View this file in a separate window.

Compare and Contrast - W. B. Yeats and James Joyce’s use of aesthete language.

[Note: In “Rosa Alchemica”, WBY develops a conception of his mystic characters Robartes and Ahern engaged in an alchemical activity which attempts to transmute ordinary experience into essences. In describing it, Yeats uses the word transmute/transmutation, and the adjective imperishable. In Stephen Hero, imperishable is part of the hero’s aesthetic vocabulary but not transmute. In A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, both imperishable and transmute are used. Does this signify that Joyce is copying Yeats?
  If so, what text is he copying since the volume of Yeats’s stories he met in Dublin - as recounted in Stephen Hero - must be the 1897 edition of “Tables of the Law” and “Adoration of the Magi”, and the one held in his Trieste Library is the 1904 republication of those tales under the Elkin Mathews imprint. Later, in 1907, Yeats published the three mystical stories together in the Shakespeare Head edition of his Collected Works issued by Mathews. In this series, those stories shared a volume with his novels John Sherman and Dhoya.
  In other words, “Rosa Alchemica” was not available to him - though he could have read it in the earlier collection, The Secret Rose (1897) from which “Tables of the Law” and “Adoration of the Magi” had been excluded by the publisher Bullen - only to be printed by him privately (i.e., without his name appearing on the title-page) later in the same year.
The adjective imperishable occurs once in The Secret Rose collection of 1907 outside of the “Rosa Alchemica” story. This is in “The Heart of the Spring”, as quoted below. The use of the word there is not particularly laden with fin de siecle connotations of magical - or sacremental - transubstantiation. ]

Texts: A complete list of the occurence of the words imperishable & transmut- in the short fiction of W. B. Yeats and the early fiction James Joyce (Stephen Hero and A Portrait).

Yeats
”Rosa Alchemica”

I had discovered, early in my researches, that their doctrine was no merely chemical phantasy, but a philosophy they applied to the world, to the elements and to man himself; and that they sought to fashion gold out of common metals merely as part of an universal transmutation of all things into some divine and imperishable substance; and this enabled me to make my little book a fanciful reverie over the transmutation of life into art, and a cry of measureless desire for a world made wholly of essences.

 
Joyce
“James Clarence Mangan” (L&H, UCD - 15 Feb. 1902; published in St. Stephen’s [1, 6] May 1902, pp.116-18; given in Critical Writings (1966), p.73-74.

- [on aesthetic theory]: ‘It is many a day since the dispute of the classical and romantic schools began in the quiet city of the arts, so that criticism, which [73] has wrongly decided that the classical temper is the romantic temper grown older, has been driven to recognise these as constant states of mind. [...] The romantic school is often and grievously misinterpreted, not more by others than by its own, for that impatient temper which, as it could see no fit abode here for its ideals, chose to behold them under insensible figures, comes to disregard certain limitations, and, because these figures are blown high and low by the mind that conceived them, comes at times to regard them as feeble shadows moving aimlessly about the light, obscuring it; and the same temper, which assuredly, has not grown more patient, exclaims that the light is changed to worse than shadow, to darkness even, by any method which bends upon these present things and so, works upon them and fashions them that the quick intelligence may go beyond them to their meaning, which is still unuttered.’ (Critical Writings, 1966, pp.73-74; cf. variant version of same given in Stephen Hero - as infra.)

 
Stephen Hero [written 1904-1907]; published 1944, ed. Theodore Spencer; revised edn. by Slocum and Cahoon, 1956; rep. edn. Jonathan Cape 1966, 1969, &c.

The romantic temper … is an insecure, unsatisfied, impatient temper which sees no fit abode here for its ideals and chooses therefore to behold them under insensible figures. As a result of this [73] choice it comes to disregard certain limitations. Its figures are blown to wild adventures, lacking the gravity of solid bodies, and the mind that has conceived them ends by disowning them. The classical temper, on the other hand, ever mindful of its limitations, chooses rather to bend upon those present things and so work upon them and fashion them that the quick intelligence may go beyond them to their meaning which is still unuttered. In this method the sane and joyful spirit issues forth and achieves an imperishable perfection, nature assisting with her goodwill and thanks. For so long as this place in nature is given us, it is right that art should do no violence to the gift. [74; Cape. edn. 83.]

 
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man [1916]: The Definitive Edition, corrected from the Dublin Holograph by Chester Anderson & ed. by Richard Ellmann (NY: Viking Compass Edns. 1964; London: Jonathan Cape 1968).

Was it a quaint device opening a page of some medieval book of prophecies and symbols, a hawklike man flying sunward above the sea, a prophecy of the end he had been born to serve and had been following through the mists of childhood and boyhood, a symbol of the artist forging anew in his workshop out of the sluggish matter of the earth a new soaring impalpable imperishable being? [172]

a priest of the eternal imagination, transmuting the daily bread of experience into the radiant body of everliving life. [AP, 225]