Saturday, March 17, 2007

Drinking Yeats

My family's Irish on my mother's side, and not Irish as in Chicago Irish, or Irish as in Boston Irish -- Irish as in born and raised in County Waterford in Ireland.

This is being Irish. My great-aunt Greta read tarot cards for people in her village. One time my mother and my aunt, young girls at the time, watched her read the cards for someone, and asked her afterwards why she had read them incorrectly. Greta replied that such terrible things were going to happen that she could not bring herself to say them. Soon they all happened. Another time a woman from the village came by to get holy water which Greta had promised her, claiming it would cure her warts. Greta had forgotten all about it, so she ran upstairs, emptied a bottle of aspirin, filled it with tap water, and said it was the holy water she had promised to provide. A week and a half later, the woman's warts were gone.

St. Patrick's Day is a very nice thing, but there's a lot more to being Irish than alcoholism and red hair. I really don't drink at all, and my hair is brown, but when I'm telling a great story and I fill it with lies because I know they'll make the story better, I'm being Irish. When I'll fight someone to the death over something that doesn't even matter, I'm being Irish. Irishness is a passionate and moody thing.


by: W.B. Yeats

All the heavy days are over;
Leave the body's coloured pride
Underneath the grass and clover,
With the feet laid side by side.

One with her are mirth and duty;
Bear the gold-embroidered dress,
For she needs not her sad beauty,
To the scented oaken press.

Hers the kiss of Mother Mary,
The long hair is on her face;
Still she goes with footsteps wary
Full of earth's old timid grace.

With white feet of angels seven
Her white feet go glimmering;
And above the deep of heaven,
Flame on flame, and wing on wing.

It's true that the Irish drink, and it's true that we'll take any excuse to party, but that means something so different in America. So different as to be virtually meaningless. To drink like an Irishman is not to be able to hold your liquor; it's to go where Yeats goes. Yeats can get there with words, while the average Irishman has to travel by lager, but it's the same destination. It's a painful place and a beautiful place. When I hear Americans say they can drink like Irishmen, I honestly don't know whether to envy their ignorance or pity it.

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