William Butler Yeats - Quotations (2): Essays and Introductions

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Celtic Element in Literature (in Cosmopolis, 1898; rep. 1902

‘All folk literature has indeed a passion whose like is not in modern literature and music and art, except where it comes by some straight or crooked way out of ancient times. Love was held to be a fatal sickness in ancient Ireland [...].’ (Rep. in Essays & Introductions, Macmillan 1961, p.180.)

‘Nor do the Irish weigh and measure their hatred [...] The ancient farmers and herdsmen were full of love and hatred, and made their friends gods, and their enemies the enemies of gods, and those who keep their traditions are not less mythological. From this “mistaking dreams”, which are perhaps essences, for “realities”, which are perhaps accidents, from this “passionate, turbulent reaction against the despotism of fact”, comes, it may be, that melancholy which made all ancient peoples delight in tales that end in death and parting, as modern peoples delight in tales that end in marriage bells; and made all ancient peoples, who, like the old Irish, had a nature more lyrical than dramatic, delight in wild and beautiful lamentations.’ (Ibid., pp.181-81.)

‘Men did not mourn merely because their beloved was married to another, or because learning was bitter in the mouth, for such mourning believes that life might be happy were it different, and is therefore the less mourning, but because they had been born and must die with their great thirst unslaked.’ (Ibid., pp.181-82; for longer extracts see infra.)


The Works of William Blake (1893)
The Poetry of William Blake (1910)
“Old Gaelic Love Songs” (1893)
“Irish Nation Literature” (1895)
“Celtic Element in Literature” (1898)
“The Lit. Movement in Ireland” (1901)
“Modern Irish Poetry” (1904)
“Poetry and Tradition” (1907)
“Poetry in Ireland” (1908)
“The Tragic Theatre” (1910)
“Letter to The Irish Worker” (1913)
“If I Were Four and Twenty” (1919)
Early Poems & Stories (1925) - Dedication
Early Poems & Stories (1925) - Notes
King of the Great Clock Tower (1935)
Oxford Book of Modern Verse (1936)
“General Intro. for My Work” (1935)
“A Discussion of Style” (1936)
“General Intro. to My Plays” (1937)

The Works of William Blake: Poetic, Symbolic and Critical, ed. Edwin John Ellis & W. B. Yeats, Vol. 1 (London: Bernard Quaritch 1893): “The Necessity of Symbolism” [intro. chap.]: ‘The Hindu, in the sculptured caverns of Elephanta; the gipsy, in the markings of the sea shell he carries to bring him good fortune; the Rosicrucian student [ftn.] in the geometric symbols of medieval magic, the true reader of Blake in the entangled histories of Urizen and his children, alike discover a profound answer to the riddle of the world. Do they find anything in their obscure oracles that cannot be known from the much more intelligible dialectics and experiments of modern science and modern philosophy? To answer this question it is necessary to analyze the method whereby the mystic seeks for truth, and to inquire what the truth is he seeks for. Blake has discussed the first portion of his problem in many places, but particularly in two tractates called “There is no Natural Religion”. By Natural Religion he understood attempts to build up a religious or spiritual life from any adjustment or “ratio” of the impressions derived from the five senses. These impressions may, indeed, be used in poetry and prophesy as a key to unlock religious truths, but “correspondence”, as Swedenborg called the symbolic relation of out to inner, is itself no product of nature or natural reasons, beginning as it does with a perception of a something different from natural things with which they are to be compared. “Natural Religion” was two-fold to Blake. It was a solution of problems and a restraint of conduct: when only a restraint it was deadening, when only a solution it was [...; p.239?]’

Cont. (“Necessity of Symbolism”): ‘Sometimes the mystical student, bewildered by the different systems, forgets for a moment that the history of moods is the history of the universe, and asks where is the final statement - the complete doctrine. The universe is itself that doctrine and that statement. All others are partial, for it alone is the symbol of the infinite thought which is in turn symbolic of the universal mood we name God.’ (p.239.)

Cont. (“Necessity of Symbolism”): ‘As natural things and intellectual things differ by discrete degrees, so do intellectual things differ by discrete degrees from emotional. We have thus three great degrees the first of which is external: the first two possessing form, physical and mental respectively, and the third having no form nor substance - dwelling not in space but in time only.’ (pp.239-40.)

Cont. (“Necessity of Symbolism”): ‘[...] The systems of philosophy and dogmas of religion are to the mystic of the Blakean school merely symbolic expressions of racial moods or emotions - the essences of truth - seeking to express themselves in terms of racial memory and experience - the highest degree cloaking itself, as it were, in the second. The German produces transcendental metaphysics, the Englishman positive science, not because either one has discovered the true method of research, but because they express their racial moods or affections. The most perfect truth is simply the dramatic expression of the most complete man. “no man can think, write, or speak,” says Blake in the second Natural Religion booklet, “from his heart but he must intend the truth. Thus all sects of philosophy are from the poetic genius adapted to the weaknesses of every individual.” (pp.240-41.) For longer quotations from The Ellis-Yeats edition of The Works of Blake and Yeats’ annotations on his own copy made in May 1900, see RICORSO, Library“Irish Classics” > W. B. Yeats [as attached]. [Cont.]

The Poetry of William Blake, ed. & sel. by W. B. Yeats (London: Routledge, 1893; reiss. 1910) [i.e, riss. of Elkin Mathews Edn. of 1905 - being a republication of the Bullen edition of 1897 with a new preface] - Introduction: ‘[...] The great contest of imagination with reason is described throughout “The Prophetic Books” under many symbols, but chiefly under the symbolic conflict of Los, the divine formative principle which comes midway between absolute existence and corporeal life, with Urizen, “the God of this world” and maker of dead law and blind negation. Blake considered this doctrine to be of the utmost importance, and claimed to have written it under the dictation of spiritual presences. “I have written this poem from immediate dictation,” he wrote, of “Jerusalem”, “twelve or sometimes twenty or thirty lines at a time without premeditation, and even against my will. The time it has taken in writing was thus rendered non-existent, and an immense poem exists which seems the labour of a long life, all produced without labour or study.” It is not possible in a short essay like the present to do more than record these things, for to discuss and to consider what these presences we would need many pages. Whatsoever they were, presences or mere imaginings, the words they dictated remain for our wonder and delight. There is not one among these words which is other than significance and precise to the laborious [xxxv] student, and many passages of simple poetry and the marvel of the pictures remain for all who cannot or will not give the needed labour. Merlin’s book lies open before us, and if we cannot decipher its mysterious symbols, then we may dream over the melody of evocations that are not for our conjuring, and over the strange colours and woven forms of the spread pages.’ (pp.xxxv-i; for longer extracts, see RICORSO, Library, “Irish Literary Classics” - W. B. Yeats, infra.]

[ Note that the holograph preface to the reprint editions of 1905 & 1910 include remarks on a “young man” who like the stories and nothing else I have written which are taken to refer to James Joyce - as supra. ]

Old Gaelic Love Songs’, review of Douglas Hyde, Love Songs of Connacht], in Bookman (1893), rep. in Robert Welch, ed., W. B. Yeats: Irish Folklore, Legends and Myth, Penguin 1993, pp.91-94: ‘As for me, I close the book [Hyde’s Love Songs of Connacht] with much sadness. Those poor peasants lived in a beautiful if somewhat inhospitable world, where little had changed since Adam delved and Eve span. Everything was so old that it was steeped in the heart, and every powerful emotion found at once noble types and symbols for its expression. But we - we live in a world of whirling change, where nothing becomes old and sacred, and our powerful emotions, unless we be highly-trained artists, express themselves in vulgar types and symbols. The soul then had but to stretch out its arms to fill them with beauty, but now all manner of heterogeneous ugliness has beset us. A peasant had then but to stand in his own door and think of his sweetheart and of his sorrow, and take from the scene about him and from the common events of his life types and symbols, and behold, if chance was a little kind, he had made a poem to humble generations of the proud. And we - we labour and labour, and spend days over a stanza or a paragraph, and at the end of it have made, likely as not, a mere bundle of phrases. Yet perhaps this very stubborn uncomeliness of life, divorced from hill and field, has made us feel the beauty of these songs in a way the people who made them did not, despite their proverb: A tune is more lasting than the song of the birds, A word is rnore lasting than the riches of the world. We stand outside the wall of Eden and hear the trees talking together within, and their talk is sweet in our ears.’ (End; Welch, op. cit., p.94.)

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Irish National Literature, I: From Callanan to Carleton’, The Bookman (July 1895). Extract: ‘[S]ome of my countrymen include among national writers all writers born in Ireland, but I prefer, though it greatly takes from the importance of our literature, to include only those who have written under Irish influence and of Irish subjects.’ [MOORE, DAVIS, MITCHEL] ‘borrowed the mature English methods of utterance and used them to sing of Irish wrongs or preach of Irish purposes. Their work was never quite satisfactory, for what was Irish in it looked ungainly in an English garb, and what was English was never perfectly mastered, never wholly absorbed into their being.’ [J. J. Callanan by contrast achieved] ‘greater simplicity and charm’; ‘despite their constant clumsiness and crudity, they brought into the modern world the cold vehemence, the arid definiteness, the tumultuous movement, the immeasurable dreaming of the Gaelic literature’ (Frayne, 1970, Uncollected Prose, Vol. I, p.360-64).

Irish National Literature, III’, 1895 (The Bookman,Sept. 1895): ‘[T]hough they [Hyde’s Love Songs of Connacht] have none of the verbal extravagance of the bards, they seem to be continually straining to express something which lies beyond the possibility of expression, some vague, immeasurable emotion’.

‘Irish National Literature, IV: A List of the Best Irish Books’ (The Bookman, Oct. 1895; rep. in Frayne, ed., Vol. 1, p.385ff): ‘The most that read Irish national literature read from patriotism and political enthusiasm, and make no distinction between literature and rhetoric’; castigates educated readers who ‘are themselves full of a different, but none the less noisy, political passion, and are, with some admirable exceptions, too anti-Irish to read an Irish book of any kind, other than a book of jokes or partisan argument’; ‘the professor of literature at Trinity College, Dublin [i.e., Dowden] is one of the most placid, industrious, and intelligent of contemporary critics when he writes on an English or a German subject, but the “introduction” to his last book of essays [...] accused Irish writers with great heat of “raving of Brian Beru” [...] and having neither scholarship nor “accuracy” [...] It is too empty of knowledge and sympathy to influence to any good purpose the ignorant patriotic masses, and it comes with enough authority to persuade the undergraduates and the educated classes that neither the history, nor the poetry, nor the folklore, nor the stories which are interwoven with their native mountains and valleys are worthy of anything but contempt.’ (Frayne, I, pp.382-87).

Celtic Element in Literature’ (Cosmopolis, June 1898; rep. in Ideas of Good and Evil, A. H. Bullen, 1902, pp.270-95, with a postcript; rep. [with notes of 1924] in Essays & Introductions, 1961, pp.173-88): Yeats begins by quoting ‘sentences’ from Renan, and more so, from Arnold in his Study of Celtic Literature): ‘[...] Matthew Arnold, in The Study of Celtic Literature, has accepted this passion for Nature, this imaginativeness, this melancholy, as Celtic characteristics, but has described them more elaborately [than Ernest Renan]. The Celtic passion for Nature comes almost more from a sense of her “mystery” than her “beauty”, and it adds “charm and magic” to Nature, and the Celtic imaginativeness and melancholy are alike “a passionate, turbulent, indomitable reaction against the despotism of fact”.’ The Celt is [173] not melancholy, as Faust or Werther are melancholy, from “a perfectly definite motive”, but because something about him, “unaccountable, defiant and titanic.” How well one knows these sentences, better even than Renan’s, and how well one knows the passages of prose and verse which he used to prove that wherever English literature has the qualities these sentences describe, it has them from a Celtic source. Though I do not think any of us who write about Ireland have built any argument from them, it is well to consider them a little, and see where they are helpful and where they hurtful. If we do not, we may go mad some day, and the enemy root up our rose-garden and plant a cabbage-garden instead. Perhaps we may re-state a little Renan’s and Arnold’s argument.’ (Yeats, Essays & Introductions, 1961, p.173-88; pp.173-34.) [Cont.]

Note - the following paragraph is printed in Irish Folklore and Legend [... &c.], ed. Robert Welch (Penguin 1993), p.190 as coming from Uncollected Prose, ed. Frayne [1970] where it is reprinted, in turn, from the first version published in Cosmopolis (June 1898) and reduced to a single sentence by Yeats - ‘Perhaps we may re-state a little Renan’s and Arnold’s argument’ - in Ideas of Good and Evil(1902)- whence the text of Essays and Introductions is taken:

‘I am going to make a claim for the Celt, but I am not going to make quite the same claim that Ernest Renan and Mathew Arnold made. Matthew Arnold, and still more Ernest Renan, wrote before the activity in the study of folk-lore and of folk literature of our own day had begun to give us so many new ideas about old things. When we talk to-day about the delight in nature, about the imaginativeness, about the melancholy of the Celt, we cannot help thinking of the delight in nature, of the imaginativeness, of the melancholy of the makers of the Icelandic Edda, and of the Kalavala and of many other folk literatures, and we soon grow persuaded that much that Matthew Arnold and Ernest Renan thought wholly or almost wholly Celtic is of the substance of the minds of the ancient farmers and herdsmen. One comes to think of the Celt as an ancient farmer or herdsman, who sits bowed with the dreams of his unnumbered years, in the gates of the rich races, talking of forgotten things. Is the Celt’s feeling for nature, and for the “lower creation”, one of those forgotten things? Because we have come to associate the ancient beliefs about nature with “savage customs” and with books written by men of science, we have almost forgotten that they are still worth dreaming about and talking about. It is only when we describe them in some language, which is not the language of science, that we discover they are beautiful.’ (Celtic Element in Irish Literature - rep. in Irish Folklore and Legend [... &c.], ed. Robert Welch, Penguin 1993, p.190 - citing Uncollected Prose, ed. Frayne [1970].)

[Note (cont.): Welch does not point out the difference between the two versions. In his notes he writes, instead: ‘Starting with Matthew Arnold and Ernest Renan, both of whom he has studied carefully, he argues that a “Celtic” element is significant for modern literature because Irish folklore retains connections with the primary impulses of human nature that are evident in Irish and Celtic mythology. The argument evolves from Arnold but becomes quite different: Arnold holds that Celtic sensibility was crucial in order to make the Saxon or Germanic temperament more sensitive; whereas Yeats’s contention is that the Celtic (and therefore Irish) genius, as expressed its folklore and mythology, is universal, therefore absolutely valid.’ (Notes on “The Celtic Element in Literature” [1898], pp.422-26; p.423.)

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—from Essays and Introductions(Macmillan 1961); available at Springer link - online; accessed 29.09.2017.

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Celtic Element in Literature’ (1898) - cont.: ‘Once every people in the world believed that trees were divine and could take a human or grotesque shape and dance among the shadows [...] All the old literatures were full of these or of like imaginations [...] this way of looking at things’ (p.175.)

Further: ‘The Old Irish and the old Welsh, though they had less of the old way than the makers of the Kalevala, had more of it than the makers of the Sagas, and it is this that distinguishes the examples Matthew Arnold quotes of their ‘natural magic’, of their sense of “the mystery” more than of “the beauty” of Nature. When [175] Matthew Arnold wrote, it was not easy to know as much as we know now of folk-song and folk-belief, and I do not think he understood that our “natural magic” is but the ancient religion of the world, the ancient world of Nature and that troubled ecstasy before her, that certainty of beautiful places being haunted, which it brought into men’s minds.’ (Essays & Introductions, p.175-76.) [...; cont.]

Celtic Element in Literature’ (1897) - cont.: ‘All folk literature that keeps the folk tradition, delights in unbounded and immortal things [...] Cuchulain in the folk-tale had the passion of victory, and he overcame all men, and died warring upon the waves, because they alone had the strength to overcome him [...] Oisin, new come from his three hundred years of faeryland, and of the love that is in faeryland, bids Saint Patrick cease his prayers a while and listen to the blackbird, because it is the blackbird of Derrycarn that Finn brought from Norway three hundred years before, and set its nest upon the oak-tree with his own hands [...] surely if one goes far enough into the woods, one will find there all that one is seeking?’ (p.179) [...]

Further: ‘All folk literature has indeed a passion whose like is not in modern literature and music and art, except where it comes by some straight or crooked way out of ancient times. Love was held to be a fatal sickness in ancient Ireland.’ (p.180.) [Cont.]

Celtic Element in Literature’ (1898) - cont.: ‘[...] Nor do the Irish weigh and measure their hatred [...] The ancient farmers and herdsmen were full of love and hatred, and made their friends gods, and their enemies the enemies of gods, and those who keep their traditions are not less mythological. From this “mistaking dreams”, which are perhaps essences, for “realities”, which are perhaps accidents, from this “passionate, turbulent reaction against the despotism of fact”, comes, it may be, that melancholy which made all ancient peoples delight in tales that end in death and parting, as modern peoples delight in tales that end in marriage bells; and made all ancient peoples, who, like the old Irish, had a nature more lyrical than dramatic, delight in wild and beautiful lamentations.’

Further: ‘Men did not mourn merely because their beloved was married to another, or because learning was bitter in the mouth, for such mourning believes that life might be happy were it different, and is therefore the less mourning, but because they had been born and must die with their great thirst unslaked.’ (Ibid., 180-82; quoted [in small part] in Aaron Kelly, Twentieth-Century Literature in Ireland: A Reader's Guide to Essential Criticism, Palgrave Macmillan 2008, p.10.) [Cont.]

Celtic Element in Literature’ (1898), cont.: ‘Matthew Arnold quotes the lamentation of Llywarch Hen as a type of the Celtic melancholy, but I prefer to quote it as a type of the primitive melancholy’ (Ibid., p.183.)

Further [commencing Sect IV]: ‘Matthew Arnold asks how much of the Celt must one imagine in the ideal man of genius, I prefer to say, how much of the ancient hunters and fishers and of the ecstatic dancers among hills and woods must one imagine in the ideal man of genius? Certainly a thirst for unbounded emotion and a wild melancholy are troublesome things in the world, and do not make its life more easy or orderly, but it may be the arts are founded on the life beyond the world, and that they must cry in the ears of our penury until the world has been consumed and become a vision. Certainly, as Samuel Palmer wrote, excess is the vivifying spirit of the finest art, and we must always seek to make excess more abundantly excessive. Matthew Arnold has said that if he were asked “where English got its turn for natural magic”, he “would answer with little doubt that it got much of its melancholy from a Celtic source, with no doubt at all that from a Celtic source it got nearly all its natural magic.” I will put this differently and say that literature dwindles to a mere chronicle of circumstances, or passionless fantasies, and passionless meditations, unless it is constantly flooded with the passions and beliefs of ancient times, and that of all the fountains of the passions and beliefs of ancient times in Europe, the Slavonic, the Finnish, the Scandinavian, and the Celtic, the Celtic alone has been for centuries close to the main river of European literature. It has again brought the “vivifying spirit” “of excess” [sic] into the arts of Europe. [Here Yeats cites Renan on the story of Lough Derg as providing the ‘framework’ of the Divine Comedy] The reaction against the rationalism of the eighteenth century and the symbolical movement, which has come to perfection in Germany with Wagner, in England in the Pre-Raphaelites, in France in Villiers de L’Isle Adam and Mallarmé, in Belgium in Maeterlinck, has stilled the imagination of Ibsen and D’Annunzio, is certain the only movement that is saying new things.’ (Ibid., p.184-85.)

Celtic Element in Literature’ (1898) - cont.: ‘The arts by brooding upon their own intensity have become religious, and are seeking, as I think Verharen has said, to create a sacred book. They must, as religious thought has always done, utter themselves throgh legends; and the Slavonic and Finnish legends are held by a great master, and tell also of strange woods and seas, and the Welsh legends are held by almost as many great masters as the Greek legends, while the Irish legends move among known woods and seas, and have so much of a new beauty that they may well give the opening century its most memorable symbols.’ [End; dated 1897.]

Note: version of the essay from Cosmopolis (1898) reprinted in Yeats, Irish Folklore, Legend and Myth[.... &c.], ed. Robert Welch (Penguin 1993), concludes here without date [added in 1902 with addition para. dated 1902, as infra.].

Celtic Element in Literature’ (1898) - cont.: ‘No Gaelic poetry is so popular in Gaelic-speaking places as the lamentations of Oisin, old and miserable, remembering the companions and the loves of his youth, and his three hundred years in fairyland, and his faery love.’ (In W. B. Yeats: The Major Works, ed. & annot., Edward Larrissy, 1997, p.375; quoted in Lindsay Grattan, MA Dip. Essay, UUC 2010.)

1902 Postscript: ‘I could have written this essay with much more precision and have much better illustrated my meaning [187] if I had waited until Lady Gregory had finished her book of legends, Cuchulain of Muirthemne, a book set beside the Morte d’Arthur and the Mabinogion.’ [dated 1902.]

Note that much of the essay can be read in Writings on Irish Folklore, Legend and Mythby William Yeats, ed. Robert Welch (Penguin 1996) - at Amazon Books online; accessed 29.09.2017.

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The Literary Movement in Ireland’ (1901): ‘[T]he Celtic movement, which has hitherto interested but a few cultivated people, is about to become a part of the thought of Ireland. [/.../] Before 1891, Unionists and Nationalists were too busy keeping one or two simple beliefs at their fullest intensity for any complexity of thought or emotion; and the national imagination uttered itself, with a somewhat broken energy, in a few stories and in many ballads about the need of unity against English, about the martyrs who had died at the hands of England, or about the greatness of Ireland before the coming of England. They built up Ireland’s dream of Ireland, of an ideal country weighed down by immemorial sorrows and served by heroes and saints, and they taught generations of young men to love their country with a love that was the deepest emotion they were ever to know; but they built with the virtues and beauties and sorrows and hopes that would move to tears the greatest number of those eyes before whom the modern world was beginning to unroll itself; and, except where some rare, impersonal impulse shaped the song according to its will, they built to the formal and conventional rhythm which would give the most immediate pleasure to the ears that had forgotten Gaelic poetry and not learned the subtleties of English poetry. The writers who made this literature or who shaped its ideals, in the years before the great famine, lived at the moment when the middle class had a philosophy and a literature full of the civic virtues and, in all but [its] unbounded patriotism, without inconvenient ardours. They took their style from Scott and Campbell and Macauley, and that “universally popular” poetry which is really the poetry of the middle class, and from Bèranger, and from that “peasant poetry” which looks for its models to Burns here and there a poet or story-teller found an older dream among the common people or in his own mind, and made a personality for himself, and was forgotten; for it was the desire of everybody to be moved by the same emotion as everybody else, and certainly one cannot blame a desire which has thrown so great a shadow of self-sacrifice.’

The Literary Movement in Ireland’ (1901) - cont: ‘The fall of Parnell and the wreck of his party and of the organisations that supported it were the symbols, if not the causes, of a sudden change [...] They were followed by movements and organisations that brought the ideas and the ideals which are the expression of personalities alike into politics, economics, and literature. Those who looked for the old energies, which were the utterance of the common will, were unable to see that a new kind of Ireland, as full of energy as a boiling pot, was rising up amid the wreck of the old kind, and that the national life was finding a new utterance. This utterance was so necessary that it seems as if the hand that broke the ball of glass, that now lies in fragment full of an new iridescent life, obeyed some impulse from beyond its wild and capricious will. More books about Irish subjects have been publishes in these last eight years than in the thirty years that went before them, and these books have the care for scholarship and precision of speech which had been notoriously lacking in books in Irish subjects. An appeal to the will, a habit of thought which measures all beliefs by their intensity, is content with a strenuous rhetoric; but an appeal to the intellect needs an always more perfect knowledge, an always more malleable speech.’ [184-86]; [Gives account of old IPP indignation at the unpatriotic character of the new movements and their literary expression] [...; cont.]

The Literary Movement in Ireland’ (1901): - cont.: ‘Contemporary English literature takes delight in praising England and her Empire, the master-work and the dream of the middle class; and, though it may escape from this delight, it must long continue to utter the ideals of the strong and wealthy. Irish intellect has always been preoccupied with the weak and with the poor, and now it has begun to collect and describe their music and stories, and to utter anew the beliefs and hopes which they alone remember.’ [187] ‘Irish literature may prolong its first inspiration without renouncing the complexity of ideas and emotions which is the inheritance of cultivated men, for it will have learned from the discoveries of modern learning that the common people, wherever civilisation has not driven its plough too deep, keeps a watch over the roots of all religion and all romance.’ [188] ‘the peasant remembers such songs and legends, all the more, it may be, because he has though of little but cows an sheep and the like in his own marriage, for his dream has never been entangled with reality. the beauty of women is mirrored in his mind, as the excitement of the world is mirrored in the minds of children, and like them he thinks nothing but the best worth remembering.’ [190] ‘The children of the poor and simple learn from their unbroken religious faith, and from their traditional beliefs, and from the hardness of their lives, that this world is nothing, and that a spiritual world, where all dreams come true, is everything; and therefore the poor and simple are that imperfection whose perfection is genius.’ [191; cont.]

The Literary Movement in Ireland’ (1901) - cont.:‘The movement of thought which has made the good citizen, or has been made by him, has surrounded us with comfort and safety, and with vulgarity and sincerity. One finds alike its energy and its weariness in churches which have substituted a system of morals for spiritual ardour; in pictures which have substituted conventionally pretty faces for the disquieting revelations of sincerity; in poets who have set the praises of those things good citizens think praiseworthy about a dangerous delight in beauty for the sake of beauty [...] Blake said that all art was a labour to bring that golden age, and we call romantic art romantic because it has made the age’s light dwell in the imagination of a little company of studious persons. When the valley and clay had almost become clay and stone, the good citizens plucked up their hear and took possession of the world and filled it with their little compact thoughts; and romance fled to more and more remote fairyland, and forgot that it was every more than an old tale which nobody believes. We are now growing interested in our countries, and the discovery that the common people in all countries that have not given themselves up to the improvements and the devices of good citizens, which we call civilisation, still half understand the sanctity of their hills and valleys [...] is making us half ready to believe [here quotes Ecclesiasticus] that the forms of nature may be temporal shadows or realities.’ [195; ...] we cannot know how many these countries are until the new science of folklore and the almost new science of mythology have done their work [...] but Ireland [...] will have begun a change that, whether it is begun in our time or not for centuries, will some day make all lands holy lands again. [...] [195]. (Commissioned by and first printed in North American Review, Dec. 1899, rep. with emendations in Lady Gregory, ed., Ideals in Ireland (1901; rep. from original in John Frayne, ed., Uncollected Prose, Vol. 2, 1975, pp.184-96.)

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Modern Irish Poetry”, in Irish Literature, Justin McCarthy (Washington 1904, Vol. III, pp.vii-xiii): ‘[The] Irish Celt is sociable, as may be known from his proverb, “It is better to be quarreling than to be lonely,” and the Irish poets of the nineteenth century have made songs abundantly when friends and rebels have been at hand to applaud. The Irish poets of the eighteenth century found both at a Limerick hostelry, above whose door was written a rhyming welcome in Gaelic to all passing poets, whether their pockets were full or empty. Its owner, himself a famous poet, entertained his fellows as long as his money lasted, and then took to minding the hens and chickens of an old peasant woman for a living, and ended his days in rags, but not, one imagines, without content. Among his friends and guests had been Red O’Sullivan, Gaelic O’Sullivan, blind O’Heffernan, and many another, and their songs had made the people, crushed by the disasters of the Boyne and Aughrim, remember their ancient greatness. / The bardic order, with its perfect artifice and imperfect art, had gone down in the wars of the seventeenth century, and poetry had found shelter amid the turf smoke of the cabins. [...] English-speaking Ireland had meanwhile no poetic voice, for Goldsmith had chosen to celebrate English scenery and manners; and Swift was but an Irishman by what Mr. Balfour has called the visitation of God, and much against his will; and Congreve by education and early association; while Parnell, Denham, and Roscommon were poets [vii] but to their own time. [...] I have, indeed, but little doubt that Ireland, communing with herself in Gaelic more and more, but speaking to foreign countries in English, will lead many that are sick with theories and with trivial emotion, to some sweet wellwaters of primeval poetry.’ [End.] Yeats also Discusses at varying extent Thomas Moore, J. J. Callanan, Thomas Davis, [James] Clarence Mangan, Edward Walsh, Samuel Ferguson, William Allingham, Aubrey de Vere, Charles Kickham, John Casey, Ellen O’Leary, T. D. Sullivan, Lionel Johnson and Mrs. Hinkson [Katherine Tynan], Nora Hopper “A.E.” [George Russell], Mr. Herbert Trench, and Mrs. Shorter [Dora Sigerson], “Moira O’Neill”, Dr. Sigerson, Dr. [Douglas] Hyde, Lady Gregory, and Professor [Edmund] Dowden. Textual Note: The whole was formerly the Introduction to A Book of Irish Verse, 1895; rev. edn. 1900, and eds. to 1912, and 1920; 1920, 4th edn., with Preface of 1900, stating that changes have been made in the original Introduction since ‘some phrases in the introduction which seemed a little petulant in form’ (signed 15 Aug. 1899). Such changes are chiefly the revision of ‘contention’ [1895] to ‘strife’ [1900], and, here, ‘quarreling’ [1904]; note also, in the 1895 Introduction, from 1904 version: ‘the seas of literature are distraught by storms and currents, and full of the wrecks of Irish anthologies’. [This book is] ‘intended 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.’ [1895, p.xxvii.] (For full text version, see under RICORSO Library, “Irish Critical Classics”, via index or direct.)

Poetry and Tradition” (1907): ‘When Lionel Johnson and Katharine Tynan (as she was then), and I, myself, began to reform Irish poetry, we thought to keep unbroken the thread [247] running up to Grattan which John O’Leary had put into our hands, though it might be our business to explore new paths of the labyrinth. We sought to make a more subtle rhythm, a more organic form, than that of the older Irish poets who wrote in English, but always to remember certain ardent ideas and high attitudes of mind which were the nation itself, to our belief, so far as a nation can be summarised in the intellect. If you had asked an ancient Spartan what made Sparta Sparta, he would have answered, the Laws of Lycurgus, and many Englishmen look back to Bunyan and to Milton as we did to Grattan and to Mitchel. Lionel Johnson was able to take up into his art one portion of this tradition that I could not, for he had a gift of speaking political thought in fine verse that I have always lacked. I, on the other hand, was more preoccupied with Ireland (for he had other interests), and took from Allingham and Walsh their passion for country spiritism, and from Ferguson his pleasure in heroic legend, and while seeing all in the light of European literature found my symbols of expression in Ireland. One thought often possessed me very strongly. New from the influence, mainly the personal influence, of William Morris, I dreamed of enlarging Irish hate, till we had come to hate with a passion of patriotism what Morris and Ruskin hated. Mitchel had already all but poured some of that hate drawn from Carlyle, who had it of an earlier and, as I think, cruder sort, into the blood of Ireland, and were we not a poor nation with ancient courage, unblackened fields and a barbarous gift of self-sacrifice? Ruskin and Morris had spent themselves [248] in vain because they had found no passion to harness to their thought, but here were unwasted passion and precedents in the popular memory for every needed thought and action.’ (In The Cutting of an Agate [1912], rep. in Essays and Introductions, Macmillan 1961, pp.240-60, here pp.247-48.) [Cont.]

Poetry and Tradition” (1907) - cont.: ‘Perhaps, too, it would be possible to find in that new philosophy of spiritism coming to a seeming climax in the work of Frederic Myers, and in the investigations of uncounted obscure persons, what could change the country spiritism into a reasoned belief that would put its might into all the rest. A new belief seemed coming that could be so simple and demonstrable, and above all so mixed into the common scenery of the world, that it would set the whole man on fire and liberate him from a thousand obediences and complexities. We were to forge in Ireland a new sword on our old traditional anvil for that great battle that must in the end re-establish the old, confident, joyous world. All the while I worked with this idea, founding societies that became quickly or slowly everything I despised, one part of me looked on, mischievous and mocking, and the other part spoke words which were more and more unreal, as the attitude of mind became more and more strained and difficult. Miss Maud Gonne could still gather great crowds out of the slums by her beauty and sincerity, and speak to them of “Mother Ireland with the crown of stars about her head”; but gradually the political movement she was associated with, finding it hard to build up any fine lasting thing, became content to attack little persons and little things. All movements are held together more by what they hate than by what they love, for love separates and individualises and quiets, but the nobler movements, [249] the only movements on which literature can found itself, hate great and lasting things. All who have any old traditions have something of aristocracy, but we had opposing us from the first, though not strongly from the first, a type of mind which had been without influence in the generation of Grattan, and almost without it in that of Davis, and which has made a new nation out of Ireland, that was once old and full of memories.’ (Ibid., pp.249-50.) [Cont.]

Poetry and Tradition” (1907) - cont.: ‘Whenever I had known some old countryman, I had heard stories and sayings that arose out of an imagination that would have understood Homer better than The Cotter’s Saturday Night or Highland Mary, because it was an ancient imagination, where the sediment had found the time to settle, and I believe that the makers of deliberate literature could still take passion and theme, though but little thought, from such as he. On some such old and broken stem, I thought, have all the most beautiful roses been grafted.’ (Ibid., end of Sect. 1; p.251.) Opening of the Sect. II: ‘Three types of men have made all beautiful things, Aristocracies have made beautiful manners, because their place in the world puts them above the fear of life, and the countrymen have made beautiful stories and beliefs, because they have nothing to lose and so do not fear, and the artists have made all the rest, because Providence has filled them with recklessness. All these look backward to a long tradition, for, being without fear, they have held to whatever pleased them. The others, being always anxious, have come to possess little that is good in itself, and are always changing from thing to thing, for whatever they do or have must be a means to something else, and they have so little belief that anything can be an end in itself that they cannot understand you if you say, “All the most valuable things are useless.” They prefer the stalk to the flower, and believe that painting and poetry exist that there may be instruction, and love that there may be children, and theatres that busy men may rest, and holidays that busy men may go on being busy. At all times they fear and even hate the things that have worth in themselves, for that worth may suddenly, as it were a fire, consume their Book of Life, where the world is represented by ciphers and symbols; and before all [251] else, they fear irreverent joy and unserviceable sorrow. It seems to them that those who have been freed by position, by poverty, or by the traditions of art, have something terrible about them, a light that is unendurable to eyesight. They complain much of that commandment that we can do almost what we will, if we do it gaily, and think that freedom is but a trifling with the world.’ (Ibid., in Essays and Introductions, 1961, p.252.) [See full-text version in RICORSO Library, “Irish Classics”, via index, or direct.]

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Poetry and Ireland: Essays by W. B. Yeats and Lionel Johnson (Dublin: Cuala MCMVIII [1908]): ‘Our attacks, mine especially, on verse which owed its position to its moral and political worth, roused a resentment which even I find hard to imagine today, and our verse was attacked in return for all that it had in common with the accepted poetry of the world, and most of all for its lack of rhetoric, its refusal to preach a doctrine or to consider the seeming necessities of the cause’ (pp.13-4.) ‘I believed in those days that a new intellectual life would begin, like that of Young Ireland, but more profound and personal, and that could we get a few plain principles accepted, new poets and writers of prose would make an immortal music.’ (p.15.) Also speaks of ‘[...] we artists, who are the servants not of any cause but of mere naked life, and above all [...] protesting individual voices.’ (p.16; all quoted in Chris Corr, ‘English Literary Culture and Irish Literary Revival’, PhD Thesis, UUC 1995, 38-39.)

The Tragic Theatre” (Aug. 1910): ‘I did not find a word in the printed criticism of Synge’s Deirdre of the Sorrows about the qualities that made certain moments seem to me the noblest tragedy, and the play was judged by what seemed to me but wheels and pulleys necessary to the effect, but in themselves nothing. [...] Deirdre and her lover, as Synge tells the tale, returned to Ireland, though it was nearly certain they [238] would die there, because death was better than broken love, and at the side of the open grave that had been dug for one and would serve for both, quarrelled, losing all they had given their life to keep. “Is it not a hard thing that we should miss the safety of the grave and we trampling its edge?” That is Deirdre’s cry at the outset of a reverie of passion that mounts and mounts till grief itself has carried her beyond grief into pure contemplation. Up to this the play had been a Master’s unfinished work, monotonous and melancholy, ill-arranged, little more than a sketch of what it would have grown to, but now I listened breathless to sentences that may never pass away, and as they filled or dwindled in their civility of sorrow, the player, whose art had seemed clumsy and incomplete, like the writing itself, ascended into that tragic ecstasy which is the best that art - perhaps that life - can give. And at last when Deirdre, in the paroxysm before she took her life, touched with compassionate fingers him that had killed her lover, we knew that the player had become, if but for a moment, the creature of that noble mind which had gathered its art in waste islands, and we too were carried beyond time and persons to where passion, living through its thousand purgatorial years, as in the wink of an eye, becomes wisdom; and it was as though we too had touched and felt and seen a disembodied thing. / One dogma of the printed criticism is that if a play does not contain definite character, its constitution is not strong enough for the stage, and that of the dramatic moment is always the contest of character with character.’ (In The Cutting of an Agate, NY 1912; London 1919; rep. in Essays and Introductions, Macmillan 1961, pp.238-45; pp.238-39.)

The Tragic Theatre” (Aug. 1910)- cont [new para.]: ‘In poetical drama there is, it is held, an antithesis between character and lyric poetry, for lyric poetry - however much it move you when read out of a book - can, as these critics think, but encumber action. [...] I think it was while rehearsing a translation of Les Fourberies de Scapin [of Molière] in Dublin, and noticing how passionless it all was, that I saw what should have been plain from the first line I had written, that tragedy must always be a drowning and breaking of the dykes that separate man from man, and that it is upon these dykes comedy keeps house.’ (p.243.) ‘When we look at the faces of the old tragic paintings, whether it is in Titian or in some painter of mediaeval China, we find there sadness and gravity, a certain emptiness even, as of a mind that waited the supreme crisis (and indeed it seems at times as if the graphic art, unlike poetry which sings the crisis itself, were the celebration of waiting). Whereas in modern art, whether in Japan or Europe, “vitality” (is not that the great word of the studios?), the energy, that is to say, which is under the command of our common moments, sings, laughs, chatters or looks its busy thoughts. [244] / Certainly we have here the Tree of Life and that of the Knowledge of Good and Evil which is rooted in our interests, and if we have forgotten their differing virtues it is surely because we have taken delight in a confusion of crossing branches. Tragic art, passionate art, the drowner of dykes, the confounder of understanding, moves us by setting us to reverie, by alluring us almost to the intensity of trance. The persons upon the stage, let us say, greaten till they are humanity itself. We feel our minds expand convulsively or spread out slowly like some moon-brightened image-crowded sea. That which is before our eyes perpetually vanishes and returns again in the midst of the excitement it creates, and the more enthralling it is, the more do we forget it.’ (Essays and Introductions, 1961, pp.244-45.) [See full-text version in RICORSO Library, “Irish Classics > W. B. Yeats”, via index, or direct.]

Letter to The Irish Worker (1913): ‘I charge the Dublin nationalist newspapers with deliberately arousing religious passion to break up the organisation of the workingman, with appealing to mob law day after day, for publishing the names of workingmen and their wives for purposes of intimidation. And I charge the Unionist Press of Dublin and those who directed the police with conniving in this conspiracy.’ (Quoted in Frank Tuohy, Yeats: An Illustrated Biography, Macmillan 1976, p.144).

If I Were Four and Twenty” [1919], in Explorations (London: Macmillan 1962): ‘[...] But if I were four-and-twenty, and without rheumatism, I should not, I think, be content with getting up performances of French plays and with reading papers. I think I would go - though certainly I am no Catholic and never shall be one - upon both of our great pilgrimages, to Croagh Patrick and to Lough Derg. Our churches have been unroofed or stripped; the stained glass of St. Canice, once famous throughout Europe, was destroyed three centuries ago, and Christ Church looks as clean and unhistorical as a Methodist chapel, its sculptured tombs and tablets broken up or heaped one on t’other in the crypt; no congregation has climbed to the Rock of Cashel since the stout Church of Ireland bishop took the lead roof from the Gothic church to save his legs: but Europe has nothing older than our pilgrimages. In many little lyrics I would claim that stony mountain for all Christian and pagan faith in Ireland, believing, in the exultation of my youth, that in three generations I should have made it as vivid in the memory of all imaginative men among us, as the sacred mountain of Japan is in that of the collectors of prints; and I would, being but four-and-twenty and a lover of lost causes, memorialize the bishops to open once again that Lough Derg cave of vision once beset by an evil spirit in the form of a longlegged bird with no feathers on its wings. / A few years ago Bernard Shaw explained, what he called “the vulgarity and the savagery” of his writing, by saying that he had sat once upon a time every Sunday morning in an Irish Protestant church. But mountain and lough have not grown raw and common; pillage and ravage could not abate their beauty; and the impulse that gathers these great companies in every year has outlasted armorial stone. / Then, too, I would associate that doctrine of purgatory, which Christianity has shared with neoplatonism, with the countryman’s belief in the nearness of his dead “working out their penance” in rath or at garden end: and I would find in the psychical research of our day detail to make the association convincing to intellect and emotion. I would try to create a type of man whose most moving religious experience, though it came to him in some distant country, and though his intellect were wholly personal, would bring with it imagery to connect it with an Irish multitude now and in past time.’ [See full-text version in RICORSO Library, “Irish Classics > W. B. Yeats”, via index, or direct.]

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Early Poems & Stories (1925) - Dedication: ‘My Dear Ashe King, / A coupe of days ago, while correcting the proofs of this book, I remember a lecture you delivered in the year 1894 to the Dublin National Literary Society; a denunciation of rhetorica, and of Irish rhetoric most of all; and that it was a most vigorous and merry lecture and roused the anger of the newspapers. Thereon I decided to offer the book to you - though I had years ago dedicated various sections to friends, some of whom are long dead - for a distaste for rhetoric was a chief characteristic of my generation, and gave the book its defects and qualities. The Irish form of Victorian rhetoric had declined into a patriotic extravagance that offended all educated minds, but Victor Hugo and Swinburne had so delighted our school days that we distrusted our habitual thoughts. I tried after the publication of “The Wanderings of Oisin” to write of nothing but emotion, and in the simplest language, and now I have had to go through it all, cutting out or altering passagtes that are sentimental from lack of thought. Are we not always doomed to see our world as [v] the Stoics foretold, concsumed alternately by fire and water. Upon the other hand, I cannot have altogether failed in simplicity, for these poems, written before my twenty-seventh year, are still the most popular that I have written. A girl made profound by the first pride of beauty, though all but a child still, once said to me, “Innocence is the highest achievement of the human intellect,” and as we are encouraged to believe that our intellects grow with our years I may be permitted the conviction that - grown a little nearer innocence - I have found a more appropriate simplicity. / I published the first edition of “The Celtic Twilight” when we were founding the National Literary Society, and often when it was time for some committee meeting - how modest and pracital you were at those meetings - I rose without regret, for it is pleasanter to talk than to write, from some finished or unfinished story of “The Secret Rose”. I wrote a good portion of that book while I still shared a lodging with old John O’Leary, the Fenian leader, but “Rosa Alchemica”, “The Tables of the Law”, and “The Adoration of the Magi” when I had left Dublin in despondency. / W. B. YEATS / May 1925.’

[ For Contents of Early Poems and Stories(1925), see under Works, supra. ]

Early Poems and Stories (London: Macmillan 1925), pp.527-58: ‘The Wandering, of Usheen and Crossways, page 1 to page 93, were first published in a book called “The Wanderings of Usheen” in 1889. Many of the poems in Crossways, certainly those upon Indian subjects or upon shepherds and fauns, must have been written before I was twenty, for from the moment when I began The Wanderings of Usheen, which I did at that age, I believe, my subject matter became Irish. Every time I have reprinted them I have considered the leaving out of most, and then remembered an old school friend who has some of them by heart, for no better reason, as I think, than that they remind him of his own youth. The little Indian dramatic scene was meant to be the first of a play about a man loved by two women, who had the one soul between them, the one woman waking when the other slept, and knowing but daylight as the other only night. It came into my head when I saw a man at Rosses Point carrying two salmon. “One man with two souls,” I said, and added, “Oh, no, two people with one soul.” I am now once more in “A Vision” busy with that thought, the antitheses of day and of night and of moon and of sun. The Rose, page 95 to page 135, was part of my second book, “The Countess Cathleen and Various Legends and Lyrics,” 1892, and I notice upon reading these poems for the first time for several years that the quality symbolised as The Rose differs from The Intellectual Beauty of Shelley and of Spencer in that I have imagined it as suffering with man and not as something pursued and seen from afar. It must have been a thought of my generation, for I remember the mystical painter Horton, whose work had little of his personal charm and real strangeness, writing me these words, “I met your beloved in Russell Square, and she was weeping”, by which he meant that he had seen a vision of my neglected soul. I have altered several {527} of these poems, Cuchulain's Fight with Waves, The Dedication to a Book of Stories; and To Ireland in the Coming Times, considerably, and The Song of the Old Pensionerand The Sorrow of Love till they are altogether new poems. Whatever changes I have made are but an attempt to express better what I thought and felt when I was a very young man. I have left out a few passages in “The Celtic Twilight”, which was first published in 1893. The Stories of Red Hanrahan, page 395 to page 459, were published with the stories now called The Secret Roseand Rosa Alchemica. in a book called “The Secret Rose” in 1897, and they owe much of their merit to Lady Gregory. They were, as first published, written in that artificial, elaborate English so many of us played with in the ’nineties and I had come to hate them. When I was changing the first story in the light of a Sligo tale about “a wild old man in flannel” who could change a pack of cards into the likeness of a pack of hounds, I asked Lady Gregory's help. We worked together, first upon that tale, and after upon all the others, she now suggesting a new phrase or thought, and now I, till all had been put into that simple English she had learned from her Galway countrymen, and the thought had come closer to the life of the people. If their style has merit now, that merit is mainly hers. Dr. Hyde had already founded the first Gaelic play ever performed in a theatre upon one of the stories, and but the other day Lady Gregory made a Hanrahan play upon an incident of her own invention. The Tables of the Law, and The Adoration of the Magi, page 498 to page 526, were intended to be part of “The Secret Rose”, but the publisher, A. H. Bullen, took a distaste to them and asked me to leave them not, and then after the book was published liked them and put them into a little volume by themselves. In those as in most of the other stories I have left out or rewritten a passage here and there. / W. B. Y. [n.d.; 1925].


Mythologies (Macmillan 1959) - “Note” [1925 - as infra]: ‘I have left out a few passages from The Celtic Twilight, which was first published in 1893. The “Stories of Red Hanrahan” were published with the stories now called “The Secret Rose” and “Rosa Alchemica” in a book called “The Secret Rose” in 1897, and they owe much of there merit to Lady Gregory They were, as first published, written in that artificial, elaborate English so many of us played with in the ’nineties, and I had come to hate them. When I was changing the first story in the light of a Sligo tale about “a wild old man in flannel” who could change a pack of cards into the likeness of a pack of hounds, I asked Lady Gregory's help. We worked together, first upon that tale, and, after, upon all the others, she now suggesting new phrase or thought, and now I, till all had been put into that simple English she had learned from her Galway countrymen, and the thought had come closer to the life of the people. If their style has any merit now, the merit is mainly hers. Dr. Hyde had already founded the first Gaelic play ever performed in a theatre upon one of the stories, and but the other day Lady Gregory made a Hanrahan play upon an incident of her own invention. “The Tables of the Law” and “The Adoration of the Magi” were intended to be part of “The Secret Rose” but the publisher, A. H. Bullen, took a distaste to them and asked me to leave them out, and then after the book was published liked them and put them into a little volume by themselves. In these, as in most of the other stories, I have left out or rewritten a passage here or there. / W. B. YEATS / 1925.’ (p.1.) [Available at Google Books - online.]

The above “Note” is apparently excerpted from the “Notes” suffixed to Early Poems and Stories (1925) - as supra - the prose contents of which have been taken to comprise Mythologies (1959), with the addition of “Where There Is Nothing, There is God” and also the contents of Per Amica Silentia Lunae(1917), neither of which were included in the 1925 collection. Mythologies is, in fact, a posthumous compilation made by the publisher - and one from which the subsequence collection The Secret Rose and Other Stories (1959) was in turn selected for publication in the same year.

See also ...

 “An Old Coat  

Out of old mythologies
From heel to throat;
But the fools caught it,
Wore it in the world’s eyes

As though they'd wrought it.
Song, let them take it,
For there's more enterprise
In walking naked.

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King of the Great Clock Tower (1934), Prefatory notes, Sect. II: ‘When Huguenot artists designed the tapestries for the Irish House of Lords, depicting the Battle of the Boyne and the siege of Derry, they celebrated the defeat of their old enemy Louis XIV, and the establishment of a Protestant Ascendancy who was to impose upon Catholic Ireland, an oppression copied in all its details from that imposed upon the French Protestants.’ [Here speaks of the ‘vacillation’ of Archbishop William King and the Irish clergy]; ‘The Irish House of Lords, however, when it ordered the Huguenot tapestries, probably accepted the weavers’ argument that the Battle of the Boyne was to Ireland what the defeat of the Armada had been to England. Armed with this new power, they were to modernise the social structure, with great cruelty but effectively, and to establish our political nationality by quarrelling with England over the wool trade, a Protestant monoply [sic]. At the base of the social structure, but hardly within it, the peasantry dreamed on in their medieval sleep; the Gaelic poets sang of the banished Catholic aristocracy; “My fathers served their fathers before Christ was crucified” sang one of the most famous [viz, Aoghan O’Rahilly]. Ireland had found new masters and was to discover for the first time in its history that it possessed a cold, logical intellect. That intellect announced its independence when Berkeley, an undergraduate of Trinity College, wrote in his Commonplace Book, after a description of the philosophy of Hobbes, Newton and Locke, the fashionable English philosophy of his day, “We Irish do not think so”. An emotion of pride and confidence at that time ran through what there was of an intellectual minority. [... &c.]’ [Cont.]

King of the Great Clock Tower (1934), Prefatory notes, cont. - Sect. III: ‘The influence of the French Revolution awoke the Irish peasantry from their medieval sleep, gave them ideas of social justice and equality, but prepared for a century disastrous to the national intellect. Instead of the Protestant Ascendancy with its sense of responsibility, we had the Garrison, a political party of Protestant and Catholic landowners, merchants and officials. They loved the soil of Ireland; the returned Colonial Governor [James Butler, Duke of Ormonde] crossed the Channel to see the May flowers in his park; the merchant loved with an ardour I have not met elsewhere, some sea-board town where he had made his money, or spent his youth, but they could give to a people they thought unfit for self-government, nothing but a condescending affection. They preferred frieze-coated humanists, dare-devils upon horseback, to ordinary men and women; created in Ireland and elsewhere an audience that welcomed the vivid imagination of Lever, Lover, Somerville and Ross. These writers, especially the first have historical importance, so completely have they expressed a social phase. Instead of the old half medieval peasantry came an agrarian political party, that degraded literature with rhetoric and insincerity. Its novels, poems, essays, histories showed Irish virtue struggling against English and landlord crime; historical characters that we must admire or abhor according to the side they took in politics. Certain songs by Davis, Carleton’s Valentine McClutchy, Kickham’s Knocknagow, Mitchel’s History of Ireland, numberless forgotten books in prose and verse founded or fostered the distortion we have not yet escaped. In the eighties of the last century came a third school: three men too conscious of intellectual power to belong to party. George Bernard Shaw, Oscar Wilde, George Moore, the most complete individualists in the history of literature, abstract, isolated minds, without a memory or a landscape. It is this very isolation, this defect, as it seems to me, which has given Bernard Shaw an equal welcome in all countries, the greatest fame in his own lifetime any writer has known. Without it, his wit would have waited for acceptance upon studious exposition and commendation. [...]’ (Reprinted in in A. N. Jeffares, A New Commentary on the Poems of W. B. Yeats, 1984, pp.333-35.) Note: Jeffares explanatory remarks incl. the following: the tapestries in the House of Lords were designed by Melcior Van der Hagen, woven by Jan Van Beaver (chief weaver), and manufactured by Baillie of Dublin; two of six contracted were completed; Mary Voisin m. Edmond Butler and was Yeats’s paternal great-great-great-grandmother; Swift’s ‘well-known sermon’ is ‘A Sermon on the Wretched Condition of Ireland’, in Works (1784), XII, pp.122-37. [For full text of this passage, see RICORSO Library, “Irish Classics” > Yeats, via index or direct.)

Oxford Book of Modern Verse (1936), Introduction: ‘passive suffering is not a theme for poetry. In all the great tragedies, tragedy is a joy to the man who dies [...] If war is necessary, or necessary in our time or place, it is best to forget its suffering as we do the discomfort of fever, remembering our comfort at midnight when our temperatures fell, or as we forget the worst moments of more painful disease.’ (Quoted in Christopher Murray, ‘‘‘The Choice of Lives”: O’Casey versus Synge’, in Journal of Irish Studies [IASIL-Japan], XVII (2002), p.77.)

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A Discussion of Style’, in New Republic (7April 1936) - largely on George Moore and Douglas Hyde:
I saw George Moore daily, we were at work on Diarmuid and Grania. [...] When in later years some play after months of work grew more and more incoherent, I blamed those two years’ collaboration. But whatever effect it had on me it was unmixed misfortune for Moore, it set him upon a pursuit of style that made barren his later years. I no longer underrate him, I know that he had written, or was about to write, five great novels. The Mummer’s Wife, Esther Waters, Sister Teresa (everything is there of the convent, a priest said to me, but the religious life), Muslin, The Lake, these two Irish in theme, gained nothing from their style. I may speak later of the books he was to write under what seems to me a misunderstanding of his powers.
  England had turned from style, as it has been understood from the translators of the Bible to Walter Pater, and sought mere clarity in statement and debate, a journalistic effectiveness, at the moment when Irish men of letters began to quote the saying of Sainte-Beuve, “There is nothing immortal in literature except style.” Style was his growing obsession, he would point out all the errors of some silly experiment of mine. It was from some such experiment that he learned those long flaccid structureless sentences, “and, and and, and and”; there is one of twenty-eight lines in Muslin. Sometimes he rebelled: “Yeats, I have a deep distrust of any man who has a style,” but it was generally I who tried to stop the obsession. “Moore, if you ever get a style,” I said, “it will ruin you. It is colored glass and you need a plate-glass window.” When he formed his own circle he found no escape; the difficulties of modern Irish literature, from the loose, romantic, legendary stories of Standish O’Grady to James Joyce and Synge, had been in the formation of a style. He heard those difficulties discussed, all his life he had learned from conversation, not from books. His nature, bitter, violent, discordant, did not fit him to write the sentences men murmur again and again for years. Charm and rhythm had been denied him. Improvement makes straight roads; he pumice-stoned every surface because will had to do the work for nature. “You work so hard that like the Lancelot of Tennyson, you will almost see the Grail.” But now, his finished work before me, I am convinced that he was denied even that “almost.”


Douglas Hyde was at Coole in the summer of 1899. [...] Lady Gregory and I wanted a Gaelic drama, and I made a scenario for a one-act play founded upon an episode in my “Stories of Red Hanrahan”; I had some hope that my invention, if Hyde would but accept it, might pass into legend as though it were a historical character.In later years Lady Gregory and I gave Hyde other scenarios and I always watched him with astonishment. His ordinary English style was without charm; he exploited facts without explaining them, and in the language of the newspapers - Moore compared one of his speeches to frothing porter. His Gaelic, like the dialect of his “Love Songs of Connaught,” written a couple of years earlier, had charm, seemed all spontaneous and joyous, every speech born out of itself. Had he shared our modern preoccupation with the mystery of life, learned our modern construction, he might have grown into another and happier Synge. But emotion and imagery came as they would, not as he would, somebody else had to put them together; he had the folk mind as no modern man has had it, its qualities and its defects, and for a few days in the year Lady Gregory and I shared his absorption in that mind. When I wrote verse, five or six lines in two or three laborious hours were a day’s work, and I longed for somebody to interrupt me. But he wrote all day, whether in verse or prose, and without apparent effort. Effort was there, but in the unconscious - he had given up verse writing because it affected his lungs or his heart - Lady Gregory kept watch, to draw him from his table after so many hours; the gamekeeper had the boat and the guns ready; there were ducks upon the lake. He wrote in joy and at great speed because emotion brought the appropriate word. Nothing in that language of his was abstract, nothing worn-out; he need not, as must the writer of some language exhausted by modern civilization, reject word after word, cadence after cadence; he had escaped our perpetual, painful, purification. I read, translated by Lady Gregory or by himself into that dialect which gets from Gaelic its syntax and keeps its still partly Tudor vocabulary; little was, I think, lost:

I was myself one time a poor barnacle goose;
The night was not plain to me more than the day
Till I got sight of her.

That does not impress me today; it is too easy to copy; too many have copied it; when I first read it, it was fresh from my struggle with Victorian rhetoric. I began to test my poetical inventions by translating them into like speech. Lady Gregory had already, I think, without knowing it, begun a transformation of her whole mind into the mind of the people, begun “to think like a wise man” but to express herself like “the common people.”

See full-text version in RICORSO Library > Irish Classics - via index or as attached.

General Introduction for My Work’ (1935, rep. in Essays and Introductions, 1961, &c.), Part I: ‘A poet writes always of his personal life, in [the] his finest work out of its tragedy, whatever it be, remorse, lost love, or mere loneliness; he never speaks directly as to someone at the breakfast table, there is always a phantasmagoria [...]. A novelist might describe his accidence, his incoherence, he must not; he is more type than man, more passion than type. He is Lear, Romeo, Oedipus, Tiresias [...]. He is part of his own phantasmagoria and we adore him because nature has grown intelligible, and by so doing a part of our creative power. [...] The world knows nothing because it has made nothing, we know everything because we have made everything.’ (p.509.) [John O’Leary sent him to Davis and poets of the Nation:] I saw even more clearly than O’Leary that they were not good poetry. I read nothing but romantic literature; hated that dry eighteenth-century rhetoric; but they had one quality I admired and admire: they were not separated individual men; they spoke or tried to speak out of a people to a people; behind them stretched the generations [...]. I hated and still hate with an ever-growing hatred the literature of the point of view. I wanted, if my ignorance permitted, to get back to Homer, to those that fed at his table. I wanted to cry as all men cried, to laugh as all men laughed, and the Young Ireland poets when not writing mere politics had the same want [...].’ (p.511). [Cont.]

General Introduction for My Work’ (1935), Part I - cont.: ‘A generation before The Nation newspaper was founded the Royal Irish Academy had begun the study of ancient Irish literature. That study was as much a gift from the Protestant aristocracy which had created the Parliament as The Nation and its school, though Davis and Mitchel were Protestants, was a gift from [which] the Catholic middle class were to create the Irish Free State.’ (p.511; see seq., under John O’Donovan, q.v.]; ‘the Royal Irish Academy and its public with equal enthusiasm [511] welcomed Pagan and Christian; thought the Round Towers a commemoration of Persian fire-worship. There was little [for] orthodoxy to take alarm [at]; the Catholics were crushed and cowed; an honoured great-uncle of mine - his portrait by some forgotten master hangs upon my bedroom wall - a Church of Ireland rector, would upon occasion boast that you could not ask a question he could not answer with a perfectly appropriate blasphemy or indecency. When several counties had been surveyed but nothing published, the Government, afraid of rousing dangerous patriotic emotion, withdrew support; large manuscript volumes remain containing much picturesque correspondence between scholars.’ (p.512 [see seq. under Standish Hayes O’Grady supra, and Standish James O’Grady, supra].) [Cont.]

General Introduction for My Work’ (1935), Part I - cont.: ‘Behind all Irish history hangs a great tapestry, even Christianity had to accept it and be itself pictured there. Nobody looking at its dim folds can say where [513] Christianity begins and Druidism ends.’ (p.513-14.) ‘Sometimes I am told in recommendation, if the newspaper is Irish, in condemnation if it is English, that my movement perished under the firing squads of 1916; sometimes that those firing squads made our realistic movement possible. If that statement is true, and it so only so in part, for romance was everywhere receding, it is because in the imagination of Pearse and his fellow soldiers the Sacrifice of the Mass had found the Red Branch in the tapestry; they went out to die calling upon Cuchulain: “Fall, Hercules, from Heaven in tempests hurled / To cleanse the beastly stable of the world”. In one sense the poets of 1916 were not of what the newspapers call my school. The Gaelic League, made timid by modern popularisation of Catholicism sprung from the aspidistra and not from the root of Jesse, dreaded intellectual daring and stuck to dictionary and grammar. Pearse and MacDonagh, and others among the executed men would have done, or [515] attempted, in Gaelic, what we did or attempted in English.

General Introduction for My Work’ (1935), Part I - cont.: ‘Our mythology, our legends, differ from those of other European countries because down to the end of the seventeenth century they had the attention, perhaps the unquestioned belief, of peasant and noble alike; Homer belongs to sedentary men, even today our ancient queens, our mediaeval soldiers and lovers, can make a pedlar shudder. I can put my own thought, despair perhaps from the study of present circumstance in the light of ancient philosophy, into the mouth of rambling poets of the seventeenth century, or even of some imagined ballad singer of to-day, and the deeper my thought the more credible, the more peasant-like, are ballad singer and rambling poet. Some modern poets contend that jazz and music-hall songs are the folk art of our time, that we should mould an art upon them; we Irish poets, modern men also, reject every folk art that does not go back to Olympus. Give me time, and a little youth and I will prove that even “Johnny, I hardly knew ye”, goes back.’ (p.516). [Cont.]

General Introduction for My Work’ (1935), Part I - cont.: WBY quotes Arnold Toynbee: ‘Modern Ireland has made up her mind, in our generation, to find her level as a willing inmate in our workaday world’, and continues: ‘If Irish literature goes on as my generation planned it, it may do something to keep the “Irishry” living, nor will the work of the realists hinder, nor the figures they imagine, nor those described in memoirs of the revolution. These last especially, like certain great political predecessors, Parnell, Swift, Lord Edwards, have stepped back into the tapestry. It may be indeed that certain characteristics of the “Irishry” must grow in importance. When Lady Gregory asked me to annotate her Visions and Beliefs I began, that I might understand what she had taken down in Galway, an investigation of contemporary spiritualism. [...] If Lady Gregory had not said when we passed an old man in the woods, “That man may know the secret of the ages”, I might never have talked with Shri Purohit Swãmi or made him translate his Master’s travels in Tibet [...].’ (p.517.) [Cont.]

General Introduction for My Work’ (1935), Part I - cont.: ‘I am convinced that in two or three generations it will become generally known that the mechanical theory has no reality, that the natural and supernatural are knit together [...] Europeans may find something attractive in a Christ posed against a background not of Judaism but of Druidism’ / ‘I was born into this faith, have lived in it, and shall die in it; my Christ, a legitimate deduction from the Creed of St. Patrick as I think, is that Unity of Being Dante compared to a perfectly proportioned human body, Blake’s “Imagination”, what the Upanishads have named “Self”: nor is this unity distant and therefore intellectually understandable, but imminent, differing from man to man and age to age, taking upon itself pain and ugliness, “eye of newt, and toe of frog”. / Subconscious preoccupation with this theme has brought me A Vision, its harsh geometry an incomplete interpretation. The “Irishry” have preserved their ancient “deposit” through wars which, during the sixteenth and [518] seventeenth centuries, became wars of extermination; no people, Lecky said at the opening of his Ireland in the Eighteenth Century, have undergone greater persecution, nor did that persecution altogether cease up to our our day.’ [Cont.]

General Introduction for My Work’ (1935), Part I - [continues immediately]: ‘[N]o people, said Lecky at the opening of his Ireland in the Eighteenth Century, have undergone greater persecution, nor did the persecution cease up to our own day. No 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. It is not enough to have put it into the mouth of a rambling peasant poet. 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 through 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. This is Irish hatred and solitude, the hatred of human life that made Swift write Gulliver and the epitaph upon his tomb, that can still make us wag between extremes and doubt our sanity.’ (Essays & Introductions, pp.518-19; quoted [in large part] in Seamus Deane, Heroic Styles: The Tradition of an Idea, Field Day Pamphlet, No. 4, Derry: Field Day 1984, pp.9-10; also quoted in Una Kealy, ‘The Return of Radical Innocence in the Plays of W. B. Yeats’ [UUC MA 1999], p.60.)

[Note Seamus Deane’s comment: ‘The pathology of literary unionism has never been better defined’ (ibid., heroic Styles, 1984, p.10). See also Richard Finneran: ‘One can argue [...], that it is the agony of a conflicted existence that partly shapes the poetic act, the poetic utterance in Yeats, whose “fabulous symbol[s]” were both his “heart’s victim and its torturer”. (“Her Vision in the [213] Wood”.)’ ‘(W. B. Yeats: Autobiography and Colonialism’, in Yeats: An Annual of Critical and Textual Studies, Michigan UP 1995, pp.213-14.)

Further: ‘‘[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.)

Further: ‘A man just tonsured by the Druids could learn from the nearest Christian neighbour to sign himself with the Cross.’ (idem.), remarking that the Indians were being ‘forced to learn everything, even their own Sanskrit, through the vehicle of English.’ [For comments on Gaelic [i.e. Irish] as his mother tongue, see under Irish language, infra.)

Note: Yeats’s saying, ‘my hatred tortures me with love, my love with hate’ seems to echo Catullus: ‘Odi et amo. quare id faciam, fortasse requiris? nescio, sed fieri sentio et excrucior.’ (Poem 85.) [BS]

General Introduction for My Work’ (1935) - Pt. III: ‘Style is almost unconscius. I know what I have tried to do, little what I have done. [...] an Irish preference for a swift current might be mere indolence, yet Burns may have felt the same when he read Thomson and Cowper. The English mind is meditative, rich, deliberate; it may remember the Thames valley. I planned to write short lyrics or poetic drama where every speech [would] be short and concentrated, knit by dramatic tension, and I did so with more confidence because young English poets were at that time writing out of emotion at the moment of crisis, though their old slow-moving meditaiton returned almost at once. Then, and in this English poetry has folllowed my lead, I tried to make the language of poetry coincide with that of passionate, normal speech. I wanted to write in whatever language comes most naturally when we soliloquise, as I do all day long, puon the events of our own lives or of any life where we can see ourselves for a moment. [...]’ [Cont.]

General Introduction for My Work’ (1935) - Pt. III: ‘It was as a long time before I had made a language to my liking; I began to make it when I discovered some twenty years ago that I must seek, not as Wordsworth thought, words in common use, but a powerful and passionate syntax, and a complete coincidence between period and stanza. Because I need a passionate syntax for passionate subject-matter I compel myself to accept those traditional metres that have developed with the language. Ezra Pound, Turner, Lawrence wrote admirable free verse, I could not. I would lose myself, become joyless like those mad old women. The translators of the Bible, Sir Thomas Browne, certain translators from the Greek when translators still bothered about rhythm, created a form midway between prose and verse that seems natural to impersonal meditation; but all that is personal soon rots; it must be packed in ice or salt. Once when [I was in] delirium from pneumonia I dictated a letter to George Moore telling him to eat salt because it was a symbol of eternity; the delirium passed, I had no memory of that letter, but I must have meant what I now mean. If I wrote of personal love or sorrow in free verse, or in any rhythm that left it unchanged, amid all its accidence, I would be full of self-contempt because of my egotism and indiscretion, and foresee the boredom of my reader. I must choose a traditional stanza, even what I alter must seem traditional. I commit my emotion to shepherds, herdsmen, camel-drivers, learned men, Milton’s or Shelley’s Platonist, that tower Palmer drew. Talk to me of originality and I will turn on you with rage. I am a crowd, I am a lonely man, I am nothing. Ancient salt is best packing.’ [Cont.]

General Introduction for My Work’ (1935) - Pt. III [continues immediately:] ‘The heroes of Shakespeare convey to us through their looks, or through the metaphorical patterns their speech, the sudden enlargement of their vision, their ecstasy at the approach of death: “She should have died hereafter”, “Of many thousand kisses the poor last”, “Absent thee from felicity awhile”. They have become God or Mother Goddess, the pelican, “My baby at my breast”, but all must be cold; no actress has ever sobbed when she played Cleopatra, even the shallow brain of a producer has never thought of such a thing. 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 journalist and groundlings. There may be in this or that detail painful tragedy, but in the whole work none. I have heard Lady Gregory say, rejecting some play in the modern manner sent to the Abbey Theatre, “Tragedy must be a joy to the man who dies.” Nor is it any different with lyrics, songs, narrative poems; neither scholars nor the populace have sung or read anything generation after generation because of its pain. The maid of honour whose tragedy they sing must be lifted out of history with timeless pattern, she is one of the four Maries, 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 from a letter of my father’s, that I would write a poem ‘cold and passionate as the dawn.’ (Essays and Introductions, 1961; pp.521-23.)

General Introduction for My Work’ (1935) - Pt. IV: ‘[...] I am joined to the “Irishry” and expect a counter-renaissance. No doubt it is part of the game to push that Renaissance; I make no complaint; I am accustomed to the geometrical arrangement of history in A Vision, but I go deeper than “custom” for my convictions. When I stand on O’Connell bridge in the half light and notice that discordant architecture, all those electric signs, where modern heterogeneity has taken physical form, a vague hatred comes up out of my own dark and I am certain that wherever in Europe there are minds strong enough to lead others the same vague hatred will have issued in violence and imposed some kind of rule of kindred. I cannot know the nature of that rule, for its opposite fills the light; all I can do to bring it nearer is to intensify my hatred. I am no Nationalist except in Ireland for passing reasons; State and Nation are the work of the intellect, and when you consider what comes before or after them they are, as Victor Hugo said of something or other, not worth the blade of grass God gives for the nest of the linnet.’ (Essays and Introductions, 1961, p.526; End. the concluding sentence quoted in Terence Brown, Life of W. B. Yeats, Dublin: Gill & Macmillan 1999, p.354.)

General Introduction to My Plays’ (1937): ‘When I follow back my stream to its source I find two dominant desires: I wanted to get rid of irrelevant movement - the stage must become still that words might keep all their vividness - and I wanted vivid words.’ (Essays & Introductions, p.527.)

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