Yeats is the great poet of defining hatred – the hatred that makes the self definite to itself. He is the great poet of the moods of this hatred: he understood, as well, what sacrifice it coerces from the heart, what a burden it is to perpetually carry around an enemy’s list. Of course, being a Tory of the ultra kind, he saw hatred as being a property of the Left. Being a poet, though, he suspected it was a property of being Yeats.
In the Prayer for his Daughter, there’s a marvelous, a legendary account of this:
My mind, because the minds that I have loved,
The sort of beauty that I have approved,
Prosper but little, has dried up of late,
Yet knows that to be choked with hate
May well be of all evil chances chief.
If there’s no hatred in a mind
Assault and battery of the wind
Can never tear the linnet from the leaf.
An intellectual hatred is the worst,
So let her think opinions are accursed.
Have I not seen the loveliest woman born
Out of the mouth of Plenty’s horn,
Because of her opinionated mind
Barter that horn and every good
By quiet natures understood
For an old bellows full of angry wind?
Of course, we know Yeats’s circus animals, and this loveliest woman born has a name and a habitation and a place in the revolt against the British and the Anglo-Irish elite. But it is Yeats’s grudging and not fully uttered sense that his love of a “sort of beauty” has become an excuse for a free-ranging hatred, a justification for failure and bitterness – the failure, indeed, to avoid the bitterness of age.
I’m of an age, myself, when many of my hatreds, at least in the realm of the beautiful and the ugly, are disappearing. Disappearing not through my conscious effort, but because…. Partly this is having a young son whose gothic tastes are so different from mine that I long ago gave up arguing, and partly this is because the nursing of hatred is a thing that goes counter to my bent. Or rather, if I hate, I want to do it enthusiastically. My hatreds are political and existential and pop out of me in that way. But as for aesthetic hatreds…
I remember, when I was in my twenties, that my Dad once said something about how he liked Dylan. This shocked me to my soul. My teens were devoted to Dylan’s music, partly out of love, and partly because my parents hated it. How can you like the music your parents like? That at least was the era of teenhood in which I grew up. Admittedly, helicopter parenting was unknown in the suburbs of Atlanta at that time. The kids scattered and played and came home from the streets and the little bits of wood that the developers hadn’t gotten around to bulldozing, and the parents never kept a close tab on it all. An unimaginable laxity, from the p.o.v. of the 21st century.
As part of that teenworld, you expected complaints from your parents about the music you played. Those complaints helped define you.
I wonder if this happens anymore?
So, I was naturally shocked by my old man’s comment. How could such things be? Had it been a game?
Well, of course it was a game. Now I’m older than my Dad was then. And I surprise myself. When I was a teen, I had distinct and fierce hatreds, especially for the faddish music of my high school peers. Elton John? Are you kidding me? Z.Z. Top? Southern rock in general? Myself, I found this stuff hugely offensive to who I wanted to be. And yet, decades later, I am watching a movie, Almost Famous, about that seventies teen-rock scene, and the sound of some Elton John song slithers out on the soundtrack, and I have only, only … recognition. What a strange thing that is.
The teen I was is caught in the parent I am. And all I can say to the acned glare of that distant pup is: An intellectual hatred is the worst. And so they go, into the dark…