William Butler Yeats: Notes (6)


File 6
Index &
Plays & Prose

Island of Statues (1885), published in successive monthly issues of the Dublin University Review (April-July 1885), Act. II, sc. iii being included in Wanderings of Oisin (1889) as ‘Island of Statues: A Fragment’; ‘Two shepherds at dawn meet before the door of the shepherdess Nachina and sing to her in rivalry. There voices grow louder and louder as they try to sing each other down. At last she comes out, a little angry. An arrow flies across the scene. The two shepherds fly, being full of Arcadian timidity. Almintor, who is loved by Naschina, comes in, having shot the arrow at a heron. Naschina receives him angrily. Naschina is angry with him ...’ (‘Summary of Previous Scenes’, in Wandering of Oisin, 1889.) in the ensuing parts of this account, Almintor goes on a quest to the enchanted island to demonstrate his courage to her, and is turned to stone on chosing the wrong flower; Naschina follows him disguised as a shepherd, and is not recognised by the two shepherds, whom she tells to settle their dispute over her by combat, not believing they have the courage, though one of them kills the other.

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John Sherman and Dhoya (both 1891): John Sherman, living at Ballah [Sligo] with his mothers moves to a job in his uncle’s office in London, advised to go by his quiet, constent companion, Mary Carton. In London he meets a sophisticated charmer, Margaret Leland and, in a rash moment becomes engaged to her. Realising his mistake he invites a clergymen friend, Rev William Howard, to stay with him and meet his bethrothed. The two fall for each other and leave John free to return to Mary Carton, who first rejects him but finally comes to him at the end, realising that love is more than ambition. She had wanted him to make a figure in the world. Yeats’s comments to Katharine Tynan: ‘I have an ambition to be taken as an Irish Novelist, not as an English or cosmopolitan one choosing Ireland as a background. I studied my characters in Ireland and described a typical Irish feeling in Sherman’s devotion to Ballagh. A West of Ireland feeling, I might almost say, for like that of Allingham for Ballyshannon, it is West rather than National. Sherman belonged like Allingham to the small gentry who, in the West, at any rate, love their native places without perhaps loving Ireland. They do not travel and are shut off from England by the whole breadth of Ireland, with the result that they are forced to make their native town their world. I remember when we were children how intense our devotion was to all things in Sligo and still see in my mother the old feeling. I claim for this and other reasons that Sherman is as much an Irish novel as anything by, Banim or Griffin. Lady Wilde has written me an absurd and enthusiastic letter about it. She is queer enough to prefer it to my poems.’ (Letter to Tynan; Letters, ed. Wade, 187-88). Dhoya [the earlier composed], a slave from earliest childhood, has fits of passion so frequent and dangerous that his master lets him go; makes his home in cavern on west coast of Ireland, falling into furies more and more, ‘though there was no one but his own shadow to rave against’; furies stop abruptly when he falls in love with lady from fairy world, but finds she wishes to be loved but not to love; she is taken from him and he mounts and black steed and plunges over a cliff to death. John Sherman concerns a young man who prefers his native Ballah (Sligo) to every other place; wishes to marry rich woman so he can continue to dream; Rev. William Howard, High Church curate, is his opposite; Sherman lured to London to work as clerk; meets rich woman, but knows his dream life is impossible; turns his fiancée over to Howard and returns to his childhood sweetheart in Ballah where he will settle down to farming and dreaming; Howard says, ‘Your mind and mine are two arrows. Yours has got no feathers, and mine has no metal to the point.’ (Quoted in Richard Ellmann, Yeats: The Man and the Masks, 1948, pp.81-82.)

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The Countess Kathleen and Various Legends and Lyrics (London 1892) - the first and main text is a verse play written for Maud Gonne, in which Kevin, the bard, is distraught for love of the Countess, orig. written as “Countess Kathleen O’Shea” [var. O’Connor] and based on ‘The Countess Kathleen O’Shea’, in Fairy and Folk Tales (1888), pp.232-35, and revised to convince Maud Gonne that he could write for a general audience; and performed by the Irish Literary Theatre with Maud Gonne in the title role, in the Antient Concert Rooms [Gt. Brunswick St., Dublin] 8 May, 1899; published as The Countess Cathleen [sic] (London: T. Fisher Unwin 1895, & edns. ... 1912); it contains a scene which ‘should have the effect of a missal painting’, acc. the stage-directions. Note that the bard ‘Kevin’ of the former version becomes ‘Aleel’ in the later, as in the version that James Joyce saw and which Stephen Dedalus attends in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man [Chap. V]; the bard tries in vain to prevent the Countess from selling her soul to get money for her people. See also discussion of controversy of Countess Cathleen, in Conor Cruise O’Brien, States of Ireland (1972), p.60ff. (for text extracts, see Quotations, supra.)

The Countess Kathleen and Various Legends and Lyrics (1892); revised version printed in Poems (1895); rep. as The Countess Cathleen, 1899, 1901, 1904, 1908, 1912, 1916. 1913, 1919, 1920, 1922 [twice], 1923, 1294, 1927, 1929; also in The Poetical Works of W. B. Yeats, Vol. II: “Dramatic Poems”, 1907; rep. 1909, 1911. Collected Works in Verse and Prose of W. B. Yeats, Vol. III (Stratford 1908), Poetical Works, Vol. II (NY & London 1912, rep. 1914, 1916, 1917, 1919, 1921); A Selection from the Poetry of W. B. Yeats (Tauchnitz 1913, rep. 1922); Selected Poems (NY 19221); Plays and Controversies (London 1923, 1927; NY 1924); with Land of Heart’s Desire (London 1924, 1925, 1929); The Collected Plays of W. B. Yeats (1934, 1952; NY 1935, 1953).

The Countless Cathleen (1892) - Yeats’s comments: ‘[Ireland would] probably draw her deepest literary inspiration from this double fountainhead [i.e. pagan and Christian legend and feeling] if she ever, as is the hope of all her children, makes for herself a great distinctive poetic literature’. Further, ‘an attempt to mingle personal thought and feeling with the beliefs and customs of [Christ]ian Ireland’ (Prefatory declaration, pp.7-8.)

For Maud: “She [Maud Gonne] spoke to me of her wish for a play that she could act in Dublin ... I told her a story I had found when compiling my Fairy and Folk Tales of the Irish Peasantry, and offered to write for her the play I have called The Countess Cathleen. [...]” (Unpub. autobiog. [pres. Memoir], quoted in A. N. Jeffares & A. S. Knowland, Commentary on the Collected Plays of W. B. Yeats, Macmillan 1975, p.1.)

The Countless Cathleen (1892) - ‘The play is not historic, but symbolic and has little to do with any definite place and time as an auto by Calderón. One should look for the Countess Cathleen and the peasants and the demons not in history, but as Mr Johnston has done, in one’s own heart, and such costumes and scenery have been selected as will preserve the indefinite.’ (Beltaine, No. 1, May 1899, p.8.) ‘It was indeed the first performance of The Countess Cathleen when our stage pictures were made out of poor conventional scenery and hired costumes, that sent me writing plays where all would depend on the player.’ (Collected Works, 1908, III, rep. Russell K. Alspach, Variorum Edn., Macmillan 1966, p.1291; quoted in Flannery 1976, p.149).

The title: Jeffares and Knowland call the title-character ‘a symbol of Ireland’ and document Yeats’s various spellings of the name: Cathleen ny Houlihan (Samhain version), Cathleen Ni Hoolihan (printed title, 1902); Cathleen ni Houlihan, in The Hour Glass and Other Plays (1904); Kathleen Ni Hoolihan in his reply to queries in The United Irishmen (4 May 1902). Michael Yeats wrote that the title was inspird by a song written by the poet Blind William Heffernan. (M. Yeats, "W. B. Yeats and Irish Folk sons", in Southern Folk Lore Quarterly, XXXI, June 1966.) See A. N. Jeffares & A. S. Knowland, A Commentary on the Collected Plays of W. B. Yeats, London: Macmillan 1975, p.32.)

The Countless Cathleen (1892) - ‘The Countess Cathleen could speak a blank verse [524 ] which I had loosened, almost put out of joint, for her need, because I thought of her as medieval and thereby connected her with the general European movement. For Deirdre and Cuchulain and all the other figures of Irish legend are still in the whale’s belly.’ (“General Introduction for My Work”, 1935; in Essays and Introductions, 1961, 524-25; rep. in Richard Finneran, The Yeats Reader, Scribners 1997, p.414.)

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The Land of Heart’s Desire (1894), in which Fr. Hart promises a young woman to way to Heaven, but a child says to Mary: ‘But I can lead you, newly-married bride, / [to the land of Faery / Where nobody gets old and godly and grave, / Where nobody gets old and crafty and wise, / Where nobody gets old and bitter of tongue. (p.55; cited in part in Declan Kiberd, Inventing Ireland, 1995, p.103.) Note that Yeats later renounced The Land of Heart’s Desire: ‘We possess nothing but the will and we must never let the children of vague desires breathe upon it, not the waters of sentiment rust the terrible mirror of its blade [...] Let us have no emotions, however abstract, in which there is not an athletic joy.’ (Letter to “AE”, 1904). Further, Mary: ‘Father, I am right weary of four tongues: / A tongue that is too crafty and wise, / A tongue that is too godly and too grave, / A tongue that is more bitter than the tide, / And a kind tongue too full of drowsy love, / Of drowsy love and my captivity.’ (p.61.)

The Tables of the Law” - for information about Joachim Abbas of Flora, see under James Joyce > Notes > Joachim - supra. We know that the Latin phrases in the story were supplied by Lionel Johnson from Yeats's prose because of the inscription of 1901 on John Quinn's copy - viz., The Tables of the Law. The Adoration of the Magi (1897). See George J. Watson, ed., Short Fiction of W. B. Yeats (Penguin 1995), p.261 [n.17.]

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Cathleen Ni Houlihan (1902) - Yeats’s remarks (I) : ‘I have a play for a little religious play in one act with quite as striking a plot as Cathleen - it cannot offend anybody and may propitiate the Holy Church.’ (Letter to Lady Gregory, 10 April 1902, in Letters, Wade, p.370; quoted in Conor Cruise O’Brien, Ancestral Voices, Religion and Nationalism in Ireland, Dublin: Poolbeg 1994, p.62). In a further letter to Lady Gregory, Yeats described Cathleen ni Houlihan as ‘Ireland herself [...] for whom so many songs had been sung and for whom so many had gone to their death.’ (1903; quoted in Richard Kearney, ‘Myth and Terror’, in The Crane Bag, 2. 1 & 2, 1978; rep. in Crane Bag Book (1982), pp.273-87.)

Raison d’art: ‘I took a piece of human life, thoughts that men had felt, hopes that they had died for, and I put this into what I believe a sincere dramatic form. I have never written a play to advocate any kind of opinion and I think that such a play would be necessarily bad art, or at any rate a very humble find of art.’ (Quoted in Frank Tuohy, Yeats: An Illustrated Biography, Macmillan 1976, p.104.)

Cathleen Ni Houlihan (1902) - Yeats’s remarks (II): ‘Noble and Ignoble Loyalties’ [article by Yeats in United Irishman[?], 1900]: ‘What can these Royal Processions mean to those who walk in the procession of heroic and enduring hearts that has followed Cathleen ni Houlihan through the ages. have they not given their wills and their hearts and their dreams? What have they left for any less noble Royalty?’ (See Tuohy, op. cit., p.107.) Further, ‘Writing inThe United Irishman in 1902 Yeats said of Cathleen ni Houlihan, “My subject is Ireland and its struggle for independence. The scene is laid in the West of Ireland at the time of the French landing. It have described a household preparing for the wedding of the son of the house. Everyone expects some good things from the wedding. Into this household comes Cathleen Ni Houlihan herself, and the bridegroom leaves his bride, and th[eir] hopes come to nothing. It is the perpetual struggle of the cause of Ireland and every other ideal cause against private hopes and dreams, against all that we mean when we say the world” (United Irishman, 5 April 1902; quoted in Richard Ellmann, Yeats: The Man and the Masks, 1948, p.135; also in John McGovern, MA Diss. UUC 2002, citing The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing, 1991 Vol. 2, p.597.)

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Cathleen Ni Houlihan (1902) - Yeats’s remarks (III): Yeats wrote an interpretation in United Irishman (5 May 1902), explaining that he put in Cathleen ni Houlihan’s mouth verses ‘about all those who have died or are about to die for her and these verses are the key of the rest. She sings of one yellow-haired Donugh in stanzas that were suggested to me by some old Gaelic song.’ (The version given hear prefixes another stanza to that given in the play-text: ‘I will go cry with the woman, / For yellow-haired Donough is dead, / With a hempen rope for a neck-cloth, / And a white cloth on his head.’ (Coll. Plays, p.82; Jeffares, A New Commentary to the Poems, 1984, p.465.) Note: Jeffares provides a bibliography of materials on sources of the song - and hence the idea of the play - and cites the most likely source as Lady Gregory’s ‘West Irish Folk Ballads’, in The Monthly Review (Oct. 1902), rep. in Poets and Dreamers (1903; 1974 Edn., pp.44-45; Jeffares, op. cit., pp.466-67.)

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Cathleen Ni Houlihan (1902) - Yeats’s remarks (IV): ‘At the enquiry which preceded the granting of a patent to the Abbey Theatre I was asked if Cathleen ni Houlihan was not written to affect opinion. Certainly it was not. I had a dream one night which gave me a story, and I had certain emotions about this country, and I gave those emotions expression for my own pleasure. If I had written to convince others I would have asked myself, not “Is that exactly what I think and feel?” but “How would that strike so-and-so? How will they think and feel when they have read it?” And all would be oratorical and insincere. If we understand our own minds, and the things that are striving to utter themselves through our minds, we move others, not because we have understood or thought about those others, but because all life has the same root. Coventry Patmore has said, “the end of art is peace”, and the following of art is little different from the following of religion in the intense preoccupation it demands.’ (Samhain, 1905; rep. in Explorations [q.p.].)

Cathleen and 1916: ‘Did that play of mine send out / Certain men the English shot?’ (“The Man and the Echo”.) cf. - ‘I helped to create a form of emotion that drove to their deaths the poet Pearse and the essayist MacDonagh.’ (quoted in Elizabeth Butler Cullingford, Yeats and Fascism, 1981; p.88.)

Cathleen Ni Houlihan (1902) - Yeats’s remarks (IV) [speaking about art at the National Gallery]: ‘The President has just quoted a reference from some author about “Art for Art’s Sake”. When he (Mr Yeats) wrote Kathleen ni Houlihan he did not write it to make rebels. All he meant was that he, like every other artist, wrote that play to express his own feelings at a certain moment, to express them without thought of anybody else, to express them as the bird expresses itself when it sings. The bird was not trying to preach to anybody, the bird did not moralise to anyone; it gave no lessons - it merely sang its song. All artists were precisely the same. “Art for Art’s sake” meant art for the sake of sincerity, for the sake simply of natural speech coming from some simple, natural child-like soul.’ (Irish Times report, 1 Feb 1908; quoted in Richard Ellmann, Yeats: The Man and the Masks, 1948, p.259.) [Note that Ellmann quotes this solely to demonstrate how imagery of bird-song was ‘embedded’ in Yeats’s poetry and prose.]

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Cathleen Ni Houlihan (1902) - contemporary comments (I) - Patrick Pearse: ‘When I was a child I believed that there was actually a woman called Erin and had Mr Yeat’s Kathleen ni Houlihan been then written and had I seen it, I should have taken it, not as an allegory, but as a representation of a thing that might happen any day in any house.’ (The Spiritual Nation; Feb. 1916.)

Cathleen Ni Houlihan (1902) - contemporary comments (II) - Dorothy MacArdle testifies that Cathleen Hi Houlihan became one of the sacred works of Sinn Fein and the Republican Movements (The Irish Republic, Corgi 1968, p.58; cited in Flannery, 1976, p.100).

Cathleen Ni Houlihan (1902) - contemporary comments (III) - P. S. O’Hegarty, a Republican rebel, referred to it as a ‘sort of sacrament’, and Constance Markievicz hailed it from her execution cell in 1916 as a ‘gospel’ [see under O’Hegarty, supra].

Cathleen Ni Houlihan (1902) - contemporary comments (IV): Countess Markievicz in Aylesbury Prison in 1916 said: ‘They shall be remembered forever, and even poor little me shall not be forgotten’, and wrote to Eva from prison on the same occasion, ‘That play of W.B.’s was a sort of gospel to me’ (The foregoing all quoted in Conor Cruise O’Brien, Ancestral Voices, Religion and Nationalism in Ireland, Dublin: Poolbeg 1994, p.68-69.)

Cathleen Ni Houlihan (1902) - contemporary comments (V): Maud Gonne, quoted Yeats’s Cathleen ni Houlihan on the execution of the 1916 leaders: ‘The deaths of those leaders are full of beauty and romance. They will be speaking forever, the people will hear them forever.’ (q. source; prob. Conor Cruise O’Brien.)

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Cathleen Ni Houlihan (1902) - contemporary comments (VI): Stephen Gwynn wrote - ‘The effect of Cathleen ni Houlihan on me was that I went home asking myself if such plays should be produced unless one was prepared for people to go out to shoot and be shot. Yeats was not alone responsible; no doubt but Lady Gregory had helped him to get the peasant speech so perfect; but above all Miss Gonne’s impersonation had stirred the audience as I have never seen another audience stirred’. (Irish Literature and Drama, 1936, p.158; quoted in A. N. Jeffares, New Commentary on the Poems of W. B. Yeats, Macmillan 1984, p.423; also in Jeffares, A New Biography, Macmillan 1988, p.138, and Conor Cruise O’Brien, Ancestral Voices, Religion and Nationalism in Ireland, Dublin: Poolbeg 1994) [q.p.].

Cathleen Ni Houlihan (1902) - contemporary comments (VII) - Forrest Reid: ‘Cathleen Ni Houlihan aroused in me an eager spirit of patriotism, the very existence of which I had not suspected. It was strange, because it wasn’t in the least bit mixed up with politics. It was more like a family feeling - the feling one has for brothers and sisters, which lies dormant and unrealised until an outsider says something in disparagement of them.’ (Quoted in John Boyd & Stephen Gilbert, eds., Threshold, Spring 1977, pp.64-65.)

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Cathleen Ni Houlihan (1902) - contemporary comments (VIII): Sean O’Casey (Autobiographies) - ‘Cathleen Ni Houlihan, in her bare feet is singing, for her pride that had almost gone is come back again. In tattered gown and hair uncombed she sings, shaking the ashes from her hair, she is singing of men that in battle array [...] march with banner and fife to the death, for their land [...] The face of Ireland twitches when the guns again sing, but she stands ready, waiting to fasten around her white neck this jewelled story of death, for these are they who will speak to her people for ever; that Spirit that had gone from her bosom returns.’ (Quoted in Richard Kearney, ‘Myth and Terror’, in The Crane Bag, 2, 1 & 2, 1978; rep. in Crane Bag Book, Dublin: Blackwater Press 1982, pp.273-87; p.287, n.17.)

[Note that O’Casey borrows ‘hearts o’ stone’ from Yeats’s “Easter 1916”.] ‘But Cathleen, the daughter of Houlihan, walks firm now, a flush on her haughty cheek. She hears the murmur in the people’s hearts. Her lovers are fathering round her, for things are changing, changed utterly: A terrible beauty is born. / Poor, dear, dead men; poor W. B. Yeats.’ (Drums Under the Window, quoted in Kearney, op. cit., 1982, p.287, n.17; also in P. J. Kavanagh, Voices in Ireland, 1994, p.280.)

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Cathleen Ni Houlihan (1902) - contemporary comments (IX): Padraic Colum: ‘An Irishman knows well how those who met their deaths will be regarded. They shall be remembered for ever; they shall be speaking for ever; the people shall hear them for ever.’ (Introduction, Poems of the Irish Revolutionary Brotherhood, Boston 1916). See also G. B. Shaw’s letter to Lady Gregory following the London performance of Cathleen Ni Houlihan: ‘When I see that play I feel it might lead a man to do something foolish.’ (Lawrence & Grene, ed., Letters, p.xiii.)

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Cathleen Ni Houlihan (1902) - scholarly remarks (I): Richard Kearney, ‘Myth and Terror’, in ‘Myth and Terror’, in The Crane Bag, 2:1 & 2, 1978); rep. in Crane Bag Book, 1982, pp.273-87: ‘In Cathleen Ni Houlihan, Cathleen summons Michael Darcy, a young peasant about to be married, to revolt, counselling blood-sacrifice as the only means to national redempton; In return for such sacrifice she promises that the heroes “shall be remembered for ever”; the play aroused deep reverberations in the Irish nationalist consciousness when it first appeared in 1902’ (q.p.).

Cathleen Ni Houlihan (1902) - scholarly remarks (II): Colbert Kearney, ‘St Stephen’s Green’, in Augustine Martin, ed., James Joyce: The Artist and the Labyrinth - A Critical Re-Evaluation, London: Ryan Publ. 1990): For the construction of the Countess as a goddess who only reveals herself on departure, cf. Aeneid: ‘Venus finished speaking and as she turned away her beauty shimmered, a rosetint glowed about her neck and her sacred hair exuded a divine perfume. her gown trailed down to her feet and it was her walk which revealed that she was indeed a goddess.’ (p.106)

Cathleen Ni Houlihan (1902) - scholarly remarks (III): Roy Foster, ‘When the Newspaper have forgotten me ...’, in Yeats Annual 12, ed. Warwick Gould and Edna Longley (1996), notes that O’Hegarty’s calls Kathleen Ni Houlihan ‘a play of captivity’ whose impact was impossible to capture in the independent Ireland of 1939 appreciation of W. B. Yeats [at the time of his death] in Dublin Magazine (July-Sept. 1939), while the Irish Press carried a leader tracing the canonical connection between Yeats, the literary revival and Easter 1916. (p.167.)

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The Speckled Bird: ‘My chief person was to see all the modern visionary sects pass before his eyes, as Flaubert’s St Anthony say the Christian sects, and I was as helpless to create artistic, as my chief person to create philosophic order’; the hero, Michael Hearne, is son of Catholic landowner in West, sharing backgrounds of Moore and Martyn; starves himself like old peasant to induce visions; includes comic portrait of Mathers as Maclagan, and further indications of growing scepticism about Gold Dawn (‘I think [...] they are the people of unbalanced mind’). Further, The Speckled Bird was named from the biblical verse, ‘Mine inheritance is as the speckled bird, all the birds of heaven are against it.’ [Cited in Richard Ellmann, Yeats, the Man and the Masks (1948), p.25.]

At the Hawk’s Well [1916], a play in the Noh manner, to Pound, at Stone Cottage (Ashdown), Jan. 1916; performed in Lady Cunard’s drawing room and next in Lady Islington’s in the presence of stone-deaf Queen Alexandra and with T. S. Eliot among audience, March [var. April] 1916, to designs by Edmund Dulac and with a dance of the hawk by Michio Ito, a former Noh actor discovered by Pound living in poverty in a back room in London, while Pound replaces the non-literary actor Henry Ainley in rehearsal.

The Celtic Twilight [Preface:] ‘Many of the tales in this book were told to be by one Paddy Flynn, a little bright-eyeed old man, who lived in a leaky and one-roomed caibin in the village of Ballisodare. [...] These poor countrymen and countrywomen in their beliefs, and in their emotions, are many years nearer to that old Greek world, that set beauty beside the fountain of things, than are our men of learning.’ (Mythologies, p.28).

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A Full Moon in March (1935), a play about a Stroller (or swineherd) who reaches physical and spiritual fulfilment only when he has his ideal lady beheaded, and based on Wilde’s Salomé; printed in a volume of that name with Parnell’s Funeral and Other Poems; Yeats regarded Salomé’s dance as ‘part of the old ritual of the year: the mother goddess and the slain god’ (Variorum Poems, p.840.) note also that the young Yeats considered ‘Salomé is thoroughly bad’ (Letters to Sturge Moore, p.8; Albright, ed., Poems, 1992, p.755).

Purgatory (1938), printed in Last Poems and Two Plays (1939), a play of 223 lines (Abbey 10 Aug., 1938), ande set in Castle Dargan - a place associated with Col. Richard Martin and a famous case of arson - hence: ‘To kill a house / Where great men grew up. married, died, / I here declare a capital offence.’ The play deals with the universal hatred between the generations and the power of the dead over the living. In it The Old Man says after killing his own son: ‘He would have struck a woman’s fancy, / Begot, and passed pollution on.’ (Quoted in Brenda Maddox, Yeats’s Ghosts: The Secret Life of W. B. Yeats, NY: HarperCollins 1999, p.361.). The play ends: ‘O God, / Release my mother’s soul from its dream! / Mankind can do no more. Appease / The misery of the living and the remorse of the dead.’ (Idem.)

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Oxford Book of Modern Verse 1892-1935 (1936): On the rejection of Wilfrid Owen: Dorothy Wellesley noted, ‘On this point he remained adamant, holding that “passive suffering was not a subject for poetry”, even as a passive attitude towards nature did not make fine poetry. The creative man must impose himself upon suffering, as he must also upon Nature.’ (Letters to D. W.; Warner Notes).

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A Vision (1925; 1937): The new edition (1937) dispenses with the dedication to “Vestigia” (Moina Mathers), and substitutes a group of three meditations on the origin of A Vision itself, collected as “A Packet for Ezra Pound” - who called the whole production very bughouse. Following the letter to him, however, the introductory material reverts to the fictive version of the text’s genesis involving fictional characters from Yeats’s earlier writings and some new ones. The body of the work itself (in five “books”) involves overlaps and displacements amount to an open-ended system of revisions. Book I explains the 28 lunar phases and interlocking gyres (with diagrams). It then describes the corresponding character-types. Book II introduces a larger gyre dealing with life and death (where the gyre in Book I dealt only with life). Book III gives an account of what happens to the soul in death before its cyclical return to life (the “dreaming back”). Books IV and V outline the cycle-wheeling pattern of history relating particular phases of Western civilisation to the interpenetrating movement of the gyres. The Visions [both] ends with the poem “All Souls’ Night”, written in 1920. (See Hazard Adams, The Book of Yeats’s Vision, Michigan UP 1995, pp.7-8.) Yeats assigned himself to Phase 17. [For text and Yeats’s comments, see under Quotations, supra.]

Timetable of Automatic Writing by Mrs George Yeats contributing to the text of A Vision (1925)

Date Place No. of sessions No. of questions Pages preserved Vision Papers
24 Oct - 4 Nov 1917 Ashdown Forest Hotel
5 Nov - 12 Nov 1917 Ashdown Forest Hotel & Stone Cottage 13 33 93 I: 55-84
20 Nov - 7 Dec 1917 Stone Cottage, Ashdown Forest 21 723 284 I: 85-159
21 Dec - 25 Dec 1917 Ashdown Cottage 4 136 77 I: 160-179
31 Dec 1917 - 1 Jan 1918 London or Oxford 2 81 26 I: 179-187
2 Jan - 5 Mar 1918 Oxford 55 1778 591 I: 187-378
11 Mar 1918 Dublin 1 2 I: 379-381
14 Mar - 27 Mar 1918 Glendalough 9 225 91 I: 381-404
30 Mar - 2 Apr 1918 Glenmalure 5 143 37 I: 404-418
7 Apr - 2 May 1918 Coole & Ballinamantane 11 173 69 I: 419-440
9 May - 9 Sep 1918 Ballinamantane 54 1004 431 I: 441-511 & II: 1-54
14 Sep - 17 Sept 1918 Rosses Point 3 77 22 II: 54-58
18 Sep 1918 Sligo 1 24 7 II: 59-61
21 Sep - 23 Sep 1918 Ballylee 3 47 18 II: 61-66
24 Sep - 11 Dec 1918 Dublin 33 595 212 II: 67-133
16 Dec - 22 Dec 1918 Enniskerry 7 150 61 II: 133-149
24 Dec 1918 - 8 Jan 1919 Dublin 9 131 90 II: 149-166
9 Jan - 17 Jan 1919 Lucan 7 112 61 II: 166-180
19 Jan - 16 Feb 1919 Dublin 15 134 77 II: 180-199
20 Mar - 29 Mar 1919 Dundrum 9 258 84 II: 200-225
31 Mar 1919 Dublin 1 18 5 II: 226-227
1 Apr - 6 May 1919 Dundrum 28 605 190 II: 227-283
21 May - 25 May 1919 London 3 67 16 II: 284-290
28 May - 29 May 1919 Oxford 2 33 10 II: 290-293
31 May - 8 Jun 1919 London 4 68 28 II: 293-299
16 Jun - 30 Jun 1919 Ballylee 12 226 108 II: 299-324
2 Jul - 3 Jul 1919 Kilkenny 2 8 II: 324-326
14 Jul - 24 Jul 1919 Ballylee 6 90 43 II: 326-336
25 Jul 1919 Galway 1 18 5 II: 336-338
26 Jul - 1 Aug 1919 Oughterard 7 128 53 II: 338-352
2 Aug - 15 Aug 1919 Ballylee 14 279 92 II: 352-380
20 Aug 1919 Renvyle 1 3 II: 380-381
22 Aug - 23 Sep 1919 Ballylee 28 524 208 II: 381-441
12 Oct - 27 Oct 1919 Oxford 17 226 99 II: 442-469
30 Oct 1919 London 1 1 II: 469
4 Nov 1919 - 4 Jan 1920 Oxford 42 398 232 II: 469-530
7 Jan 1920 London 1 11 6 II: 530-531
27 Jan - 1 Feb 1920 New York 2 9 4 II: 531-532
1 Mar 1920 Chicago 1 8 5 II: 533
21 Mar 1920 Portland OR 1 16 9 II: 534-536
24 Mar 1920 Train, on way to San Francisco 1 7 II: 536-537
28 Mar - 29 Mar 1920 Pasadena, LA 2 25 11 II: 537-540
29 Apr 1920 Train, en route from Cleveland to New York 1 1 1 III: 13-14
16 May - 17 May 1920 New York 2 6 III: 15-16
20 Jun 1920 London 1 1 III: 24
15 Sep - 24 Sep 1920 Oxford 4 26 8 III: 43-48
25 Jan - 26 Jan 1921 Stone Cottage, Ashdown Forest 2 19 7 III: 66-68
4 Jun 1921 Shillingford 1 2 III: 94
undated (‘Examination of my horoscope’) unplaced 1 40 10
undated (loose) unplaced unk. 13 126
Totals 450 8672 3627
Date Place No. of sessions Pages preserved Vision Papers
28 Mar - 28 Apr 1920 Pasadena; New York; Chicago & on trains 20 22 III: 8-13
10 May - 14 May 1920 Travelling 2 3 III: 14-15
15 May - 12 Jun 1920 New York 8 16 III: 16-20
15 May - 12 Jun 1920 Montreal 1 107 III: 21
30 May 1920 on SS Megantic 2 III: 21-24
19 Jun - 12 Aug 1920 London 16 6 notes III: 24-32
13 Aug 1920 - 11 Jan 1921 Oxford 41 7 notes III: 32-65
11 Jan - 9 Feb 1921 Oxford ‘various’ III: 68-70
19 Jan 1921 Wells 2 98
18 Feb 1921 Oxford 2 III: 84-85
6 Apr- 10 Apr 1921 Shillingford 4 III: 85-90
12 Apr 1921 Dorchester, Oxon. 1 III: 90
19 Apr - 25 Apr 1921 Shillingford 4 III: 91-94
4 Sep - 27 Sep 1921 Thame 7 III: 94-99
7 Oct 1921 - 5 Jan 1922 Oxford 11 III: 99-104
2 May - Jun 6 1922 Ballylee 11 III: 104-107
16 Jun - 26 Jun 1922 Ballylee 5 16 III: 116-119
4 Jul - 6 Jul 1923 Ballylee or Dublin 3 7
14 Jul - 27 Nov 1923 Dublin 10
21 Mar 1924 Dublin 1 1 III: 119
Totals 164 270

Virginia Moore, The Unicorn: William Butler Yeats' Search for Reality (NY: Macmillan 1954): ‘I call Mrs. Yeats to witness. Though shying a little from the subject - understandably, for she has been hounded - she told me in 1952, that, whereas, in the beginning, Yeats (and presumably herself) did think the messages spirit-sent, and therefore proof of communions between the living and dead, he saw them later as a dramatized “apprehension of the truth.” If not from the dead, from whom, from what, this “truth”? From their own higher selves.’ (pp.277-78.)

See Yeats's Vision [website] - online; access 21.10.2018; and note copy of The Unicorn bibl. note on this site - via link.

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