William Butler Yeats: Commentary (3)

LifeWorksCriticismCommentaryQuotationsReferencesNotes

File 3

File 3
T. R. Henn
Curtis Bradford
John Berryman
Robert W. Caswell
Phillip Marcus
John P. Frayne
Warwick Gould
Frank Tuohy
Northrop Frye
Patrick Rafroidi
Venetia Newall
James MacFarlane
W. B. Stanford
Patrick Kavanagh
John Montague
Seamus Deane
Hiroshi Suzuki
Joe Hassett
D. George Boyce
Lucy McDiarmid
W. J. McCormack
James W. Flannery
Declan Kiberd
Barbara L. Croft


T. R. Henn, The Lonely Tower: Studies in the Poetry of W. B. Yeats (London: Methuen 1950, 1965), ‘Introduction to the First Edition’ [Sect. VII]: ‘This [Yeats’s] poetry does demand, perhaps more than most, a personal response, with all the dangers and exaltations that a strictly impersonal criticism might wish to avoid. Therefore the reader of Yeats should have some knowledge of the background of the poet’s race and time, presented with whatever shortcomings are inevitable in a picture coloured by personal experience. He should be, at the least, not unsympathetic towards a practice of vision that, whatever its ultimate explanations in the neuro-physiology of the future, has sufficient precedent in Blake and Rilke to deserve some measure of acceptance. It seems inconsistent to accept without comment the voices of the Duino Elegies, and to reject the vision of a man shooting an arrow at a star. Many today are afraid of rhetoric, and there is much of it in Yeats. They are suspicious of “traditional” attitudes, of a poet who thinks of himself as among “the last Romantics”, of political beliefs that appear to run counter to the catch-phrases of the moment, of poetry which appears to be independent of the crisiswaves of thought. They demand, from verse that relies upon symbol, a greater clarity and precision than is or can be proper to such technique. These preconceptions must be rejected. We must realize that the “reality” expressed by the symbol is, in terms of an algebraic analysis, infinitely complex; and though the variation of meaning is decreased by the selective impact of one symbol upon another, the total effect must always be that of a richly cumulative but indeterminate complexity.’ (p.xiv.)

Cont. (T. R. Henn, The Lonely Tower, 1965) - Introduction to 2nd Edn.: ‘[A]nother incitement [to writing the book] was the anger I had felt when confronted with Yeats’ image in “the mirror of malicious eyes” in post-war Dublin [i.e., ‘after my return from war-service.’] (p.xvii), and his assertion that ‘Yeats’ interest in the pictures in Dublin and elsewhere’ was ‘one of my first concerns’ - shortly later making reference to an additional chapter dealing with paintings that Yeats ‘saw on his travels in America’ (p.xix) - and his affirmation that Charles Madge has solved once and for all ‘the iconographic source of “Leda and the Swan” (in TLS, Sept. 1962; here p.xviii). Henn writes further: ‘I do not think we have yet understood fully the esoteric basis of Yeats’ thought, and I do not agree with those who seek to minimise its significance’ (p.xx.) Further, ‘I still believe that for Yeats, as for Shakespeare, it is necessary to consider the work as parts of a whole which approaches an epic totality. With that in mind, the experience of the individual work emerges in its completeness, and the (and only then) it affords the opportunity to assess its total impact.’ (p.xxi.) Henn concludes: ‘[..] by the time this edition is published, the [xxxi] pendulum will have swung farther to the left in the disestimation of Yeats. There is much that will be contrary to the predominant temper of the nineteen-sixties. His beliefs cannot be “distanced” readily as those of Donne or Blake. These include “belief” in supernatural (whether proven, modified or refracted); in ceremony and sainthood, in autocracy and aristocracy; in war; and in “the wasteful heroic virtues”. His rhetoric is of a special kind, not readily accepted now. The whole Anglo-Irish background lacks the interest, perhaps the microcosmic significance that it appeared to have gained thirty years ago; when The Tower and The Winding Stair seemed the major poetic achievement for a hundred years. But however critical opinion may drift about “As fashion or more fantasy decrees”[,] the perfection and permanence of the work does not seem to be in doubt.’ (End Intro.; p.xxii.)

Cont. (T. R. Henn, The Lonely Tower, 1965), Chap. 1: “The Background”, describes the West of Ireland background against which ‘I believe, we must see the Recognition and Reversal in Yeats’ poetry that came out of the Rebellion and its aftermath’ (p.5; for further about Big House society, see under Henn, infra): ‘The West [of Ireland], like the Roman Campagna, is a country of ruins. […] There is endless melancholy, sprouting easily in the soft rain, in the setting of a shiftless and idle countryside, beneath the drums and tramplings of four conquests. A ruined castle, with a couple of cottages beside, could be bought for thirty pounds and become a dominant symbol with memories of Spenser, Herbert, Thomson, Shelley [12]: “There, on blood-saturated ground, have stood Soldier, assassin, executioner, / Whether for daily pittance or in blind fear Or out of abstract hatred, and shed blood ...” (“Blood and the Moon”, Coll. Poems, p.269.) / It is something that is easy to stigmatize as fantasy, escapism, self-dramatization, snobbery, nostalgia, and so forth: but all such dismissals are too simple. Unless the duality of mood is realized and accepted for what it is, unless we cease to laugh at Yeats as not conforming to Amold’s ‘criticism of life’, or to deride the plays on the grounds that Aristotle would not have considered them as plays at all, we are condemned to a supercilious critical attitude that will vitiate all understanding.’ (pp.12-13.)

Cont. (T. R. Henn, The Lonely Tower, 1965), Chap. 8 - “The Development of Style”: ‘It is significant that the poems of The Green Helmet have been considered by certain critics as a retrograde step in Yeats’ development because of their obscurity. What is in fact happening is that the vague historical symbols of the Celtic world are replaced by a more personal set of images, sometimes set in a grammatical compression of language which is new. Two central experiences lie behind the verse. Yeats is tired of the public theatre; Synge is dead. There is the first hint of old age; for he is now forty-five, and later was to write “And from your fortieth winter by that thought / Test every work of intellect or faith -”. / Maud Gonne is divorced from MacBride, but the flame is burning still; Dante for Beatrice, Michelangelo for Vittoria Colonna. The bitterness that went to make Responsibilities has not yet been experience, but Yeats is thinking of himself as in control of his destiny and his poetry. This I take to be the symbol of the steering oar [118] in the first poems, “His Dream” […] Here is a new simplicity, a new restraint and tautness. There is a new “attack” in the openings. Yeats is rid of Shelley’s Italian light; words are obeying his call. […] The rhythm is the index to the integrity of restraint and emotion.’ (pp.118-19; see full-text chapters in Ricorso Library, “Criticism / Major Authors” - W. B. Yeats, infra; and see also Henn’s discussion of Yeats’s interest in Berkeley, supra.)

[ top ]

Curtis Bradford, Yeats at Work (S. Illinois UP 1965), 157ff., commenting on the drafts of “The Circus Animals’ Desertion” [variously known as “Despair” and “On the Lack of a Theme” in manuscript versions]: ‘Manuscript I […] resembles other first drafts in its not quite certain exploration of materials and structure, in consisting mostly of cancelled lines, and in being extremely difficult to decipher. Already the stanza pattern of the poem has been determined (ottava rima) and governs what Yeats writes. He has set the a and b rhyme sounds of the finished poem (vain, strain; so, know, show), though only  “vain”, “so”, and “show” persisted. Yeats later abandoned the c rhyme used here (mind, sand). Of the matters explored in the finished first stanza we find only the search for a new theme and Yeats’s fear that he is too old to find one. The circus animals are notably absent. In their place statement that poetic themes grow out of the necessity of a mind, which without such growth would be a veritable desert. In the draft on MS 1b Yeats makes definite progress. The circus animals arrive: Yeats has assembled his materials, and he fills out, though in places rather hurriedly, his intended form. Seven line ends are in place (vain, so, man, although, show, chariot, what), and although no lines are quite finished 1, 2, 3, 7, and 8 are nearly so. Two details in this draft interest me particularly. The first is Yeats’s statement tha he must be satisfied to have “fact” replace his amazing emblems; it was not until very late in composing the poem that Yeats came to say he must be satisfied with feeling (heart) rather than with the emblems into which he had earlier translated this feeling. The second is the phrase “men upon stilts”, both because of the sea-change it undergoes in the later drafts and because of its anticipation of that rollicking poem, “High Talk”.’ [158]. Further, ‘In line 4, when Yeats wrote and cancelled “contented with this heart”, he began to explore the central theme of the finished poem, but for some reason backed away from it. “Satisfied with life”, which Yeats allowed to stand, is an advance over “satisfied with fact”. [Bradford notes that “stilted boys” in l.7 began as “men upon stilts”, while “my circus animals were all on show” began as “As travelling circus all my beasts on show”: here 161.]

Cont. (Curtis Bradford, Yeats at Work, 1965): ‘I think Yeats had invented his splendid final line [‘In the foul rag and bone shop of the heart’] before he began this draft; the handling of detail in the middle of the stanza seems to point toward it unmistakably. He began by direct allusions to stanzas 2, 3, and 4, then decided to remind his readers of them by two phrases which begin with the demonstrative “those”: “Those processional forms / Those masterful images.” No English poet after Spenser has used the allegorical procession so frequently as Yeats; such processions flourish in his poetry from beginning to end. The phrase does evoke Oisin, so full of processions, more clearly than Cathleen or On Baile’s Strand, and this may account for the changed reading. Yeats hesitates between “mind” and “intellect” to state the contrast between art and its emotional source, then goes on to explore detail that may be used to describe the rag and bone shop, a process he continues through two later drafts. Yeats in this first draft involves the heart in the rag and bone shop less successfully than later, but his “that raving slut / Called Heart and Company” does explain what I should have guessed but never had, that the heart keeps the till in the heart’s rag-and-bone shop. The ladder that follows, apparently struck off at white heat, is one of Yeats’s more complex images. Surely the ladder stands for the pure mind or intellect, the fusing all-it-one imagination,the faculty which invents the art work. Yeats’s splendid final couplet reminds him and us that this art, though a product of pure mind, began of necessity in the accidence of feeling.’ (p.165.) Further, ‘In [the] final drafts Yeats’s progress seems inevitable. He hesitated still between “pure mind” and “pure intellect,” finally deciding on “pure mind.” He decided also that a general statement followed by detail would put the rag-and-bone shop before us most vividly, and finished line 35 when he wrote “A mound of refuse or the sweepings of a street,” then went on to selected detail. He prepares us for the final line by “old bones, old rags,” which will be reversed in “rag and bone shop,” a device Yeats uses very frequently, and his poem is done except for one word. In line 24 “The dream” became “This dream” sometime before the poem was printed. The new stanza is free of unwanted echoes of his recent work, and Yeats now manages his I-persona in such a way that our thought is transferred from the man Yeats to a phantasmagoric Yeats.’ (p.167; see also Bradford’s reflections on ‘accidence’ in Joyce’s Finnegans Wake, under Joyce, Commentary, infra.)

[ top ]

John Berryman [1], Poetry Season 1967: Second Programme (19 June [1967]), pPresented by Poetry Ireland and the Lantern Theatre with the co-operation of Bord Failte Eireann / The Graduates Club Dublin: “I have moved to Dublin to have it out with you, / majestic Shade, You whom I read so well / so many years ago, / did I read your lesson right? did I see through / your phases to the real? your heaven, your hell / did I enquire properly into? // For years then I forgot you, I put you down, / ingratitude is the necessary curse / of making things new: / I brought my family to see me through, / I brought my homage & my soft remorse, / I brought a book or two // only, including in the end your last / strange poems made under the shadow of death / your high figures float / again across my mind and all your past / fills my welled garden with your honey breath / wherein I move, a mote.” (Programme notes, printed by Dolmen Press; among papers of Sybil le Brocquy.)

John Berryman [2], The Dream Songs (NY: Farrar Straus & Giroux 1969; 1982 pb. Edn.), [No.] 190): ‘The doomed young envy the old, the doomed old the dead young. / It is hard & hard to get these matters straight. / Keats glares at Yeats / who full of honours died & being old sung / his strongest. Henry appreciated that hate, / but what now of Yeats’ // lucky of-Fanny-free feeling for Keats / who doomed by Mistress Gonne proved barren years / and saw his friends all leave, / stale his rewards turn, & cut off then at his peak, / promising in his seventies! all fears / save that one failed to deceive. // I scrounge ensamples violent by choice. / In most what matters, Henry wondered. Let’s lie. / All we fall down & die / after a course worse of a stoppage of voice / so terrible I have no more to say / but best is the short day.’ (p.209.)

[ top ]

Robert W. Caswell, ‘Yeats’s Odd Swan at Coole’, in Éire-Ireland, 4, 2 (Summer 1969), pp. 81-86, notes that ‘The title poem of Yeats’s volume The Wild Swans at Coole (1919) contains a discrepancy between the number of swans noted in the first stanza, “nine and fifty,” and their description at the end of stanza four; “Unwearied still, lover by lover ...”. An odd swan is present and, though overlooked until now, should be accounted for. The argument here is that the meaning of the fifty-ninth swan is crucial to an understanding of both the poem and the volume. It embodies a new ethos of physical and spiritual self-possession that replaces the old one of love, to which Yeats gives a questioning farewell in the title poem.’ (p.81.)

[ top ]

Phillip Marcus, Yeats and the Beginning of the Irish Literary Revival (Cornell UP 1970): ‘In both specific and intangible ways his influence was great, as can be seen in the history of his interaction with his co-workers and of the role he played in the emergence of a body of creative literature in English based upon early Irish myth and legend.’ (p.viii.) Further: ‘[Yeats] traced the use of “conventional”, “mechanical” ballad rhythms to the Young Irelanders’ desire to please the masses, who had “forgotten” Gaelic poetry and had not learned the subtleties of English poetry’ (p.9); further: [he wanted to] ‘place the concerns of art before those of politics’ (p.10). [The foregoing quoted in Ashleigh McDowell, UU Diss., UUC 2011.)

[ top ]

John P. Frayne, ed., Uncollected Prose by W. B. Yeats, Vol. 1: First Reviews and Articles, 1886-1896 (London: Macmillan 1970), Introduction - on Yeats’s rapport with America as reflected in the articles printed in Letters to the New Island, ed, Reynolds: ‘Yeats’s tone in these American pieces was that of St. Paul adressing a not especially bright and rather remote Greek city. the messianic fervor of Gaeldom was there, but Yeats seemed unsure whether those Yankees still knew what it meant to be an Irishman.’ (p.22; and further notes that Yeats referred to London as ‘the capital of the enemy’ (‘Irish National Literary Society’, in Boston Pilot, Nov. 19 1892). [Cont.]

Cont. (John P. Frayne, Uncollected Prose by W. B. Yeats, 1970): ‘Yeats was disturbed by the psychological complexity of the nature poetry of Wordsworth, Tennyson, and Arnold. Ferguson on the other hand, had that noble simplicity which Matthew Arnold had ascribed to Sophocles, “who saw life steadily, and saw it whole” [‘To A Friend’]. [Frayne here quotes Yeats on ‘the sad soliloquies of nineteenth century egoism’ from ‘Poetry of Sir Samual Ferguson - II’] ... However much Yeats admired such simplicity, he could not imitate this manner in most of his early poems. “The deep wood’s woven shade’ of ‘Who Goes with Fergus” was still sad soliloquising of a nineteenth-century escapee.’ (p.45.) [Cont.]

Cont. (John P. Frayne, Uncollected Prose by W. B. Yeats, 1970): ‘Yeats needed an independent body of undeveloped myth close to English and Irish experience yet sufficiently strange to his contemporary readers so as to seem novel and original. These factors conditioned his choice of the Fenian and Cuchulain cycles of ancient Celtic legends, but the choice was free and deliberate. He did not have to use these myths in his poetry, in the sense that they were not an essential part of his culture or upbringing. He had not encountered them during his sentimental education in Howth or Sligo, a lack which he lamented in later life. Yeats could not have discovered these legends as part of his own independent scholarly inquiry, for although he repeatedly attempted Gaelic, he could not have read those tales in their [47] original. He chose Celtic mythology because it was fresh, unexploited, non-Christian, and remote, as well as because it had, to use his favorite phrase, “stirred his imagination”. [Cont.]

Cont. (John P. Frayne, Uncollected Prose by W. B. Yeats, 1970): ‘These legends carried Yeats and his readers away from the pressing and impossible divisions of modern Ireland. […] One great advantage of Celtic mythology for Yeats was that its resemblance to other mythological systems made it seem strange to modern readers and yet at the same time familiar. […] The personality and deeds [of Cuchulain] were close enough to those of Achilles and Siegfried to mitigate the novelty. […] That all mythologies and folklores had a common spiritual basis was sound theosophical doctrine. […] One cannot absolve Yeats from much chauvinism and a certain degree of obscurantism in his choice of Irish mythological subjects. By insisting upon a certain essential Irishness in the legends which he treated, he was able to warn non-Irish poets to keep off (although it was not difficult to achieve Irishness by adoption, as did Lionel Johnson). Yeats may have been obscure in that his entire body of poetry and his plasy do not contain in themselves a coherent account of Gaelic legend. He was always dependent upon other writers to clarify his legendary system, and his exaggerated praise of Lady Gregory’s two books of [48] Irish heroic cycles may have been due to his gratitude that she had at last provided the common reader with the necessary equipment to read Yeats. […] It was an extremely fortunate historical accident that placed Irish legends at the young Yeats’s disposal. He was not immune to intellectual fashions, and, born a generation earlier, he might have ignored Celtic mythology. […] Some remote mythology was essential for Yeats, for he regarded the modern life of cities as hopeless material for poetry. The recent past also was for Yeats largely barren as subject matter for literature. Except in rural districts, where the folk still believed in the primacy of supernatural forces, a steady vulgarisation had taken place. [...; 49] In the characters of the ancient bards, Yeats found a proper poetic mask for himself. The lofty, distant proud bards were all that the “sybaritic singers” of his own day were not. [51] […] Yeats promulgated a theory of nationalism and literature which accorded with his hopes that the hour of the Celt had come at last.’ (pp.47-51.) [Cont.]

Cont. (John P. Frayne, Uncollected Prose by W. B. Yeats, 1970): ‘First and foremost in his prose writings, he said that the function of poetry was the revelation of a better world and not the reflection of the present imperfect world. ... Yeats wished to see poetry purged of all but spiritual essences. Irrelevant things, persons, and ideas such as had cluttered the poetry of Tennyson and Browning had to be removed. What remained was symbol ... In his descriptions of the immortal moods or archetypal emotions, Yeats kicked away the ladder of analogy or correspondence. Assertion replaced suggestion ... For Yeats, poetry was not a criticism but a reproach to life.’ (p.60-61.) Cites Thomas Davis as ‘an Irish example of a poet forgetting his job of revelation in an effort to become socially useful, and Clarence Mangan was his paradigm of a great talent crucified by routine.’ (p.66).

[ top ]

Warwick Gould, ‘“Lionel Johnson Comes First to Mind”: Sources for Owen Aherne’, in Yeats and the Occult, ed., George Mills Harper (London: Macmillan 1975), pp.255-84: ‘[…] A child prodigy and undergraduate extraordinary, a retired Buddhist received into the Catholic Church, he lives for us in the myth Yeats wrapped about him in Autobiographies.’ (p.256.) ‘“The Trembling of the Veil” offers the best ground for comparison of Yeats’s mythologized portrait of the long-dead Johnson with his earlier counterpart, Owen Aherne. Yeats writes of Johnson that “his doctrine, after a certain number of glasses, would become more ascetic, more contemptuous of all that we call human life.” [A., 223.]’ (p.257.) Notes Johnson’s contributions to the Savoy, which published Yeats’s stories excluded by Bullen from The Secret Rose (1897), and in particular a sonnet, “Hawker of Morwenstow” which expresses solidarity in ‘Catholic faith and Celtic joy’ (Gould, op. cit., pp.260-61.) Gould quotes “Munster 1534” [as infra] - which incorporates the phrase “Tables of the Law” - and also Michael Fixler’s comment on it: ‘the antinomian animus of the frenzied millenarian Anabaptists who with swords in their hands sought to usher in the age of the Holy Spirit’ (‘The Affinities between J. K. Huysman and the “Rosicrucian” Stories of W. B. Yeats’, in PMLA, 74, 1959, pp.464-69; p.465n.)

Cont. (Warwick Gould, ‘“Lionel Johnson Comes First to Mind” [... &c.]’, 1975): Gould calls this less a source for the “Tables of the Law” than ‘an area of mutual concern’ (p.262) and quotes Aherne’s doctrine: ‘[…] the beautiful arts were sent into the world to overthrow nations, and finally life herself, by sowing everywhere unlimited desires, like torches thrown into a burning city.’ [“Tables of the Law”, in Mythologies, 1959, p.294, remarking: ‘Aherne in this heresy is clearly the mask of both Yeats and Johnson, indeed of all whose personal involvement in the Irish movement was as spiritual as it was political.’ (p.262.) Gould believes that Johnson, whom Yeats saw as the “theologian” of the movement (Autobiographies, p.221), was his authority on Joachim (p.266.) He next looks at the Expositio in Apocalypsim of Joachim de Fiore and remarks: ‘it does not really support the apocalyptic fervour of the pass[ag]es which, prefiguring the more elaborate farrago of Stories of Michael Robartes and his Friends, Yeats concocted as quotations from Joachim’s sacred doctrine’ (p.267.) [Cont.]
Reflecting on the power of names in Yeats (and the Kabbala), Gould investigates the roots of Yeats’s attachment and recurrent play with variants on the names Heren, Aherne, Hearne, [Gl. Ó Eachtighearn = horse lord], incl. affinity with herons (“men of learning ... &c.”) and finally with a Captain John Aherne whose activities are mentioned in Wolfe Tone’s Memoirs (pp.278ff.) - a republican spy.
‘What is uniquely Yeatsian about his version of Joachitism in The Tables of the Law is its Fenian and Celtic fervour. The interpretation of Joachim in almost any age since the Franciscan extremist Gerard of Borgo San Donnino wrote the Liber Introductorius in the mid-thirteenth century has similarly suited the times. Yeats’s Lex Secreta, which echoes Joachim’s genuine “secretis secretorum” (Expositio in Apocalypsim, Venice 1527) is according to Owen Aherne “the true inspiration of action, the only Eternal Evangel” (Mythologies, p.299.) I suggest, then, that in Aherne and his doctrine we have a mask for the prophecy of coming revolution in Ireland and that the inspiration for this revolution is Yeats’s study of the events and personalities of a century before.’
A Dr Maurice Aherne was the founding professor of philosophy at Maynooth, a ‘zealous upholder of Gallican liberties of the Church’ (Hayes, Biog. Dictionary, p.2) who strong condemned Ultramontanism, especially the temporal power of the Papacy and was an opponent of the British plan to use Maynooth to traing conservative priests. Maurice Aherne, coincidentally, had in his official keeping as librarian at Navarre a chained copy of Joachim’s MSS from which Ernest Renan quotes extensively in his Studies in Religious History (London 1866), known to Yeats (Gould, p.281.)

Ftns. [Gould] remarks that James Joyce was already obsessed by Yeats’s “fantastic romances” and that, had The Speckled Bird ever been published, it would have made A Portrait a much harder book to write. (n.41, p.275.) Gould finds the earliest uses of the idea of “mask” in “Rosa Alchemica”, viz., the sleeping face of Robartes [‘in which there was no sign of all that had shaken me [and which] was to my excited mind more like a mask than a face ... This is not Michael Robartes at all (... &c.)’; Mythologies, 279). Further: ‘The poetic image [of mask, encrusted with the lore of the Moods and bound up in the context of the stories […] was now part of the phantasmagoria, with which we have all along been concerned. The phantasmagoria and its characters not ony beget “fresh images” from old ones but fresh doctrines as well.’ [End; p.284.]

[ top ]

Frank Tuohy, W. B. Yeats: An Illustrated Biography (London: Macmillan 1976), quotes: ‘The family of Yeats, never more than small gentry, arrived, if I can trust the only man among us who may have seen the family tree before it was burned by the Canadian Indians, “about the time of Henry VII” [but nevertheless presumed to be Cromwellian stock]’ (Preface to Words Upon the Window-Pane, Tuohy, p.20]. Further, Yeats described his thoughts as ‘part of a religious system more or less logically worked out. A system which will, I hope, interest you as a form of poetry […] One goes on year after year getting the disorder of one’s mind in order, and this is the impulse to create’ (c.1915; letter to John B. Yeats, p.167.) Further: Yeats’s ‘Instructors’ [var. Communicators] said, ‘we have come to give you metaphors for poetry’ (Tuohy, p.167; cf. Daniel Albright, ed., Coll. Poets, Intro., 1990, p.xliii.) Also quotes, ‘Much that has happened, much that has been said, suggests that the communicators are the personalities of a dream shared by my wife, by myself, occasionally by others’ (A Vision, 1937, pp.22-23; Tuohy, p.177.) [Numerous quotations from this work are given in Ricorso’s Yeats pages.]

[ top ]

Northrop Frye [1], ‘Yeats and the Language of Symbolism’, in Fables of Identity: Studies in Poetic Mythology, NY: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1963), ‘Now the thing that seals of the upper limit of Yeats’s Vision, again from Blake’s point of view, is the uncreative mental condition in which Yeats attained his vision. He stands at his own Phase One, in a state of passivity so abject that he cannot even write his own book, and sees his aloof and aristocratic ideal above him, impossibly remote and lost in the turning stars. An active mind would, on the contrary, be the circumference of such a vision, which would then be lifted up into the spiritual or mental world and so become a created or dramatic form.’ (p.234; quoted in Adams, op. cit., 1995, p.163.) Note that Adams answers: ‘Without some sense of the fictive structure of A Vision, Frye was unable to see its dramatic shape and the role the fictive plays in it. He directly identified the author Yeats with his persona.’ (Idem.; for longer extracts, see Ricorso Library, “Criticism / Major Authors” - W. B. Yeats, infra.)

Northrop Frye [2], Spiritus Mundi: Essays on Literature, Myth and Society (Indiana UP 1976): ‘[H]e subjected himself passively to his instructors, in a way that made it impossible for him to detect frustration or irrelevance until pages of it had been written. A Vision is a fragmentary and often misleading guide to the structure of imagery in Yeats. It is to the student of Yeats what De Doctrina Christiana is to the student of Milton: a nuisance that he can’t pretend doesn’t exist.’ (pp.252-53; quoted in Hazard Adams, The Book of Yeats’s Vision, Michigan UP 1995, p.2 & 163 [overlap].)

[ top ]

Patrick Rafroidi, ‘The Irish Short Story in English: The Birth of a New Tradition’, in The Irish Short Story, ed. Terence Brown & Rafroidi, Gerrards Cross: Colin Smythe 1979): ‘The creative prose of W. B. Yeats has not attracted the same [32] cohorts of thesis writers as his poetry, yet it shows the same exemplary development. In a way his role as a collector of tales enabled him to skip the level of the profane (literal history) and to arrive immediately at the level of the sacred (the symbol of the human psyche) and even at that of an initiation (the hidden esoteric meaning which is the reflection of the collective subconsciousness or the Memory of the World) in pieces like “The Tables of the Law” or “The Adoration of the Magi”, collected in 1925 in the volume Mythologies.’ (pp.32-33; bibl. incl. Richard Finneran, The Prose Fiction of W. B. Yeats [Dublin:] Dolmen 1973.)

[ top ]

Venetia Newall, Preface to Dáithí Ó hÓgáin, The Hero in Irish Folk History (Dublin: Gill & Macmillan 1985): ‘Writing in The Speaker when he was twenty-eight years old, Yeats said that: “Folk-lore is at once the Bible, the Thirty-nine articles, and the Book of Common Prayer, and well-nigh all the great poets have lived by its light. Homer, Aeschylus, Sophocles, Shakespeare, and even Dante, Goethe, and Keats, were little more than folk-lorists with musical tongues.” The overstatement is justified by earlier neglect of the subject, except as a random antiquarian interest. True, by 1893, when Yeats was writing, a change was under way, but it was still long before folklore was recognised as an important repository of human history. Only in recent years has it begun to be accepted as a basic source for the understanding of our intellectual and spiritual background. / From this point of view, Irish legend is unusually valuable. Isolated on what was, for countless centuries, the westernmost fringe of the world, facets of folklore which had disappeared elsewhere were preserved. To this rich harvest must be added the abundance of native Irish lore, fostered by a delight in story-telling. / Yeats, writing at the turn of the century, was giving voice to opinions which, though not expressed in openly radical terms, questioned 19th-century values. Browne, two decades later, mentioned the alien “politeness” which was stifling traditional Irish society, and against which the Irish cultural revival reacted. During the same period there began, and not only in Ireland, a reassessment of the accepted view of religion, social and political institutions, theories in education, and of the whole bourgeons evaluation of art and culture. Modern folklorists are the beneficiaries of this new outlook, and of the philosophy which Yeats and those like him made intelligible. Recognising the true worth of traditional lore, the wisdom and beauty which it contains, they laid the foundation for a modem reconciliation between the folk arts and the fine arts. The result has been the preservation of much that is vital and entertaining, [8] which otherwsise would have been embedded in a lifeless pseudo-romatnicism, or lst in fashionable social conformity.’ (pp.8-9.)

[ top ]

Hugh Kenner, ‘Thomas Kinsella: An Anecdote and Some Reflections’, in The Genres of Irish Literary Revival, ed. Ronald Schleifer (Oklahoma: Pilgrim; Dublin: Wolfhound 1980): quotes Kinsella on Yeats in “Death in Ilium: in Yeats’s Centenary Year” [‘They eat, but cannot eat. / Dog-faces in his bowels. / Bitches at his face, / he grows whole and remote’], with the remark: ‘One can’t ignore such a predecessor, neither does one want to be listed among his supernumeraries. By good luck, Yeats lent himself to the ministrations of the learned “shadow-eaters”, who in dismembering and [181] reconstructing him according to his own instructions turn him into an instance of his own System, the wholeness systematic, the remoteness algebraic. For this we may thank his central limitation: he had no knowledge whatever of Catholic Ireland, and was forced to substitute for its traditions, its theology and its night-sweats the famous apparatus of spooks and gyres, to lend the visions some accreditation: “Where got I that truth? One of a medium’s mouth …”.

[ top ]

James MacFarlane, ‘Neo-modernist Drama: Yeats and Pirandello’, Pt. 2, in Malcolm Bradbury & McFarlane, eds., Modernism: A Guide to European Literature 19890-1930 (Harmondsworth: Penguin 1976; rep. with rev. pref., 1991), pp.561-70: ‘[…] His [Yeats’s] hostility to the use in drama of the pallid phrases of “modern educated speech” was matched by a faith in the poetic resources of Irish peasant speech; his own (and, following his encouragement, Synge’s) use of the rhythms and of spoken peasant language was the first of a number of attempts over the following years elsewhere in Europe to do something comparable - the supreme example being of course Lorca, but including also some of the earlier works of Pirandello. Yeats came very soon to recognise also that the achievement was not merely the replenishment of the sources of dramatic language but the articulation of values and views which would otherwise have remained unexpressed, the opening up of new and previously unplumbed “deeps of the mind”. When in 1919, he reflected on what he and his fellows had achieved by their endeavours, he defined it as “the first doing of something for which the world is ripe, something that will be done all over the world and done more and more perfectly: the making articulate of all the dumb classes each with its own knowledge of the world.” (For full text, see infra.)

[ top ]

W. B. Stanford, Ireland and the Classical Tradition (IAP 1976; 1984), pp.94-102, on Yeats’s relation to the classical authors and themes that were ‘the builders of my soul’. Yeats on Latin, ‘Teach nothing but Greek, Gaelic, mathematics, and perhaps one modern language. I reject Latin because it was a language of the Greco-Roman decadence, all imitation and manner and other feminine tricks ... Roman poetry is founded upon documents, not upon belief.’ Greek had much in common with Irish, and could also provide what the Irish tradition lacked, ‘co-ordination or intensity’. (On the Boiler.) Stanford also cites a lengthy letter of 1930 on his son’s education to the same effect; printed in Pages from a Diary (Dublin 1944), p.36, ending, ‘If he wants to read Irish after he is well found in Greek, let him - it will clear his eyes of the Latin miasma.’ [94] His father read him Macaulay’s Lays of Ancient Rome, which Yeats called ‘the first poetry to move me after the stable-boy’s Orange rhymes’. (Autobiographies, p.56; Stanford, 95.)

Cont. (W. B. Stanford, Ireland and the Classical Tradition, 1984): In an account of the writing of King Oedipus (Abbey 1926) and Oedipus at Colonus (1927), printed in an article for The New York Times in January 1933, Years refers to help from ‘a young Greek scholar who, unlike myself, had not forgotten his Greek’ who supplied suitably ‘bald translation’ to present the ‘precise thoughts’ of the original. Stanford notes that Yeats of course knew no Greek at any time, and that the scholar was Gogarty, who obliged with a literal translation after Gilbert Murray had refused. The collaboration began in 1904; was left off till 1909, and was held back until 1926 when it reached the Abbey stage. [~98] Yeats claimed that he wanted the language of the play to be ‘intelligible on the Blasket Island’. (Wade, p.730.)

Cont. (W. B. Stanford, Ireland and the Classical Tradition, 1984) - quoting Yeats: ‘When I say intelligible on the Blasket Island, I mean that, being an ignorant man, I may not have gone to Greece through a Latin mist. Greek literature, like old Irish literature, was founded upon belief, not like Latin literature upon documents. No man has ever prayed to or dreaded one of Vergil’s [sic] nymphs, but when Oedipus at Colonus went into the Wood of the Furies he felt some of the creeping of the flesh that an Irish countryman feels in certain haunted woods in Galway and Sligo.’ [Stanford, 99].

Bibl.: Stanford’s chapter-notes refer to A. N. Jeffares and A. S. Knowland, Commentary on the Collected Plays of W. B. Yeats (London 1975), and Ulick O’Connor, Oliver St John Gogarty (1964). Bibliography of W. B. Yeats in Stanford (1984), incls. R. Ellmann, The Identity of Yeats (London 1954), and Yeats: The Man and the Masks (London 1949); A. N. Jeffares, W. B. Yeats: Man and Poet (London 1949); T. R. Henn, The Lonely Tower (London 1965); classical influences, A. G. Stock, W. B. Yeats, His Poetry and Thought (Cambridge 1961); D. T. Torchiana, Yeats and Georgian Ireland (Evanston 1966); T. R. Whitaker, Swan and Shadow (Chapel Hill 1964); and F. A. C. Wilson, W. B. Yeats and Tradition (London 1958); A. N. Jeffares, A Commentary on the Collected Poems of W. B. Yeats (London 1968); Also W. B. Yeats, Pages from a Diary (Dublin 1944). For Catullan influence, see J. J. O’Meara, University Review, iii (1966), pp.15-16, quoting Yeats, ‘nor shall I ever know how much my practice and my theory owe to […] Catullus’ [110]. J. Eglinton, in Irish Literary Portraits (London 1935) says he helped Yeats in translating Demosthenes [111]; Stephen Spender, World within World (London 1964), recalls Yeats saying that a gargoyle spoke to him. Note further Michael Cacoyannis’s production of Yeats’s Oedipus Tyrannus, Abbey 1973.

[ top ]

Patrick Kavanagh, ‘Poetry in Ireland To-Day’, in The Bell, 16, 1 (April 1948), pp.36-43: ‘Was there ever a time when the spark of life was more vivid? There was, and the reason for this greater vitality can almost be summed up in one name, Yeats. One poem written each year can redeem a whole school writers from death. During the lifetime of Yeats that living poem appeared again and again; and as it flashed the dead bodies stirred with desire. I do not think that Yeats had a great deal of the stuff that endured in his verse, but he had creative magic which thrills the contemporary world. We are all good enough in the flesh, but spiritually we decay and die. We are all looking - those us who are conscious of life - for that rare thing, which vitalises the spirit. Where it comes from no man knows. Under its stimulus exciting lays, novels and poems appear. In its absence we all sit around in the dim room of mediocrity. I do not want to overbalance in praise of one man, there were other influences: Nationalism, and the faith thereof. / Under the influence of Yeats and the nationalistic [37] impulse writers such as Seamus O’Kelly who under different conditions would not be much above the standard of Ireland’s Own and The Messenger became important. The impulse writers impulse writers such as Seamus O’Kelly who under different conditions would not be much above the standard of Ireland’s Own and The Messenger became important. The playwrights who are writing for the Abbey to-day are in fact little above the quality of these two journals.

[Quotes:] “There Hyde before he had beaten into prose / That noble blade the muses buckled on, / There one that ruffled in a manly pose / For all his timid heart, there that slow man, / That meditative man, John Synge, and those / Impetuous men, Shaw Taylor and Hugh Lane / Found pride established in humility, / A scene well set and excellent company.” / In a modern Irish anthology I find a verse writer adopting the Yeats manner and attitude - which is much worse than imitation of his literary style. [Quotes:] “Among the living men one man is proving. / No one translated Rahilly only he. …” / One reads this with some sympathy for the writer. The impersonal dignity of Yeats and the familiarity of the other. Indeed, the imitators of Yeats are to be pitied rather than censured, as are all who walk the barren fields where the master reaped. / My theme here, therefore, is that nearly all the literary activity which gave this country a name was due in some measure to Yeats. What is weak now is faith in the validity of literature. […]’

Patrick Kavanagh [q.source]: ‘Yeats took up Ireland and made it his myth and his theme. And you can see him today standing in the centre of that myth, uneasy that he doesn’t belong fully.’ (Collected Pruse, London: MacGibbon & Kee 1967; quoted in Emma Carroll, PG Essay, UUC 2011.)p ]

Patrick Kavanagh, “Yeats”: ‘Yes, Yeats, it was damn easy for you protected / By the middle classes and the Big Houses / To talk about the sixty-year old public protected / Man sheltered by the dim Victorian Muses.’ (The Complete Poems, ed. Peter Kavanagh, Newbridge: Goldsmith Press 1984, p.349.)

[ top ]

John Montague, ‘The Impact of International Modern Poetry on Irish Writing’, in Irish Poets in English: The Thomas Davis Lectures on Anglo-Irish Poetry, ed. Sean Lucy (Cork: Mercier Press 1972): ‘I place Yeats apart because his position is, as always, a richly ambiguous one. In my only conversation with Auden, I remember wondering how Yeats had managed to live and work in Dublin, enduring “the daily spite of this unmannerly town”. Auden dryly remarked that, if one looked at the career of Yeats, it was extraordinary how often he was out of Ireland. The years in Woburn buildings we know of, and his association with the Rhymers’ Club. But we should also remember that, despite his poor French, Yeats had not only read Mallarmé (from whom he got the title “The Trembling of the Veil”) but visited Verlaine, and attended, however reluctantly, the first night of Jarry’s Ubu Roi. / Now Yeats may have learnt from the symbolist movement, but even his long friendship with Ezra Pound did not make him part of the international movement in modern poetry. He might learn from his juniors how to make his language more active but he remained faithful to what he regarded as the great traditional themes of poetry. “We were the last romantics”, he said grandiloquently. This is part of the ambiguity I spoke of; there is also the significant fact that he is very little read in Europe; Eliot, and more recently, Pound, are much better known. This is partly due to the absence of good translations, a situation which is being remedied, but also the seeming archaism of his subjects. It may well be that the later Yeats, the great meditations on politics and history, will only enter the European consciousness as the great wheel dips down towards the end of the century.’ [Goes on to cite effect of the translation of the Byzantium poems into Serbo-Croat. and quotes : “Hurrah for revolution and more cannon-shot! [...] but the lash goes on.”’ (p.147.)

[ top ]

Seamus Deane, Heroic Styles: The Tradition of an Idea [Field Day Pamphlet, No. 4] (Derry: Field Day 1984), ‘[…] A poem like “Ancestral Houses” owed its force to the vitality with it offers a version of Ascendancy history as true in itself. The truth of this historical reconstruction of the Ascendancy is not cancelled by our simply saying No, it was not like that. For its ultimate validity is mythical, not historical. In this case, the mythical element is given prominence by the meditation on the fate of an originary energy which it becomes so effective that it transforms nature into civilisation, and is then transformed itself by civilisation into decadence. The poem, then, appears to have a story to tell, and, along with that, an interpretation of the story’s meaning. It operates on the narrative and on the conceptual planes and at the intersection of these it emerges, for many readers, as a poem about the tragic nature of human existence itself. Yeats’s life, through the mediations of history and myth, becomes an embodiment of essential existence.’ (p.6.) [Cont.]

Cont. (Seamus Deane, Heroic Styles, 1984): ‘The story of the spiritual heroics of a fading class - the Ascendancy - in the face of a transformed Catholic ‘nation’ - was rewritten in a variety of ways in literature - as the story of the pagan Fianna replaced by a pallid Christianity, of young love replaced by old age (Deirdre, Oisin), of aristocracy supplanted by mob-democracy. The fertility of these rewritings is all the more remarkable in that they were recruitments by the fading class of the myths of renovation which belonged to their opponents. Irish culture became the new property of those who were losing their grip on [7] Irish land. The effect of these rewritings was to transfer the blame for the drastic condition of the country from the Ascendancy to the Catholic middle classes or to their English counterparts. It was in essence a strategic retreat from political to cultural supremacy. From Lecky to Yeats and forward to F. S. L. Lyons we witness the conversion of Irish history into a tragic theatre in which the great Anglo-Irish protagonists — Swift, Burke, Parnell — are destroyed in their heroic attempts to unite culture of intellect with the emotion of multitude, or in political terms, constitutional politics with the forces of revolution. The triumph of the forces of revolution is glossed in all cases as the success of a philistine modernism over a rich and integrated organic culture.’ (pp.7-8.)
‘Yeats’s promiscuity in his courtship of heroic figures - Cuchulainn, John O’Leary, Parnell, the 1916 leaders, Synge, Mussolini, Kevin O’Higgins, General O’Duffy - is an understandable form of anxiety in one who sought to find in a single figure the capacity to give reality to a spiritual leadership for which (as he consistently admitted) the conditions had already disappeared. Such figures could only operate as symbols. Their significance lay in their disdain for the provincial, squalid aspects of a mob culture which is the Yeatsian version of the other face of Irish nationalism. It could provide him culturally with a language of renovation, but it provided neither art nor civilisation. That had come, politically, from the connection between England and Ireland.’ (p.8.) ‘Yeats’s preoccupation with the occult, and Synge’s with the lost language of Ireland are both minority positions which have, as part of their project, the revival of worn social forms, not their overthrow. The disaffection inherent in these positions is typical of the Anglo-Irish criticism of the failure of English civilisation in Ireland, but it is articulated for an English audience which learned to regard all these adversarial positions as essentially picturesque manifestations of the Irish sensibility.’ (p.9.)
‘The division between that which is picturesque and that which is useful did not pass unobserved by Yeats. He made the great realignment of the minority stance with the pursuit of perfection in art. He gave the picturesque something more than respectability. He gave it the mysteriousness of the esoteric and in doing so committed Irish writing to the idea of an art which, while belonging to  “high” culture, would not have, on the one hand, the asphyxiating decadence of its English or French counterparts and, on the other hand, would have within it the energies of a community which had not yet been reduced to a public. An idea of art opposed to the idea of utility, an idea of an audience opposed to the idea of popularity, an idea of the peripheral becoming the central culture - in these three ideas Yeats provided Irish writing with a programme for action. But whatever its connection with Irish nationalism, it was not, finally, a programme of separation from the English tradition. His continued adherence to it led him to define the central Irish attitude as one of self-hatred.’ (Cont.)
‘In his extraordinary “A General Introduction for my Work” (1937), he wrote: “The ‘Irishry’ have preserved their ancient ‘deposit’ through wars which, during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, became wars of extermination; no people, Lecky said ... have undergone greater persecution, nor did that persecution altogether cease up to our own day. No people hate as we do in whom that past is always alive ... Then I [9] remind myself that remind myself that though mine is the first English marriage I know of in the direct line, all my family names are English, and that I owe my soul to Shakespeare, to Spenser and to Blake, perhaps to William Morris, and to the English language in which I think, speak, and write, that everything I love has come to me through English - my hatred tortures me with love, my love with hate … . This is Irish hatred and solitude, the hatred of human life that made Swift write Gulliver and the epitaph upon his tomb, that can still make us wag between extremes and doubt our sanity.” The pathology of literary unionism has never been better defined.’ (pp.9-10.)
[For longer extracts, see Ricorso Library, “Critical Classics”, via index, or as attached.])

[See also Deane, ‘Yeats and the Occult’ , in London Review of Books (18 Oct. 1984) - as attached.]

[ top ]

Seamus Deane, ‘The Literary Myths of the Revival’, in Celtic Revivals: Essays in Modern Irish Literature (Faber 1985; pb. 1987), pp.28-37, discussing Yeats’s use of Swift, Berkeley, and Burke, as manifestly absurd; ‘very simply we are told not to take such myths as history, they are myths of history.’; ‘The irony is that Yeats’s view of the Irish Catholic middle classes is similar to the Irish Catholic view of the eighteenth-century Protestant Ascendancy ... he distorted history in the service of myth’]; ‘making history palatable by imaging it as a version of the personality.’ [32] ‘The flimsy [basis] on which Yeats built his conception of the Ascendancy and of the peasantry ultimately affects his poetry and drama. All his ideas and images of tradition and communion are predicated on the idea of spiritual loneliness’ [35]. Also, ‘When Yeats told the Senate that the Anglo-Irish were ‘no petty people’ he was obviously not thinking of the John Wilson Croker type [30].

‘Yeats bean his career by inventing an Ireland amenable to his imagination.’ (p.38.) ‘Yeats added a certain melodrama to the situation by always investing it with a sense of crisis. Ireland was not only a special country. It was one where the great battle must be won precisely because it had been so totally lost elsewhere. Ireland was, for him, a revolutionary country for the very reason that it was, in the oldest sense, a traditional one. History, viewed as crisis, became politics [39] Reincarnation seems to have been the most fervently held of all Yeats’s private beliefs. [41] ... Death renders life meaningless unless it life achieves a form which death cannot alter; ... a theory of human freedom realised under the aegis of death.’ [42]. Further: ‘Ireland was for him a holy land because the spirits of the dead were given imaginative housing on every rath and hill.’ (p.41; quoted in Carl Campbell, MA Dip., UUC 2009.)
‘[H]is demand was always that Ireland should retain its culture by keeping awake its consciousness of metaphysical questions. By doing so it kept its own identity and its link with ancient European culture alive. As always with Yeats, to be traditionalist in the modern world was to be revolutionary ... It is a conviction which has a true revolutionary impact when we look at the history of the disappearance from the Western mind of the sense of eternity and of the consciousness of death ... In its consciousness of death, the culture would become truly alive ... [Yeats] was a revolutionary whose wars took place primarily within himself.’ (Celtic Revival, 49-50; quoted in John Wilson Foster, ‘Getting the North: Yeats and Northern Nationalism’, in Between Shadows: Modern Irish Writing and Culture, Dublin: IAP 2009) [Chap. 13], p.189.) Note: Foster remarks: ‘It is bewildering to find Deane re-admitting the very metaphysics and solipsism he elsewhere labours to repudiate. And I’m unsure quite what the revolutionary nature of death-consciousness is’ - and adds ‘Because Yeats’s nationalism was colonialist, not native or Catholic, it was not the genuine article: that is Deane’s implication; it was forged from above, not from below through humiliation or suppression.’ (Ibid., p.189.)
See also Do., [as ‘Yeats and the Idea of Revolution’, in Yeats’s Political Identities, ed. Jonathan Allison (Michigan UP 1996)], speaking of Yeats poetics as ‘the idiom of release from the manacles forged by the conspiracy of British empirical philosophy and urban industrial capitalism.’ (p.133.) Further: ‘His sense of crisis allowed him to see the archetypal patterns of history emerging out of the complexities of contemporary politics; it exposed for him the intimacies which bonded magic and art together; it gave Ireland’s technological backwardness the benefit of a spiritual glamour which had faded from the rest of Europe, as if it were a vestigial of Greece in a sternly Roman world.’ (Ibid., pp.134-35.)

[ top ]

Seamus Deane, A Short History of Irish Literature (London: Hutchinson 1986), ‘‘From the beginning therefore there is an intimate connection between his political vision of Ireland and occultism. The kingdom of Faery was, in his view, a natural part of the old civilisation which English puritanism and its Irish middle-class descendants had destroyed.’ (p.142.)

[ top ]

Joe Hassett, Yeats the the Poetics of Hate (Dublin: Gill & Macmillan 1986): ‘Hatred played a prominent part in the development of the theory of history that occupied Yeats’s attention during the last twenty years of his life. It was hatred of the idea of history as an advance towards achievement of human perfection on earth that propelled Yeates to adopt a cyclic philosophy of isotry that is built on - and welcomes - eternally recurring catastrophe. Moreover, Yeats’s philsophy installs hatred at the heart of the historical process as part of the endless streuggle between love and its ppposite that drivers history along a cycle in which a love-dominated era is endlessly succeeded by its opposite, and in which creative activity flourishes when hate is ascendent. (p.133). ‘Yeats expected that a new Strife-dominated era would be initiated in the year 2000 with a new subjective influx, “some violent annunciation’. / That violent annunciation could not come pquickly enough for Yeaets. […] Intensifying his hatred had often proved fruitful for Yeats as a means of vanquishing a threatening idea and opening the door to the sweet images of the anima mundi .’ (p.134.)

[ top ]

Hiroshi Suzuki, Opening Address, in Irish Literature and Culture, ed. Michael Kennedy, ed., Michael Kennedy [CAIS Conference, Marianopolis 1988; Irish Literary Studies, No. 35] (Gerrards Cross: Colin Smythe 1992), draws attention to Yeats’s plan for Castle of Heroes, to contain four jewels of the Tuatha de Danaan incl. the Lia Fail which Yeats saw as corresponding to the Druidic Altar; Suzuki quotes Yeats, ‘I made my moan / And after kissed a stone.’ (“Double Vision of Michael Robartes”), and remarks: ‘Is it presumptuous of me to suppose that this stone he kissed is [2] associated with the Lia Fail in Yeats’s imagination? I suppose it is for the reason that the Rock of Cashel in County Tipperary where he stood and saw the double vision was actually the ancient historical site of the kings of Munster. In any case, it is at least certain that Yeats ascribed some sort of sacredness to the aged stone.’ (pp.2-3).

[ top ]

D. George Boyce, Nationalism in Ireland (London: Routledge 1982; new edn. 1991): ‘To become a true Irishman, the Gaelic League asserted, required the de-Anglicisation of oneself; but Yeats could hardly do this without abandoning his purpose of developing an Irish contribution to literary taste and standards. In the end Yeats, despite his championing of Irish nationalists, and his anti-English posturing, was a literary patriot, not a literary nationalist.’ (p.241; cited in part in Chris Corr., UUC PhD, 1995, p.40]; chapter epigraph: ‘“Had de Valera eaten Parnell’s heart / No loose-lipped demagogue had won the day, / No civil rancour torn the land apart ./ Had Cosgrave eaten Parnell’s heart, the land’s / Imagination had been satisfied …’” [from “Parnell’s Funeral”]; comment: ‘W. B. Yeats’s lines, written in 1935 in the middle of what was perhaps the most turbulent decade in Irish politics since independence, expressed his disappointment at the quality of life in the new Ireland that he, like other literary men, held himself in part, at least, responsible for bringing to birth in the 1916 rising. Cheap patriotism, demagoguery, internecine quarrels, threats to law and order and, above all, the absence of any great, heroic figure who could, by his nobility and inspiration, dominate the Irish people, provoked in Yeats a revulsion of feeling, a sense almost of betrayal. National freedom had proved an aesthetic disappointment; the drab, anti-intellectual atmosphere of the country disgusted him; the high hopes embodied in nationalism seemed to have evaporated; and the outlook for the new state, after only a few years of its existence, seemed bleak and unpromising.’ (D. George Boyce, Nationalism in Ireland, London: Routledge 1982, p.339.)

[ top ]

Lucy McDiarmid, Saving Civilisation: Yeats, Eliot and Auden Between the Wars (Cambridge UP 1984): McDiarmid ascribes to Yeats the inspiration of the lines in “Little Gidding” where Eliot berates the aesthetics of popularity (‘agreeable wrong’) and adumbrates ‘the conscious impotence of rage […, &c.]’ (given here as Eliot, Collected Poems, pp.194-95), remarking that ‘[t]he language is the language of Yeats, but the tone is the tone of Cotton Mather.’ (McDiarmid, 1984, p.119.) See also “Little Gidding” (Four Quartets, 1942), in which Eliot evokes a meeting with the ghost of Yeats: ‘Let me disclose the gifts reserved for age / To set a crown upon your lifetime’s effort. / First, the cold friction of expiring sense / Without enchantment, offering no promise / But bitter tastelessness of shadow fruit / [141] As body and soul begin to fall asunder. / Second, the conscious impotence of rage / At human folly, and the laceration Of laughter at what ceases to amuse. / And last, the rending pain of re-enactment Of all that you have done, and been; the shame Of motives late revealed ...’ (The Collected Poems and Plays 1909-1950, NY: Harcourt Brace & World, Inc., [1962]), pp.141-42; also quoted by Daniel Albright, ed., W. B. Yeats: The Poems, London: Everyman 1992, Introduction, p.xliv with ref. to in Collected Poems, 1909-62, p.204.)

[ top ]

W. J. McCormack, The Battle of the Books: Two Decades of Irish Cultural Debate (Dublin: Lilliput 1986): ‘British intellectual life pioneered the anthropology of primitive cultures, and repaid the material debt by elevating the most underdeveloped regions of Ireland to the heady role of culture-fodder for Modernism: Yeats’s [46] west of Ireland in league with Frazer’s anthropology.’ (See pp.46-47.)

James W. Flannery, Yeats and the Idea of the Theatre: The Early Abbey in Theory and Practice (Toronto: Macmillan 1976; Yale UP 1989): ‘Throughout his entire career as both a poet and dramatist Yeats’s basic intention was to celebrate “that little faltering flame that one calls oneself” and so bring back “personal utterance” into literature. What Yeats meant by personal utterance was complicated by the struggle between the two antithetical halves of his personality and of which he formed his doctrine of the mask.’ (p.281.) Further: ‘It is commonly thought that Yeats failed as a dramatist primarily because he cared and knew little about acting and therefore wrote unactable plays […]. He thus appears to be an archetypal man of letters who never came to grips with the practical realities of the theatre. / This conspectus of Yeats’s views on acting is intended to show that such conceptions are largely wrong.’ (Yale UP 1989 Edn., p.190.)

Cont. (Flannery, Yeats and the Idea of the Theatre [... &c.], 1989): ‘Almost every one of these dominant figures is balanced by a secondary character who embodies half of Yeats’s dualistic personality. In his last play, The Death of Cuchulain, the disguise of character was dropped altogether, for the challenging Old Man in the prologue speaks directly as Yeats himself. / Personal utterance is, of course, rarely successful in the theatre, being more conducive to the one-to-one communication in solitude of lyric poetry. Effective drama, moreover, must be imbued with a feeling for the flesh-and-blood realities of life in order that it may evoke responses from a heterogeneous audience at a primary human level. Passionately felt though the artist’s initial impulses for expression may be, those impulse must be objectivised into forms of action that, by means of the instruments and arts of the theatre, make the drama continually appealing and significant to an audience.’ (Ibid., p.281.) [For a lengthy interview with Flannery at “Simply Yeats” (2007), see under “Criticism” in RICORSO Library, infra.].

[ top ]

Declan Kiberd, Anglo-Irish Attitudes [Field Day Pamphlets, No. 6] (Derry: Field Day 1984): ‘Yeats’s solution to this dilemma [of Anglo-Irish antithesis] was to gather a native Irish audience and create a native Irish theatre in Dublin - to express Ireland to herself rather than exploit her for the foreigner. He accepted the Anglo-Irish antithesis, but only on the condition that he was allowed to reinterpret it in a more flattering light. Whereas the English called the Irish backward, superstitious and uncivilised, the Gaelic revivalists created an [13] idealised counter-image which saw her as pastoral, mystical, admirably primitive. Yet such a counter-image was false, if only because it elevated a single aspect of Ireland into a type of the whole. “Connaught for me is Ireland”, said Yeats; but Ireland is not Connaught - rather she is a patchwork quilt of cultures, as she was before the Normans invaded. … the folklorism of Yeats confirmed the traditional image of the Irish as subservient and menial - only now they were deemed menial and colourful in interesting ways. “The cracked looking-glass of a servant” is how Joyce’s hero Stephen described such an art. It is an apt image, not just of Yeats hopeless rehabilitation of the modes of deference but also of Joyce’s own escape into modernism, for what a cracked looking-glass really shows is not a single but a multiple self.’ (pp.13-14.)

[ top ]

Declan Kiberd, ‘Irish Literature and Irish History’, in The Oxford Illustrated History of Ireland (1989), p.297, quoting Yeats: ‘In Pages from a Diary in 1930 the poet wrote, “Preserve that which is living, and help the two Irelands, Gaelic Ireland and Anglo-Ireland, so to unite that neither shall shed its pride”, with the coment: ‘[t]here is, in fact, a good deal to be said - although, lacking Irish, its author could not known it - in favour of the Yeatsian analysis.’

Declan Kiberd, Inventing Ireland (Jonathan Cape 1995): ‘Many of Yeats’s most striking lines (like the end of “The Second Coming”) are remarkable without being lucid … This need not necessarily be a bad thing, for great poetry often has the capacity to communicate before it is fully understood.’ (Inventing Ireland, 1995, p.312-13; for further remarks, see under Kiberd, infra.)

Declan Kiberd writes ...
Inventing Ireland
—from Inventing Ireland (1996), p.112; available online.

[ top ]

Mary Helen Thuente (1), Foreword to W. B. Yeats, Representative Irish Tales [1891] (Gerrards Cross: Colin Smythe 1979): ‘Yeats’s characterisation of contemporary poets in 1892, was also self-descriptive: “The typical young poet of our day is an aesthete with a surfeit, searching sadly for his lost Philistinism, his heart full of an unsatisfied hunger for the commonplace. He is an Alastor tired of his woods and longing for beer and skittles.” When Yeats wanted to “simplify” and bring his work back down to earth after completing The Wanderings of Oisin in 1888, he turned to the folklore, life, and character of the Irish peasantry. His first literary treatment of the Irish peasantry and their folklore had been poetry modelled upon William Allingham’s and Samuel Ferguson’s ballads but he had soon become dissatisfied with this tradition as too artificial and too literary. He then started to learn about the peasantry for himself by collecting folklore from English-speaking peasants and by reading the Irish folklore in English that had been published throughout the nineteenth century. When he was selecting materials for his first anthology of previously published Irish folklore, Fairy and Folk Tales of the Irish Peasantry (1888), his main interest had been the literary and occult use of the fairies. But he gradually realised that the character and imagination of the Irish peasant who believed in the fairies provided better subject matter. The fairies were not human and thus lacked the depth and tragedy that Yeats demanded of his materials; nor had Irish fairy lore given Yeats the conclusive proof of occult phenomena he had hoped to find. So the Irish peasantry replaced the fairies as Yeats’s personification of energy, imaginative extravagance, and mystery. (p.7) [Cont.]

Cont. (Mary Helen Thuente, Foreword, Representative Irish Tales [1891], 1979): ‘The Irish peasant had been examined in the greatest detail in Irish fiction, so in 1889 Yeats turned his attention to Irish fiction, selecting materials for Stories from Carleton (1889) and beginning, as he said, to read “all the chief Irish novelists of peasant life” in preparation for his two-volume anthology of nineteenth-century Irish fiction, Representative Irish Tales, which appeared in March, 1891. In his “Introduction” to Representative Irish Tales, Yeats declared, “I have made the selection in such a way as to illustrate as far as possible the kind of witness they bear to Irish character.” In a letter of December, 1889, Yeats had written to Father Matthew Russell of Representative Irish Tales, “I am trying to make all the stories illustrations of some phase of Irish life, meaning the collection to be a kind of social history.” The character and life of the Irish peasantry provided the focus for both anthologies. [... &c.]’

Note also her remark [quotation] that Yeats was ‘trying to make all the stories illustrations of some phase of Irish life, meaning the collection to be a kind of social history.’ (Thuente, ed., Representative Irish Tales [...], Atlantic Highlands: NJ 1979, pp.8, 11; cited in Rolf Loeber & Magda Loeber, A Guide to Irish Fiction, 1650-1900, Dublin: Four Courts Press 2006, p.l [Intro.]).

[See full-text version in RICORSO Library, “Criticism > Major Authors”, via index, or attached.]

[ top ]

Mary Helen Thuente, W. B. Yeats and Irish Folklore (Dublin: Gill & Macmillan 1980): ‘[Much of what Yeats] wrote or created as a poet and playwright was inspired by his omnivorous and eclectic reading and study of traditional Irish literature. ..Yeats never ceased in his efforts to define a specifically “Irish” literary tradition and place himself within it’. (p.1.) ‘The fairies are disembodied voices, the fairy enchantress is a “goblin queen”, the shepherds play lutes, the chivalric quest is to enchanted fairy isle, and the allusions are to Greek and Roman literature. Even the supposedly Irish fairies in Yeats’s early poems, such as “cranberry fruitֲ and “mousetail” in “a lover’s quarrel among fairies”, demonstrate how much he needed a living folk tradition to bring his poetry life.’ (p.5.) Further: ‘Yeats used his [poems] of the late 1880s and the early 1890s to define a more truly Irish popular ballad tradition.’ (p.13). [The foregoing quoted in Ashleigh McDowell, UU Diss., UUC 2011.) [Cont.]

Cont. (Mary Helen Thuente, W. B. Yeats and Irish Folklore, 1980) [on Yeats as a folklore editor]: ‘In selecting materials for Fairy and Folk Tales Yeats preferred stories which reinforced his serious conception of the Irish peasant. In his Introduction Yeats said that although Carleton was primarily known as a humorist, he had selected Carleton’s “ghost stories” in which Carleton had ”a much more serious way with him, for all his humour”. The real-life peasants whom Yeats described and quoted in his Introduction are matter-of-fact and serious about their beliefs and display none of the harum-scarum humour of Lover’s and Croker’s peasantry.’ [Thuente here summarises the plots of stories in Fairy and Folk Tales, as infra.]
‘While humour is an element in a number [99] of the stories just mentioned, Yeats’s selections are definitely not in the tradition of stage-Irish humour. His entire anthology is a blend of humour and seriousness. Yeats’s praise of Douglas Hyde in the Introduction to Fairy and Folk Tales - “his work is neither humorous nor mournful; it is simply life” - apparently reflections Yeats’s own attention. (pp.99-100.)
‘Significantly, the relatively few poems about the fairy which Yeats allowed to remain in later editions of his poetry, such as “The Stolen Child” (1886) and “A Faery Song” (1891) present a dramatic confrontation between the human peasantry and a fairy realm characterised by the mystery, enchantment and non-human traits given it in folk tradition. The fairies are the only speakers in “The Stolen Child” yet their lovely song expresses the child’s predicament rather than any passions of their own. […] Likewise, the thematic depth of “The Wanderings of Oisin” centred on the human passions of Oisin rather than on the fairy lore which the poem contained. the rhetorical question which the fairies who sing “A Faery Song” pose about [102] their world - “Is anything better, anything better?” - significantly remained unanswered.’ (p.102.)
‘A brief summary of the materials which Yeats included in the first section of his anthology illustrates his belief that the Irish peasant and his beliefs and his experiences were to be taken seriously rather than laughed at. The section opens with Allingham’s poem, “The Fairies”, in which a child dies of sorrow after being stolen by the fairies and returning to find all her friends gone. “Frank Martin and the Fairies”, by William Carleton, tells how the fairies built a coffin on the eve of a child’s unexpected death. In Croker’s “The Priest’s Supper” the peasant is totally serious about his encounter and discussion with the fairies. Samuel Ferguson’s “The Fairy Well of Lagnanay” emphasises the terror of fairy enchantment and repeats the refrain “Save us all from fairy thrall.” The mysterious events of Hyde’s “Teig O’Kane” were recounted earlier. In “Paddy Corcoran’s Wife” Carleton recounts how an Irish peasant was fairy struck for seven years because she unknowingly let her children throw dirty water out the door as the fairies were passing it. In Callanan’s song, “Cusheen Loo”, a woman longs to be free of fairy enchantment and return to her normal life. In Lover’s “The White Trout: A Legend of Cong”, a soldier’s whole character transformed by his encounter with an enchanted fairy trout. In Ferguson’s poem, “The Fairy Thorn”, a ‘wild terror’ is instilled in the characters by the fairies. In Croker’s “The Legend of Knockgrafton”, the main character is a peasant who is very serious about his belief in the fairies, who are portrayed as in complete control of his destiny. Letitia McClintock’s “Donegal Fairy” is a matter-of-fact conversation of some peasants about the fairies being good neighbours if treated kindly, but un-friendly when angered.’ (p.99.)
‘Fairy lore had obviously not been of much poetic value to Yeats. Nor did it prove to be of much dramatic value. The early plays which Yeats derived from the plots of tales he had anthologised in Fairy and Folk Tales and Irish Fairy Tales were all based on human drama rather than fairy lore. The Countess Cathleen (1892) was based on the story “The Countless Kathleen O’Shea” in Fairy and Folk Tales. The Hour-Glass (1903) was based on the story “The Priest’s Soul” in Fairy and Folk Tales. The drama of Countess Cathleen and the priest centre on their encounter with the devil and with angels rather than on any encounter with the fairies. The King’s Threshold (1904) is based on the story “Seanchan the Bard and the King of Cats” in Irish Fairy Tales. Yeats’s play focuses on the human conflict between Seanchan and King Guaire and does not even mention Seanchan’s encounter with the fairy animal “the King of the Cats” which had been the major conflict in the original tale. The Land of Heart’s Desire (1894) is the only play Yeats wrote which is in any sense based on fairy lore. Even in this play the conflict is basically a human one: Mary’s Bruin’s inability to accept the mundane peasant world around here. Whether or not she has died or has been “taken” by the fairies at the end of the play remains ambiguous. In any event, fairy lore has simply been used as a vehicle for expressing the longings of Mary Bruin’s soul. / Nor had Irish fairy lore given Yeats conclusive proof of occult phenomena he had hoped to find.’ (pp.102-03.)
‘[Yeats’s] compilation of Fairy and Folk Tales of the Irish Peasantry marked a stage in his developing use of Irish literary materials - the outgrowth of his interest in literary ballads based on subjects from Irish folklore and the prelude to his interest in the character and life of the Irish peasant. Yeats discovered in Irish folklore a rich, eclectic tradition which he could and did use for his own purposes. His criteria of selection and his editorial emendations are those of an editor whose literary taste qualifies the stereotyped image of the early Yeats as an ethereal “Celtic Twilight” poet. […; 205] Long before Yeats met Lady Gregory and Synge in the late 1890s, both of whom have too often been regarded as Yeats’s main influences in the use of Irish folklore, Yeats sought out and studied Irish folklore as a means of bringing his poetry down to earth, and as an editor had tried to simply folklore of elaborate literary conventions and transform it from the light-hearted depiction of a harum-scarum peasantry into a serious literary subject matter. In the process Yeats was influenced by a number of Irish folklorists, in particular Douglas Hyde, before Lady Gregory and Synge even began writing about Irish folklore.’ (pp.104-05.)

Further: ‘[Yeats] eventually came to believe that such “passionate art” approached the condition of vision and wisdom, not only because of the mythological dimensions of the ancient legends, but because the passionate intensity of such legends were [sic] “alluring, almost to the intensity of a trance”.’ (Thuente, op. cit., 1980, p.242.)

[ top ]

Barbara L. Croft, ‘Stylistic Arrangements’: A Study of William Butler Yeats’s “A Vision” (London: AUP 1987): ‘When the two versions are compared, it becomes clear that they are, in fact, quite different books. Between 1925 and 1937, the philosophical system itself undergoes significant modifications, losing for example, its personal reference and becoming more largely concerned with history. Attempts to tie the system to Yeats’s early occult studies or to Christianity fall away, as does any specific attempt to interpret contemporary art and history according to the system. the more significant changes, however, occur in the tone of the work. The addition of “The Stories of Michael Robartes and His Friends” and the other introductory material adds a tonal tension to the work and is evidence of the different attitude Yeats took toward his vast project of the 1930s. By 1927, he say that an “explanation of life,” as he had subtitled the first edition, conflicted with th emodern scientific perspective; and he dramatized this conflict in the later version, using himself as the central persona. / Obviously, the system was not modern subject matter, as Yeats realized. Modernity brought pressure to bear on the system, distorted it perhaps - if not in itself, at least in the way in which Yeats wrote about it. In this struggle with the material, a personal artistic drama emerged; and it is, in part, the purpose here to trace the evolution of that drama [...] (p.10; available at Google Books - online.)

Notes [Croft]: According to Croft, in early drafts of A Vision, Robartes turns away from Yeats’s door for fear that Ezra Pound was inside. Pound, a man of Nietszche’s violent Phase 12, was Aherne’s enemy in an early version of the story. Robartes has some sympathy for men of the hero’s phase, and Yeats admired Pound’s “intellectual hatred,” but Pound was, nevertheless, eventually dropped from the 1925 version. (Croft, Notes, p.179, n.65. Cites Critical Edition of A Vision, pp.6-7, n.5; 19, n.61. Further: Book III owes much to the experiments and publications of the Society for Psychical Research, and Frederic W. H. Myers, Human Personality and Its Survival of Bodily Death.[q.d.] (Notes, q.p.)

[ back ]
[ top ]
[ next ]