Saturday, 8 September 2012

Van Rips Off Yeats

The writer of the semi-charged kinda blog. claims Van "rips off" Yeats.  Not just that he was influenced by Yeats' themes, ideas or anything else.  Van apparently, 'rips off' the great Irish poet. His post is full of rising excitement as he (in his mind) lays a skillful trap for the great man with his wonderfully constructed body of evidence. (YAWN).  He even utters a well-worn "busted" and even "gotcha" as he supposedly lines up irrefutable evidence that it was Yeats who first wrote Gloria and had his own garage band.  (just kidding).  The article is annoyingly like something Clinton Heylin would write.  How many more people are out there who bristle at Van's success and want to "take him down"? 

But at least for the Van fan the writer gives some hints about the sources of Van's lyric ideas.    

Into the Mystic 

"Let your soul and spirit fly into the mystic"*
Van Morrison has a total man crush on William Butler Yeats. He'll deny it, mind you, but his music tells another tale entirely. Here's Morrison's own half-hearted attempt to distance himself from Ben Bulben's poet laureate, excerpted from an old Rolling Stone article:
"Critics would listen to my songs and say 'this is sort of Yeatsian,’ and I’d go ‘Really? I didn’t know. I’d never read him.’ So I’d go out and get Yeats and see, but I hadn’t read him before the article.

(Ring ring... Um, Mr. Morrison? I have your bluff on line one.)
Gee, that's strange. For a guy who knows nothing about Yeats' writings, Van The Man "conveniently" found himself cribbing a boatload of the guy's material. Heck, just look at these Van Morrison record titles:  Astral Weeks (1968),  Moondance (1970), Beautiful Vision (1982),  Cuchulain (2001) and Magic Time (2005).

And then check out these Yeats writings from a full half-century prior:

•A Vision -- which deals extensively with which Yeats calls "astral" -- or star-like -- matters (1925)

•"The Phases of the Moon" (1919)

•Cuchulain's Fight with the Sea (1925)

•"Magic: An Essay" (1903)

But why stop there? Here's a verse from Morrison's 1983 song, Rave On, John Donne in which the songwriter comes mighty close to flat-out asking "that-guy-I-swear-I-never-read!" out on a man-date. Take a look:

"Rave on, let a man come out of Ireland
Rave on, on Mr. Yeats,
Rave on down through the Holy Rosey Cross

Rave on down through theosophy, and the Golden Dawn
Rave on through the writing of 'A Vision'

Rave on, Rave on, Rave on, Rave on, Rave on, Rave on"

Oooh SNAP!

Yeah, you know what you did.

Ok, it's settled: Van Morrison pretty much made a career as a wholesale ripoff of his countryman and poetic forbear. But Morrison's BIGGEST Yeats ripoff of all time? None other than the songwriter’s classic 1970 hit Into The Mystic.

As Morrison begins his 1970 track, he sets the stage for a song that takes place in a liminal threshold between two realms, singing:

“We were born before the wind / Also younger than the sun”
Just a simple throwaway line, right? Not on your life. We already know that Van Morrison is certainly not above cribbing from Yeats' source material. So let's see how these lines fit into the Yeats canon:

Into the Mystic tells the story of two lovers who were born “before the wind" but "also younger than the sun." Conveniently (read: plagiarist-ically?) these two symbols also just so happen to rather neatly coincide with two actual events in the life of one W.B. Yeats.

First up: "born before the wind" -- in 1899, Yeats put himself on the map of literary giants with the publication of a collection of poems titled The Wind Among The Reeds. What were the poems about, you ask? Why what else besides all sorts of crazy and other-worldly themes like mist, mysticism, and matters of the occult.
(Hey wait a second here...)

Next up: "younger than the sun" -- true story: Yeats was obsessed with an impressive array of fringe religious sects in his lifetime (heh heh, "sects") -- the most noteworthy of which just so happened to be a quasi-cult known as The Order of The Golden Dawn. The group's philosophy? A full-tilt focus on worshipping (wait for it) the SUN, and a pretty clear-cut obsession with the unending circle of birth and death.
("Born before the..." ooooh, gotcha.)

How fitting that a song about going Into the Mystic is set smack-dab "before the wind" and "the sun," eh?
In the lines that follow, Morrison takes his Yeats influence a step further by lifting entire lines directly from Yeats' poetry (the NERVE of that guy!). Case in point: check out Yeats’ “Crazy Jane and the Bishop,” where the poet's heroine talks about how she dreams of a day when she can “wander out into the night.” And then Yeats' very next poem in the sequence (“Crazy Jane Reproved”), where as a blustery Bishop shoots Jane down, saying “I care not what the sailors say."

But in Into the Mystic, Van turns the tables --

"Hark, now hear the sailors’ cry!
Smell the sea and feel the sky
Let your soul and spirit fly
Into the mystic"
Hey! That almost sounds like Van put Yeats' thing down, flipped it, and reversed it.

Actually, the whole "flip it and reverse it" trick is a move stolen from right of Yeats' playbook, too -- since the man spent pages and pages of his life's work all but consumed by the image of the twisting gyres. Since Yeats' was something of a nut job, however, his philosophy on the matter can get a bit convoluted.  In Yeats' estimation, gyres were the ultimate symbol of an interpenetrating universe. He loved the notion of sunsets, twilights, sunrises, moon rises, and foggy periods of uncertainty where one realm gradually gave way to the next. To that end, a huge chunk of his poetry and philosophical writings were dedicated precisely to these "mystic" portals between two realms where fantasy and reality collided and anything was possible.

As Yeats saw things: with all of this liminal fluctuation twisting and unfolding around us, nobody can ever really quite tell you for sure if they are actually sleeping or awake in a given moment. Really, all we're doing is floating "into the mystic."

For Yeats, this was the stuff that dreams (and poems) were made of.
You might even call it Magic Time.

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