William Butler Yeats: Commentary (4)

LifeWorksCriticismCommentaryQuotationsReferencesNotes

File 4

File 4
E. B. Cullingford
Stephen Putzel
Maeve Good
Joep Leerssen
Conor Cruise O’Brien
Daniel Albright
Ronald Schleifer
William Bonney
Mitsuko Ohno
Robert Welch
David Lloyd
G. J. Watson
Edward Said
Seamus Heaney
Hazard Adams
Marjorie Howes
Richard Allen Cave
Frank Kermode

Elizabeth Butler Cullingford, Yeats, Ireland and Fascism (London: Macmillan 1981; 1985): ‘Although undoubtedly proud of his own Irish blood, Yeats saw racial differences as distinguishing features, not grounds for discrimination. He was particularly opposed to anti-semitism. Had Mussolini been anti-semitic from the beginning it is debatable whether Yeats would ever have been deluded by him. As it was, Mussolini only passed racist laws in 1938 as a direct result of Hitler’s influence. There is some debate about whether anti-semitism is an essential part of fascism or merely a useful diversionary tactic, but many scholars insist that it is fundamental to the fascist outlook. In that case, Yeats was certainly not a fascist: indeed he felt that there was a special kinship between the Jews and the Irish. Both were persecuted races, scattered over the face of the earth by the Diaspora and the Great Famine.’ (Quoted in David Krause, ‘The De-Yeatsification Cabal’, rep. in Yeats’s Political Identies, ed. Jonathan Allison, Michigan UP 1996, pp.299.)

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Stephen Putzel, Reconstructing Yeats: “The Secret Rose” and “The Wind Among the Reeds” (Dublin: Gill & Macmillan 1985), 242pp., ill. Part II of the Tables of the Law is an indictment of the narrator and Aherne, who both hide behind the trappings of Catholicism. Aherne understands the reason for his misery: I have seen the whole, and how can I come against to believe that a part is the whole? I have lost my soul because I have looked out of the eyes of the angels. (TL, 30; VSR, 163). This is the dilemma of all Yeatsian visionaries. The mystic and the martyr find their way to the heart of God, but Aherne is neither, and so he is lost. He seeks to reconcile the new order of freedom and spirit with orthodox Catholicism, but it cannot be done. He refuses to let go, and so is trapped between the end of the old epoch and the beginning of th enew. The narrator is full of an anguish of pity for Aherne because Catholicism which had seized him in the midst of the vertigo he called philosophy ... had failed to do more than hold him on the margin (TL, 28-29, VSR, 162-63). Unlike the narrator, Aherne has only accomplished a half-retreat ito orthodox religion; his visionary experience has blocked a full retreat. / Here, as in the beginning of the story, the narrator's real concern is not for Aherne, but for himself. [...].’ See also the earlier remark: ‘this “precious lost book” fiction reappears over twenty-five years later in A Vision - without the preciosity of Aherne's account [when] Robartes finds the Speculum Angelorum et Hominorum propping up the bed of a “beggar maid” [...; p.120.]’; available online.)

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Maeve Good, W. B. Yeats and the Creation of the Tragic Universe (London: Macmillan 1987): ‘Cuchulain’s truth is his own death and each of his encounters explores facets of that death’ (p.13); ‘The irony facing Cuchulain is that the world of deception and mystery is his true destiny’ (idem.)

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Joep Leerssen, ‘Ireland and the Orient’, in Oriental Prospects: Western Literature and the Lure of the East, ed. C. C. Barfoot, Theo d’Haen (Amsterdam & Atlanta: Rodopi B.V. 1988), pp.161-74 [rebutting Edward Said]: ‘Said himself, as I pointed out before, has given an influential interpretation of Yeats as a “third world intellectual”: a poet who wants to emancipate his country’s imagination, who wants imaginatively to repossess his country. Yeats is too much a European exoticist himself to be analysed in terms of a downtrodden colonial who vindicated his native culture against the oppressor's hegemony. Yeats shares that tendency which is also evident in Mangan: that exoticism has been internalised, and encompasses one’s own country.’ (p.172.)

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Conor Cruise O’Brien, ‘Passion and Cunning: An Essay on the Politics of W. B. Yeats’, in A. N. Jeffares & K. W. Cross, eds., In Excited Reverie (1965), rep. in Passion and Cunning and Other Essays (NY: Simon & Schuster 1988), pp.8-61. ‘[On “No Second Troy”:] If the snobbery endemic in his class and generation takes in his writing from now on an almost hysterical intensity, it is, I think, that he felt himself to have undergone, in his political years, a kind of contamination, a loss of caste, through “the contagion of the throng”, and that in the end, he had suffered a deep injury to his pride. “One must accept”, he had written to Lady Gregory near the end of his political involvement, “the baptism of the [19] gutter.” (10 April 1900; Letters, ed. Wade, p.338.) “The foul ditch” and “the abounding gutter” became recurring symbols of disgust in his later poetry. In the same letter in which he accepted the baptism of the gutter, he spoke of trying to get someone to resign from something “in favour of MacBride of the Irish Brigade” - the man whom Maud Gonne would marry three years later. [Quotes “… she had taught me hate / kisses to a clown”] There are moment when he felt ashamed of this hate, but it proved enduring.’ (p.20.) [Cont.]

Conor Cruise O’Brien, ‘Passion and Cunning: An Essay on the Politics of W. B. Yeats’, in A. N. Jeffares & K. W. Cross, eds., In Excited Reverie (1965) - cont.: ‘If one drops the assumption about poets having always to be nice in politics, then the puzzle disappears, and we see, I believe, that Yeats the man was as near to being a Fascist as the conditions of his own country permitted. His unstinted admiration had gone to Kevin O’Higgins, the most ruthless “strong man” of his time in Ireland, and he linked his admiration explicitly to his rejoicing at the rise of Fascism in Europe - and this at the very beginning, within a few weeks of the March on Rome. Ten years later, after Hitler had moved to the centre of the political stage in Europe, Yeats was trying to create a movement in Ireland which would be overtly Fascist in language, costume, behaviour and intent. He turned his back on this movement when it began to fail, not before. Would the irony and detachment of this phase of disillusion have lasted if a more effective Fascist leader and movement had later emerged? One may doubt it. Many in Germany who were “disillusioned” by the failure of the Kapp putsch and the beer-cellar putsch were speedily “reillusioned” when Hitler succeeded - and “disillusioned” again when he lost the war.’ (p.41.) ‘Seventy-seven executions did not repel him; on the contrary, they made him admire O’Higgins all the more.’ (p.43.) O’Brien takes issue with Yeats’s increasing advocacy of hatred, and his refusal to help with the escape of Ossietzki from Nazi Germany.’

[See also Denis Donoghue’s reaction to O'Brien’s essay under in O’Brien - supra.]

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Daniel Albright, ed., The Poems of W. B. Yeats [Everyman's Library] (London: J. M. Dent 1990, 1992) - Notes on “The Wanderings of Oisin”: ‘This long poem was Yeats’s first important success - Oscar Wilde, one of its earliest reviewers, praised its ‘nobility of treatment and nobility of subject matter, delicacy of poetic instinct, and richness of imaginative resource’ [The Artist as Critic, ed. Richard Ellmann, p.150]. Yeats was not to become a distinguished narrative poet - he tended to rely on an abundance of cunningly contrived tropes and pictures, all presented at about the same speed, where a more economical poet, like Chaucer or William Morris, would offer swift summary gestures and a better control of pace. Kinesthetic precision, fascination with weapons, tools, and other action-helpers, sympathy for muscular strain, were all missing from Yeats’s armamentarium. As Wilde noted, the reader becomes exasperated by Yeats’s interest in ‘“out-glittering” Keats’. In addition, the characters in his narrative poems are often figments of various extreme passions, trying to escape from the confines of a human identity - for example, not one of these personages has a sense of humour. But in this poem Yeats succeeded by confining the narrative elements to a kind of frame: the hero gallops over the sea to three islands, each a flat picture, a domain of suspended animation, where the action slows to zero or mechanically repeats itself - a lyric parody of narrative. Yeats never again found a plot for a narrative poem that lent itself so well to his gifts / The sources of the fable were mixed.’ See full-text version in RICORSO Library, “Criticism > Major Authors”, via index, or attached.)

Daniel Albright, ‘Yeats and Science Fiction’, in Bullán: An Irish Studies Journal, 2, 2 (Winter/Spring 1996), pp.1-18: ‘Yeats deliberately shaped A Vision according to the somewhat disreputable aesthetic of Cubism, to emphasise the halting, provisional, arbitrary quality of the whole preposterous system […] A Vision’s system of spirals and rhombs and hourglasses is only an ossature; and it is left to the reader to divine the living presence, all rhythm, no abstraction, behind the mathematical representation. […] Yeats was concerned with the most advanced Modernist artistic technology only for the sake of undoing it, for lapsing back from the future to the glories of the past.’ (p.16.)

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Ronald Schleifer, ‘Yeats’s Postmodern Rhetoric’, in Leonard Orr, ed., Yeats and Modernism (Syracuse UP 1991), pp.16-34: ‘An examination of a complex, double conception of rhetoric in Yeats is neither universal nor accidental, but it arises at a particular historical moment within the limits of particular discursive possibilities. It arises within the rhetoric of modernism, yet points to the related phenomenon of postmodernism. In the famous definition of the “mythical method”, T. S. Eliot describes and exemplifies the complexity of the modernist rhetoric that I am examining. “In using the myth” Eliot writes, “in manipulating a continuous parallel between contemporaneity and antiquity, Mr. Joyce is pursuing a method which others must pursue after him ... It is simply a way of controlling, of ordering, of giving a shape and a significance to the immense panorama of futility and anarchy which is contemporary history. It is a method already adumbrated by Mr. Yeats, and of the need for which 1 believe Mr. Yeats to have been the first contemporary to be conscious. ... It is, I seriously believe, a step toward making the modern world possible for art.” (“Ulysses, Order and Myth”, in Selected Essays, ed. Frank Kermode, NY: Harcourt 1975, pp.177-78.) What concerns me here is less Eliot’s understanding of Joyce’s achievement than his description of the “panorama” of contemporary life and its articulation in language. For I contend that the mythical parallel described by Eliot is, in fact, what he explicitly denies that it is in his review of Ulysses - simply a kind of scaffolding that Joyce uses, then discards, after contemporary history, with its futility and anarchy, rises up and is represented in language. / In this, Eliot repeats a recurrent gesture of modernist rhetoric: he delimits a phenomenon that is not capable of being reduced to “order”- that is not even susceptible to linguistic order - and he asserts [16] that, nevertheless, it is “parallel” to the classical order of myth that somehow underlies its “surface” disorder.” (pp.16-17.) [Cont.]

Ronald Schleifer (‘Yeats’s Postmodern Rhetoric’, 1991) - cont.: ‘The great difference between modernism in its symbolist moment and postmodernisrn is the difference between the “metaphysical name” described by Derrida and the “staging” of that name. [...] Such work is the “metaphysical” work of symbolism: it includes Eliot’s (and Conrad’s and Yeats’s and even Lawrence’s) visceral abhorrence of the material plenitude of the world (the futility and anarchy of the Congo or Ireland’s filthy modern tide or apeneck Sweeney’s animal movements) and a concomitant, anti-representational aesthetic that implies the possibility of inscribing and discerning ideality beneath and behind the ruined fragments of experience.’ (p.18.) [Cont.]

Ronald Schleifer (‘Yeats’s Postmodern Rhetoric’, 1991) - cont.: ‘Eliot’s anxious need to find a grounding method in the chaos of Joyce’s vision and that of his own, like Yeats’s need to articulate a visionary, transcendental resolution of experience not only in the apocalyptic, “symbolist” poetry of the 1890s but even in a high modernist poem such as “Among School Children”, seems to encompass the tension between the old concept of metaphysical meaning and the new concept of pragmatic function. Perhaps it is the enabling tension of modernist practice. But the transformation from cause to effect, from causal to functional explanation, or, in Saussure’s terms, the transformation from a mode of understanding based upon the diachronic discovery of the origin to one based upon a synchronic apprehension of relationships between and among phenomenal data, is at the heart of what I call the postmodern rhetoric of modernism.’ (p.24.) [Cont.]

Ronald Schleifer (‘Yeats’s Postmodern Rhetoric’, 1991) - cont: ‘Eliot’s anxious need to find a grounding method in the chaos of Joyce’s vision and that of his own, like Yeats’s need to articulate a visionary, transcendental resolution of experience not only in the apocalyptic, “symbolist” poetry of the 1890s but even in a high modernist poem such as “Among School Children,” seems to encompass the tension between the old concept of metaphysical meaning and the new concept of pragmatic function. Perhaps it is the enabling tension of modernist practice. But the transformation from cause to effect, from causal to functional explanation, or, in Saussure’s terms, the transformation from a mode of understanding based upon the diachronic discovery of the origin to one based upon a synchronic apprehension of relationships between and among phenomenal data, is at the heart of what I call the postmodern rhetoric of modernism.’ (p.24; for full text, see Ricorso Library, “Criticism/Major Authors ”, infra.)

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William Bonney, ‘He “Liked The Way His Finger Smelt”: Yeats and the Tropics of History’, in Yeats and Postmodernism, ed. Leonard Orr (Syracuse UP 1991): ‘[…] Yeats frequently indicates that he is aware of both the inevitably linguistic essence of human perception and of the consequently unstable and contradictory qualities thereby introduced into consciousness. History cannot transcend verbiage because “the world only exists to be a tale [for] coming generations”, a tale that is largely incoherent, it seems, for even in the conceptual utopia of Byzantium, according to Yeats, language had been the instrument of controversy”. [Mythologies, 1959, p.301; A Vision, Macmillan 1937 [sic] 279] Linguistic structures generate myth and thought, which, in turn, foster human culture. But Yeats declares, “All civilisation is held together by artificially created illusions” [recte ‘manifold illusions’]; thought is merely “trash and tinsel”; and myth is without empirical substantiation, consisting only of “Statements our nature is compelled to make and employ as a truth though there [40] cannot be sufficient evidence” and is therefore worthy of annulment because “a myth that cannot be ... consumed becomes a spectre.” Overall, however, “There is no improvement: only a series of sudden fires, each ... as necessary as the one before it.” [Coll. Plays, 210; Coll. Poems, NY: Macmillan, 1966 Edn., p.284] / Within this context, Yeats deprecatingly judges his own ontic syntheses to be just a “phantasmagoria in which I endeavour to explain my philosophy of life and death’ (CP, 453). Even A Vision is merely “my lunar parable”, “my dream”, although he laments nevertheless the “destructiveness” of the semantic perversions that he witnesses in Ireland, and of the “mechanical logic and commonplace eloquence which give power to the most empty mind ... crushing as with an iron roller all that is organic” and negating thereby vital mythic unity, as being “a most un-Celtic thing.” [A. N. Jeffares, A Commentary on the Poems, of W. B. Yeats, Stanford UP 1984, pp.159, 188] Yeats’s acultural historical transformations are necessarily violations of linguistic coherence and are signalled, figuratively, by cacophony, “the irrational cry ... the scream of Juno’s peacock”, [ref28] and, literally, by absurdities such as those that occurred in 1916 when the commandant-general and president of the provisional government, Patrick Pearse, surrendered in the post office, the repository of failed words and thus the monument of futile causes.’ (pp.40-41; for full text, see Ricorso Library, “Criticism/Major Authors”, infra.)

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Mitsuko Ohno, ‘Yeats and Religion’, in Irish Writers and Religion [IASIL Japan Ser., No. 4] (Gerrards Cross: Colin Smythe 1992): ‘Yeats wrote in The Celtic Twilight that among the country people in Sligo, where he had spent many youthful summers, there were people who saw faeries and banshees. The ancient villages were full of spirits and ghosts, and also full of people who claimed they had witnessed “other-world creatures“. Even those who doubted Hell and ghosts believed, Yeats writes, in faeries; a woman says: “Hell was an invention got up by the priest to keep people good”; and a man says: “No matter what one doubts, one never doubts the faeries for they stand to reason”. These views illustrate the state of the Christian faith among the people of rural Ireland. From what is disclosed in The Celtic Twilight, it is apparent that there existed a mixture of folk elements from the pre-Christian era and Christian orthodoxy. These mixed beliefs seem to have been widely accepted among the local people of Western Ireland, but in Yeats’s work they are treated in such a way as to appeal to sophisticated readers in England and elsewhere as exotic and charming. By Yeats’s time there had developed a taste for such material, where earlier they might have been shuffled off as merely crude and uncivilized.’ (Cont.)

Cont. (Mitsuko Ohno, ‘Yeats and Religion’, 1992): ‘The folk legends that Yeats introduced in The Celtic Twilight were later incorporated into a number of his poems and plays, a typical one being The Land of Heart’s Desire. [...; 106] The result seems symbolic: the absence of the crucifix, the magic charm against the pagan lure, brings defeat to the Christians; while the faery world, represented by the innocent-looking child, wins. The soul of the young bride is lured out, leaving the mere shell of her physical body. The pre-Christian Irish myth has been revived by Yeats to symbolize the eternal longing of mortal man. The Christian faith is here strongly associated with the reality of daily life - the reality that one cannot remain young forever, nor can one escape one’s doom to become old and cross with the wear and tear of life, while the Irish legends stand for man’s eternal dream. / Man’s dream and reality, or the dualism of hearth and wilderness represented later by the Blind Man and the Fool in On Baile’s Strand in a more intricate way, are contrasted in the matching set of Irish legends and Christian faith, and the fantastical dramatization makes the former seem more attractive in contrast to the prosaic appeal of the latter. / The same theme appears in the poem “The Stolen Child” [...]’ (pp.106-07). [Cont.]

Cont. (Mitsuko Ohno, ‘Yeats and Religion’, 1992): ‘It was very fortunate for Yeats that he was introduced to Lady Gregory in 1896, when he was quite ill physically and emotionally. Under her guardianship and assistance he was able to recover his health and ”tolerable industry” [after the ill-effects on his health occasioned by his unrequited love for Maud Gonne]. In such state of mind and physical condition, he had unusual dreams and visions that he found worth noting. In his Memoirs he records his own and his associates’ dreams and visions, but the unusual dream that he describes in “The Stirring of the Bones” seems significant: “an emotion never experienced before swept down upon me. I said, ‘That is what the devout Christian feels, that is how he surrenders his will to the will of God.’ I felt an extreme surprise for my whole imagination was preoccupied with the pagan mythology of ancient Ireland. ... The next morning I awoke near dawn, to hear a voice saying, The love of God is infinite for every human soul because every human soul is unique; no other can satisfy the same need in God” [Autobiographies, 1955, pp.378-79.] This was some time during 1897 and 1898, and the exuberance of his emotion is remarkable. Later in 1914 he recalls this particular time and experience in “Swedenborg, Mediums, Desolate Places”, and writes: “I pieced together stray thoughts written out after questioning the familiar of a trance medium or automatic writer ... and arranged the fragments into some pattern, till I believed myself the discoverer of a vast generalisation. ... I lived in excitement ... then one day I opened the Spiritual Diary of Swedenborg which I had not taken down for twenty years, and found all there, even certain thoughts I had not set on paper because they had seemed fantastic from the lack of some traditional foundation”. [Explorations, 1973, pp.31-32.] Out of this rediscovery of Swedenborg came further psychological [109] effects [...]’ (pp.109-10,) Ohno goes on to describe the relation between his belief in ghosts and the Noh play.

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Robert Welch, Irish Poetry from Thomas Moore to W. B. Yeats (Gerrards Cross: Colin Smythe, 1980): ‘Yeats believed that ‘through mythology one could find a way back into the deepest energies of the race, energies that were associated with the energy of personality itself.’ (p.211.) [Numerous quotations from this text are registered various author-files of Ricorso.]

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Robert Welch, States: Transformations in Modern Irish Writing (London: Routledge 1993): ‘His [Yeat’s] ambition was to write for race and reality, which meant that he wanted to get at the mathematics of the inner forms of the Irish nature, because by doing so he would activate the latent energies of life itself.’ (p.65.) [Numerous quotations from this text are registered various author-files of Ricorso.]

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Robert Welch, Irish Folklore, Legend and Myth (London: Penguin 1993), Introduction: speaks of ‘An ambition to write for his country a literature that wouls be urgent, risky, troublesome and, at the same time, totally in line with tradition.’ (p.xx; quoted in Ashleigh McDowell, UU Diss., UUC 2011.) [Cont.]

Cont. (Robert Welch, Irish Folklore, Legend and Myth, 1993): ‘Behind all this labour lay an ambition to serve his country by uniting an imaginative movement in literature with all aspects of native tradition: folklore, myth, legend, religion, custom, and thought. And intertwined with this ambition was another strand in the fabric of his thinking: the “revolt of the soul” against the materialist intellect, which he saw as dominating life and repressing imaginative thought in the modern world. [...] Fieldwork on folklore and folk belief fed into his work on myth and legend; and this body of knowledge, along with his occult learning, was a network of relationships, a field of significances, he could deploy in his ambition to write for his country a literature that would be urgent, risky, troublesome and, at the same time, totally in line with tradition. [II:] Yeats though often disillusioned with Ireland, never ceased to write about it. He studied its folklore, history and literature with an energy that sprang from a volume of need going much deeper [xxi] than anything patriotic sentiment, antiquarianism or political commitment could supply. [...] Yeats never ceased to be convinced that there was, at the back of Irish experience, a “mathematics” of being, a law of energy, that moved into action at certain moments of clarity and heroic density: when Pearse strode in the Post Office, Cuchulain “stalked” by his side. [...]’ (pp.xxi-ii.) [Cont.]

Cont. (Robert Welch, Irish Folklore, Legend and Myth, 1993): ‘Though what the Yeats of “Sailing to Byzantium” imagines (all fire, intensity, joy fuelled by bitterness) is quite different to that envisaged by the Yeats of 1898, formally the process is exactly the same in the prose and in the verse. The object of the search (energetically invoked in 1927) calmly envisioned in trance-like prose in 1898) is beyond; because it is independent of human categories it has its own identity. Seeking this knowledge is empowering; to Yeats’s understanding the learning and mental discipline of the traditional Irish storyteller embodied procedures for gaining such knowledge.’ (p.xxvi.) [Cont.]

Cont. (Robert Welch, Irish Folklore, Legend and Myth, 1993): ‘The vision that Yeats developed was one that sought to unify folk belief; legend; the passionate “thrusts of power” he found in love song; the quality of metaphysical awareness he attributed to Irish country-people;  and the “wasteful virtues” of an Anglo-Irish aristocracy, who, he said. played their part before the “exacting tribunal” of the collective he termed “the people”. He praised the Irish writer William Carleton as a faithful transcriber, particularly in his stories rather than his novels, of the vitality and colour of the life out of which he had come. But Carleton, like other nineteenth-century predecessors - Gerald Griffin, James Clarence Mangan, William Allingham - failed because he and they did not create a world; they, in Yeats’s view, were like flies struggling in the the marmalade of history, encumbered. tormented, drowning either in sweetness or bitterness. The art he wanted would take on the disgrace of the Irish, their lack of pride, their arrogance, their (to use a phrase of Seamus Heaney’s) “wet centre”, and transform the situation by awakening a creative spirit inherent in Irish tradition, a spirit not eccentric but consistent with ancient wisdom.’ (pp.xxviii-xxix; cont.)

Cont. (Robert Welch, Irish Folklore, Legend and Myth, 1993): ‘It is difficult now to assess the energy of Yeats’s commitment when he set to work classifying folklore and fairy belief, studying translations of Gaelic legends and myths, researching his nineteenth-century predecessors in Anglo-Irish literature. In the 1890s and in the first decade of this century there cannot have been many with such an extensive and interrogative understanding of so many phases of Irish tradition as he, and this in spite of the fact that he knew no Irish and failed to learn it. His needs were creative, not scholarly; he wanted to hammer his thoughts into unity, thoughts based upon fieldwork, study, experiment, the practice of the craft of poetic knowledge, in order to create a living thing, an art work or artifice that would have its own life, and therefore be an activity of the Irish spirit. In The Spirit of the Nation of Young Ireland, a collection of verses republished many times in the nineteenth century, this “spirit” was envisaged as political enthusiasm for self-government; Yeats’s spirit was the animation of a body of knowledge, hitherto neglected, Irish knowledge, based upon-Irish life, empowered by an attitude of acceptance and temperate self-recognition. Joyce sought to create a humane conscience for his race; Yeats, romantically, summoned the “shaping spirit of imagination”. It is hard for us to see past Yeats into the nineteenth century, so integrative was his view of Irish tradition, but, when we do, we find (to put it bluntly) a literary culture on its knees, with no properly expressive set of representations of itself, the Irish language going, in many places gone, no readership, the Anglo-Irish aristocracy and middle class increasingly marginalised, and an emergent but poorly educated peasant or lower middle-class Catholic readership. We see a great deal of effort, little focused energy.’ (p.xxix.) [Cont.]

Cont. (Robert Welch, Irish Folklore, Legend and Myth, 1993): ‘Yeats held that poetic knowledge came from “out there”, from “beyond”, from what, to the normal sane way of beholding, is “dead”. There is a radical kind of strategy at work here: what to you (the modern world, Britain, materialism) is dead, to us is alive and full of strange complexity. Where your opinionatedness cannot allow you to go, we (“Irish”) can find a core of energy, a living mathematics. As is often the case there is a method behind the assertion. You think we have no tradition, no power, no knowledge: but the material, unified by imagination, reveals a capacity for vision and wonder. Life is not as the opinionated, the industrialists, and the citizenry think it is; in the world of Irish country belief, in Irish legend and myth, life is continually animated by death.’ (p.xxxi.)

Cont. (Robert Welch, Irish Folklore, Legend and Myth, 1993): ‘Yeats’s idea of the otherworld, which he takes from Gaelic tradition, becomes, in his mental arena, a kind of uncertainty principle. Things are not what they seem to be. We live in a world, apparently solid, but actually, to the eyes of an understanding schooled in ancient wisdom, “flowing” and “phenomenal”, two words he used in “A General Introduction for my Work”. This phenomenal, flowing view of the world was, he also asserted, concrete, because it was rooted in actual things seen by the eye of imagination, not obstructed by the tired categories of the materialist mind, and thereby rendered static, solidified. / Years’s aim was to create a vital Irish imagination based on ancient knowledge, ancient wisdom. He researched and studied all material on Irish folklore, legend and myth available to him at the time, with energy, thoroughness and commitment. The insights and knowledge this material embodied were Irish, but it also, to his view, connected him to the main line of European tradition. To follow this line of inquiry meant a profound refusal of the Arnold view of Celticism, and of the contemporary Irish middle class’s view of itself. He set about unifying a “wild anarchy” of legends, as he saw it, to create an Ireland of the imagination: eloquent, searching and modern; questioning, open and traditional.’ (p.xxxiii; see earlier remarks under Matthew Arnold, supra.)

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David Lloyd, Anomalous States: Irish Writing and the Post-colonial Moment (Dublin: Lilliputian Press; Duke UP 1993) - remarking in Yeats's ambivalence in “Easter 1916”: ‘Though Yeats acknowledges those who became national martyrs, it is clear the poet is disturbed not only by the violence they engaged in but by the level of their sacrifice which in a very real way transcended language. And in transcending language, such a saccrifice not only displaces the poet’s authority but subverts the faith that many cultural nationalists had in th eower of literature and language to transform a nation.’ (p.84; quoted in Patrick McBride, UG essay, UUC 2009.)

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G. J. Watson, Irish Identity and the Literary Revival (London: Croom Helm 1979): ‘Yeats [...] saw the prime aim of [his] work at the outset as the necessity to bring back dignity to the image of Ireland , both at home and abroad [...] To present Ireland in his art as tragic heroine rather than comic ape.’ (p.90.) On Yeats’s use of heroic figures: ‘though they suggest a world of rarefied heroic dignity, Yeats does not try to enforce in them or through them any kind of exemplar moral for the Ireland of his own times [while] it was that very imprecision that made it so stirring an inspiration for it meant different things to different men and in doing so filled the minds of his countrymen with dreams and clothed in glamour his country’s past’ (p.94-95.) On Yeats and the Easter Rising: ‘The rising is seen as a spontaneous self-contained gesture, a heroic act cutting across history, as it were, rather than as the culmination of a few centuries of insurrectionary thought and tradition. Yeats’s tone is carefully designed to convey a note of surprise, a sense of unexpectedness.’ (Ibid., p.111.) [The foregoing quoted in Ashleigh McDowell, UU Diss., UUC 2011, and Emma Carroll, MA Diss., UU 2011.)

Cont. (G. J. Watson, ed., The Short Fiction of W. B. Yeats, 1995): Textual notes & Introduction [extracts]: [… T]he Secret Rose] was far more than a random collocation of unrelated stories. Putzel and Martin are among the critics who have demonstrated its structural unity [is] “based on history, locale, theme and symbolism” [Bibl. note cites Augustine Martin, ‘The Apocalyptic Structure in Yeats’s The Secret Rose’, in Studies, 64, 1975, pp.24-34.] The stories move from pagan Ireland through the monastic era, into the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and finish with a richly wrought fin de siècle triptych. The careful arrangement of the 1897 volume may not prove that Yeats had anticipated Joyce’s Dubliners, but it is useful evidence of his early love of design.’ (p.x.) [Cont.]
Cont. (G. J. Watson, ed., The Short Fiction of W. B. Yeats, 1995): ‘There is also the question of style. Yeats referred back in the 1918 poems “The Phases of the Moon” to his fictional characters of the nineties and to “that extravagant style … learnt from Pater” in which he had created them. […] While some of Yeats’s more ornate [x] flourishes do not come off, especially in circumlocution and periphrasis, there is much to regret in his exclusions and excisions - this sentence, for instance, from the 1897 version of “The Old Men of Twilight”: ‘When he came close enough to hear the signing of the rushes in the outermost pool, the morning was grey over the world, so that the tall rushes, the still waters, the vague clouds, the thin mist lying among the sand-heaps, seemed carved out of an enormous pearl.’ More is involved than personal taste. Our understanding of the development of Yeats’s attitudes to Ireland and to his audience are hindered if new are not aware of the deliberate distancing of himself from “the folk” involved in his choice of “Paterian” style for Secret Rose. (Intro., p.xi-xii.) [Cont.]
Cont. (G. J. Watson, ed., The Short Fiction of W. B. Yeats, 1995): ‘The unity of the volume is not simply due to this high level of thematic congruence between the stories. There is a tight geographical focus on the West of Ireland […] The 1897 volume carefully arranges the stories in a coherent historical pattern … stories of pagan Ireland … late fourteenth century …. seventeenth century … Finally, the stories in the mystical triptych with which Yeats intended to round off the volume are all of the contemporaries nineties. The contrast with the ad hoc arrangement in Mythologies is striking.’ (p.xxxi.) [Cont.]
Cont. (G. J. Watson, ed., The Short Fiction of W. B. Yeats, 1995): ‘The war of the spiritual with the material continues - very literally in this case [viz., “Rosa Alchemica”], since the enraged fisherfolk destroy the temple and its inhabitants. It continues at the psychological level also, however, for despite the narrator’s dedication of himself to orthodoxy, the concluding sentences confirm that the “indefinite world” has “but half lost its mastery over my heart and intellect.”’ […] The Secret Rose is for all its stylistic formality, a surprisingly moving volume, which also permits us to see the formation of some of a great poet’s lifelong obsessions.’ (p.xli; end.)

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Edward Said, Nationalism, Colonialism and Literature: Yeats and Decolonization [Field Day Pamphlet, No. 15] Derry 1988, 24pp.: ‘For Yeats the over-lappings he knew existed between his Irish nationalism and the English cultural tradition that both dominated him and empowered him as a writer was bound to cause an over-heated tension, and it is the pressure of this urgently political and secular tension that one may speculate caused him to try to resolve it on a “higher”, that is, non-political, level. Thus the deeply eccentric and aestheticised histories he produced in A Vision and the later quasi-religious poems are elevations of the tension to an extra-worldly level.’ (p.13.)

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Seamus Heaney [1] - ‘In the Midst of the Force Field, in The Irish Times (28 Jan. 1989); rep. in Yeats’s Political Identities, ed. Jonathan Allison (Michigan UP 1996), pp.257-60: ‘[...; discussing “Cuchulain Comforted” - ‘One of the greatest ever death-bed utterances,:] ‘[...] by using the terza rima form, a three-line, triple-rhyming stanza which he had never before employed in over half a century of composing verse, and by using it at this precise moment, on the verge of death, Yeats was awakening new music from the ancient harp of European poetic tradition. To treat the theme of the spirit’s journey to the land of the dead, and to do it in terza rima, the metre of The Divine Comedy, was to call the great poets of western civilisation to keep a vigil at his bed. Homer had sent Odysseus down, Virgil had sent Aeneas, Dante had sent himself in a dream, and now Yeats was sending his shadow-self in the form of Cuchulain. What he was experiencing was being given form and meaning even as it was happening. It was as if Shakespeare had arranged to die not years after the end of his stage career but during the first production of The Tempest, at the moment when Prospero declares that he will break his staff and drown his book. / It is this dramatic genius and unifying purpose that give Yeats’s work its glamour and concentration. Everything is gathered into the artifice, and the artifice is all transformative and dynamic, part of an action of self-completion and self-renewal. The energy and containment are just equal to each other, so there is exhilaration in being near to the vitality of it all. Reading Yeats, I can feel at times a transmission of dangerous force such as I felt as a child, standing alone in fields close to the tremble of electric poles, under the sizzle of the power lines. / But the master would not thank me for that technological image. The whole push of his endeavour was against the further encroachment of the scientific spirit. Yet perhaps he would not have resisted the electric image so strongly, since electricity retains the force of a natural miracle, and Yeats’s overall intent was to clear a space in the mind and in the world for the miraculous, for all kinds of rebellion against the tyranny of physical and temporal law. Indeed, it is time we redirected our attention to this visionary courage in his oeuvre and laid off pressing him too trimly into our own cultural arguments, and even blaming him for our predicaments.’ (See full text in Ricorso, Library, Criticism / Major Authors, infra.)

Seamus Heaney [2] - Introduction to “W. B. Yeats” [sect.], in The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing (Derry 1991), Vol. 2: ‘Yeats’s singularity as a writer depended upon [a] uniquely elaborated command of the strategies of English verse; but it derived also from the off-centre view he deliberately maintained as a member of occult societies ... Even an intelligence as strong and antagonistic as James Joyce’s functioned within a set of cultural and intellectual forms that generally were shared and assented to. Homer and classical learning, Roman catholic liturgy and dogma, the medieval corpus of knowledge as represented by Dante and Aquinas...when Yeats called a character Red Hanrahan or Michael Robartes...he still could not endow the new-minted name with such canonical authority. There might well be a reservoir of doctrine and belief which sanctioned the imaginative archetype...but it had sunk underground. (p.786; cited in Edna Longley, The Living Stream: Literature and Revisionism in Ireland, Newcastle-Upon-Tyne: Bloodaxe 1994, p.46); further remarks that, ‘while it is right hat the questions [of yeats’s and Joyce’s relation to the nation] continue to be pressed, it is imperative to recognise the immense contribution his work makes to ouer general intellectual and imaginative resource.’ (Ibid., p.789; Longley, p.46.) Also, ‘Yeats’s ‘most exemplary moments are those when powerful artistic control is vulnerable to the pain and pathoss of life itself.’ (‘Yeats as an Example?’, in A. Norman Jeffares, ed., Yeats, Sligo and Ireland, Gerrards Cross: Colin Smythe 1980, pp.56-72.)

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Hazard Adams, The Book of Yeats’s Vision: Romantic Modernism and the Antithetical Tradition (Michigan UP 1995): ‘[...] The 1925 Vision, published privately by Yeats, was the outgrowth of several years of Mrs. Yeats’s automatic speech and writing. Like her husband, Mrs. Yeats had occultist interests dating from before they met. Early in their marriage, worried about her husband’s state of mind, she faked automatic writing to distract him, only to learn that she was indeed a medium of some sort. The 1925 edition of A Vision, hiding her mediumship behind an elaborate fiction, is supposedly a distillation of what Yeats gleaned from her automatic writing and speech. At [6] first glance, A Vision reports a quasi-astrological occult system of thought that purports to classify types of human character according to twenty-eight categories based on the phases of the moon, to offer a theory of reincarnation, and, further, to order all of Western history according to lunar cyclical symbolism. / But Yeats was not at all satisfied with the first published version and worked on an elaborate revision for more than a decade, producing the very different second version in 1937. By this time, Yeats’s understanding of his wife’s communications was more sophisticated, in part because he had read more philosophy. Also, and perhaps more important, he had now the time to query his own experience with the communications and to develop an attitude toward them. In the new version he raised questions about his own belief in what he called the “system,” and that led in turn to the question of its purpose and the larger issues of belief that were preoccupying writers at the time. Yeats’s attention to this issue and other matters in the new and more elaborate frame he caused to enclose his account of the “system” made the 1937 version virtually a new book. / The new frame Yeats constructed provided an extremely dense environment for the abstract presentations inside it. A Vision was originally dedicated to “Vestigia”, the code name used in the Order of the Golden Dawn by Moina Bergson Mathers, sister of the philosopher and wife of the occultist MacGregor Mathers. In 1937 this dedication disappears, and the text begins with a group of three meditations entitled “A Packet for Ezra Pound.” There is included a section that describes the the experience with Mrs. Yeats, revealing the supposedly true source of the work. / Oddly enough, the second part of the book nevertheless presents a heavily revised and extended fictive explanation of the sources. The story told turns out to be a comic farce, in which Yeats revives certain characters from his earlier works and creates new ones. Thus, the introductory matter of “A Packet for Ezra Pound” presents one explanation of the system’s genesis, allegedly true; and the second section of the book presents another, clearly fictive and so declared, in which Yeats himself is actually alluded to as one of the characters. For many people the true account is as fantastic as the fictive one. [...]’ (pp.6-7; for longer extracts, see Ricorso Library, “Criticism / Major Authors” - W. B. Yeats, infra.)

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Marjorie Howes, Yeats’s Nations: Gender, Class and Irishness (Cambridge UP 1996): ‘The early Yeats was acutely aware of contemporary cultural connections between Celtic character and a cultured, nervous, bourgeois femininity. In his copy of Renan’s The Poetry of Celtic Races, Yeats wrote three marginal comments next to Renan’s description of the Celt’s femininity: “Delicacy,” “a feminine race,” and “The Ideal of Woman.” Yeats did not begin his engagement with Celticism by accepting the equation of femininity with racial inferiority and colonial status put forth by Celticists like Arnold. In struggles between opposing political and cultural discourses, including imperiailist and nationalist ones, some signs or values prove more “convertible” than others, like foreign currencies. In his earliest Celtic writings, Yeats struggled to construct an Irish nationality that incorporated, explicitly and implicitly, a trait that had become so closely associated with weakness and pathology that it was virtually impossible to convert it into a positive attribute: femininity. For a brief period, Yeats followed Arnold and Renan’s gendering of the Celt without reproducing their political corollaries to it. In some of his earliest essays he outlined a version of the Celtic spirit that combined two contrasting models of Irish national character, one that was Arnoldian, feminine and particular, and another that was anti-Arnoldian, masculine and universalist. / This combination appears in Yeats’s 1886 review essays about Sir Samuel Ferguson. […]’ (p.25; see further under Matthew Arnold, supra.) [Cont.]

Cont. (Marjorie Howes, Yeats’s Nations: Gender, Class and Irishness, 1996): ‘Yeats’s Anglo-Irish nationality was a contradictory one whose very foundations contained the corrupting seeds of its demise, and whose most valuable strengths and reassuring continuities were also the sources of its debilitating weaknesses and irremediable fragmentations … [His Big House] poems reveal that the continuity of the nation depends, not on sustaining or passing on some founding essence or energy, but on a repeated crisis of foundations that demands that each generation begin anew amid isolation and adversity.’ (q.p.) [For longer extracts, see RICORSO Library, “Criticism / Major Authors / W. B. Yeats”, infra.]

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Richard Allen Cave, ed., Selected Plays (Penguin 1997), Introduction - remarks on The Land of Heart’s Desire (1894): ‘it might be argued that, despite the Irish setting, a fairy enchantment is not an especially Irish subject. What makes it peculiarly so for an Irish audience is the focus on the threshold, for the concept of the threshold means much to the Gaelic sensibility. According to Celtic belief, states of in-between-ness, physical and temporal, were respected as times for acquiring or losing great personal powers. In dramatic terms they afforded Yeats a context for achieving what under his father’s guidance he had long considered the primary objective of [xv] theatre; the staging of moments of intense life, “passionate action or somnambulistic reverie”. They were states not of being but of becoming and as such were decisive, irrevocable. They actual doorway on  stage here becomes the correlative of the central character’s access to self-awareness, since it gives entrance to a representative of some challenging, alien nature or world, the Other in Jungian terms, against which Mary Bruin’s self has to seek definition. Whether consciously or not, Yeats had hit on a powerful, archetypal symbol in the threshold which in terms of drama had its roots less in English than in classical Greek theatres. I was too a stage-image which at this exact point in time Maeterlinck was reviving and exploring with a vibrant and eerie immediacy in his plays The Intruder, Interior and The Death of Tintagiles. Ancient and modern usage endowed this focus on the ominous doorway with considerable authority.’ (pp.xv-vi.) Quotes from “Circus Animals’ Desertion”: ‘Character isolated by a deed / To engross the present and dominate memory’; also quotes: ‘all the finest poetry comes logically out of the fundamental action’ and that it was erroneous to ‘believe that some things are inherently poetical and to try to pull them on to the scene at every moment.’ (p.xx.) [Cont.]

Cont. (Richard Allen Cave, Intro. to Selected Plays, 1997): ‘By the time he completed Deirdre and The Green Helmet, Yeats had evolved an approach to dramatic form and related theories about style in performance what were firmly opposed to what conventionally passed form realism and naturalism on the contemporary stage. His preoccupation was with returning qualities of wonder and strangeness (a word that for Yeats always carried decidedly metaphysical overtones or [xxiii] intimations of the numinous) to the art of theatre. To this end his plays increasingly pursued modes of stylisation: songs as detached commentary on the action, dance and mime, varieties of intoned or sung speech, moment of ritual and of sustained stillness, the deliberate exploitation of role-play and a deployment of certain characters within the action for their symbolic potential. On final aid to stylisation (one with a long provenance in the theatre) had yet to be added to this list of Yeats’s technical experiments: masks.’ (pp.xxiii-iv). Cave goes on to discuss Yeats’s involvement with the Nugent Monck production of Oedipus, and his own encounter with Noh drama through Ezra Pound’s work on Ernest Fenollosa and his acquaintance with the Japanese dancer Michio Ito. [Cont.]

Cont. (Richard Allen Cave, Intro. to Selected Plays, 1997): [‘]Equally exciting for Yeats must have been the discover of a drama where ghosts and gods, daimons and demons, mingle confidently with human characters without the stage having recourse to trick lighting, spectacular traps, flying devices or specially cued musical effects. Not is a theatre that eschews all conventions of realism, the better to engage with the nature of the mind in its subtlest operations; all the action is psychological in its intent and focuses on the central character of the drama, the role assumed by the principal actor, or shite. This character […] caught in a crisis of identity and […] searching for the innermost truths about the self in an effort to find release from the spiritual torment that is his or her present condition of being […] Noh is a theatre where reverie is tense and excited; and a theatre that is addressed by a deliberate series of strategies to the “eye of the mind” of the spectator. Masks are appropriately the main visual means of communication, since the plays are chiefly about the personae created by a particular mind to meet its changing needs. Noh pursues an overt theatricality in terms of its structure and mode of performance in order to bring the audience into an engagement with the poetic, psychological and symbolic content of the plays. It exactly realised what Yeats considered theatre should endeavour to be.’ (p.xxvii.)

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Frank Kermode, The Sense of an Ending: Studies in the Theory of Fiction [1966] with a new Epilogue (Oxford UP 2002) - pp.104-06 [on Yeats]: ‘And of course we have it now, the sense of an ending. It has not diminished, and is as endemic to what we call modernism as apocalyptic utopianism is to political revolution. When we live in the mood of end-dominated crisis, certain now-familiar patterns of assumption become evident. Yeats will help me to illustrate them. / For Yeats, an age would end in 1927; the year passed without apocalypse, as end-years do; but this is hardly material. “When I was writing A Vision,” he said, “I had constantly the word “terror” impressed upon me, and once the old Stoic prophecy of earthquake, fire and flood at the end of an age, but this I did not take literally.” Yeats is certainly an apocalyptic poet, but he does not take it literally, and this, I think, is characteristic of the attitude not only of modern poets but of the modern literary public to the apocalyptic elements. All the same, like us, he believed them in some fashion, and associated apocalypse with war. At the turning point of time he filled his poems with images of decadence, and praised war because he saw in it, ignorantly we may think, the means of renewal. “The danger is that there will be no war. ... Love war because of its horror, that belief may be changed, civilization renewed.” He saw his time as a time of transition, the last moment before a new annunciation, a new gyre. There was horror to come: “thunder of feet, tumult of images.' But out of a desolate reality would come renewal. In short, we can find in Yeats all the elements of the apocalyptic paradigm that concern us.’ (here p.105; available at Goodreads - online; accessed 13.04.2015.)

See earlier: ‘Joachim, who died in 1202, divided history into three phases, a division based on the Trinity; [...] These prophecies had a long life; not only Dante, at the end of the century, but Hegel and others much later, took them seriously. [...] Joachite speculation [...] was condemned in 1260, and subsequently thrived in unorthodox contexts. Its evangelium aeternum was transmited by the Brethern of the Free Spirit, by the Anabaptists and by Boehme, by the Family of Love and Ranters. The Jesus of Blake’s Everylasting Gospel is the Christ of Joachim's third phase. some aspects of this brand of apocalypse survive in d. H. Lawrence. More dangerously, the ideology of National Socialism incorporated Joachite elements; “the Third Reich” is itself a Joachite expression. And the notion of an [13] End-dominated age of transition has passed into our consciousness, and modified our attitude to historical pattern. As Ruth Kestenberg-Gladstein observes, “the Joachite triad made it inevitable that the present became ‘a mere transitional stage,’ and leaves people with a sense of living at a turning-point of time.”’ (pp.13-14; available online).

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Frank Kermode, ‘Ezra Conquers London’, review of Ezra Pound: A Portrait of the Man and His Work, Vol. 1, by A. David Moody, in The New York Review of Books (1 May 2008), pp.21-24: ‘[...] One of his stated ambitions was to meet W. B. Yeats, whom he regarded as the greatest poet of the day. This he achieved with remarkable speed, and his long friendship with the Irish poet was fruitful on both professional and personal levels. The time he spent later with Yeats in the country at Stone Cottage, a winter retreat in Sussex where each worked on his own and on the other’s poetry, offers an unusual instance of a little-known young poet decisively affecting the style of an illustrious senior; for Pound was determined to bring Yeats down to a style of common speech, while prosecuting his own campaign against the English iambic pentameter. Yeats is teased in the Cantos, but both poets benefited from Pound’s determination to teach and learn.’ [Cont.]

Cont. (Frank Kermode, ‘Ezra Conquers London’, 2008): ‘Pound had somehow got to know Mrs. Olivia Shakespear and her daughter Dorothy, “quite the nicest people in London.” Yeats had, long before, been Mrs. Shakespear’s lover, and they were still good friends, she being, according to Yeats himself, “the centre of his life in London.” She was first cousin to Lionel Johnson, an important 1890s poet and a member, along with Ernest Dowson and Oscar Wilde, of Yeats’s “Tragic Generation.” When Yeats was turned down by Iseult Gonne, daughter of his great love Maud, he proposed to Olivia’s stepniece George Hyde-Lees, a close friend of Dorothy’s. They were married in 1917. Pound was by now married to Dorothy Shakespear after a cool courtship and a long struggle with her family, who rightly believed the charming Ezra unable to support her. He probably had an affair with Iseult, and he served as best man at Yeats’s wedding.’

Cont. (Frank Kermode, ‘Ezra Conquers London’, 2008): ‘It had not taken Pound long to get close to the heart of London’s literary society. He might not have expected to discover that nearly all these people were, like Yeats, involved in various sorts of occultism, which didn’t directly interest him. Poetry was what interested him. He pushed Yeats in the direction he had already wanted to follow. “I have spent the whole of my life trying to get rid of rhetoric,” said Yeats - and Pound could assist in this effort.’ [See longer extract in RICORSO Library, “International Criticism”, via index or direct.]

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