Thoor Ballylee

Thoor Ballylee

Or perhaps better known as Yeats’ Tower, this is now something of a literary tourist attraction. Attached to the 13th century tower is a visitors centre which served a delightful potato (how apt,) and herb soup which was perfect on a rather damp and cool day.
The tower itself is basically a series of rooms stacked vertically, joined by a spiral staircase. Rather spartan in feel, it must have been a hard place in which to live, but W B, wife and daughter lasted ten years, from 1919 to 1929. I suspect Mrs and young Ms Y must have been made of stern stuff. While we were about twenty years ago (which is when I did the accompanying drawing),there we were menaced by a bat fluttering round one of the rooms, the only modern inhabitant. The view from the roof is delightful, with vistas across the Galway countryside, but we couldn’t stay long as an approaching rain-shower swiftly moved over the land and engulfed the building. Never was soup more appreciated.

Courtesy of Poemhunter, here is one of Yeats’ works inspired by the tower.

The Winding Stair

My Soul. I summon to the winding ancient stair;
Set all your mind upon the steep ascent,
Upon the broken, crumbling battlement,
Upon the breathless starlit air,
‘Upon the star that marks the hidden pole;
Fix every wandering thought upon
That quarter where all thought is done:
Who can distinguish darkness from the soul

My Self. The consecretes blade upon my knees
Is Sato’s ancient blade, still as it was,
Still razor-keen, still like a looking-glass
Unspotted by the centuries;
That flowering, silken, old embroidery, torn
From some court-lady’s dress and round
The wodden scabbard bound and wound
Can, tattered, still protect, faded adorn

My Soul. Why should the imagination of a man
Long past his prime remember things that are
Emblematical of love and war?
Think of ancestral night that can,
If but imagination scorn the earth
And intellect is wandering
To this and that and t’other thing,
Deliver from the crime of death and birth.

My Self. Montashigi, third of his family, fashioned it
Five hundred years ago, about it lie
Flowers from I know not what embroidery –
Heart’s purple – and all these I set
For emblems of the day against the tower
Emblematical of the night,
And claim as by a soldier’s right
A charter to commit the crime once more.

My Soul. Such fullness in that quarter overflows
And falls into the basin of the mind
That man is stricken deaf and dumb and blind,
For intellect no longer knows
Is from the Ought, or knower from the Known –
That is to say, ascends to Heaven;
Only the dead can be forgiven;
But when I think of that my tongue’s a stone.

II

My Self. A living man is blind and drinks his drop.
What matter if the ditches are impure?
What matter if I live it all once more?
Endure that toil of growing up;
The ignominy of boyhood; the distress
Of boyhood changing into man;
The unfinished man and his pain
Brought face to face with his own clumsiness;

The finished man among his enemies? –
How in the name of Heaven can he escape
That defiling and disfigured shape
The mirror of malicious eyes
Casts upon his eyes until at last
He thinks that shape must be his shape?
And what’s the good of an escape
If honour find him in the wintry blast?

I am content to live it all again
And yet again, if it be life to pitch
Into the frog-spawn of a blind man’s ditch,
A blind man battering blind men;
Or into that most fecund ditch of all,
The folly that man does
Or must suffer, if he woos
A proud woman not kindred of his soul.

I am content to follow to its source
Every event in action or in thought;
Measure the lot; forgive myself the lot!
When such as I cast out remorse
So great a sweetness flows into the breast
We must laugh and we must sing,
We are blest by everything,
Everything we look upon is blest.

The tower is a short distance from the spot where Yeats’ literary friend Lady Gregory lived, at Coole Park (home of the wild swans) itself a beautiful spot too.
Both worth a visit.

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