Oh to be in Sligo and the magic of Yeats country
Come away, human child to the waters and the wild...
A stop in Coole Park, the 1,000 acre estate once home to Lady Augusta Gregory, a great friend and supporter of Yeats, was also inspirational. Among the grassy lawns and winding paths grows the "autograph tree," a giant copper beech tree on which famous writers and artists carved their names at the request of Lady Gregory. Yeats himself was the first to carve his initials into the tree with the likes of J.M. Synge, John Masefield, and Sean O'Faolain to follow.
Of particular significance to anyone familiar with Yeats' poetry are the swans of Coole that swim in the turlough, a unique type of disappearing lake found only in limestone areas of Ireland. We were lucky enough to visit on a day when the lake was present and we gathered at its edge to read a few of Yeats' poems, "The Wild Swans at Coole" among them. Sadly, there were no swans to be seen at Coole on this day and we were left only with Yeats' description:
"But now they drift on the still water / Mysterious, beautiful; / Among what rushes will they build. / By what lake's edge or pool / Delight men's eyes, when I awake some day / To find they have flown away?"
Back in Sligo, walking the banks of the Garavogue River at night, a swan, white and mysterious, came paddling through the dark and throwing some magic and otherworldliness into an otherwise unremarkable night. "Have you escaped from Coole?" I asked as it passed by.
I returned to New York, not only with a reading list a mile long and a whole notebook full of notes, but a new vision. My stay in Sligo gave me a chance to see what Yeats saw, and a glimpse into the mind of the poet.
Though the debate continues about the effect Ireland's economic prosperity has had on its culture, my two weeks at the Yeats Summer School convinced me that Irish literature and mythology still thrive in Yeats Country.