William Butler Yeats: Commentary (1)

LifeWorksCriticismCommentaryQuotationsReferencesNotes

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W. P. Ryan
George Russell
James Joyce
Maud Gonne
Patrick Pearse
St. John Ervine

Francis Bickley
Ezra Pound
T. S. Eliot
James Stephens
W. H. Auden
Forrest Reid
P. S. O’Hegarty
Dominic Daly
Stephen Gwynn
Douglas Goulding
George Moore
Augusta Gregory
J. M. Hone
Edith Somerville
F. R. Leavis
Louis MacNeice
Maurice Headlam
Frank O’Connor



W. P. Ryan, The Irish Literary Revival (1894): Yeats first made his way to the Club in March 1888, when Daniel Crilly MP was lecturing on Fanny Parnell; lectured shortly thereafter, bringing with him Dr. John Todhunter [29] … Yeats’s lecture … of course it was on the good people - was something of a revelation to us - in fact he spoke as one who took his information first hand [30]. Yeats was decidedly of the opinion, too, that the work [new Irish publishing] might be attempted upon a more ambitious scale. He offered to induce Mr T. W. Rolleston and other to throw themselves into the Irish literary movement … the meeting … came off at Mr Yeats’s house in Chiswick on the 28th December, 1891, &c [36]. The Meeting at Yeats’s Chiswick house, 28th Dec. 1891. Fahy and Thomas Boyd prevented from attending by insufficient notice. [52] T. W. Rolleston, ed. of Dublin University Review, present [52-3]. Sir Charles Gavan Duffy made president, but Yeats and company subsequently publish independent books which ‘to put it mildly, challenge comparison with the best in the old Library of Ireland’ [59]. [Planned in the New Irish Library series, 1893, W. B. Yeats, Latter-day Irish Poetry, 70.] [On the Irish Literary Society, Dublin:] The originators of the movement - in the summer of 1892 - were W. B. Yeats and John T Kelly [127]. The first informal meeting called to resume the work in Dublin was held at Mr John O’Leary’s house, in Mountjoy Square. Messrs O’Leary, W. B. Yeats, John T. Kelly, P. J. McCall and J. P. Quinn were among this opening muster. There was a long discussion about the project with some members of the Young Ireland League - a political and literary organisation founded in 1891 - but it was decided to have the new organisation altogether separate, and quite apart from politics [127]. A meeting was held at the Rotundo [sic] in June, 1892, to formally inaugurate the National Literary Society. Dr George Sigerson … was in the chair. Miss Maud Gonne, W. B. Yeats, the Chairman, the Rev T. A. Finlay SJ, John O’Leary and John T Kelly explained and urged the new departure [127]. ‘In recent years,’ began an appeal issued by the provisional committee, ‘we have heard much of the material needs of Ireland, and little or nothing of her intellectual or literary … [sic] Without an intellectual life of some kind we cannot long preserve [127] our nationality. Every Irish national movement of recent years has drawn a great portion of its power from the literary movement started by Davis, but that movement is over, and it is not possible to live for ever upon the past. A living Ireland must have a living literature’ [128].

Terence Brown, Life of W. B. Yeats (1999) quotes MacNiece: ‘In appearance he was tall, slight, and mystic of the mystical. His face was not so much dreamy as haunting: a little weird even - so that really if one were to meet him on an Irish mountain in the moonlight he would assuredly hasten away to the nearest fireside with a story of a new and genial ghost which had crossed his path. His spoke in a hushed, musical, eerie tone: a tone which had constant suggestions of the faery world, of somebody “in em” (that is, in the counsels of the fairies), as we say in Ireland.’ (Ryan, op. cit., 1894, p.229; Brown, op. cit., 2001 pb. edn., p.63.)

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W. P. Ryan (The Irish Literary Revival, 1894): [Yeats lecturing in the opening season at the Leinster Hall [129]. See also Ryan’s sketch of Yeats, ‘one of our youngest writers [photo-portrait facing p.132] … When he was about twenty years old his name began to grow familiar to readers of the Irish Fireside and one or two other Dublin publications. Critical essays of a [134] novel nature, and dreamy and fanciful poems were his contributions. He had a triumph in 1888, when his Wanderings of Oisin was published … a new poetical personality … new world of poetical materials … ranked henceforth as the most imaginative of Irish poets; but his imagination had often the simple air of reality. Occasional extravagance there was, but it was in keeping with that faery of vision and phantasy where the young poet was most at home … Countess Kathleen … meant to be as expressive of Christian Ireland as the earlier work was of Pagan Ireland … not as successful … Presumably modern, the best part of the drama was that wherein the author lapsed back to the mystical and elfin [where instead] there was scope for grimmest tragedy [in the Famine topic] … Mr Yeats could never awe us, his Mephistopheles would dream dreams, and speak the fairy tongue … returned to his old ground [with] The Celtic Twilight … [quotes] ‘I would go down and dwell among the Sidhe’. The Sidhe, I think, have come to dwell with him. They are as real to him as the green grass … That he will be a great poet depends to a large extent on the possibility of his developing other characteristics to the same degree as that already attained by his imaginative faculty and power of vision. He must shake himself free from the passing craze of occultism and symbolism, and realise that the universe is not tenanted solely by [?souths] and sheogues’ [135].

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George (“AE”) Russell (1) [letter to Carrie Clements Rea, 6 Sept. 1894:] ‘I am glad you have met Yeats. He is really a poet, exuberant, with a royal imagination the like of which has not been heard in England since the time of Keats and Shelley.’ (Letters From AE, ed. Alan Denson, London: Abelard Schuman 1961, p.15.)

“AE” to WBY: For extensive quotations from Russell’s letters to Yeats, see under Russell, Quotations, infra.)

George (“AE”) Russell (2) [letter to Yeats, 3rd April 1897:] ‘Your visionary faculty has an insight more tender than the moralist knows of. Just in the same way as [S. J.] O’Grady always seems to detect under the rude act the spirit of defiant and heroic manhood, so you unveil beneath excess and passion a love for spiritual beauty expressing itself pathetically in the life of this wayward outcast. That insight is indeed an ennobling thing to impart, and I suppose just because the highest things are the most dangerous you will find a number of people, who have not got your mental balance, using your visionary revelation of a hidden spirit seeking for beauty as justification and defence of passions which have no justification, except that they are the radiations of a spirit which can find no higher outlet. The Rosa Alchemica is a most wonderful piece of prose. Everything in it thought and word [sic] are so rich that they seem the gathering in the temple of the mind of thousands of pilgrim rays returning and leaving there their many experiences. / A book sustained at that level throughout would be one of the greatest things in literature. I notice a change in your lyrics. They are much simpler, more classic, and with a better feeling for the form of the idea, nothing of unnecessary beauty in them. You used to be carried away by every lovely fancy into side images which marred a little the directness and effect of the central plan. The little song in the Rose in Shadow is simply perfect. Long ago you would have said some beautiful thing, say about the sea or stars in this, which we would have forgiven for its beauty, but which would have destroyed the passionate intensity of the poem as a whole. Your art gets more perfect in these things. I suppose it is a necessity of your life that you must write these dreams in prose, but never forget that poetry is their proper language. They are there uncontested. When you put them into prose you invite opposition and argument, from which may the gods save us. I wish I could congratulate myself upon such a steady movement to mastery over my art as you. [… &c.]’ (For full text, see infra.)

A Plum: ‘I remember once quarrelling with Yeats who was walking around the room with a sword in one hand muttering spells to ward off evil spirits, and I noticed that every time he passed a plate of plums he put down his unoccupied hand and took a plum and I said, “Yeats, you cannot evoke great spirits and eat plums at the same time.”’ (Quoted in Pelham Edgar, Across My Path, 1952, p.148; cited on George Russell page at Wikipedia - online; accessed 11.09.2011.)

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George (“AE”) Russell (3): ‘[Yeats] may be regarded as the pivot around which Irish literature turned from instinctive to conscious art.’ Further: ‘To sum it all up, Mr Yeats, in common with other literary men, is trying to ennoble literature by naming it religious rather than secular, by using his art for the revelation of another world rather than to depict this one.’ (‘Literary Ideals in Ireland’, in Literary Ideals in Ireland, ed. John Eglinton, 1899; rep. in Mark Storey, ed., Poetry and Ireland since 1800, 1988, pp.123-26).

George (“AE”) Russell (4): ‘When I knew him he was not clairvoyant and had to use other people’s spiritual eyes to see for him but this did not prevent him dogmatising about what they saw but he did not see. Naturally his mind when unloaded with theory was idealistic. He made a mistake in supposing that symbolism was mysticism.’ (Letter to Ernest Boyd, 12 Oct. 1914, in quoted in R. F. Foster, The W. B. Yeats - A Life, Vol. 2: “The Arch-Poet”, 1997, p.49; cited in Paul Murray, MA Diss., UU 2004.)

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George (“AE”) Russell (5) - letter to George Moore (6 April 1916): ‘Your account of Yeats is amusing, quite in the Ave Vale mood, but I don’t think you have dealt seriously with the psychology of Yeats. He began about the time of The Wind in the Reeds to do two things consciously, one to create a “style” in literature the second to create or rather to recreate W. B. Yeats in a style which would harmonise with the literary style. People call this posing. It is really putting on a mask, like his actors, Greek or Japanese, a mask over life The actor must talk to the emotion on the mask, which is a fixed emotion. W. B. Yeats began twenty years ago vigorously defending Wilde against the charge of being a poseur. He said it was merely living artistically, and it was the duty of [109] everybody to have a conception of themselves, and he intended to conceive of himself. The present W.B.Y. is the result. The error in his psychology is, that life creates the form, but he seems to think the form creates life. If you have a style, he argued once with me, you will have something to say. He seems also to have thought though he never said so, that if you make a picturesque or majestic personality of yourself in appearance, you will become as wonderful inside as outside. He has created the mask and he finds himself obliged to speak in harmony with the fixed expression of the mask, and that accounts for the lifelessness of his later talk and writing. His memories of childhood are the most vacant things man ever wrote, pure externalities, well written in a dead kind of way, but quite dull except for the odd flashes. The boy in the book might have become a grocer as well as a poet. Nobody could be astonished if this had been issued as a nvoel, part one, to find in part two the hero had for some reason given up thinking about literature and become a merchant. Why does he do it? We are interested in Yeats’s inner mind, whatever it is, but not his anecdotes of things he saw and whose effect on his own mood is not clear. He bores me terribly now and he was once so interesting. You are a humorist and a novelist, and he is subject to your art. I want life and thought, and he talks solemn platitudes under the impression that this nonsense is arcane wisdom. Any bit of pedantry a couple of hundred years old seems to him to have a kind of divine authority. But in a way we are interested in him still because of his past. We go to hear him as we go to see the tomb of Shakespeare or the Italian garden where Keats lies. The ony difference is that Yeats is his own coffin and memorial tablet. Why can’t he be natural? Such a delightful creature he was when young! And at rare moments when he forgets himself he is still interesting as ever almost.’ (In Alan Denson, ed., Letters from AE, London: Abelard Schuman 1961, pp.109-10; quoted extensively in Monk Gibbon, foreword to same, p.xii.)

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George (“AE”) Russell - Reviewing Yeats ...
George (“AE”) Russell (6), Review of A Vision, in The Irish Statesman (13 Feb. 1926), pp.714-16
‘A sage out of the ancient world possibly might write with more understanding of A Vision than any of Mr. Yeats’ contemporaries. It is an interpretation of life and history, but the interpreter has a compass in his hand, and he measures and divides the cycles as if he had at heart more than any other saying that profundity of Plato, “God Geometrises”. It might be compared with Henry Adams’ mathematical interpretation of history in the astonishing essay on Phase, but it is infinitely more complicated, infinitely more difficult to understand. Subtle as the thought was in Phase it was an exercise in simplicity compared with A Vision. Here I fall away from a mind I have followed, I think with understanding, since I was a boy, and as he becomes more remote in his thought I wonder whether he has forgotten his own early wisdom, the fear lest he should learn “to speak a tongue men do not know”. I allow myself to drift apart because I feel to follow in the wake of Mr. Yeats’ mind is to surrender oneself to the idea of Fate and to part from the idea of Free Will. I know how much our life is fated one life animates the original cell, the fountain from which the body is jetted; how much bodily conditions affect or even determine our thought, but I still believe in Free Will and that, to use the language of the astrologers, it is always possible for a man to rise above his stars. Now Mr. Yeats would have me believe that a great wheel turns ceaselessly, and that I and all others drop into inevitable groove after groove. It matters not my virtue to-day, my talent which I burnish, the wheel will move me to another groove where I am predestined to look on life as that new spiritual circumstance determines, and my will is only free to accept or rebel, but not to alter what is fated. [...]’
George (“AE”) Russell (7), review of A Packet for Ezra Pound, in Irish Statesman (1 Sept. 1929):
‘Few poets have been so bountiful to their biographers as Yeats. The intellectual biographer of the poet will never suffer for lack of matter about which he may speculate. [...] and the effort to interpret [A Vision] is made more difficult because he has invented a symbolism of his own. / I call it lazy writing because he tells me little in detail of the circumstance in which were set these psychic experiences. Yet, it may not be laziness at all, but some enchantment upon the intellect when it enters into the dream world, so that it loses the alert waking questioning habit, and it becomes dreamlike itself, [...] I confess, while I find many things exciting in the Vision, I would like to re-write it, leaving out almost all that over precise movement of his cycles. The virtue of the soul is to be free, and Mr. Yeats’ spirits condemn us all to a cyclic progression, which is like the judgment of a mad dictator willing it that men should be imprisoned in one cell after another in a great prison, from which there is no escape, and in the imprisonments there is no justice only a kind of destiny willed by a divinity as indifferent as that Setebos brooded upon by Caliban. [...] Philosophies of the universe are all very well, excellent intellectual exercises. But I know the moment I get out of that rational everyday mentality which enjoys such exercises, the moment I rise within myself and draw nigh to deep own-being all these philosophies vanish. Plato said, “If there be any gods they certainly do not philosophise.” This is my growl about the Vision and the Decline in the West, and Phase, and other attempts to show how God geometrises, though when I cannot have spiritual experience I turn to them and devour their chaff and find it excellent food for the waking consciousness.’

(The foregoing are given on the Yeats Vision website, ed. Neil Mann - citing Critical Heritage, ed. A. N. Jeffares (1977). [q.pp.]; see full-text version in RICORSO Library, “Criticism > Major Writers” - via index or as attached.

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Patrick Pearse: ‘[...] literature written in English cannot be Irish. [...] Against Mr. Yeats we personally we have nothing to object. He is a mere English poet of the third or fourth rank, and as such he is harmless. But when he attempts to run an “Irish Literary Theatre” it is time for him to be crushed.’ (Letter to Editor of An Claidheamh Soluis, 13 May 1899, rep. in Seamus Ó Buachalla, ed., Pearse’s Letters, 1980; quoted in Declan Kiberd, ‘Writers in Quarantine?: The Case for Irish Studies’, in Crane Bag, 3, 1, 1979, pp.9-21.) [See further under Patrick Pearse, supra.)

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James Joyce (1): ‘It is equally unsafe at present to say of Mr. Yeats that he has or has not genius. In aim and form The Wind Among the Reeds is poetry of the highest order, and The Adoration of the Magi (as story which one of the great Russians might have written) shows what Mr Yeats can do when he breaks with the half-gods. But an aesthete has a floating will, and Mr Yeats’s treacherous instinct of adaptability must be blamed for his recent association with a platform from which even self-respect should have urged him to refrain.’ (The Day of the Rabblement, 1901; Critical Writings, ed. Ellsworth Mason & Richard Ellmann, Viking [1959] 1965, p.70f.)

James Joyce (2) Richard Ellmann, James Joyce [1959], 1965): ‘When Yeats died on January 28, 1939, Joyce was much moved. He sent a wreath to the funeral, and conceded to a friend that Yeats was a greater writer than he, a tribute he paid to no other contemporary. It was Yeats’s imagination which always dazzled him: ‘No surrealist can equal it, he said. One day he was reading Wuthering Heights when Eugene Jolas came in, and Joyce said to him, “This woman had pure imagination; Kipling had it too, and certainly Yeats.” […] Joyce often recited Yeats’s poems from memory, and seemed to wonder if his own work was imaginative enough.’ (op. cit. [1965], p.673; also 1982 Rev. Edn. pp.660-61; also quoted in R. F. Foster, W . B. Yeats: A Life - I: “The Apprentice Mage” OUP 1997, “National Dramas 1901-1902” [Chap. 10] - see RICORSO Library, “Criticism / Major Authors” > James Joyce, via index or direct.)

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James Joyce (3): Richard Ellmann (James Joyce, 1959, &c.) notes that John [V.] Kelleher reads the diagram in Finnegans Wake [FW293] as one of the many places where Joyce parodies A Vision, and quotes Joyce’s remark to Eugene Jolas that he was ‘deeply absorbed by the colossal conception[’], only regretting that ‘Yeats did not put all this into creative work.’ (Ellmann, 608n.) Kelleher is also the recipient of acknowledgements for his ‘Irish lore’ in Harry Levin, James Joyce: A Critical Introduction [1941] (Faber 1944).

See Richard Ellmann, James Joyce [1959] (OUP 1984 rev. edn.) - writing of Wyndham Lewis’s attack on Joyce in Time and Western Man:

‘Joyce probably did not see another attack upon him, a more refined one, by Yeats in the first, limited edition of A Vision, at the beginning of 1926. It was omitted in the second edition of 1937, which Joyce did see. Yeats treated Joyce, along with Eliot, Pound, and Pirandello, as examples of the disintegration of the unified consciousness of earlier artists. In them, he said, “There is hatred of the abstract. [...] The intellect turns upon itself.” He had in mind Joyce’s hatred of generalizations, as expressed to him in 1902. Then, he went on, they “either eliminate from metaphor the poet’s phantasy and substitute a strangeness discovered by historical or contemporary research or [...] break up the logical processes of thought by flooding them with associated ideas or words that seem to drift into the mind by chance; or [...] set side by side as in Henry IV, The Waste Land, Ulysses [...] a lunatic among his keepers, a man fishing behind the gas works, the vulgarity of a single Dublin day prolonged through 700 pages - and [...] delirium, the Fisher King, Ulysses’ wandering. It is as though myth and fact, united until the exhaustion of the Renaissance, have now fallen so far apart that man understands for the first time the rigidity of fact, and calls up, by that very recognition, myth.” [A Vision, 1925 [1926], pp.211-12; for full quotation, see under Quotations, as attached.] It is curious that Joyce’s comment on A Vision, as recorded by Eugene Jolas, bears out part of Yeats’s picture of him and recalls their old argument. Jolas says, “He was deeply absorbed by the colossal conception, only regretting that ‘Yeats did not put all this into a creative work.’” [no ref.] To Joyce, Yeats was still a man of letters, theorizing when he should have been creating. To Yeats, Joyce was too concerned with the commonplace, and unable to effect an adequate union between new material and a heroic, mythical background. / As John V. Kelleher points out, the diagram Shaun uses in Finnegans Wake (293) is one of the many places where Joyce is parodying Yeats’s A Vision.’ (p.608, [asterisk] ftn.; 1984 Edn., p.596.)

[ See the original of Jolas’s remarks about Joyce’s admiration for Yeats and his strictures on A Vision - under Joyce, Commentary > supra. ]

[Note: In the 1959 edition, the above footnote begins: ‘Joyce takes the occasion to refer to another attack [...]’ (JJ, 1959, p.608) - whilst the same footnote in the revised edition begins: ‘Joyce probably did not see takes the occasion to refer to another attack [...]’ (JJ, 1984, p.596.) See further under Joyce, Commentary > W. B. Yeats - as supra.

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James Joyce (4): In “Ireland, Island of Saints and Sages” Joyce seems to lay claim to Yeats as a friend when he writes: ‘“We Irishmen”, said Oscar Wilde one day to a friend of mine [viz., W. B. Yeats], “have done nothing, but we are the greatest talkers since the time of the Greeks”.’ (Critical Writings, NY: Viking Press 1966, p.174.)

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Maud Gonne (1): ‘Without Yeats there would have been no literary revival in Ireland. Without the inspiration of that revival and the glorification of beauty and heroic virtuee I doubt if there would have been an Easter week. There were poets and writers who led Irish youth to die, that Ireland might live; and because of them and their writings, when they were crushed by the brute force of England, the people did not yield as they did after the crushing of the Fenian Rising.’ (“Yeats and Ireland”, in Stephen Gwynn, ed., Scattering Branches [rep. edn., Edinburgh: R. & R. Clarke, 1990, p.27; quoted in John McGovern, MA Diss UUC 2002.)

Maud Gonne (2) wrote to Yeats on seeing the draft of “Easter 1916”: ‘No I don’t like your poem, it isn’t worthy of you and above all it isn’t worth of the subject - though it reflects your present state of min, who who have studied philosophy know quite well tha ascrifice has never yet turned a heart to stone. There are beautiful lines in your poem, but [it] is not a great whole, a living thing which our race would treasure, whcih would avenge our material failure by its spiritual beauty.’ (In Anna MacBride & A. N. Jeffares, eds., The Gonne-Yeats Letters, Hutchinson 1992, pp.384-85; McGovern, op. cit. 2002.) [See also under Yeats, Notes.]
See further notes on the Yeats-Gonne connection under Maud Gonne, Commentary, supra.

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Francis Bickley, J. M. Synge and the Irish Dramatic Movement (London: Constable; NY: Houghton Mifflin 1912), On Yeats’s meeting with Synge during the latter’s ‘days of symbolism’ in Paris: ‘ At this work Mr. William Butler found him in Paris, in 1897 or thereabouts, living in the state of poverty implied by a top floor in the Latin quarter. Mr. Yeats saw at once that the poems and essays Synge showed him were of no value, merely poor examples of the morbidities of the time, “images reflected from mirror to mirror”. “He had wandered”, writes the poet in his preface to Synge’s Well of the Saints, among people whose life is as picturesque as the middle ages, playing his fiddle to Italian sailors, and listening to stories in Bavarian words, but life had cast no light on his writings.” Now it so happened that in these dying moment of the last century Mr. Yeats was at his grand climacteric. Not only was he, as it befell, nel nezzo del cammin di nosta vita [Dante], but he was also suffering a reaction against the influences of the day, and seeking [11] simpler modes. He, too, had ventured, none more boldly, intot he mysterious caves of symbolism,.. and had returned from his journey with much garnered wisdom, but with a new love for the sun. She he spoke his mind to his new friend. “Give up Paris”, he said, “you will never create anything by reading Racine, and Arthur Symons will always be a better critic of French literature. Go to the Aran Islands. Live there as if you were one of the people themselves; express a life that has never found expression.” Many young Irish writers have profited by Mr. Yeats’ clear-sighted and uncompromising criticism; but non more so than John Synge. (pp.11-12.) Further: ‘Rightly to appreciate this movement, it is necessary to understand, rather in its [49] organic development than in its individual manifestations, the work of the man who for nearly twenty years has been the dominant figure in Irish letters. It has been shown how a crisis in Mr. Yeats’ life, rather than Synge’s own, determined the latter’s destiny. So with almost the whole of modern Irish literature, both poetry and drama, its progress is inextricably interwoven with the spiritual progress of William Butler Yeats.’ (Ibid., pp.49-50.)

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St. John Ervine (1): ‘He is, so far as I am aware, the only English-speaking poet who did not write a poem about the war, a fact which is at once significant of the restraint he imposes on huimself and of his isolation from the common life of his time. I have never met any one who seems so unaware of contemporary affairs as Mr Yeats, and this unawareness is due, not to affectionate, but to sheer lack of interest. He probably would not have known of the War at all had not the Germans dropped a bomb near his lodgings off the Euston Road.’ (Impressions of My Elders, 1923, p.280; cited in Keith Jeffrey, ‘Irish Culture and the Great War’, in Bullán, Autumn 1994, pp.90-91.)

St. John Ervine (2): ‘He is a tall man, with dark hanging hair that is now turning grey, and he has a queer way of focussing when he looks at you. I do not know what is the defect of sight from which he suffers, but it makes his way of regarding you somewhat disturbing. He has a poetic appearance, entirely physical, and owing nothing to any eccentricity of dress; for, apart from his necktie, there is nothing odd about his clothes. It is not easy to talk to him in a familiar fashion, and I imagine he has difficulty in talking easily on common topics. I soon discovered that he is not comfortable with individuals: he needs an audience to which he can discourse in a pontifical [14] manner … I doubt very much whether he takes any intimate interest in any human being.’ (Quoted in E. H. Mikhail, W. B. Yeats: Interviews and Recollections, 1977, p.103 [var. 33]; cited in Terence Brown, W. B. Yeats: A Critical Life, 1999, pp.14-15.)

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Ezra Pound (1) - memoir of Yeats at Stone Cottage, in Pisan Cantos (Canto LXXXIII): ‘as it were the wind in the chimney / but was in reality Uncle William / downstairs composing / that had made a great Peeeeacock / ion the proide ov his oiye / had made a great peeeeeeecock in the … / made a great peacock / in the proide ov his oyyee // proide ov his oy-ee / as indeed he had, and perdurable // a great peacock aere perennius … // at Stone Cottage in Sussex by the waste moor / (or whatever) and the holly bush / who would not eat ham for dinner / because peasants eat ham for dinner / despite the excellent quality / and the please of having it hot.’ Cf. Yeats’s lines, ‘What’s riches to him / That has made a great peacock / With the pride of his eye? … His ghost will be gay / Adding feather to feather / For the pride of his eye.’ (‘The Peacock’, 1914.) Also: ‘’Neath Ben Bulben’s buttocks lies / Bill Yeats, a poet twoice the soize / Of William Shakespeare, as they say / Down Ballkillywuchlin way.’ (From Pavannes and Divagations, p.288; cited as epigraph to Daniel Albright, ed., Poems, p.xvii); also, ‘Sligo in heaven murmured uncle William / when the mist finally settled down on Tigullio’ (Cantos 77, 473); and comment on Constantinople, ‘Mr Yeats called it Byzantium’, 96, 661); further, ‘and Uncle William dawdling around Notre Dame / in search of whatever / paused to admire the symbol / with Notre Dame standing inside it’ (Cantos, p.563; cited in Denis Donoghue, We Irish, 1986, p.48f.); ‘Willie who dreamed of nobility / And Jim the comedian singing: “Blarney castle me darlin’ / you’re nothing now but a StOWne”.’ (“Pisan Cantos”, LXXIV; cited in Donoghue, op. cit., p.106.)

Ezra Pound (2) [on Yeats of the Vision period in a letter to John Quinn:] ‘Bit queer in the head about “moon” […] whole new metaphysicas about “moon”, very very very bughouse.’ (Quoted in B. L. Reid, The Man from New York, Oxford 1968; cited in William M. Murphy, ‘Psychic Daughter, Mystic Son, Sceptic Father’, in George Harper Mills, ed., Yeats and the Occult, Macmillan 1976, p.13.) See also extract from Frank Kermode, ‘Ezra Conquers London’, review-article on Ezra Pound: A Portrait of the Man and His Work, Vol. 1, by A. David Moody, OUP; in The New York Review, of Books (1 May 2008), pp.21-24 [see under Commentary, supra].

Ezra Pound (3), ABC of Reading (Routledge 1934; New edn. Faber 1951; pb. edn. 1961; reiss. 1991): ‘W. B. Yeats is sufficiently venerated to be cited now in a school book. The gulf between Homer and Virgil can be illustrated profanely by one of Yeats' favourite anecdotes. A plain sailor man took a notion to study Latin, and his teacher tried him with Virgil; after many lessons he asked him something about the hero. Said the sailor: “What hero?” Said the teacher: “What hero, why, Aeneas, the hero.” Said the sailor: '“Ach, a hero, him a hero? Bigob, I t’ought he waz a priest.”’ Note: Pound goes on to cites a line of Yeats as an "exhibit" of self-evident condensation (i.e., ‘charged’) in verse: “The fire that stirs about her, when she stirs.” (Ibid., p.96.)

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T. S. Eliot (1): ‘Born into a world in which the doctrine of “Art for Art’s Sake” was generally accepted, and living on into one in which art has been asked to be instrumental to social purposes, he held firmly to the right view which is between these, though not in any way a compromise between them, and showed that an artist, by serving his art with entire integrity, is at the same time rendering the greatest service he can to his own nation and to the whole world.’ (‘Yeats’, in On Poetry and Poets, NY 1957, p.307; prev. as Do., Faber & Faber, 1957 [262pp.]; quoted in Lucy McDiarmid, Saving Civilisation: Yeats, Eliot and Auden Between the Wars, Cambridge UP 1984, p.xiii; and see McDiarmid’s further remarks, infra.)

Further (T. S. Eliot, ‘Yeats’, 1957): ‘I do not know where our debt to him as a dramatist ends - and in time, it will not end until that drama itself ends.’ (Idem [1957, p.307]; quoted in Bernard O’Donoghue, ‘Yeats and the Drama’, in Majorie Howes & John Kelly, eds., The Cambridge Companion to W. B. Yeats, Cambridge UP 2006, p.101.)

T. S. Eliot, reviewing The Cutting of the Agate, in ‘A Foreign Mind’, in Athenaeum, 4653 (4 July 1919), pp.552-23: ‘we are confirmed in the conviction - confirmed in a baffling and disturbing conviction - that its author, as much in his prose as in his verse, is not “of this world” - this world, of course, being our visible planet with whatever our theology or myth may conceive as below or above it.’ (p.552). In 1920, however, Eliot was writing to Ottoline Morrell that the found Yeats ‘really one of the very small number of people with whom one can talk profitably about poetry, and I found him altogether stimulating.’ (Letters of T. S. Eliot, Vol. 1, ed. Valerie Eliot, London: Faber & Faber 1988, p.611; all quoted in Ronald Schuchard, ‘“The Tower”: Yeats’s anti-Modernist Monument’, in The Living Stream [being] Yeats Annual, 18, 2013, p.122.)

Further (T. S. Eliot, ‘A Foreign Mind’, in Athenaeum, 4 July 1919): ‘The difference between his [Yeats’s] world and ours is so complete as to seem almost a physiological variety, different nerves and sense. It is, therefore, allowable to imagine that the difference is not only personal but national.’ (Review of Yeats in The Athenaeum, 4 July 1919, p.552; quoted in Seamus Deane, Heroic Styles: The Tradition of an Idea [Field Day Pamphlets, No. 4], Derry: Field Day 1984, p.17 - further citing Eliot’s view of Yeats as eluding ‘a relation to the comprehensible’, which Deane characterises as ‘propaganda disguised as mystification’; idem.)

T. S. Eliot [a 70th birthday tribute to W. B. Yeats in 1935]: ‘[I]t should be apparent at least that Mr. Yeats has been and is the greatest poet of his time [...] At no time was he less out-of-date than today, among men twenty and forty years his juniors. Development to this extent is not merely genius, it is character; and it sets a standard which his juniors should seek to emulate, without hope to equal.’ (Criterion, 14, July 1935, pp.614-15; Schuchard, op. cit., 2013, p.145.)

T. S. Eliot (2) [lecture on Yeats at the Abbey, 1940;] ‘There are others whose poetry, though giving equal experience and delight, has a larger historical importance. He [Yeats] was one of those few whose history is the history of their time, who are a part of the consciousness of an age which cannot be understood without them. This is a very high position to assign him: but I believe that it is one which is secure.’ Further: ‘His idiom was too different for there to be any danger of imitation […] the influence of which I speak is due to the figure of the poet himself, to the integrity of his passion for his act and craft which provided such an impulse for his extraordinary development.’ (Selected Prose of T. S. Eliot, p.249ff.)

T. S. Eliot (4): ‘His [Yeats’s] remoteness is not an escape from this world, for he is innocent of any world to escape from; his procedure is blameless, but he does not start from where we do […] There is something of this crudity, and much of this egoism, about what we called Irish literature.’ (‘A Foreign Mind’, quoted in Emer Nolan, James Joyce and Irish Nationalism, Routledge, 1995, p.7, citing Cairns Craig, Yeats, Eliot, Pound and the Politics of Poetry, 1982, p.112.)

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T. S. Eliot (5) [on The Shadowy Waters:] ‘Yet it strikes me - and this is what may be an impertinence on my part - as the Western seas described through the back window of a house in Kensington, an Irish myth for the Kelmscott Press.’ (Selected Prose, 1953, p.202; quoted in Carla Irwin, UG Diss., UU 2004.)

T. S. Eliot (6): ‘It was only in his last play Purgatory that he solved his problem of speech in verse, and laid all his successors under obligations to him.’ (Poetry and Drama, 1951, p.20; quoted in T. R. Henn, The Lonely Tower: Studies in the Poetry of W. B. Yeats, London: Methuen 1965 [Rev. Edn.], p.292.)

T. S. Eliot (7) [prob. The Cutting of an Agate, in Athenæum, 4 July 1919]: ‘The mind of W. B. Yeats is extreme in egoism, and, as often with egoism, remains a little crude; crude, indeed, as from its remoteness one would expect. There is something of this crudity, and much of this egoism, about what is called Irish Literature: the egoism which obstructs from facing, and the crudity which remains through not having had to face direct contacts. We know also of an evasion, or rather an evacuation of reality by the very civilized; but people civilized to that extent are seldom artists, and Mr. Yeats is always an artist. His crudity and egoism are present in other writers who are Irish; justified by exploitation to the point of greatness, in the later work of Mr. James Joyce.’ (q. source; quoted in Denis Donoghue’s review of the assessments Yeats, Eliot and Pound made of each others’ work, in Dublin Review of Book, Summer 2009; transmitted by info.drb.ie, 11.06.2009; see also under Joyce, Commentary > Eliot, supra). [See also quotation from same by Ron Schuchard, supra.]

Note: In 1928, Virginia Woolf wrote a letter to her sister about Eliot: ‘I have had a most shameful and distressing interview with dear Tom Eliot, who may be called dead to us all from this day forward. He has become an Anglo-Catholic believer in God and immortality, and goes to church. I was shocked. A corpse would seem to me more credible than he is. I mean, there’s something obscene in a living person sitting by the fire and believing in God.’

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James Stephens (BBC Broadcast, 1948): ‘He worried about love, conceiving it as a passion, as a drama, and not the simplest, the most abundant thing in our otherwise bedevilled world, for love is complete trust, unremitting attention …. He thought he could pin it down and rhyme it into reason …. Love and pity and hate were not absolutely real to him …’ ((Poetry and Drama, 1951, p.20; quoted in T. R. Henn, The Lonely Tower: Studies in the Poetry of W. B. Yeats, London: Methuen 1965 [Rev. Edn.], p.65.)

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W. H. Auden (2): Auden castigated Yeats’s Modern Verse (1936) as the ‘most deplorable [anthology] ever issued … under the imprint of … the Clarendon Press.’ (‘The Public Versus the Late Mr. William Butler Yeats’, in Partisan Review, 6, 3, Spring 1939, p.47; rep. in The English Auden, ed. Edward Mendelson, London 1977 [q.pp.]; quoted in Lucy McDiarmid, Saving Civilisation: Yeats, Eliot and Auden Between the Wars, Cambridge UP 1984, p.xiii.) Note: McDiarmid remarks, ‘Auden absolves Yeats of guilt for his “feudal mentality” and his “belief in fairies” because his poetry has not had any effect: “For art is a product of history, not a cause. Unlike some products, technical inventions, for instance, it does not re-enter history as an effective agent, so that the question whether [it] should or should not be propaganda is unreal”.’ (Auden, p.51; McDiarmid, pp.xiii-iv.) Auden, further: ‘[T]here is one field in which the poet is a man of action, the field of language […] However false or undemocratic [Yeats’s] ideas, his diction shows a continuous evolution towards what one might call the true democratic style. The social virtues of a real democracy are brotherhood and intelligence, and the parallel linguistic virtues are strength and clarity.’ (Quoted in McDiarmid, op. cit. 1984, p.95.)

W. H. Auden (1) - “In Memory of W. B. Yeats” (Part 2): ‘You were silly like us: your gift survived it all; / The parish of rich women, physical decay, / Yourself; mad Ireland hurt you into poetry. / Now Ireland has her madness and her weather still, / For poetry makes nothing happen: it survives / In the valley of its saying, where executives / Would never want to tamper; it flows south / From ranches of isolation and the busy griefs, / Raw towns that we believe and die in; it survives, / A way of happening, a mouth.’ (Part 3:) ‘Earth, receive an honoured guest; / William Yeats is laid to rest: / Let the Irish vessel lie. / Emptied of its poetry, / Time that is intolerant / Of the brave and innocent, / And indifferent in a week / To a beautiful physique, / Worships language and forgives / Everyone by whom it lives; / Pardons cowardice, conceit, / Lay its honours at their feet. // Time that with this strange excuse / Pardoned Kipling and his views, / And will pardon Paul Claudel, / Pardons him for writing well, // In the nightmare of the dark / All the dogs of Europe bark, / And the living nations wait / Each sequestered in its hate; / Intellectual / isgrace / Stares from every human fade, / And the seas of pity lie / Looked and frozen in each eye, // Follow, poet, follow right / To the bottom of the night, / With your unconstraining voice / Still persuade us to rejoice; // With the farming of a verse / Make a vineyard of the curse, / Sing of human unsuccess / In a rapture of distress; / In the deserts of the heart / Let the healing fountain start, / In the / prison of his days / Teach the free man how to praise.’ Further, ‘Now he is scattered among a hundred cities / And wholly given over to unfamiliar affections; / To find his happiness in another kind of wood / And be punished under a foreign code of conscience. / The words of a dead man / Are modified in the guts of the living. (See Auden, Selected Poems, Faber 1979, p.80-83; quoted in Gareth McKibben, UG Dissertation, UU 2005.)

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Forrest Reid, Yeats: A Critical Study (London 1915), ‘That sense of hovering on some “misty mid region” between consciousness and unconsciousness, which it produces upon us, was precisely what he wanted to create. To him the aim of poetry was the evocation of a melancholy and impalpable beauty, a sensation of regret for some lost and half forgotten happiness, with at times a suggestion of tragedy […]’ (p.200; cited by Richard Mills, DPhil., UUC, 1997.)

P. S. O’Hegarty: ‘[Yeats’s poems] became national and had their revolutionary influence, because the whole man and his whole poetry were national in the broad sense.’ (‘W. B. Yeats and the Revolutionary Ireland of His Time’, in Dublin Magazine, XIV, No. 3, July-Sept. 1939, p.22; quoted in John McGovern, MA Diss. UUC 2002.)

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Dominic Daly, The Young Douglas Hyde (1974), among extensive remarks on Yeats, Yeats writes of the Munster poets Andrew Magrath, O’Sullivan the Red, John MacDonnell, John O’Cullen [lament over Timoleague], and O’Hiffernan the blind ‘who in his old age loved to stand listening while the ploughboys in the hedge school droned out some Greek poet’ &c. Yeats, ‘Popular Ballad Poetry of Ireland’, in The Leisure Hour, Nov. 1889; written in 1887 (see Wade, ed., Letters, p.48.) [n., 208] Daly notes that Yeats’s remarks here and in the prefaces to A Book of Irish Verse (1895) and Oxford Book of Modern Verse (1936) constitute little more than a paraphrase of notes given by John O’Daly in the bilingual collections Poets of Munster, first ser., and Reliques of Irish Jacobite Poetry. [90]. Hyde wrote in his diary for 29 Jan. 1887: ‘bored to death by [Yeats’s] blather’ [gur bhian se an ceann diom beag nach len a chaint/he nearly took my head off with his talk] at Dowden’. For Katherine Tynan’s comments on Yeats’s contribution to Irish writing, see Tynan RX [Daly 131].

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Stephen Gwynn, Obituary notice (Observer, 5 Feb. 1939): ‘First and last he was smashing idols in the market-place; at first, the cheap rhetoric of drum-beating ballads, false models in poetry; later, justifying work which his artistic sense approved as vital, while the crowd denounced it as “an insult to Ireland”. First and last, he was a champion of freedom - but, above all, against the tyrannies of democracy. And in the end, the democracy which he never spared to resist and rebuke, marches, to its credit, behind his coffin.’ (cited in R. F. Foster, ‘When the Newspaper have forgotten me …’, in Yeats Annual 12, ed. Warwick Gould and Edna Longley, 1996; p.166.)

[Note, it was Gwynn who said of Cathleen ni Houlihan that no one should write a play like that who was not prepared to see people go out and shoot and be shot.]

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Douglas Goulding: ‘One of his greatest triumphs in London was the way in which he stormed 18 Woburn Buildings, the Celtic stronghold of W. B. Yeats, took charge of his famous ‘Mondays’, precisely as he took charge of the South Lodge tennis parties, and succeeded in reducing him from master to disciple, The ‘later Yeats’ which is now so universally admired, was unmistakable influenced by Pound. I shall never forget my surprise, when Ezra took me for the first time to one of Yeats’s “Mondays’”at the way in which he dominated the room, distributed Yeats’s cigarettes and Chianti, and laid down the law about poetry. Poor golden-bearded Sturge Moore, who sat in a corner with a large musical instrument by his side (on which he was never given a chance of performing) endeavoured to join in the discussion on prosody -, a subject on which he believed himself not entirely ignorant, but Ezra promptly reduced him to a glum silence. My own emotions on this particular evening, since I do not possess Ezra’s transatlantic brio, were an equal blend of reverence and a desire to giggle. I was sitting next to Yeats on a settle when a young Indian woman in a sari came and squatted at his feet and asked him to sing “Innisfree”, saying that she was certain he had composed it to an Irish air. Yeats was anxious to comply with this request but, unfortunately, like so many poets, he was completely unmusical, indeed almost tone deaf. He compromised by a sort of dirgelike incantations calculated to send any unhappy giggler into hysterics. I bore it as long as I could, but at last the back of the settle began to shake, and I received the impact, of one of the poet’s nasty glances from behind his pince-nez. Mercifully I recovered, but it was an awful experience.’ (Douglas Goulding, South Lodge: reminiscences of Violet Hunt, Ford Madox Ford and The English Review Circle, Constable 1943, pp.48-9; papers of Alan Warner, UUC.)

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George Moore (1) - Hail & Farewell (1911-14): ‘His play [The Land of Heart’s Desire] neither pleased nor displeased; it struck me as inoffensive, but himself provoked a violent antipathy as he strode to and forth at the back of the dress circle, a long black cloak drooping from his shoulders, a soft black sombrero on his head, a voluminous black silk tie flowing from his collar, his loose black trousers dragging untidily over his long, heavy feet – a man of such excessive appearance that I could not do otherwise – could I? – than mistake him for an Irish parody of the poetry that I had seen all my life strutting its rhythmic way in the alleys of the Luxembourg Gardens, preening its rhymes by the fountains, excessive in habit and gait.’ (Ave, 1911, p.45; also cited in Tuohy, Yeats: An Illustrated Biography, Macmillan 1976, p.94.) Note also the more extended passage in which Yeats berates the middle-classes ‘stamping his feet, and working himself into a great temper’ while Moore comments sardonically on the Yeatses’ own social origins (Vale, 1947 pp. 113-15, cited in Jeffares, A New Commentary on the Poems, 1988, pp.99-100); Further, Moore’s malicious view of Yeats, returning from a financially successful American tour in 1910, on the ‘sacrifice [of] our lives for Art’, ‘everybody began searching his memory for the sacrifices that Yeats had made, asking himself in what prison Yeats had languished, what rags he had worn, what broken vituals he had eaten. As far as anybody could remember, he had always lived comfortably, sitting down to regular meals, and the old green cloak that he was keeping with his profession of romantic poet he had exchanged for the magnificent fur coat which distracted our attention from what he was saying, so opulently did the coat cover the back of the chair out of which he had risen … we were lead to understand that by virtue of our subscriptions we should cease to belong the middle classes […, &c.]; Hail & Farewell; Vale, p.162-3; 1914 edn.; quoted in Jeffares, New Commentary on the Poems of W. B. Yeats, 1984, pp.119-20].

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George Moore (2) - Moore’s account of Yeats’s reaction to the Aran Islands and the Irish peasantry on first acquaintance: ‘one could learn to write, their speech being living speech, flowing out of the habits of their lives, struck out of life itself.’ (Ave, p.55-56; quoted in Richard Ellmann, Yeats: The Man and the Mask, 1948, p.151.)

George Moore (3): Moore saw Yeats as ‘sort of medieval monk of literature, an Inquisitor of journalism [whose] thoughts are abstracted from this world, from human life’ resulting in ‘a lack of human sympathy.’ (Ave, American Edn., 1911, p.293.) ‘He has sunk deeper into Catholicism than I thought, he believes now in a universal truth’ (Salve, 1912, p.283.) ‘All the Irish movement rose out of Yeats and returns to Yeats.’ (Vale, 1914, p.219; the foregoing all quoted in Ronald Schleifer, ‘George Moore’s Turning Mind: Digression and Autobiographical Art in Hail and Farewell’, in Schleifer, ed., The Genres of Irish Literary Revival (OK [Oklahoma UP]: Pilgrim; Dublin: Wolfhound 1980), p.76f.)

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George Moore (4) wrote in the English Review: ‘He [Yeats] began to thunder like Ben Tillett himself against the middle classes, and all because the middle classes did not dip their hands into their pockets and give Lane the money he craved for his contribution …. and we asked ourselves why Willie Yeats should feel himself called upon to denounce the class to which he himself belonged essentially: one side excellent mercant millers and ship-owners and on the other side a portrait painter of rare talent …’ (Quoted in A. N. Jeffares, ‘Yeats the Public Man’, in Denis Donoghue, ed., The Integrity of Yeats, Mercier 1964, p.27; Jeffares adds, ‘Yeats was deeply offended. Moore had mixed up two speeches and confused them’.) Cf. Moore’s original version: ‘He began to thunder like Ben Tillett against the middle classes, stamping his feet, working himself into a great temper, and all because the middle classes did not dip their hands into their pockets and give Lane the money he wanted for his exhibition. When he spoke the words “the middle classes”, one would have thought that he was speaking against a personal foe, and we looked around asking each other with out eyes where on earth did Willie Yeats had picked up the strange idea that none but titled and carriage-folk can appreciate pictures. And we asked ourselves why Willie Yeats should feel himself called uon to denounce his own class, millers and shipowners on one side, and the other a portrait-painter of distinction.’ (Vale, Chap. 7; in Richard Allen Cave, ed., Ave, Salve, Vale, Gerrards Cross: Colin Smythe 1976, p.540; quoted in R. F. Foster, ‘Protestant Magic: W. B. Yeats and the Spell of Irish History’ in Paddy and Mr Punch: Connections in Irish History and English History, London: Allen Lane/Penguin 1993, p.214.)

George Moore (5): portrait of Yeats as the young aesthete Ulick Dean in Evelyn Innes (1898), as recounted by Richard Kain: ‘Dean is a tall, thin man with “one of those long Irish faces” and poetic eyes, over which “a heavy lock of black hair was always falling” [whose] eyes gave the “sombre, ecstatic character to his face” - the dark, deep-set eyes that “seemed to smoulder like fires in caves.” Moore has captured the spirit of Yeats in noting Dean’s conversations on Irish folklore, and his indifference to men of action: “Shakespeare and Shelley and Blake had never participated in any movement they were the centres of things.”’ (See Kain, Dublin in the Age of William Butler Yeats and James Joyce, Oklahoma UP 1962; Newton Abbot: David Charles 1972, p.80.)

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Augusta Gregory [Lady Gregory], expressed the fear that prolonged contact with George Moore might ‘break up the mould’ of W. B. Yeats’s mind’ and, Meredith Cary contests, in so doing she ‘helped drive Moore toward the work which finally constituted the most telling conflict between the two men.’ (p.94 in Cary, ‘Yeats and Moore: An Autobiographical Conflict’, Éire-Ireland, 4, 3 (Autumn 1969), pp.94-109.)

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Edith Somerville (at first meeting Yeats): ‘He is thinner than a lath - wears paltry little clothes wisped around his bones, and the prodigious and affected greenish tie. He is a little affected and knows it - He has a sense of humour and is a gentleman - hardly by birth, I fancy - but by genius.’ Late she writes: [he is] a cross between a Dominie Sampson and a starved RC curate - in seedy black clothes - with a large black bow at the root of his long naked throat. He is egregiously the poet mutters ends of verse to himself with a wild eye, bows over your hand in dark silence,’ and describes him as ‘simple’ to Lady Gregory (though she also says she likes him). Finally, in mature years, she writes: ‘Yeats is a huge man, more like a big country-gent than the typical poet (which I had believed him to be). A brown, healthy, good looking face and charming wavy grey hair (not long hair) […] A nice voice, decided Dublin tone (rather reminding me of GBS’s) and no assumption of high-brow or stuffed-shirtness.’ (All quoted in Lucille Redmond, review of Gifford Lewis, Edith Somerville, in Books Ireland, Summer 2006, p.142.)

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J. M. Hone, William Butler Yeats: The Poet in Contemporary Ireland [Irishmen of today] (Dublin & London: Maunsel 1916; facs. rep. (NY: Haskell Hse. Publ.): ‘Again and again Mr Yeats has recorded his conviction that a man should “find his holy land where he first crept upon the floor”; but we do not find anything inconsistent with this view in his endeavour to rid Irish literature of its propagandist tendencies, and of what he has called the “obsession of public life”. He was largely successful. Nowadays few patriots assert that a poem, or story, or play must have some rhymed lesson in national politics if it is to be Irish. What could not meet with much appreciation in Ireland was a philosophy based on a mystical conception of the primacy of poetry. The nationalist public encountered the aesthetic passion for the first time, and all its hostility was aroused as by something unfamiliar and even depraved.’ [p.55.]

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F. R. Leavis, ‘The Problem and the Challenge’, in Revaluation: Tradition and Development in English Poetry (1936; Pelican Books 1972): ‘How much of the fully achieved thing is there in Yeats’s oeuvre - -what proportion of the wholly created poem that stands there unequivocally in its own right, self-sufficient?’ (p.60); ‘In their hypnoidal vaguenesses (“dim”, “dream-pale”) and incantatory rhythms, they exemplify that preoccupation with creating a dream-world, or poetic other-world, which Eliot in a famous essay noted as a characteristic of Victorian poetry.’ (p.61; but see also Yeats on Eliot in Letters to Dorothy Wellesley, 1946.) ‘A close critical appreciation of a successful poem of Yeats doesn’t require that one should bring up any special knowledge or instruction from outside. One can invoke Coleridge’s well-known dictum, to the effect that a poem should contain within itself the reason why it is so and not otherwise”. To suppose that Yeats is a special case to which this doesn’t apply is a mischievous delusion … addiction to the occult and esoteric … a quasi-creative addiction’ (pp.65-66.) ‘It is characteristic of Yeats to have no centre of unity, and to have been unable to find one. The lack is apparent in his solemn propoundings about the Mask and the Anti-Self, and in the related schematic elaborations.’ (p.75.) Leavis detects an Irish habit of cultivating ‘attitudes and postures’ (p.75) and finds ‘too much of Parnassian art’ about “Leda and the Swan” (p.79.) Further, ‘Eliot has a body of achieved poetry lacking in Yeats […] the most resolute literary-critical study of his poetic career entails biography, personalities public affairs, and history’ (p.80); chiefly values “Sailing to Byzantium” and “Among School-Children”. [Notes of Professor Alan Warner, UUC].

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Louis MacNeice (1) - Poetry of W. B. Yeats (1941): ‘This attachment - essentially a romantic attachment, of the Ireland that Yeats envisaged is not co-extensive with the real Ireland of small farms and small towns but a doorway on the world of Faery - turned him into a polemicist. One of the characteristics of the Nineties movement that he noted in his early Autobiographies was the indifference of the pre-Raphaelites and their followers to generalisations - yet generalisations was Yeats strongest suit. He was a born argufier, equally about nationality, and ethics, and aesthetics. He resolved this contradiction thus’ [q.p.]; ‘Pater supplied Yeats with a belief in the importance of passion, a belief in the importance of style, a distrust of the vulgar world, and a curious sort of aesthetic pantheism …’ [27]. ‘[…] in his love poetry Yeats repeatedly deplores his beloved’s refusal to observe the rules of the game, to content herself with existing merely as a beautiful object. Throughout his life his advice to women is to abjure the intellect and, in particular, political opinions and the critical reason. Their discipline is to be that of the looking glass. [37] Some of Yeats later strong ideas: ‘To me drama … has been the search for more of manful energy, more of cheerful acceptance of whatever arises out of the logic of events, and for clean outline, instead of those outlines of lyric poetry that are blurred with desire and vague regret.’ ‘Surely the ideal of culture expressed by Pater can only create feminine souls.’ ‘Yeats had previously been fascinated by the Irish peasant because he was a person who knew the fairies. It was Synge who brought home to him the value of this brute vitality, of, in Yeats’s words “all that has edge, all that is salt in the mouth, all that is rough in the hand, all that heightens the emotions by contest, all that stings into life the sense of tragedy.” … From time of meeting Synge, Yeats’s poetry shows far more recognition of physical man.’ [40]. Yeats began by ignoring the Godwin and Rousseau and the Plato in Shelley; in his essay on the philosophy of Shelley’s Poetry (1900) he spends his time discussing Shelley’s symbols - caves, underground rivers, towers, the morning star - and attempts to build out of these a Shelleyan system … [44]; McNeice: ‘the kind of nationalism which he admired, represented by John O’Leary was in decline. The nationalism dominant seemed to him to involve a shocking waste of energy and to have ruined the lives of a number of his friends. It was vulgar …’. [46; cont.]

Louis MacNeice, Poetry of W. B. Yeats (OUP 1941) - cont.: Yeats wrote in 1925 that when he had been young, his Muse had been old; as he himself grew older, his Muse grew younger. [58; Warner var. 55.] Yeats praised bad Irish poets in his articles for the Boston Pilot and Providence Sunday Journal, 1887-89, ‘from your Celt in London’; in these articles he made painstaking efforts to discover talent, if not genius, in contemporary Irish writers such as Ellen O’Leary and Rose Kavanagh. He could even bring himself to admire a poem by the former which ends ‘And oh, my darling, I am true / To God - to Ireland - and to you.’ Again, he laments that T. W. Rolleston would not canalise his writing into national channels: ‘He is a fine Greek scholar and quite the handsomest man in Ireland, but I wish he would devote his imagination to some national purpose. Cosmopolitan literature is, at best, but a poor bubble, though a big one. Creative work has always a fatherland.’ [72]; Yeats’s attitude to Maud Gonne [who could only express her personality through violence as Florence Farr could only express it through ‘an unfashionable art’] seems always to have had something about it of odi atque amo. He could never quite forgive her die-hard opinions and her violence; at the same time her influence saved him fro being merely a poet of the salon or the psaltery. [60]; Yeats would not have come into being without Rossetti. [61 - cont.].

Louis MacNeice (Poetry of W. B. Yeats, 1941) - cont.: [Yeats] wrote in the Boston Pilot that it is necessary ‘really to know the imaginative periods of Irish history’ [introduced by Standish O’Grady;] Yeats, however, failed to do justice to ‘the imaginative periods of Irish history’ because he emasculated them, just as Tennyson had emasculated Lancelot and Gawaine … Yeats in old age himself … explains in a footnote [the phrase ‘great bladdered Emer’]: ‘The Irish sagas have a hard matter-of-factness … A woman of divine origin was murdered by jealous rivals because she made the deepest hole in the snow with her urine.’ [73]; The legends which he selected in early days were those which presented escape from the ancient heroic world itself … ‘Niamh calling: Away, come away: / Empty your heart of its mortal dream.’ … he craved for a mythology which would be for him what the Virgin Mary and Veronica with her napkin are for the Catholic Irish peasantry … he found in Celtic legend what Johnson and Dowson found in Catholic ritual; Celtic legend had the advantage of not having been recently exploited.; … There is no absolute recipe for poetry. [88]

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Louis MacNeice (Poetry of W. B. Yeats, 1941) - cont.: MacNeice attributes Yeats’s abandonment of the aesthetic and symbol posture to the influence of Synge, who gave him a saltier vision of the substrate and substance of literature. He first quotes Synge: ‘What is highest in poetry is always reaching where the dreamer is leaning out to reality, or where the man of real life is lifted out of it, and in all the poets the greatest have both these elements, that they are supremely engrossed with life, and yet with the wildness of their fancy they are always passing out of what is simple and plain.’ Then he compares Yeats, in 1906: ‘Art bids us touch and taste and hear and see the world, and shrink from what Blake calls mathematical form, from every abstract thing, from all that is of the brain only, from all that is not a fountain jetting from the entire hopes, memories, and sensations of the body.’ And finally he concludes: ‘this recognition of the body I would attribute largely to the influence of Synge.’ [91- cont.]

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Louis MacNeice (Poetry of W. B. Yeats, 1941) - cont. [on Green Helmet and Other Poems:] ‘[O]n the whole the sheen and mystery are gone; statement predominates over suggestion. The mood is consistently depressed, his hopes both of love and Ireland have reached a low ebb. He is working out a manner which is flat and at the same time distinguished.’

Louis MacNeice (Poetry of W. B. Yeats, 1941) - cont.: ‘In 1909, Yeats was complaining in his diary of Ireland’s soullessness: “[Ireland] is ruined by abstractions … illbreeding of the mind … every thought made in some manufactory and with the mark upon it of its wholesale origin…. I did not see until Synge began to write that we must renounce the deliberate creation of a kind of Holy City in the imagination, and express the individual.”’ [94] MacNeice remarks: ‘Yeats’s cult of the Big House is to be correlated with his dislike for democracy, liberalism, the facile concept of progress.’

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Louis MacNeice (Poetry of W. B. Yeats, 1941) - cont. [on Yeatsian opposites]: ‘[I]n fighting for a political creed one is following a mythic archetype; in sexual love one is tuning to the music of the spheres.’; Yeats had an epigrammatist in him who hardly showed in the early poetry [106]; ‘Eternity; he quoted from Blake, ‘is in love with the productions of time; or, in the words of an Irish peasant which he was fond of repeating, ‘God possesses the heavens - but he covets the earth.’ [102] ‘Yeatsian opposites: in fighting for a political creed one is following a mythic archetype; in sexual love one is tuning to the music of the spheres.’

Louis MacNeice (Poetry of W. B. Yeats, 1941) - cont.: ‘Now, however, he was on the whole an accepter of life instead of a rejecter of it, and one can see the influence of Synge … [104]. Yeats had an epigrammatist in him who hardly showed in the early poetry [106]. ‘1916 gave Yeats a shock … at once enlivening and horrifying. He had built an Ireland out of words and now he saw them translated into action.’ [q.p.]

Louis MacNeice (Poetry of W. B. Yeats, 1941) - cont.: ‘Yeats in his poems treated Synge and major Robert Gregory in the same way that Shakespeare treated his tragic heroes and heroines; the hero is conceded full individuality, his Marxist conditioning is ignored. This means simplification, mean … the elimination from the tragic figure of all psychology except some simple trends, it means the explanation of a man by his daily life but my one or two great moments … His characters are simplified into bold symbolical figures; all Synge’s significance is for Yeats summed up on the line - ‘dying chose the living world for text.’ [110]

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Louis MacNeice (Poetry of W. B. Yeats, 1941) - cont. [on A Vision]: ‘He recounts that when his wife began transmitting the messages … he made them an offer that he would spend the rest of his life explaining and piecing together those scattered sentences. “No,” was the answer, “we have come to give you metaphors for poetry.” Spirits had taken the place of Standish O’Grady. [113]; ‘A large section of A Vision consists of the classification of human types. Yeats disregards psychology as much as he disregards economics. According to his friends he was a poor judge of men … Lacking intuitive knowledge of people he declined also to accept explanations offered by professional psychologists … If life is to be conditioned by accidents, the accidents must be supernatural …. [Quotes Yeats:] “When I think of any great poetical writer … I comprehend, if I know the lineaments of his life, that the work is the man’s flight from his entire horoscope, his struggle in the networks of the stars” (Per Amica Silentia Lunae). This principle, of a man desiring his opposite, is worked out in detail in A Vision.’ [115]

Louis MacNeice (Poetry of W. B. Yeats, 1941) - cont. [quotes WBY]: “Some people will ask whether I believe in the actual existence of my circuits of sun and moon … I regard them as stylistic arrangements of experience comparable to the cubes in the drawing of Wyndam Lewis and the ovoids in the sculpture of Brancusi. They have helped me to hold in a single thought reality and justice.” [A Vision, 192[6] edn.) [117]. [On 1916 Rising:] ‘his attitude is slightly patronising and at the same time envious.’ [118]

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Louis MacNeice, “The Newest Yeats”, review of A Full Moon in March by W. B. Yeats, in New Verse, 19 (Feb.-March 1936), p.16; rep. in Selected Literary Criticism of Louis MacNeice, ed. Alan Heuser, Oxford: Clarendon 1987, pp.44-45.

I do not know how much Yeats was influenced by Synge but his latest verse play, A Full Moon in March, reminds me of Synge (astonishing though that may seem) and of what Yeats found in Synge, “an astringent joy and hardness” This little play (beside which its earlier version, The King of the Great Clock Tower, is merely a decorative piece) is the thin end of the wedge but it has the weight of a life and philosophy behind it and its edge is a very sharp one, a final expression of the necessity of desecration and the bravado of defeat. It must be read several times for at first sight one may say “There is nothing new here” (true but not entirely). Yeats’s study of Swift has born fruit -

I study hatred with great diligence,
For that’s a passion in my own control.

In 1900 Yeats desired rhythms which should be “the embodiment of the imagination, that neither desires nor hates, because it has done with time”. (Italics mine.) But the metaphysical paradox demands the descent into time; Yeats’s later poetry is an open-eyed recognition of that descent.
  Of the shorter poems in this book none is as striking as the best in The Winding Stair but the Supernatural Songs improve on re-readings And no one by this stage should have the impertinence to read Yeats only once.

[End]
Louis MacNeice, “Yeats’s Plays”, review of Collected Plays by W. B. Yeats, in Observer, (2 Nov. 1952), p.8; rep. in Selected Literary Criticism of Louis MacNeice, ed. Alan Heuser, Oxford: Clarendon 1987, pp.180-82.

Though Yeats the playwright is not in the same class as Yeats the poet, this master of words who was not a master of dialogue, this theatrical pioneer who knew so little of the theatre, was the cause of drama in others; as even George Moore put it, speaking of the Abbey, “all the Irish movement rose out of Yeats and returns to Yeats” [Vale, 1914; Hail and Farewell, III, end of chap. VIII]. And even the many malicious passages in Moore, such as the description of his projected collaboration with Yeats in the writing of Diarmuid and Grania, bring out the fact that Yeats, though lacking a dramatist’s equipment, did see clearly, long before Mr Eliot, certain crying needs in the theatre which theatre people ignored, in particular a fresh subject-matter and a rediscovery of style.
  His earliest play, The Countess Cathleen, which he later dismissed as no more “than a piece of tapestry”, has at least a better [180] theme and more excitement and verbal vitality than the verse plays of the Victorians; if it is tapestry, it is stronger tapestry than Tennyson’s. And the extraordinary little plays allegedly modelled on the Noh plays of Japan, while affording the wits of Dublin - and not without reason - an endless source of irreverent punning, were a worthwhile experiment if only for what they left out.
  For subjects Yeats went to the early Irish legends and to the living though late Irish peasantry; both sources are by now pretty well exhausted. Loathing the work of Ibsen and his “leading article sort of poetry” and greeting Arms and the Man with “admiration and hatred”, he was all for eliminating character or at any rate banishing it to comedy. The plays of Shakespeare he regarded as tragi-comedy, but, if we agree that Aeschylus and Sophocles, as pure tragedians, do not give us character, what is it they give us in its place? Yeats’s answers are inadequate. In 1899 he wrote: “The theatre began in ritual, and it cannot come to its greatness again without recalling words to their ancient sovereignty.” Certainly the ritual element remains very strong in Greek tragedy, and its words are even stronger - but are they sovereign? I doubt if any scholar or dramatic critic would say so. Why should a play like Oedipus Rex carry such enormous weight even in a deplorable translation? In 1916, in praising the Japanese theatre, Yeats wrote: “It is a child’s play become the most noble poetry, and there is no observation of life, because the poet would set before us all those things which we feel and imagine in Silence.” To set before us such things is an admirable aim but ought it to be the dramatist’s? The theatre, after all, is a noisy place.
  Still more give-away is Yeats’s comment on his Deirdre: “The absence of character is like the absence of individual expression in wall decoration.” This seems to be the same old modern fallacy which has made painters compare their paintings to carpets and poets attempt a “pure” poetry where words shall be divorced [181] from their meaning and exalted into mere music - but inferior to real music!
 No one can make a play merely by “listening to incense”, Yeats, by the grace of God or of Dublin, could not in practice fully implement his themes. All of his Collected Plays are worth reading and some remain worth acting. One play which stands on its own, The Words Upon the Window-Pane, is indeed highly dramatic; it is significant that this is written in prose and involves two of Yeats’s passions - spiritualism and Swift. An earlier which stands on its own, Cathleen ni Houlihan, in which he was assisted by Lady Gregory, must have had a great impact ub uts day - the day of romantic nationalism. When Yeats wrote later:

Did that play of mine send out
Certain men the English shot?
[“The Man and the Echo” (1939)]

he may or may not have been exaggerating, but at least he forgetting about wall decoration.
 Since Yeats’s death Irish intellectuals have gushed about him in print and continued to mock him in private.* Which, as he himself might have admitted, is fair enough. For he was both genius and crank, both professional and dilettante. Thus these plays are the work of an amateur playwright - but of a professional poet. He said that he took to drama because he wanted “clean outline”. Most of us, like George Moore, would find little of clean outline in The Shadowy Waters, but it is true that his ventures into drama had a tonic effect upon his lyrics. For this reason any admirer of his lyrics should also read the plays, which contain not only plenty of fine poetry but also, as in Resurrection and “The Cat and the Moon” much of his peculiar philosophy. But it should be remembered that he himself wrote of them:

Players and painted stage took all my love
And not those things that they were emblems of.
[“Circus Animals’ Desertion” (1937-38; 1939)]

A sound attitude for a creative writer.

*See remarks on the ‘the nambiness of London, malice of Dublin, the dogmatisms of Paris’ under New York Intelligentsia in “An Alphabet of Literary Prejudices” (Heuser, op. cit., pp.141-48, p.145. [BS])

Louis MacNeice (2): ‘Yeats was born and bred Protestant (which in Ireland does imply both violence and arrogance) and, whatever his flirtations with the Cabbala, the Upanishads, and so on, and however great and understandable his envy of Maud Gonne’s conversion to Rome, his motto to the end was “No Surrender”.’ (Quoted in Edna Longley, The Living Stream, 1994, p.135; quoted in Willy Maley, ‘Varieties of Nationalism: Post-Revisionist Irish Studies’, in Irish Studies Review, No.15, Summer 1996, pp.34-37, p.36.

Family man: MacNeice spoke of Yeats’s exemplification of ‘the clannish obsession with one’s own family; the combination of an anarchist individualism with puritanical taboos and inhibitions; the half-envious contempt for England; the constant desire to show off; a sentimental attitude to Irish history; a callous indifference to those outside the gates; an identification of Ireland with the spirit and England with crass materialism.’ (Q. source.)

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Maurice Headlam, Irish Reminiscences (London: Hale 1947), citing from an early diary: “On Wednesday Mr Yeats, the leading Irish poet, came to dinner. He was very late, coming in with the entree, but quite calm about it; he had been seized with the idea of a poem and had stopped to finish it - this being a complete excuse. He has a [36] fine head and beautiful hair, very dark but beginning to go grey. He talked well and fluently both at dinner and afterwards, but not about literature as I hoped; chiefly about spiritualism. The General had gone to London and there was no one there but Lady Lyttelton, Lady Gregory, Margaret, Hermione and myself. He had seen a ghost, but declined to tell us how. But he described the place, apparently at Lady Gregory’s house in Galway; and how, once walking there with ‘A.E.’ (George Russell) he had turned round to find “Æ” [George Russell] embracing a tree and explaining that his spirit was being called up into the sap. [Ftn.: I seem from Hone’s Life of Yeats that it was Sharp (who wrote as Fiona MacLeod) and not “Æ” who embraced the tree. “AE”, Hone says, was contemptuous of Sharp. I must have misunderstood Yeats at the Royal Hospital.) (p.36-37.) Further references to Lady Gregory and Yeats incl. an account of a talk given by Yeats on ‘the eternal duality and interaction of things: the sun superimposed on the moo[n], the gold on the silver, the subjective on the objective, and so on, for about an hour. Alas, I cannot remembers what it all led up to, on ‘a wonderful flow of words.’ (p.48)]

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Frank O’Connor, writing on Yeats in The Bell (Jan. 1941): ‘[He was] a rabid Tory; he professed himself a member of the Church of Ireland, though he had much more of the Catholic in him; he was a fascist and authoritarian, seeing in world crises only the break-up of the “damned liberalism” he hated; an old IRB man, passionate, nationalist, lover of tradition, hater of reason, popular education, and “mechanical logic”.’ (Quoted in Roy Foster, ‘When the Newspapers Have Forgotten Me …’, in Yeats Annual 12, 1996, p.175).

Samuel Beckett, ‘Recent Irish Poetry’, in The Bookman (Aug. 1934)

‘[...] Mr W. B. Yeats, as he wove the best embroideries, so he is more alive than any of his contemporaries or scholars to the superannuation of these, and to the virtues of a verse that shall be nudist. “There’s more enterprise in going naked.” It eliminates swank - unless of course the song has something to swank about. His bequest in “The Tower” of his pride and faith to the “young upstanding men” has something almost second-best bed, as though he knew that they would be embarrassed to find an application for those dispositions. Yet when he speaks, in his preface to Senator Gogarty’s “Wild Apples”, of the “sense of hardship home and chosen out of pride” as the ultimate theme of the Irish writer, it is as though he were to derive in direct descent the very latest prize canary from that fabulous bird, the mesozoic pelican, addicted, though childless, to self-eviscerations.’

—See Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing, ed. Seamus Deane [gen. ed.], et al. (Derry 1991), Vol. III, p.245.


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