Sunday, 20 September 2020

Though every face should scowl ...

Emerging from out of the shadows of my mind during the past month, Yeats' lines from A Prayer for my daughter repeatedly offered a silver lining: 

Considering that, all hatred driven hence,
        The soul recovers radical innocence
And learns at last that it is self-delighting,
        Self-appeasing, self-affrighting, 
And that its own sweet will is Heaven's will; 
She can, though every face should scowl 
And every windy quarter howl
        Or every bellow burst, be happy still.

The poem is worth studying in its entirety. Consider the third-last of the ten stanzas:

An intellectual hatred is the worst,
So let her think opinions are accursed.
Have I not seen the loveliest woman born
Out of the mouth of Plenty's horn,
Because of her opinionated mind
Barter that horn and every good
By quiet natures understood
For an old bellows full of angry wind?

What are the key words here?

I would give these:

self-delighting    self-appeasing    self-affrighting    by quiet natures understood

A father's wish that his daughter be "happy still" amid human suffering and discontent, turbulence and hatred amounts, really, in the end to the wish that she be possessed of deep inner security, a zen-like composure.

Essentially it is the wish for her spirit to retain its balance despite antagonistic circumstances.

It is so very simple a wish, a simple prayer for purity and an orderly life:

    How but in custom and ceremony
    Are innocence and beauty born?
    Ceremony's a name for the rich horn,
    And custom for the spreading laurel tree.

Yeats' plea for honouring the good, which past generations have created and honoured, continues to be a plea worth sounding. For change is natural: it does not require violence.