Saturday, June 8, 2013

Sailing to Byzantium

That is no country for old men. The young
In one another's arms, birds in the trees
—Those dying generations—at their song,
The salmon-falls, the mackerel-crowded seas,
Fish, flesh, or fowl, commend all summer long
Whatever is begotten, born, and dies.
Caught in that sensual music all neglect
Monuments of unageing intellect.

I Saw Three Cities, 1944, Kay Sage, Princeton University Art Museum, Princeton  / Photograph by Bruce M. White
An aged man is but a paltry thing,
A tattered coat upon a stick, unless
Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing
For every tatter in its mortal dress,
Nor is there singing school but studying
Monuments of its own magnificence;
And therefore I have sailed the seas and come
To the holy city of Byzantium.

Byzantine Mosaic, Hagia Sofia, Istanbul, Western Turkey

O sages standing in God's holy fire
As in the gold mosaic of a wall,
Come from the holy fire, perne in a gyre,
And be the singing-masters of my soul.
Consume my heart away; sick with desire
And fastened to a dying animal
It knows not what it is; and gather me
Into the artifice of eternity.

Golden Bird, 1919-20 (Base c. 1922) , Constaintin Brancusi, The Art Institute, Chicago, IL

Once out of nature I shall never take
My bodily form from any natural thing,
But such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make
Of hammered gold and gold enamelling
To keep a drowsy Emperor awake;
Or set upon a golden bough to sing
To lords and ladies of Byzantium
Of what is past, or passing, or to come.

~   by W. B. Yeats

I chose to use the art of the Byzantine Empire with more modern art so there was a mix of styles. When I first saw the "Golden Bird" sculpture by Constaintin Brancusi I can honestly say I had mixed feelings about whether I liked it or not. Over the years the elegance and grace of the sculpture has captured my heart.

Yeats was using an imaginative journey through the tangible act of sailing to describe the internal act of reconciliation of becoming an old man and how to maintain a use in a world of younger men. This is a common process people go through in their lives, attempting to reconcile how to be a contributing member of society when you feel "overthrown" or perceive yourself to be unneeded. Yeats makes the journey of the poem toward the sages and away from youth. This description is not far from what truly happens when people look inside themselves at a point in life when they are leaving their "youth" behind and choose to advance their worth by moving toward increased knowledge and the sharing of knowledge.

In the first stanza Yeats refers to the birds in relation to youth when he wrote "In one another's arms, birds in the trees / —Those dying generations—at their song" So it is no surprise that in the fourth stanza Yeats refers to a bird "Or set upon a golden bough to sing"which is important because he has stated once his body is consumed by the fire he wanted to be "Once out of nature I shall never take / My bodily form from any natural thing" implying that he wanted to be a 'golden bird' on a golden bough and that 'golden bird' being outside of nature never dies.

It is important to note that the use of Byzantine was deliberate as the Byzantine arts and culture were rich with fine arts, skilled craftsman, beautiful and elaborate architectures and mosaics. The journey to Byzantium was a journey toward the sages of the arts as much as the mind.



3. (Fine Arts & Visual Arts / Art Terms) of or relating to the highly coloured stylized form of religious art developed in the Byzantine Empire
4. (Fine Arts & Visual Arts / Architecture) of or relating to the style of architecture developed in the Byzantine Empire, characterized by massive domes with square bases, rounded arches, spires and minarets, and the extensive use of mosaics.

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