When you require renewal, is there a particular poem or book that you return to? A particular author?
My answer here is no more “cool” than my answer about Shakespeare, but it’s William Butler Yeats. I’ve got twin tattoos, and one is a line of Shakespeare, and one is a line of Yeats, so these Williams: they’re my boys. Yeats is particularly excellent for me, and my own weaknesses, because his language has force and fullness, but clarity. I struggle with a floodgate of words, many of them bordering on the archaic (it’s that Shakespeare, yo), but for me, Yeats is like drinking a glass of clear, cold water.
Though others of his poems may mean more to me personally—my tattoo is from “A Dialogue of Self and Soul”—I remain convinced that I have read no better poem in the English language than “The Second Coming.” The punch of those words! Mere anarchy, slow thighs, the shadows of the indignant desert birds, vexed to nightmare, slouches. The central image is so clear, it pierces you, and the language he uses to describe it perfectly evokes, in sound, what he describes. The difference between “the blood-dimmed tide” and “the ceremony of innocence:” it’s like Shakespeare, that way. I remember years ago reading, and I can’t recall where, that Yeats liked his writing best when he came away from it feeling that it there was something cold in it, but passionate—I could be stealing his phrase from “The Fisherman.” Though I can’t recall the exact phrase and I can’t put my finger on it now, when I read it, it resonated with me, because I have a sensation that I would describe similarly.