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On this day in 1865, William Butler Yeats was born. He would become one of Ireland's foremost poets - one of the foremost writers of the English language. But his search for a style wasn't easy, as Langdon Hammer explains in his sequence of free lectures available on the Open Yale website:
Yeats takes on self-consciously staged identities, requiring costumes, and he sees other people in similarly theatrical and mythic terms. His poetry is, in fact, deeply autobiographical, but it doesn't necessarily help to know that because his life is not a reliable key for reading the poems, exactly because he treated his life as art, raising the particulars of his experience into general symbols, working the narrative of his life into myth. This is a way of conceiving his activity as a poet but it's also, as we'll see, a way of conceiving, in fact, culture and human history in general. In Yeats, people are always particulars who are fitted to types, which are new versions of old identities that travel across time. In a certain sense, Yeats, I think, really felt that he was King Goll.
Now, the story of King Goll is interesting. It's a longish poem, not in your anthology, but you can find it inThe Complete Yeats, and I've given you on this handout page just a couple stanzas from it, so you have a sense of it. King Goll is a mythical Irish ruler who goes mad in the heat of battle. He becomes distracted by an inward fire that draws him into the woods where he wanders and sings, full of unfulfilled desire. Finally, he destroys his harp, in the scene represented by Yeats's father's portrait. This story is a certain version of Yeats's own early ambition to become a particular kind of figure – not an Irish king but an Irish poet, which would mean consolidating in himself a sense of national identity and explaining that identity, representing it, embodying it in all senses; representing and embodying Irishness, for an English speaking readership in Ireland, but also in England and elsewhere. The nationality of that identity is important; that is, Yeats's Irishness, and so is Yeats's audience. His ambition is to become the first major Irish poet writing in English. Significantly, this picture of Yeats as King Goll was used as an illustration for his first appearance in an English periodical, a magazine of art and ideas called The Leisure Hour. Yeats bridges Irish and English cultures, and he is importantly Protestant with social and family ties to English life.
The ambition that I'm describing is a public and political one. But paradoxically, perhaps, for the young Yeats this ambition drew him away from the social and political world into the charmed landscapes of Irish myth, maybe in the same way as King Goll is drawn away from, lured away from battle, to wander in the Irish wood. All of Yeats's early poetry takes place in a symbolic, mythic domain. King Goll's madness and the destruction of his instruments are perhaps warnings about the dangers of a poetry that would be confined to a symbolic world, as if to fully enter it, to fully enter a mythical world, to write a kind of pure poetry that was archaic in its aims and its sources – this would be to go mad, to give sway to dangerously inward passions that can't be satisfied, to be cut off from the world. Being cut off from the world in some kind of higher or separate reality is a lure and threat, opened up for Yeats by the particular ambition that he had to write a mythic poetry on Irish themes.
There's a number of free courses launched over on the FutureLearn site this week - you can find the full list over at FutureLearn's new & upcoming directory, but here's a few highlights.
First, The Open University's Business Of Film course, produced in assocation with Pinewood Studios.
Edinburgh has a three week course on the EU Referendum - week three, excitingly, will be written depending on what the UK electorate choose to do in the polling stations, meaning that June 23rd isn't only the most important political decision of our lifetimes, but also a chance to influence the shape of a MOOC.
And Reading launches a presentation of Understanding The Weather - although it's unclear whether it will explain the mystery of why every landmark event featuring the Queen ends up being doused in freezing rain.
This week, for our start-up segment, we're making crooners everywhere delighted as we bring together "moon" and "June" to explore just five of the moons of our solar system. We're starting with Callisto.
Jupiter has got a lot of moons. Loads of them. 53 with names, 14 awaiting names. The largest, and longest-known, are the four moons which make up the Galilean Moons - Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto.
These four are named (as a group) after the person who first spotted them - Galielo. He discovered Callisto in 1610. It orbits 1,880,000 km from Jupiter, and a day on Callisto lasts about the same as 16.7 days on Earth.
The name of the planet was borrowed from a nymph in Greek mythology. Callisto, who was raped by Zeus; left pregnant and alone, she was turned into a bear as a "punishment". When she encountered her (human) child, Arcas, she forgot she was a bear and tried to embrace him. Zeus, at this point, decided to take pity on the pair and magicked them into the sky - Callisto, the great bear; Arcas, the lesser bear. Ursa Major, Ursa Minor.
Although we've known about these moons for over four hundred years, we're still only starting to make sense of Callisto. We do know it's got the largest cratered surface of any other body in the solar system - and we have a pretty good idea what's going on inside:
We got to know Callisto a bit better thanks to the Galielo Mission. Launched in 1989, and plunging into Jupiter in 2003, the mission gave us a first close-up look at this corner of space:
Galileo was the first to measure Jupiter's atmosphere with a descent probe and the first to conduct long-term observations of the Jovian system from orbit. It found evidence of subsurface saltwater on Europa, Ganymede and Callisto and revealed the intensity of volcanic activity on Io.
A mission that gave us the closest look at a celestial body, named for the man who first spotted it. There's something there of the same sentimentality in people who rhyme moon and June.