Poor old W. B. Yeats; if they’re not burying the bones of club-footed frenchmen in his grave or making fun of his penchant for monkey gland viagra, they’re attributing fake inspirational quotes to him.
Every so often, particularly if you’re browsing the tat n’ tchotchke emporiums of the old country, you’ll see a fridge magnet or mug or calendar emblazoned with one of the Dublin poet’s most inspiring maxims: “There are no strangers here; only friends you haven’t met yet.”
So true, Willie. So true.
This year, to mark the 100th Anniversary of Yeats’ Nobel Prize for Literature, the organizers of the Dublin Marathon have decided to pay tribute to the great man by presenting all race finishers with a special Yeats medal, engraved with this very quote. The quote, they say, “embodies the values” of the marathon, which is known worldwide as “the friendly marathon.”
First things first, I genuinely love this medal. I’m a proud Yeats stan and I firmly believe that more marathons should adorn their finisher medals with the faces of bespectacled poets whose only form of exercise was fuckin’ and jerkin’ it. I’ve run the Dublin Marathon twice (3:26 in 2011 and 3:12 in 2012, in case you’re wondering), and even though I now live four thousand miles away from Ireland’s capital, and even though I now get out of breath carrying the trash to the dumpster, I’m tempted to fly home and slouch the rough beast of my body around town just to get my hands on one of these magnificent medallions.
There is, however, just one problem, and I feel like a bit of an ass for pointing it out, but I must:
Much like Ghandi’s famous “Any man can be a father, but it takes someone special to be a Daddy” speech at Banaras Hindu University in 1916, or Churchill’s “We talkin’ about practice, man” press conference at Yalta, Yeats never actually said “There are no strangers here; only friends you haven’t met yet.” That, at least, is the assessment of the good people at Quote Investigator, a website that debunks misattributed and apocryphal quotations.
Ah, this clanger again (this time literally a clanger, as they’ve embedded it into a metal object with a ribbon to swing it at walls).
Not a Yeats quote.
Quote Investigator did the deep dive.https://t.co/NmlmgSuD7K
— Seamus Ryan (@meanderingtripe) September 8, 2023
Is this funny? Extremely. Does it matter? Nah.
There’s something amazing about the image of 20,000 endorphin-high people hobbling around Dublin on October 29 with W. B. Yeats’ patrician face gleaming from their puffed-out chests. The Live, Laugh, Love-style misquote underneath his mug makes it, to my mind at least, all the more wonderful.
On the centenary of his greatest achievement, I can think of no better way to gather this (faintly embarrassing but possessed of genius) literary titan into the artifice of eternity.