Monk Gibbon, The Masterpiece and the Man: Yeats As I Knew Him (London: Hart-Davis 1959)


[...] the human side, if he had one, was reserved for a few intimates. But for those who expected the poet, the poet assuredly was there, haughty, arrogant, oracular, absent-minded to the point almost of pose. [He had shaped his literary personality so deliberately that it seemed to have taken over control and expelled the natural man. [...]

It was easy to know the poems. It was more difficult, if not impossible, to know the man. The poems were my friends. [12]

The Yeatses were our cousins in the sense that cousins is understood in tribal Ireland. [13]

Personality passes through a whole succession of aspects. Katherine Tynan blames his plunging into public life [...] He was a bachelor of nearly fifty then. Maud Gonne had rejected him as a husband and a lover. Mrs. Shakespear may have proved kinder. [33]

Curious incident of his proposal to Iseult. [33]

On marrying Georgie Hyde-Lees, Yeats wrote to Lady Gregory; ‘My wife is a perfect wife, kind, wise, and unselfish. I think you were such another girl once. She has made my life serene and full of order.’ [37]

“AE” and Yeats talking, in the presence of two of Ireland’s greatest talkers [...] both of them, in the phrase of rugby football, hung to the ball as long as they could, developing their theme closely and continuously, [...] so that a knife blade could not be thrust between their sentences. [48]

[T]he astonishing sense of the dignity of his calling [51]

Russell had won me to his side immediately by his radiating benevolence. W. B. Yeats repelled me by his sensitive hauteur. [52]

Yeats remarked, ‘Of course death is the great moment of initiation for every man.’ [53]

L. A. G Strong devoted to him [57]

Maud Gonne: her good looks had seemed to me almost too typical. She was [a] tall, Junoesque, full-bosomed beauty of the time, almost the Gibson girl. Here was nothing unique or special, but simply a fine, handsome young woman such as every Edwardian delighted in, a mere social beauty [...] later she is converted by spirited aspirations towards the rural poor, as she recounts her childhood; 72-73];

Yeats’s Mondays, Gogarty, Starkie, Robinson, Donaghy, Dodds, and Con Curran. [85]

Donegal Bay [...] the cottage in which we lived at Fintragh. I was in the Yeats country and the curious thing is that I felt far nearer to the spirit of the poet there than when I stood beside him in his own drawing-room. [92]

‘[T]hen you don’t think conduct matters at all?’ Yeats, ‘Nothing matters except the heroic mind.’ [109]

Yeats, with his stress on style and his love of the symbol, has probably done more than any mother man to popularise vague speech with those who use the Anglo-Saxon tongue. [110]

In the Senate he had made an impassioned speech against the bill which made divorce impossible in the Free State. He began it, Hone tells us, deathly pale, and he finished it with sweat pouring from his brow. In the course of the speech he trod on every toe that offered. He saw himself on this occasion as the defender of Protestant liberties; nevertheless he cast doubt on the historical validity of the Gospels, speaking of them rather in the way a Gnostic would do, as symbol rather than fact. [...] He gibed at the Irish puritan tradition - shared alike by Protestants and Catholics - and took malicious delight in reminding his fellow senators (several of whom left the House to show their displeasure) that three bronze statues presiding over Dublin’s chief thoroughfare were men who had flouted the moral code. At this pont Lord Glenavy, distressed by the direction the speech was taking, cried, ‘Do you not think we might leave the dead alone?’ To which Yeats flashed back instantly, ‘I would have to leave the dead alone.’ [112]

MG Goes on to quote “The Three Monuments”. Joseph Hone says that Yeats was ‘trailing his coat’ but that he spoke out of sincere conviction. [112f.]

Yet ‘Yeats does not confuse soul and body.’ [MG; 125; ...] ‘And laughed upon his breast to think / Beast gave to beast as much’ [WBY]

It is not likely that we shall ever know much more of what Moore terms ‘the main secret of Yeats’s life’, although it is possible that the publication of his journal or of hitherto unpublished letters might throw light upon it. [...] the poem-sequence [“A Man Young and Old”] grows so cryptic that one is forced to agree with Strong that Yeats has covered up his tracks with all the cunning of an old fox. [126]

Yeats was not a mystic. The mystic believes that there is some complete pattern, some Whole into which all the parts fit [...] Yeats’s mind moved, rather, amid isolated phantasmagorias, or at least in the same way that the mind moves in sleep, with sudden intense perception emerging from a background of vague cloud. It was intentionally undisciplined. [128]

It is was Strong who also points out Yeats’s debt to Wilde for having remarked that a man could not speak the truth until he wore a mask. ‘He had Yeats’s instant and fullest attention.’ Yeats in The Trembling [ &c.] gives us some interesting glimpses of Wilde [...] we have come to associate the theory of the mask so much with Yeats that it would be curious if he really owed the theory originally to Wilde. [128]

One of the things I disliked in W. B. was his assumed pose of a man of the world, and his acceptance of bawdiness. There was something slightly unreal about it. [...] when Gogarty arrived, jauntily rubbing his hands together with his latest dirty story already well-rehearse, or when Walter Starkie passed on some bon mot of the common room, and Yeats gave a raucous almost forced guffaw of laughter it made on me an instantaneously unfavourable impression. [117]

Chap. XIV is a discussion of Yeats’s bawdiness, from the standpoint of idealistic, innocent, and priggish young man of 28; Gibbon argues that Goethe’s attitude to women by comparison never changed always included reference, humour and a keen appreciation of her varied appeal. He also cites George Moore (Hail and Farewell) on Yeat’s inspiration in Maud Gonne; ‘Artistic prurience is a disgrace to middle age’

Yeats’s letter to Gibbon: ‘... .. I have read [your book] and like its accurate speech and careful music. / You have found your voice, and the words and emotion will deepen with life and study, and if both bring you to some tragic situation or exultation, you will have all a poet needs.’ [131]

In a subsequent letter [March 12 1932], Yeats faults Gibbon for his adoption of Hopkin’s influence, and praises the more natural speech of Bridges. ‘Again and again, I find your speech admirable, powerful, vivid, rhythmical but I am upset because I do not find the man. [...] Study 17th c. Gaelic poets. Hopkins believed in nothing. [138]

MG disputes Yeats’s rejection of Hopkins in the preface to The Oxford Book of Modern Verse [...] Yeats makes it plain that he is wholly allergic to it. [138-39]

[A]s he grew older the problem of a theme became as acute for him as the problem of a style [...]

In ‘Circus Animals Desertion’, Yeats gives tragic expression to this dilemma [140]

Yeats to Maud Gonne: ‘You have lived too much out of Ireland’ [158]

Later, Yeats rejects Gibbon poem: ‘It was not Irish enough. I was not Irish enough.’ [Yeats excluded him from him from F. R. Higgins’s Broadsides.

Foundation of Irish Academy of Letters [1932] treated and letter of invitation reproduced here [159ff], as in Stephen Gwynn’s Irish Literature and Drama. [160]

Yeats to Hone, ‘There are 3 people in Dublin whom I dislike. Dunsany because he is rude to his wife on front of the servants, Monk Gibbon because he is argumentative, and Sarah Purser because she is a petulant old woman.’ / It was a true bill in my case. [170]

Yeats asks Gogarty for his books in view of editing Oxford Book of Modern Verse, with ‘a look, almost a leer in my direction, as though it were his deliberate intention to wound me.’ [180].

END

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