His deep heart’s core

Yeats

 

‘A young man, wandering about the slopes of Ben Bulben and Knocknarea, or gazing across the silver waters of Lough Gill from Dooney Rock to Hazelwood, started to sing in accents that fell with a wild beauty … In the natural grandeur of Sligo the new poet found an inspiration that lit up his verse with a burning flame”.

That summary of the seminal and decisive influence of the Sligo landscape on the poetry of W B Yeats appeared in this newspaper on the occasion of the poet’s seventieth birthday. It is worth bearing in mind those words in coming to terms with the revelations in French diplomatic correspondence that seem to confirm that the bones sent back to Ireland in 1948 were not the poet’s.

Does it really matter whether any remnant of the mortal remains of Yeats lies in Drumcliffe churchyard? There may or may not be some trace of Yeats’s remains in the Sligo soil but what does matter is the intimate association between the poet, his work and the iconic landscape “under bare Ben Bulben’s head” that was his spiritual home and his arcadia. The spirit of place evoked in the poetry is enough to continue to validate it as a destination of literary pilgrimage. His own words, chosen by the poet as his epitaph and cut into the Drumcliffe headstone, carry enough significance to mark the graveyard as hallowed Yeatsian ground, a site of memorial that invokes the spirit of the poet.

The real disgrace of this affair is the failure of local French authorities at the time to recognise his eminence and treat him as an “honoured guest” in the cemetery in Roquebrune where Yeats died in 1939. Recalling his childhood in the Autobiographies Yeats wrote “I would remember Sligo with tears, and when I began to write, it was there I hoped to find my audience”. Sligo was always in the poet’s “deep heart’s core”, his spirit can never be taken from the place of his first reveries.

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