Posts Tagged ‘Yeats’

We visited Boston this past week to see my older daughter who is working over the summer between her first and second year of graduate school there. Our younger daughter stayed with her sister, and my wife and I got a hotel room in Brookline, a nice neighborhood within walking distance of the universities and nearby to shops and cafes.

The hotel was in a 19th century brownstone with fewer than a dozen rooms, all high ceilings and big windows looking out onto the street. Below I could see joggers in the rain and young people waiting for the train that stopped up the block.

Everywhere, everyone was young, like in that movie Logan’s Run where everyone dies when they turn 30. I thought constantly of that poem by Yeats, Sailing to Byzantium:

That is no country for old men. The young
In one another’s arms, birds in the trees
—Those dying generations—at their song,
The salmon-falls, the mackerel-crowded seas,
Fish, flesh, or fowl, commend all summer long
Whatever is begotten, born, and dies.
Caught in that sensual music all neglect
Monuments of unageing intellect.

On Saturday morning we walked through some of the neighborhoods near Brookline, taking stairstep walks down to the streets below. Everywhere the young women carried their yoga mats rolled up and hanging by their hips, coming or going from a class. The young men, sleek and tattooed, filled with attitude and energy, stroked their smart phones on the trains, chatted in line with their dates waiting for a café table.

There are more than 50 colleges and universities in metropolitan Boston. It seemed like we walked past at least a dozen – Boston College and Boston University, Northeastern, Berklee School of Music, schools of technology, the arts, medical schools, small liberal arts schools and campuses that spread for dozens of blocks – my daughter’s college, Simmons, known for its library science and archiving master of science degree, and next door to a beautiful small museum built in the early 1900s for a woman, Isabelle Gardner, who collected art from around the world and brought elegance and culture to Boston’s North End. As we wandered through the rooms of art, looking down on the interior garden, the rains came heavy beyond the windows and we watched pedestrians struggle with their umbrellas in the wind.

We walked for miles through the city, through the public gardens and the Boston Commons, along the Freedom Trail, past Paul Revere’s statue and the Old North Church where the lanterns were hung at the Revolution’s dawn. We took trains everywhere we didn’t walk, clanking and grinding on the turns, old but efficient, like me, maybe.

When I last spent any time in Boston, I was 22 years old, on a road trip for a long weekend, and I knew nothing, not like these sophisticated youth with their bright minds and cosmopolitan sheen. I had never set foot in a fitness club or ordered a meal in an Indian restaurant. I thought of tattoos as something sailors got on a drunk on shore leave. You got a hair cut from some barber who could do a crewcut or a trim, and sneered if your hair was longer than his. But even then I liked the city, the first all-science fiction bookstore I had ever seen, the first Irish pub, the same trains, and the feeling that something life-changing could happen around any corner.

I had my youth in another city, San Francisco, though it was long ago. And my life was changed around some corners, on the N-Judah streetcar, out on the foggy streets near the Pacific Ocean, and on Russian Hill on golden afternoons, following the stairsteps down San Francisco hillsides to North Beach, looking out toward the bay. Oh, was I caught in that sensual music…


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This Saturday I am taking a week off of work and heading to South Carolina to spend some time with my mother in Columbia. I’m going on my own, which is a little unusual, but this is a chance for me and Mom to reminisce and play some cut-throat games of Scrabble and look at old photos. It also gives my sister and brother-in-law a chance to get over to the coast to do some surf fishing and eat some good seafood. My sister will probably avoid the fishing but may work on her paintings. She has become a good artist and recently sold one of her paintings at a show for a pretty nice sum. So my mother told me in one of her recent notes.

On the way down I will be stopping over at Tim’s house on the lake in North Carolina. It has been too long since I’ve seen him, and I will be interested to see which part of the house he has torn apart in order to make his “terminal” renovations. The lake should be beautiful this time of year. I love to travel in the fall, when the trees are in their autumn beauty, as the poet Yeats wrote in lines I think of every fall from “The Wild Geese at Coole.”

The trees are in their autumn beauty,/ The woodland paths are dry,/ Under the October twilight the water/ Mirrors a still sky;/ Upon the brimming water among the stones/ Are nine and fifty swans.

I will take the country roads through central Pennsylvania, first to West Virginia and then into Virginia where I pick up the highway, with the Blue Ridge mountains off to the east. Then through the rolling horse country until I take the turn-off to Richmond and on through the battlefields of the Civil War. It is all beautiful country, especially in the October light.

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