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A Dying Animal!
RAYMOND J. STEINER
AMONG THE MANY lasting images that William Butler Yeats has left me, there is a particularly memorable one in which he sadly and perceptively observes that he, the poet, is “attached to a dying animal.” That representation of a person so encumbered by the physical body has lingered in my mind for over 50 years. We are aware, of course, that Yeats, or Shakespeare, or Mozart, or Rembrandt, was something ‘other’ than the human manifestation that their peers saw, knew, and with whom they interacted on a daily basis. None could see the “Mozart” or “Rembrandt” that we, for example, have come to know. The self — as Yeats so aptly showed — transcended that “all too mortal flesh” which so often is taken by the dull mind to be the “real thing.” The “you-ness” of you is sui generis, a happening that occurs only once in time. It is that part of you that can never be handed on to the next in line — no matter how close the consanguinity. Back in the ‘60s, I went to see and hear Segovia play and was lucky enough to get a seat in the center of the front row. While waiting for the concert to begin, my attention was drawn to Segovia’s shoes — one planted firmly on the floor, the other on a low, tilted, wooden ‘stool’ — both, only a few yards from my eyes. I saw that they were, like the guitarist himself, old, well worn, and obviously in service for a long time. As he began to strum, the movements of his hands then caught and held my eyes as they gracefully and forcefully brought forth the sounds and spirit of Spain to his listener’s ears. How soon, I thought, would those hands be discarded along with the shoes? How might we preserve the magic in the fingers — those years of practiced dexterity — of that “dying animal” to which he was so fatally attached? How might we, in short, pass on his talent? We cannot. Segovia was — he no longer is. Years later, I was telling an artist friend, Eduardo Chavez, about that day of hearing the great guitarist, and the sadness I experienced in the realization that, once gone, those hands were gone forever. To my surprise — and delight — Eduardo went to his studio and, after some poking around, presented me with an etching he had done of Segovia playing in 1937. Younger then, Segovia, in the Chavez etching, hunched over his guitar, still had the same worn-looking shoes and, of course, those hands which my friend had so skillfully captured with his burl. Today, Chavez — and his hands — is also gone. I still have Yeats’s image in my head; I can still hear Segovia’s music if I sit quietly enough; and, Chavez’s etching hangs in my dining room where I can see it every time I sit down to eat. Memories. Memories of three men whose mysterious genius has intersected and informed my life. Memories only, yet as tangible, one might say, as the intangible Yeats, Segovia, and Chavez that will stay with me until I, too, must relinquish my self to my own inescapable dying animal.