The quarrel of the sparrows in the eaves,
The full round moon and the star-laden sky,
And the loud song of the ever-singing leaves,
Had hid away earth’s old and weary cry.
And then you came with those red mournful lips,
And with you came the whole of the world’s tears,
And all the trouble of her laboring ships,
And all the trouble of her myriad years.
And now the sparrows warring in the eaves,
The curd-pale moon, the white stars in the sky,
And the loud chaunting of the unquiet leaves,
Are shaken with earth’s old and weary cry.
“The Sorrow of Love” by William Butler Yeats. Public Domain. (buy now)
On this day in 1966, the historic Miranda v. Arizona case was decided by Chief Justice Earl Warren of the Supreme Court. The decision overturned the conviction of Ernesto Miranda, who confessed to kidnapping and rape charges without being informed of his right to remain silent and right to an attorney. The case introduced the “Miranda warnings,” which must be read to those in police custody in order for any statements or confessions to become evidence in a trial. The Miranda decision upholds the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution: “[No person] shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.” The case was very controversial, and later courts have imposed restrictions.
It’s the birthday of the British mystery writer Dorothy L. (Leigh) Sayers (books by this author), born in Oxford (1893). She was one of the first women to graduate from Oxford University, which she did in 1915, with a degree in medieval literature. She moved to London and got a job as a copy editor at the largest advertising agency in England, and she was extremely successful there. She came up with slogans like “My goodness, my Guinness,” and “Lovely day for a Guinness,” and the phrase “It pays to advertise!” Her job gave her a secure income, and she was able to find time to write for herself. In 1923, she published her first novel, Whose Body?, introducing her famous detective Lord Peter Wimsey, the amateur detective whom she featured in 11 novels and 21 short stories. Her Lord Peter Wimsey novels were extremely popular in England. She was famous for coming up with outrageous causes of death like poisoned teeth fillings, a cat with poisoned claws, and a dagger made of ice.
It’s the birthday of Irish poet and playwright William Butler (W.B.) Yeats (1865) (books by this author), best known for his staunch Irish nationalism and poems like “The Wild Swans at Coole,” “Easter 1916,” “Sailing to Byzantium,” and “The Second Coming,” which contains the famous lines, “And what rough beast, its hour come round at last / Slouches toward Bethlehem to be born.”
Yeats was born in Sandymount, near Dublin, but moved to London when he was young. He went back to Ireland every summer though, to spend time with his grandparents in County Sligo, a place that would appear over and over again in his work.
His father was a well-known painter and began training Yeats as a child. He was competent enough, though he was lackluster at school. One elementary report described him as “only fair. Perhaps better in Latin than in any other subject. Very poor in spelling.” He began writing poems in earnest when he was 17. His subjects included a magician who sets up a throne in central Asia and the adventures of German knights. He also wrote reams of love poems. Later, one critic called his adolescent work the “vast murmurous gloom of dreams.”
Yeats went to art school to appease his father, but only long enough to realize he really wanted to be a poet, so he decamped for London (1886), where he made the acquaintance of Oscar Wilde and George Bernard Shaw, and favored dressing in a long black cloak, soft black sombrero, and untidy black trousers. Yeats found work as a correspondent for two American newspapers, met the poet Paul Verlaine in Paris, and joined the Theosophical Society and the Order of the Golden Dawn, an English occult group.
Yeats’s fascination with the occult would last his entire lifetime and have such a profound effect on his poetry that fellow poet W.H. Auden would label Yeats’s poems as the “deplorable spectacle of a grown man occupied with the mumbo-jumbo of magic and the nonsense of India.” Yeats dismissed the criticism, saying, “The mystical life is the centre of all that I do and all that I think and all that I write.”
His first book, The Wanderings of Oisin and Other Poems, was published in 1889. That was the year he met Maud Gonne, a beautiful woman he would love for the rest of his life. When he met her, he said, “The troubling of my life began.” She turned down his marriage proposals not once, not twice, but three times over many years, and eventually married another man. Yeats kept at it, though, often depicting her in poems as Helen of Troy. About Gonne, he said, “I saw only what lay upon the surface — the middle of the tint, a sound as of a Burmese gong, an over-powering tumult that had yet many pleasant secondary notes.”
At 52, Yeats asked for Gonne’s hand one more time and she rejected him again. He even asked Gonne’s daughter to marry him, but she also refused, so instead he turned to 25-year-old Georgie Hyde-Lees, who accepted his proposal and moved with him to Ballylee (Galway) on the outermost coast of Ireland, where they lived in an ancient tower and had two children. He wrote the collection of poems, The Tower (1928), while he lived in Ballylee.
Yeats founded the Irish National Theatre in Dublin in 1902 with fellow writers Lady Gregory, George Russell, and Douglas Hyde, convinced that Ireland needed its own venue for Irish plays in Irish verse with Irish folklore as its subject matter, with natives of Ireland serving as actors and the audience. The theater later morphed into the Abbey, which is still active today. W.B. Yeats won the Nobel Prize in literature in 1923. He is considered by many to be one of the greatest poets in the English language. His collections include The Countess Cathleen (1892), The Wind Among the Reeds (1899), and Seven Woods (1907).
Yeats died in France in 1939, surrounded by his wife, Georgie, and his latest mistress. Late in life, he had numerous affairs, which he called a kind of “second puberty.” Georgie said, “When you are dead, people will talk about your love affairs, but I shall say nothing, for I will remember how proud you were.”