The Farrar, Straus and Giroux Poetry Blog

May 01, 2011

High Talk and Reeling Thoughts, Part 6

Gjertrud Schnackenberg on "High Talk" by W.B. Yeats - Part Six of Six

Read the Poem "High Talk" (PDF) | Read Part One | Read Part Two | Read Part Three | Read Part Four | Read Part Five


Begetting Images

And "High Talk," with its brazen oracle music, its gigantic exertion, and its unholy grasping for sublimity, is a knock-down, drag-out fight with death. Yeats is still standing at the end, precarious and perched, savagely unrecognizable, wobbling, but still able to see because of the height of his stilts, and still able to report that he can see ahead of him, presumably beyond his own death, "that dolphin-torn, that gong-tormented sea." 

Toward which, when we last see him, he still is stalking.


Mr. Yeats 

"Mr. Yeats was able only to take short walks in the gardens of the house where he stayed. He was confined to his bed since Tuesday." (via)


The Terrible Novelty 

"High Talk" is also a valediction forbidding mourning—although, in any case, we aren't mourning. Such heights, transport, insight, and metamorphosis—and such oracularly metered fulfillment—can't be mourned.

We see the dancer who is the dance taking his last steps in "High Talk." He is a vestige, a remnant, but so high that he is "Far up in the stretches of night," almost lost to the living, still frenzy-struck, a teetering spectacle of apotheosis—precarious, inalienable, magnificent, awkward, heroic, barbaric.

But because this is the end, we are able to see the dreadful rictus of the sea horses, and to hear the inextinguishable laughter of the gods, savagely marking this farewell as mortal. Yeats persists, implacable, undissuadable and not dissuaded, still gaining momentum and keeping his foothold, transported on the hexameter stilts he has laboriously fabricated and ingeniously mastered. This is, indeed, the end. But "no modern stalks upon higher."

Exit, self-catapulted.


Gjertrud Schnackenberg was born in Tacoma, Washington, in 1953. The Throne of Labdacus (FSG, 2000) received the Los Angeles Times Book Prize in Poetry. Her most recent book of poetry is Heavenly Questions.


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