A day late - sorry, folks. But The Pup's very first birthday took precedence over everything last week! Absolute merriment and complete joy.
And, in honor of his first trip around the sun, here's a very old favorite by Willie Yeats...
I have a difficult relationship with Yeats. I think anyone who studies Irish literature does. Can't live with him (and his schmaltzy Celtic Twilight), but I certainly can't work without him either. This poem has always struck a chord with me, though, with its tender but terrifyingly real fears, especially how the anxiety and hope of parenthood cuts through the poet's careful mask.A Prayer for My SonWilliam Butler Yeats
Bid a strong ghost stand at the headThat my Michael may sleep sound,Nor cry, nor turn in the bedTill his morning meal come round;And may departing twilight keepAll dread afar till morning's backThat his mother may not lackHer fill of sleep.
Bid the ghost have sword in hand:There are malicious things, althoughFew dream that they exist,Who have planned his murder, for they knowOf some most haughty deed or thoughtThat waits upon his future days,And would through hatred of the baysBring that to nought.
Though You can fashion everythingFrom nothing every day, and teachThe morning stars to sing,You have lacked articulate speechTo tell Your simplest want, and known,Wailing upon a woman's knee,All of that worst ignominyOf flesh and bone;
And when through all the town there ranThe servants of Your enemyA woman and a man,Unless the Holy Writings lie,Have borne You through the smooth and roughAnd through the fertile and waste,Protecting till the danger pastWith human love.
Yeats is best in these moments, when he swings through history to make old stories and ancient myths matter to the present. His wish for his son Michael (who I was lucky enough to meet twice before his death a few years ago) is closeted within the story of Joseph and Mary and Jesus, with the archangel namesake of his child standing above everything. I feel about this poem the same way I feel about T.S. Eliot's "Journey of the Magi" - there is magic in the story of the birth of Jesus, in its utter humanity, regardless of how you feel about the religiosity of the myth. However, this plea for protection for his child - even as he realizes the audacity of that wish - is completely human, and quite frankly entirely non-Yeatsean.
Isn't this all we want for our children - to "protect until the danger past/with human love"? Doesn't every parent hope that if you love your child enough, that you can perhaps save him from pain? The reality and the pathos, of course, is that we know that life's journey is rarely so simple.
For now, however, The Pup is one. And he is joyful and adventurous and sweet and strong. I am ever so grateful for that "strong ghost" at his bedside, whoever (and whatever) he may be.
Happy Birthday, my sweet boy.