In The Rolling Hills Of Galway, Spirit Of W.B. Yeats Lives On : Parallels Saturday marks the 150th birthday of William Butler Yeats, one of the 20th century's greatest poets. In far western Ireland's County Galway, Yeats found inspiration in the people and landscape.
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In The Rolling Hills Of Galway, Spirit Of W.B. Yeats Lives On

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In The Rolling Hills Of Galway, Spirit Of W.B. Yeats Lives On

In The Rolling Hills Of Galway, Spirit Of W.B. Yeats Lives On

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WILLIAM BUTLER YEATS: I will arise and go now and go to Innisfree.


What we're hearing there is an old recording of the Irish poet William Butler Yeat reciting one of his most famous poems, "The Lake Isle Of Innisfree." Yeats might be one of the greatest poets of the 20th century. He was born 150 years ago tomorrow.


YEATS: And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow.

UNIDENTIFIED STUDENTS: Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings. There midnight's all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow.


Now these are present-day students in Ireland reciting the same poem, from memory, just a few weeks ago. Meghan Walsh is 12 years old and she told me she relates to this poem, the desire for escape.

MEGHAN WALSH: They're really going off to find peace and, like, quiet and, like, going away.

GREENE: This year, Ireland is holding a lot of big public events commemorating the 150th anniversary of Yeats's birth. And, Ari, when you're not here hosting MORNING EDITION with us, which we've been really happy about, you actually are based in London and cover events like this. And leading up to this celebration, you've decided not to go to festivals, gala celebrations. Tell me where in Ireland you went and met these kids.

SHAPIRO: Well, David, right now we are in far western Ireland. This is rural County Galway. You can hear the birds singing in the trees, the stream rushing by. And looming above us is a 15th-century stone tower called Thoor Ballylee. There's a window overlooking the stream, and Yeats lived here for many years. He actually wrote about this place a lot. Here's a line of his that describes the very scene.

BRENDAN FLYNN: Under my window ledge the waters race.

You know, that's the window that he studied at - Yeats.

SHAPIRO: This man speaking is Brendan Flynn. He's a retired school principal. He's 72 and he's been taking students here to walk in Yeats's footsteps for 35 years. I asked Flynn...

Have different poems of his been meaningful to you at different times?

FLYNN: They have. Well, yeah, and they become more meaningful as the years go by. I mean, it must be like great whiskey. They ripen with years and they blossom and they bloom. I mean, you take a poem like, say, "Sailing to Byzantium," like, where he talks about aging, you know? An aged man is but a paltry thing, a tattered coat upon a stick, unless the soul clap its hands and louder sing.

As you age, instead of complaining, just celebrate every day.

SHAPIRO: So here we are.


SHAPIRO: Now we are inside Thoor Ballylee, walking up a narrow, stone spiral staircase.

FARRELL: This was his bedroom.

SHAPIRO: Our escort is Colm Farrell. He's raising money to restore this tower and reopen it to the public.

FARRELL: I was born close to the tower here, and my grandfather and father all worked here in the tower.

SHAPIRO: His grandfather actually knew Yeats personally. Farrell says people thought of the poet as kind of the town eccentric.

FARRELL: The children used to hide, and, you know, when they see him on the road they'd jump in over the wall. And as he passed, they could hear him mumbling. And he was - obviously, he mumbling words of poetry and putting poetry together in his head.

SHAPIRO: Farrell takes us back to the stairwell and we begin to climb again.

FARRELL: Now we're going to go up over onto the rooftop.

SHAPIRO: We can see in 360 degrees rolling hills and farms, trees, new spring greenery and the river rolling down below. I don't want to put you on the spot, but standing here on top of the tower with the Irish flag flapping in the wind, I feel like I should ask you to recite the bit of Yeats.

FARRELL: I, the poet William Yeats, with old mill boards and sea-green slates, and smithy work from the Gort forge, restored this tower for my wife George. And may these characters remain when all is ruin once again.

SHAPIRO: One hundred fifty years after the birth of William Butler Yeats, the characters remain.

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