The sacred heart

image Yeats famously observed that ‘too long a sacrifice can make a stone of the heart’. It is an acute observation, concerning as it does the way humans lose compassion when they get blinded by a singular idea, goal or ideology. WB could see that Irish republicanism would very quickly become heartless, with a narrow view of ‘Irishness’. It is easy in hindsight to see where my nation would go wrong. Very easy to see that we would adhere to constrictive doctrines with regards identity, politics and religion. Our supposed superiors believed that sacrifice was at the centre of what it meant to be human. The sacrifice of Christ became attached to the sacrifice of those that died in the 1916 Easter Rising (so much so that even today the anniversary of the event has became a moveable feast just like Easter itself!) The poets job is not to live in the realm of hindsight but to react to the world around him or her self. Poetry has an immediacy that isn’t matched by other art forms. It can react and create the moment. Yeats knew those involved in the Rising and had seen first hand the job that sacrifice had done on the heart. Most presciently he saw that this shade of ‘green’ would see a terrible beauty born. I cannot read the poem without thinking of all those buried in unknown bogs, those blown up in some pub bombing, those locked away in laundries, the raped and abused, unfortunately the list could go on. The point is the sacrifice comes at a price and even more so when the symbol of sacrifice becomes more important than the reason for sacrifice. What terrible beauty is born when the image becomes more important than substance? Can compassion flower just because you place a painted heart above the hearth? Can ideology feed the starving? This is where the metaphysical matters. Poetry probes and confronts that which we find unpalatable and uncomfortable. It confronts that ‘other’ within and it attempts to shine a light on the darkness residing just below the surface of the self. I cannot live in a Dawkinish world where I am at a scientific remove from myself. Yeats, through words and images, causes me to confront my own hard heartedness and warns me against singularity. To be holistic, to use that overused word, is key. A single purpose is not enough. That way lies the stone and the heart is too sacred a thing to waste.

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