December 7th, 2017

Talking With Gods

Ever since I came across the image in one of Yeats's poems (this will have been when I was still in my teens) I've thought "an old hunter talking with gods" was a cool thing to be. And if you asked me now what I want out of what's left of my life I'd probably not voice the line- because it would sound pretentious- but I'd be thinking it. The phrase isn't original to Yeats. He got it from Browning, made it his own then sent it on its way. This morning, helped by the Internet, I tracked it to its source.  It comes from Pauline, Browning's first published poem- which the older Browning would have suppressed for being clumsy and jejeune if it hadn't already wriggled out of his hands and gone traipsing around the world. In his original context the old hunter is just an item in a list, not specially singled out, but broken between two pentameters. You could overlook him- as you feel his maker did- not fully realising the value of the lines he was being fed. 

Anyway, here we are. The speaker- who is a mask and not entirely Browning himself- is talking about the myths and legends that nourished his imagination as a child. 

They came to me in my first dawn of life...
...And I myself went with the tale- a god
Wandering after beauty, or a giant
Standing vast in the sunset- an old hunter
Talking with gods, or a high-crested chief
Sailing with troops of friends to Tenedos.