"Don’t worry, you’ll be dead soon"


Just back from hearing John Banville talk about Yeats in the National Library – part of a week-long series of free Yeats-themed events. I’ve been a fan of Banville’s ever since I read the line in “The Untouchable” where the narrator describes a writer he meets at a party: “He was genuinely interested in other people, always a mark of the second-rate novelist”. Wonderful.

Tomorrow’s event will be actor Patrick Bergin reading some of the poems. He’s unlikely to be as entertaining as Banville, whose reflections on Yeats included some fine literary stand-up (or to be accurate, sit-down) material –

On the ‘greatest poet of 20th century’:
“I think he was greatly helped by the fact that he had no sense of humour. It’s very difficult to be a great man if you have a sense of the absurd”

On Maude Gonne McBride:
“Of course, she never slept with him. She knew, as all women know to their amusement and all men know to their chagrin, that not being slept with is the beginning of a life-long passion”

Approvingly, on Yeat’s combined lack of education and pretensions to great knowledge:
“In his sixties, Yeats was overheard chatting up a young lady at a party: ‘Ah my dear, I’ve forgotten all my Hebrew.’ Banville added “It’s one I use frequently myself.” 

When asked if he’d ever written poetry, Banville offered this, from a poem he’d written to his girlfriend at the age of twelve:
“Don’t worry, you’ll be dead soon”

And lastly, just before he read Sailing to Byzantium:
“I resent Cormac McCarthy for stealing the first line of this great poem as a title for his bad novel…”

THAT is no country for old men… 

You can hear Yeats speak here

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