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Politics

September 13, 2016

In our time the destiny of man presents its meanings in political terms
                                           Thomas Mann

How can I, that girl standing there,
My attention fix
On Roman or on Russian
Or on Spanish politics?
Yet here’s a travelled man that knows
What he talks about,
And there’s a politician
That has read and thought,
And maybe what they say is true
Of war and war’s alarms,
But O that I were young again
And held her in my arms!

–W.B. Yeats 1938

COMMENTARY: Looking back into my archives, I see I sent this poem out around election time 4 years ago. 4 years from now, when we’re all enjoying the post-political age…well…who can say? Yeats wrote this poem (usually considered to be his last) during the Spanish Civil War and with WWII looming. While he was, in many respects, a lifelong politician himself (having agitated for Irish independence and having served for two terms in the Irish senate) he deplored the single-minded arrogance of the political sphere with its popular prejudices and misguided fanaticism. It may not have been him who said “the only thing politics & poetry have in common are the letters ‘p’ and ‘o'” but he would have agreed that the better portion of human nature lay outside of political identities.
The poem is almost instantly memorizable–perfect for the melody, the rhythmic tension, and the sharp release of feeling at the end. No idea who the girl is.
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