Old Mad Men

Theodore Gericault, The Madman, 1822

Why Should Not Old Men Be Mad

by William Butler Yeats

Why should not old men be mad?
Some have known a likely lad
That had a sound fly-fisher’s wrist
Turn to a drunken journalist;
A girl that knew all Dante once
Live to bear children to a dunce;
A Helen of social welfare dream,
Climb on a wagonette to scream.
Some think it a matter of course that chance
Should starve good men and bad advance,
That if their neighbors figured plain,
As though upon a lighted screen,
No single story would they find
Of an unbroken happy mind,
A finish worthy of the start.
Young men know nothing of this sort,
Observant old men know it well;
And when they know what old books tell
And that no better can be had,
Know why an old man should be mad.

About trueoutsider

I'm an artist.
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7 Responses to Old Mad Men

  1. kvennarad says:

    Ah, Yeats! Whenever friends or family members told me my poems ought to be published I would get out a poem by Yeats and read it aloud (as best I could) to them. Having finished, I would say, “There – that’s the opposition!”

    The man in the Gericault painting looks sane enough to me, by the way.

    Marie Marshall

    • trueoutsider says:

      Good to hear from you, Marie.

      He looks sane enough to me as well, a characteristic of many madmen.

      Sometimes Old Mad Men do their own self-portraits. Here’s one, painted in 1662. The year before he’d been asked by the city fathers to complete a work that they’d commissioned to Govaert Flinck, who had died. His attempt to fill Flinck’s shoes, The Conspiracy of Claudius Civilis, was cut down and even then the the wise men of Amersterdam saw it was lacking and so returned it to the Old Madman. Flinck had been one of his students back in the day. Who knows what that Old Madman’s name was anymore…

      Also while we’re at it why not do the full Courbet?

      Gustave Courbet, The Woman in the Waves, 1868

  2. trueoutsider says:

    Beauty takes all forms… from Yeats’ “Introduction to Essays”:

    When I was thirty-five or so a woman of genius asked me to defend her against a German connoisseur. .. When I arrived he had firmly planted on a drawing-room chair a picture by Renoir perhaps or an imitator, of a fat naked woman lying on a Turkey carpet and had begun to call Burne-Jones empty and obsolete. She took me to another room and reproached me for keeping silent, but excused me as I must be upset by the connoisseur’s “over-dressed wife.” I could not excuse myself because I admired that slight, elegant, pale lady.

    I imagine that the painting Yeats is describing is this Renoir that I fell for early on, growing up near the National Gallery of Art where it hangs.

    Pierre-August Renoir, Odalisque: Woman of Algiers, oil on canvas, 1870

  3. A most lovely pairing. I always ask my students to “let a poem find them.” I will share this one that has found me along with the dazzling Gericault. Many thanks!

  4. trueoutsider says:

    You’re welcome, Margaret. Gericault did so many wonderful paintings of horses, including this one:

    Theodore Gericault, Derby at Epsom, 1820

    What’s so interesting to me about this one is that they were done prior to Muybridge taking the stop/motion shots that captured horses galloping which demonstrated that the horses painted by Gericault aren’t running naturally. They’d never have all four legs off the ground in that position at a gallop, only jumping a hurdle.

    This makes the Gericault image so dreamlike and poetic. We can see another floating dreamlike horse in this vision of War painted by Henri Rousseau.

    Invariably I prefer painting that moves away from the tyranny of the photograph which has made so much of today’s painting banal and dull.

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