Generational chasmJan 20th, 2010 | By Ian Poulton | Category: Personal Columns
Young people become ever more disconcerting. The confirmation class throw questions that seem complete non sequitirs. When asked how the question arose, they establish logical links back to the matter being discussed; links that demand a more athletic mind to foresee.
Even waiting around is not what it was. Humming or tapping out a rhythm have been superseded by the iPod and the MP3. Silence is not an option.
My daughter has developed a habit of reciting poetry to herself while standing and waiting for things. Two poems seem to recur. W.B Yeats “An Irish Airman Foresees His Death”, is the most frequent,
I know that I shall meet my fate
Somewhere among the clouds above;
Those that I fight I do not hate
Those that I guard I do not love;
My country is Kiltartan Cross,
My countrymen Kiltartan’s poor,
No likely end could bring them loss
Or leave them happier than before.
Nor law, nor duty bade me fight,
Nor public man, nor cheering crowds,
A lonely impulse of delight
Drove to this tumult in the clouds;
I balanced all, brought all to mind,
The years to come seemed waste of breath,
A waste of breath the years behind
In balance with this life, this death.
Yeats’ protest against the pointlessness of the Great War at least seems to have some point of contemporary reference; the unwinnable conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan are of no more consequence to Kiltartan Cross than the wholesale slaughter of 1914-1918.
The other poem is more baffling. Presumably taught in school Irish classes, it is an Irish translation of Oliver St John Gogarty’s ‘The Ship’:
Tháinig long ó Valparaíso.
Scaoileadh téad a seol sa chuan.
Chuir a h-ainm dom i gcuimhne
Ríocht na gréine, tír na mbua.
‘Gluais,’ ar sí ‘ar thuras fada
liom ó scamall is ó cheo.
Tá faoi shleasaibh ghorm Andes
Cathair scáthmhar, glée mar sheod.
Perhaps its meaning is not important, how many people in former times understood Procul Harum’s ‘Whiter Shade of Pale’? Perhaps it is the sound of the words that matters; perhaps to be always looking for meaning is to be too literalist.
Never advancing much beyond the Jabberwocky in knowledge of poetry, it is all beyond me.