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Cretan barb that pierced a star? What did Yeats mean?

MichaelR

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Jun 1, 2006
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2,056
Hello,

I really really like Yeats' "Parnell's Funeral". Its worldview resonates strongly. But I would like to understand the big cultural reference there.

"What is this sacrifice? Can someone there
Recall the Cretan barb that pierced a star?

Rich foliage that the starlight glittered through,
A frenzied crowd, and where the branches sprang
A beautiful seated boy; a sacred bow;
A woman, and an arrow on a string;
A pierced boy, image of a star laid low.
That woman, the Great Mother imaging,
Cut out his heart. Some master of design
Stamped boy and tree upon Sicilian coin."

What is the myth that Yeats is referring to? I failed to find it online...
 


Odyessus

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May 16, 2007
Messages
12,987
Hello,

I really really like Yeats' "Parnell's Funeral". Its worldview resonates strongly. But I would like to understand the big cultural reference there.

"What is this sacrifice? Can someone there
Recall the Cretan barb that pierced a star?

Rich foliage that the starlight glittered through,
A frenzied crowd, and where the branches sprang
A beautiful seated boy; a sacred bow;
A woman, and an arrow on a string;
A pierced boy, image of a star laid low.
That woman, the Great Mother imaging,
Cut out his heart. Some master of design
Stamped boy and tree upon Sicilian coin."

What is the myth that Yeats is referring to? I failed to find it online...

Deleted.
 

GDPR

1
Joined
Jul 5, 2008
Messages
224,090
Hello,

I really really like Yeats' "Parnell's Funeral". Its worldview resonates strongly. But I would like to understand the big cultural reference there.

"What is this sacrifice? Can someone there
Recall the Cretan barb that pierced a star?

Rich foliage that the starlight glittered through,
A frenzied crowd, and where the branches sprang
A beautiful seated boy; a sacred bow;
A woman, and an arrow on a string;
A pierced boy, image of a star laid low.
That woman, the Great Mother imaging,
Cut out his heart. Some master of design
Stamped boy and tree upon Sicilian coin."

What is the myth that Yeats is referring to? I failed to find it online...
You wont, because as Yeats says in his autobiography, the image came from a dream and not his reading of a specific legend or myth. I personally connected it to the myth of Orion, the mighty huntsman, who was the lover of Artemis/Diana, the goddess of animals and the chase.

In one version of the legend, he was hunting with her in Crete, when Artemis's brother Apollo, who disapproved of the liasion, challenged her to shoot an arrow at an object in the distance. Unbeknownst to her, it was Orion. She killed him by accident and his body was then placed in the heavens as the constellation Orion.

In his own commentary on the poem, Yeats says:

I did not go to the funeral, because, being in my sensitive and timid youth, I hated crowds, and what crowds implied, but my friend went. She told me that evening of the star that fell broad daylight as Parnell’s body was lowered into the grave - was it a collective hallucination or an actual event? Years after Standish O’Grady was to write:
‘I state a fact - it was witnessed by thousands. While his followers were committing Charles Parnell’s remains to the earth, the sky was bright with strange lights and flames. Only a coincidence possibly, and yet persons not superstitious have maintained that there is some mysterious sympathy between the human soul and the elements, and that storm, and other elemental disturbances have too often succeeded or accompanied great battles to be regarded as only fortuitous. .. Those flames recall to my memory what is told of similar phenomena, said to have been witnessed when tidings of the death of Saint Columba overran the north-west of Europe.’
I think of the symbolism of the star shot with an arrow, described in the appendix to my book Autobiographies. I ask if the fall of a star may not upon occasion, symbolise an accepted sacrifice.
 

MichaelR

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Jun 1, 2006
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2,056
Yeats was barking mad.
Is it a good thing to say about a Protestant in the context of a poem praising a Protestant, and especially noting he learned from yet another Protestant (and a Dean of St Patrick's no less)?

Even if he was barking mad I prefer this kind of barking mad to Paisley's kind of barking mad.

Seriously, thanks for the links!
 

Cruimh

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Is it a good thing to say about a Protestant in the context of a poem praising a Protestant, and especially noting he learned from yet another Protestant (and a Dean of St Patrick's no less)?

Even if he was barking mad I prefer this kind of barking mad to Paisley's kind of barking mad.

Seriously, thanks for the links!
On a serious note - tribal/denominational loyalty is a curse - So, unless I want to be accused of hypocrisy, there is no place for ducking the unsavoury and disturbing aspects of Yeats if I want to point out that Cardinal MacRory was also barking mad - it would be an interesting topic for study - the role the utterances and behaviour of a man like MacRory had on the formation of a man like Ian Paisley.
 

Toland

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www.aggressive-secularist.com
Is it a good thing to say about a Protestant in the context of a poem praising a Protestant, and especially noting he learned from yet another Protestant (and a Dean of St Patrick's no less)?

Even if he was barking mad I prefer this kind of barking mad to Paisley's kind of barking mad.

Seriously, thanks for the links!
I don't know why you feel the need to respond Cruimh with this: he just said -- rightly -- that Yeats was barking mad. It wasn't a political or sectarian statement.

Yeats was indeed a very great poet, but he was also barking mad.
 

Accidental sock

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In my day, we used to do our own English homework.
 

Accidental sock

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Cogging is as old as time.
Damn....I was gonna put that, but went for "Cogging is as old as the hills"

Nevermind, I think I did well on the essay question...I had to ask for more paper.
 

Cruimh

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I don't know why you feel the need to respond Cruimh with this: he just said -- rightly -- that Yeats was barking mad. It wasn't a political or sectarian statement.

Yeats was indeed a very great poet, but he was also barking mad.
I think it was a gentle joke, rather than a dig .... which is why he finished with "Seriously, thanks for the links!"
 

Toland

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I think it was a gentle joke, rather than a dig .... which is why he finished with "Seriously, thanks for the links!"
To be very honest, I bored of this tendency for people, no matter what the subject matter is, to bring up some or other tribal marker when they know their conversation partner to be on the other side of the sectarian ditch.

His comment may have been gentle, as you say, but it was neither original nor all that funny.
 

GDPR

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Is it a good thing to say about a Protestant in the context of a poem praising a Protestant, and especially noting he learned from yet another Protestant (and a Dean of St Patrick's no less)?

Even if he was barking mad I prefer this kind of barking mad to Paisley's kind of barking mad.

Seriously, thanks for the links!
Yeats was a Pagan Neo-Platonist as opposed to a Protestant as such and in fact in his autobiography which is really worth reading he explains why the Irish in general are so much more congenial and culturally superior to the Scots is in part to do with the influence of Catholicism. In no way was he barking mad at all, he just had slight eccentricities in his thought that came from his trying to fit the actual mad Irish Protestant pride he had inherited into the wide vision he had cultivated for himself. The image comes from Pagan Neo-Platonism and is to do with the cycles of time; Kathleen Raine I am pretty sure explains it in her lectures on William Blake which I have somewhere around the place in a box I think. I dont have time to look for it now but I will later. Also remember that Yeats was somewhat of an Irish Separatist and therefore would be considered a "Lundy" in certain circles.
 

MichaelR

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In my day, we used to do our own English homework.
I'm a bit too old for that. I'm actually doing a Russian poetic translation. And I'm doing it mainly because I love the expression "contagion of the throng", and the general individualism expressed in the verse. But I can't skip the mythology reference so I had to sort it out.
 

MichaelR

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To be very honest, I bored of this tendency for people, no matter what the subject matter is, to bring up some or other tribal marker when they know their conversation partner to be on the other side of the sectarian ditch.
This was not the case. The joke was that everyone involved is/was on the *same* side of the sectarian ditch. I'm Protestant. Criumh is. Yeats was. Parnell was. Jonathan Swift was. And I mentioned Paisley, who also was.
 

MichaelR

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In no way was he barking mad at all, he just had slight eccentricities in his thought that came from his trying to fit the actual mad Irish Protestant pride he had inherited into the wide vision he had cultivated for himself.
The "barking mad" claim is probably about his vision/mystical stuff. I'm not on board with it but that's mainly because I got loads of friends back in Russia who have that same stuff, if not worse. Including a lady who worships Egyptian gods. But unlike them he was also a great poet!

As for his vision of Irish Protestantism, it was certainly poetic (read, sometimes counterfactual) in nature, but in some ways I like it more than the real thing. In his famous No Petty People speech, he claimed that every Protestant gentleman understood Parnell did the right thing by marrying Kitty O'Shea. I've actually paid to review the Irish Times archives - and they do not support his version of events, with a lot of Protestants, presumably gentlemen, joining in the ugly witch hunt. (I wonder if I should try the Church of Ireland Gazette archives, but I'd have to go to the RCB Library in Dublin to see those, while the IT was online).

The Yeats dream of Irish Protestantism appears funnily closer to the modern Southern C. or I., but whether that was foresight, coincidence, or actual influence, I have no idea.

On the other hand, he also had that eugenic line of thought, which had the potential to turn into something really really ugly.
 


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