My Body Of A Sudden Blazed

In his Nobel Lecture delivered on December 15th, 1923, shortly after receiving the Prize for Literature, WB Yeats spoke at length about the Irish Dramatic Movement. The speech is a little like his poetry – brilliant, seductive and mellifluous, although the reader always feels that a PhD in History or Literature or Linguistics would be useful for full appreciation. But, buried in the characters and events and opinions, you can find a mystical spark, just like in many of his poems. He says “you desire beautiful emotion…and care not how fantastic its expression”.

His poem that best demonstrates this statement is very short, and has the rather indecipherable title of Vacillation IV. The scene is set. Yeats is fifty, alone in a crowded shop, obviously miserable. The second stanza appears as though shot from a gun: “While on the shop and street I gazed My body of a sudden blazed; And twenty minutes more or less It seemed, so great my happiness, That I was blessed and could bless”.

This brief intense happy transformation is good if you can get it. Mystics strive after it, some call it Sartori, or Prayer, or Nirvana, or whatever. It doesn’t have to last long. Yeats even suggests twenty minutes “more or less”, but let’s not put too fine a point on using time to measure something that is, well, timeless.

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