W.B. Yeats and Henry Moore

IMG_0609I have always loved this Henry Moore sculpture of W.B. Yeats. Yeats’ poems have beguiled me since I was in high school and over the years, I have set many of them to music. Likewise, Moore’s sculptures are enigmatic and lovely to me – a perfect pairing with Yeats. A few years ago, I visited the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City and saw a fabulous exhibit on the trajectory of Moore’s work and enjoyed the thirteen exquisite bronze sculptures that reside in the Nelson-Adkins Sculpture Museum.

History.com describes the artistic and cultural influences in Moore’s life –

“At London’s libraries and museums, he studied Egyptian, Etruscan, Pre-Columbian, Oceanic, and African sculpture, and he brought the vital spirit of this artwork into his early sculpture. This effort was often ridiculed by his instructors, and in his first year at the Royal College one of his teachers remarked, “This young man has been feeding on garbage.” He was also deeply influenced by the semi-abstract paintings of Paul Cezanne, such as the Large Bathers (1900-1905), which shows monumental reclining nudes integrated into an abstract landscape. The reclining human figure would become a central theme in Moore’s sculpture.”

Experiencing the Yeats figure perfectly situated in Stephen’s Green is a quiet joy – organic, intangible, nuanced.

There is a photo in the Irish Photo Archive, taken in 1967, at the unveiling of the Yeats statue for the W.B. Yeats Memorial by the then Taoiseach Jack Lynch in Stephen’s Green. The photo includes the Taoiseach, Henry Moore and Michael Scott, architect and member of the W.B. Yeats Memorial committee.

I have read about, but not yet visited, the National Library of Ireland’s Yeats Exhibition – I will try to do that before I leave Dublin this time (an invitation is required). The National Library of Ireland was established in 1877, but originally existed as the Library of the Royal Dublin Society (1731). The building on Kildare Street was opened in 1890 and includes a large, domed reading room. The Yeats family has donated most of the material in the exhibition, and the library holds the largest Yeats collection in existence. It’s overwhelming and wondrous. The library’s online exhibit is marvelous.

This would add another layer to my Yeats obsession – a further examination of his works and writings as a Nobel Prize winning poet, his uniquely Irish artistic legacy – and also his messy and interesting personal life (his ill-fated passion for Maud Gonne and his artistic parents and siblings), the artwork featured in his books and on their covers, and his strange connection to the Order of the Golden Dawn. I would especially appreciate Yeats’ reflections on the Easter Rising – and am looking forward to visiting Collins Barracks at the National Museum of Ireland with the students and attending the 1916 Exhibit (which touched me deeply, for the first time, as a Fulbright Scholar, eight years ago).

I also love the paintings of Yeats’ brother, Jack B. Yeats – at once nostalgic, romantic and expressionist. The youngest of the Yeats siblings, he was a close friend with both Samuel Beckett and J. M. Synge, and he illustrated two of Synge’s travel books – The Aran Islands and Travels in Wicklow, West Kerry and Connemara.

A few of will go together to the Irish Museum of Modern Art in the Royal Hospital Kilmainham in a few days. The formal gardens are beautiful and I’m really looking foreword to the new exhibit, Beverly Semmes: Big Silver and One Green Leaf.

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James Joyce and the Dublin Writers Museum

IMG_0484This wonderful statue is in the Merrion Hotel gardens — James Joyce, Ireland’s most famous literary export. There’s not a city of comparable size anywhere in the world that compares to literary Dublin — Nobel Prize winners and writers writing in every conceivable genre. I loved reading Joyce in high school and college and have continued to read his incredible writing and reconnect with his poems and prose, in deeper ways. His beautiful love poems (reflecting his interest in music) especially appeal but re-reading his nuanced and ironic stories in Dubliners — having now lived in Ireland twice and having been in Dublin dozens of times over the last decade and a half — is a lovely and better, more personal experience now.

Today, for the first time, I went to the Dublin Writers Museum, just around the corner on Parnell Square. What a lovely place — a compendium of the literary heritage by writers from the past. I learned about many historical Irish women writers about whom I’d previously known very little. It was wonderful to trace the roots of Irish poetry and storytelling — and learn more about the emergence of Jonathan Swift, William Congreve, Oliver Goldsmith and John D. Sheridan — all Irish writers with international status. I loved seeing the first edition of Bram Stocker’s Dracula (a favorite since childhood) — embodying the ‘Irish imagination at its darkest’ and reconnecting with the wit of Oscar Wilde and the brilliance of George Bernard Shaw. There were fabulous artifacts from 20th-century Irish Literary Revival giants — W.B. Yeats, J.M. Synge (both of whom I adore — Yeats for his exquisite poetry and Synge for his lovely connection to the Blasket Islands), James Joyce, and Sean O’Casey and his nemesis, Oliver St. John Gogarty.

IMG_0573Great information on Sean O’Faolain (I am just reading an incredible memoir,  Trespassers, by his daughter — journalist Julia O’Faolain), Frank O’Connor (who I got to meet in 2006, a wondrous encounter) and Kate O’Brien — all banned and censored in their time. Interesting artifacts from Patrick Kavanagh, Brian O’Nolan, Brendan Beehan, and Samuel Beckett. Upstairs, I got to see the Gallery of Writers, James Joyce’s piano, and the Gorham Library — so fabulous. I also want to visit the Irish Writers’ Center next door (the Dublin Writer’s Festival is on, now), promoting the work of contemporary Irish writers. And, I hope to also visit Marsh’s Library — Dublin’s oldest working library, an 18th-century classic that is supposed to be packed with ancient books and manuscripts, including some of the world’s rarest.

I’m really excited to see my students’ reaction to and engagement with the Trinity College Library, the gorgeous Long Room in the Old Library and the Book of Kells. I’ve visited the library, the long room and the Book of Kells exhibit dozens of times, and every time I learn something new and have a beautiful experience.