William Butler Yeats: Notes (2)

File 1 File 2 File 3 File 4 File 5 File 6
Index &

Plays & Prose

Annotations to the poems of W. B. Yeats given largely derive from A. N. Jeffares, A New Commentary on the Poems (Macmillan 1984), with some additions from Richard J. Finneran, W. B. Yeats: The Poems - A New Edition (1984) and Daniel Albright, ed., W. B. Yeats: The Poems (Everyman 1992). Jeffares’s Commentary is keyed to the former which thereby supercedes the 1950 Collected Poems for purposes of scholarly reference.
The final section of Jeffares work is devoted to “Additional Poems” - i.e., those not printed in Yeats’s contemporary collections and found only in other texts (plays and stories) or unreprinted magazine versions. The annotations on these are appended to the final file of annotations (File 5, infra).
Longer quotations from Yeats’s own annotations to the poems are held in a separate appendix [infra] - viz., The Black Pig"s Dike
Yeats’s Notes to Contemporary Editions

Poems and Ballads of Young Ireland (Dublin: M. H. Gill 1888), ed. with T. W. Rolleston, Douglas Hyde, Katharine Tynan, John Todhunter, George Sigerson, et. al., an ‘anthology’ of the early literary revival produced under the guidance of John O’Leary, and containing work of Ellen O’Leary, Douglas Hyde, John Todhunter, Rolleston, Katharine Tynan, Rose Kavanagh, and Yeats, being published by Gill and bound in white buckram; contains Yeats’s poems “The Stolen Child” (Irish Monthly, Dec. 1886), “Meditations of the Old Fisherman”, “Madness of King Goll” and “Love Songs” their first book-form publication of which Yeats gave an account in The Boston Pilot, 1891.

[ top ]

The Wanderings of Oisin (1889) - Yeats: ‘For the second part of “Oisin” I have said several thing to which only I have the key. The romance is for my readers. They must not even know that there is a symbol anywhere. They will not find out. If they did it would spoilt the art. Yet the whole poem is full of symbols - if it be full of aught but clouds. The early poems I know to be quote coherent, and at no time are there clouds in my details, for I hate the soft modern manner.’ (Letter to Katharine Tynan; quoted in Tuohy, Yeats: An Illustrated Biography, Macmillan 1976, p.48; see also Richard Ellmann, Yeats: The Man and the Mask, 1948, p.53, citing Tynan, The Middle Years; also quoted in Jeffares, New Commentary on the Poems of W. B. Yeats, 1984, p.425.)

Wanderings (1895 version.)
Yeats’s note in the Poems (London: T. Fisher Unwin 1895), p.286 - given in Russell K. Alspach, ‘Some Sources of Yeats’s The Wanderings of Oisin’, in PMLA, Vol. 58, No. 3 (Sept. 1943), pp.849-66; p.849. [available at JSTOR - online; see transcription - infra.]

Alspach cites varies annotation and accounts of the poem given by Yeats in Collected Works in Verse and Prose (Stratford-on-Avon 1908) [r.244], Early Poems and Stories (London, 1925), p.527; and Collected Poems (NY, 1935, p.456) - the last of which has the same information as the 1895 Poems [Alspach, p.849,n.]

Note: The same annotation is quoted in Jeffares, New Commentary, p.429 [as here] with an attribution to the 1912 edition of Poems.

See also notice on Poems (2nd edn. 1899) - at University of Wisconsin Milwaukee Special Collections:

Yeats was only thirty when Fisher Unwin published the first edition of his collected poems in 1895. For the collection, Yeats spent three months rewriting pieces from his earlier books of poetry The Wanderings of Oisin and Countess Cathleen, striving to remove both non-Irish influences and “trivial” fairy verses. Only two new works were added; the play Land of Heart’s Desire and the dedicatory poem, “To Some I Have Talked to by the Fire.” Poems contains the works Yeats wished to preserve in 1895. They depend on a set of supernal symbols centered on that of the rose.
 The poem “The Wanderings of Oisin” was singled out by William Sharp in his introduction to Lyra Celtica as an example of legend in modern Celtic poetry; Oisin may be directly traced to numerous sources in Irish myth. In a letter to Katharine Tynan, Yeats revealed the poem to be a veiled occult account: “In the second part of Oisin under disguise of symbolism I have said sever[a]l things, to which I only have the key. The romance is for my readers, they must not even know there is a symbol anywhere.” Oisin may be read as a story of rebirth or reincarnation, reflecting Yeats’s struggle to link ancient Irish myth with occult doctrines.

Available online; accessed 26.08.2017.

[ top ]

The Wanderings of Oisin (1889): Yeats on The Wanderings [... &c.] (letter to Katherine Tynan, 6 Sept. 1888): ‘Some thing I had to say. Dont know that I have said it. All seems confused incoherent inarticulate. Yet this I know I am no idle poetaster. My life has been in my poems. To make them I have broken my life in a mortar as it were. I have brayed in it youth and fellowship and worldly hopes. I have seen others enjoying while I stood alone with myself - commenting, commenting - a mere dead mirror on which things reflect themselves. I have buried my youth and raised over it a cairn - of clouds.’ (Collected Letters, Vol. I, pp.93-94; quoted in Terence Brown, A Life of W. B. Yeats, 1999 [2001 Edn.], p.39.) Further: ‘There are three incompatible things which man is always seeking - infinite feeling, infinite battle, infinite repose’ [cf. ‘vain gaiety, vain battle, vain repose’, in “The Circus Animal’s Desertion”] (Letters, ed. Wade, p.141.)

The Wanderings of Oisin (1889): ‘The pages dealing with the three islands ... are wholly my own, having no further root in tradition than the Irish peasants’s notion that Tir-u-au-oge (the Country of the Young) is made up of three phantom islands’ (ibid., p.179-77).

The Wanderings of Oisin (1889): ‘The swordsman throughout repudiates the saint, but not without Vacillation. Is that perhaps the sole theme - Usheen and Patrick’ (ibid., p.798; in explication of “Vacillation”). See also allusions to Niamh and Oisin in “News for the Delphic Oracle” (‘There all the golden codgers lay, / There the silver dew, / And the great water sighed for love / And the wind sighed too. / Man-picker Niamh leant and sigh / By Oisin on the grass’ [all cited in Albright, ed., Poems, 1992, notes, p.398]; note also that a full summary of The Wanderings of Oisin and its place in Yeats’s early experience and sensibility is given in Yeats’s notes to Resurrection: ‘... emblematic of eternal pursuit ...’ (Explorations, p.392-98; quoted fully in A. N. Jeffares, A New Commentary on the Poems, 1984, p.238-41.)

The Wanderings of Oisin (1889): In W. B. Yeats: A New Biography (Hutchinson 1988), Jeffares comments that Yeats ‘departed from spirit of the Gaelic originals [in Wanderings of Oisin], believing that Irish legends and beliefs resembled those of the east; the poem is based on Nicholas O’Kearney’s trans. of “Battle of Gabhra”, Standish [Hayes] O’Grady’s trans. of “The Lament of Oisin after the Fenians”, Brian O’Looney’s trans. of Michael Comyn’s “The Lay of Oisin in the Land of Youth” [Ossianic Society, 1853], and also David Comyn’s translation of same in Gaelic Union Publications (1880), and John O’Daly’s trans. of “The Dialogue of Oisin and St Patrick”. Jeffares characterises it as a ‘remarkable narrative poem which conveys sadness, weariness and an intense perception of beauty - and does so fluently, sensuously and most evocatively’ and calls it a tour de force for a young man of twenty-three to have created it and to have expressed it with such distinctive force.’ (Op. cit., p.39.)

[ top ]

The Wanderings of Oisin (1889) [espec. findrinny]:

[Note: The poem was extensively revised by Yeats before reprinting in Poems (1895) - with some explanatory words in the volume Preface, and a long note in the glossary (under Wanderings of Usheen [sic]) as well as numerous individual glossary items - e.g., findrinny, "a kind of red bronze" (p.283). The Glossary note on Wanderings of Usheen reads as follows:

[WBY, Poems, 1895:] ‘The Wanderings of Usheen. — This poem is founded upon the middle Irish dialogues of St. Patrick and Usheen and a certain Gaelic poem of the last century. The events it describes, like the events in most of the poems in this volume, are supposed to have taken place rather in the indefinite period, made up of many periods, described by the folk-tales, than in any particular century; it therefore, like the later Fenian stories themselves, mixes much that is mediaeval with other matters that are ancient. The Gaelic poems do not make Usheen go to more than one island, but tradition speaks of three islands. A story in The Silva Gadelica describes “four paradises,” an island to the north, an island to the west, an island to the south, and Adam’s paradise in the east. Another tradition, which puts one of the paradises under the sea, is perhaps a memory of the fabled kingdom of the shadowy Fomoroh, whose name proves that they came from the great waters.’ (p.[286].)

In A New Commentary on the Poems of W. B. Yeats (1968, 1984), Jeffares cites as sources Oisin in dTir na nÓg, and Agallamh na Senorach, and remarks on extensive revisions of the text by Yeats. ANJ cites Giles W. L. Telfer, Yeats’s Idea of the Gael (1965) [‘very homely, unmysterious Tir na nOg described in orig. Gaelic poem’], and Francis Shaw, ‘The Celtic Element in the Poetry of W. B. Yeats’, in Studies (June 1934) - and quotes Yeats’s note to the Collected Poems of 1912:

‘The poem is founded upon the Middle Irish dialogue of S. Patrick and Oisin and a certain Gaelic poem of the last century [Michael Comyn]. The event it describes, like the events in most of the poems of this volume, are supposed to have taken place rather in the indefinite period, made up of many centuries, described by the folk-tales, than in any particular century; it therefore, like the later Fenian stories themselves, mixes much that is medieval with much that is ancient. The poems of [old do] not make Oisin go to more than one island, but the story in Silva Gadelica [Standish Hayes O’Grady, Silva Gadelica, vol. II, pp.391-92] describes ‘four paradises’, an island to the north, an island to the west, an island to the south, and Adam’s paradise to the east.’ [See variant in notes to the 1895 edition of Poems - as supra.]

The dedication is to Edwin J. Ellis. Notes include personal names [Niamh, ‘brightness or beauty’; then ‘brilliance’]; findrinny [‘alloy’]*; ‘Oscar’s pencilled urn [‘one handful now of ashes grey’, in Ferguson’s Lays of the Western Gael, II, 1-15]; Fenians [‘great military order of which Finn was chief’]; bell-branch [‘whose shaking cast all men into a gentle sleep’]; ‘straw-death’ [‘death in bed’]; Hell [Yeats wrote: ‘in the older Irish books, Hell is always cold, and this is probably because the Formoroh, or evil powers, ruled over the north and winter ... the folktales, and Keating ... make use, however, of the ordinary fire symbolism’]; ‘a haycock out on the flood’ [perhaps a memory of William Morris, ‘The Haystack in the Floods’].

*Note that the definition of findrinny is given as ‘a kind of red bronze’ in the Glossary to Poems (1895, 1912), p.283.

Findrinny: Note that James Joyce echoes the term in Finnnegans Wake (1939): “If you only were there to explain the meaning, best of men, and talk to her nice of guldensilver. The lips would moisten once again. As when you drove with her to Findrinny Fair.” (FW, 28.10-13.) Doubtless, he learnt it from Yeats. See also his letter to Giorgo & Helen of 16 Oct. 1934 celebrating the anniversary of his “first” marriage to Nora (i.e., his departure with her from Ireland): ‘Thanks for your wire on the 8th. We and Jolas drove to Rapperswill for tea and then round the lake. At night I gave a dinner in the Kronenhalle to the Gideons and Mr. and Mrs. Rosebaum [...] a Russo-Swiss Lawyer. A 30-year wedding should be called a “findrinny” one. Findrinny is a kind of white gold mixed with silver.’ (Letters, I, 1959, p.348.) [Note that Roger McHugh refers to Joyce’s borrowing in a University Review article at some date, and there makes the incidental point that the Irish do not say ‘rather’ in the adverbial sense as the English do.]

See also Kuno Meyer, ‘An old Irish prayer for long life’ by Kuno Meyer, being a reprint from A Miscellany presented to J. M. Mackay, LL.D. (Liverpool UP; London: Constable 1914), [420pp.], pp.226-32 - which includes the translation-line: ‘May a time be granted to me of the quality of white bronze!’, corresponding to the MSS phrase findruni feba. (See under Meyer - supra.)

See English Oxford Living Dictionaries on findrinny (also findruine, findruiney): Irish English, rare. Mid 19th century; earliest use found in George Petrie (1790-1866), antiquary and painter. From Early Irish findruine kind of white metal alloy, white bronze, electrum (Irish fiondruine white bronze, now only historical and literary), apparently originally a variant of findbruine, in the same sense from find white + a second element of uncertain sense and origin. [Yeats is not mentioned.] (Available online; accessed 25.08.2017.)

Wanderings of Oisin (rev. version, 1895)

Caolte, and Conan, and Finn were there.
When we followed a deer with our baying hounds,
With Bran, Sgeolan and Lomair,
And passing the Firbolgs’ burial mounds,
Came to the cairn-heaped grassy hill
Where passionate Maeve is stony still;
And found on the dove-gray edge of the sea
A pearl-pale, high-born lady, who rode

On a horse with a bridle of findrinny;
And like a sunset were her lips;
A stormy sunset on doomed ships;
A citron colour gloomed in her hair.
But down to her feet white vesture flowed
And with the glimmering crimson glowed
Of many a figured embroidery.
Quoted in Ernest A. Boyd, The Irish Literary Renaissance (1916), p.131.
[ Boyd compares corresponding passages in the editions of 1889 and 1895, remarking: "[The] early version contains many passages of undeniable charm, and these few verses are sufficient to give an idea of its strength and weakness. But the revised version of 1895, which has not undergone very important modifications since, shows a wonderful transformation." In fact, the word findrinny does not appear in the earlier version as quoted there:

Her eyes were soft as dewdrops hanging
Upon the grass-blade bending tips,
And like a sunset were her lips,
A stormy sunset o’er doomed ships.
Her hair was of citron tincture

And gathered in a silver cincture;
Down to her feet white vesture flowed
And with the woven crimson glowed,
Of many a figured creature strange
And birds that on the seven seas range.
—Boyd, op. cit., idem.

[ top ]

The Wanderings of Oisin (1889): Richard Ellmann quotes Yeats’s letter to Olivia Shakespear: ‘My first denunciation of old age I made in “Wanderings of Usheen” (end of Part I) before I was twenty and the same denunciation comes in the last pages of the book. The swordsman throughout repudiates the saint, but not without vacillation. Is that perhaps the sole theme - Usheen and Patrick “So get you gone Von Hugel though with blessings on your head.”’ (Ellmann, Yeats, 1948, p.276.)

Note that Niamh is the dg. of Aengus and Edain; Grania, a ‘beautiful woman who fled with Dermot to escape form the love of aged Finn. She from from palace to place over Ireland, but at last Dermot was killed at Sligo upon the seaward point of Benbulben, and Finn won her love and brought her, leaning upon his neck, into the assembly of the Fenians, who burst into inextinguishable laughter.’ (See Yeats’s note in Poems, 1895).

The Wanderings of Oisin (1889) - Bibl., Russell Alspach, ‘Some sources of Yeats’s “The Wanderings of Oisin”’, in PMLA, Vol. LXVIII, Sept. 1943, pp.849-66; also James J. Blake, ‘Yeats’s Oisin, and Irish Gaelic Literature’, in Birgit Brämsback & Martin Croghan, eds., Anglo-Irish and Irish Literature, Aspects of Language and Culture (Uppsala, 1988), Vol. I, pp.39-48.

The Wanderings of Oisin (1889) - In Autobiographies (1955) Yeats wrote: “When in my twenty-second year I had finished the Wanderings of Oisin, my style seemed too elaborate, too ornamental, and I thought for some weeks of sleeping upon a board. Had I been anywhere but at Sligo, where I was afraid of my grandfather and grandmothers, I would have made the attempt.’ (A371.)

See the Introduction to Resurrection (1934) - on Wanderings of Oisin: ‘When I was a boy everybody talked about progress, and rebellion against my elders took the form of an aversion to that myth. I took satisfactioin in certain public disasters, felt a sort of ecstasy at the contemplation of ruin, and then I came upon the story of Oisin in Tir na nOg and reshaped it into my Wanderings of Oisin. He rides across the sea with a spirit, he passes phantoms, a boy following a girl, a hound chasing a hare, emblematic of eternal pursuit, he comes to an island of choral dancing, leaves that after many years, passes the phantoms once again, comes to an island of endless battle for an object never achieved, leaves that after many years, passes the phantoms once again, comes to an island of sleep, leaves that and comes to Ireland, to S Patrick and old age. I did not pick these images because of any theory, but because I found them impressive, yet all the while abstractions haunted me. I remember rejecting, because it spoilt the simplicity, an elaborate metaphor of a breaking wave intended to prove that all life rose and fell as in my poem.’ (Wheels & Butterflies, 1934, pp.101-2; quoted in Terence Brown, The Life of W. B. Yeats: A Critical Biography, Gill & Macmillan, 1999, reiss. 2001 pp.43-44. Note Brown’s comment: Such passage gives a critic leave to read the poem so summarised not only as autobiography, but as a poem of Victorian crisis, a revolt, couched as apocalyse, against the domiant myth of social progress. / Richard Ellmann took the autobiographical hint [equating each island with a phase in Yeats’s early life]. Also reviews responses by David Lynch and Harold Bloom - the latter being said to ‘lack a sense of history’. (Brown, op. cit., p.45.)

[ top ]

Crossways [1895]
The heading that Yeats gave to a section of Poems (1895), mostly from Wanderings of Oisin [spelt Usheen there], which (besides the ballads of “Father O’Hart” and “Foxhunter”, both ‘written at the same time though published later’) because ‘in them he tried many pathways; and those from the Countess Cathleen in a section named “The Rose”, for in them he has found, he believes, the only pathway whereon he can hope to see with is own eyes the Eternal Rose of Beauty and Peace’ [Pref., signed Sligo, March 24 1895]). Note that Ellmann quotes |at length a letter from Yeats to John O’Leary: ‘The mystical life is at the centre of all that I do and all that I think and all that I write.’ (Yeats: The Man and the Mask, 1948, p.97.) Yeats wrote further: ‘Many of the poems in Crossways, certainly those upon Indian subjects or upon shepherds and fauns, must have been written before I was twenty, for from them the moment I began The Wanderings of Oisin, which I did at that age, I believe my subject matter became Irish.’ (Note of 1925; Jeffares, A New Commentary, 1984, p.3).

‘SONG OF THE HAPPY SHEPHERD’, composed as epilogue for “The Island of Statues” and “The Seeker” [‘spoken by a Satyr, carrying a sea-shell’], on which see commentary in Ellmann, Yeats: The Man and the Mask (1948), p.39ff. (‘curious irresolution’, p.39; ‘words are not merely the signs of things, but things themselves, the stuff from which the universe is made. Such a position is too daring for the poet, so he retreats in the rest of the poem to the land of the lotus-eaters [...]’, p.40); for the source of the phrase ‘words alone are certain good’, see Spenser, ‘The Ruines of Time’: ‘But wise wordes taught in numbers for to runne, / Recorded by the Muses, live for ay.’ (Stock, Yeats’s Poetry and His Thought, 1964).

‘THE SAD SHEPHERD’, published in Dublin University Review (Oct. 1886).

‘THE CLOAK, THE BOAT AND THE SHOES’, orig. titled ‘Voices’ (Dublin Univ. Review, March 1895).

‘MADNESS OF KING GOLL’, printed in 1887 with note referring to Eugene O’Curry’s Lectures on the MS Materials of Ancient Irish History (2nd edn. 1878), p.316, and based on ‘The Battle of Ventry’, it incorporates an element of madness introduced from the tale of King Sweeney; Jeffares glosses ‘world-troubling seamen’ as Formorians despite G. B. Saul’s reading as Milesians).

‘THE STOLEN CHILD’, Yeats noted, ‘the places mentioned are round Sligo. Further Rosses is a very noted fairy locality. There is here a little point of rocks where, if anyone falls asleep, there is danger of waking silly, the fairies having carried off their souls’ (in Fairy and Folk Tales of the Irish Peasantry); see note on raths ‘made before modern history had begun’, which cover all Rosses and all Columcille’, in Mythologies (pp.88-89); wrote to Katherine Tynan that the poem was ‘a flight into fairyland, from the real world’ and ‘the cry of the heart against necessity’ (Coll. Letters, Vol. 1, ed. John Kelly et al., 1986, pp.54-55; cited in Terence Brown, W. B. Yeats: A Critical Life, 1999, p.19).

‘DOWN BY THE SALLY GARDENS, on its source, see H. E. Shields, ‘Yeats and the “salley gardens”’, in Hermathena, CI (Autumn 1965), pp.22-26, not ‘Going to Mass last Sunday’ as stated by Colm McLochlainn in Anglo-Irish Song-Writers (1950), but ‘The Rambling Boys of Pleasure’; and see Michael B. Yeats, Southern Folklore Quarterly, 30, 2 (June 1966), p.158, for account of manuscript poem in P. J. McCall Ballad Collection, NLI. [See also note on the non-original status of this poem in The Irish Book Lover.]

‘THE BALLAD OF THE HUNSTMAN’ based on narrative in Kickham, Knocknagow, pp.491-94; cited fully in Jeffares, New Commentary on the Poems of W. B. Yeats, 1984, pp.17-19.

[ top ]

The Rose [1895], being a heading used by Yeats in Poems (1895); Yeats wrote to Ernest Boyd (1915) that his interest in mystic symbolism did not come from Arthur Symons or any other contemporary writers but from his own study of mystic tradition which dated from 1887, and that he found authority for his use of the Rose in Valentin Andrea and others (Letters, ed. Wade, p.592); ‘I thought for a time I could rhyme of love, calling it The Rose, because of the Rose’s double meaning; of a fisherman who had ‘never a crack’ in his heart; of an old woman complaining of the idleness of the young, or of some cheerful fiddler, all those that “popular poets” write of, but that I must some day - on that day when the gates began to open - become difficult or obscure. With a rhythm that still echoed Morris I prayed to the Red Rose, to Intellectual beauty.’ [quotes stanza from To the Rose upon the Rood of Time’] (Autobiographies, p.253).

‘TO THE RED ROSE UPON THE ROOD OF TIME’, reflects the apostrophic language of Guaita in Rosa Mystica: ‘The rose that I invite you to pluck - sympathetic friend who turns these pages - does not flower on the shores of far-away countries; and we shall take, if you please, neither the express train nor the transatlantic steamer. / Are you susceptible to a deep emotion of the intellect? and do your favourite thoughts so haunt you as to give you at times the illusion of being real? ... You are then a magician, and the mystic rose will go of her own accord, however little you desire it, to bloom in your garden.’ (Cited in Richard Ellmann, Yeats: The Man and the Mask, 1948, p.97).

‘FERGUS AND THE DRUID’ based on poem of Samuel Ferguson [see further note]; Fergus is lover of Maeve of Connacht in the Táin; Conchubar central figure in The Fate of the Children of Usna which embodies the tale of Deirdre.

‘CUCHULAIN’S FIGHT WITH THE SEA’, first printed in United Irishman (11 June 1892) under title “Death of Cuchulain”; derives from Jeremiah Curtin, Myths and Folk-lore of Ireland (1890) and ultimately form 9th c. Yellow Book of Lecan. ‘THE ROSE OF THE WORLD’, printed in National Observer, 2 Jan. 1892, under title “Rosa Mundi”.

‘LAKE ISLAND OF INNISFREE’, first publ. in The National Observer, 13 Dec. 1890; later printed in Book of the Rhymers’ Club (London: Elkin Mathews 1892). Yeats wrote: ‘My father had read to me some passages out of Walden, and I planned to live some day in a cottage on a little island called Innisfree ... I though that having conquered bodily desire and the inclination of my mind towards women and love, I should live, as Thoreau lived, seeking wisdom’ (Autobiographies, pp.71-72; see longer extract - supra.) Secondly: ‘I still have the ambition, formed in Sligo in my teens, of living in imitation of Thoreau on Innisfree, a little island in Lough Gill, and when walking through Fleet St. very homesick I heard a little tinkle of water and saw a fountain in a shop-window which balanced a little ball of water upon its jet, and began to remember lake water. From the sudden remembrance came my poem “Innisfree”, my first lyric with anything of its rhythm of my own music. I had begun to loosen rhythm as an escape from rhetoric and from that emotion of the crowd rhetoric brings, but I only understood vaguely and occasionally that I must for my special purpose use nothing but common syntax. A couple of years later I would not have written that first line with its conventional archaism - “Arise and go” - not the inversion in the last stanza.’ (ibid., p.153.) [Note: These two passages are cited contiguously in P. J. Kavanagh, Voices in Ireland, 1994, p.252.]

Note that the ‘conventional archaism’ (as Yeats put it in Autobiographies, p.153) of the first stanza derives from Luke 15:18 (‘I will arise and go to my father’); see also ‘night and day’ in Mark 5:5 (‘Always, night and day, he was in the mountains’), and ‘the heart’s core’ from Shelley’s Adonais: ‘thy heart’s core’. Yeats described himself as ‘very homesick in London’ when he wrote the poem (Letter of 30 Nov. 1922). [See also discussion of origin of the phrase ‘the deep heart’s core’ under Rose Kavanagh - as supra.]

Yeats makes references to Innisfree considered as an idyllic retreat in John Sherman: ‘[Its] rocky centre, covered with many bushes, rose some forty feet above the lake. Often ... it had seemed good to dream of going away to that islet and building a wooden hut there and burning a few years out, rowing to and fro, fishing, or lying on the island slope by day, and listening at night to the ripple of the water and the quivering of the bushes.’ (John Sherman and Dhoya, ed. Richard Finneran, Wayne State UP, 1969, p.92); also, ‘a small house with a green door and a new thatch, and a row of beehives under a hedge’ (ibid., 103). [The above passages cited more comprehensively in A. N. Jeffares, New Commentary on the Poems of W. B. Yeats, 1984, p.29.)

“WHEN YOU ARE OLD AND GREY”, first printed in Countess Kathleen collection; Countess Cathleen, the play, was written to demonstrate to Maud Gonne that he could write for a public audience; founded on “The Countess Kathleen O’Shea” (Fairy & Folk Tales of the Irish Peasantry), which was ‘quoted in a London-Irish newspaper’; ‘Who Goes with Fergus’ appeared as a lyric in Act Two of Countess Cathleen’.

‘DEDICATION TO A BOOK OF STORIES ...’ first printed in Representative Irish Tales (1891).

‘THE TWO HOLY TREES’, for commentary on the Sephiroth, see Richard Ellmann, The Identity of Yeats (1954, p.76), elucidating the opposites involved in the ‘bitter glass’; also treated in Frank Kermode, Romantic Image; ‘To Ireland in the Coming Times’ first appeared in Countess Kathleen collection, entitled ‘Apologia addressed to Ireland in the coming days’.

[ top ]

The Wind Among the Reeds (1899): on the notes attached Yeats wrote that the symbols he had meditated in earlier collections have taken upon themselves what seemed independent life and that he was troubled by what was thought the reckless obscurity of the poems, and tried to explain to himself in lengthy notes into which he put ‘all the little learning I had and more wilful phantasy than I now think admirable, though what is most mystical still seems to me the most true’ (Collected Works, vol. 1, 1906; see A. N. Jeffares, New Commentary on the Poems of W. B. Yeats, 1984, 1984, p.42); note that Ellmann speaks of the ‘quicksands of the poetry in the Wind Among the Reeds’, a poetry where one sinks down and down without finding the bottom’, and associates it with Yeats’s period of emotional exhaustion in the last phase of his wooing Maud Gonne: ‘I can do no more’ (Yeats: The Man and the Mask, 1948, p.162).

‘EVERLASTING VOICES’, cf. Red Hanrahan’s spirit interlocutor, ‘I am one of the lasting people, of the lasting unwearied Voices, that make my dwelling in the broken and the dying and those that have lost their wits; and I came looking for you, and you are mine until the whole world is burned out like a candle that is spent ... (Mythologies, p.260); also: ‘if only those who live in the Golden Age could die we might be happy, for the sad voices would be still; but they must sing and we must weep until the eternal gates swing open’ (Mythologies, 104-05); ‘The Moods’ (printed in The Bookman, Aug. 1893); cf. essay ‘The Moods: ‘Literature differs from explanatory and scientific writing in being wrought about a mood, or a community of moods, as the body is wrought about an invisible soul ...[&c.]’ (1895; Essays and Introductions, p.195).

‘THE SONG OF WANDERING AENGUS’, first printed in The Sketch (4 Aug. 1897), under title “A Mad Song”, and then without title in “Red Hanrahan’s Vision”, in McClure’s Magazine (March 1905); Yeats’s note reads: ‘... The poem was suggested to me by a Greek folk song; but the folk belief of Greece is very like that of Ireland, and I certainly thought, when I wrote it, of Ireland, and of the spirits that are in Ireland’; on ‘a fire was in my head’, see Symons, ‘The broken Tryst’ (‘that day a fire was in my blood’); for source, see Standish Hayes O’Grady, edn. of ‘Diarmuid and Grainne’ in Transactions of the Ossianic Society, III (1857), pp.78-81, in which a wandering youth, actually Aengus, proceeds as follows: ‘He himself went into the next wood to him, and plucked in it a straight long rod, and put a holly berry upon the hook, and when (and stood) over the stream, and took a fish that cast.’ (Cited by Sheila O’Sullivan, ‘W. B. Yeats’s Use of Irish Oral and Literary Tradition’, in Bo Almqvist et al., eds. Heritage: Essays and Studies presented to Seamus Ó Duilearga (1975), pp.266-79; also incl. in Béaloideas, 39-41 (1971-73 [1975]), pp.266-79; See A. N. Jeffares, New Commentary on the Poems of W. B. Yeats, 1984, 1984, p.53). a very extensive note accompanies ‘HE MOURNS FOR THE CHANGE ... AND LONGS FOR THE END OF THE WORLD’, covering Arthurian legend, the Mabinogion in Lady Charlotte Guest’s edn. (1877), and matter about hunting the hornless deer, &c.; Jeffares (New Commentary, 1984, p.56) adds references to Brian O’Looney’s The Lay of Oisin the Land of Youth’, given as source of ‘The Wanderings of Oisin’.

‘THE VALLEY OF THE BLACK PIG’, annotated by Yeats in this edn. [1899], and also (differently) in Collected Works (1906) as follows: ‘All over Ireland there are prophecies of the coming rout of the enemies of Ireland, in a certain Valley of the Black Pig, and these prophecies are, no doubt, now, as they were in Fenian days, a political force. I have heard of one man who would not give any money to the Land League, because the Battle could not be until the colse of the century; but, as a rule, periods of trouble bring prophecies of its near coming. [...] If one reads Professor Rhys’s Celtic Heathendom by the light of Professor Frazer’s Golden Bough, and puts together what one finds there about the boar that killed Diarmuid, and other old Celtic boars and sows, one sees that the Battle is mythological, and that the Pig it is named from must be a type of cold and winter doing battle with the summer, or of death battling with life. For the purposes of poetry, at any rate, I think it a symbol of the darkness that will destroy the world ...’ (Jeffares, New Commentary on the Poems of W. B. Yeats, 1984, 1984, p.601; cited more extensively in Peter Costello, The Heart Grown Brutal, 1977, p.223-24; and note that this passage is used as epigraph for John Montague, “The Black Pig”, in The Dead Kingdom [1984]; excerpted also in Carpenter & Fallon, The Writers: A Sense of Place, 1980; for full text, see infra);

Note: ‘Secret Rose’ incls. account of death of King Conchobar, from Book of Leinster, but which Yeats admits in his notes to having ‘unintentionally changed’ [it]; the intermediate source of the tale is the Book of Leinster in Eugene O’Curry’s Manuscript Materials; a further account is given in Keating’s History of Ireland (Irish Text Society Edn., 1902-04, II, p.203); references to Caoilte [recte Caolte] MacRonain are from O’Curry’s commentary on ‘The Fate of the Children of Tuireann’, Atlantis (1863), 4, 231; and from his Manners and Customs.

‘THE QUIET MAID’, first printed without title in ‘The Twisting of the Rope’ (National Observer, 24 Dec.), a story of Red Hanrahan.

‘HE WISHES FOR THE CLOTHS OF HEAVEN’, first printed as ‘Aed Wishes [... &c.]’, in Wind Among the Reeds.

‘THE FIDDLER OF DOONEY’: T. R. Henn glosses ‘waves of the sea’ in relation to Shakespeare (Winter’s Tale, Perdita): ‘When you do dance, I wish you/A wave o’ the sea’, and Jeffares notes comparison to the line in The Countess Cathleen: ‘’singing like a wave of the sea’.

[ top ]

The Shadowy Waters (1900), of which ll.1-44 were printed in Samhain (1 Dec. 1900), and ‘Harp of Aengus’ in North American Review (May 1900); the text of the play with these two poems appeared in Poems, 1899-1905 (1906), and a heavily revised version in Collected Poems (1933); a variatn version used at the Abbey and published by A. H. Bullen (1907) appears in Collected Plays (1934), while the 1900 version was staged by the Irish National Soc. at the Molesworth Hall, Dublin, 1904. Further, Yeats told Russell the intended plot of The Shadowy Waters: ‘His hero was a world wanderer trying to escape from himself. He suprrises a galley in the waters. There is a beautiful woman there. He thinks through love he can espace from himself. He casts a magical spell on Dectora. Then in the original version he found the love created by a spell was an empty echo, a shadow of himself, and he unrolled the spell seeking alone for the world of the immortals.’ Upublished letter of AE to Sean O’Faolain in possession of SO’F; cited in Richard Ellmann, Yeats: The Man and the Mask, 1948, p.78

Baile and Aillinn (1902), completed 11 Aug. 1901, printed in Monthly Review (July 1902), with a single footnote explaining ‘at once some of the allusions to mythological people and things’, and directing the reader to Lady Gregory’s version of the Ulster cycle: ‘The reader will find all that he need to know about them [e.g., the White and Brown Bulls, Deirdre, and ‘the hound of Ulad’] and about the story of Baile and Aillinn itself, in Lady Gregory’s Cuchullian [sic] of Muirthemne, the most important book that has come out of Ireland in my time.’

The Old Age of Queen Maeve (1903), first printed in Fortnightly Review (April 1903), with ll.1-8 added in Collected Poems; based on Tain Bo Cuailgne; ‘praise another ...’ refers to Maud Gonne; Ailell, Maeve’s husband; Fergus, father of Conchubar; Magh Ai, or Magh ai, a plain in Co. Roscommon; Aengus, God of love; Maine, a son of Maeve killed by Conchubar; ‘that great Queen’ is Maeve.

In the Seven Woods (1903): Preface: ‘I made some of these poems walking about among the Seven Woods [at Coole Park], before the big wind of nineteen hundred and three blew down so many trees & troubled the wild creatures & changed the look of things; and I thought out there a good part of the play which follows ...’ [Ellmann, 1948, p.157; Jeffares, 1984]; ‘The Old Age of Queen Maeve’, ‘Baile and Ailinn’ and the play On Baile’s Strand added to 103 edn.; some others added in 1906 incl. ‘Never Give All the Heart’ (first printed in McClure’s Magazine, Dec. 1905), and two more in 1908 Edn.

‘IN THE SEVEN WOODS’, formerly printed as ‘I walked among the Seven Woods at Coole’, in The Shadowy Waters (1900).

‘ADAM’S CURSE’, written 20 Nov. 1902, printed in Monthly Review (Dec. 1902); the ‘beautiful mild woman’ is Maud Gonne’s sister Mrs Kathleen Pilcher; an account of the inspiration of the poem to be found in Maud Gonne’s autobiography (‘How often have I told you to thank the gods that I will not marry you. With me you would not be happy’; Servant of the Queen, 328-30); Richard Ellmann remarks, ‘this verisimilitude is a new development for Yeats’s lyrical verse ... remarkably successful in reproducing for the first time ordinary conversation in selected, heightened form (Ellmann, Yeats: The Man and the Masks, 1948, p.155).

‘RED HANRAHAN’S SONG ABOUT IRELAND’, first printed untitled in the story ‘Kathleen-ny-Houlihan’ (National Observer, 4 Aug. 1894); appeared in In the Seven Woods as ‘The Song of Red Hanrahan’, with var. ‘Kathleen the Daughter ... [&c.]’, in The Secret Rose; based somewhat on Mangan’s ‘Kathleen-ny-Houlihan’ printed in H. H. Sparling, ed., Irish Minstrelsy (1888); it was Maud Gonne’s favourite of Yeats’s poems.

‘THE RAGGED WOOD’ first appeared untitled in ‘The Twisting of the Rope’, Stories of Red Hanrahan (1904).

‘THE PLAYERS ASK FOR A BLESSING ...’, O masters’ prob. refers to Seven Archangels to bless the Seven Notes’ (letter to Arnold Dolmetsch, 3 June 1903).

‘THE HAPPY TOWNSLAND’, printed in The Weekly Critical Review (4 June 1903), entitled ‘The Rider from the North’ in In the Seven Woods; identified by poet with theme of striving after impossible in radio talk of 1932.

[ top ]

The Green Helmet and Other Poems (1910): Cuala Edn; Macmillan Edn. (1912) added six poems incl. ‘Friends’; ‘On hearing that the students ...’; The Attack on the Playboy’; and ‘At the Abbey Theatre’ (ded. D. Hyde); several poems grouped under titles Raymond Lully and his Wife Pernella’, corr. in erratum slip to ‘Nicolas Flamel ... [&c.] Of ‘HIS DREAM’, Yeats noted, with Blake, ‘The Authors are in Eternity’.

‘A WOMAN HOMER SUNG’, composed 5-15 April 1910’; Hone quotes the prose diary entry of 22 Jan. [conject.] 1908, in which a prose summary of the idea appears [‘Today the thought came to me that [Maud Gonne] never really understands my plans, or nature or ideas ...’.

‘NO SECOND TROY’ heads diary date Dec. 1908; first printed in Green Helmet; note prob. source in William Cowper, “Table Talk” [1782], ll.318 -327: ‘When tumult lately burst his prison door,/And set Plebeian thousands in a roar,/When he usurp’d authority’s just place,/And dared to look his master in the face,/When the rude rabble’s watchword was, destroy!/And blazing London seem’d a second Troy,/Liberty blush’d, and hung her drooping head,/Beheld their progress with the deepest dread,/Blush’d that effects like these she should produce,/Worse than the deeds of galley-slaves broke loose.’ (Robert Southey, ed., The Works of William Cowper: Comprising his poems, correspondence, and translations. With a life of the author, by the editor, Robert Southey (London: Baldwin and Cradock 1835-1837). pp.130-31. [Search found in Chadwyck-Healey Fulltext Database of English Poetry].

‘RECONCILIATION’, copied in sect. 7 of Yeats’s Diary, dated 26 Feb. 1909, with note that he had written it ‘about six months ago and write it here that it may not be lost’.

‘THE FASCINATION OF WHAT’S DIFFICULT’, prose draft of which appears in Diary, Sept. 1909: ‘Subject: to complain at the fascination of what’s difficult. It spoils spontaneity and pleasure, and wastes time. Repeat the line ending difficult three times and rhyme on bolt, exalt, coalt, jolt. On could use the thought that the winged and unbroken coalt [sic; i.e., Pegasus] must drag a cart of stones out of pride because it is difficult [... &c.].

‘TO A POET, WHO WOULD HAVE ME PRAISE ... [&c.]’, first headed ‘To AE [... &c.]’; ‘On hearing that the students ...’, dated 3 April 1912 in Diary.

‘THE MASK’, entered in Diary between Aug. 1910 and May 1911, first printed in Green Helmet as ‘A Lyric from an Unpublished Play’, being The Player Queen (1922).

‘UPON A HOUSE SHAKEN BY THE LAND AGITATION’, Journal (Diary) entry 7 Aug. 1910: ‘I wrote this on hearing the results of reductions of rent made by the courts [30 July 1909]. One feels that when all must make their living they will live not for life’s sake but the work’s and all be the poorer. My work is very near to life itself, and my father’s very near to life itself, but I am always feeling a lack of life’s own values behind my [though]. They should have been there before the [dtrain] began, before it became necessary to let the work create its values. This house has enriched my soul out of measure because here life moves within restrain through gracious forms. Here there has been no compelled labour, no poverty-thwarted impulse.’ (Memoirs, p.225-26; also cited in Denis Donoghue, ‘Yeats, Ancestral Houses, and Anglo-Ireland’, in We Irish: Essays on Irish Literature and Society, 1986, p.52f.); for ‘eagle thoughts’, see Blake, ‘The Eagle, that doth gaze in the sun’ (“King Edward the Third”; and see also “Imitation of Spenser”, and “Vision of the Daughters of Albion”.

‘AT THE ABBEY THEATRE’, addressed to Douglas Hyde, is after Ronsard’s sonnet, ‘Tyard, on me blasmoit, à mon commencement’ (Oeuvres, 1950, I, p.116).

‘A FRIEND’S ILLNESS’: Yeats wrote his draft in his Diary, This morning I got a letter telling me of Lady Gregory’s illness. ... She had been to me mother, friend, sister, and brother. I cannot realise the world without her - she brought to my wavering thoughts steadfast nobility. All the day the thought of losing her is like a conflagration in the rafters. Friendship is all the house I have.’ (4 Feb. 1909).

‘ALL THINGS CAN TEMPT ME’, written at Coole Park, Summer 1908, first printed in English Review (Feb. 1909), entitled ‘Distraction’.

The Two Kings (1913), written Oct. 1912, printed in British Review and Poetry (Chicago) (Oct. 1913); the source tale is in The Yellow Book of Lecan and The Book of the Dun Cow; see D. M. Hoare, The Works of Morris and Yeats in relation to Early Saga Literature (q.d.); R. I. Best, trans. D. Arbois de Jubainville, The Irish Mythological Cycle and Celtic Mythology (1903); and M. G. MacKimmie, A Study of Yeats’s ‘The Two Kings’ (Diss.; University of Connecticut, 1951).

[ back ] [ top ] [ next ]