Wednesday, February 17, 2010

It sticks to everyone

As we noted a few days ago, the New Republic's Leon Wieseltier has preposterously accused Andrew Sullivan of anti-Semitism. That imbroglio caused Philip Weiss to dig up Wieseltier’s toast to Cass Sunstein and Samantha Power at their wedding in Waterville, County Kerry a couple of years ago - an event which was the intellectual equivalent of the Posh and Becks nuptials of a few years earlier. Anyway, in the context of the ease with which accusations of anti-Semitism get tossed around, consider this segment from the toast --

We are in Ireland, so my authority is Yeats. In 1918, when he came to compose a tribute to his wife, the poet was exotically drawn to the romance of Solomon and Sheba. This is the last stanza of his poem:

"Said Solomon to Sheba,
And kissed her Arab eyes,"

Yes Yeats is brilliant. He was also popular in Nazi Germany, being awarded the Goethe-Plakette by the city of Frankfurt in 1934 and keeping some very dodgy company in this decade, including Francis Stuart and Eduard Hempel (the latter who would be the recipient of de Valera's Hitler condolence call in 1945).

Was WB Yeats anti-Semitic? No. Could one construct an argument that he was using the sort of arguments that are used against Andrew Sullivan? Yes. Given that, should one be quoting Yeats in wedding toasts? Probably not.

And anyway, about that Yeats poem. It's not one of his best. For one thing, Sheba was Ethiopian.

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