William Butler Yeats: Quotations (1)


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‘I have all-ways considered my self a voice of what I beleive to be a greater renaisance - the revolt of the soul against the intellect - now begining in the world.’ (Letter to John O’Leary, July 1892 [[Yeats’s spelling], in Letters, 1865-95, John Kelly, Vol. I, OUP 1986, p.303; quoted in Robert Welch, Writing on Irish Folklore, Legend and Myth [by W. B. Yeats], Penguin 1993, Intro. p.xix [epigraph]; also in G. J. Watson, ed., W. B. Yeats: Short Fiction, Penguin 1995, Intro., p.xlii [n.7.])


‘You will find it a good thing to make verses on Irish legends and places and so forth. It helps originality and makes one’s verses sincere, and gives one less numerous competitors. Besides one should love best what is nearest and most interwoven with one’s life.’ (Letter to Elizabeth White, 30 Jan. 1889, in Letters, Vol. 1 [1986], p.131; quoted in Paul Murray, MA Diss.., UU 2004.)
‘There are three incompatible things man is always seeking - infinite feeling, infinite battle, infinite repose.’ (Letter to Katharine Tynan, 6 Feb. 1889; Letters, ed. Hone, p.111; see also “The Circus Animals’ Desertion”, and note var. ‘vain’ for ‘infinite’.)

The Poetry of Samuel Ferguson (1886)
Fairy and Folk Tales (1888)
Representative Irish Tales (1891)
Tales from Carleton (1891)
Young Ireland League (1892)
Hopes & Fears for Irish Literature (1892)
Irish Language & Literature (1892)
Nationality and Literature (1893)
List of Best Irish Books (1895)
A Book of Irish Verse (1895)
Popular Ballad Poetry (1897)
“What is ‘Popular Poetry’?” (1901)
Short fiction
The Celtic Twilight (1893; 1902)
Preface (1893)
“Nearness of Earth, Heaven & Purgatory”
“Dust Hath Closed Helen’s Eye”
“Enchanted Woods”
The Secret Rose (1897)
The Secret Rose (1897 & 1925 edns.)
“Rosa Alchemica” (1897)
“The Tables of the Law” (1897)
“Adoration of the Magi” (1897)
Stories of Red Hanrahan (1905)

See also full-text versions in RICORSO Library "Irish Classics > W. B. Yeats" ...
Fairy and Folk Tales of the Irish Peasantry (1888)
The Celtic Twilight (1893; 1902)
and ...
Some notes on Fairy Lore from Wind Among the Reeds (1899)

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The Poetry of Sir Samuel Ferguson’ (I), in The Irish Fireside [Irish Poets and Irish Poetry series] (9 Oct., 1886), reprinted in John Frayne, Uncollected Prose of W. B. Yeats, Vol. 1, pp.81-87 - extracts: ‘Man is like a musical instrument of many strings, of which only a few are sounded by the narrow interests of his daily life; and the others, for want of uses, are continually becoming tuneless and forgotten. Heroic poetry is a phantom finger swept over all the strings, arousing from man’s whole nature song of answering harmony. It is the poetry of action, for such alone can arouse the whole nature of man. it touches all the strings, those of wonder and pity, of fear and joy. It ignores morals, for its business is not in any way to make rules for life but to make character. It is not, as a great English writer has said, “a criticism of life”, but rather a fire in the spirit burning away what is mean and deepening what is shallow. (p.84.) ‘Sir Samuel Ferguson’s special claim to our attention is that he went back to the Irish cycle, finding it, in truth, a foundation that, in the passage of centuries, [...] was forgotten of the poets; but now that his feet have worn the pathway, many others will follow, and bring thence living waters of healing of our nation, helping us to live a larger life of the Spirit, and lifting our souls away from their selfish joys and sorrows to be the companions of those who lived among the woods and hills when the world was young.’ [q.p.] ‘[T]he lyric nature loves to linger on what is strange and fantastic’; ‘the greatest Irish poet, because in his poems and legends, they embody more completely than in any other man’s writings, the Irish character, its unflinching devotion to some single aim, its passion [...] And this faithfulness to things tragic and bitter, to thoughts that wear one’s life out and scatter one’s joy, the Celt has above all others. Those who have it, alone are capable of great causes.’ (p.87; end Pt. I.)

The Poetry of Sir Samuel Ferguson’ (II), in Dublin University Review, 2 (Nov. 1886.) rep. in Uncollected Prose (1970), Vol. 1, pp.87-104. Extracts: ‘[T]he most critical of Irish readers are only anxious to be academic, and to be servile to English notions. If Sir Samuel Ferguson had written of Arthur and Guinevere, they would have received him gladly; that he chose rather to tell of Congal and of desolate and queenly Deirdre, we give him full-hearted thanks; he has restored to our hills and rivers their epic interest. The nation has found [itself] in Davis a battle-call, as in Mangan a cry of despair; but he only, the one Homeric poet of our time, could give us immortal companions still wet with the dew of their primal world.’ ‘But as Lord Tennyson’s ideal women will never find a flawless sympathy outside the upper English middle class, so this Deirdre will never, maybe, win an entire credence outside the limits of - wide enough they are - the Irish race.’ (Frayne, Vol. 1, p.92.) ‘[...] The author of these poems is the greatest poet Ireland has produced, because the most central and most Celtic. Whatever the future may bring in the way of a truly great and national literature and now that the race is so large, so widely spread, and so conscious of its unity, the years are ripe - will find its morning in these three volumes of one who was made by the purifying flame of National sentiment the one man of his time who wrote heroic poetry - one who, among the somewhat sybaritic singers of his day, was like some aged sea-king sitting among the inland wheat and poppies - the savour of the sea about him, and its strength. / In these poems and the legends the contain lies the refutation of the calumnies of England and those amongst us who are false to their country.’ (Rep in John P. Frayne, ed., Uncollected Prose of W. B. Yeats, 1970, p.103; quoted in Terence Brown, Northern Voices, Poets from Northern Ireland, 1975, p.34; and previously in A. P. Graves, Intro, Poems of Ferguson [1917], pp.xxxv-vi.) Further: ‘The mind of the Celt loves to linger on images of persistance [sic]; implacable hate, implacable love, on Conor and Deirdre, and Setanta watching by the door of Cullan, and the long waiting of the blind Lynott.’ (p.104).

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Fairy and Folk Tales of the Irish Peasantry (1888) - Introduction: ‘[...] In Ireland they [the fairies] are still extant, giving gifts to the kindly, and plaguing the surly. [...] certainly that now old and much respected dogmatists, the Spirit of the Age, has in no manner made his voice heard there. In a little while, for he has gotten a consumptive appearance of late, he will be covered over decently in his grave, and another will grow, old and much respected, in his place, and never be heard of down there [the Rosses], and after him another and another and another. Indeed, it is a question whether any of these personages will ever be heard of outside of the [1] newspaper offices and lecture-rooms and drawing-rooms and eelpie houses of the cities, or if the Spirit of the Age is at any time more than a froth. At any rate, whole troops of their like will not change the Celt much. Giraldus Cambrensis found the people of the western islands a trifle paganism. “How many gods are there?" asked a priest, a little while ago, of a man from the Island of Innistor. “There is one on Innistor; but this seems a big place,” said the man, and the priest held up his hands in horror, as Giraldus had, just seven centuries before. Remember, I am not blaming the man; it is very much better to believe in a number of gods than in none at all, or to think there is only one, but that he is a little sentimental and impractable, and not constructed for the nineteenth century. The Celt, and his cromlechs, and his pillar-stones, these will not change much - indeed, it is doubtful if anybody at all changes at any time. In spite of hosts of deniers, and asserters, and wise-men, and professors, the majority still are averse to sitting down to dine thirteen at table, or being helped to salt, or walking under a ladder, or seeing a single magpie flirting his chequered tail. There are, of course, children of light who have set their faces against all this, though even newspaper man, if you entice him into a cemetery at midnight, will believe in phantoms, for every one is a visionary, if you scratch him deep enough. But the Celt is a visionary without scratching. /  Yet, be it noticed, if you are a stranger, you will not readily get ghost and fairy legends, even in a western village. You must go adroitly to work, and make friends with the children, and the old men, with those who have not felt the pressure of mere daylight existence, and those with whom it is growing less, and will have altogether taken itself off one of these days. The old women are most learned, but will not so readily be got to talk, for the fairies are very secretive, and much resent being talked of; and are there not many stories of old women who were nearly pinched into their graves or numbed with fairy blasts?’ (Rep. in Robert Welch, ed., W. B. Yeats - Writings on Irish Folklore, Legend and Myth, London: Penguin 1993, pp.1-7; 1-2.)

Fairy and Folk Tales of the Irish Peasantry, Selected & Edited by W. B. Yeats (London: Walter Scott 1888)
is available in full-text digital form at RICORSO Library, “Irish Classics” via index or as attached.

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Fairy and Folk Tales (1888) [cont.]: ‘[...] Each county has usually some family, or personage, supposed to have been favoured or plagued, especially by the phantoms [...P]oetry in Ireland has always been mysteriously connected with magic. / These folk-tales are full of simplicity and musical occurrences, for they are the literature of a class for whom every incident in the old rut of birth, love, pain, and death has cropped up unchanged for centuries: who have steeped everything in the heart: to whom everything is a symbol. They have the spade over which man has leant from the beginning. The people of the cities have the machine, which is prose and a parvenu. They have few events. They can turn over the incidents of a long life as they sit by the fire. With us nothing has time to gather meaning, and too many things are occurring for even a big heart to hold. It is said the most eloquent people in the world are the Arabs, who have only the bare earth of the desert and a sky swept bare by the sun. [3]. “Wisdom has alighted on three things”, goes their proverb; “the hand of the Chinese, the brain of the Frank, and the tongue of the Arab.” This, I take it, is the meaning of that simplicity sought for so much in these days by all the poets, and not to be had at any price.’ (Rep. in Welch, op. cit., pp.3-4.)

Fairy and Folk Tales (1888) [cont.]: ‘The various collectors of Irish folk-lore have, from our point of view, one great merit, and from the point of view of others, one great fault. They have made their work literature rather than science, and told us of the Irish peasantry rather than of the primitive religion of mankind, or whatever else the folk-lorists are [4] on the gad after. To be considered scientists they should have tabulated all their tales in forms like grocers’ bills - item the fairy king, item the queen. Instead of this they have caught the very voice of the people, the very pulse of life, each giving what was most noticed in his day. Croker and Lover, full of the ideas of harum-scarum Irish gentility, saw everything humorised. The impulse of the Irish literature of their time came from a class that did not - mainly for political reasons - take the populace seriously, and imagined the country as a humorist’s Arcadia; its passion, its gloom, its tragedy, they knew nothing of. What they did was not wholly false; they merely magnified an irresponsible type, found oftenest among boatmen, carmen, and gentlemen’s servants, into the type of a whole nation, and created the stage Irishman. The writers of ’Forty-eight, and the famine combined, burst their bubble. Their work had the dash as well as the shallowness of an ascendant and idle class, and in Croker is touched everywhere with beauty - a gentle Arcadian beauty. Carleton, a peasant born, has in many of his stories, more especially in his ghost stories, a much more serious way with him, for all his humour. Kennedy, an old bookseller in Dublin, who seems to have had a somethiug of genuine belief in the fairies, came next in time. He has far less literary faculty, but is wonderfully accurate, giving often the very words the stories were told in. But the best book since Croker is Lady Wilde’s Ancient Legends. The humour has all given way to pathos and tenderness. We have here the innermost heart of the Celt in the moments he has grown to love through years of persecution, when, cushioning himself about with dreams, and hearing fairy-songs in the twilight, he ponders on the soul and on the dead. Here is the Celt, only it is the Celt dreaming. [...].’ (Rep. in Welch, op. cit. pp.4-5; also in Diarmuid Ó Giolláin, Locating Irish Folklore: Tradition, Modernity, Identity, Cork UP 2000, p.102 [from ‘full of ideas of harum-scarum Irish gentility’ to ‘a gentle Arcadian beauty.’] - citing Yeats, Fairy and Folk Tales of Ireland, London: Picador 1979, pp.6-7.)

Irish Fairies”, in Leisure Hour (Oct. 1890): ‘When I tell people that the Irish peasantry still believe in fairies, I am often doubted. They think that I am merely trying to weave a forlorn piece of gilt thread into the dull grey worsted of this century. They do not imagine it possible that our highly thought of philosophies so soon grow silent outside the walls of the lecture room, or that any kind of ghost or goblin can live within the range of our daily papers. If the papers and the lectures have not done it, they think, surely at any rate the steam-whistle has scared the whole tribe out of the world. They are quite wrong. The ghosts and goblins do still live and rule in the imaginations of innumerable Irish men and women, and not merely in remote places, but close even to big cities. (Rep. in Robert Welch, ed., W. B. Yeats [on] Irish Folklore, Legend and Myth, Penguin 1993.) [Cont.]

Irish Fairies”, in Leisure Hour (Oct. 1890) - cont.: ‘Everyone has heard of changelings, how a baby will be taken away and a miserable goblin left in its stead. But animals, it is not generally known, run the same risk. A fine fat calf may be carried off, and one of the fairies of animal shape left in its stead, and no one be the wiser until the butcher tries to kill it; then it will rush away and vanish into some green hillside. The fairy kingdom has everything we have, cats, dogs, horses, carriages, and even firearms, for the sounds of unearthly volleys fired by troops of spirits embattled on the winds have been heard by a Munster seer who lived about twenty years ago. / It is, however, further afield than Howth, down westward among the deep bays and mountain valleys of Sligo, that I have heard the best tales and found the most ardent belief. There, many a peasant dreams of growing rich by finding a fairy’s crock of gold, and many a peasant’s daughter trembles as she passes some famous haunted hillside, and goes over in her mind the names of men and women carried off, as tradition will have it, to the dim kingdom. Only very recently one of these fabled robberies is reported to have been attempted.’ (Rep. in Welch, op. cit. pp.4-5; also as Item 16 in ‘Early Articles and Reviews Uncollected Articles and Reviews Written Between 1886 and 1900’, in The Collected Works of W. B. Yeats, Vol. IX, ed. John P. Frayne & Madeleine Marchaterre, NY: Scribner’s & Sons 2004.)

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Representative Irish Tales [1891; rep. edn.], ed. Mary Helen Thuente, Gerrards Cross: Colin Smythe 1979), - Yeats’s Introduction [pp.25-32]: ‘Chance and Destiny have between them woven two-thirds of all history, and of the history of Ireland wellnigh the whole. The literature of a nation, on the other hand, is spun out of its heart. If you would know Ireland - body and soul - you must read its poems and stories. They came into existence to please nobody but the people of Ireland. Government did not make them on the one hand, nor bad seasons on the other. They are Ireland talking to herself. [See ftn.] In these two little volumes I give specimens of a small part of this literature - the prose tales of modern Irish life. 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 this introduction I intend to explain the fashion I read them in, the class limitations I allow for, the personal bias that seems to me to have directed this novelist or that other. These limitations themselves, this bias even, will show themselves to be moods characteristic of the country. / I notice very distinctly in all Irish literature two different accents - the accent of the gentry, and the less polished accent of the peasantry and those near them; a division roughly into the voice of those who lived lightly and gayly, and those who took man and his fortunes with much seriousness and even at times mournfully. The one has found its most typical embodiment in the tales and novels of Croker, Lover, and Lever, and the other in the ruder but deeper work of Carleton, Kickham, and the two Banims. / There is perhaps no other country in the world the style and nature of whose writers have been so completely governed by their birth and social standing.’ (p.25; for full text, see RICORSO, Library “Classic Irish Texts”, infra.)

[Notes: the above passage is taken in part as an epigraph for The Writers: Sense of Ireland, ed. Andrew Carpenter & Peter Fallon (1980) - viz., up to ‘talking to herself’. It is also quoted in Mary Helen Thuente’s Foreword to Yeats’s Representative Irish Tales [rep. edn., ed. ed. Thuente] (Gerrards Cross: Colin Smythe 1979) - viz., from ‘I notice ...’ to the end.

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Tales from Carleton (1891), Introduction: ‘I noticed very distinctly in all Irish literature two different accents - the accent of the gentry, and the less polished accent of the peasantry and those near them; a division roughly into the voice of those who lived lightly and gayly [gaily], and those who took man and his fortunes with much seriousness and even at time mournfully. The one has found its most typical embodiment in the tales and novels of Croker, Lover, and Lever, and the other in the ruder but deeper work of Carleton, Kickham, and the two Banims. There is perhaps no other country in the world the style and nature of whose writers have been so completely governed by their birth and social standing.’ (Introduction, Tales from Carleton [1891], ed., Mary Helen Thuente, 1981, p.25.)

The Young Ireland League’ (United Ireland, 3 Oct. 1891; rep.in Frayne, 1970, Vol. 1, p.207): Yeats recommended that reading rooms to be established by Young Ireland Societies be stocked with libraries contain ‘not only the best Irish books, but the masterpieces of other countries as well’; also ‘Mitchel, Mangan, Davis, both prose and verse, all of the Irish ballad collection, the radiant and romantic histories of Standish O’Grady, the “Celtic Romances” of P. W. Joyce, the poems of Sir Samuel Ferguson, the poems of William Allingham, the best novels of Carleton, Banim, Griffin and Lever, three or four of the Irish stories of Miss Edgeworth, the folk-lore writing of Hyde, Croker, and Lady Wilde, Moore’s Melodies, and some of the best translations from the old Celtic epics.’ (Quoted in A. N. Jeffares, ‘Yeats and the Wrong Lever’, in Images of Invention, Colin Smythe 1996, pp.164-178.)

Irish Language & Literature: ‘To the Editor of United Ireland’ (17 Dec. 1892): ‘Dear Sir - I agree with every word you said last week about Dr. Hyde’s lecture, and, like many another, am deeply grateful to you for your reprint of it in the current number. Without going as far as some enthusiastic members of Dr. Hyde’s audience, whom I heard call it the most important utterance of its kind since ’48, I will say that it seems to me the best possible augury for the success of the movement we are trying to create. Its learning, its profound sincerity, its passionate conviction, are all pledges [...] At the same time there was a good deal in Dr. Hyde’s lecture which would have depressed me had I agreed with it. He seemed to have the bulk of his hopes for the “de-Anglicising” of Ireland upon the revival, or, at any rate, the preservation, of the Gaelic language, and at the same time to pronounce it “impossible to find either men and money” to carry out the one scheme he held capable of doing this. Alas, I fear he spoke the truth, and that the Gaelic language will soon be heard no more, except here and there in remote villages, and on the wind-beaten shores of Connaught. / Is there, then, no hope for the de-Anglicising of our people? Can we not build up a national tradition, a national literature, which shall be none the less Irish in spirit from being English in language? Can we not keep the continuity of the nation’s life, not by trying to do what Dr. Hyde has practically pronounced impossible, but by translating and retelling in English, which shall have an indefinable Irish quality of rhythm and style, all that is best in the ancient literature? Can we not write and persuade others to write histories and romances of the great Gaelic men of the past, from the son of Nessa to Owen Roe, until there has been made a golden bridge between the old and the new? [...] It should be more easy for us, who have in us that wild Celtic blood, the most un-English of all things under heaven, to make such a literature. If we fail it shall not be because we lack the materials, but because we lack the power to use them. [...] Let us by make these books [O’Grady’s Fin and His Companions, et al. by Lawless and Barlow] and the books of our older writers known among the people and we will do more to de-Anglicise Ireland than by longing to recall the Gaelic tongue and the snows of yester year. Let us by all means prevent the decay of that tongue where we can, and preserve it always among use as a learned language to be a fountain of nationality in our midst, but do not let us base upon it our hopes of nationhood.’ (John Frayne, ed., Uncollected Prose, 1970; p.255.)

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Hopes and Fears for Irish Literature’, in United Irishman (15 Oct. 1892): ‘[L]iterature must be the expression of a conviction, and be the garment of noble emotion, and not an end in itself’ (15 Oct. 1892.) ‘Here in Ireland we are living in a young age, full of hope and promise - a young age which has only just begun to make its literature.’ (Frayne, Uncollected Prose, Vol. I, p.249.) ‘We have the limitations of dawn. They [the English and French] have the limitations of sunset [...] Can we but learn a little of their skill, and a little of their devotion to form, a little of their hatred of the commonplace and banal, we may make all these restless energies of ours alike the inspiration and the theme of a new and wonderful literature’ (p.249.) ‘When we remember the majesty of Cuchulain and the beauty of Sorrowing Deirdre which is immortal, and not the perishing tongue that first told of them.’ (John Frayne, ed., Vol. I, p.256).

[On Rhymers’ meetings:] ‘To them literature had ceased to be the handmaid of humanity, and become instead a terrible queen, in whose service the stars rose and set, and for whose pleasure life stumbles along in the darkness’ (‘Hopes and Fears [... &c.]’, United Irishman, XII (Oct. 15, 1892; cf. ‘England is old [...] &c.; Boston Pilot, 23 April 1892; quoted in Frayne, 1970, p.52.)

‘I well rememberd the irritated silence that fell upon a noted gathering of the younger English imaginative writers once, when I tried to explain a philosophy of poetry in which I was profoundely interested, and to show the dependence, as I conceived it, of all great art and literature upon conviction and upon heroic life.’ (‘Hopes and Fears ...’; United Ireland, 15 Oct., 1892; quoted in Frayne, 1997, p.53.)

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Nationality and Literature’ [lecture given on 19 May 1893; reported in United Ireland, 27 May 1893): WBY attacked ‘mere oratory’ [with J. F. Taylor particularly in mind], comparing it ‘to the fiery and fleeting patterns which children make on the night air with a burning stick’ and stated preference for ‘clear criticism’; ‘[...] it is only the Celt who cares much for ideas which have no immediate practical bearing. At least Matthew Arnold has said so, and I think he is right, for the floodgates of materialism are only half open among us as yet here in Ireland; perhaps the new age may close them before the tide is quite upon us.’ [Yeats enlarges on a metaphor of the growing seed and tree; p.268.] (Cont.)

Nationality and Literature’ (lecture given on 19 May 1893) - cont: ‘Our best writers, De Vere, Ferguson, Allingham, Mangan, Davis, O’Grady, are all either ballad or epic writers, and all base their greatest work, if I except a song or two of Mangan’s and Allingham’s, upon legends and upon the fortunes of the nation [...] Alone, perhaps, among the nations of Europe we are in our ballad or epic age. The future will put some of our ballads with “Percy’s Reliques”.’ (Ibid. p.273.) [Cont.]

Nationality and Literature’ (1893) - cont.: ‘[...] Even The Spirit of the Nation belongs to the epic age, for it deals with great National events ...There is a distinct school of Irish literature, which we must foster and protect, and its foundation is sunk in the legend lore of the people and in the National history. The literature of Greece and India [273] had just such a foundation, and as we, like the Greeks and the Indians, are an idealistic people, this foundation is fixed in legend rather than in history. We must not imitate the writers of any other country, we must study them constantly and learn from them the secret of their greatness. Only by the study of great models can we acquire style, and this, St. Beuf [sic] says, is the only thing in literature which is immortal. [...] We have hitherto been slovens, and even our best writers, if I except Allingham, have put their best thoughts side by side with the most contemptible commonplaces, and their most musical lines into the midst of the tritest rhythms, and our best prose writers have mingled their own gold dust with every kind of ignoble clay. We have shrunk from the labour that art demands, and have made thereby our best moments of no account. We must learn from the literatures of France and England to be supreme artists and then God will send to us supreme inspiration. [...].’ [Cont.]

Nationality and Literature’ (1893) - cont.: Mr Yeats [...] said the work they had to do in Ireland was part of a new impulse; of the new literary enthusiasm of the new kind of racial character. They had exceptional opportunity in the great mass of legendary lore by which they were surrounded. They could add a new beauty to their legends by bringing to bear upon them their experience of the literatures of other countries. (Frayne, ed., Uncollected Prose, I, 274-75).

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Best Irish Books (Letter to the Dublin Daily Express, 27 Feb. 1895; rep. in Wade, ed., Letters, pp.246-51): ‘Sir: During our recent controversy with Professor Dowden certain of my neighbours here in the West of Ireland asked me what Irish books they should read. As I have no doubt others elsewhere have asked a like question, I send you a list of thirty books, hoping Mr. O’Grady, Mr. Rolleston, Mr. Ashe King, or some other Irish literary man will fill up the gaps. I have excluded every book in which there is strong political feeling. that I may displease no man needlessly, and included only books of imagination or books that seem to me necessary to the understanding of the imagination of Ireland, that may please myself and the general reader. By this means I may have got nearer to what the next century will care for than had I enumerated substantial volumes ‘that no gentleman’s library should be without.’ For it is possible that people, both in and out of Ireland, will be singing / ’Tis my grief that Patrick Loughlin is not Earl of Irrul still, / And that Brian Duff no longer rules as lord upon the hill; / And that Colonel Hugh O’Grady should be lying cold and low, / And I sailing, sailing swiftly from the county of Mayo.’ [Wade’s ftn. ‘From ‘The County of Mayo, a translation from the Irish of Thomas Lavelle, by George Fox (1809-after 1848.) Yeats included this poem in A Book of Irish Verse, 1895] when the excellent books of criticism, scholarship and history that we teach in our schools and colleges, and celebrate in our daily papers, shall have gone to Fiddler’s green. For the best argumentative and learned book is like a mechanical invention and when it ceases to contain the newest improvements becomes, like most things, not worth - an old song. Here then is my list, and I will promise you that there is no book in it ‘that raves of Brian Boru’ as much as Burns did of Bruce and Wallace, or has an’intellectual brogue’ more ‘accentuated’ than the Scottish characteristics in Scott and Stevenson. [List given here; for full text, see Ricorso, Library, “Irish Classics”, W. B. Yeats, via index, or direct.]

Letter to the Daily Express (7 Feb. 1895): ‘A very amusing proof of the unfounded nature of one of Professor Dowden’s charges against the Irish literary movement has just reached me. At the very time Professor Dowden was sending to the Press an introduction, saying that we indulged in indiscriminate praise of all things Irish, and went about “plastered with shamrocks and raving of Brian Boru”, a certain periodical was giving the hospitality of its pages to a long anonymous letter making a directly contrary charge. The writer of the letter accused some of the members of the Irish Literary Society of discouraging ‘worthy workers in the field’, of endeavouring to substitute the pursuit of what he called “high art” for the old, easy-going days when every patriotic writer was as good as his neighbour, and even of making allegations against the literary merits of the Young Ireland Party. (John Kelly, ed., Letters, Vol. 1, 1986, p.437; quoted Edna Longley, ‘Revising “Irish Literature”’, The Living Stream: Literature and Revisionism in Ireland, Bloodaxe, 1994; p.16.)

A Book of Irish Verse, ed. W. B. Yeats (1895), Preface: ‘They were full of earnestness, but they never understood that though a poet may govern his life by his enthusiasms, he must when he sits down at his desk, but use them as the potter his clay.’ (p.xiv.) ‘The Irishman of to-day, for th emost part, loves so deeply those arts which build up personality, ready talking, effective speaking, rapid writing, that he has no thought for the arts which consume the personality in solitude.’ (Ibid., pp.xxi-xxii.)

Further: [A Book of Irish Verse, 1895]: ‘[If the men of letters] have not a passion for artistic perfection [...] the deluge of incoherence, jvulgarity and triviality will pass over our heads.’ (Ibid., p.xxii.) WBY considers his book ‘only for English readers, and not at all for Irish peasants, but almost wholly for the small beginning of that educated national public, which is our greatest need and perhaps our vainest hope.’ (Ibid., p.xxvii.; all the foregoing quoted in Terence Brown, A Life of W. B. Yeats, 1999 [pb. edn. 2001], p. 89.)

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Popular Ballad Poetry’ (review in Leisure, Nov. 1897): ‘Behind Ireland fierce and militant is Ireland poetic, picturesque, passionate, remembering, idyllic, fanciful, always patriotic. With this second only have I to do in this article, and what it writes and reads. I have here is a row of little blue-paper-poem books - a whole ballad literature as foreign form all modern English ways as though it were from farthest Iceland and not neighbouring Ireland, and unknown even to most Anglo-Saxon households’; Note that in the ensuing pages he cites both the verses “’Tis my grief that Patrick Loughlin ...” [“Sailing from Mayo”, by George Fox], and “Should one of the stock of the noble Gael [...] He’s welcome to O’Tuomy a thousand times” [from Hardiman’s Minstrelsy] - respectively quoted in his letter to the Daily Express, 27 Feb. 1897, and in his preface to Book of Irish Verse (1895). (‘Popular Ballad Poetry’, rep. in Frayne, Uncollected Prose, Vol. 1, [p.146-61]; p.146.)

Further (‘Popular Ballad Poetry’, Nov. 1897) [on Thomas Moore, Charles Lever and Samuel Lover]: ‘They were never poets of the people. Moore lived in the drawing-rooms, and still finds his audience therein. Lover and Lever, kept apart by opinion from the body of the nation, wrote ever with one eye on London. They never wrote for the people, and neither have they ever, therefore, in prose or verse, written faithfully of the people. Ireland was a metaphor to Moore, to Lever and Lover a merry harlequin, sometimes even pathetic, to be patted and pitied and laughed at so long as he said “Your honour”, and presumed in nowise to be considered a serious or tragic person. Yet the poetry of the men I write of is above all things tragic and melancholy [...].’ (‘Popular Ballad Poetry of Ireland’, in Leisure Hour, Nov. 1889, p.35; rep. in. John Frayne, ed., Uncollected Prose, Vol. I, pp.146-62.)

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What is ‘Popular Poetry’?” (1901): ‘I think it was a Young Ireland Society that set my mind running on ‘popular poetry.’ We used to discuss everything that was known to us about Ireland, and especially Irish literature and Irish history. We had no Gaelic, but paid great honour to the Irish poets who wrote in English, and quoted them in our speeches. I could have told you at that time the dates of the birth and death, and quoted the chief poems, of men whose names you have not heard, and perhaps of some whose names I have forgotten. I knew in my heart that the most of them wrote badly [...]’ (p.3.) [Cont.

Further (“What is ‘Popular Poetry’?”, 1901): ‘There is only one kind of good poetry, for the poetry of the coteries, which presupposes the written tradition, does not differ in kind from the true poetry of the people, which presupposes the unwritten tradition. Both are alike strange and obscure, and unreal to all who have not understanding, and both, instead of that Manifest logic, that clear rhetoric of the “popular poetry,” glimmer with thoughts and images whose “ancestors were stout and wise,” “anigh to Paradise” “ere yet men knew the gift of corn.” It may be that we know as little of their descent as men knew of “the man born to be a king” when they found him in that cradle marked with the red lion crest, and yet we know somewhere in the heart that they have been sung in temples, in ladies’ chambers, and quiver with a recognition our nerves have been shaped to by a thousand emotions. If men did not remember or half remember impossible [8] things, and, it may be, if the worship of sun and moon had not left a faint reverence behind it [...’; pp.8-9.) [Cont.]

Further (“What is ‘Popular Poetry’?”, 1901): ‘I soon learned to cast away one other illusion of ‘popular poetry.’ I learned from the people themselves, before I learned it from any book, that they cannot separate the idea of an art or a craft from the idea of a cult with ancient technicalities and mysteries. They can hardly separate mere learning from witchcraft, and are fond of words and verses that keep half their secret to themselves. Indeed, it is certain that before the counting-house had created a new class and a new art without breeding and without ancestry, and set this art and this class between the hut [10] and the castle, and between the hut and the cloister, the art of the people was as closely mingled with the art of the coteries as was the speech of the people that delighted in rhythmical animation, in idiom, in images, in words full of far-off suggestion, with the unchanging speech of the poets.’ (See full-text version in RICORSO Library > "Irish Classics" > Yeats, index or direct.)

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The Celtic Twilight (1893, 1902) - Preface: ‘I have desired, like every artist to to create a little world out of the beautiful, pleasant and significant things of this marred and clumsy world, and to show in a vision something of the face of Ireland to any of my own people who look where I bid them. I have therefore written down accurately and candidly much that I have seen, and, except by way of commentary, nothing that I have imagined [...]’ (Signet edn., 1962, p.31; quoted [in part] by Michelle Sherman, UG Diss., UUC 2005; quoted [more fully] in Brendan T. Mitchell, MA Diss., UU 2009.)

The Celtic Twilight, W. B. Yeats (London: Lawrence and Bullen 1893; 2nd. rev. edition, London: Bullen 1902)
... is available in full-text digital form at RICORSO Library, “Irish Classics” via index or direct

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Further (The Celtic Twilight, 1893, 1902): ‘Folk art is, indeed, the oldest of the artistocracies of thought, and because it refuses what is passing and trivial, the merely clever and pretty, as certainly as the vulgrar and insincere, and because it has gathered onto itself the simplest and most unforgotten thoughts of the generations, it is the soil where all great art is rooted.’ (The Celtic Twilight, [rep. edn.] Gerrards Cross, Colin Smythe, 1981, p.22.) [See full text of 1902 edition in RICORSO Library > “Irish Classics” > Yeats, via index or direct.]

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Enchanted Woods”: ‘Last summer, whenever I had finished my day’s work, I used to go wandering in certain room woods, and there I would often meet an old countryman, and talk to him about his work and about the woods, and once or twice a friend came with me to whom he would open his heart more readily than to me. He had spent all his life lopping away the witch-elm and the hazel and the privet and the hornbeam from the paths, and had thought much about the natural and supernatural creatures of the woods. [...] I am not certain that he distinguishes between the natural and supernatural very clearly. He told me the other day that foxes and cats like, above all, to be in the “forths” and lisses after nightfall; and he will certainly pass from some story about a fox to a story about a spirit with less change of voice than when he is going to speak about a marten cat - a rare beast nowadays. Many years ago he used to work in the garden, and once they put him to sleep in a garden-house where there was a loft full of apples, and all night he could hear people rattling plates and knives and forks over his head in the loft. Once. at any rate, he has seen an unearthly sight in the woods. He says, ‘One time I was out cutting timber over in Inch, and about eight o’clock one morning when I got there I saw a girl picking nuts, with her hair hanging down over her shoulders, brown hair, and she had a good, clean face, and she was tall and nothing on her head, and her dress no way gaudy but simple, and when she felt me coming she gathered herself up and was gone as if the earth had swallowed her up. And I followed her and looked for her, but I never could see her again from that day to this, never again.’ He used the word clean as “we” would use words like fresh or comely.’ (From The Celtic Twilight, 1902; rep. in Mythologies, 1959 and selected in The Secret Rose and Other Stories, Macmillan [1960], p.61.)

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Concerning the Nearness Together of Heaven, Earth, and Purgatory” (The Celtic Twilight, 1893): ‘In Ireland this world and the other are not widely sundered; sometimes, indeed, it seems almost as if our earthly chattels were no more than the shadows of things beyond. A lady I knew once saw a village child running about with a long trailing petticoat upon her, and asked the creature why she did not have it cut short. “It was my grandmother’s”, said the child; “would you have her going about yonder with her petticoat up to her knees, and she dead but four days?” I have read a story of a woman whose ghost haunted her people because they had made her grave-clothes so short that the fires of purgatory burned her knees. The peasantry expect to have beyond the grave houses much like their earthly homes, only there the thatch will never grow leaky, nor the white walls lose their lustre, nor shall the dairy be at any time empty of good milk and butter. But now and then a landlord or an agent or a gauger will go by begging his bread, to show how God divides the righteous from the unrighteous.’ (From The Celtic Twilight, 1893; rep. in Robert Welch, ed., Writings on Irish Folklore, Legend and Myth, Penguin 1993, p.131; see also Mythologies [NY: Touchstone 1998], p.98, cited by Brendan T. Mitchell, MA Dip., UU 2009.)

[Note: See earlier use of the phrase, ‘In Ireland this world and the other are not widely sundered’ in “Tales from the Twilight” (1890), in Welch, ed., op. cit. 1993, p.58; noted in Richard Pine, The Disappointed Bridge: Ireland and the Post-Colonial World (Cambridge Scholars Publishing 2014), p.303, n.96, & 356, n.115 [rep.].]

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Kidnappers”: ‘Some five miles southward of Sligo is a gloomy and tree-bordered pond, a great gathering-place of water-fowl, called, because of its form, the Heart-Lake. Out of this lake, as from the white square stone in Ben Bulben, issues an unearthly troop [...] I heard it from an old woman in a white cap, who sings in Gaelic, and moves from one foot to the other as though she remembered the dancing of her youth.’ (In Mythologies [NY: Touchstone 1998], p.98, cited by Brendan T. Mitchell, MA Dip., UU 2009.)

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Dust Hath Closed Helen’s Eye” (1899): ‘When I was in a northern town a while ago I had a long talk with a man who had lived in a neighbouring country district when he was a boy. He told me that when a very beautiful girl was born in a family that had not been noted for good looks, her beauty was thought to have come from the Sidhe, and to bring misfortune with it. He went over the names of several beautiful girls that he had known, and said that beauty had never brought happiness to anybody. It was a thing, he said, to be proud of and afraid of. I wish I had written out his words at the time, for they were more picturesque than my memory of them.’ (Additional section to “Dust Hath Closed Helen’s Eye”, Celtic Twilight, 1902 Edn.; rep. in Richard J. Finneran, ed., The Yeats Reader, NY: Scribner 1997, pp.427-33; p.433.)

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Away” [on the ‘changeling’ - Gl. iarlais, or sheoge]: ‘[...] The commonest beginning of the enchantment is to meet some one not of this earth, or in league with people not of this earth, and to talk too freely to them about yourself and about your life. If they understand you and your life too perfectly, or sometimes even if they know your name, they can throw their enchantment about you. A man living at Coole near Gort says: “But those that are brought away would be glad to be back. It’s a poor thing to go there after this life. Heaven is the best Place, Heaven and this world we’re in now. My own mother was away for twenty-one years, and at the end of every seven years she thought it would be off her, but she never could leave the bed. She could but sit up, and make a little shirt or the like for us. It was of the fever she died at last. The way she got the touch was one day after we left the place we used to be in, and we got our choice place on the estate, and my father chose Kilchreest. But a great many of the neighbours went to Moneen. And one day a woman that had been our neighbour came over from Moneen, and my mother showed her everything and told her of her way of living. And she walked a bit of the road with her, and when they were parting the woman said: ‘You’ll soon be the same as such a one.’ And as she turned she felt a pain in the head. And from that day she lost her health. My father went to Biddy Early, but she said it was too late, she could do nothing, and she would take nothing from him.” Biddy Early was a famous witch. / If you are taken you have always, it is said, a chance of return every seven years. Almost all that go “away” among them are taken to help in their work, or in their play, or to nurse their children, or to bear them children, or to be their lovers, and all fairy children are born of such marriages. A man near Gort says: “They are shadows, and how could a shadow have power to move that chair or that table? But they have power over mankind, and they can bring them away to do their work.” I have told elsewhere a man who was “away” with Maive Queen of the western sidhe [and became] her lover, and made a mournful song in the Gaelic when she left him, and was mournful till he died.’ (Fortnightly Review, 1902, rep. in Robert Welch, Writings on Irish Folklore, Legend and Myth, Penguin 1993, p.309.)

[See also notes on Fairy Lore in Wind Among the Reeds (1899) - in Irish Classics > W. B. Yeats, via index or attached - viz., ‘A mere likeness of some old woman, or even old animal, some one or some thing the Sidhe have no longer a use for, is believed to be left instead of the person who is “away” - this some one or some thing can, it is thought, be driven away by threats, or by violence (though I have heard country women say that violence is wrong), which perhaps awakes the soul out of the magical sleep.’ (Fortnightly Review, 1902, rep. in Robert Welch, Writings on Irish Folklore, Legend and Myth, Penguin 1993, p.309.) The second paragraph is taken from Yeats notes on “A Host of the Air” [poem] in The Wind Among the Reeds (1899) [Coll. Poems, p.63.]

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Rosa Alchemica” (in The Secret Rose, 1897): ‘It is now more than ten years since I met, for the last time, Michael Robartes, and for the first time and the last time his friends and fellow students; and witnessed his and their tragic end, and endured those strange experiences, which have changed me so that my writings have grown less popular and less intelligible, and driven me almost to the verge of taking the habit of St. Dominic. I had just published Rosa Alchemica, a little work on the Alchemists, somewhat in the manner of Sir Thomas Browne, and had received many letters from believers in the arcane sciences, upbraiding what they called my timidity, for they could not believe so evident sympathy but the sympathy of the artist, which is half pity, for everything which has moved men’s hearts in any age. I had discovered, early in my researches, that their doctrine was no merely chemical phantasy, but a philosophy they applied to the world, to the elements and to man himself; and that they sought to fashion gold out of common metals merely as part of an universal transmutation of all things into some divine and imperishable substance; and this enabled me to make my little book a fanciful reverie over the transmutation of life into art, and a cry of measureless desire for a world made wholly of essences. [...]’ (For full text, see Ricorso Library, “Irish Classics”, via Yeats index, or direct.)

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The Tables of the Law” (pub. with “Adoration of the Magi”, 1897) ‘[...] Joachim of Flora acknowledged openly the authority of the Church, and even asked that all his published writings, and those to be published by his desire after his death, should be submitted to the censorship of the Pope. He considered that those whose work was to live and not to reveal were children and that the Pope was their father; but he taught in secret that certain others, and in always increasing numbers, were elected, not to live, but to reveal that hidden substance of God which is colour and music and softness and a sweet odour; and that these have no father but the Holy Spirit. Just as poets and painters and musicians labour at their works, building them with lawless and lawful things alike, so long as they embody the beauty that is beyond the grave, these children of the Holy Spirit labour at their moments with eyes upon the shining substance on which Time has heaped the refuse of creation; for the world only exists to be a tale in the ears of coming generations; and terror and content, birth and death, love and hatred, and the fruit of the Tree, are but instruments for that supreme art which is to win us from life and gather us into eternity like doves into their dove-cots.’ (Rep. in George J. Watson, ed., W. B. Yeats: Short Fiction, Penguin 1995, pp.201-11; here p.206.) [For full-text version, see Ricorso Library, “Irish Classics”, via Yeats index, or direct.]

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The Adoration of the Magi” (pub. with “The Tables of the Law”, 1897): ‘[...] Suddenly the second oldest of the old men crowed like a cock, and until the room seemed to shake with the crowing. The woman in the bed still slept on in her death-like sleep, but the woman who sat by her head crossed herself and grew pale, and the youngest of the old men cried out: ‘A Dhoul has gone into him, and we must begone [sic] or it will go into us also.’ Before they could rise from their knees, a resonant chanting voice came from the lips that had crowed and said: ‘I am not a Dhoul, but I am Hermes the Shepherd of the Dead, and I run upon the errands of the gods, and you have heard my sign, that has been my sign from the old days. Bow down before her from whose lips the secret names of the immortals, and of the things near their hearts, are about to come that the immortals may come again into the world. Bow down, and understand that when the immortals are about to overthrow the things that are to-day and bring the things that were yesterday, they have no one to help them, but one whom the things that are to-day have cast out. Bow down and very low, for they have chosen for their priestess, this woman in whose heart all follies have gathered, and in whose body all desires have awaked; this woman who has been driven out of Time and has lain upon the bosom of Eternity. After you have bowed down the old things shall be again, and another Argo shall carry heroes over the deep, and another Achilles beleaguer another Troy.’ (Rep. in George J. Watson, W. B. Yeats: Short Fiction, Penguin 1995, pp.212-17; [For full text, see Ricorso Library, “Irish Classics”, via Yeats index or infra.]

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Stories of Red Hanrahan (1897; rev. edn. 1905.) [final section of first story with eponymous title]: ‘It was a year after that, there were men of the village of Cappaghtagle sitting by the fire in a house on the roadside, and Red Hanrahan that was now very thin and worn and his hair very long and wild, came to the half-door and asked leave to come in and rest himself; and they bid him welcome because it was Samhain night. He sat down with them, and they gave him a glass of whiskey out of a quart bottle; and they saw the little inkpot hanging about his neck, and knew he was a scholar, and asked for stories about the Greeks. / He took the Virgil out of the big pocket of his coat, but the cover was very black and swollen with the wet, and the page when he opened it was very yellow, but that was no great matter, for he looked at it like a man that had never learned to read. Some young man that was there began to laugh at him then, and to ask why did he carry so heavy a book with him when he was not able to read it. / It vexed Hanrahan to hear that, and he put the Virgil back in his pocket and asked if they had a pack of cards among them, for cards were better than books. When they brought out the cards he took them and began to shuffle them, and while he was shuffling them something seemed to come into his mind, and he put his hand to his face like one that is trying to remember, and he said: ‘Was I ever here before, or where was I on a night like this?’ and then of a sudden he stood up and let the cards fall to the floor, and he said, ‘Who was it brought me a message from Mary Lavelle?’ [...]’ (Rep. in The Secret Rose and Other Stories, sel. from Mythologies, Macmillan 1959, pp.222-23; for full text, see Ricorso Library, “Irish Classics”, via Yeats index or direct .]

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