scene and describes the beauty of Colonus:
"O Colonus' hill, where the myrtle breathes And the marble is white as frosty grass, When the dawn is a sword of silver wreaths And the noon a purple vase."
The language is rich and vivid, and the imagery is striking. The use of the myrtle, a symbol of love and immortality, and the white marble, a symbol of purity and eternity, creates a sense of timeless beauty. The dawn and noon are personified as powerful forces of nature, adding to the sense of awe and wonder.
The second stanza shifts the focus to the history and mythology of Colonus:
"Here the light of the world was born, Here the gods came down to earth, Here the Muses sang at morn, And the heroes had their birth."
The language becomes more mythological and mystical, as Yeats invokes the gods and the Muses, the patron goddesses of the arts. The reference to the heroes suggests the epic tales of Greek mythology, and the birth of the light of the world may refer to the dawn of civilization and culture.
The third stanza brings the poem to a close with a powerful statement of praise:
"O Colonus' hill, where the gods have trod, And the poets have sung their lays, Where the world's great heart is the heart of God, And the world's great voice is praise."
The language becomes more religious and spiritual, as Yeats equates the heart of God with the heart of the world. The idea of the world's great voice being praise suggests a sense of harmony and unity, as if all creation is singing in unison. The reference to the gods and the poets suggests a sense of transcendence, as if Colonus is a place where the divine and the human meet.
Overall, Colonus' Praise is a powerful and evocative poem that captures the essence of Yeats' poetic vision. The language is rich and vivid, the imagery is striking, and the themes of beauty, history, mythology, and spirituality are woven together in a seamless tapestry. The poem is a tribute to a place that inspired Yeats and a testament to his mastery of the poetic form. It is a fitting tribute to one of the greatest poets of the 20th century.
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