Book Of A Lifetime: Selected Poems, By W B Yeats

I first heard WB Yeats's poetry spoken aloud not by the reedy-voiced poet himself intoning on an early recording, or by a teacher at high school or a friend at university, but on an album that belonged to my big brother: ''Fisherman's Blues'' by The Waterboys. The band had set Yeats's ''Stolen Child'' to music: "Come away, O human child! To the waters and the wild. With a faery, hand in hand, For the world's more full of weeping than you can understand". I was fascinated by language that was musical, yet freighted with grief and melancholy.

I grew up with an Irish surname (O'Riordan derives from "riogh bhard" or "royal bard") but with no living link to Ireland. My father's family had moved to Edinburgh from Cork several generations ago, while family lore on my mother's side told of a great-great grandfather shot dead on the steps of Armagh Cathedral. Yeats's work allowed me to engage with a side of my identity I was, in name at least, entitled to.

It is a book I would carry around in my pocket as a schoolboy until the yellowed pages began to fall out. "An Irish Airman foresees his Death'' was the first poem I had by heart, and those middle lines on the "lonely impulse of delight'' that is the airman's motivation still fill me with that fleeting satisfaction when a feeling or a thought finds its ideal expression in language; or what Yeats might call "something to perfection brought''.

WH Auden, addressing the poet in ''In Memory of WB Yeats'', asserted that ''Mad Ireland hurt you into poetry''. But Yeats teaches us how a poet might approach the political by placing the reader close to contradictions. Take for instance "Easter 1916''. written in the wake of the Easter Rising, where Yeats cautions that "all changed, changed utterly, a terrible beauty is born''. His poems provide an object-lesson in the power of the visceral, as in "Leda and the Swan", where beauty and violence rival for position as Leda is ''mastered by the brute blood of the air".

As a student at Oxford, I remember attending a lecture series on Yeats by an academic who would begin, in aviator sunglasses and sucking on a throat sweet, by launching into declamatory passages. He once bought a first edition of – I think – The Winding Stair, which seemed to glow as he opened it on the lectern. The edition we had at home showed a young Yeats sketched in pencil on the cover, looking distant, somewhat imperious and otherworldly. But the poetry inside is a poetry of the inescapable sadnesses that attend on worldly experience - from the simple romantic tristesse of early poems like ''Down by the Salley Gardens'' to the powerful later work on mortality and creativity in ''The Circus Animals' Desertion'' and ''Sailing to Byzantium''. The edition we had closed, with a twinkle, on that life-affirming late poem "Politics": "How can I, that girl standing there,/ My attention fix/ On Roman or on Russian/ Or on Spanish politics?" It's all these things and more that keep me coming back to Yeats.

Adam O'Riordan's 'In the Flesh' in published by Chatto & Windus

Arts and Entertainment
Britain's Got Talent judges: Simon Cowell, Amanda Holden, Alesha Dixon and David Walliams

TV
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Matthew Healy of The 1975 performing on the Pyramid Stage at the Glastonbury Festival, at Worthy Farm in Somerset

music
Arts and Entertainment
booksThe Withnail and I creator, has a new theory about killer's identity
Arts and Entertainment
tvDick Clement and Ian La Frenais are back for the first time in a decade
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Emilia Clarke could have been Anastasia Steele in Fifty Shades of Grey but passed it up because of the nude scenes

film
Arts and Entertainment
A$AP Rocky and Rita Ora pictured together in 2012

music
Arts and Entertainment
A case for Mulder and Scully? David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson in ‘The X-Files’

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Impressions of the Creative Community Courtyard within d3. The development is designed to 'inspire emerging designers and artists, and attract visitors'

architecture
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010

GlastonburyWI to make debut appearance at Somerset festival

Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister

TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride

Arts and Entertainment
Jesuthasan Antonythasan as Dheepan

FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head

Arts and Entertainment
Måns Zelmerlöw performing

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Graham Norton was back in the commentating seat for Eurovision 2015

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Hammond, Jeremy Clarkson and James May on stage

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Radio
Arts and Entertainment

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
film
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Comics
Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
music
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

music
Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

eurovision
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

    On your feet!

    Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
    Liverpool close in on Milner signing

    Liverpool close in on Milner signing

    Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
    With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

    The big NHS question

    Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
    Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

    Thongs ain't what they used to be

    Big knickers are back
    Thurston Moore interview

    Thurston Moore interview

    On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
    In full bloom

    In full bloom

    Floral print womenswear
    From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

    From leading man to Elephant Man

    Bradley Cooper is terrific
    In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

    In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

    Dame Colette Bowe - interview
    When do the creative juices dry up?

    When do the creative juices dry up?

    David Lodge thinks he knows
    The 'Cher moment' happening across fashion just now

    Fashion's Cher moment

    Ageing beauty will always be more classy than all that booty
    Thousands of teenage girls enduring debilitating illnesses after routine school cancer vaccination

    Health fears over school cancer jab

    Shock new Freedom of Information figures show how thousands of girls have suffered serious symptoms after routine HPV injection
    Fifa President Sepp Blatter warns his opponents: 'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

    'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

    Fifa president Sepp Blatter issues defiant warning to opponents
    Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report

    Weather warning

    Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report
    LSD: Speaking to volunteer users of the drug as trials get underway to see if it cures depression and addiction

    High hopes for LSD

    Meet the volunteer users helping to see if it cures depression and addiction
    German soldier who died fighting for UK in Battle of Waterloo should be removed from museum display and given dignified funeral, say historians

    Saving Private Brandt

    A Belgian museum's display of the skeleton of a soldier killed at Waterloo prompts calls for him to be given a dignified funeral