Is anyone else’s brain smashed?
No! Wait, I don’t mean literally! But that sense of ‘Oh dear, everything inside my head is turning to moosh, and I don’t like it.’
To put it another way, I am glad that my skull is made of bone, therefore, is unlikely to combust into thin air. The result is, which to my great excitement includes a word I never knew existed before, a ‘quaggy‘ mess.
It may only be week 5, but I feel like my brain has left town, with the eagerness of a Labrador at the beginning of the grouse shooting. Please do excuse any mixed metaphors. They are floating about my head for a somewhat, understandable reason: this semester has seen my almost-full-body submersion into poetry. Therefore I grant myself full liberty within any metaphorical landscape from here on in.
At the present moment in time, I am supposed to be writing an essay on the symbolism of W.B. Yeats; one of the greatest poets of the twentieth century, among the top Irish, and international, writers that we have ever produced, or as I now call him, ‘The-Reason-For-My-Head-Being-In-A-Quaggy-Mess’.
To be fair, it’s not all of his fault.
I did sign up for this.
Yes, I am a class-A idiot. Specifically, an ENG531 Class-A idiot.
Let me explain.
When I started looking at the module selection for third year, I noted that there was a module devoted to ’20th Century Irish Writers’. Smiling with the certainty that some type of Wodehousian-fate would love, I passively acknowledged that it looked good, but I would never take the class. Another bout of Irish literature? Please, let’s just not.
Yet as online enrolment loomed around the corner, and I had little-to-zero interest either of the modules I was considering as a third option, I could almost hear P.G. Wodehouse narrate this paragraph of my biography:
‘Despite the quiet reluctance of a cat on a hot tin roof, Nesta saw that she either had to brave the fray, or spend the next semester knee-deep in Knitters Digest in a last ditch move towards sanity. After all, when one puts these things into perspective, some writers from the motherland couldn’t damage her as much as an accidental prod of a knitting needle to the chest, in an attempt to alleviate the boredom.’
Yet, it was not as hum-drumly practical as this alludes to. Ulster may not be the forefront Irish university, nor may it shine the brightest on the world’s stage, but it is an Irish university. As such, I thought that I had better commit myself to a semester of Yeats, Joyce, and Beckett, as a slight penance for not biting the bullet in previous years. In an odd sense of patriarchal nationalism, I felt that it was almost a duty to spend time looking into Irish writers.
After my A-Level experience (which had no marks, or tarnish left from a totally joyous experience of school, where everything always went the right way), I had walked away believing Irish writers to be self-obsessed, and narrow minded. Self-obsessed, as most of the work was personal to their own circumstances and opinions; narrow minded, as they constantly referred back to Classical literary tropes, which I then had to learn off my heart to include in essays that used as much brain power that would power a G-Wiz for 15 minutes.
Needless to say, I was bored, stressed, and unhappy for these years.
The last thing I wanted to do during the last year of my undergrad, was to relive all of those experiences. Uni has been my best experience of education; one that has not helped in the total decline and demise of my mental faculties.
Entering Lt10 on Thursday morning of week one, was the closest I have felt towards dread (concerning my studies) than I have felt in a long while. As I sat down, lifting my file-block, pens, and endurance onto the table, my brain clocked out. I sat like this for, roughly half-an-hour, when suddenly, something the lecturer said, caught my attention;
‘It’s important to look at Irish writers, for not only have they shaped the international literary climate; they have also shaped the perception of Ireland. Yeats may as well, could have worked for Sligo’s tourist board, Joyce Dublin’s, and Beckett, a particular view on a very Irish mindset. They helped put us on the map: I [the lecturer] therefore think that every student from Ulster, or another Irish university, should spend at least one semester looking into their work. Not only is the writing to an international standard, but these writers helped to shape the world in which literature is alive in the modern age.’
That may be paraphrased, but it was the jist of my struggle: overlooking my prejudices, and accepting that maybe there is something more to Yeats than his Leda, Joyce’s all-over-the-show-formwise masterpiece, and Beckett’s streams-of-consciousness. I needed to build a bridge, have some patience and compassion, and get over it.
A few weeks later, I still am wrestling with Yeats. I still am rolling my eyes to 360-degrees whenever someone talks about ‘the symbolism in Yeats’ poetry on loss/Ireland/women etcetc’; but I am beginning to have respect. Not just for what Yeats achieved in his lifetime, but what he achieved in his poetry.
It’s self-focused because poetry is allowed to show the soul of the poet, to be the external-processing needed whenever tragedy strikes, and to give himself focal points to immortalise into epochs in the narrative of Irish history.
And Yeats isn’t narrow-minded. At least, not in the ways in which I used to think he was.
So now, as my quaggy mess of a brain starts to churn back into it’s working mode, and as I delve back into my work, I just want to encourage you to be open minded to the things that you’ll learn. Guard your heart (Pvb4:23) defiantly, but be wise. Don’t shut doors because of bad experiences: don’t close down a chance because you’re afraid of the consequences: don’t stop learning.
It’s how we grow up.