William Butler Yeats: Quotations (5)

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‘Whenever an Irish writer has strayed away from Irish themes and Irish feelings, in almost all cases he has done no more than make alms for oblivion. There is no great literature without nationality, and no great nationality without literature.’ (“Browning”, in Boston Pilot, 22 Feb. 1890, rep. in Letters to the New Island, NY 1934, pp.103-04; quoted in Peter Ure, Yeats and Anglo-Irish Literature, ed. C. J. Rawson, Liverpool 1974, p.64, et al.)
‘Somebody has said that all sound philosophy is but biography and what I myself did, getting into an original relation to Irish life, creating in myself a new character, a new pose - in the French sense of the word - the literary mind of Ireland must do as a whole, always understanding that the result must be no bundle of formulas, not faggots but a fire.’ (Explorations, pp.235-36; quoted in Denis Donoghue, Yeats [Fontana Modern Masters], Collins 1971, p.96.)
‘I must choose a traditional stanza, even what I alter must seem traditional. […] Talk to me of originality and, I will turn on you with rage. I am a crowd, I am a lonely man, I am nothing. Ancient salt is best packing.’ (“General Introduction for My Work”, 1937; rep. in Essays & Introductions, Macmillan 1961, p.522.)

Dramatic Art
Tragic or Creative Joy
Literature & Sexuality
Women & Dolls
Idealism v. Realism
Yeats’s Creed
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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. Billighemier, Wheels of Eternity: A Comparative Study of William Blake and William Butler Yeats, Dublin: Gill & Macmillan 1990, p.11.)

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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.) ‘Among subjective men (in all those, that is, who must spin a web out of their own bowels) the victory is an intellectual daily recreation of all that exterior fate 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 [subjective men] internal nature. We begin to live when we have conceived life as tragedy. (Autobiographies, p.189.) ‘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.)

Masks & Identity (III): ‘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.) ‘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.)

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Masks & Identity (IV): ‘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.’ (Ibid.; Henn, op. cit., idem.) ‘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.) ‘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.) ‘[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.)

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Masks & Identity (V): 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 tqisted 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 (VI): ‘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 Peter Kuch & Julie-Ann Robson, eds., Irelands in the Asia-Pacific, 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.)

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Masks & Identity (VII): ‘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 seees 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.) ‘[…] 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 (VIII), “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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Dramatic Art (I) [Letter to “AE”]: ‘I have come to feel towards it [The Land of Heart’s Desire] as O’Grady feels towards it sometimes & even a little as some of my stupidest critics feel. As so often happens with a thing one has been tempted b and is still a little tempted by I am roused by it to a kind of frenzied hatred which is quite out of my control […] We possess nothing but the will & and we mush never let the children of vague desires breathe upon it nor the waters of sentiment rust the terrible mirror of its blade, I fled from some of this new verse you have gathered as from much verse of our day knowing that I fled that water and that breath […] some day you will become aware, as I have become, of an uncontrollable shrinking from the shadows and as I believe a mysterious command has gone out against them in the invisible world of our energies, let us have no emotions, however absurd, in which there is not an athletic joy.’ (Letter to Russell in 1904; ‘Some passages […]’, in Dublin Magazine, n.s., XIV, July-Sept. 1939, pp.17-18; quoted in Ellmann, Yeats: The Man and the Masks, 1948, p.184.)

Dramatic Art (II): “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, pp.272-73.)

Dramatic Art (III): ‘We have all something within ourselves to batter down and get our power from this fighting. I have never “produced” a play in verse without showing the actors that the passion of the verse comes from the fact that the speakers are holding down violence or madness - “down Hysterica passio”. All depends on the completeness of the holding down, on the stirring of the beast underneath. (Letters to Dorothy Wellesley, 1940, pp.94-5; Ellmann, Yeats: Man and Mask, 1948, p.141; Albright, ed., The Poems of W. B. Yeats, 1992, p.786 - notes on ‘Proud Furies’; quoted at greater length in Jeffares, New Commentary, 1984, p.343, and still more extensively at pp.382-83; also in Brenda Maddox, Yeats’s Ghosts, London: HarperCollins 1999, p.297.) Furhter [without break] ‘Even my poem “To D.W.” should give this impression. The moon, the moonless night, the dark velvet, the sensual silence, the silent room and the violent bright Furies. Without this conflict we have no passion, only sentiment and thought. […] About the conflict in “To D.W.” I did not plan it deliberately. That conflict is deep in my subconscious, perhaps in everybody’s. I dream of clear water, perhaps two or three times (the moon of the poem), then come erotic dreams. Then for weeks perhaps I write poetry with sex for theme. Then comes the reversal - it came when I was young with some dream or some vision between waking and sleep with a flame in it. Then for weeks I get a symbolism like that in my Byzantium poem or in “To D.W.” with flame for theme. All this may come from the chance that when I was a young man I was accustomed to a Kabbalistic ceremony where there were two pillars, one symboic of water and one of fire. The fire mark is [triangle/apex up], the water mark is [triangel/apex down], these are combined to make Solomon’s sea’ [interpenetrating triangles]. The water is sensation, peace, night, silence, indolence; the fire is passion, tension, day, music, energy. (Letters … to Dorothy Wellesley, London: Macmillan 1936, pp.86-87; Jeffares, A New Commentary on the Poems of W. B. Yeats, Macmillan 1984, pp.382-83; quoted [in part] in Denis Donoghue, Yeats [Fontanta Modern Masters], Collins 1971, pp.131-32.] Note: Jeffares indicates that the phrase ‘hysterica passio’ derives from King Lear, II, iv, 57 - who had it probably form Harsnet, Declaration of Popish Impostures, and points to other uses of the phrase in “A Bronze Head” [Finneran, ed., Poems, 1984], and “Estrangement” [Autobiographies, p.489], where it refers to the condition of Ireland (Jeffares, op. cit. 1984, p.343.)

Dramatic Art (IV): ‘Because those imaginary people are created out of the deepest instinct of man, to be his measure and his norm, whatever I can imagine those mouths speaking may be the nearest I can go to truth’ (Auobiographies, p.143; quoted in Richard Ellmann, The Identity of Yeats, Faber 1954, p.327 [n. to p.224] - explaining Yeats method of turning to Owen Aherne, his own creation, for advice - as in the [penultimate] stanza of “The Tower”, ‘Old lecher with a love on every wind …. Into the labyrinth of another’s being.’ (Coll. Poems, Macmillan 1950, p.222.)

Dramatic Art (V): ‘I have been thinking a good deal about plays lately, and I have been wondering why I dislike the clear and logical construction which seems necessary if one is to suceed on the modern stage. It came into my head the other day that this construction, which all the world has learnt from France, has everything of high literature except the emotion of multitude. The Greek drama has the emotion of multitude from its chorus, which called up famous sorrows, even all the gods and all heroes, to witness [...] some well-ordered fable [...]. The French play delights in the well-ordered fable, but by leaving out the chorus it has created an art where poetry and imagination, always the children of far-off multitudinous things, must of necessity grow less important than the mere will. This is why, I said to myself, French dramatic poetry is so often rhetorical, for what is rhetoric but the will trying to do the work of the imagination?’ (“The Emotions of Multitude”, 1903, in Barrett Clark, ed., European Theories of the Drama, NY: Crown Publishers 1978, pp.452-53; quoted in Sandra Luna, ‘Símbolo, alegoria e política na cena irlandesa: contradições, impasses e perspectivas face à dramaturgia de Yeats’, in Bloomsday: Ensaois 2015, ed. Ana Graça Canan & Marcelo Amorim, Brasil, Natal: UFRN 2015, p.169 [in Portuguese, p.157, op. cit., supra.)

Cont.: ‘The Shakespearian drama gets the emotion of multitude out of the sub-plot which copies the main plot, much as a shadow upon the wall copies one’s body in the firelight. We think of King Lear less as the history of one man and his sorrows than as the history of a whole evil time. Lear’s shadow is in Gloucester, who also has ungrateful children and the mind goes on imagining other shadows, shadow beyond shadow, till it has pictured the world. In Hamlet, one hardly notices, so subtly is the web woven, that the murder of Hamlet’s father and the sorrow of Hamlet are shadowed in the lives of Fortinbras and Ophelia and Laertes, whose fathers, too, have been killed. It is so in all the plays [...], and very commonly the sub-plot is the main plot working itself out in more ordinary men and women, and so doubly calling up before us the image of multitude.’ (“The Emotions of Multitude”, 1903, in Clark, op. cit. 1978, p. 453; quoted in Luna, op. cit., 2015, op. cit. 2015, pp.169-70 [in Portuguese, pp.157-58].)

Cont.: ‘Did not the Egyptian carve it on emerald that all living things have the sun for father and the moon for mother, and has it not been said that a man of genius takes the most after his mother?’ (“The Emotions of Multitude”, 1903, in Clark, op. cit. 1978, p.453; quoted in Luna, op. cit. 2015, p.170 [in Portuguese, p.158.)

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Tragic & Creative Joy (1): “The Gyres”: ‘The gyres! The gyres! Old Rocky Face, look forth […] we that look on but laugh in tragic joy. / What matter though numb nightmare ride on top, / And blood and mire the sensitive body stain […] What matter? Out of the cavern comes a voice, / And all it knows is that one word “rejoice!”’ (Coll. Poems, p.337.) ‘Seek for a life growing always more scornful of everything that is not itself and passing into its own fullness […] and attaining that fullness, perfectly it may be - and from this is tragic joy and the perfectness of tragedy - when the world itself has slipped away in death.’ (Explorations, Macmillan 1962, p.170.)

Tragic & Creative Joy (2): ‘[Shakespeare’s tragic heroes] move us because their sorrow is not their own tomb or asp, but for all men’s fate. That shaping joy has kept the sorrow pure […] for the nobleness of the arts is in the mingling of contraries, the extremity of sorrow, perfection of personality, the perfection of its surrender.’ (Essays and Introductions, p.255; and see remarks on the heroes of Shakespeare, infra.)

Tragic & Creative Joy (3): ‘A poet creates tragedy from his own soul, that soul which is alike in all men, and at moments it has no joy, as we understand that word, for the soul is an exile and without will. It attains to ecstasy, which from the contemplation of things which are vaster than the individual and imperfectly seen, perhaps, by all those that still live.’ (Memoirs, 1972, p.152; quoted in Terence Brown, A Life of W. B. Yeats, 1999 [2001 pb. edn.], p.177.)

Tragic & Creative Joy (4): ‘There is in the creative joy an acceptance of what life brings, because we have understood the beauty of what it brings, or a hatred of death for what it takes away, which arouses within us, through some sympathy perhaps with all other men, an energy so noble, so powerful, that we laugh aloud and mock, in the terror or the sweetness of our exaltation, at death and oblivion.’ (‘J. M Synge and the Ireland of His Time’, in Essays and Introductions, p.322.)

Tragic & Creative Joy (5): ‘What I myself did, getting into an original relation to Irish life, creating in myself a new character, a new pose - in the French sense of the world - the literary mind of Ireland must do as a whole, always understanding the result must be no bundle of formulas, not faggots but fire. We never learn to know ourselves by thought, as Goethe said, but by action only; and to a writer creation is action.’ (Samhain, No. 7, Nov. 1908, p.8.)

Tragic & Creative Joy (6): Yeats speaks of the ‘vulgar jocularity of certain ignorant Irish dramatists […] The arts are all the bridal chambers of joy. No tragedy is legitimate unless it leads some great character to his final joy. [… &c]’ (On the Boiler; Explorations, Macmillan 1962, p.448.)

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Literature & Sexuality (I) Yeats remarked to John Sparrow that ‘perpetual virginity is the tragedy of the soul’ (T[homas] R. Henn, quoted in Jeffares, New Commentary, p.330, citing Henn, The Lonely Tower, p.66 [n.2], his own Yeats: Man and Poet, 1949, 267.)

Literature & Sexuality (II): ‘It seems to me that true love is a discipline, and it needs so much wisdom that the love of Solomon and Sheba must have lasted, for all the silence of the Scriptures. Each divines the 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; for love also creates a Mask’ (Memoirs, pp.144-45; also in Autobiographies, p.464 [ sect. 7].)

Literature & Sexuality (III): ‘One feels at moments as if one could with a touch convey a vision - that the mystic vision & sexual love use the same means - opposed yet parallel existences’ (Letter of 25 May, 1926; printed as unpubl. in Richard Ellmann, Yeats: The Man and the Masks, 1948, p.264.)

Literature & Sexuality (IV): ‘Only two topics can be of the least interest to a serious and studious mind - sex and the dead.’ (Letter to Olivia Shakespear, Oct. 1927; q. source.)

Literature & Sexuality (V): ‘Elaborate modern psychology sounds egotistical when it speaks in the first person, but not those simple emotions which resemble the more, the more powerful they are, everybody’s emotion, and I was soon to write many poems where an always personal emotion was woven into a general pattern of myth and symbol.’ (Quoted in Sean O’Faolain, Introduction, The Silver Branch: A Collection of the Best Old Irish Lyrics, 1938; also in Benedict Kiely, ‘The World of James Stephens, ‘A Raid into Dark Corners and Other Essays, Cork UP 1999, p.89.)

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Women & Dolls (I): ‘Women, because the main event of their lives has been a giving themselves and giving birth, give all to an opinion as if it were some terrible stone doll […] women should have their play with dolls finished in childhood for, if they play with ideas again it is amid hatred and malice’ (Diary, 1910; quoted in Louis McNeice, W. B. Yeats, 1941, p.118; also A. N. Jeffares, New Commentary, 1984, p.207.) Note: The same is copied with some variations in ‘The Death of Synge’ [continuing ‘stone doll’]: ‘[…] to women opinions become as their children or their sweethearts, and the greater their emotional capacity the more do they forget all other things. They grow cruel, as if in defence of lover or child, and all this is done for “something other than human life” . At last the opinion is so much identified with their nature that it seems a part of their flesh becomes stone and passes out of life. […] Women should have their play with dolls finished in childish happiness, for if they play with them again it is amid hatred and malice.’ (Autobiographies, p.504.)

Women & Dolls (II): ‘Women […] give themselves to an opinion as if [it] were some terrible stone doll […] the opinion becomes so much part of them that it is as though a part of their flesh becomes, as it were, stone.’ (Denis Donoghue, ed., Memoirs: Autobiography - First Draft and Journal, Macmillan 1972, p.192; quoted in Elizabeth Butler Cullingford, Gender and History in Yeats’s Love Poetry, Cambridge UP 1992, p.125, quoted in Luke Gibbons, ‘“Some Hysterical Hatred”: History, Hysteria and the Literary Revival’, in Irish University Review, Spring/Summer 1997, p.21; note that Gibbons goes on to quote A Vision, ‘all the cruelty and narrowness of that intellect are displayed in service of preposterous purpose after purpose till there is nothing left but the fixed idea and some hysterical hatred’: A Vision (1925) Critical Edition, ed. George Mills Harper & Walter Kelly, Macmillan 1978, pp.71-72.)

Women & Dolls (III): ‘My wife [George Yeats] is perfect wife, kind, wise and unselfish. I think you were such a girl once. She has made my life serene and full of order.’ (Letter to Lady Gregory, quoted Augustine Martin, Yeats, 1983, p.60.) ‘There are married people who, though they do not forbid the passage of the seed, practise, not necessarily at the moment of union, a meditation, wherein the man seeks the divine Self as present in his wife, the wife the divine Self as present in the man. There may be trance, and the presence of one with another though a great distance separates.’ (“The Mandukya Upanishad” [Criterion 1935 as “Mändookya Upanishad”], rep. in Essays & Introductions, p.484; quoted in Terence Brown, The Life of W. B. Yeats, 1999 [pb. edn. 2001], p.353.)

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Idealism v. Realism (I) - Letter to Sturge Moore, (?5 Feb. 1926): ‘The Lit Sup[plement - i.e., TLS] this week - page 27[,] Col. 2 - divides possible beliefs about the nature of the external world as follows: / (i) Everything we perceive “including so called illusions exists in the external world”. (Ruskin’s cat and the house cat are real.) / (2) Nothing can exist that is not in the mind as “an element of experience”. (Neither Ruskin’s cat nor the house cat is real.) / (3) There is a physical world which is independent of our minds real’ -but we can only know it through “representations” that are part of our minds and quite unlike it…. / (i) Always fascinated me for I learned it from a Brahmin [Mohini Chatterjee] when I was eighteen and believed it till Blake drove it out of my head. It is early Buddhism and results in the belief still living in India, that all is a stream which flows on out of human control one action or thought leading to another. That we ourselves are nothing but a mirror and that deliverance consists in turning the mirror away so that it reflects nothing. The stream will go on but we do not know. / (2) This is Zen Buddhism. Shen-hsiu said - so Waley’s “Introduction to the Study of Chinese Painting” page 221 - “Scrub your mirror lest the dust dim it” -I shorten the sentence - but Hui-neng replied “Seeing that nothing exists how can the dust dim it”. Zen art was the result of a contemplation that saw all becoming through rhiythm a single act of the mind. / Russell and his school cannot escape from the belief that each man is a sealed bottle. Every man who has studied psychical science by watching his own life knows that we share emotion, thought and image. […] / (2) This seems to me the simplest and to liberate us from all manner of abstraction and create at once a joyous artistic life.’ (Quoted in Richard Ellmann, The Identity of Yeats, London: Faber 1954), p.217.) Note: In recounting the origins of the letter in a correspondence about the phantom cat that Frank Harris reports John Ruskin to have seen in his room and attempted to fling out the window, Ellmann explains that the correspondence was practically with Sturge’s brother, the Bloomsbury phillosopher G. E. Moore - one of the positivists with Bertrand Russell - to whom the letters were passed for answers. Ellmann concludes: ‘He [Yeats] chooses,, it will be noticed, that interpretation of the external world which gives the mind autonomy, while at the same time [218] insisting that no one’s mind is isolated.’ (Ibid., pp.217-18.)

Idealism & Realism (II) - Locke & Berkeley: ‘It is customary to praise English empirical genius, English sense of reality, and yet throughout the eighteenth century when her Indian Empire was founded England lived for certain great constructions that were true only in relation to the will. I spoke in the Irish Senate on the Catholic refusal of divorce and assumed that all lovers who ignored priest or registrar were immoral; upon education, and assumed that everybody who could not read the newspaper was a poor degraded creature; and had I been sent there by some religious organisation must have assumed that a child captured by a rival faith lost its soul; and had my country been at war-but who does not serve these abstractions? Without them corporate life would be impossible. They are as serviceable as those leaf-like shapes of tin that mould the ornament for the apple-pie, and we give them belief, service, devotion. How can we believe in truth that is always moth-like and fluttering and yet can terrify? - A friend and myself, both grown men, talked ourselves once into a terror of a little white moth in Burnharn Beeches. And of all these the most comprehensive, [400] the most useful, was invented by [John] Locke when he separated the primary and secondary qualities; and from that day to this the conception of a physical world without colour, sound, taste) tangibility, though indicted by Berkeley as Burke was to indict Warren Hastings fifty years later, and proved mere abstract extension, a mere category of the mind, has remained the assumption of science, the groundwork of every text-book. [Ftn: This cannot, of course, be less true of time-space than of the abstract space of Newton. The Russian mathematician Vasiliev in Space, Time and Motion calls Berkeley “one of the most profound thinkers of all time” and adds, “It was Berkeley’s immortal service that he decidedly rejected the external reality of space.”]’ (“Bishop Berkeley” [pref. to J. M. Hone & M. M. Rossi, Bishop Berkeley: His Life, Writings and Philosophy, London: Faber 1931, rep. in Essays and Introductions, Macmillan 1961, pp.396-411; here pp.400-01.) Cf. Words Upon the Window-Pane, Introduction: ‘I can see in a sort of nightmare vision the “primary qualities” torn from the side of Locke, Johnson’s ponderous body bent above the letter to Lord Chesterfield, some obscure person somewhere inventing the spinning-jenny, upon his face that look of benevolence kept by painters and engravers, from the middle of the eighteenth century to the time of the Prince Consort.’ (Explorations, p.358-59; quoted in Denis Donoghue, Yeats [Fontana Modern Masters], London: Collins 1971, p.53.)

Idealism & Realism (III) - Criticism and imagination: ‘Science is the criticism of Myths, there would be no Darwin had there been no Book of Genesis … and when the criticism is finished there is not even a drift of ashes on the pyre. Sexual desire dies because every touch consumes the myth, and yet a myth that cannot be so consumed becomes a spectre. I am reading William Morris with great delight and what a protection to my delight it is to know that spite of all his loose writing I need not be jealous for him. He is the end as Chaucer was the end in his day, Dante in his, incoherent Blake in his. There is no improvement, only a series of sudden fires, each though fainter as necessary as that before it. We free ourselves from obsession that we may be nothing. The last kiss is given the void.’ (Letters, ed. Wade, London, p.404; quoted in Richard Ellmann, The Identity of Yeats, London: Faber 1954, p.234.)

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Yeats’s Creed” (I): ‘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; quoted in Richard Ellmann, W. B. Yeats: The Man and the Masks, 1948, p.241; see full-text version in RICORSO Library, “Irish Classics > W. B. Yeats”, via index, or direct.)

Yeats’s Creed” (II) - transcribed from loose-leaf MS notebook; microfilm at Houghton Library: ‘I: I believe as did the old sages who sat under the palm trees, the banyan trees, or among the snowbound rocks, a thousand years before Christ was born; I believe as did the monks of the Mareotic Sea; as do country men who see the old fighting men and their fine women coming out of the mountain, moving from mountain to mountain. II: And this is what I believe: that man stands between two eternities, that of his race, that of his soul. Further I declare that man serves these sword in hand and with an armoured mind. That only so armed does man pick the right mate, and only in the midst of a conflict which strains all his mind and his body, and to the utmost, has he wisdom enough to choose his right mate. The wisdom I seek is written on a sword, mirrored on a sword, on Sato’s sword, a sword wrapped in a woman’s old embroidery. III: I declare that no evil can happen to the soul except from the soul - that death is a brief parting and brief sickness. What matter though the skies drop fire - children take hands and dance.’ (Quoted in Curtis Bradford, Yeats at Work, S. Illinois UP 1965, p.5; prose paraphrase in preparation for Under “Ben Bulben”.)

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Yeats’s Creed” (III): ‘I am convinced that in two or three generations it will become generally known that the mechanical theory has no reality, that the natural and supernatural are knit together […] Europeans may find something attractive in a Christ posed against a background not of Judaism but of Druidism’ / ‘I was born into this faith, have lived in it, and shall die in it; my Christ, a legitimate deduction from the Creed of St. Patrick as I think, is that Unity of Being Dante compared to a perfectly proportioned human body, Blake’s “Imagination”, what the Upanishads have named “Self”: nor is this unity distant and therefore intellectually understandable, but imminent, differing from man to man and age to age, taking upon itself pain and ugliness, “eye of newt, and toe of frog”. (“General Introduction for My Work”, in Essays and Introductions, p.518; for longer extract, see supra.)

Yeats’s Creed” (IV) - Memoir (cited as ‘unpub. journal’ in Richard Ellmann, The Identity of Yeats, London: Faber 1954): ‘I agree with Ezra Pound in his dislike of the word belief. Belief implies an unknown object, a covenant attested with a name or signed with blood, and being more emotional than intellectual may pride itself on lack of proof. But if I affirm that such and such is so, the more complete the affirmation, the more complete the proof, and even when incomplete, it remains valid within some limit. I must kill scepticism in myself except in so far as it is mere acknowledgement of a limit, gradually, in so far as politeness permits, rid my style of turns of phrase that employs it. Even the politeness should be ejected when charm takes its place in poetry. […] I must though [the] world shrief at me, admit no act beyond my power, nor thing beyond my knowledge, yet because my divinity is far off I blanch and tremble.’ (Ellmann, op. cit., 1954, p.239.) [Cont.]

Yeats’s Creed” (IV) - Memoir - cont. in Richard Ellmann, The Identity of Yeats, London: Faber 1954): ‘[…] We even more than Eliot, require tradition, and though it may include much that is his, it is not a belief or submission, but exposition of intellectual needs. […] I feeel as neither Eliot nor Ezra do the need of old forms, old situations, that, as when I recreate some early poem of my own, I may escape from scepticism. […] Nor do I think that I differ from others except in so far as my preoccupation with poetry makes me different. The men sitting oppsite me, in the Rapello restaurant where some days ago the sound of a fiddle made me remember the old situation, are to my eyes modern but only a perverted art makes them modern to themselves. The “modern man” is a term invented by modern poetry to dignify our scepticism.’ (Ellmann, op. cit., p.239.)

[Note - Ellmann remarks: ‘His attitude towards scepticism is not entirely defined, but he was working towards some such generalisation as this: In so far as scepticism prevents positive statement, it is a danger to art.’ (Ibid., p.241.)]

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Yeats’s Creed” (IV): ‘We ask ourselves, are we in the presence of a dream? Is there a world-wide conspiracy of the unconscious mind, of what Maxwell calls “the impersonal mind” that speaks through dreams, to create a false appearance of spiritual intercourse, a seeming proof of the soul’s survival after death; a renewed fabrication by nature of an old falsehood necessary perhaps to the order of the world; perhaps, in the end, necessary even to the continuance of human life?’ (Preliminary scrip of E.R., unpub. MS; quoted in Richard Ellmann, The Identity of Yeats, London: Faber 1954), p.234 - in explication of “Meru” - a poem ‘personalised to fit no other man’s philosophy.’ (Ellmann, idem.)

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Yeats’s Creed” (VI): ‘Some will ask if I believe all that this book [A Vision] contains, and I will not know how to answer. Does the word belief, used as they will use it, belong to our age, can I think of the world as there and I here judging it? I will never think any thoughts but these, or some modification or extension of these; when I write prose or verse they must be somewhere present though not it may be in the words; they must affect my judgement of friends and of events; but then there are many symbolisms and none exactly resembles mine.’ (A Packet for Ezra Pound, 1929; Quoted in Richard Ellmann, W. B. Yeats: The Man and the Masks, 1948, p.267.) Cf. var. passage in A Vision, 1937 Edn., (‘Introduction’, XIV: ‘Some will ask whether I believe in the actual existence of my circuits of the sun and moon. [… &c.’; pp.24-25 - as infra].

Yeats’s Creed” (V): ‘I know now that revelation is from the self, but from that age-long memoried self, that shapes 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.’ (Autobiographies, NY: Macmillan Co. 1953, p.164; quoted in Hazard Adams, The Book of Yeats’s Vision: Romantic Modernism and Antithetical Tradition, Michigan UP 1995, p.54.)

Note: Adams quotes Yeats on birds, as he meets the matter discussed in connection with Locke: ‘When Locke’s translator Coste asked him how, if there were no “innate ideas”, he could explain the skill showed by a bird in making its nest, Locke replied, “I did not write to explain the actions of dumb creatures.” And his translator thought the answer“very good, seeing that he had named his book A Philosophical Essay upon Human Understanding.” Henry More, upon the other hand, considered that the bird’s instinct proved the existence of the Anima Mundi, with its ideas and memories. Did modern enlightenment think with Coste [that] Locke had the better logic, because it was not free to think otherwise?’ (Autobiographies, NY: Macmillan 1953, p.160 Adams, op. cit., p.53 [Autobiographies, London: Macmillan 1955, p.264].)

Yeats’s Creed” (VI): ‘If Kant is right the antinomy is in our method of reasoning; but if the Platonists are right may one not think that the antinomy is itself “constitutive”, and that the consciousness by which we know ourselves is itself irrational? I do not yet put this forward as the thought of my instructors, but at present is seems the natural interpretation of their symbols.’ (Letter to Sturge Moore, in Ursula Bridges, ed., W. B. Yeats and T. Sturge Moore: Their Correspondence 1901-1937, Routledge & Kegan Paull, 1953 [q.p.]; quoted in Hazard Adams, op. cit., 1995, p.54.)

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On Kathleen Ni Houlihan [1]: ‘[i]t may be said that it is a political play of a propagandist kind. This I deny. I took a piece of human life, thoughts that men had felt, hopes that they had died for, and I put this into what I believe to be a sincere dramatic form. I have never written a play to advocate any kind of opinion and I think that such a play would be necessarily bad art, or at any rate a very humble kind of art. At the same time I fell that I have no right to exclude for myself or for others, any of the passionate material of drama.’ (1904 Edn.; See A. N. Jeffares & A. S. Knowland, A Commentary on the Collected Plays of W. B. Yeats, Stanford UP 1975, p.36.)

On Kathleen Ni Houlihan [2] - “The Man and the Echo”: ‘All that I have said andd done, / Now that I am old and ill, / Turns into a question till / I lie awake night after night / And never get the answer right. / Did that play of mine send out / Certain men the English shot? / Did words of mine put too great strain / On that woman’s reeling brain? / Could my spoken words have checked / That whereby a house lay wrecked?’ (The Collected Poems of W. B. Yeats, NY: Macmillan 1951, pp.337-38; Poems of W. B. Yeats, ed. Daniel Albright, p.392.)

 

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