William Butler Yeats: Commentary (2)

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George Orwell
Seán O’Faoláin
Denis Johnston
Monk Gibbon
Balachandra Rajan
William Empson
Peter Ure
Thomas Kinsella
Denis Donoghue
Donald Davie
Richard Kain
Malcolm Brown
A. N. Jeffares
Donald Torchiana
Virginia Moore
Richard Ellmann

General Index of Commentaries on Yeats

George Orwell, ‘W. B. Yeats’ (1943): ‘Translated into political terms, Yeats’s tendency is Fascist [ ... ] the theory that civilization moves in recurring cycles is one way out for people who hate the concept of human equality [ ... j It does not matter if the lower orders are getting above themselves, for, after all, we shall soon be returning to an age of tyranny.’ (rep. in W. H. Pritchard, ed., W. B. Yeats: A Critical Anthology, Harmondsworth: Penguin 1972, pp.190-91.)

Seán O’Faolain, The Irish (1947) [following full-length quotation of “The Unappeasable Host”, with some comments on the ‘interweaving of centuries upon centuries of bright imaginings and dim rememberings, of irrational terror and delight’]: ‘It was [Yeats’s] immense good fortune to be born into an Ireland where that traditional memory still flourished, and so to see her as an ancient land, old as Judaea and Egypt, with an ancient soul and an ancient aura, to find in her people a great dignity and a great simplicity and a great sense of wonder. Out of it all he created an aesthetic based on the instinctive life of the soul and the passionate life of the body as against such destructive things as cold character and sterile knowledge that generalises all spontaneous life away into obstructions. He [saw] a folk-Ireland which is, even yet, far from dead, though, like its beliefs, as it were, underground.’ (p.21).

Seán O’Faolain, Vive Moi (1964), ends with an analytic tribute to W. B. Yeats: ‘He had been our inspiration and our justification in the sense that all the rest of us younger men and women could not, between us, represent literature with anything like his achievement and authority in the eyes of the public.’ (p.274); ‘It was his need of nature, as poet and man, to live a foot off the ground, a foot or two or more, away from common life.’ (p.277; Both quoted in Terence Brown, ‘Literary Autobiography in Twentieth-Century Ireland’, in Augustine Martin, ed., The Genius of Irish Prose, 1985, p.89-98; p.97.

Seán O’Faolain (to Brenda Maddox, on the biography of the poet he once contemplated): ‘“There was no Yeats!”, he exploded. “I watched him invent himself”; further, “I found that W. B. had, in his time, dived down so many caverns of knowledge and so quickly returned, bringing pearls with him, that if I were to write about him with any [xiii] authority of knowledge I shoould have to dive down the same caverns[,] stay much too long, and bring back very little - all to write about his voyagings with an assurance about things I could not be interested in for their own sakes. Blavatsky is one such. Indian philosophy is another. Occultism is a third.’ (Maddox, ‘Relative Values’, Sunday Times, 1 April 1984; in Maddox, Yeats’s Ghosts, HarperCollins 1999, p.[xiii-iv].)

Denis Johnston, ‘The Mysterious Origin of Jonathan Swift’, in Dublin Historical Record(June-Aug. 1941).

‘[...] A great play or a great novel has never been written about Swift and his associates. Those who have attempted to do so have either confined their work to a very small aspect of his life or to a particular incident, or they have perverted the known facts in some way in order to make the characters appear credible. For instance, W. B. Yeats, in his play The Words Upon the Window Pane, draws Swift as a man haunted by the fear of madness and unwilling to marry on that account. Yet there is nothing in Swift’s works or correspondence to suggest any fear of insanity, least of all a fear that would prevent his marrying. Lord Longford’s play Yahoo, on the other hand, gives a clearer picture of Swift himself, but as well as altering most of the essential dates, it presents the conventional picture of the two women popularised by the great Victorian writers - Stella as the trusting, humble little ingénue doing whatever she is told, even to the extent of deep self-humiliation - Vanessa as a forward hussy pursuing the Dean with her unwelcome attentions. Yet a study of their lives and correspondence reveals that neither of these women was the slightest like that - Stella was an exceedingly proud, self-possessed and determined young woman with a ready tongue, and the nerve, when left alone in a house in this very William Street, to raise a window and shoot a burglar dead. It was Vanessa who was the ingénue, and so far from being the only member of the trio to make any advances, she got every encouragement from Swift. In fact she has been treated shamefully by the Dean’s friends in their attempts to whitewash his character - unnecessary attempts, as I hope to show.’

(p.82; copy in library of Sybil le Brocquy.)

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Monk Gibbon, The Masterpiece and the Man, Yeats As I Knew Him (1959): ‘[...] the human side, if he had one, was reserved for a few intimates. But for those who expected the poet, the poet assuredly was there, haughty, arrogant, oracular, absent-minded to the point almost of pose. [He had shaped his literary personality so deliberately that it seemed to have taken over control and expelled the natural man. [...] It was easy to know the poems. It was more difficult, if not impossible, to know the man. The poems were my friends. [12] The Yeatses were our cousins in the sense that cousins is understood in tribal Ireland. [13] Personality passes through a whole succession of aspects. Katherine Tynan blames his plunging into public life [...] He was a bachelor of nearly fifty then. Maud Gonne had rejected him as a husband and a lover. Mrs. Shakespear may have proved kinder. [33] Curious incident of his proposal to Iseult. [33] On marrying Georgie Hyde-Lees, Yeats wrote to Lady Gregory; “My wife is a perfect wife, kind, wise, and unselfish. I think you were such another girl once. She has made my life serene and full of order.’ [37] “AE” and Yeats talking, in the presence of two of Ireland’s greatest talkers [...] both of them, in the phrase of rugby football, hung to the ball as long as they could, developing their theme closely and continuously, [...] so that a knife blade could not be thrust between their sentences. [48] [T]he astonishing sense of the dignity of his calling [51] Russell had won me to his side immediately by his radiating benevolence. W. B. Yeats repelled me by his sensitive hauteur. [52] Yeats remarked, ‘Of course death is the great moment of initiation for every man.’ [53] L. A. G Strong devoted to him [57]; Maud Gonne: her good looks had seemed to me almost too typical. She was [a] tall, Junoesque, full-bosomed beauty of the time, almost the Gibson girl. Here was nothing unique or special, but simply a fine, handsome young woman such as every Edwardian delighted in, a mere social beauty [...] [later he is converted by spirited aspirations towards the rural poor, as she recounts her childhood] [72-73]; Yeats’s Mondays, Gogarty, Starkie, Robinson, Donaghy, Dodds, and Con Curran. [85] Donegal Bay [...] the cottage in which we lived at Fintragh. I was in the Yeats country and the curious thing is that I felt far nearer to the spirit of the poet there than when I stood beside him in his own drawing-room. [92] [Cont.]

Monk Gibbon (The Masterpiece and the Man, Yeats As I Knew Him, 1959) - cont.: asks Yeats: ‘[T]hen you don’t think conduct matters at all?’ - to which Yeats replies: ‘Nothing matters except the heroic mind.’ [109] Yeats, with his stress on style and his love of the symbol, has probably done more than any mother man to popularise vague speech with those who use the Anglo-Saxon tongue. [110] In the Senate he had made an impassioned speech against the bill which made divorce impossible in the Free State. He began it, Hone tells us, deathly pale, and he finished it with sweat pouring from his brow. In the course of the speech he trod on every toe that offered. He saw himself on this occasion as the defender of Protestant liberties; nevertheless he cast doubt on the historical validity of the Gospels, speaking of them rather in the way a Gnostic would do, as symbol rather than fact. [...] He gibed at the Irish puritan tradition - shared alike by Protestants and Catholics - and took malicious delight in reminding his fellow senators (several of whom left the House to show their displeasure) that three bronze statues presiding over Dublin’s chief thoroughfare were men who had flouted the moral code. At this pont Lord Glenavy, distressed by the direction the speech was taking, cried, ‘Do you not think we might leave the dead alone?’ To which Yeats flashed back instantly, ‘I would have to leave the dead alone.’ [112] Goes on to quote the Three Monuments. Joseph Hone says that Yeats was ‘trailing his coat’ but that he spoke out of sincere conviction. [112f] Yet ‘Yeats does not confuse soul and body.’ [MG; 125] [...] ‘And laughed upon his breast to think / Beast gave to beast as much’ [WBY]; ‘It is not likely that we shall ever know much more of what Moore terms ‘the main secret of Yeats’s life’, although it is possible that the publication of his journal or of hitherto unpublished letters might throw light upon it. [...] the poem-sequence [“A Man Young and Old”] grows so cryptic that one is forced to agree with Strong that Yeats has covered up his tracks with all the cunning of an old fox.’ [126; cont.]

Monk Gibbon (The Masterpiece and the Man, Yeats As I Knew Him, 1959) - cont.: ‘Yeats was not a mystic. The mystic believes that there is some complete pattern, some Whole into which all the parts fit [...] Yeats’s mind moved, rather, amid isolated phantasmagorias, or at least in the same way that the mind moves in sleep, with sudden intense perception emerging from a background of vague cloud. It was intentionally undisciplined. [128] It is was Strong who also points out Yeats’s debt to Wilde for having remarked that a man could not speak the truth until he wore a mask. ‘He had Yeats’s instant and fullest attention.’ Yeats in The Trembling &c gives us some interesting glimpses of Wilde [...] we have come to associate the theory of the mask so much with Yeats that it would be curious if he really owed the theory originally to Wilde. [128] One of the things I disliked in W. B. was his assumed pose of a man of the world, and his acceptance of bawdiness. There was something slightly unreal about it. [...] when Gogarty arrived, jauntily rubbing his hands together with his latest dirty story already well-rehearse, or when Walter Starkie passed on some bon mot of the common room, and Yeats gave a raucous almost forced guffaw of laughter it made on me an instantaneously unfavourable impression. [117] Chap. XIV is a discussion of Yeats’s bawdiness, from the standpoint of idealistic, innocent, and priggish young man [of 28] He argues that Goethe’s attitude to women by comparison never changed always included reference, humour and a keen appreciation of her varied appeal. He also cites George Moore (Hail and Farewell) on Yeat’s inspiration in Maud Gonne, ‘Artistic prurience is a disgrace to middle age’; Yeats’s letter to Gibbon: ‘... I have read [your book] and like its accurate speech and careful music.’ [Cont.]

Monk Gibbon (The Masterpiece and the Man, Yeats As I Knew Him, 1959) - cont.: ‘You have found your voice, and the words and emotion will deepen with life and study, and if both bring you to some tragic situation or exultation, you will have all a poet needs.’ [131] In a subsequent letter [12 March 1932], Yeats faults Gibbon for his adoption of Hopkin’s influence, and praises the more natural speech of Bridges. ‘Again and again, I find your speech admirable, powerful, vivid, rhythmical but I am upset because I do not find the man. [...] Study 17th c. Gaelic poets. Hopkins believed in nothing. [138] Disputes Yeats’s rejection of Hopkins in the preface to The Oxford Book of Modern Verse [ ...] [MG] Yeats makes it plain that he is wholly allergic to it. [138-39] [A]s he grew older the problem of a theme became as acute for him as the problem of a style [...] In “Circus Animals Desertion”, Yeats gives tragic expression to this dilemma [140]; Yeats to Maud Gonne, ‘You have lived too much out of Ireland’ [158]; later, Yeats rejects Gibbon poem, ‘It was not Irish enough. I was not Irish enough.’ [Yeats excluded him from him from F. R. Higgins’s Broadsides. Foundation of Irish Academy of Letters [1932] treated and letter of invitation reproduced here [159ff], as in Stephen Gwynn’s Irish Literature and Drama. [160] Yeats to Hone, ‘There are 3 people in Dublin whom I dislike. Dunsany because he is rude to his wife on front of the servants, Monk Gibbon because he is argumentative, and Sarah Purser because she is a petulant old woman.’ / It was a true bill in my case. [170] Yeats asks Gogarty for his books in view of editing Oxford Book of Modern Verse, with ‘a look, almost a leer in my direction, as though it were his deliberate intention to wound me.’ [180].

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William Empson, ‘Yeats and Byzantium’, in Grand Street, 1, 4 (Summer 1982), pp.67-95: ‘I had a short article on “Sailing to Byzantim” and “Byzantium” in A Review of English Studies for Summer 1960, arguing that they ar not so transcendental as many critic have assumed. If Yeats had meant what these people say, the poems would be in bad taste, marking a low, not a high, spiritual condition. The argument was from internal evidence, and I thogh no more was needed. I was taken aback when a friend said: ‘Excellent; you have shown that Yeats was a pig unless he meant what you say, and obviously he didn't mean tht; so now we know he was a pig, as always seemed probable.” Justice demanded that I should peer round for external evidence, though with little hope it had survived. This was lucky for me, as I would not otherwise have read two studies of the rough drafts for those splendid poems: one by Curtis Bradford, “Yeats’s Byzantium Poems, in Twentieth Century Views, the other by John Stallworthy in his book Between the Lines(1963). I am rather against the collecting of rough drafts, but Yeats was right to let those pile up in a folder; in the main, they are not boss shots but extra material which his technique forced him to exclud. What was ripening in his mind would have made a good science fiction long-short, but he took for granted that he had to compres it into one or two Symbolist poems. The drafts, in letter us recover some of the rejected detail, make it clear I think that his spiritual tone had remained decent, instead of becoming sanctimonious in the manner so often praised. / Perhaps it is basically a matter of good tase. English and American critics interpret Yeats's poems as implying Christian doctrines whenever that is possible, and when they find it impossible they treat the passage with a tactful sigh as merely a lapse because they cannot conceive of a good man, with a good heart, holding any other religious belief. [...]’ (Available at JSTOR - online.]

Balachandra Rajan, W. B. Yeats: A Critical Introduction (London: Hutchinson 1965) - on A Vision: ‘The elements of the System are drawn from many sources; but the synthesis Yeats makes of it is unmistakably Yeatsian, a diagram not merely of reality but of the immediate reality of his life. As early as 1901 Yeats had suggested that “there is some one myth for every man which, if we but knew it, would make us understand all he did and thought”, and it is not uninstructive to look at A Vision in this light. Yeats, to use his own description of Blake, was “a man crying out for a mythology and trying to make one because he could not find one to his hand”. The mind of the poet demands myth and not philosophy, “not abstract truth, but a kind of vision of reality which satisfies the whole being”. “I have constructed a myth,” Yeats wrote to Olivia Shakespeare, “but then one can believe in a myth - one only assents to philosophy.” In the introduction to The Resurrection he is even more emphatic: “For years I have been preoccupied with a myth that was itself a reply to a myth. I do not mean a fiction, but one of those statements our nature is compelled to make and employ as a truth though there cannot be sufficient evidence.”’ (p.90.) [Cont.]

Balachandra Rajan, W. B. Yeats: A Critical Introduction (1965) - cont.: ‘Yeats describes A Vision in many ways but most frequently as a myth. Unfortunately, its presentation makes it difficult to receive it as such. It is too abstract and too schematic to possess the imagination. Yeats himself was sufficiently aware of this aspect of his system to describe his “circuits of sun and moon” as “stylistic arrangements of experience comparable to the cubes in the drawings of Wyndham Lewis and to the ovoids in the sculpture of Brancusi”. Here the diagrams of A Vision are seen as symbolic forms, rather than full-blooded mythologies. Yeats then adds significantly (and a little obscurely) that these stylistic arrangements have helped him “to hold in a single thought reality and justice”. “Justice” can perhaps be interpreted as justice to the creative needs of the artist, to his hunger for significance and order. “I wished for a system of thought”, Yeats wrote, “that would leave the imagination free to create and yet make all that it created, or could create, part of the one history and that the soul’s. The Greeks certainly had such a system and so had Dante ... and I think no man since.”’ (p.90.) [Cont.]

Balachandra Rajan, W. B. Yeats: A Critical Introduction (London: Hutchinson 1965) - cont.: ‘A Vision provided Yeats with a framework that made all that [91] he imagined “part of the one history”. Every event found its reverberation elsewhere. If the string of a single experience was touched, all the strings of reality murmured in response. Each thought and emotion that the man had lived through could be drawn into the unity of what the poet created. A setting was provided for Yeats’ poetic history and for the commitments that history had developed - the theory of the Mask, the belief in magic, the failure of the invisible gates to open, the passionate pursuit of Unity of Being, the conviction that, since the Middle Ages, minds as well as things had progressively fallen apart. In this way a peculiarly authoritative connection was created between Yeats’ life and his “philosophy”. The System became the interpretation of his life and his life, conversely, the Experience of the System. This feeling that his experience was naturally meaningful, that it could be made responsible to a single synthesis, gave Yeats’ poetry authority and a sense of direction, his imagination was set free to create by the conviction that its products would vivify the largest possible contexts. / The stubborn question remains of how important A Vision is in the interpretation of Yeats’ poetry. [...] It is possible to accept Stock’s view that great poetry does not grow out of flabby thought and yet to feel that the core of Yeats’ thought is in his poetry and that only in the poetry does it live with sufficient passion and authority for disbelief to be suspended in its presence. Perhaps one should go further and suggest that what is in the poetry is not “thought” but embodiment. [...] The best poems leave the System behind them and give poetic flesh and blood to certain deep insights about the quality of existenc ewhich the System certainly implies but which are equally certainly implied by other systems.”’ (pp.90-91.)

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Peter Ure, Yeats [Writers & Critics] (Edinburgh: Oliver Boyd 1963; 1967 Edn.): ‘In an essay which he wrote in 1914, and which was finally printed in Lady Gregory’s Visions and Beliefs in the West of Ireland, he told how the dead communicate from out of their “earth-resembling” life with the living; his evidence came not only from Irish ghost-stories and the séance-roorn but also from the writings of Swedenborg and the Swedenborgians, the neo-Platonists, the Cambridge Platonists, and the Noh ghost plays. In Per Amica Silentia Lunae (written 1917), which, as a series of supercharged pensées, is the most successful book of its kind Yeats wrote, he sketches his doctrine of the self and the anti-self (“the Mask”), the notion that each man pursues in pain and desire (“the quarrel with ourselves”) an opposing, imagined self, the reverse of that which operates in his ordinary, daily life. This is the burden of the poéte maudit, who out of his cursed toil achieves a vision of antithetical beauty and momentary happiness. The roots of this idea lie far back in the symbolist doctrines which Yeats had learnt from Arthur Symons in the eighteen-nineties [quotes]: “I find in an old diary: ‘I think all happiness depends on the energy to assume the mask of some other life, on a re-birth as something not one’s self, something created in a moment and perpetually renewed.... If we cannot imagine ourselves as different from what we are, and try to assume that second self, we cannot impose a discipline upon ourselves. […] Active virtue, as d’stinguished from the passive acceptance of a code, is therefore theatrical, consciously dramatic, the wearing of a mask.” [Mythologies, p.334].’ (Cont.)

Peter Ure (Yeats, 1963; 1967 Edn.) - cont. ‘These ideas had turned his work on The Player Queen (begun in 1908) into confused allegory, but now they were growing clearer. Finally, a few days after their marriage, Mrs Yeats (who was exactly half Yeats’s age of fifty-two, and whom he had initiated into the Order of the Golden Dawn in 1914) attempted automatic writing; the messages which came excited him so much that he began to construct the system which resulted in A Vision (1925, and a much revised version in 1937). A Vision presents his philosophy of history, humankind, and life after death. What the “Unknown Instructors” who spoke through Mrs Yeats told him was a literalisation of his own thoughts and beliefs: the classification of historical periods and of men and women according to a scheme symbolised by the twenty-eight phases of the moon, and the working of the gyres in history. History becomes a system of antithetical movements diagrammatised by the gyre, or spiral, traced round an imaginary cone from apex to base; when the base is reached and the gyre at its widest, the civilisation collapses in a violent reversal and the new gyre begins again at the narrow apex of the cone. In A Vision, also, he set out in detail and with much technical language what happens to the dead: the soul endures an elaborate purgatory in which it purifies away in thought the events of its past life until it is ready to be born again: [11; quotes: “Knowledge he shall unwind / Through victories of the mind, / Till, clambering at the cradle-side, /He dreams himself his mother’s pride, / All knowledge lost in trance / Of sweeter ignorance”: Collected Poems, p.163.] The deterministic world of A Vision has no God, but natural and supernatural interpenetrate; and men are continually exposed to “shock” and “miracle.” The classification according to the phases of the moon was a vast metaphor, “a stylistic arrangement of experience.” The point of it all was “getting one’s mind into order” and so allowing freedom to the impulse to create. Much the most celebrated dictum of the unknown instructors is: “We have come to give you metaphors for poetry.” [A Vision, 1937 Edn., p.8.]’ (Cont.)

Peter Ure (Yeats, 1963; 1967 Edn.) - cont. ‘The exact relation of these metaphors to the plays and poetry is the chief problem of Yeats criticism, and it recurs in later chapters. Two things are clear at this stage: that the work for A Vision, whether it is the expression or the cause of a new self-confidence, coincided with the beginning of Yeats’s greatest period; and that when A Vision was completed, Yeats did not retreat into its credal shell, but normally used it in the poetry and plays only so far as the nature of his poetic and dramatic kinds permitted. And since he had followed his nose for the antithetical in constructing it out of antitheses, it is not surprising that the whole system itself can be used as a pose or gesture antithetical to the daily life of bewilderment and disorder, and that this larger dialogue is often the subject-matter of his poetry. Yeats did not believe that having found his mask, he was exempt from “new bitterness, new disappointment” (in the contemplation of the history of Ireland, for example, or of the “growing murderousness of the world”), or suppose that he need “never awake out of vision.” [ Mythologies, p.342.] “One cannot be at peace,” he said, “in a country that is half made.”’ (pp.10-11; for chapter-length quotation, see Ricorso Library, “Criticism / Major Authors”, infra.)

Thomas Kinsella, ‘The Divided Mind’ (Sean Lucy, ed., Irish Poets in English, Mercier 1973) [speaking of Irish poets since Yeat’s] time]: ‘entranced [...] by the phenomenon of Yeats among them, and themselves mainly going down in a welter of emulation and misunderstanding of his work’; Kinsella quotes: ‘[n]o people hate as we do in whom [that] past is always alive, there are moments when hatred poisons my life and I accuse myself of effeminacy because I have not given it [the Irish legacy] adequate expression [...] Then I remind myself that though mine is the first English marriage I know of in the direct line, all my family names are English, and that I owe my soul to Shakespeare, to Spenser and to Blake, perhaps to William Morris, and to the English language in which I think, speak, and write, that everything I love has come to me though English; my hatred tortures me with love, my love with hate. I am like the Tibetan monk who dreams at his initiation that he is eaten by a wild beast and learns on waking that he is himself eater and eaten.’ (from “A General Introduction for my Work”, 1937, in Essays & Introductions, p.519; also quoted in Roy Foster, ‘When the Newspapers Have Forgotten Me ...’, in Yeats Annual 12, 1996, p.177, with ftn., Edward Callan, Yeats on Yeats: The Last Introductions and the Dublin Edition, New papers, XX, Dolmen 1981, p.63.) Further, Kinsella also quotes: ‘One could still, if one had genius, and had been born to Irish, write for these people plays and poems like those of Greece. Does not the greatest poetry always require a people to listen to it?’ (Ideas of Good and Evil.)

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Denis Donoghue, “Yeats and Modern Poetry: An Introduction”, in The Integrity of Yeats, Cork: Mercier Press 1964): ‘[...] Yeats was his own battlefield, victim of his own consciousness and imagination. He could symbolise in great-rooted chestnut trees a condition in which Body is not bruised to give pleasure to Soul; but that condition was not his own, in the day-to-day struggle of his life. In the simplest version of his predicament we find him now drawn towards the pblic world of politics and theatre-management, now again retreating to the severe extremes of privacy, and more often still torn between the two exigencies.’ [On Yeats’s preoccupation with the occult:] ‘perhaps it is the furnishing of his mind with possessions consistent with his moments of resolute privacy [...; 13] In fact, strictly speaking magic in Yeat’s later work served only the same purpose as the faery-islands in the early poems - to fence off an area of private ground within which his Spirit might roam at will.’ (pp.12-13.)

Denis Donoghue, ‘Romantic Ireland’, in A. N. Jeffares, ed., Yeats, Sligo and Ireland, Colin Smythe, 1980): ‘Ireland is indeed a place, but it does not follow that Yeats’s Ireland is a place: it could be a scene in a theatre, a scene of romance and tragedy in which the locale scarcely matters.’ (p.21; quoted in quoted in Carla Irwin, UG Diss., UU 2004.)

Denis Donoghue, Yeats [Fontana Modern Masters] (London: Fontana/Collins 1971): Denis Donoghue: ‘His mind needs two terms, one hardly less compelling than the other: action and knowledge, essence and existence, power and wisdom, imagination and will, life and word, personality and character, drama and picture, vision and reality. Any one of these, may engage his feeling, but the feeling longs to touch its opposite, the pairs are entertained for the tension they engender, the energy they release. It is foolish, then, to recruit Yeats to a cause, he will go over to the enemy, if only to prolong the quarrel. […] As for truth itself, he believed that it could not be stated, could not be known, but it might be enacted. Truth lives in the mode of action, not of knowledge: it is enacted in the temporal form of the play, and only that form is true.’ (p.17.) ‘Symbolism as a special case of Romanticism’ (p.19.) ‘Yeats’s kinship with Nietzsche […] seems to me a more telling relation than that between Yeats and Plato, Plotinus, or Blake.’ (p.19.) ‘Vision is what an artist sees with the mind’s eye: it is an internal power, often stimulated by an object in nature but not limited to a recital of the qualities deemed to belong to that object. Vision may refer to this power, or to its more or less fictive productions, it is hardly to be distinguished from the fiat of the imagination.’ (p.20.)

Denis Donoghue (Yeats, 1971 [cont.]): ‘Yeats speaks of man, not of men; his mind turns unwillingly [28] to detail, unless the detail is a nuance of feeling. He admired notable people, but his respect for ordinary people as constituting a particular society and living a certain life at a certain time was extremely weak, when he looked beyond the chosen few he saw a fictive race rather than a finite society. He did not think of collective consciousness as the sum of states of individual consciousness - a Marxist criterion described by Lucien Goldmann in Sciences Humaines et Philosophie; for Yeats, beyond society there was always race, beyond the sum of individual minds Mind itself, beyond the sum of states of individual subconsciousness the anima mundi. Arithmetic was an alien science. It is significant that Yeats disliked the nineteenth-century novel, except for Balzac, whom he revered for the Swedenborgian symbolism: it is hard to think of Yeats as a reader of Middlemarch. When he writes of society, it seems to consist of invisible men, and it is remarkable if he inquires into their lives, works and days, how they make a living, what they think and feel. But his imagination is stirred when the theme is race, kindred, blood, consanguinity, ‘the fury and the mire of human veins’, or ‘honey of generation’. Yeats responded to life when it had reached the pitch of definition, or when it could be brought to such a pitch: and only those moments really counted. He did not conclude that life between those holy moments was a waste sad time without vitality or form; but rather that the intervals were null, because they were not transfigured by a sufficient imagination, no poet had been present to redeem them. This is largely Pater’s legacy to Yeats, the sense of life as aspiring to certain moments of intensity, the flame, ‘the fire that makes all simple’, the ‘blaze’ of Yeats’s “Vacillation”, the conflagration of “In Memory of Major Robert Gregory”. It also explains the impression, in Yeats’s early poems, of Nature as a heap of broken images, discontinuous, uncharted; of an abyss between one privileged moment and another. Symbolism offered the possibility of establishing a continuous life of [29] energy at a level beneath that of time and history, but it did not help Yeats to understand his own moment in historical experience.’ (pp.28-30.)

Denis Donoghue (Yeats, 1971 [cont.]): ‘In fact, Yeats hoped to blur the distinction between history and myth, thinking rather of moments certified by feeling. In A Vision the definitive moments in history are identified with certain great men, heroes because they answered their time with a masterly imagination. Historical events counted for less than the heroic energy which they provoked: events were exalted by the heroes who enacted them. For the grand rhythm of feeling, however, history was not enough, Yeats needed archetypal figures released from history - the Fool, the Harlot, the Hunchback, the King. Such figures were required because they embodied certain perennial motives and visions, heroic in the clarity of their definition. The equivalent of the Poet, in this way, was the Mage, man of power. Speaking of religion and magic in the Epilogue to Per Amica Silentia Lunae, Yeats says, ‘Have not my thoughts run through a like round, though I have not found my tradition in the Catholic Church, which was not the Church of my childhood, but where the tradition is, as I believe, more universal and more ancient?’ [Mythologies, pp.368-69.] The doctrines of this tradition are given in Ideas of Good and Evil: first, that the ‘borders of our mind 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’; second, ‘that the borders of our memories are as shifting, and that our memories are a part of one great memory, the memory of Nature herself’; and third, ‘that this great mind and great memory can be evoked by symbols’. [Essays & Introductions, p.12.] In this tradition there is no obstacle between the individual mind and the anima mundi to and from which it flows. If the Catholic Church claims truth, Yeats’s church claims wisdom and power, an immensely rich treasure of images, eikons [sic], symbols. Every mind is priest in its own ceremonies, offering sacrifice, entering into communion with the living dead, interpreting the [30] esoteric signs. The adept, like the poet, seeks an image. / In reading Yeats, then, we are not obliged to separate ourselves from his magic, from the ‘harsh geometry’ [Essays and Introductions, 1961, p.518] of A Vision, from those preoccupations to which W. H. Auden condescended as the Southern Californian element in Yeats. Magic and poetry are forms of power, and they have often been kin. [...; &c.]’ (pp.30-31.

Denis Donoghue (Yeats, 1971 [cont.]): ‘It is possible to argue that Yeats’s “consciousness as conflict” is inspired, like nearly everything else, by Blake; recalling many relevant occasions in Blake, the readiest being The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, “Opposition is true Friendship”, and again, “Without Contraries is no progression. Attraction and Repulsion, Reason and Energy, Love and Hate, are necessary to Human existence.” But the ostensible kinship between Yeats and Blake, though asserted by Yeats and recited by his critics, is a questionable thing: it has been accepted largely because Yeats declared it a point of doctrine. Temperamentally, they were worlds apart; Blake hard, direct, assertive while the Yeats who read him was a dreamer of lost times. In the early essays Yeats is enamoured of Blake’s poems, and his work with Edwin Ellis on Blake’s texts is pious and often brilliant if not scholarly, but there is no real fellowship between the two poets. Yeats admired Blake’s “precision”, knowing that his own poems lacked that quality and he hoped to gain it by the vigour of his admiration. Blake’s influence on Yeats is found mainly in theory and desire, in the argument of his prose, in certain powerful images in the poems. But if we think of the character of the work itself, of Yeats’s style as it governs the poems, we find little evidence of kinship. Blake gave Yeats many images, ideas, figures, and a prophetic ambition which was not the happiest gift; he did not give him what he needed, entry to the “theatre of the world”. In fact, the influence of the entire neo-Platonic tradition upon Yeats, if we are thinking of genuine kinship, has been exaggerated.’ (p.47.) ‘[...] I shall argue later that the crucial figure in Yeats’s poetic life, if any single figure may be named, is Nietzsche, and that the definition of Yeats’s mind in theatrical terms was achieved mainly under Nietzsche’s auspices, with some incitement from Heraclitus.’ (p.48.) ‘In his early essay, and especially those which he published in Samhain from 1901, were attempts to provide Ireland with an artistic conscience, something to live up to, as in the early years of the Abbey, and something to be rebuked by, when the Abbey went its disappointing way. Even under Yeats’s leadershp the Abbey showed many bad plays, nevertheless he thought that the theatre would bring national life to consciousness: he supposed the Abbey would go its own vulgar way eventually, and he was dispirited when it did.’ (p.96.) For longer extract from sundry chapters, see Ricorso Library, “Criticism / Major Authors” - W. B. Yeats, infra.)

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Denis Donoghue, We Irish: The Selected Essays (1986): ‘[T]he legends which allowed Yeats’s mind to move freely and suggestively along their margins allowed him also to find their analogues in his own life; they gave him a terminology which he was free to apply and, applying it, to move from legend into history, his own history but history nonetheless. In that sense, a mythology reflects not only its region, as Stevens said, but the experience of the mind that receives it.’ (p.46; quoted in Terence Brown, A Life of W. B. Yeats, 1999 [2001 pb. edn.] p.83.

Brown remarks: ‘[As Denis Donoghue has eloquently stated .., while admitting the problems of unfamiliarity involved in Yeats’s recourse to Celtic symbols and legends as the matter of his early art’; idem.)

Denis Donoghue, We Irish: The Selected Essays (1986): ‘In Ireland, it is fair to say, Yeats is resented; not for his snobbery, his outlandish claim to the possession [14] of Norman blood, or even for his evasion of history by appeal to two classes of people who existed only a shades - Gaelic Irish and Anglo-Irish - but because he claimed to speaking in the name of the “indomitable Irishry”. De Valera claimed to speak for Ireland, and the claim was tenable: he has had, in that capacity, no successor. In the present confusions, readers of Yeats resent his appeal to Irishness, and his assertion that he knows the wuality of Irihsness when he meets it. That resentment is so inclusive that little or nothing survives its presence.’ (p.66; quoted in Mark Patrick Hederman, review of Richard Kearney, Navigations, in The Irish Book Review, Summer 2006, pp.14-15.)

Denis Donoghue, ‘Ireland, Race, Nation, State’ [Part 1], in Partisan Review, Vol. LXVI, No. 2 (1999), pp.223-34: ‘Yeats’s main achievement in his early poems, plays, and essays was to bring to composition and form a plethora of national desires that hardly knew themselves to be desires. He told many Irish men and women what they felt, what they wanted, and the more strenuous things they should now want. It was an [p.229] achievement the more remarkable because he spoke from the experience of a social class in decline, the Protestant professional class of parsons and businessmen, and he thought to arouse from their sleep a people mainly Roman Catholic, a type he always disliked and in his later years feared.’ (pp.229-30).

[See also Donoghue’s response to Conor Cruise O’Brien’s charge of Fascism against Yeats in ‘Passion and Cunning: An Essay on the Politics of W. B. Yeats’, in A. N. Jeffares & K. W. Cross, eds., In Excited Reverie (1965) - under O’Brien, supra.]

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Donald Davie, ‘The Poet as Orator’, review of Giorgio Mechiori, The Whole Mystery of Art: Patttern into Poetry in the Works of W. B. Yeats (London: Routledge 1960), in Manchester Guardian (17 Feb. 1961): ‘Like Verlaine and Mallarmé, Eliot and Pound and even Wyndham Lewis, Yeats was formed in a climate of opinion where the unity of Art was taken for granted, and writers delighted to take their bearings on their own art by analogies drawn from the other artistic media. To the author of Four Quartets, as to the French Symbolists who set out to ‘reclaim their own from music,’ music was the art which provided the best analogies; for Pound, the author of ‘Gaudier-Brzeska’, the art that helped most was sculpture, or rather carving - for Yeats the art of the dance and the graphic arts seem to have mattered most. In England this whole way of thinking by analogies stems largely from Walter Pater, and a few years ago Giorgio Melchiori divining this common element in the generations influenced by Pater applied to a whole phase of English literature a term which, like ‘baroque,’ overarches all the arts this literature, he claimed, was ‘mannerist.’ Now, in The Whole Mystery of Art: Pattern into Poetry in the Work of W. B. Yeats (London: Routledge [q.d.]), he shows how often Yeats thought about his own writing with the help of analogies from drawings and paintings, engravings and mosaics. It is one thing, however, for the poet to be influenced by conscious or submerged memories of specific works of graphic art; for him to understand what he is doing by analogies from graphic art as such - this is something else. Mr Melchiori spends much time in the steps of T. R. Henn, hunting up specific pictorial sources, and as the kaleidoscope whirls faster and faster, throwing up images of now this, now that painting that Yeats may have seen one despairs; if all this is packed into the 14 lines of “Leda and the Swan”, how can one ever know the poem well enough to judge it? One recognises a Yeats industry, buzzing and whirring happily through card-index and footnote; and notes how with every year that passes, Yeats’s poetry swims as far out of the ken of the common reader as Pound’s Cantos. But if one perseveres, Mr. Melchiori’s last three chapters break through excitingly into the Eleanor air of the analogies between one art and another, as when Yeats describes the intricate categories of his visionary system as ‘stylistic arrangements of experience comparable to the cubes in the drawing of Wyndham Lewis and to the ovoids in the sculpture of Brancusi.’ Mr Melchiori is surely right to take this as a central clue to the way Yeats’s mind worked; and I commend to him, as a parallel case, Yeats’s curious use of the word ‘sketch’ in his essay of 1934 on Balzac’s ‘Louis Lambert.’ I have been reading this, with much else that was new to me, in the invaluable and long-awaited Essays and Introductions of Yeats (Macmillan, 36s), which besides reprinting “Ideas of Good and Evil” (1896-1903), “The Cutting of an Agate” (1903-15), and later pieces prints for the first time a “General Introduction” written by Yeats in 1937 for a projected but never executed edition of his works. Impassioned, cogent, and powerful, this makes a wonderful climax to a volume which makes me blush for having sometimes jibbed at Yeats’s pretensions, and smiled indulgently at Dublin malice about him. If Yeats had never written a line of verse, or a page of fiction or autobiography, these essays by themselves would establish him as one of the commanding intellects of his time. A great personality, devoted, brave, pertinacious - yes, all of this; but it’s the intellect, the committed force and rapid play of mind, the toughness and closeness of thought which bodies out in the rhetoric even at its most florid - this is the overpowering impression. [Cont.]

Donald Davie (‘The Poet as Orator’, in Manchester Guardian, 17 Feb. 1961 [cont.]): It is not the impression that we get from Mr Melchiori’s book, where we read that ‘his exceptionally sensitive nature dominated his mind to such an extent that, while he believed that he was considering and defining the nature of the universe he was in reality only considering and defining his own personal nature.’ Again when Mr Melchiori relates Yeats’s use of Timon to Wyndham Lewis’s “Timon” drawings and records Pound’s comment on these, that they express ‘the fury of intelligence baffled and shut in by circumjacent stupidity,’ he remarks: ‘The fury of intelligence that is the ‘old man’s frenzy’ that Yeats was pursuing - including that element of intellectual aristocratic pride the least appealing trait of character as a man, and which, one suspects, he may partly have acquired through his frequentation of that arch-scorner, Ezra Pound.’ Those for whom Yeats’s intellectual pride was entirely justified and by no means his least attractive trait, may reflect that to believe as Mr Melchiori does absolves him, in the midst of erudition about Yeats, from seriously Yeats’s damning indictment of us and our ways of life. / I suspect that Yeats was one of those writers who know what they are doing. And when he asks himself in 1908 in “Discoveries”, which of the arts had most affinity with own, he rejected Pater’s claim that music was the type of all the rest, but he put in its place the art of rhetoric, oratory. And it could be argued that however the graphic arts may have helped Yeats to sort out his ideas in preparation for a poem, in the act of writing he drew rather on the histrionic arts of oratory and acting. If these arts contrive ‘patterns’ they are contrived, like the patterns of music and poetry, out of lapsing time; where the graphic arts make their patterns in space. Henry James’s metaphor of ‘the figure carpet,’ which Mr Melchiori like other critics applauds with enthusiasm, is open to the objection that no work of literature is simultaneously present in all its parts as a painting is or a carpet spread on the floor. But a declamation, like poem or a sonata, drives through from start to finish - and it is this impetus, this momentum Yeats most values, as when in he speaks of style as ‘a still unexpended energy, after all that the argument or the story needs, a still unbroken pleasure after the immediate end has been accomplished.’ Everything, seems - the philosophic systems, the images, even the moral judgements passed—are only the fuel for this fire. Yeats indeed, as Mr Melchiori says, thought and worked throughout inside the world of Aestheticism; but, I venture to think, in a way more daunting and challenging than Melchiori allows for.’ [3 columns; half page; q.p.]

Donald Davie: ‘The English poet-critic Donald Davie, when teaching at Trinity in the 1950s, said: ‘Nothing so surprised me from the first in literary Dublin as the extent to which Yeats is a prophet without honour in his own country ... Irish poets, Irish critics, and Irish readers have not yet recognised the logic of Yeats’s poetic development.’ (See Edna Longley, ‘Not Guilty?’, in Dublin Review, Autumn 2004 - online; accessed 24.06.2015).

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Richard Kain, Dublin in the Age of William Butler Yeats and James Joyce (Oklahoma UP 1962; Newton Abbot: David Charles 1972): Yeats once reflected on the public indignation that might be aroused “if any thoughtful person spoke out all his mind to any crowd.” Certainly he seemed doomed to be in the midst of controversy, whether among theosophical sects or political groups. More than any of his contemporaries he carried within himself the seeds of these disputes, and it is appropriate that he always stood at the center of the stage, regardless of disrespectful Dubliners who remarked that this was “just what you’d expect of Willie.” No matter how highly respected, or bitterly resented, in his many public roles of theatre manager, playwright, publicist, and poet, he was always prey to self-questioning. Few writers convey such a sense of vitality, because few have maintained throughout their lives the personal tension that imparts energy to poetic statement. From his continual inner debates arose one of his most memorable epigrams: “We make out of the quarrels with others, rhetoric, but out of the quarrel with ourselves, poetry.” An expert in both modes, he enjoyed dispute as an Irishman should, and wrote poetry of the highest distinction. Each of his literary styles - romantic, satiric, symbolic, realistic - became a vehicle for exalted utterance. To the end of his life, he continued his philosophic quest. Less than a month before his death he summarized his outlook in another notable pronouncement: “Man can embody truth but he cannot know it.”’ (p.23.)

Richard Kain (Dublin in the Age of William Butler Yeats and James Joyce, 1972): ‘The Celtic dream demanded only the most general commitments, and Yeats had no difficulty in echoing the fashionable enthusiasms of the time. Ireland was, in his opinion, a land of literary promise, its literature still young, and on all sides there were “Celtic tradition and Celtic passion crying for singers.” So long as his faith remained untested by experience, it could accommodate pagan as well as Christian themes. Thus he reported in an essay to the Boston Pilot in 1891 that “the doctrines I have just been studying in Pater’s jewelled paragraphs - the Platonic theory of spiritual beings having their abode in all things without and within us, and thus uniting all things” were related to current Irish thought. Alas, he would soon discover that even though all things might be united, a special problem was posed by the Irish. / For the time being it was conveniently simple to accept prevailing political clichés. Even taste could be temporarily blurred, and Yeats let himself praise mediocre poets: “I knew in my heart that the most of them wrote badly, and yet such romance clung about them, such a desire for Irish poetry was in all our minds, that I kept on saying, not only to others but to myself, that most of them wrote well, or all but well.” Yet he was able to forestall [35] the London Irish Literary Society from passing a resolution to the effect that “the time has come- for Ireland to produce a dramatist comparable to Shakespeare. In the midst of his patriotic euphoria he did notice that few could refuse buying “a pepper-pot shaped to suggest a round tower with a wolf-dog at its feet,” and that most writers favored “harp and shamrock and green cover” for their volumes. Forthwith Yeats had his label for such enthusiasts - “Harps and Pepper-Pots.”’ (pp.35-36.)

Richard Kain (Dublin in the Age of William Butler Yeats and James Joyce, 1972): ‘As a young man, tired of the aestheticism of London, Yeats plunged into politics with an unthinking zest which was amplified by his admiration for the unbelievably beautiful and unattainable Maud Gonne. Intoxicated by the only popular success he ever achieved, he made speeches, wrote letters to newspapers, and toured rural Ireland, finding himself everywhere the center of applause. He later reflected in his autobiography that “It was many years before I understood that I had surrendered myself to the chief temptation of the artist, creation without toil!’ His political activity culminated in the presidency of a committee to arrange celebration of the centenary of the 1798 uprising. He had hoped to reconcile factions. Again, he made a bitter self-judgment: “It was no business of mine, and that was precisely why I could not keep out of it.”’ [See remarks on John O’Leary, under O’Leary, infra.] The agitations of these years flash through the autobiography with kaleidoscopic brilliance and brevity - a meeting organized by the laborer James Connolly, later to be executed in the 1916 Rising; gatherings of Italian and French sympathizers; crowds smashing windows. It was a tumultuous time, and far removed from occult or poetic pursuits. Then Yeats dropped politics. Estrangement from Maud Gonne was a factor, as well as the new-found patronage and hospitality of Lady Gregory, and his interest in establishing an Irish theatre. In her memoirs, A Servant of the Queen (1938) Maud Gonne MacBride watches with amusement the rivalry between the two supporters of the theatre - Miss Horniman with the money, Lady Gregory with the brains. Yeats could not fail to contrast the generous enthusiasm of his patrons with the bigotry of patriotic clubs.’ (pp.104-05.)

Richard Kain (Dublin in the Age of William Butler Yeats and James Joyce, 1972): ‘AE was suggested for the Senate, but he refused. In the circumstances he was probably wiser than Yeats, who saw the causes he espoused invariably meet with defeat. Yeats failed in his major effort, his defense of the right of divorce, although no one can deny that his remarks on the subject (in the debate of June i 1, 1925) were tactless and offensive, vaunting as he did the superiority of the Protestant Irish tradition and pointing to the domestic morality of three prominent heroes, the “Three Statues” of the epigrammatic poem, Parnell, Nelson, and O’Connell. His two most important committee projects, the Irish Manuscript Commission and a Federation of the Arts, were shelved. He was unable to regain the Hugh Lane pictures. His six-year Senate term expired before the act to establish censorship came up for debate in 1929. He made known his position, and, had he served a second term, he would again have been defeated. The older he grew, the more unruly he became. Swift was in his mind, as well as the aristocratic thinkers of the eighteenth century. He showed interest in a semi-Fascist group, the Blueshirts, and wrote for them marching songs which cannot be sung and cannot be marched to. He played the irresponsible beggar, delighting in improprieties, hinting that church and state are the mob howling at the door. Even though he could write in the Spectator in 1932 that “there have been few [145] mistakes,” and that “no London Parliament could have found the time or the knowledge for that transformation” of Ireland, and could pen verses of “Remorse for Intemperate Speech,” he continued to delight in being intemperate. just one year before he died he projected a periodical which he described to his friend Dorothy Wellesley as “an amusing thing to do - I shall curse my enemies” who will then “hit back and that will give me the joy of answering them.” Only one number of On the Boiler appeared, posthumously. In it he adopted the role of the mad old ship’s carpenter who delivered his harangues from a boiler on the Sligo quays. He attacked vulgarity wherever he saw it, or thought he saw it, and advocated a government by the elite. He went down fighting to the last, and that should win the respect of any Irishman. / Seldom has a nation found such an eloquent voice.[...] (pp.145-46.)

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Malcolm Brown, Literature of Irish Politics: Thomas Davis to W. B. Yeats (London: George Allen 1972): Chap. 12 contains an account of O’Leary culminating in his arrest and sentencing: ‘[T]he main impact of Fenianism was concentrated in the last two years. O’Leary missed all that and had no special knowledge of it. Since Yeats was dependent on O’Leary’s lead, he lost the Fenian thread at the same point, severing contact with a very lively body of historical folklore. But when he dropped out, other writers came in - especially Joyce, O’Casey, and Brendan Behan.’ (p.190.)

Malcolm Brown, Literature of Irish Politics: Thomas Davis to W. B. Yeats (London: George Allen 1972): ‘Irishmen nursed a persistent suspicion that the convert Yeats was not really converted, and that on social and political issues, at least, the rebirth had failed to take.’ (p.132; quoted in Emma Carroll, PG Essay, UUC 2011.)

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A. N[orman] Jeffares, W. B. Yeats: Man and Poet (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul 1949) [on A Vision:] ‘There are two parts of A Vision which are of particular interest in connection with Yeats’s poetry. One is the method by which he was able to categorise humanity under the various phases of the moon. [...] The second important part of the thought in A Vision is its method of dealing with history.’ (p.196.) The diagram included in A Vision makes this method clear. The First Phase is that of complete objectivity, and in Yeats’s symbolism this is represented by the sun. Therefore there is no moon at this point (six o’clock on the circle of twenty-eight small circles) and the diagram shows a completely black circle to represent the absence of moon, or subjectivity. The Second Phase shows the first sliver of subjectivity emerging, and this increases till the Eighth Phase which possesses equal amounts of subjectivity and objectivity. The subjectivity begins to assume predominance from this Phase to the Twenty-second. The lower half of the circular diagram, that is, from Phase Twenty-two on the left through Phase One at the bottom of Phase Eight on the right, is basically objective, and its phases are called primary. Where the moon predominates Phases are Antithetical. Complete passivity occurs at Phase One, Unity of Being at Phase Fifteen. Yeats and his wife for many years, used to categorise their friends according to the system; and it gave the poet confidence in his dealing with others to have this method of studying their character. In early youth he had been overprone to judge by exterior appearances but now, with self and anti-self, he erred in the other extreme of, sometimes refusing to estimate persons upon their normal character. “He simply did not”, Mrs Yeats has said to me several times “understand people.” / The second important part of the thought in A Vision is its method of dealing with history.’ (p.196.)

Further (Jeffares, W. B. Yeats: Man and Poet, 1949): ‘It is not possible to trace the source of this idea with complete certainty. In A Vision Yeats gives his own sources as a story projected by Flaubert, to be called “La Spirale” [Carnets et projets, [in] Oeuvres de Gustave Flaubert, vol. 18, Lausanne: Edns. Rencontre 1965, pp.34-37], Swedenborg’s ideas on gyration in his Spiritual Diary and in the Principia, Descartes’s vortex, Blake’s imagery in “The Mental Traveller”, and a passage in Heracleitus. Swedenborgian ideas on gyres and the theory of vortices adopted by Descartes do not seem to have had a great influence upon the Yeatsian gyres. Boehme has several ideas which Yeats took over in A Vision, notably that of the tinctures, and it seems very likely that he also based his ideas of the opposing gyres upon Boehme’s semi-episodic view of the history of the universe, which was illustrated by opposing triangles. In Boehme, as in A Vision, each era of history was overthrown by some catastrophic change.’ (p.201.) Note: footnote reference to Flaubert’s “La Spirale” to be found in Stephen Heath, ‘Ambiviolences: Notes for reading Joyce’, in Attridge & Ferrer, eds., Post-structuralist Joyce, Cambridge UP 1984, p.64, n.48.

A. N. Jeffares, W. B. Yeats: Man and Poet (1949): ‘A Vision raises many questions in the reader’s mind as to its importance, per se, the amount of belief which its author, if he was its author in the normal sense of the word, attached to its tenets, and for how long he held to those beliefs. Whether the book is considered important in its own right or not is immaterial, though one might venture to prophesy that it will not be taken very seriously as a profound piece of thought. J.B.Y. wrote a sentence in a letter to his son that still seems to sum up the question: “You would be a philosopher and are really a poet.” (7, St. Stephen’s Green, 1906; Letters to His Son and Others, p.97; also in Joseph Hone, J. B. Yeats: Letters to His Son 1869-1922, London: Faber & Faber, p.103 [cited in Declan Kiberd, ‘Yeats and Criticism’, in Cambridge Companion to W. B. Yeats, ed. Marjorie Howes & John Kelly, 2006, p.116.] / Its main significance is the role it plays as Bible to Yeats’s religion of poetry; to dismiss his acount of visions and communications completely is too easy a method of treating the problem, as wrong as accepting all his own assertions on their face value. The self-dramatisation which began in his childhood prompts us to a mischievous desire to pull at the surface skin of his poetry. The passages already quoted from his unpublished autobiography, for instance, reveal the anxiety which lay behind the apparently devoted if defeateist love poetry of the nineties. The apparent point of the man of the world period is a façade as the 1909-10 Diaries demonstrate. [Ftn. quotes passage, dating from 1908 in Paris, which shows WBY reflecting on an occasion when he was ‘rude and accordingly miserable’.] The desire to believe, however, seemed for a time after his marriage to have become allied to actual belief. (p.204.)

Further (Jeffares, Yeats: Man and Poet, 1949; on A Vision): ‘[…] There is perhaps a clue in the sentence in A Vision saying that there was no longer any need to write poems like “The Phases of the Moon” and “Ego Dominus Tuus”. The difference between these poems and the work of A Vision (and the poems written in its symbolism) might be said to be Mrs Yeats’s business. Through her automatic writing came the touch of authority that Yeats needed, and in the early twenties he thought little of talking of the mysterious agencies which gave his life the mixture of unorthodoxy and apparent order that he thought was an ideal state of living. It is possible considering how untidy his mind was, and how tidy that of Mrs Yeats is, that his thoughts may have, in passing through her mind, received order and precision.’ (p.206.)

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A. N. Jeffares, W. B. Yeats: A New Biography (London: Macmillan 1988), ON YEATS & POLLEXFEN FAMILIES: ‘The Pollexfens themselves were ship-owners and mill-owners, prosperous and industrious, who though not on dining terms with the Sligo landowners regarded themselves as socially above their neighbouring Protestant shopkeepers and farmers, unlike their less reserved and easier-going Middleton relatives [...] John Butler Yeats was very taken with the Pollexfens, they seemed full of suppressed poetry as well as magnetism. But probably he hardly realised at first the full extent of their deeply sombre nature; family life with them was very different from that of the Yeats [3] [Yeats had a] Middleton cousin, George, living at Rosses Point, down the Garavogue River from Sligo to the sea; a cousin Lucy Middleton had second sight, and the family accepted the supernatural as part of life [8] Lily stayed with Yeats grandmother and aunts in Dublin. [Yeats remembered] with wonder, ‘for I had never known any one that cared for such momentos, that I longed for a sod of earth from some field I knew, something of Sligo to hold in my hand. It was some old race instinct like that of a savage, for we had been brought up to laugh at all display of emotion. Yet it was our mother, who would have thought its display a vulgarity, who kept alive that love. She would spend hours listening to stories or telling stories of the pilots and fishing-people of Rosses Point, or of her Sligo girlhood, and it was always assumed between her and us that Sligo was more beautiful than other places.’ (Autobiographies, p.31). [For comments on Wanderings of Oisin, see “Notes”, infra.]

Further (W. B. Yeats: A New Biography,1988): Gives details of his relations with the Yeats family; notes also Yeats’s controversy with Dowden about Irish literature in Dublin Daily Express [vide Uncollected Prose, ed. John Frayne, Vol. I, 1970], leading to a list of “The Thirty Best Irish Books”, which appeared in United Ireland, 16 March 1895 [Frayne, op. cit., p.355] (Jeffares, 1988, pp.79 & 357, n.5.). Gives account of the fracas with Charles Gavan Duffy over Irish Library, involving also T. W. Rolleston [71]. Yeats produced a longer list in four articles for The Bookman, July-Oct. 1895, and published A Book of Irish Verse (March 1895), with the prefatory comment, ‘Only a little for English readers, and not at all for Irish peasants but almost wholly for the small beginning of that educated and national public which is our greatest need and perhaps our vainest hope.’ (p.80) Gives account of the genesis of “Red Hanrahan’s Song about Ireland”, orig. as “O’Sullivan the Red” - viz., Eoin Rua Ó Suilleabháin; and cf. New Commentary, 1988, p.79 - first appearing untitled in the story “Kathleen-ny-Houlihan”, in National Observer, then as “Kathleen the Daughter of Hoolihan and Hanrahan the Red”, in The Secret Rose, and afterwards as “The Song of Red Hanrahan” in In the Seven Woods [and Collected Poems]. “Cuchulain’s Fight with the Sea” [is] an extensively revised poem largely based on a west of Ireland source recorded in Myths and Folk-lore of Ireland and on a ninth-century tale in The Yellow Book of Lecan [ ...]; narrative paraphrase follows (Jeffares, 1988, p.67); with variorum edns., National Observer, 4 Aug. 1894, and Coll. Poems, 1955.]

A. N. Jeffares (W. B. Yeats: A New Biography, 1988): Yeats told Russell that he wanted the love of very few, only his equals and his superiors: ‘The love of the rest would be a bond and an intrusion. These others will in time come to know that I am a fairly strong and capable man and that I have gathered the strong and capable about me, and all who love work better than idle talk will support me. It is a long fight but that is the sport of it.’ (Letter to AE [George Russell], 8 Jan 1906; Wade, ed., Letters, 1954, p.446; here p.152.). On reading Nietzche, with encouragement from Quinn, and also Havelock Ellis’s articles in The Savoy, Yeats told Stephen Gwynn in a letter that ‘what Dublin wanted was some man who knew his own mind, and had an intolerable tongue and a delight in enemies’ (13 June 1906; here p.153). Jeffares identifies the third section of “The Tower” with Yeats’s profession of faith: ‘I mock Plotinus’ thought. And cry in Plato’s teeth / Death and life were not / Till man made up the whole / Made lock, stock and barrel / Out of his bitter soul / Compelling it to study / In a learned school / Till the wreck of body / slow decay of blood / Testy delirium // Or dull decrepitude / Or what worse evil come – / The death of friends, or death / Of every brilliant eye / That made a catch in the breath – / Seem but the clouds of the sky / When the horizon fades; / Or a bird sleepy cry / Among the deepening shades.’ [279] Jeffares commentary on “Byzantium” stresses that this poem ‘deals in contrasts’, adverting to its climax as a moment of escape from nature, from externality, into a state where ‘all fuel has become flame, where there is nothing but the state itself, nothing to constrain or end it’ [quoting Yeats without source]; and this is a state, Yeats thought, attained in creating or enjoying a work of art, though that is not an attainment of the whole being. [314]

Further (Jeffares, W. B. Yeats: A New Biography, 1988): Jeffares discusses Yeats’s songs for the Blueshirts, and details his notes in various printings, indicating degrees of withdrawal from association with the group, writing National Song for the Blueshirts, to be sung to tune of “O’Donnell Abu” [i.e., ‘Three Songs to the Same Tune’, in Spectator 23 Feb. 1934]; also published notes to the Songs in Chicago Poetry and in Introduction to The King of the Great Clock Tower (April 1934), indicating disillusionment with the movement, and belief that unity of culture would require ‘museum, school, university, learned institution’; educated men are need to preserve society from violence (pp.315-16). Jeffares recounts WBY’s friendship with Margot Ruddock (née Collins), then 27, in 1934, and implies by quoting the relevant verses that Yeats had a sexual affair with her in London: ‘Let me be loved as though still young / Or let me fancy that it’s true, / When my brief final years are gone / You shall have time to turn away / And cram those open eyes with day.’ (See Ah! Sweet Dancer, ed. Roger McHugh, 1972.) Yeats’s friendship with Ethel Mannin from Dec. 1934 was ‘less interesting’ [324]. ‘Though he could assert that only the wasteful virtues earn the sun, he was not at all wasteful in his correspondence, often using the same anecdotes or ideas or phrases in several letters to different recipients’ (p.331.)

Further (Jeffares, W. B. Yeats: A New Biography, 1988): “Lapis Lazuli” based on oriental carving that Harry de Vere Clifton gave him for his seventieth birthday [332]; Jeffares assays the theme of ‘tragic joy’ expressed in this poem, quoting extensively from “A General Introduction for My Work”, where Yeats wrote that, ‘The heroes of Shakespeare convey to us through their looks, or through the metaphorical patterns of their speech, the sudden enlargement of their vision, their ecstasy at the approach of death [...] The supernatural is present, cold winds blow across our hands, upon our faces, the thermometer falls, and because of that cold we are hated by journalists and groundlings.’ In the ensuing lines, he gives an account of the reasons why an Abbey actress ought not to have wept at fall of curtain, referring to Lady Gregory, who said in his hearing when rejecting a play, ‘Tragedy must be a joy to the man who dies’. He [WBY] returns to his theme: ‘[...] the rhythm is old and familiar, imagination must dance, must be carried beyond feeling into the aboriginal ice. Is ice the correct word? I once boasted, copying the phrase letter of my father’s, that I would write a poem ‘cold and passionate as the dawn’. (Essays and Introductions, p.522).

Further (Jeffares, W. B. Yeats: A New Biography, 1988): Jeffares recalls that he himself [ANJ] wrote from High School to Yeats as editor of The Erasmian, the magazine, and was answered that Yeats did not write poems suitable for a school magazine, but later thought better and submitted “What Then?” [335] He recites the story in Joseph Hone’s biography (p.459), according to which Yeats advised the Indians and Moslems, through Prof. Bose who was visiting Riversdale, to be at one another in arms (‘Conflict, more conflict!’), while flourishing Sato’s Japanese sword (here p.344). Jeffares quotes the following from passage On the Boiler and refers to it as a paraphrase of the powerful, cryptic poem “The Statues”: ‘There are moments when I am certain that art must once again accept those Greek proportions which carry into plastic art the Pythagorean numbers, those faces which are divine because all there is empty and measured. Europe was not born when Greek galleys defeated the Persian hordes at Salamis, but when the Doric studios sent out those broad-backed marble statues against the multiform vague, expressive Asiatic Sea they gave to the sexual instinct of Europe its gaol, its fixed type.’

Further (Jffares, W. B. Yeats: A New Biography, 1988): Jeffares quotes with approbation Donald Torchiana’s estimate of Yeats’s theme, as evinced in Purgatory: ‘Eighteenth-century excellence fallen on evil days. A ruined house, ruined family and ruined trees suggest individual, familial and national failures.’ (W. B. Yeats and Georgian Ireland, 1966, p.363.) In discussing “Man and Echo”, he remarks that ‘the “cannot know” response to death is for Yeats ‘great honest[y], a stripping down to essential emotional truth.’

Bibl (Jeffares, 1988): incls. Denis Donoghue, Yeats (1971); Augustine Martin, W. B. Yeats (1983); B. Rajan, Yeats, A Critical Introduction (1965); T. R. Henn, The Lonely Tower (1950; 2nd ed. 1965); Frank Kermode, Romantic Image (1957); Elizabeth Bergmann Loizeaux, Yeats and the Visual Arts (1986); Giorgio Melchiori, The Whole Mystery of Art (1960); George Mills Harper, Yeats’s Golden Dawn (London: Macmillan 1974); Ellic Howe, The Magicians of the Golden Dawn (1972); Harper, The Making of Yeats’s “A Vision”: A Study of the Automatic Script, 2 vols. (1987); Virginia Moore, The Unicorn, William Butler Yeats’s Search for Reality (NY: Macmillan 1954); David R Clark, W. B. Yeats and the Theatre of Desolate Reality (1965); Helen Hennessy Vendler, Yeats’s Vision and the Later Plays (1963); Katherine Worth, The Irish Drama of Europe (1978); Curtis Bradford, Yeats at Work (1965); Jon Stallworthy, Between the Lines (1963).

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Virginia Moore, The Unicorn: William Butler Yeats’s Search For Reality (NY: Macmillan 1954) - on George and W. B. Yeats’s first experience of automatic handwriting [at Ashdown Forest Hotel, Oct. 1917]: ‘Mrs Yeats knew a spade when she saw it. But, having accompanied this man to seances, she knew, also, an unfailing source of fascination. Four days after her marriage, and the very day he started his poem, she decided - she admits this very honestly - to “make an attempt to fake automatic writing”. / To her utter amazement, she says, her hand acted as if “seized by a superior power.” The loosely held pencil scribbled out fragments of sentences on a subject of which she was ignorant. “Thomas of Odessa” claimed to be writing; then others.’ (p.253; quoted in Arnold Goldman, ‘Yeats, Spiritualism and Psychical Research’, in in Yeats and the Occult, ed., George Mills Harper, London: Macmillan 1975, p.124.)

Donald Torchiana, W. B. Yeats and Georgian Ireland (Northwestern UP; OUP 1966): ‘I see Yeats’s identity with the Protestant nation as primarily intellectual only partly social and hardly at all religious.’ (xi-xii.) ‘[T]he real importance of Swift to Yeats appears to have been that of a bracer, an astringent, the acid cleanser of a poet’s own mind and work.’ (Torchiana, p.166.) On Yeats’s theme in Purgatory: ‘Eighteenth-century excellence fallen on evil days. A ruined house, ruined family and ruined trees suggest individual, familial and national failures.’ (W. B. Yeats and Georgian Ireland, 1966, p.363; quoted in A. N. Jeffares, A New Life of W. B. Yeats, 1988).

Richard Ellmann, Yeats: The Man and the Masks (London: Faber 1948): ‘Reality for Yeats is neither to be found in that buried self which directs and orders a man’s life, nor in its Mask, the anti-self, but in the product born of other struggles. The doctrine of the mask is that the individual struggles to become that which is most unlike itself - subjective/objective or objective/subjective - the introvert artist puts on an extrovert mask, the subjective man assumes the mask of the man of action.’ (p.66; quoted in Elsie Gaw, UUC MA 1999.) [Cont.]

Richard Ellmann, Yeats: The Man and the Masks (London: Faber 1948) - cont.: ‘Of all periods of Yeats's life the years from 1889 to 1903 are die most difficult to follow. He has so many interests and activities during this tune, with so little relation between them, that a strictly chronological account would give the impression of a man in a frenzy, beating on every door in the hotel in an attempt to find out his a” room. But while he was somewhat confused, the maze was not without plan, clue to which can be found in his increasing self-consciousness. His inclination, which had began much earlier, to pose, before the world as something different from what he was, to hide his secret self, had come to a point where he saw himself divided into two parts.’ (Rep. edn. Penguin Books 1987, p.73; quoted in Rachel Boyd, UG Diss., UUC 2012.)

Richard Ellmann, Yeats: The Man and the Masks (London: Faber 1948) - cont.: ‘A more basic question which rises in the mind of the reader is, did Yeats believe in esoteric Yeatsism? it cannot be answered simply. As a man he sometimes believed in his system and sometimes did not; at first he had more confidence in the “communicators” of the automatic writing as being spirits beyond space and time than he afterwards retained. As a poet he largely accepted his father’s position that the poet must be free of dogma and formula. But he feared that the real reason for his reluctance to use the Vision in verse might be his timidity, and therefore wrote a few poems explicitly didactic, based on the system, to salve his conscience. But, in most of his verse he proceeded with is usual craft so that, while the metaphors for poetry which the communicators had brought him often appear, it is hard to find specific passages which are incomprehensible to someone who has not read A Vision.’ (Ellmann, p.233.) Note also the passage on ‘belief’ from A Packet for Ezra Pound (Ellmann, p.267.) [Cont.]

Richard Ellmann, Yeats: The Man and the Masks (London: Faber 1948) - cont.: ‘But while Yeats publicly espoused a kind of mythical identification of modern Ireland with eighteenth-century Ireland, he did not overtly commit himself to the intellectualised image of either Swift or Berkeley. He was mindful of an even deeper conviction that, as he had written to Sturge Moore, “all my art theories depend upon just this - rooting of mythology in the earth.”’ (Letters, ed. Hone, p.439; quoted in Ellmann, 1948, p.271.) Further: ‘Few of the poet’s friends were aware that this proud, aggressive man, immortality in his pocket, had evolved a strategy out of timidity.’ (Ellmann, p.277.) [Cont.]

Richard Ellmann (Yeats: The Man and the Masks, London: Faber 1948) - cont.: ‘Thus Yeats never finds escape in his dreams, for they all lead more or less circuitously back to action. He tries to infuse them into Ireland as a kind of religion, first through his occult rites and Castle of Heroes, then through the Irish theatre, which was originally intended to give plays based on occult ritual. He wishes, on a parallel level, to make his beloved, who represents for him a kind of reservoir of dreams, into an Irish Joan of Arc. But on the way to putting these notions into actuality he comes in contact with ordinary men and women, with ordinary problems, with every kind of tedious practical detail, and has to make quotidian concessions to reality. Almost in spite of himself he kept at the firing line. In addition, he becomes dissatisfied with those of his dreams which seem to fail not because failure is inevitably, but because they are invalid even as dreams. The lady whom he has dreamed into an unapproachable goddess marries a soldier. The many-coloured land of his verse fades into a region of hollow images. Perhaps he has left something out, perhaps he has made a mistake. He gives greater praise to action, he goes out to sway crowd, to win mistresses, to meet reality more directly. His dreams are not abandoned, but nobody must see them; he must be brutal, even anti-romantic, turning for solace to less deific women, defying the mobs of the abbey, guiding the theatre’s practical affairs, purging his style of its more obvious dream-like trappings, in a word, seeming to get off his stilts. He must put himself against the world directly and prove to it and to himself that a dreamer can beat it at its own game. Yet to him this life of action is tolerable only because it seems to him a supreme artifice.’ (p.293.)

Richard Ellmann (Yeats: The Man and the Masks, London: Faber 1948) - cont.: ‘The dream is no longer a beautiful refuge; the symbols of a Vision may comfort by their coherence, but they are not beautiful and can hardly be called a refuge because they [do not?] represent reality and without reality are nothing. Symbolism became Yeats’s method because he could not otherwise have written; the symbol enabled him to escape uncertainty, to partake of the advantages of both dream and reality […] To borrow a phrase of Dean Inge in another context, the symbol was “a modus vivendi between scepticism and superstition”.’ (p.294.) [Cont.]

[Note: For source of Dean Inge’s phrase, quoted here - see attached.]

Richard Ellmann, Yeats: The Man and the Masks (London: Faber 1948) - cont.: ‘Though he never ceases to regard himself as a rebel whom society has imprisoned, he builds his own jails, escapes from them, then builds others; or, to put it another way, Yeats hides at the centre of the city and emblazons his name on his hiding-place and equips it with a public-address system.’ (p.296.) ‘Few poets have found mastery of themselves and of their craft so difficult or have sought such mastery, through conflict and struggle, so unflinchingly.’ (p.298; end. And note that Ellmann draws on an unpublished first draft of Yeats’s Autobiographies, written in 1916-17.) [For longer extract, see RICORSO Library, “Criticism / Major Authors” - W. B. Yeats, infra.]

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Richard Ellmann, The Identity of Yeats (London: Faber & Faber 1954, 1964) [Chap. IX], ‘The Art of Yeats: The Affirmative Capability’: ‘Yeats’s poetry is bound together by one unchanging conviction, the desirability of intense, unified, imaginative consciousness. But apart from this central pillar it reveals a series of points of view, sometimes parallel and sometimes divergent. What are we to make of his various attitudes towards reality, truth, life, death, and imagination? The question is of special moment because he kept increasingly as his career progressed to the ideal of writing poems of insight and knowledge which he had marked out for himself in youth. His position hovered for a time that of Keats, who held that he was “certain of nothing but of holiness of the Heart’s affections and the truth of Imagination - What the imagination seizes as beauty must be truth.” Keats would undoubtedly have added, if pressed, that beauty does open her doors to the cheap, the temporary, or the false. The quality of the great writer, he maintained on one occasion, was “Negative Capability, that is, when a man is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason”. Yeats’s conception of his art moved beyond this theory, because his verse depended, more than Keats’s, on presenting a complete picture of the self, and to do so became of reaching after fact and reason. / To explain and confirm his practice Yeats evolved a hypothesis which is closer to defining the situation in which modern poet finds himself than negative capability. It might be described as affirmative capability, for it begins with the poet’s difficulties but emphasizes his resolutions of them. Rejecting Keats’s cry for “a life of Sensations rather than of Thoughts”, Yeats considered it the poet’s duty to invade the province of the intellect as well as of the emotions. Neither the intellect nor the emotions can be satisfied to remain in “uncertainties, mysteries, and doubts”; they demand the more solid fare of affirmations. (p.238; for longer extracts, see Ricorso Library, “Major Authors” / W. B. Yeats, infra.)

Richard Ellmann, Eminent Domain (OUP 1970): ‘Yeats implies that in these writers myth, instead of merging with fact in a symbolic whole, has collided with it to produce a frenzied miscellany. This is a prelude to the manifestation of myth in some fearful, dehumanised form.’ (p.71; quoted in Ronald Schuchard, “Yeats’s anti-Modernist Monument', in The Living Stream: Yeats Annual 18, 2013), p.138.)

Richard Ellmann, Wilde, Yeats, Joyce and Beckett: Four Dubliners (Washington DC: Library of Congress 1986): ‘Yeats struggles by imaginative passion to overcome the prosaic, to revolutionise reality.’ (p.x.) ‘Yeats knew himself to be one for whom the invisible world existed’ (pp.87-88). [Both quoted in Donald Morse, ‘Revolutionising Reality: The Irish Fantastic’, in Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts [Conference Issue], Vol. 8, No. 1 [1997].

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