William Butler Yeats: Quotations (3)

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‘The only two powers that trouble the deeps are religion and love, the others make a little trouble on the surface. When I have written of literature in Ireland, I have had to write again and again about a company of Irish mystics who have taught for some years a religious philosophy what has changed many ordinary people into ecstatics and visionaries ... This philosophy has changed its symbolism from time to time, being now a little Christian, now very Indian, now altogether Celtic and mythological; but it has never ceased to take a great part of its colour and character from one lofty imagination’ (Quoted [in part] Louis MacNeice, W. B. Yeats, London: Faber & Faber 1941, and [more largely] in Nicola Gordon-Bowe [on the Arts and Crafts Movement], The Journal of Decorative and Propaganda Arts [DAPA, No. 8], Miami 1988, citing George [Æ] Russell, A Symbolic Artist and the Coming of Symbolic Art.)

His childhood
The People
The Peasant
Irish Folklore
Old wives’ tales
Class & Caste
Oral tradition
Irish oratory
The Celts
Imagination & Lit.
Reason & Impulse
Religion & Mythology
Anglo-Irish Literature?
Irish Movements
The Abbey Theatre
On planning an Irish fiction anthology (Letter to Fr. Matthew Russell in 1889 ) - infra.
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His childhood [from Autobiographies, 1955] - (I): ‘I have changed nothing to my knowledge, yet it must be that I have changed many things without my knowledge; for I am writing after many years and have consulted neither friend, nor letter, nor old newspaper, and describe what comes oftenest into my memory’. (Autobiographies, p.3.) ‘Indeed, I remember little of childhood but its pain. I have grown happier with every year of my life, as though gradually conquering something in myself, for certainly my miseries were not made by others but were part of my own mind.’ (Ibid., p.11.) ‘Because I found it hard to attend to anything less interesting than my own thoughts, I was difficult to teach. Several of my uncles and aunts had tried to teach me to read, and because they could not, and because I was much older than children who read easiliy, had come to think, as I have learnt since, that I had not all my faculties. But for an accident they might have thought it for a long time [...]’ (Ibid., p.23.)

‘Years afterwards, when I was ten or twelve years old and in London, I would remember Sligo with tears, and when I began to write it was there that I hoped to find my audience [... &c.].’ ‘I longed for a sod of earth from some field I knew, something of Sligo to hold in my hand. It was some old race instinct like that of a savage, for we had been brought up to laugh at all display of emotion. Yet it was our mother, who would have thought its display a vulgarity, who kept alive that love. She would spend hours listening to stories or telling stories of the pilots and fishing-people of Rosses Point, or of her Sligo girlhood, and it was always assumed between her and us that Sligo was more beautiful than other places.’ (Ibid., p.31.)

‘Everyone I knew [33] in Sligo despised Nationalists and Catholics, but all disliked England with a prejudice that had come down perhaps from the says of the Irish Parliament.’ (Ibid., pp.33-34; quoted in John McGovern, MA Diss. UUC 2002.)

‘The English boys at my school thought of Agincourt and Crécy and the Union Jack and were all very patriotic and I without those memories of Limerick and the Yellow Ford that would have strengthened an Irish Catholic thought of mountain and lake, of my grandfather and of ships’ (Ibid., p.35; quoted in Frank Pakenham [Lord Longford], Five Lives, 1964.)

His Childhood (II): ‘The place that has really influenced my life the most is Sligo. There used to be two dogs there - one smooth-haired, one curly - I used to follow them all day long. I knew their all occupations, when they hunted for rats, and when they went to the rabbit warren. They taught me to dream, maybe. Since then I follow my thoughts as I then. followed the two dogs - the smooth and the curly - wherever they lead me.’ (Letter to Katharine Tynan; quoted in Ellmann, Yeats, The Man and the Masks, 1948, p.26.)

Further: ‘When I was a child I had only to climb the hills behind the house to see long, blue, ragged hills flowing along the southern horizon. What beauty was lost to me, what depth of emotion is still perhaps lacking to me, because nobody told me, not even the merchant captain who knew everything, that Cruachan of the Enchantments lay behind those long, blue, ragged hills!’ (Preface to Lady Gregory, Cuchulain of Muirthemne, London 1903; quoted in John Frayne, ed, Uncollected Prose, Vol. I, 1970, Pref. p.47, n.39.)

His Childhood (III): ‘When I look at my brother’s picture, "Memory Harbour" - houses and anchored ship and distant light-house all set close together as in some old map - I recognize in the blue-coated man with the mass of white shirt the pilot I went fishing with, and I am full of disquiet and of excitement, and I am melancholy because I have not made more and better verses. I have walked on Sinbad’s yellow shore and never shall an-other’s hit my fancy.’ (Reveries over Childhood and Youth [1914], in Autobiographies, 1955, [q.p.])

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The People (I): ‘The Greeks looked within their borders, and we like them, have a history fuller than any modern history of imaginative events; and legends which surpass, as I think, all legends but theirs in wild beauty, and in our land, as in theirs there is no river or mountain that is not associated in the memory with some event or legend [...] I would have our writers and craftsmen of many kinds master this history and these legends, and fix upon their memory the appearance of the mountains and rivers and make it all visible again in their art, so that Irishmen, even though they have gone thousands of miles away, would still be in their country.’ (Essays and Introductions, p.205-6; quoted in part in Fiona Macintosh, Dying Acts: Death in Ancient Greek and Modern Irish Tragic Drama, Cork UP 1994, p.10.)

The People (II) ‘There is humour and fantasy as well as miraculous poetry in our old legends, and one can find in them all kinds of meanings. They will someday be the themes of poets and painters in many countries, and the substance of a new romantic movement [...]. They are the greatest treasure the past has handed down to us, Irish people [are] the most plentiful source of legends in Europe.’ (Letter to Standish Hayes O’Grady, 1898; Alan Wade, ed., Letters of W. B. Yeats, 1954, p.308.)

The People (III): ‘[O]ur movement is a return to the people [...] if you would ennoble a man of the roads you must write about the man of the roads, or about the people of romance, or about great historical people.’ (Samhain, 1902; Explorations, Macmillan 1962, p.96; quoted in Una Kealy, ‘The Return of Radical Innocence in the Plays of W. B. Yeats’ [UUC MA 1999], p.29.)

The People (IV) : ‘I cannot probably be quite just to any poetry that speaks to me with the sweet insinuating feminine voice of the dwellers of the country of shadows and hollow images. I have dwelt there too long not to dread all that comes of it. ’ (Letter to George Russell, 1904; Letters, Vol. I, p.434; quoted in Marjorie Howes, Yeats’s Nations: Gender, Class, and Irishness, Cambridge UP 1996, p.17 - illustrating Yeats’s the way in which Yeats ‘coded his move away from Celticism as a transition from feminine to masculine’, idem.)

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The Peasant (I): ‘I do not think these country imaginations have changed much for centuries, for they are still busy with those two themes of the ancient Irish poets, the sternness of battle and the sadness of parting and death. The emotion that in other countries has made many love-songs has here been given, in a long wooing, to danger, that ghostly bride. It is not a difference in the substance of things that the lamentations that were sung after battles are now sun for men who have died upon the gallows. [212] / The emotion has become not less, but more noble, by the change, for the man who goes to death with the thought - “It is with the people I was / It is not with the law I was” - has behind him generations of poetry and poetical life. [...] There is still in truth upon these great level plains a people, a community bound together by imaginative possessions, by stories and poems which have grown out of its own life, and by a past of great passions which can still waken the heart to imaginative action [...] One could still, if one had the genius, and had been born to Irish, write for these people plays and poems like those of Greece. England or any other country which takes its tune from the great cities can gets its taste from schools and not from old custom may have a mob, but it cannot have a people.’ (‘The Galway Plains’, [rep.] in Essays and Introductions, pp.212-13.)

The Peasant (II): ‘Dr. Hyde and his league [...] sought the peasant, and it is the peasant perhaps who prevails wherever Gaelic is taught, but we sought the peasant’s imagination, which presses beyond himself as if to the next stage.’ (Explorations, Macmillan 1962, p.401; quoted in Edward Hirsch, ‘“Contention Is Better Than Loneliness”: The Poet as Folklorist’, in Ronald Schleifer, ed., The Genres of Irish Literary Revival, Wolfhound 1980, p.14.)

The Peasant (III): ‘Among those our civilisation must reject, or leave unrewarded at some level below that co-ordination that modern civilisation finds essential, exists precious faculties [...] I have noticed that clairvoyance, prevision, and allied gifts, rare among the educated classes, are common among peasants. Among those peasants there is much of Asia, where Hegel has said every civilisation begins. Yet we much hold to what we have that the next civilisation may be born, not from a virgin’s womb, not a tomb without a body, not from a void, but of our own rich experience.’ (‘Private Thoughts’, in Explorations, p.436-37).

The Peasant (IV): ‘A few days after, I was in the town of Galway, and saw there, as I had often seen in other country towns, some young men marching down the middle of a street singing an already outworn London music-hall song, that filled the memory, long after they had gone by, with a rhythm as pronounced and as impersonal as the noise of a machine. In the shop-windows there were, I knew, the signs of a life very unlike that I had seen at Killeenan: halfpenny comic papers and story papers, sixpenny reprints of popular novels, and, with the exception of a dusty Dumas or Scott strayed thither, one knew not how, and one or two little books of Irish ballads, nothing that one calls literature, nothing that would interest the few thousands who alone out of many millions have what we call culture. A few miles had divided the sixteenth century, with its equality of culture, of good taste, from the twentieth, where if a man has fine taste he has either been born to leisure and opportunity or has in him an energy that is genius. One saw the difference in the clothes of the people of the town and of the village, for, as the Emerald Tablet says, outward and inner things answer to one another, The village men wore their bawneens, their white flannel jackets; they had clothes that had a little memory of clothes that had once been adapted to their calling by centuries of continual slight changes. They were sometimes well dressed, for they suggested nothing but themselves and wore little that had suited another better. But in the town nobody was well dressed; for in modern life, only a few people - some few thousands - set the fashion, and set it to please themselves and to fit their lives; and as for the rest, they must go shabby - the ploughman in clothes cut for a life of leisure, but made of shoddy, and the tramp in the ploughman’s cast-off clothes, and the scarecrow in the tramp’s battered coat and broken hat [...]’ (Samhain, 1906; rep. in “The Irish Dramatic Movement”, in Explorations, London: Macmillan 1962, pp.203-04; quoted in Patrick Sheeran, The Novels of Liam O’Flaherty: A Study in Romantic Realism, UCG diss. 1972, p.38.)

The Peasant (IV): ‘The peasant remembers such songs and legends, all the more, it may be, because he has thought of little but cows and sheep and the like in his own marriage, for his dream has never been entangled by reality. The beauty of women is mirrored in his mind, as the excitement of the world is mirrored in the minds of children, and like them he thinks nothing but the best worth remembering.’ (“The Literary Movement in Ireland”, in John P. Frayne & Colton Johnson, eds., Uncollected Prose by W. B. Yeats Volume II: Reviews, Articles and Other Miscellaneous Prose 1897–1939, London: Macmillan, 1975, p. 190; quoted in Una Kealy, “George Fitzmaurice”, PhD Diss., UU 2005.)

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Irish Folklore (I): ‘Folk-lore is at once the Bible, the Thirty-Nine Articles, and the Book of Common Prayer, and well-nigh all the great poets have lived by its light. Homer, Aeschylus, Sophocles, Shakespeare, and even Dante, Goethe, and Keats, were little more than folk-lorists with musical tongues.’ (‘Message of the Folklorists’, 1893; also cited as ‘A Literary Causerie’, in Robert Welch, ed., Writings on Irish Folklore, Legend and Myth, Penguin 1993, p.17.)

Irish Folklore (II): ‘I object to the “honest folk-lorist”, not because his versions are accurate, but because they are inaccurate, or rather incomplete. What lover of Celtic lore has not been filled with a sacred rage when he comes upon some exquisite story, dear to him from childhood, written out in newspaper English and called science?’ (Answer to Rev. Percy Myles; Unpublished Prose, p.174.)

Irish Folklore (III): ‘To me the ideal folklorist is Mr. Douglas Hyde. A tale told by him is quite as accurate as any “scientifc” person’s rendering; but in dialect and so forth he is careful to give us the most quaint, or poetical, or humours version he has heard’ (Uncollected Prose, p.174.) Also of Hyde: ‘In becoming scientifically accurate, he has not ceased to be a man of letters’ (Uncollected Prose, p.188.) ‘It is possible that the books of folklore, coming in these later days from every country in the world, are bringing the fairies and the spirits to our study tables that we may witness a like affirmation, and see innumerable hands lifted testifying to the ancient supremacy of imagination.’ (Uncollected Prose, p.284.) ‘The recent revival of Irish literature has been very largely a folk-lore revival, an awakening of interest in the wisdom and ways of the poor, and in the poems and legends handed down among the cabins.’ (1894; Uncollected Prose, p.326.) [The foregoing all quoted in Edward Hirsch, ‘“Contention Is Better Than Loneliness”: The Poet as Folklorist’, in Ronald Schleifer, ed., The Genres of Irish Literary Revival, Wolfhound 1980, pp.11ff.)

Irish Folklore (IV) [On collecting folklore with Lady Gregory]: ‘Again and again, she and I felt that we had got down, as it were, into some fibrous darkness, into some matrix out of which everything has come, some condition that brought together as though into a single scheme “exultations, agonies”, and the apparitions seen by dogs and horses; but there was always something lacking. We came upon visionaries of whom it was impossible to say whether they were Christian or Pagan, found memories of jugglers like those of India, found fragments of a belief that associated Eternity with field and road, not with buildings; but these visionaries, memories, fragments were eccentric, alien, shut off, as it were, under the plate glass of a museum.’ Further: ‘I had found something of what I wanted but not all, the explanatory intellect had disappeared. When Shri Purohit Swami described his journey upon those seven thousand steps at Mount Ginar [...] and fitted everything into an ancient discipline, a philosophy that satisfied the intellect, I found all that I wanted.’ (Essays and Introductions, 1961, p.429; quoted in Selina Guinness, ‘Irish Folklore and British Anthropology’, in Irish Studies Review, April 1998, p.44.)

Irish Folklore (V): ‘The various collectors of Irish folklore have from our point of view, one great merit, and from the point of view of the 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 folklorist are on the gad after [...; &c.]’ (Fairy and Folktales of the Irish Peasantry [1899]; rep. edn. London Pan Books 1979, pp.6-7; quoted in Ann Cahill, ‘Irish Folktales and Supernatural Literature: Patrick Kennedy and Sheridan Le Fanu’, in Bruce Stewart, ed., That Other World: The Supernatural and the Fantastic in Irish Literature, Gerrards Cross: Colin Smythe 1998,Vol. 1, pp.307-18; p.311.)

Irish Folklore (VI) [On revenants & changelings]: ‘It is not wonderful when one remembers this nearness of the dead to the living, that the country people should sometimes go on half-hoping for years, that their dead might walk in the door, as ruddy and warm as ever, but I think only half-living.’ (Robert Welch, ed., W. B. Yeats: Writings on Irish Folklore, Penguin 1993, p.172; quoted in Terence Brown, A Life of W. B. Yeats, 1999, p.20.) Also: ‘This substitution of the dead for the living is indeed a pagan mystery, and not more hard to understand than the substitution of the body and blood of Christ for the wafer and the wine in the mass; and I have not yet lost the belief that some day, in some village lost among the hills or in some island among the western seas, in some place that remembers the old ways and has not learned the new ways, I will come to understand how this pagan mystery hides and reveals some half-forgotten memory of an ancient knowledge or of an ancient wisdom.’ (Welch, op. cit., p.317; quoted in Brown, op. cit., p.21.)

Irish Folklore (V) [& the Irish Literary Revival]: ‘The recent revival of Irish literature has been largely a folklore revival, an awakening of interest in the wisdom and ways of the poor, and in the poems and legends handed down among the cabins.’ (“The Evangel of Folkore” [1898], in Yeats: Writings on Irish Folklore, ed. Robert Welch, Penguin 1993, p.135; quoted in Richard Pine, The Disappointed Bridge: Ireland and the Post-Colonial World, Cambridge Scholars Publishing 2014, p.157.)

Note: Pine (op. cit., 2014) assembles a package of Yeats’s remarks on the supernatural beliefs of the Irish peasants given in Writings on Folklore, ed. Welch (1993):

  • ‘The peasants believe in their ancient gods, and [...] to them, as to their forebears, everything is inhabited and mysterious.’ (“The Prisoners of the Gods” [1898], in Welch, ed., Writings on Folklore, 1993, p.113.
  • ‘All folk literature, and all literature that keeps the folk tradition, delights in unbounded and immortal things [...] The people of the west of Ireland [...] live in a very ancient world, and are surrounded by dreams [...] The Irish countryman certainly believes that a spiritual race lives all about him.’ (“The Celtic Element in Literature“ [1898], “Ireland Bewitched”, and “Irish Witch Doctors”, in Writings on Folklore, 1993, pp.194, 219, 253.

See Pine, The Disappointed Bridge: Ireland and the Post-Colonial World, Cambridge Scholars Publishing 2014, p.157.

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The Praise of Old Wives’ Tales”: ‘[...] no playwright can be wholly episodical, and when one constructs bringing one’s characters into complicated relations with one another, something impersonal comes into the story. Society, fate, “tendency”, something not quite human, begins to arrange the characters and to excite into action only so much of their humanity as they find it necessary to show to one another. The common heart will always love better the tales that have something of an old wives’ tale and that look upon their hero from every side as if he alone were wonderful, as a child does with a new penny. In plays of a comedy too extravagant to photograph life, or written in verse, the construction is of a necessity woven out of naked motives and passions, but when an atmosphere of modern reality has to be built up as well, and the tendency, or fate, or society has to be shown as it is about ourselves, the characters grow fainter, and we have to read the book many times or see the play many times before we can remember them. Even then they are only possible in a certain drawing-room and among such-and-such people, and we must carry all that lumber in our heads. I thought Tolstoy’s War and Peace the greatest story I had ever read, and yet it has gone from me; even Launcelot, ever a shadow, is more visible in my memory than all its substance.’ (“The Cutting of the Agate”, in Essays and Introductions, 1961, pp.272-73.)

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Class & Caste (I): ‘Ireland has suffered more than England from Democracy, for since the Wild Geese fled, who might have grown to be leaders in manners and taste, she has had but political leaders.’ (?Uncollected Prose, 1975; quoted in Cairns and Richards, Writing Ireland 1988, p.120.) Cf. ‘No country could have a more natural distaste for equality; leisure, wealth, privilege were created to be a soil for the most living’ [1909; q. source.]

Class & Caste (II):‘All Irish Writers have to choose whether they will write as the upper classes have done, not to express, but to exploit this country; or join the intellectual movement, which has raised the cry that was heard in Russia in the “seventies, the cry of “to the people”.’ (Explorations, Macmillan 1962, p.124.)

Class & Caste (III): ‘Since about 1900 the better stocks have not been replacing their numbers, while the stupider and less healthy have been more than replacing theirs. Unless there is a change in the public mind every rank above the lowest must degenerate, and, as inferior men push into its gaps, degenerate more and more quickly.’ (On the Boiler, p.18 [rep. in Explorations, Macmillan 1962, pp.407-53]; quoted in Brenda Maddox, George’s Ghosts: A New Life, 1999, p.353-56.)

Class & Caste (IV) [on the educational needs of Ireland]: ‘[N]othing but ploughing, harrowing, sowing, curry-combing, bicycle-cleaning, drill-driving, parcel-making, bale-pushing, tincan-soldering, door-knob polishing, and laying upon the Squiffer, all things that serve human dignity, unless indeed it decide that these things are better taught at home, in which case it can leave the poor children at peace.’ (On the Boiler, p.18, 27-28; also in Explorations, Macmillan 1962, pp.407-53; Maddox, p.356.)

Class & Caste (V): ‘The scholars of a few generations ago were fond of deciding that certain persons were unworthy of the dignity of art. They had, it may be, an over-abounding preference for kings and queens, but we are, it may be, very stupid in thinking that the average man is a fit subject at all for the finest art. Art delights in the exception, for it delights in the soul expressing itself according to its own laws and arranging the world about it in its own pattern, as sand strewn upon a drum will change itself into different patterns, according to the notes of music that are sung or played upon it. But the average man is average because he has not attained to freedom. habit, routine, fear of public opinion, fear of punishment in the here or hereafter, a myriad of thingsthat are something other than human life, something less than flame, work their will upon his soul and trundle his body here and there.’ (‘The Play, the Player and the Scene’, in Samhain, 1904; Explorations, Macmillan 1962, p.168; Flannery, 1976, p.74, n.80; p.168; Kealy, op. cit., 1999, p.33.)

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Oral tradition: [Yeats writes of] ‘restoring a way of life in which the common man has some share of imaginative art. Irish poetry and Irish stories were made to be spoken or sung, while English literature, along of great literatures, because the newest of them all, has all but completely shaped itself in the printing press. In Ireland to-day the old world that sang and listened is, it may be for the last time in Europe, face to face with the world that reads and writes, and their antagonisms is always present under some name or other in Irish imagination or intellect.’ (‘Literature and the Living Voice’; quoted in Denis Donoghue, ‘Another Complex Fate’, in We Irish: Essays on Irish Literature and Society, California UP 1986, p.142.) Note that Yeats viewed the Irish as a scattered race of twenty million ‘held together by songs’. (13 Aug. 1937, Letters to Dorothy Wellesley, p.157; quoted in Brenda Maddox, Yeats’s Ghosts: The Secret Life of W. B. Yeats, NY: HarperCollins 1999, p.343.)

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Irish Oratory: ‘It is of the very nature of oratory that the orator should make his hearers feel he is convinced of what he is saying, and, therefore, he is forever tempted to assume, for the sake of effect, a show of sincerity and vehement conviction, or, what is worse, to become really sincere and vehemently convinced about things of which he has no adequate knowledge. In the world God made are none but probability and, as the Persian poet sings, a hair divides the false and true; but too often there are none but certainties in the world of the orator. If once a nation is thoroughly stupefied by oratory of this kind, she loses all sense of proportion, all sense of reality, for has she not discovered that her orators can convince themselves and her of anything at a few minutes’ notice, and bring both, by the pleasant pathway of a few similes, a few vehement gestures, to that certainty which the scholar attains after years of research, and the philosopher after a lifetime of thought?’ (‘The Silenced Sister: A Letter to the Editor of United Ireland Concerning a lecture delivered by Richard Ashe King to the National Literary Society in Dublin, Dec. 8, 1893’; in Frayne, ed., Uncollected Prose, Vol. 1, Macmillan 1970, p.308.) Note: Yeats wrote to Ernest Boyd remonstrating against ‘Dublin talkers who value anything which they call a principle more than any possible achievement. All achievements are won by compromise and these men wherever they find themselves expel from their own minds - by their minds’ rigidity - the flowing & living world.’ (20 Jan. 1915; quoted in Foster, Vol. 2, p.61.)

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The Celts (I): ‘We are often told that we are men of infirm will and lavish lips, planning one thing and doing another [...] The mind of the Celt loves to linger on images of persistence; implacable hate, implacable love, on Conor and Deirdre, and Setanta watching by the door of Cullan, and the long waiting of the blind Lynott.’ (‘Poetry of Sir Sam. Ferguson’, Dublin University Review, 1886, p.940; Frayne, Vol. I, 1970, p.104.)

‘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 a newspaper man, if you entice him into a cemetery at midnight, will believe in phantoms, for everyone is a visionary, if you scratch him deep enough. But the Celt is a visionary without scratching.’ (Introduction to Fairy and Folk Tales of the Irish Peasantry, 1888, p.x.)

Memory, Sleep & Dreaming: ‘It has been the Celt’s great charge to remember it with ancient things among forgetful people; and it may be his charge to speak of it and of ancient sanctities to peoples who have only new things. It was perhaps for this that the Roman went by him afar off, and that the Englishman is beating in vain upon his doors and wonder how doors of dreams can be so greatly harder than doors of iron; and that his days pass among greystones and grey clouds and greys seas, among things too faint and seemingly frail to awaken him from the sleep, in which the ancient peoples dreamed the world and the glory of it, and were content to dream.’ (“The Tribe of Danu”, in Uncollected Prose, Vol. 2, p.69; with thanks to Neil Mann for the reference and page-image - as infra.)

[...]

Tribe of Danu

“The Tribe of Danu”, in The New Review (Nov. 1897), p.54-69, p.69.
See Frayne, ed. Uncollected Prose of WBY, Vol. 2 (1975) - contents.
[View enlarged image in separate window.]

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The Celts (II): ‘The warriors were not simply warriors, the kings not simply kings, the smiths merely smiths; they all seem striving to bring something out of the world of thoughts into the world of deeds - a something that always eluded them.’ ‘Indeed Cuchulain, Finn, Oisin, St Patrick, the whole ancient world of Erin may well have been sung out of the void by the harps of the great bardic order.’ Further: ‘[B]ut Ireland was doomed to have no rest, no peace, no leisure for students to labour in: the bees were too hard pressed by the wasps to make any honey.’ ‘[A] man lives or hates until he falls into the grave. Years pass over the head of Conchubar and Finn: they forget nothing.’ (Extracts from review of Sophie Bryant, Celtic Ireland; in Scots Observer, 4 Jan. 1890; quoted in John Frayne, ed., Uncollected Prose, Vol. 1, 1970; Pref. p.37, 51.)

The Celts (III): ‘[I]t is only the Celt who cares much for ideas which have no immediate practical bearing. At least Matthew Arnold said so, and I think he is right, for the flood-gates 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.’ (‘Nationality and Literature’, in United Ireland, 27 May, 1893.) rep. in Frayne, ed., Uncollected Prose, 1970, pp.267-75; p.268.) Yeats further speaks of ‘examples of the long and continued and resolute purpose of the Irish writers to bring their literary tradition to perfection, to discover fitting symbols for their emotions, or to accentuate what is at once Celtic and excellent in their nature, that they may be at last tongues of fire uttering the evangel of the Celtic people.’ (‘Irish National Literature, III: Contemporary Irish Poets’, in Frayne, ed., Uncollected Prose, Vol. 1, p.382.) See also ‘Celtic Element in Literature’ (1902, supra.)

The Celts (IV): ‘[M]en who lived in a world where anything might flow and change, and become any other thing; and among great gods whose passions were in the flaming sunset, and in the thunder and the thundershower, had not our thoughts of weight and measure. They worshipped nature and the abundance of nature, and had always, as it seems, for a supreme ritual and tumultuous dance among the hills or in the depths of the woods, where unearthly ecstasy fell upon the dancers, until they seems the gods or the godlike beasts, and felt their souls overtopping the moon; and, as some thing, imagined for the first time in the world the blessed country of the gods and of the happy dead.... All folk literature, and all literature that keeps the folk tradition, delights in unbounded and immortal things.’ (‘The Celtic Element in Literature’, first published in Cosmopolis, June 1898; rep. in Ideas of Good and Evil, 1903, and later in Essays and Introductions; also in John Frayne, ed., Uncollected Prose, [Vol. 1] London 1970,p.111.) See also concluding remarks: ‘[...] Irish legends move among known woods and seas, and have so much of new beauty that they may well give the opening century its most memorable symbols’ (Frayne, op. cit., p.117.)

The Celts (V): ““The Celtic movement” as I understand it, is principally the opening of this fountain [i.e., legends of Emer, of Diarmuid and Grainne and the children of Lir], and none can measure of how great importance it may be to coming times, for every new fountain of legends is a new intoxication for the imagination of the world. It comes at a time when the imagination of the world is ready for a new intoxication. [...] They must, as religious thought has always done, utter themselves through legends; [...] the Irish legends move among known woods and seas, and have so much of a new beauty that they may well give the opening century its most memorable symbols’ (“On the Celtic Element in Literature”, in Essays and Introductions, p. 187.)

The Celts (VI): ‘One comes to think of the Celt as an ancient farmer or herdsman, who sits bowed with the dreams of his unnumbered years, in the gates of the rich races, talking of forgotten things.’ (“The Celtic Element in Literature”; q.p. )

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Imagination & literature (I): ‘I do not think imagination has changed here for centuries; for it is still busy with these two themes of the ancient Irish poets, the sternness of battle and the sadness of parting and death.’ (‘Poets and Dreamers’, in Welch, ed., Writings on Folklore, 1993; q.p.) ‘[T]he observations of the senses, binds us to mortality because it binds us to the senses and divides us from each other by showing us our clashing interests; but imagination divides us from mortality by the immortality of beauty, and binds us to each other by opening the doors of all hearts.’ (William Blake and the Imagination’, Essays and Introductions, 1961, pp.111-115; p.112; quoted in Una Kealy, ‘The Return of Radical Innocence in the Plays of W. B. Yeats’ [UUC MA 1999], p.41.)

Imagination & literature (II): ‘I believe that literature is the principal voice of the conscience, and that it is its duty age after age to affirm its morality against the special moralities of clergymen and churches, and of kings and parliament and peoples. [...] I have no doubt that a wise ecclesiastic, if his courage equalled his wisdom, would be better censor than the mob, but I think it better to fight the mob alone than to seek for a support one could only get by what would seem to me a compromise of principle.’ (Letter to Freeman’s Journal, 13 Nov. 1901; quoted in Richard Ellmann, Yeats: The Man and the Masks, 1948, p.134.)

Imagination & literature (II): ‘Imaginative literature wholly, and all literature in some degree, exists to reveal a more powerful and passionate, a more divine world than ours; and not to make our ploughing and sowing, our spinning and weaving, more easy or more pleasant.’ (Review of Richard Ashe King, Swift in Ireland, in Bookman, June 1896; quoted in Frayne, ed., Uncoll. Prose, 1970, p.62.) ‘Great literature is always great because the writer was thinking of truth and life and beaty more than of literary form and literary fame’ (Review of George Buchanan’s The Wandering Jew, in Bookman, April 1893l quoted in Frayne, 1970, p.62.)

Imagination & literature (III): ‘The close of the last century was full of a strange desire to get out of form to get to some kind of disembodied beauty and now it seems to me the contrary impulse has come. I feel about me and in me an impulse to create form, to carry the realisation of beauty as far as possible.’ (Letter to AE [George Russell], 14 May 1903.) Note that Yeats was intent on establishing ‘a more imaginative tradition in Irish literature [based on] a tradition of belief older than any European Church, and founded upon the experience of the world before the modern bias.’ (‘Poetry and Tradition’, in Essays and Introductions, Macmillan 1986, p.256; quoted in Barry Montgomery, ‘Yeats’s Occult Philosophy of Art’, UUC MA Diss. 2003.)

Imagination & literature (IV): ‘I began to pray that my imagination might somehow be rescued from abstraction and become as preoccupied with life as had been the imagination of Chaucer. For ten or twelve years more I suffered continual remorse, and only became content when my abstractions had composed themselves into picture and dramatisation. My very remorse helped to spoil my early poetry, giving it an element of sentimentality through my refusal to permit it any share of an intellect which I considered impure. Even in practical life I only very gradually began to use generalisations, that have since become the foundation of all I have done, or shall do, in Ireland. For all I know all men may have been so timid, for I am persuaded that our intellects at twenty contain all the truths we shall ever find, but as yet we do not know truths that belong to us from opinions caught up in casual irritation or momentary fantasy. As life goes on we discover that certain thoughts sustain us in defeat, or give us victory, whether over ourselves or others, and it is these thoughts, tested by passion, that we call convictions.’ (“Four Years: 1887-1891”, Book I: “The Trembling of the Veil”, [Sect.] XXI, in Autobiographies, Macmillan 1955, p.189.)

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Literature & Conscience: ‘Literature, when it is really literature, does not deal with the problem of the hour, but problems of the soul and the character.’ (‘Literature and Conscience’, in United Irishman, 7 Dec. 1901; rep. in The Collected Works of W.B. Yeats Vol X: Later Articles and Reviews [...] Written after 1900, ed. Colton Johnson, NY: Scribner 2000, pp.60-61; [in PS, p.61].

Note: the occasion of the sentence was an answer to a letter-writer in the Freeman's Journal who used the nom-de-plume “Irial”. Yeats writes: ‘[...] A great writer will devote perhaps years, perhaps the greater part of a lifetime, to the study of the moral issues raised by a single event, by a single group of characters. He will bemoralise his characters, but he will show, as no other can show, how they act and think and endure under the weight of that destiny which is divine justice. No lawgiver, however prudent, no preacher, however lofty, can devote to life so ample and so patient a treatment. It is for this reason that men of genius frequently have to combat against the moral codes of their time, and are yet pronounced right by history. "Irial" will recall many examples, of which the most recent is Ibsen. [...]’ (p.60.)

‘PS: I must add a sentence or two to what I have said about the conscience. It is made sensitive and powerful by religion, but its dealings with the complexity of life are regulated by literature. "Irial" spoke of a book which discusses problems of the hour and yet seems to him at once literature and iniquitous. He is certainly mistaken. Literature when it is really literature, does not deal with problems of the hour, but with problems of the soul and character.’ (p.63; available at Google Books - online.)

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Reason & Impulse [1]: ‘I want you to understand that once one makes a thing subject to reason, as distinguished from impulse, one plays with it, even if it is a very serious thing. I am more ashamed because of the things I have played with in life than of any other thing./All my moral endeavour for many years has been an attempt to recreate practical instinct in myself. I can only conceive of it as of a kind of acting.’ (Unposted letter to Robert Gregory, 2 Aug. 1910; excerpt from 12908 Diary, unpubl. when printed in Ellmann, Yeats: The Man and the Masks, 1948, p.178.)

Reason & Impulse [2]: ‘We only believe in those thoughts which we have conceived not in the brain but in the whole body.’ (‘The Cutting of the Agate’, reprinted in Essays and Introductions, p.235; quoted in Jeffares, New Comm entary, p.349.)

Reason & Impulse [3]: ‘[O]ur minds are overthrown by abstract phrases and generalisations, reflections in a mirror that seem living [...] we have turned the table of values upside down and believe that the root of reality is not in the centre but somewhere in the whirling circumference.’ (First Principles: Samhain, 1904; Explorations, Macmillan 1962, p.142; Una Kealy, ‘The Return of Radical Innocence in the Plays of W. B. Yeats’ [UUC MA 1999], p.42.)

Reason & Impulse [4]: ‘I have always sought to bring my mind close to the mind of Indian and Japanese poets, old women in Connaught, mediums in Soho [...] to immerse it in the general mind where that mind is scarce separable from what we have begun to call the “subconscious”.’ (‘Anima Mundi’, in Mythologies; quoted in Ciaran Cosgrove, ‘Otavio Paz: Poet of the Stratosphere’, in The Crane Bag, Vol. 6, No. 2, 1982, p.101.)

Reason & Impulse [5]: ‘If all our mental images no less than apparitions (and I see no reason to distinguish) are forms existing int the general vehicle of Anima Mundi, and mirrored in our particular vehicle, many crooked things are made straight.’ (‘Anima Mundi’, in “Per Amica Silentia Lunae”, Mythologies, NY: Touchstone 1998, p.346; quoted in Barry Montgomery, ‘Yeats’s Occult Philosophy of Art’, UUC MA Diss. 2003).

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Religion & Mythology (I): ‘I was unlike others of my generation in one thing only. I am very religious, and deprived by Huxley and Tyndall, whom I detested, of the simple-minded religion of my childhood, I had made a new religion, an almost infallible church, of poetic tradition, of a fardel of stories, and of personages, and of emotions, inseparable from their first expression, passed on from generation to generation by poets and painters with some help form philosophers and theologians. I wished for a world where I could discover this tradition perpetually, and not in pictures and poems only, but in tiles around the chimney-piece and in the hangings that kept out the draught.’ (Autobiographies, pp.115-16; quoted [inter alia] in Terence Brown, A Critical Life of W. B. Yeats, Gill & Macmillan 1999, p.31.) [On his ‘unshakeable belief’:] ‘I thought whatever of philosophy has been made poetry alone is permanent.’ Note that Yeats tells his father that he is arranging his ideas about masks and anti-self into a ‘religious system’ (Letter of 14 June [1915]; quoted in Ellmann, 1948, p.213.)

Religion & Mythology (II): ‘I believe that the renewal of belief which is the great movement of our time will more and more liberate the arts from ‘their age’ and from life, and leave them more and more free to lose themselves in beauty, and to busy themselves, like all the great poetry of the past and like religions of all times, with old “faiths, myths, dreams” the accumulated beauty of the age. I believe that all will more and more reject the opinion that poetry is a “criticism of life” and be more and more convinced that it is a revelation of hidden life, and that they may even come to think “painting, poetry, and music” the only means of conversing with eternity left to man on earth.’ (In Literary Ideals in Ireland, 1899, p.36; reprinted in Mark Storey, Poetry and Ireland, 1988.)

Religion & Mythology (III): ‘I am no longer in much sympathy with an essay like “The Autumn of the Body” [...] the close of the last century was full of a strange desire to get out of form, to get to some kind of disembodied beauty, and now it seems to me the contrary impulse has come. I feel about me and in me an impulse to create form, to carry the realisation of beauty as far as possible’; ‘I have always felt that the soul has two movements primarily: one to transcend forms, and the other to create forms [...] I think I have to some extent got weary of that wild God Dionysius, and I am hoping that the Far-Darter will come in his place’ (1903; Letters, ed., Wade, p.402, 403.)

Religion & Mythology (IV): ‘It is possible that the ever increasing separation from the community as a whole of the cultivated classes, their increasing certainty, and that falling in two of the human mind which I have seen in certain works of art is preparation [... /...] Men will no longer separate the idea of God from that of human genius, human productivity in all its forms.’ (A Vision, 214-15; quoted in Richard Ellmann, Yeats: The Man and the Mask, 1948, pp.251-52, 283.)

Religion & Mythology (V): ‘I was crossing a little stream near Inchy Wood and actually in the middle of a stride from bank to bank, when an emotion never experienced before swept over me. I said, “That is what the devout Christian feels, that is how he surrenders his will to the will of God”. I felt an extreme surprise, for my whole imagination was preoccupied with the pagan mythology of ancient Ireland, I was marking in red ink, upon a large map, every sacred mountain. The next morning I awoke near dawn, to hear a voice saying, [378] “The love of God is infinite for every human soul because every human soul is unique; no other can satisfy the same need in God.”’ (Autobiographies, pp.378-79.)

Religion & Mythology (VI): ‘As you know all my art theories depend upon just this - rooting of mythology in the earth.’ (Letter to Sturge Moore, 1927; in Letters, ed. Hone, p.439; quoted in E. Engelberg, The Vast Design: Patterns in Yeats’s Aesthetic, CUA Press Edn. 1988, p.34; also quoted in Richard Ellmann, Yeats: The Man and the Masks, 1948, p.271.)

Religion & Mythology (VII): ‘It is the effort to prove the myth, century after century, that has made civilisation.’ (Yeats in conversation with Myles Dillon; quoted in T. R. Henn, The Lonely Tower: Stydies in the Poetry of W. B. Yeats, Methuen 1965 [Edn.], p.148.

Religion & Mythology (VIII): ‘The Irish stories make us understand why the Greeks call myths the activities of the daemons. The great virtues, the greeat joys, the greeaat privations come in the myths, and, as it were, take mankind between their naked arms, without putting off their divinity.’ (Introduction to Lady Gregory, Cuchulain of Muirthemne, 1902, p.15.)

Religion & Mythology (IX): ‘Systems of philosophy and dogmas of religion are to the mystic of the Blakean school merely symbolic expressions of racial moods or emotions, the essences of truth seeking to express themseles in terms of racial memory and experience.’ (Edwin John Ellis & W. B. Yeats, The Works of William Blake: Poetic, Symbolic and Critical, Vol. 1, London: Bernard Quaritch 1893, p.240; quoted in Barry Montgomery, ‘Yeats’s Occult Philosophy of Art’, UUC MA Diss. 2003.)

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Irish Anglo-Irish
Letter To the Leader [ed. D. P. Moran] (1900)
‘I do not think that I am likely to differ very seriously from you and from your readers about this movement, and for the very reason that it is a national movement, a movement - that can include the most different minds. I must now, however, discuss another matter, about which I have differed and may still differ from you and from many of your readers. Side by side with the spread of the Irish language, and with much writing in the Irish language, must go on much expression of Irish emotion and Irish thought, much writing about Irish things and people, in the English language, for no man can write well except in the language he has been born and bred to, and no man, as I think, becomes perfectly cultivated except through the influence of that language; and this writing must for a long time to come be the chief influence in shaping the opinions and the emotions of the leisured classes in Ireland in so far as they are concerned with Irish things, and the more sincere it is, the more lofty it is, the more beautiful it is, the more will the general life of Ireland be sweetened by its influence, through its influence over a few governing minds. It will always be too separate from the general life of Ireland to influence it directly, and it was chiefly because I believed this that I differed so strongly in 1892 and 1893 from Sir Charles Gavan Duffy and his supporters [276] who wished to give such writing an accidental and fleeting popularity by uniting it with politics and economics
  ‘I believe that Ireland cannot have a Burns or a Dickens, because the mass of the people cease to understand any poetry when they cease to urrderstand the Irish language, which is the language of their imagination, and because the middle class is the great supporter and originator of the more popular kind of novels, and we have no middle class to speak of; but I believe that we may have a poetry like that of Wordsworth and Shelley and Keats, and a prose like that of Meredith and Pater and Ruskin. There will be a few of all classes who will read this kind of literature, but the rest will read and listen to the songs of some wandering Raftery, or of some poet like Dr Hyde, who has himself high culture, but makes his songs out of the thoughts and emotions he finds everywhere about him, and out of the circumstances of a life that is kept poetical by a still useful language, or they will go to perdition with their minds stuffed full of English vulgarity; till perhaps a time has come when no Irishman need write in any but his own language.
 ‘We can bring that day the nearer by not quarrelling about names, and by not bringing to literary discussion, which needs a delicate and careful temper, the exasperated and violent temper we have learned from a century of political discussion. You have decided, and rightly, considering your purpose, to call all “literature concerning Ireland written in English”, “Anglo-Irish literature”, and I shall certainly do the same when I would persuade a man that nothing written in English can unite him perfectly to the past and future of his country, but I will certainly call it Irish literature, for short, when I would persuade him that Farewell to Ballyshannon and the Winding Banks of Erne” should be more to him than “The Absent-Minded Beggar”, or when I am out of temper with all hyphenated words, or with all names that are a mixture of Latin and English. Such things are governed by usage and convenience, and I do not foresee a day when there will not be Englishmen who will call Walt Whitman English literature, and merely because they like him, and Englishmen who will call him American literature, and merely because they dislike him. And I would be sorry to see a day when I should not find a certain beautiful sermon of St Columbanus, which compares life to a roadway on which we journey for a little while, and to the rising and falling of smoke, in accounts of Irish literature, as well as in accounts of the Latin literature of the Early Church.’
[See in John Frayne, Uncollected Prose, 1970-72.]

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Irish movements: ‘I think that our Irish movements have always interested me in part, because I see in them the quarrel of two traditions of life, one old and noble, one new and ignoble. One undying because it satisfies our conscience though it seemed dying and one about to die because it is hateful to our conscience, although it seems triumphant throughout the world. In Ireland wherever the Gaelic tongue is still spoken, and to some little extent where it is not, the people live according to a tradition of life that existed before the world surrendered to the competition of merchants and to the vulgarity that has been founded on it; and we who would keep the Gaelic tongue and Gaelic memories and Gaelic habits of our mind would keep them, as I think, that we may some day spread a tradition of life that would build up neither great wealth nor great poverty, that makes the arts a natural expression of life that permits even common men to understand good art and high thinking and to have the fine manners these things can give.’ [See further under Quotations [6], infra.]

(‘A Postscript to a Forthcoming Work of Essays by Various Writers’, in Uncollected Prose, ed., John P. Frayne & C. Johnson, London: Macmillan 1975), Vol. II, p.245; quoted in Emer Nolan, ‘Modernism and the Irish revival’, in The Cambridge Companion to Irish Literature, ed. Joe Cleary & Claire Connolly, Cambridge UP 2005, p.158.) Nolan adds: ‘Yeats’s conception of fin-de-siècle Ireland as the site of a collision between ancient tradition and commercial civilisation is central to his work. It need hardly be stated [...] that his analysis falls short of the complexity of his historical situation, and that modern Ireland did not effectively resist, much less overturn, industrialism or capitalism.’ (Idem.)

[ Var. bibl.: Postscript, Ideals in Ireland, ed. Lady Gregory, London 1901; rep. in Essays and Controversies p.10; cited in Declan Kiberd, Inventing Ireland, London 1995, p.139.]

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The Abbey Theatre (I): ‘On the sea-coast at Duras, a few miles from Coole, an old French Count, Florimun de Basterot, lived for certain months in every year. Lady Gregory and I talked over my project of an Irish Theatre, looking out upon the lawn of his house, watching a large flock of ducks that was always gathered for his arrival from Paris, and that would be a very small flock indeed, if indeed it were a flock at all, when he set out for Rome in the autumn. I told her that I had given up my project because it was impossible to get the few pounds necessary for a start in the little halls, and she promised to collect or give the necessary money. That was her first great service to the Irish intellectual movement. She reminded me the other day that when she first asked me what she could do to help our movement I suggested nothing; and, certainly, I no more foresaw her genius than I foresaw that of John Synge, nor had she herself foreseen it. Our theatre had been established before she wrote or hand any ambition to write, and yet her little comedies have merriment and beauty, an unusual combination, and those two volumes where the Irish heroic tales are arranged and translated in an English so simple and so noble may do more than other books to deepen Irish imagination. They contain our ancient literature, are something better than our [380] Mabinogion, are almost our Morte d’Arthur. It is more fitting, however, that in a book of memoirs I should speak of her personal influence, and especially as no witness is likely to arise better qualified to speak. [.../] I have written these words instead of leaving all to posterity, and though my friend’s ears may seem indifferent to praise or blame, that young men, to whom recent events are often more obscure than those long past, may learn what debts they own and to what creditor.’ (“The Stirring of the Bones” [end], Autobiographies, 1955, pp.380-81.)

The Abbey Theatre (II) [Directors’ Manifesto]: ‘We hope to find in Ireland an uncorrupted and imaginative audience, trained to listen by its passion for oratory, and believe that our desire to bring upon the stage the deeper thoughts and emotions of Ireland will ensure for us a tolerant welcome and that freedom to experiment which is not found in the theatres of England.’ Quoted in Roy Foster, ‘A Troubled House’ [ on the Abbey Th. centenary], in The Guardian (4 Feb. 2004).

The Abbey Theatre (III): ‘We must make a theatre for ourselves and our friends, and for a few simple people who understand from sheer simplicity what we understand from scholarship and thought. We have planned the Irish Literary Theatre with this hospitable emotion, and that the right people may find out about us, we hope to act a play or two in the spring of every year; and that the right people may escape the stupefying memory of the theatre of commerce that clings even to them, our plays will be for the most part remote, spiritual and ideal.’ (“The Theatre’, 1900; rep. in Essays and Introductions, 1961, p. 166; quoted [in large part] in Aaron Kelly, Twentieth-Century Literature in Ireland: A Reader’s Guide to Essential Criticism, Palgrave Macmillan 2008, p.12.)

The Abbey Theatre (IV): ‘[A]ctors must move for the most part, slowly and quietly, and not very much, and there should be something in their movements decorative and rhythmical as if they were paintings on a frieze.’ (“The Play, the Player and the Scene’, in Explorations, p. 176; the foregoing all quoted in Una Kealy, “George Fitzmaurice”, PhD Diss., UU 2005.)

The Abbey Theatre (VI) [q.source]: ‘O yes, I am listened to – am I not a founder of the Theatre? – and here and there scattered solitaries delight in what I have made and return to hear it again; but some young Corkman, all eyes and ears, whose first rambling play we have just pulled together or half together, [...] will be played by players who have spoken dialogue like his every night for years, and sentences that it has been a bore to read will [...] delight the whole house.’ (Rep. in Explorations, Macmillan 1962, p.254.)

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On planning an anthology of Irish fiction (Letter to Fr. Matthew Russell)
 

[ In Kelly & Domville, eds., The Collected Letters of W. B. Yeats, Vol. I: 1865-1895 (OUP 1986), p.199. ]

[Early] December [1889]

My dear Father Russel [sic]
 A great many thanks for the two Monthlys with Miss Mulholland’s stories. They are very pleasant & pretty. I think I will use Bet’s Match making but will not decide yet. It is not quite in my scheme I am trying to make all the [198] stories illustrative of some phase of Irish life meaning the collection to be a kind of social history. I begin with Castle Rack Rent and give mainly tales <of peasent life> that contain some special kind of Irish humour or tragedy - Molly the Tramp is a very good tale but then it is above all things a tale and not also a little loop hole for looking at Irish life through. Molly is just a pathetic heroine of romance. She might have strayed over the sea from an English city.’ The heroines of Carleton or Banim could only have been raised under Irish thatch. One might say the same in less degree of Griffen and Kickham but Kickam is at times, once or twice only & (merely in his peasent heroines I think), marred by having read Dickens, and Griffen most facile of all one feels is Irish on purpose rather than out the neccesity of his blood. He could have written like an English man had he chosen. But all these writers had a square built power no later Irishman or Irish woman has approached. Above all Carleton & Banim had it. They saw the whole of every thing they looked at, (Carleton & Banim I mean) the brutal with the tender, the coarse with the refined. In Griffen & Kickham the tide began to ebb. Kickham had other things to do and is not to be blamed in the matter. It has gone quite out now - our little tide. The writers who make Irish stories sail the sea of common English fiction. It pleases them to hoist Irish colours - and that is well. The Irish manner has gone out of them though. Like common English fiction they want too much to make pleasent tales - and that’s not at all well The old men tried to make one see life plainly but all written down in a kind of fiery shorthand that it might never be forgotten.
 Miss Mulholonds little stories are very charming indeed (& one should not fight with cherry trees for not growing acorns). A pleasent fire side feeling and a murmour of the kettle goes through them - a domesticity that is not especially Irish however. Certainly If I get her leave I will use one of her short tales and may quite reverse my feeling about her not giving us Irish life & Irish manner, like Carleton & Banim, when I have read one of the long novels which I shall do before criticising her in the Irish story book. I was [199] not so much thinking of her as of one or two others in what is here said of later Irish novels in general. Probably I shall use Bets Match Making it is a charming story but then it is generalized life - such feeling, such incidents might have cropped up anywhere. Generalizing in all things, that is our big sin now - and virtue.
 Did Scott send you my Carleton? If not let me know please.
 I have yet to thank you for the book of poems "Remembrence". I wrote about them a short paragraph in my last Boston Pilot letter. There are lines & stanzas of a good deel of charm but all is too subjective and sad. She is so subjective that reading her poems is like looking through a window pane on which one has breathed. She also too seldom developes a single idia but instead stitches a number of different ones together. I have been looking for her book to pick out the pages I like especially but have mislaid it or lent it.
It is very good of you to keep sending me the Monthly it constantly is full of most interesting things.

Yours very Truly
W B Yeats
 
Quoted in part in R. F. Foster, ‘Square-built Power and Fiery Shorthand: Yeats, Carleton and the Irish Nineteenth Century’, The Irish Story: Telling Tales and Making It Up in Ireland (London: Penguin 2001) [Chap.7], p.114.

 

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