I got lost on my way to W. B. Yeats‘ grave which I think was appropriate. Getting to Sligo was easy enough from Dublin and also quite pleasant since it involved a three hour train ride across Ireland. I saw lots of sheep and lots of bogs, which we now call wetlands.
It was the walk from the train station to the Yeats Society Sligo building where I got twisted and my phone’s GPS was useless because I’d forgotten to download the map and didn’t want to pay for roaming data. So I had to navigate the old fashioned way by a cartoon tourist map and street signs.
The Yeats museum had some fascinating exhibits but very few artifacts. While the great Irish poet wanted to be buried in Sligo, he really didn’t spend much time there as an adult. His grave is, unfortunately, well outside town so I had to hire a taxi. I got lucky that my driver was a local and knew all the Yeats gossip.
He even clued me in that the bones buried in St. Columba’s might not actually be his. Yeats died in France in 1939 and was buried there with the instructions that his body was to be exhumed and then “planted” in Sligo after a year. It took nine years, I assume because of World War II, and in the interim his body had been exhumed and moved to an ossuary where his bones were mixed with others. I assumed it was just an Irish urban legend but once I got back to my computer I discovered there is something to it.
None the less, I attended the grave under the assumption that the bones there were once his.
If you’re unfamiliar with his poetry, here are three that I think hold up very well despite being a century old.
The Second Coming is one of my favorite poems of all time. It feels like it could’ve been written at any point in the past few years as the world unwinds.
The Lake Isle of Innisfree is a lovely little work. My cabbie, after taking me to the grave then took me to Lough Gill and pointed out which of the islands inspired Yeats.
An Irish Airman foresees his Death, is a very ambivalent war poem set in World War I when the Irish were both rebelling against the English as well as fighting for them in the trenches.