William Butler Yeats: Quotations (4)


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‘[E]very emotion is, in its hidden essence, an unfallen angel of God, a being of uncorruptible flame.’ (‘That Subtle Shade’, in Uncollected Prose, ed. John Frayne, Vol. 1, Macmillan 1970, p.374.)
‘To me all things are made of the conflict of two states of consciousness, beings or persons which die each other’s life live each other’s death. That is true of life & death themselves.’ (Letter to Ethel Mannin, 20 Oct. 1918; printed as unpubl. in Richard Ellmann, Yeats: The Man and the Masks, 1948, p.287.)
‘Whatever the great poets had affirmed in their finest moments was the nearest we could come to an authoritative religion, and that their mythology, their spirits of water and wind, were but literal truth.’ (Quoted in Richard Ellmann, Yeats: The Man and the Masks, OUP 1979 edn., p..43; cited in Brendan Mitchell, MA Dip., UUC 2009.)
‘Christ was still the half-brother of Dionysius.’ (Essays and Introductions, p.514; Albright, ed., Poems, 1992, p.758.)

Artist as Priest
Mysticism & Magic
Unity of Being
Moods & Emotions
Masks & Identity
Irish Criticism
Oedipus at the Abbey
[ index ]

Artist as priest (I): ‘In the first day it is the art of the people, and in the second day, like the drama acted of old times in the hidden places of temples, it is the preparation of a priesthood. It may be, though the world is not old enough to show us any example, that this Priesthood will spread their Religion everywhere, and make their Art the Art of the people.’ (Beltaine, May 1899, p.22; Essays and Introductions, p.168.) ‘All symbolic art should arise out of real belief.’ (Essays and Introductions, p.294.)

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Artist as priest [II] - quoting Shelley: ‘Poets, according to the circumstances of the age and nation in which they appeared, were called in the earliest epoch of the world legislators or prophets [...] for he not only holds intensely the present as it is, but he holds the future in the present [...] and his thoughts are the germs of the flowers and fruit of latest time.’ (Selected Criticism, p.55.) ‘I associate early Christian Ireland with India [...] Saint Patrick must have found in Ireland, for he was not its first missionary, men whose Christianity had come from Egypt, and retained characteristics of those older faiths [...] I consider Ribh, were it not for his ideas about the Trinity, an orthodox man’ (Variorum Poems, pp.837-38.) ‘He [the poet] must of on perfecting earthly power and perception until they are so subtilised that divine power and divine perception descend to meet them, and the song of earth and the song of heaven mingle together.’ (Uncoll. Prose, ed. John Frayne, Vol. 1, p.394.)

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Artist as Priest [III] - “Autumn of the Body”: ‘We are, it may be, at a crowning crisis of the world, at the moment when man is about to ascend [...] the stairway he has been descending from the first days. ([Ideas of Good and Evil], in Essays & Introductions, 1961.)

‘Man has wooed and won the world, and has fallen weary, and not, I think, for a time but with a weariness that will [not] to end until the last autumn, when the stars shall be blown away like withered leaves.’ (Idem.)

Artist as Priest [IV]: ‘[We Irish must] reintegrate the human spirit in our imagination. The English have driven away the kings, and turned the prophets into demagogues, and you cannot have health among a people if you have not prophet, priest and king.’ (Essays and Introductions, p.264; quoted in Warwick Gould, “Lionel Johnson Comes First to Mind”: Sources for Owen Aherne’, in Yeats and the Occult, ed., George Mills Harper, London: Macmillan 1975, p.262.)

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Artist as priest [V]: ‘If it be true that God is a circle whose centre is everywhere, the saint goes to the centre, the poet and the artist to the ring where everything comes round again. The poet must not seek for what is still and fixed, for that has no life for him; and if he did, his style would become cold and monotonous, and his sense of beauty faint and sickly, as are both style and beauty to my imagination in the prose and poetry of Newman, but be content to find his pleasure in all that is for every passing away that it may come again, in the beauty of woman, in the fragile flowers of spring, in momentary heroic passion, in whatever is most fleeting, most [287] impassioned, as it were, for its own perfection, most eager to return in its glory. Yet perhaps he must endure impermanent a little, for these things return, but not wholly, for no two faces are alike, and, it may be, had we more learned eyes, no two flowers. [Is it] that all things are made by the struggle of the individual and the world, of the unchanging and the returning, and that the saint and the poet are over all, and that the poet has made his home in the serpent’s mouth?’ (‘In the Serpent’s Mouth’, “Discoveries” [The Cutting of an Agate], in Essays and Introductions, p.287-88.)

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Artist as priest [VI]: ‘If I were four-and-twenty, and without rheumatism, I should not, I think, be content with getting up performances of French plays and with reading papers. I think I would go - though certainly I am no Catholic and never shall be - upon both of our great pilgrimages, to Croagh Patrick and to Lough Derg. Our churches have been unroofed or stripped; the stained glass of Saint Canice, once famous throughout Europe, was destroyed three centuries ago, and Christ Church looks as clean and unhistorical as a Methodist chapel, its sculptured tombs and tablets broken up or heaped one on t’other in the crypt; no congregation has climbed to the Rock of Cashel since the stout Church of Ireland bishop took the lead roof from the Gothic church to save his legs: but Europe has nothing older than our pilgrimages.’ (‘If I Were Four-and-Twenty’, Essays, pp.266-67.)

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Artist as priest [VII]: ‘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 Essays, p.436-37.)

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Artist as priest [VIII] - A Letter to the Freeman’s Journal (13 Nov. 1901): ‘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 morallties of clergymen and churches, and of kinds and parliaments and peoples ... I have no doubt that a wise ecclesiastic, if his courage equalled his wisdom, he would be a better censor of 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 ot me a compromise of principle.’ (Quoted in Richard Ellmann, Yeats: The Man and the Masks, London: Faber 1948, p.134.)

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Mysticism & Magic [I]: ‘[N]ext to my poetry the most important pursuit of my life [... is mysticism]. If I had not made magic my constant study I could not have written a single word of my Blake book, nor would The Countess Kathleen have ever come to exist. The mystical life is the centre of all that I do and all that I think and all that I write.’ (Letter to John O’Leary; July 1892; Letters, ed. Wade; quoted in [in part] Seamus Deane, reviewing John Kelly, ed., Letters, Vol. 1, 1989, in Times Literary Supplement, 7 March 1986, p.236-37; quoted more largely in A. N. Jeffares & A. S. Knowland, Commentary on the Plays of W. B. Yeats, Macmillan 1975, p.1.)

Cf. ‘I believe in the practice and philosophy of what we have agreed to call magic, in what I must call the evocation of spirits [...] (Selected Criticism, ed. A. N. Jeffares, c.p.81.)

Note that the letter to O’Leary was occasioned by Yeats’s father [JBY] asking O’Leary to write to WBY to him about the questionability of his interest in magic in favour of the rational. See William M. Murphy, ‘Early Education of W. B. Yeats’, in A Revew of English Literature, ed. A. N. Jeffares, VIII, 4 (Oct. 1967), pp.75-96; p.77.

‘[...] Now as to Magic. It is surely absurd to hold me “weak” or otherwise because I chose to persist in a study which I decided deliberately four or five years ago to make, next to my poetry, the most important pursuit of my life. Whether it be, or be not, bad for my health can only be decided by one knows what magic is and not at all by any amateur. The probable explanation however of your somewhat testy postcard is that you were out at Bedford Park and heard my father discoursing about my magical pursuits out of the immense depths of his ignorance as to everything that I am doing and drinking.’

Murphy adds: "Perhaps hoping O’Leary would pass the word back to his father, he added: "The mystical life is the centre of all that I do and all that I think and all that I write." (Letters, pp.210-11; quoted in Murphy, op. cit., p.77.)

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Mysticism & Magic [II]: “‘Magic” [essay of 1901] - Three Propositions - 1: ‘That the borders of our mind [sic] are ever shifting, and that many minds can flow into one another, as it were, and create or reveal a single mind, a single energy. 2: That the borders of our memories are as ever shifting, and that our memories are part of one great memory, the memory of Nature herself. 3: That this great mind and great memory can be evoked by symbols.’ (Essays and Introductions, p.28; quoted in Terence Brown, Life of W. B. Yeats, Gill & Macmillan 1999, p.73.)

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Mysticism & Magic [III]: ‘Our history speaks of opinons and discoveries, but in ancient times history spoke of commandments and revelations. [Men] looked as carefully and as patiently towards Sinai and its thunders as we look towards parliament and laboratories. (“Magic”, in Essays & Introductions, p.44.; quoted in T. R. Whitaker, Swan and Shadow, 1989 [2nd edn.], epigraph, p.34.)

Cf., ‘[...] The sudden conviction that our little memories are but a part of some great Memory that renews the world and men’s thoughts age after age, and that our thoughts are not, a we suppose, the deep, but a little foam upon the deep.’ (‘The Philosophy of Shelley’, in Essays and Introductions, p.79; quoted in James Olney, ‘The Esoteric Flower:Yeats and Jung’, in George Mills Harper, ed., Yeats and the Occult, Macmillan 1976, p.41.)

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Mysticism & Magic [IV] - on the study of Magic:‘It is surely absurd to hold me “weak” or otherwise because I choose to persist in a a study which I decided deliberately four or five years ago to make next to my poetry, the more important pursuit of my life [...] If I had not made magic my constant study I could not have written a single word of my Blake book, nor would The Countess Cathleen ever have come to exist. The mystical life is at the centre of all that I do and all that I think and all that I write. It holds to my work the same relation that the philosophy of Godwin holds to the work of Shelley and I have always considered myself a voice of what I believe to be a greater renaesence [sic] - the revolt of the soul against the intellect - now beginning in the world.’ (Letter to John O’Leary, July 1892; Belfast Central Library and copied in The Irish Book Lover, XXVII, Nov. 1940, p.248; quoted in Richard Ellmann, Yeats: The Man and the Masks, 1948, p.97; also in Frank Tuohy, Yeats: An Illustrated Biography, Macmillan 1976, p.69.) Note: the mis-spelling ‘renaesence’, - inter al. - is produced as renaisance in John Kelly, ed., Letters, Vol. I, 1986, p.303; vide Quotations 3: epigraph [supra]).

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On alchemy: ‘I once made the elixir of life. A French alchemist said it had the right smell and the right colour, but the first effect of the elixir is that your nails might fall out and your hair falls off. I was afraid that I might have made a mistake and that nothing else might happen, so I put it on a shelf. I meant to drink it when I was an old man, but when I got it down the other day it had all dried up. (Autobiog., pp.124-25; quoted in William T. Gorski, Yeats and Alchemy, NYU Press 1996, p.16.

Gorksi remarks: ‘Yeats switches from comic to wistful remembrance in casting a nostalgic glance at his youthful high regard for MacGregor Mathers’ (idem.) - and further quotes: ‘In the credulity of our youth we secretly wondered if [Mathers] had not met with, perhaps even been taught by some old man who had found the elixir’ (Autobiog., p.127; Gorksi, op. cit., p.16.)

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Mysticism & Magic [V]: ‘When supernatural events begin, a man first doubts his own testimony, but when they repeat themselves again and again, he doubts all human testimony.’ (Autobiographies, Macmillan 1955, p.264; quoted in T. R. Henn, The Lonely Tower: Studies in the Poetry of W. B. Yeats (London: Methuen 1965 Edn., pp.156-57.)

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Mysticism & Magic [VI] - letter to Lionel Johnson in 1893: ‘My own position is that an idealism or spiritualism which denies magic, and evil spirits even, and sneers at magicians and even mediums (the few honest ones) is an academical imposture. Your Church has in this matter been far more thorough than the Protestant. It has never denied Ars Magica, though it has denounced it’. (Kelly & Domville, Collected Letters, 1986, Vol. 1, pp.355-56; quoted in R. F. Foster, ?Protestant Magic: W. B. Yeats and the Spell of Irish History’ [1990], rep. in Jonathan Allison, ed., Yeats’s Political Identities, Michigan UP 1996, p.91.)

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Symbolism [I]
—from “Magic”, in “Ideas of Good and Evil”; rep. in Essays and Introductions, p.28ff; Sections VI-VIII].
It was long before I myself would admit an inherent power in symbols, for it long seemed to me that one could account for everything by the power of one imagination over another, or by telepathy, as the Society for Physical Research would say. The symbol seemed powerful, I thought, merely because we thought it powerful, and we would do just as well without it. In those days I used symbols made with some ingenuity instead of merely imagining them. I used to give them to the person I was experimenting with, and tell him to hold them to his forehead without looking at them; and sometimes I made a mistake. I learned from these mistakes that if I did not myself imagine the symbol, in which case he would have a mixed version, it was the symbol I gave by mistake that produced the vision.
  I cannot now think symbols less than the greatest of all powers whether they are used consciously by the masters of magic, or half unconsciously by their successors, the poet, the musician and the artist. At first I tried to distinguish between what I called inherent symbols and arbitrary symbols, but the distinction has come to mean little or nothing. Whether their power has arisen out of themselves, [49] or whether it has an arbitrary origin, matters little, for they act, as I believe, because the Great Memory associates them with certain events and moods and persons. Whatever the passions of man have gathered about, becomes a symbol in the Great Memory, and in the hands of him who has the secret it is a worker of wonders, a caller-up of angels or of devils. The symbols are of all kinds, for everything in heaven or earth has its association, momentous or trivial, in the Great Memory, and one never knows what forgotten events may have plunged it, like the toadstool and the ragweed, into great passions.’
[...] ;
Sect. VI: I have now described that belief in magic which has set me all but unwilling among those lean and fierce [50] minds who are at war with their time, who cannot accept the days as they pass, simply and gladly; and I look at what I have written with some alarm, for I have told more of the ancient secret than many among my fellow students think it right tell.
They say in the Aran Islands that if you speak over-much of the things of Faery your tongue bcomes like a stone, and it seems to me, though doubtless naturalistic reason would call it auto-suggestion or the like, that I have often felt my tongue become just so heavy and clumsy [...] Yet I must write or be of no account to any cause, good or evil [...].’ (pp.49-51.)

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Symbolism [II]
“The Symbolism of Poetry” (1900) - rep. in Ideas of Good and Evil (1904) and collected in Essays and Introductions (1961):
‘All sounds, all colours, all forms, because of their preordained energies or because of long association, [156], evoke indefinable and yet precise emotionis, or, as I prefer to think, call down among us certain disembodied powers, whose footsteps over our hearts we call emotions [...] Because an emotion does not exist, or does not become perceptible and actgive among, us, till it has found its expression, in colour or in sound or in form, or in all of these, and because no two modulations or arrangements of these evoke the same emotion, poets and painters and musicians, and in a less degree because their effects are momentary, day and and night and cloud and shadow, are continually making and unmaking mankind. it is indeed only those things which seem usless or very feeble that have any power, an all those things what seem useful or storng, armies, moving wheels, modes of architecture, modes of government, speculation of the reason, whould hav been a little different if some mind long ago had not given itself to some emotion, as a woman gives herself to her lover, and shaped sounds or colours or forms, or all of these, into a musical relation, that their emotion[s] might live in other minds.’ (p.157; see ensuing sentences under Arthur O’Shaughnessy, infra.)
Sect. III
‘The purpose of rhythm, it has always seemed to me, is to prolong the moment of contemplation, the moment when we are both asleep and awake, which is the one moment of creation, by hushing us with an alluring monotony, while it holds us waking by variety, to keep us in that state of perhaps real trance, in which the mind liberated from the pressure of the will is unfolded in symbols.’ (p.159; quoted in Terence Brown, A Life of W. B. Yeats, Gill & Macmillan 1999, p.77.)
‘So I think that in the making and in the understanding of a work of art, and the more easily if it is full of patterns of symbols and music, we are lured to the threshold of sleep, and it may be far beyond it, without knowing that we have ever set our feet upon the steps of horn and ivory.’ (Idem.)
Sect. IV
‘Besides emotional symbols that evoke emotions alone, - and in this sense all alluring or hatful things are symbols, although their relations with one another are too subtle to delight us fully, away from rhythm and pattern - there are intellectual symbols, symbols that evoke ideas alone, or ideas mingled with emotions; and outside the very definite traditions of mysticism and the less definite criticis of certain modern poets, these alone are called symbols. Most things belong to one or another kind, according to the [160] way we speak of them and th ecompanions we give them, for symbols, associated with ideas that are more than fragments of the shadows thrown upon the intellect by the emotions they evoke, are the playthings of the allegorist or the pedant, and soon pass away.’

‘If I say “white” or “purple” in an ordinary line of poetry, they evoke emotions so exclusively that I cannot say why they move me; but if I bring them into the same sentence with such obvious intellectual symbols as a cross or a crown of thorns, I think of purity and sovereignty. It is the intellect that decides where the reader shall ponder over the procession of the symbols, and if the symbols are merely emotional, he gazes from amid the accidents and destinies of the world; but if the symbols are intellectual too, he becomes himself a part of pure intellect, and he is himself mingled with the procession. If I watch a rushy pool [31] in the moonlight, my emotion at its beauty is mixed with memories of the man that I have seen ploughing by its margin, or of the lovers I saw there a night ago; but if I look at the moon herself and remember any of her ancient names and meanings, I move among divine people, and things that have shaken off our mortality, the tower of ivory, the queen of waters, the shining stag among enchanted woods, the white hare sitting upon the hilltop, the fool of Faery with his shining cup full of dreams, and it may be make a friend of one of these images of wonder, and meet the Lord in the air. So, too, if one is moved by Shakespeare, who is content with emotional symbols that he may come the nearer to our sympathy, one is mixed with the whole spectacle of the world; while if one is moved by Dante, or by the myth of Demeter, one is mixed into the shadow of God or of a goddess. So, too, one is furthest from symbols when one is busy doing this or that, but the soul moves among symbols and unfolds in symbols when trance, or madness, or deep meditation has withdrawn it from every impulse but its own.’ (pp.161-62; quoted in Peter Ure, Yeats [Writers & Critics], Edinburgh: Oliver & Boyd, pp.31-32.)

Sect. V

‘If people were to accept the theory that poetry moves us because of its symbolism, what change should one look for in the manner of our poetry? A return to the way of our fathers, a casting out of descriptions of nature for the sake of nature, of the moral law for the sake of the moral law, a casting out of all anecdotes and of that brooding over scientific opinion that so often extinguished the central flame in Tennyson, and of that vehemence that would make us do or not do certain things; or, in other words, we should come to understand that the beryl stone was enchanted by our fathers that it might unfold the pictures of our heart, and not to mirror our own excited faces, or the boughs waving outside the windows. With this change of substance, this return to the imagination, would come a change of style, and we would cast out of serius poetry those energetic rhythm, as of a man running, which are the invention of the will with its eyes always on something to be done or undone; and we would seek out those wavering, meditative, organic rhythms, which are the embodiment of the imagination, that neither desires nor hates, because it has done with its time, and only wishes to gaze upon some reality, some beauty; nor would it be any longer possible to anybody to deny the importance of form, in all its kinds, for although [163] you can expound an opinion, or describe a thing, when your words are not quites well chosen, you cannot give a body to something which moves beyond the senses, unless your words are as subtle, as complex, as full of mysterious life, as the body of a flower or of a woman. [...]’ (pp.163-64; quoted [in small part] in Denis Donoghue, Yeats [Fontana Modern Masters] London: Collins 1971, p.33.)

‘The form of sincere poetry, unlike the form of “popular poetry”, may indeed be sometimes obscure, or ungrammatical as in some of the best of the Songs of Innocence and Experience, but it must have the perfections that escape analysis, the subtleties that have a new meaning every day, and it must have all this whether it be but a little song made out of a moment of dreamy indolence, or some great epic made out of the dreams of one poet and of a hundred generations whose hands were never weary of the sword.’ (Ibid., p.164; end - dated 1900].)
For full-text version, see RICORSO Library > Irish Literary Classics - infra or as attached.

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Symbolism [III]
“The Philosophy of Shelley’s Poetry”
[Quotes Shelley]: ‘“There are some persons who in this respect are always children. Those who are subject to the state called reverie, feel as if their nature were [79] resolved into the surrounding universe or as if the surrounding universe were resolved into their being,” and he must have expected to receive thoughts and images from beyond his own mind, just in so far as that mind transcended its preoccupation with particular time and palce, for he believed inspiration a kind of death; and he could hardly have helped perceiving that an image that has transcended particular time and place becomes a symbol, passes beyond death, as it were, and becomes a living soul.’ (Essays and Introductions, pp.79-80; quoted in Margaret Mills Harper, in ‘Yeats and the Occult’, The Cambridge Companion to W. B. Yeats, ed. Majorie Howes & John Kelly, Cambridge UP 2006, p.144.)
‘As Shelley sailed along those great rivers and saw or imagined the cave that associated itself with rivers in his mind, he saw half-ruined towers upon the hill-tops, and once at any rate a tower is used to symbolise a meaning that is the contrary to the meaning symbolised by caves. [...; 86] The tower, important to Maeterlinck, as in Shelley, is, like the sea, and rivers, and caves with fountains, a very ancient symbol, and would perhaps, as years went by, have grown more important in his poetry.[...] (Essays and Introductions, p.86-87; quoted in A. N. Jeffares, A New Commentary on the Poems, Macmillan 1984, p.273.)
‘It is only by ancient symbols, by symbols that have numberless meaanings besides the one or two the writer lays emphasis upon, or the half-score he knows of, that any highly subjective art can escape from the barrenness and shallowness of a too conscious arrangement, into the abundance and dept of Nature. The poet of essences and pure ideas must seek the half-lights that glimmer from symbol to symbol as if to the ends of the earth, all that the epic and dramatic poets find of mystery and shadow in the accidental circumstances of life.’ (Essays and Introductions, p.87.)

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Symbolism [IV]: ‘I know now that revelation is from the self, but from that age-long buried self, that spares the elaborate shell of the mollusc and the child in the womb, that teaches the birds to make their nest; and that genius is a crisis that joins that buried self for certain moments to our trivial daily mind. There are, indeed, personifying spirits that we had best call Gates and Gate-keepers, because through their dramatic power they bring or souls to crisis [...].’ (Autobiographies, p.272; quoted in Kathleen Raine, ‘Hades Wrapped in Cloud’, in George Mills Harper, ed, Yeats and the Occult, London: Macmillan 1976, p.102.)

Symbolism v. Allegory: ‘A symbol is indeed the only possible expression of some invisible essence, a transparent lamp about a spiritual flame; allegory is one of many possible representations of an embodied thing, or familiar principle, and belongs to fancy and not ot imagination: the one is a revelation, the other an amusement.’ (“William Blake and His Illustrations of the Divine Comedy”, in Ideas of Good and Evil (London: A. H. Bullen 1903), p. ; quoted in part in Chester G. Anderson, ‘The Sacrificial Butter’, orig. in Accent, 12 (Winter 1952), pp.3-13; rep. in Thomas Edmund Connolly, Joyce's Portrait, pp.124-36, here p.125.)

Symbolism [VI]: ‘If you copy Nature’s moderation of colour you do not imitate her, for you have only white paint and she has light. If you wish to represent character or passion upon the stage, as it is known to the friends, let us say, of your principal persons, you must be excessive, extravagant, fantastic even, in expression; and you must be this, more extravagantly, more excessively, more fantastically than ever, if you wish to show character and passion as they would be known to the principal person of your play in the depths of his own mind. The greatest art symbolises not those things that we have observed so much as those things that we have experienced [...]’ (Samhain; rep. in Explorations, Macmillan 1962, p.196.)

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Symbolism [VIII]: ‘Only when we have put ourselves in all the positions of life, from the most miserable to those that are so lofty that we call only speak of them in symbols and in mysteries will entire wisdom be possible.’ (Samhain, No. 3, Sept. 1903, pp.30-31.)

Symbolism [IX]: ‘[Morris, like Shelley, knew] by an act of faith, that the economists should take their measurements not from life as it is, but from the vision of men like him, from the vision of the world made perfect that is buried under all minds [...] he was among the greatest of those who prepare the last reconciliation when the Cross shall blossom with roses.’ (Essays and Introductions, p.64.)

Symbolism [X]: ‘It is only a very modern Dictionary that calls a symbol “the sign or representation of any moral thing by the images or properties of natural things”, which, though an imperfection definition, is not unlike “The things below are as the things above” of the Emerald Tablet of Hermes!’ (‘Symbolism of Painting’, rep. in Essays and Introductions, p.146; quoted in Barry Montgomery, op. cit., 2003.)

Symbolism [XI]: ‘The greatest art symbolises not those things that we have observed so much as those things that we have experienced, and when the imaginary saint or lover or hero moves us most deeply, it is the moment when he awakens within us our own heroism, our own sanctity, our own desire.’ (Plays and Controversies, p.161; quoted in Declan Kiberd, Inventing Ireland, 1996, p.203.)

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Symbolism [XII] - A Vision: ‘On the afternoon of October 14th, 1917, four days after my marriage, my wife surprised me by attempting automatic writing. What came in disjointed sentences, in almost illegible writing [...] so exciting, so profound, that I persuaded her to give an hour or so a day to the unknown writer, and after some half-dozen of such hours offered to spend what remained of life explaining and piecing together those scattered sentences. “No,” was the answer, “we have come to give you metaphors for poetry”.’ (Letters, ed. Wade, 1954, p.613; quoted in Peter Costello, The Heart Grown Brutal, 1977, p.140.)

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Symbolism [XIII]: ‘There must always be a certain monotony in the work of the Symbolist, who can only make symbols out of the things that he loves.’ (Quoted in T. R. Henn, The Lonely Tower, Methuen, 1950, p.128.)

Symbolism [XIV]: ‘Under disguise of symbolism I have said several things to which I alone have the key. The romance is for my readers. They must not know that there is a symbol anywhere.’ (Quoted in Joseph Hone, W. B. Yeats, Macmillan 1943, p.61.)

Symbolism [XV]: ‘[M]etaphors are not profound enough to be moving, when they are not symbols, and when they are symbols they are the most perfect of all, because the most subtle, outside of pure sound, and through them one can best find out what symbols are.’

Symbolism [XVI]: ‘A symbol is indeed the only possible expression of some invisible essence, a transparent lamp about a spiritual flame [...] [on Miss Gyles] her own favourite drawing, which unfortunately cannot be printed here, is The rose of God, a personification of [the passion for impossible beauty] as a naked woman, whose hands are stretched against the clouds, upon a cross, in the traditional attitude of the Bride, the symbol of the microcosm of the Kabbala, while two winds, two destinies, the one full of white and the other full of red rose petals, personifying purities and all passions, whirr about her and descend upon a fleet of ships and a walled city, personifying the wavering and the fixed powers, the masters of the world in the alchemical symbolism.’ (q.source.) ‘All symbolic art should arise out of real belief.’ (Essays and Introductions, p.294.)

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Symbolism [XVII]: ‘The word “image”, says “The Way of Christ”, a compilation from Boehme and Law’s interpretation of Boehme, published at Bath when Blake was eighteen, “meaneth not only a creaturely resemblance, in which sense man is said to be the Image of God; but it signifieth also a spiritual substance, a birth or effect of a will, wrought in and by a spirituall being or power. And imagination, which we are apt erroneously to consider an airy, idle, and impotent faculty of the human mind, dealing in ficition and roving in phantasy or idea without producing any powerful or permanent [effect]s, is the magia or power of raising and forming such images or substances, and the greatest power in nature”. (“William Blake” [review], in Bookman, April 1896, p.21; quoted in Richard Ellmann, The Identity of Yeats, Faber 1954, 1966, p.326 [n. to p.219].)

Note that Ellmann also quotes Yeats’s letter of [?]5 Feb. 1926 to Sturge Moore in which he discusses the theory that everything we perceive ‘including so called illusions exist in the external world’ and remarks that it ‘[a]lways fascinated me for I learned it from a Brahmin [Mohini Chatterjee] when I was eighteen and believe it till Blake drove it out of my head. It is early Buddhism and results in the belief still living in Indian that all is a stream which flows on out of human control - one action of thought leading to another. That we ourselves are nothing but a mirror [...]’ (Ellmann, op. cit., p.217.)

Symbolism [XVIII]: ‘I doubt indeed if the crude circumstances of the world, which seems to create all our emotions, does more than reflect, as in multiplying mirrors, the emotions that have come to solitary men in moments of poetical contemplation; or that love itself would be more than an animal hunger but for the poet and his shadow the priest, for unless we believe that outer things are the reality, we must believe that the gross is the shadow of the subtle, that that things are wise before they became foolish, and secret before they cry out in the market-place. Solitary men in moments of contemplation received, as I think, the creative impulse from the lowest of the Nine Hierarchies, and so make and unmake mankind, and event the world itself, for does not “the eye altering alter all”?’ (Essays and Introductions, pp.158-59; quoted in Barry Montgomery, ‘Yeats’s Occult Philosophy of Art’, UUC MA Diss. 2003.)

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Supernatural & Literature (I): ‘That mood which Edgar Poe found in a wine-cup, and how it passed into France and took possession of Baudelaire, and from Baudelaire passed to England and the Pre-Raphaelites, and then again returned to France, and still wanders the world, enlarging its power as it goes, awaiting the time when it shall be, perhaps, alone, or with other moods, master over a great new religion, and an awakener of the fanatical wars which hovered in the gray surges, and forget the wine-cup where it was born.’ (Secret Rose, Variorium Edn., ed. Warwick Gould, Philip Marcus and Michael Sidnell, 1992 [rev. ed.], pp.143-44; quoted in Gould, ‘Stranger than Fiction: Yeats and the Vision Notebook, 1898-1901’, That Other World: The Supernatural and the Fantastic in Irish Literature ed. Bruce Stewart, Colin Smythe 1998.)

Supernatural & Literature (II): ‘It was indeed Swedenborg who affirmed for the modern world, as against the abstract reasoning of the learned, thedoctrine and practice of desolate places, of sheperds and midwives, and discovered the world of spirits where there was a scenery like that of eath, human forms, grotesque or beautiful, sense that knew pleasure and pain, marriage and war, all that could be painted on canvas, or put into stories to make one’s hair stand up.’ (Yeats, “Swedenborg, Mediums, and the Desolate Places” [1914], Explorations, Macmillan 1962, p.72; quoted in W. J. McCormack, Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu and Victorian Ireland, 1991 Edn., pp.6-7.)

Supernatural & Literature (III) [on Fairies]: ‘The fairies are the lesser spiritual moods of that universal mind, wherein every mood is a soul and every thought a body’ (‘D.E.D.I.’ [Yeats], ‘Invoking the Irish Fairies’, Irish Theosophist I (Oct. 15 1892, p.6-7.) Also: ‘Their reign has never ceased, but only waned in power a little, for the Shee still pass in every wind, and dance and play at hurley, and fight their sudden battles in every hollow and on every hill; but they cannot build their temples again till there have been martyrdoms and victories, and perhaps even that long foretold battle in the Valley of the Black Pig.’ (“Rosa Alchemica”, in The Secret Rose, pp.244-45; quoted in Ellmann, Yeats: The Man and the Masks, 1948, p.123.)

[Note also that Yeats surprised Theodore Roosevelt by becoming voluble on the subject of ‘the little people’ when he dined with him in the company of with John Quinn.]

Supernatural & Literature (IV): ?The dead dream back, for a certain time, through the more personal thoughts and deeds of life [?] through events in order of their occurrence, this living back being an exploration of their moral and intellectual origin.’ (Yeats’s note to The Dreaming of the Bones; quoted in W. R. Owen, “Notes to W. B. Yeats”, in The Drama Anthology, Milton Keynes: Open University 1997, p.19.)

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Unity of Being’ [I] - “Four Years, 1887-1891” [Sect. XXI], in The Trembling of the Veil [1922]: ‘[...] I said my prayers much as in childhood, though without the old regularity of hour and place, and I began to pray that my imagination might somehow be rescue 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 pictures 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 [188] began to use generalisations, that have since become the foundation of all I have done, or shall do, in Ireland [...] 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 find 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. Among subjective men [...] the victory is an intellectual daily re-creation of all that exterior fare snatches away, and so that fate’s antithesis; while what I have called “the Mask” is an emotional antithesis to all that comes out of their internal nature. We begin to live when we have conceived life as tragedy.’ (Autobiographies, 1955, p.188-89.)

Unity of Being’ [II] - “Four Years, 1887-1891”, Sect. XXII: ‘A conviction that the world was now a bundle of fragments possessed me without ceasing.’ (Autobiographies, 1955, p.189.) ‘[...] I delighted in every age where poet and artist confined themselves gladly to some inherited subject-matter known to the whole people, for I thought that in man and race alike there is something called “Unity of Being”, using that term as Dante used it when he compared beauty in the Convivio to a perfectly proportioned human body.’ [...] ‘I thought that the enemy of this unity was abstraction, meaning by abstraction not the distinction but the isolation of occupation’ (Ibid., p.190.)

Unity of Being’ [III] - “Four Years, 1887-1891”, Sect. XXII: ‘Morris had never seemed to care greatly for any poet later than Chaucer and though I preferred Shakespeare to Chaucer I begrudged by own prejudice. Had not Europe shared one mind and heart, until both mind and heart began to break into fragments a little before Shakespeare’s birth? Music and verse began to fall apart when Chaucer robbed verse of its speed that he might give it greater meditation [; ...] painting parted from religion in the later Renaissance that it might stufy effects of tangibility undisturbed; while, that it might characterise, where it had once personified, it renouncced, in our own age, all that inherited subject-matter which we have named poetry. Presently I was indeed to number character itself among the abstractions, encouraged by Congreve’s saying that “passions [191] are too powerful in the fair sex to let humour”, or, as we say, character “have its course”. Nor have we fared better under the common daylight, for pure reason has notoriously made light of practical reasons, and has been made light of in its turn from tha morning when Descartes discovered that he could think better in his bed than out of it; nor needed I original thought to discover, being so late of the school of Morris, that machinery had not separated from handicraft wholly for the world’s good, nor to notice that the distinction of classes had become their isolation.’ (Autobiogs., p.191; quoted [in part] in Lucy McDiarmid, Saving Civilisation: Yeats, Eliot, and Auden Between the Wars, Cambridge UP 1984, p.52.)

Unity of Being’ [III] - “Four Years, 1887-1891”, Sect. XXII: ‘Doubtless because fragments broke into ever smaller fragments we saw one aother in a light of bitter comedy, and in the arts, where now one technical element reigned and now another, generation hated generation, and accomplished beauty was snatched away when it had most engaged our affections. On thing I did not foresee, not having the courage of my own thought: the growing murderous of the world. (Autobiogs., 1955, p.192 ...; quotes “The Second Coming”; end sect.]

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Unity of Being’ [IV] - “Four Years, 1887-1891”, Sect.XXIII: ‘If abstraction had reached, or all but reached its climax, escape might be possible for many, and if it had not, individual men might still escape. [...] must I reverse the cinematograph? [...] I thought that the general movement of literature must be such a reversal, men beind there dispalyed in casual, temporary, contact with the Tabord door. I had lately read Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina and thought that where his theoretical capacity had not awakened there was such a turning back: but a nation or an individual with great emotional intensity might follow the pilgrims, as it were, to some unknown shrine, and give to all those separated elements, and to all that abstract love and melancholy, a symbolical, a mythological coherence. Not Chaucer’s rough-tongued riders, but rather an ended pilgrimage, a procession of the Gods! Arthur Symons brought back from Paris stories of Verhaeren and Maeterlinck, and so brought me confirmation, aas I thought, and I began to announce a poetry like that of the Sufis. I could not endure, however, an international art, picking stories and symbols where it pleased. Might I not, [193] with health and good luck to aid me, create some new create some new Prometheus Unbound , Patrick or Columcille, Oisin or Finn, in Prometheus’ stead; and, instead of Caucasus, Cor-Patrick, or Ben Bulben? Have not all races had their first unity from mythology that marries them to rock and hill? We had in Ireland imaginative stories, which the uneducated classes knew and even sang, and might we not make those stories curent among the educated classes, rediscovering for the work’s sake what I have called “the applied arts of literature”, the association of literature, that is, with music, speech, and dance, and at last, it might be, so deepen the political passion of the nation that all, artist and poet, craftsman and day-labourer would accept a common design? Perhaps even these images, once created and associated with river and mountain, might move of themselves and with some powerful, even turbulent life, like those painted horses that trampled the rice-fields of Japan.’ (End Sect. XXIII; Autbiogs., p.194).

Unity of Being’ [IV] - “Four Years, 1887-1891”, Sect. XXIV: ‘[...] Nations, races, and individual men are unified by an image, or a bundle of related images, symbolical or evocative of the state [194] of mind which is, of all states of mind not impossible, the most difficult to that race or nation; because only the greatest obstacle that can be contemplated without despair rouses the will to full intensity. / A powerful class by terror, rhetoric, and organised sentimentality may drive a people to war, but the day draws near when they cannot keep them there; and how shall they face the pure nations of the East when the day comes to do it with but equal arms? I had seen Ireland in my own time turn from the bragging rhetoric and gregarious humour of O’Connell’s generation and school, and offer herself the solitary and proud Parnell as to her anti-self, buskin followed hard on sock, and I had begun to hope, or to half hope, that we might be the first in Europe to seek unity as deliberately as it had been sought by theologian, poet, sculptor, architect, from the eleventh to the thirteenth century. Doubtless we must seek it differently, no longer considering it convenient to epitomise all human knowledge, but find it we well might could we first find philosophy and a little passion.’ (Ibid., pp.194-95.)

Unity of Being’ [V] - “Hodos Chameliontos”, in The Trembling of the Veil (Autobiographies, 1955): ‘Is there a nationwide multiform reverie, every mind passing through a stream of suggestion, and all streams acting and reacting on one another, no matter how distant the minds, how dumb the lips? A man walked, as it were, casting a shadow, and yet one could never say which was man and which was shadow, or how many the shadows that he cast. Was not a nation, as distinguished from a crowd of chance-comers, bound together by this interchange among streams and shadows, that Unity of Image, which I sought in national literature, being but an originating symbol.’ (p.263; quoted in Declan Kiberd, Inventing Ireland, 1995, p.125.)

Unity of Being’ [VI] - “Hodos Chameliontos” (Autobiographies, 1955): ‘Considering that Mary Battle received our thoughts in sleep, though coarsened and turned to caricature, do not the thoughts of the scholar or the hermit, though they speak no word, or something of their shape and impulse, pass into the general mind? Does not the emotion of some woman of fashion, caught in the subtle torture of self-analysing passion, pass down, although she speak no word, to Joan with her Pot, Jill with her Pail, and it may be, with one knows not what nightmare melancholy, to Tom the Fool?’ (p.292.)

Unity of Being’ [VIII] - “Hodos Chameliontos” (Autobiographies, 1955): ‘[T]he dream of my early manhood, that a modern nation can return to Unity of culture, is false; though it may be we can achieve it for some small circle of men and women, and there leave it till the moon bring round its century’ (Ibid., 295.) ‘Unity of Culture defined and evoked by Unity of Image.’ (p.269.)

Unity of Being’ [VIII]: ‘Whereas Unity of Being [...] is found emotionally, instinctively, by the rejection of all experience not of the right quality, and by the limitation of its quantity. Of this I knew nothing [...] Nor did I understand as yet how little that unity, however wisely sought, is possible without a Unity of Culture in a class or people that is no longer possible at all.’ (Autobiographies, p.355.)

Unity of Being’ [IX] - “If I were Four-and-Twenty”: ‘When Dr Hyde delivered in 1894 his lecture on the necessity of “the de-anglicisation of Ireland”, to a society that was a youthful indiscretion of my own, I head an enthusiastic hearer say: “This lecture begins a new epoch in Ireland.” It did that, and if I were not four-and fifty, with no settled habit but the writing of verse, rheumatic, indolent, discouraged, and about to move to the Far East, I would begin another epoch by recommending to the nation a new doctrine, that of unity of being’. (“If I were Four-and-Twenty”, first published in The Living Age, 4 Oct. 1919, p.33; quoted in Curtis Bradford, Yeats at Work, S. Illinois UP 1965, p.113.)

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Unity of Being (IX) - “If I were Four-and-Twenty” [1919]: ‘One day when I was twenty-three or twenty-four this sentence seemed to form in my head, without my willing it, much as sentences form when we are half-asleep: “Hammer your thoughts into unity.” For days I could think of nothing else, and for years I tested all I did by that sentence. I had three interests: interest in a form of literature, in a form of philosophy, and a belief in nationality. None of these seemed to have anything to do with the other, but gradually my love of literature and my belief in nationality came together. Then for years I said to myself that these two had nothing to do with my form of philosophy, but that I had only to be sincere and to keep from constraining one by the other and they would become one interest. Now all three are, I think, one, or rather all three are a discrete expression of a single conviction. I think that each has behind it my whole character and has gained thereby a certain newness - for is not every man’s character peculiar to himself - and that I have become a cultivated man.’ (If I Were Four and Twenty [1919] Cuala Press, 1940 p.1.)

Additional references: Explorations (London: Macmillan 1962), p.263; also quoted in Richard Ellmann, Yeats: The Man and the Masks, London: Faber 1948, rev. edn. 1961, p.241; Ellmann, The Identity of Yeats, London: Faber 1954, p.118 - where he calls it ‘a little too pat to give it complete credence’; Frank Tuohy, Yeats: An Illustrated Biography, Macmillan 1976, p.51.

[ For longer quotation of same, under “Yeats’s Creed”, infra; also full-text version in RICORSO Library, “Irish Classics > W. B. Yeats”, via index, or direct. ]

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Moods & Emotions (I): ‘Literature differs from explanatory and scientific writing in being wrought about a mood, or a community of moods, as the body is wrought about an invisible soul; and if it uses argument, theory, erudition, observation, and seems to grow hot in assertion or denial, it does so merely to make us partakers at the banquet of the moods. It seems to me that these moods are the labourers and messengers of the Ruler of all, the gods of ancient days still dwelling on the secret Olympus, the angels of more modern days ascending and descending on their shining ladder; and that argument, theory, erudition, observation are mere what Blake calls “little devils who fight for themselves”, illusions of our visible passing life, who must be made serve the moods, or we have no part in eternity. Everything that can be seen, touched, measured, explained, understood, argued over, is to the imaginative artist nothig more than a means, for he belongs to the invisible life, and delivers its ever new and ever ancient revelation. We hear much of his need for the restraints of reason, but th eonly restraint he can obey is the mysterious instinct that has made him an artist, and that teaches him to discover immortal moods in mortal desires, an undecaying hope in our trivial ambitions, a divine love in sexual passion.’ (“The Moods” [1895]; first printed in ‘Irish National Literature’, Pt. 2, Bookman, Aug. 1895; rep in Ideas of Good and Evil, 1903; see Essays and Introductions, p.195.)

Cf. ‘great events accomplished [by] a mood, a divinity or a demon, first descending like a faint sign in men’s minds and then changing their thoughts and their actions [...]’ (Mythologies, p.285.)

Moods & Emotions (II) ‘[T]he moods [...] worked all great changes in the world; for just as the magician or the artist could call them when he would, so they could call out of the mind of the magician or the artist [...] and [...] pour themselves out into the world. In this way all great events were accomplished [...] empires moved their borders.’ (Memoirs, p.285 [err.].) ‘‘When the external world is no more the standard of reality, we will learn again that the great passions are angels of God [...].’ (‘Contemporary Irish Poets: Part 3 of “Irish National Literature”, in Bookman, Sept. 1895; incl. in Ideas of Good and Evil as “The Body of Father Christian Rosencrux”; rep. in Frayne, ed., Uncollected Prose, 1970, p.61.)

Moods & Emotions (III): ‘The fairies are the less spiritual moods of that universal mind, wherein every mood is a soul and every thought a body. Their world is very different from ours, and they can but appear in forms borrowed form our limited consciousness, but nevertheless, every form they take and every action they go through, has its significance and can be read by the mind trained in the correspondence of sensuous form and supersensuous meaning.’ (‘Invoking the Irish Fairies’, in John Frayne, ed., Uncollected Prose, Vol. 1, 1970, p.247; quoted in Barry Montgomery, UUC Diss., 2003.)

Moods & Emotions (IV) ‘[E]very emotion is, in its hidden essence,an unfallen angel of God, a being of uncorruptible flame.’ (‘That Subtle Shade’, in Uncoll. Prose, ed. John Frayne, Vol. 1, 1970, p.374; quoted in Barry Montgomery, op. cit.)

Moods & Emotions (V): ‘[A]rt is a revelation, and not a criticism [and] this age of criticism is about to pass, and an age of imagination, of emotions, of moods, of revelation, about to come in its place.’ (‘The Body of Father Christian Rosencrux’, in Essays and Introductions, NY: Macmillan 1986, p.197; quoted in Barry Montgomery, ‘Yeats’s Occult Philosophy of Art’, UUC MA Diss. 2003.)]

Moods & Emotions (VI) ‘Emotions which seem vague or extravagant when expressed under the influence of modern literature, cease to be vague and extravagant when associated with ancient legend and mythology, for legend and mythology were born out of man’s longing for the mysterious and the infinite.’ (Review of Fiona Macleod’s From the Hills of Dream, in Bookman, Dec. 1898; quoted in Frayne, ed., Uncoll. Prose, 1970, p.71.)

Moods & Emotions (VII) - “Rosa Alchemica”: ‘[...] The bodiless souls who descended into these forms were what men called the moods; and worked all great changes in the world; for just as the magician or the artist could call them when he would, so they could call out of the mind of the magician or the artist, or if they were demons, out of the mind of the mad or the ignoble, what shape they would, and through its voice and its gestures pour themselves out upon the world. In this way all great events were accomplished; a mood, a divinity or a demon, first descending like a faint sigh into men’s minds and then changing their thoughts and their actions until hair that was yellow had grown black, or hair that was black had grown yellow, and empires move their border, as though they were but drifts of leaves.’ (The book of the order of the Rosa Alchemic; see G. J. Watson, ed., W. B. Yeats: Short Fiction, Penguin 1995, p.193.) Note: Watson quotes the continuation of this passage in the earlier Savoy version [1896]: ‘I remember as I read, that mood with Edgar Poe found in a wine-cup, and from Baudelaire passed to England and the pre-Raphaelites, and then again returned to France, and still wanders the world, enlarging its powers as it goes, awaiting the time when it shall be, perhaps, alone, or with the other moods, master over a great new religion, and an awakener of the fanatical wars that hovered in gray surges, and forgot the wine-cup where it was born.’ (The Secret Rose [ ...] A Variorum Edition, [rev. edn.] 1992, pp.143-44; Watson, op. cit., p.259. Search also Yeatsian sense of ‘moods’ elsewhere in this file, et passim.)

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Masks & Identity (I): ‘As all realisation is through opposites, men coming to believe the subjective opposite of what they do and think, we may be about to accept the most implacable authority the world has known. Do I desire it or dread it, loving as I do the gaming table of Nature where many are ruined but none is judged, and where all is fortuitous, unforeseen?’ (“If I were Four and Twenty”, pp.4-5, 20-21; quoted in T. R. Whitaker, Swan and Shadow, 1989 [Edn.], p.72.)

Cf. I seek an image, not a book. / Those men that in their writings are most wise / Own nothing but their blind, stupified hearts. / I call to the mysterious one who yet / Shall walk the wet sands by the edge of the stream / And look most like me, being indeed my double. / And prove of all imaginable things / The most unlike, being my anti-self, / And, standing by these characters, disclose / All that I seek.’ (“Ego Dominus Tuus”, in Coll. Poems, 1950, p.182; quoted in Rachel V. Billigheimer, Wheels of Eternity: A Comparative Study of William Blake and William Butler Yeats, Dublin: Gill & Macmillan 1990, p.11.)

Masks & Identity (II): ‘I know very little about myself and much less of that anti-self: probably the woman who cooks my dinner [...] knows more than I. It is perhaps because nature made me a gregarious man, going hither and thither looking for conversation, and ready to deny from fear or favour his dearest conviction, that I love proud and lonely things.’ (Autobiographies, “Four Years”, p.18; quoted in Daniel Albright, ed. W. B. Yeats: The Poems, Everyman 1992, Introduction, p.xxxvii.) See also ‘[...] subjective men [...] fate’s antithesis [...] what I have called “the mask” [... &c.]’ (Autobiographies, p.189; as supra.)

Masks & Identity (III): ‘I think that all happiness depends on the energy to assume the mask of some other self; that all joyous or creative life is a rebirth as something not oneself, something which has no memory and is created in a moment and perpetually renewed. We put on a grotesque or solemn pained face to hide us from the terrors of judgement, invent an imaginative Saturnalia where one forgets reality, a game like that of a child, where one loses the infinite pain of self-realisation. Perhaps all the sins and energies of the world are but its flights from an infinite blinding beam.’ (Diary of 1908, in Memoirs, ed. Denis Donoghue, Macmillan 1972, p.191; quoted in Terence Brown, A Life of W. B. Yeats, 1999 [2001 pb. edn.], p.177; see also in ‘The Death of Synge’, Autobiographies, p.503; also Scribner 1999 Edn., ed. William H. O’Donnell & Douglas H. Archibald, p.372.)

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Masks & Identity (IV): ‘Our culture, with its doctrine of sincerity and self-realisation, made us gentle and passive, and that the Middle Ages and the Renaissance were right to found theirs upon the imitation of [Christ] or of some classic hero [...]. St. Francis and Caesar Borgia made themselves overmastering, creative persons by turning from the mirror to meditation and the mask.’ (Mythologies, p.333.)

Masks & Identity (V): ‘There is a relation between discipl[in]e and the theatrical sense. If we cannot imagine ourselves different from what we are, and try to assume that second self, we cannot impose a discipline upon ourselves though we may accept one from others. Active virtue, as distinguished from the passive acceptance of a code, is therefore theatrical, consciously dramatic, the wearing of a mask [...]’ (Ibid., p.334; but note attribution to diary of 1908; var. 1909 in Louis MacNeice, W. B. Yeats, 1941], quoted in Yeats account of the genesis of The Player Queen, 1922, so cited in Frank Tuohy, Yeats: An Illustrated Biography, Macmillan 1976, p.151; Jeffares, New Commentary, 1984, indicates that the above passage is copied by Yeats himself in The Player Queen, p.167-8]; see ditto [sentence], from Per Amica Silentia Lunae, [q.p.], quoted in T. R. Henn, The Lonely Tower: Studies in the Poetry of W. B. Yeats, Methuen, 1965 Edn., p.36, as epigraph.)

Masks & Identity (VI): ‘The other self, the anti-self or the antithetical self, as one may choose to name it, comes but to those who are no longer deceived, whose passion is reality.’ (Mythologies, p.331; quoted in Henn, op. cit., idem [p.36].) ‘[T]he energy to assume the mask of some other life, or a rebirth as something not one’s self, something created in a moment and perpetually renewed.’ (Ibid., p.334.)


Masks & Identity (VII): ‘The poet finds and makes his mask in disappointment, the hero in defeat. The desire that is satisfied is not a great desire, nor has the shoulder used all its might that an unbreakable gate has never strained.’ (Ibid., p.337; see also his comments on love: ‘... love also creates a Mask’ [as supra]; and: [...] The truest poetry is the most feigning’ (Quoted Tuohy, Yeats: An Illustrated Biography, Macmillan 1976, p.151.)

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Masks & Identity (VIII): A Vision [Phase 8]: ‘Among those who are of this phase may be great satirists, great caricaturists, but they pity the beautiful, for that is their Mask, and hate the ugly, for that is their Body of Fate [...] Indeed, perhaps if the body have great perfection, there is always something imperfect in the mind, some rejection of or inadequacy of the Mask: Venus out of phase chose Vulcan. Here are several very ugly persons, their bodies torn and twisted by the violence of the new primary, but there the body has this ugliness great beauty of mind is possible. This is indeed the only antithetical phase where ugliness is possible, it being complementary to Phase 2, the only primary phase where beauty is possible.’ (A Vision, p.138-40.)

Masks & Identity (IX): ‘I had set out on life with the thought of putting my very self into poetry [...] I thought of myself as something unmoving and silent living in the middle of my own mind and body [...] Then one day I understood quite suddenly, as the way is, that I was seeking something unchanging and unmixed and always outside myself, a Stone or an Elixir that was always out of reach, and that I myself was the fleeting thing that held out its hand. The more I tried to make my art deliberately beautiful, the more did I follow the opposite of myself [...].’ (Essays and Introductions, p.271; quoted in large part in Terence Brown, ‘Shakespeare and the Irish Self’, in Irelands in the Asia-Pacific, ed. Peter Kuch & Julie-Ann Robson Gerrards Cross: Colin Smythe 2003, p.10; also in Daniel Albright, ed. & intro., W. B. Yeats: The Poems, Everyman 1992, p.xxxvi, with elipses as above.)

Masks & Identity (X) - “The Mask”, a song in The Player Queen: ‘it was the mask engaged your mind, / And after set your heart to beat, / not what’s behind. ‘It seems to me that love if it is fine is essentially a discipline, but it neeeds so much wisdom that the love of Sheba and of Solomon must have lasted for all the silence of the Scriptures. In wise love each divines the high secret self of the other, and refusing to believe in the mere daily self creates a mirror where the lover or the beloved sees an image to copy in daily life. Love also creates the mask. (Quoted in J. M. Hone, W. B. Yeats 1865-1939, Macmillan, 1962, p.228; quoted in Elsie Gaw, UUC MA, 1999.) Also, ‘[T]he supreme aim is an act of faith and reason to make one rejoice in the midst of tragedy’ (Letters to Dorothy Wellesley, p.12.)

Masks & Identity (XI): ‘[...] my interest in proud, confident people began before I had been much humiliated. Some people say I have an affected manner, and if that is true, as it may well be, it is because my father took me when I was ten or eleven to Irving’s famous Hamlet. Years afterwards I walked the Dublin streets when nobody was looking, or nobody that I knew, with that strut Gordon Craig compared to a movement in a dance [...].’ (Text for last undelivered broadcast among last writings; copied in Frank Tuohy, Yeats: An Illustrated Biography, Macmillan 1976, p.141.)

Masks & Identity (XII) - “Hodos Chameliontos”, Book III, [sect.] IX, in Autobiographies: ‘They [Dante and Villon] and their sort alone earn contemplation, for it is only when the intellect has wrought the whole of life to drama, to crisis, that we may live for contemplation, and yet keep our intensity. / And these things are true also of nations, but the Gatekeepers who drive the nation to war or anarchy that it may find its Image are different from those who drive individual men, though I think at times they work together. And as I look backwards upon my own writing, I take pleasure alone in those verses where it seems to me I have found something hard and cold, some articulation of the Image which is the opposite of all that I am in my daily life, and all that my country is; yet man or nation can no more make this Mask of Image [Ftn.: There is a form of Mask or Image that comes from life and is fated, but there is a form that is chosen] than the seed can be made by the soil into which it is cast.’ (Given in Richard Finneran, The Yeats Reader, NY: Scribner 1997, pp.287, and followed in the original by a copy of “Hic and Ille”.)

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Irish Criticism: ‘The critical mind of Ireland is far more subjugated than the critical mind of England by the phantoms and misapprehensions of politics and social necessity [...]. We have longer in any country a literature as great as the literature of the world, and that is because the newspapers, all kinds of second-rate books, the preoccupations of men with all kinds of practical changes have driven the living imagination out of the world.’ (Samhain, Dec. 1904, pp.14-15; quoted in Loradana Salis, “Twentieth-century Oedipus: [...] Versions by W. B. Yeats & Ted Hughes, MA Diss, UUC 2001.)

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Oedipus at the Abbey [of Oedipus at Colonus]: ‘Greek literature, like old Irish literature based upon belief [...] When Oedipu at Colonus went into the Woods of the Furies he felt the same creeping in his flesh that an Irish countryman feels in certain haunted woods in Galway and Sligo. At the Abbey Theatre we play both Oedipus the King and Oedipus at Colonus and they seem at home here.’ (Wade, ed., Letters, p.537, n.1; quoted Loradana Salis, op. cit., 2001.)

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