Civilisation is hooped together, brought
Under a rule, under the semblance of peace
By manifold illusion; but man’s life is thought,
And he, despite his terror, cannot cease
Ravening through century after century,
Ravening, raging, and uprooting that he may come
Into the desolation of reality:
Egypt and Greece, good-bye, and good-bye, Rome!
Hermits upon Mount Meru or Everest,
Caverned in night under the drifted snow,
Or where that snow and winter’s dreadful blast
Beat down upon their naked bodies, know
That day bring round the night, that before dawn
His glory and his monuments are gone.
from Parnell’s Funeral & Other Poems (1935)
Mount Meru is an imaginary sacred mountain in Hindu and Buddhist faiths, fabled to be the centre of the universe (physical, metaphysical, spiritual) and the home of Brahma, Indra and other Hindu deities - a mountain of definitive spiritual realisation if there ever was one.
The poem ‘Meru’ by William Butler Yeats appeared last in his work ‘Parnell’s Funeral & Other Poems (1935)’ and summed up what came before it in that volume, concluding that human civilization is an illusion. Mr Yeats was keen on mysticism and the occult, and within his poems you can track a litany of references to the otherworld, the spiritual and the unknown. It’s easy to draw the conclusion, as many have done, that Yeats abandons Christian principles in favour of a supernatural approach to spirituality.
It’s interesting to note the reference to Everest in ‘Meru’. 1933 – 1936 was a relatively busy time in Everest history (courtesy of Ruttledge and Shipton) and it had clearly permeated the consciousness of the British population. Commentators say that Yeats implies that the achievement of scaling either Meru (spiritual) or Everest (physical) is the same, in that both lead to ‘the desolation of reality’.
The question then, is, could Meru’s physical presence be Mount Kailash? Colin Thubron provides some interesting background on this in ‘To a Mountain in Tibet‘. I will post some notes on this exceptional book shortly.
*Painting of Mount Meru from Samghayanarayana loose-leaf manuscript India; ca. 17th century Ink, opaque watercolor, and gold on paper. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Mount_Meru.jpg