Yeats and Modern Poetry [1 ed.] 1107622336, 9781107622333

Scholars and critics commonly align W. B. Yeats with Ezra Pound, T. S. Eliot and the modernist movement at large. This i

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Yeats and Modern Poetry [1 ed.]
 1107622336, 9781107622333

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Scholars and critics commonly align W.B. Yeats with Ezra Pound, T.S. Eliot and the modernist movement at large. This incisive study from renowned poetry critic Edna Longley argues that Yeats’s presence and influence in modern poetry have been sorely misunderstood. Longley disputes the value of modernist critical paradigms and suggests alternative perspectives for interpreting Yeats – perspectives based on his own criticism, and on how Ireland shaped both his criticism and his poetry. Close readings of particular poems focus on structure, demonstrating how radically Yeats’s approach to poetic form differs from that of Pound and Eliot. Longley discusses other twentieth-century poets in relation to Yeats’s insistence on tradition, and offers valuable insights into the work of Edward Thomas, Wallace Stevens, Wilfred Owen, Hugh MacDiarmid, W.H. Auden, Louis MacNeice, Geoffrey Hill, Philip Larkin and Ted Hughes. Her postscript addresses key issues in contemporary poetry by taking a fresh look at Yeats’s enduring legacy. Ed na L on gl ey grew up in Dublin and was educated at Trinity College Dublin. For thirty-nine years she taught in the School of English at Queen’s University Belfast, where she is now Professor Emerita. She is a Member of the Royal Irish Academy and a Fellow of the British Academy. Longley has written extensively on modern poetry, and is well known for her association, as critic, with the poetic movement in Northern Ireland since the 1960s. Her books include The Living Stream: Literature and Revisionism in Ireland (1994), Poetry & Posterity (2000) and her annotated edition of Edward Thomas’s Collected Poems (2008). She has co-edited (with Peter Mackay and Fran Brearton) Modern Irish and Scottish Poetry (2011) and (with Fran Brearton) Incorrigibly Plural: Louis MacNeice and His Legacy (2012).

Y E AT S A N D M O D E R N P O E T RY EDNA LONGLEY Queen’s University Belfast

32 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10013-2473, USA Cambridge University Press is part of the University of Cambridge. It furthers the University’s mission by disseminating knowledge in the pursuit of education, learning and research at the highest international levels of excellence. Information on this title: © Edna Longley 2014 This publication is in copyright. Subject to statutory exception and to the provisions of relevant collective licensing agreements, no reproduction of any part may take place without the written permission of Cambridge University Press. First published 2014 Printed in the United States of America A catalogue record for this publication is available from the British Library. Library of Congress Cataloguing in Publication data Longley, Edna. Yeats and Modern Poetry / Edna Longley, Queen’s University Belfast. pages cm Includes bibliographical references and index. ISBN 978-1-107-00985-1 (hardback) – ISBN 978-1-107-62233-3 (pbk.) 1. Yeats, W. B. (William Butler), 1865–1939 – Criticism and interpretation. 2. Yeats, W. B. (William Butler), 1865–1939 – Influence. I. Title. PR5907.L66 2013 821′.8–dc23 2013017432 ISBN 978-1-107-00985-1 Hardback ISBN 978-1-107-62233-3 Paperback Cambridge University Press has no responsibility for the persistence or accuracy of URLs for external or third-party Internet Web sites referred to in this publication and does not guarantee that any content on such Web sites is, or will remain, accurate or appropriate.

To the memory of Michael Allen (1935–2011), a great critic with whom I wish I could have discussed more of this book.


Preface Acknowledgements List of Abbreviations

page ix xv xvii


Ireland as Audience: ‘To write for my own race’



Yeats and American Modernism



Intricate Trees: The Survival of Symbolism


4 ‘Monstrous familiar images’: Poetry and War, 1914–1923




Yeats’s Other Island



Notes Index

213 237



In 1942, the American poet Delmore Schwartz asked whether any book could tell ‘the whole truth’ about W.B. Yeats (1865–1939): Is it not clear that [its] author will not be Irish? Not only have the Irish admirers and followers of Yeats seemed to miss a great deal, so that they are hardly able to distinguish Yeats from AE [the poet George Russell]; but . . . Yeats’s career and work must for some time be bound up with many native feelings about Ireland . . . Yet . . . an American will not write this book because he will not know enough about Ireland . . . [And] no Englishman will write [it], not even an unhappy Englishman who desires the death of the old gang.1

Yeats studies have globally multiplied during the last seventy years, and ‘the whole truth’ will remain ever elusive. Yet Schwartz raised questions of critical perspective that still affect Yeats’s position in modern Anglophone poetry, however secure that position may be. Critics have often explored his diverse impact on individual poets (not only English-language poets),2 and ‘influence’ will be a factor in this study too. But rather than attempt the Sisyphean task of tracking every homage, echo or reworking, I want to consider Yeats’s broader aesthetic presence: to look at some facets of Yeats with ‘modern poetry’ in mind, some facets of ‘modern poetry’ with Yeats in mind. If Yeats can be hard to get into focus, ‘modern poetry’, in theory and practice, can be hard to get into focus without Yeats. It does not help that the foundational narratives are more likely to centre on T.S. Eliot or Ezra Pound. So I will be partly concerned with ways in which Yeats’s poetry has, or has not, been read. That includes critiques conditioned by ‘native feelings about Ireland’, aesthetic categories like ‘modernism’ and ‘Symbolism’, cultural-political theory as represented by the ‘archipelagic’ and ‘postcolonial’ (‘death of the old gang’) paradigms and approaches more specific to poetry: one chapter discusses Yeats the ‘war poet’. There is also the key question of how Yeats himself reads ‘Yeats and modern poetry’. ix



It might seem a problem that Yeats tends to see ‘modern’ and ‘poetry’ as oxymoronic. At the end of ‘The Statues’ (1938) he pits the matrix of his art against modernity: We Irish, born into that ancient sect But thrown upon this filthy modern tide And by its formless, spawning, fury wrecked Climb to our proper dark, that we may trace The lineaments of a plummet-measured face. (CW1 345)

Earlier, ‘Ego Dominus Tuus’ (1915) had distanced ‘form’ from the modern in more purely aesthetic terms. ‘Hic’, who represents post-Romantic subjectivity carried to excess, says: ‘I would find myself and not an image.’ ‘Ille’ replies: That is our modern hope, and by its light We have lit upon the gentle, sensitive mind And lost the old nonchalance of the hand; Whether we have chosen chisel, pen or brush, We are but critics, or but half create . . . (161–2)

Yeats’s poetic lexicon always favours the ‘ancient’ or ‘old’ over the ‘modern’: a word framed by invisible inverted commas even where not overtly negative. In ‘Among School Children’ the children learn in ‘the best modern way’ (219). Yet, perhaps as a critical-creative rearguard action, Yeats agreed to edit the Oxford Book of Modern Verse (1936). And in ‘High Talk’, written three months after ‘The Statues’, he accepts the label ‘modern’ – if with a long spoon or long leg: Processions that lack high stilts have nothing that catches the eye. What if my great-granddad had a pair that were twenty foot high, And mine were but fifteen foot, no modern stalks upon higher . . . (351)

That ironical self-portrait locates the sources of Yeats’s poetic modernity in the 1890s – in 1900, he says, poets ‘got down off [their] stilts’ (OBMV xi) – and further back. Yeats’s fidelity to his ‘great-granddad’, to his early reading of ‘nothing but romantic literature’ (CW5 205), will be seen here as marking the extent to which modern poetry (not just Yeats’s poetry) has continued to draw out the implications of Romantic aesthetics. From The Wanderings of Oisin (1889) onwards, Yeats provides latter-day evidence for Löwy’s and Sayre’s thesis, in Romanticism against the Tide of Modernity, that Romanticism is not ‘a critique rooted in some elsewhere’ but ‘a modern critique of modernity’. Denis Donoghue writes: ‘Yeats’s wilfulness is his modernity. The poems relate themselves to our time by affronting it.’3



The Oxford Book of Modern Verse certainly affronted other people’s ideas of ‘modern poetry’. This stops it from being taken seriously as a critical intervention, and may have damaged Yeats’s reputation as a critic. Because I believe that the anthology can tell us a lot about ‘Yeats and modern poetry’, although we may need to read between the lines or against the grain, it will provide a connecting thread throughout this book. So will Yeats’s criticism more generally, despite his tendency to dismiss literary criticism along with modernity. Even in his introduction to what he calls ‘my critical prose’, he says that, when culture abandons tradition, ‘the time has come to read criticism and talk of our point of view’ (CW5 218–19). Yeats’s criticism has proved less amenable to academic processing than that of Eliot or Pound, perhaps because his assumptions and methods are furthest from those of the academy. All three poets are aesthetically self-conscious, obsessed with their relation to ‘tradition’, given to boosting their poetry with critical polemics. But Yeats’s manifestos sit less neatly beside his poems when the ‘modern movement’ is being showcased. This is partly because, after his early crusade on behalf of Irish literature and Irish criticism, he wrote less criticism in a strict sense (see Chapter 1). We often have to trace his thinking about poetry through writings whose ostensible focus is magic, mythology, philosophy, memoir, the visual arts, the theatre, Irish affairs. Meanwhile his ostensibly ‘critical’ writings wander off in those directions too. Yeats’s criticism belongs to a multi-genre body of prose – which includes that unclassifiable work A Vision. This is to say that Yeats the critic is nearly always Yeats the poet. His criticism shares in a holistic adventure of the mind. ‘Discoveries’ is an apt title for more than a particular set of brief reflections with headings like ‘A Guitar Player’ and ‘The Tree of Life’. In another introduction to ‘critical essays’ Yeats asks: ‘[W]hy should I write what I knew?’ and continues: ‘I wrote always that when I laid down my pen I might be less ignorant than when I took it up’ (CW5 84). More than most poets, then, Yeats elides the hyphen in ‘poet-critic’. Like his poems, his criticism moves forward on several fronts at once. And the elision cuts both ways. At some level, Yeats is nearly always ‘critic-poet’ as well as ‘poet-critic’. It seems integral to his art that he should be constantly rethinking his aesthetic in complex symbiosis with his practice. ‘Lapis Lazuli’ exemplifies how themes, phrases or images from Yeats’s criticism play into his poetry, sometimes years later (see p. 63f.). Thanks to his roots in Aestheticism, discussed in Chapter 3, Yeats’s poetry is more radically self-conscious, more intensely and consistently reflexive, than that of Eliot and Pound. But, as Jahan Ramazani



brilliantly regrets in his essay ‘Self-Theorising Poetry’, ‘lyric reflexivity’ has lost its critical clout to less bespoke kinds of theory: Yeats’s poetry theorises itself . . . it furnishes and unsettles its own ars poetica. At a time when lyric reflexivity is relegated to the margins of criticism, Yeats may goad us to ask again whether poetry that articulates its own ‘conditions of production’ shuts itself off from the world or tells the one kind of news that a poem can tell compellingly – where it comes from and where it goes to, what inspires it and how it weighs on the real.4

It might seem a more complex achievement to encode the aesthetic ground in the poem than (as with conceptual art) to attach it separately. I try to read poems by Yeats for their reflexive ‘news’: for ‘self-theorisation’ that may prove more revealing than some widely applied critical categories or paradigms. By the same holistic token, Yeats’s ‘Irish’ criticism and efforts to create an ‘Irish criticism’ cannot be segregated from his self-theorising. Although (or because) it contains a good deal of autobiography and politics, his essay ‘J.M. Synge and the Ireland of his Time’ (1911) is as relevant to emergent ‘modern poetry’ as Eliot’s ‘The Metaphysical Poets’. This essay, the critical essay in which Yeats most profoundly engages with a contemporary, shows that Ireland led his criticism to be much occupied with the distinctive qualities of the artist’s or poet’s ‘mind’, and therefore, crucially, with what distinguishes poetry from other kinds of utterance. Thus he writes that the political mind, which he saw as poetry’s rival, ‘ends by substituting a traditional casuistry for a country’ (CW4 228). Synge belongs to the foundations of modern poetry because he helped to rescue Yeats from everything that dilutes the poetic impulse: ‘Only that which does not teach, which does not cry out, which does not persuade, which does not condescend, which does not explain, is irresistible’ (246). Synge rather than Pound, as Pound acknowledged (see p. 57), challenged and changed Yeats’s poetry. His work exposed Yeats to ‘all that has edge, all that is salt in the mouth, all that is rough to the hand, all that heightens the emotions by contest, all that stings into life the sense of tragedy’ (236). Synge’s belief that ‘[b]efore verse can be human again, it must learn to be brutal’ also had wider currency around 1910.5 But it was Yeats’s Responsibilities (1914) that Synge most significantly ‘stung into life’. In 1938, in an article that called Yeats ‘the best of modern poets’, the American poet-critic Archibald MacLeish complained that the term ‘modern poetry’ was ‘inexact’ since ‘no poetry can be continuously “modern” and since this particular poetry happens to be about thirty years old’.6 In



this book, ‘modern poetry’ will have a hint of Yeatsian inverted commas about it, but will nonetheless signify how poetry changed during Yeats’s literary lifetime, with some extension to the two decades after his death, and with a contemporary postscript. My discussion of critical approaches will extend to the present day. To consider facets of ‘modern poetry’ from a Yeats-centred viewpoint is necessarily to be selective. Highlighting one poet casts another into shadow. Obviously I do not mean to exclude Thomas Hardy or D.H. Lawrence or Robert Graves, for instance, from the story, or to exclude what comparisons between their poetry and Yeats’s might tell us. Different permutations and combinations bring different facets into view. Indeed, to highlight Yeats may be to open up ‘modern poetry’ as a multifaceted enterprise. Again, while some of the early twentieth-century poets juxtaposed with Yeats will seem obvious choices (Eliot, Pound, perhaps Wallace Stevens), Edward Thomas and Wilfred Owen will seem less so. I allow that Thomas’s appearance in three chapters may stem from my bias as an editor of his poems. But his poetry throws into relief dimensions of Yeats’s poetry that recede when Yeats is consigned, with Eliot and Pound, to the file marked ‘modernism’. Similarly, Louis MacNeice’s centrality to Yeats’s posterity has not always or everywhere been understood. Poets are often grouped or compared on conventional and unexamined grounds that need to be shaken up. Just as Yeats synthesised many precursors, so his poetry ramifies in many directions. Because it all comes down to poems and poems also ramify, each chapter singles out a particular poem by Yeats in a way that, I hope, will anchor the chapter’s theme. The poems are: ‘At the Abbey Theatre’, ‘Lapis Lazuli’, ‘The Two Trees’, ‘Meditations in Time of Civil War’, ‘Under Saturn’ and the last poem of ‘The Tower’. Even that small sample gives the lie to any notion that ‘traditional form’ always means the same thing. I also hope to anchor so vast a theme as ‘Yeats and modern poetry’ by concentrating on the structural questions that are the nub of the matter, on internal and external factors that shaped Yeats’s forms, on his aesthetic dialectics with other poets. Yeats was the poet who most comprehensively renewed the forms and genres of lyric poetry for the modern world. Perhaps he renewed poetry itself. In order to confront or affront modernity, Yeats had to dig deep. He had to mobilise all the ‘irresistible’ qualities that make a poem a poem.


I owe a great deal to the encouragement and help of Ray Ryan and Louis Gulino at Cambridge University Press, as well as to colleagues at the Seamus Heaney Centre for Poetry at Queen’s University Belfast. I am grateful to the following for permission to quote copyright material. Poems, and excerpts from poems, by W.B. Yeats are reprinted with the permission of Scribner, a Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc., from The Collected Works of W.B. Yeats, Volume I: The Poems, revised by W.B. Yeats, edited by Richard J. Finneran. Copyright © 1924 by The Macmillan Company, renewed 1952 by Bertha Georgie Yeats. Copyright © 1928 by The Macmillan Company, renewed 1956 by Georgie Yeats. Copyright © 1933 by The Macmillan Company, renewed 1961 by Bertha Georgie Yeats. Copyright © 1934 by The Macmillan Company, renewed 1962 by Bertha Georgie Yeats. Copyright © 1940 by Georgie Yeats, renewed 1968 by Bertha Georgie Yeats, Michael Butler Yeats and Anne Yeats. All rights reserved. Excerpts from poems by W.H. Auden in The English Auden (1977) are reprinted by permission of Faber and Faber Ltd and Curtis Brown Ltd. Excerpts from ‘Genesis’ and ‘God’s Little Mountain’ by Geoffrey Hill are reprinted by permission of the author, Penguin Books, and Yale University Press. ‘Wires’ and an excerpt from ‘The Importance of Elsewhere’ by Philip Larkin are reprinted by permission of the Estate of Philip Larkin, Faber and Faber Ltd and Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC. An excerpt from ‘The Thought-Fox’ by Ted Hughes is reprinted by permission of the Estate of Ted Hughes, Faber and Faber Ltd and Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC. ‘The Bonnie Broukit Bairn’ and an excerpt from ‘The Eemis Stane’ by Hugh MacDiarmid from Selected Poetry, copyright © 1992 by Alan Riach and Michael Grieve, are reprinted by permission of New Directions Publishing Corp. and Carcanet Press Ltd. Excerpts from poems by Louis MacNeice are reprinted by permission of David Higham Associates. Excerpts from ‘Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird’ and ‘Long and Sluggish Lines’ are reprinted from The Collected Poems of Wallace xv



Stevens by Wallace Stevens, copyright © 1954 by Wallace Stevens and renewed 1982 by Holly Stevens. Used by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. Any third-party use of this material, outside of this publication, is prohibited. Interested parties must apply directly to Random House, Inc. for permission. Excerpts from poems by Wallace Stevens are also reprinted by permission of Faber and Faber Ltd. ‘Oread’ by H.D. (Hilda Doolittle), from Collected Poems, 1912–1944, copyright © 1914 by Hilda Doolittle, is reprinted by permission of New Directions Publishing Corp. and Carcanet Press Ltd. ‘T’sai Chi’h’ and ‘In a Station of the Metro’ by Ezra Pound, from Personae, copyright © 1926 by Ezra Pound, are reprinted by permission of New Directions Publishing Corp. and Faber and Faber Ltd. ‘Fire Spirit’ by William Carlos Williams, from The Collected Poems: Volume I, 1909–1939, copyright © 1938 by New Directions Publishing Corp., is reprinted by permission of New Directions Publishing Corp. and Carcanet Press Ltd. The cover image is a detail from Colin Middleton’s painting ‘The Yellow Door’ (1941). It is reproduced by permission of Brendan Boyd and the Estate of Colin Middleton.


AVB CL 1 2 3

CL InteLex CW1 CW2 CW3 CW4 CW5 CW8 CW13

W.B. Yeats, A Vision (London: Macmillan, 1962). The Collected Letters of W.B. Yeats: Vol. I, 1865–1895, ed. John Kelly and Eric Domville; Vol. II, 1896–1900, ed. Warwick Gould, John Kelly and Deirdre Toomey; Vol. III, 1901–1904, ed. John Kelly and Ronald Schuchard (Oxford University Press, 1986, 1997, 1994). The Collected Letters of W.B. Yeats, Gen. Ed. John Kelly (Oxford University Press, InteLex Electronic Edition, 2002), letters cited by Accession number. The Collected Works of W.B. Yeats, Vol. I, The Poems, ed. Richard J. Finneran (New York: Scribner, 1997). The Collected Works of W.B. Yeats, Vol. II, The Plays, ed. David R. Clark and Rosalind E. Clark (New York: Scribner, 2001). The Collected Works of W.B. Yeats, Vol. III, Autobiographies, ed. William H. O’Donnell and Douglas N. Archibald (New York: Scribner, 1999). The Collected Works of W.B. Yeats, Vol. IV, Early Essays, ed. Richard J. Finneran and George Bornstein (New York: Scribner, 2007). The Collected Works of W.B. Yeats, Vol. V, Later Essays, ed. William H. O’Donnell (New York: Scribner, 1994). The Collected Works of W.B. Yeats, Vol. VIII, The Irish Dramatic Movement, ed. Mary Fitzgerald and Richard J. Finneran (New York: Scribner, 2003). The Collected Works of W.B. Yeats, Vol. XIII, A Vision: The Original 1925 Version, ed. Catherine E. Paul and Margaret Mills Harper (New York: Scribner, 2008). xvii

xviii Ex I&R L LDW Mem Myth OBMV UP1 UP2 VP

Abbreviations W.B. Yeats, Explorations (London: Macmillan, 1962). W.B. Yeats, Interviews and Recollections, ed. E.H. Mikhail (London: Macmillan, 1977). The Letters of W.B. Yeats, ed. Allan Wade (London: Rupert Hart-Davis, 1954). Letters on Poetry from W.B. Yeats to Dorothy Wellesley (London: Oxford University Press, 1940, 1964). W.B. Yeats, Memoirs: Autobiography – First Draft, Journal, ed. Denis Donoghue (London: Macmillan, 1972). W.B. Yeats, Mythologies (London: Macmillan, 1959). W.B. Yeats (ed.), The Oxford Book of Modern Verse 1892–1935 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1936). Uncollected Prose by W.B. Yeats, Vol. 1, ed. John P. Frayne (London: Macmillan, 1970). Uncollected Prose by W.B. Yeats, Vol. 2, ed. John P. Frayne and Colton Johnson (London: Macmillan, 1975). The Variorum Edition of the Poems of W.B. Yeats, ed. Peter Allt and Russell K. Alspach (New York: Macmillan, 1957, 1966).

Ch a p te r 1

Ireland as Audience: ‘To write for my own race’

Yeats’s presence in Irish poetry is not distinct from his presence in modern poetry. To ignore the former, which includes the sum of Irish critical responses to his work, may be to misunderstand the latter. The very failings of Irish criticism, failings bound up with its extra-literary contexts, gave it a unique influence on Yeats himself. To quote the reflexive crux of ‘The Fisherman’ (1914): All day I’d looked in the face What I had hoped ’twould be To write for my own race And the reality . . . Maybe a twelvemonth since Suddenly I began, In scorn of this audience, Imagining a man . . . (CW1 148–9)

‘The Fisherman’, which has Synge in mind, consummates its own desire to write ‘one poem’ for an ideal Muse-reader. Insofar as a gap between actual and ideal audiences shaped Yeats’s poetry, what ‘my own race’ missed or misread was constitutive. But insofar as (during and after the poet’s lifetime) the same forces shaped Irish criticism, they weakened its ability and inclination to mediate ‘Yeats’. Some signals have been jammed. This chapter intertwines three histories: how Yeats’s Irish audience entered and changed his poetic structures; his hopes for an Irish criticism; Irish academic approaches (and reproaches) to Yeats.

Mockers and Hearers In 1890, Yeats was a poet seeking an audience. He was also the embryonic modern poet who feared that it might not exist. The Rhymers’ Club, which he co-founded in London, can be seen as heralding poetry’s retreat 1


Yeats and Modern Poetry

towards a specialised readership, as fostering the fin-de-siècle solipsism satirised by W.H. Auden in ‘Letter to Lord Byron’: ‘So started what I’ll call the Poet’s Party . . . // How nice at first to watch the passers-by / Out of the upper window . . .’1 For Yeats, Ireland held out the lure of advance rather than retreat: ‘To please the folk of few books is ones great aim. By being Irish I think one has a better chance of it’ (CL1 246) . He grasped Ireland’s potential as imaginative resource, unique selling point, and mass audience. Ten strenuous years later, he wrote: ‘Nature . . . wanted a few verses from me, and [so] filled my head with thoughts with making a whole literature’ (CW4 6). Perhaps poetry always came first, but ‘making a whole literature’, and hence a whole audience, became inseparable from Yeats’s poetic ambition and horizon: ‘Does not the greatest poetry always require a people to listen to it?’ (158). His ownership of the Irish Literary Revival may be questioned, but not his identification with it. Whether upfront or behind the scenes, his poetry monitors its own reception together with that of the Revival. This causes reception as literary criticism to merge into cultural politics, into actual politics. It also compels Yeats, if he wants to address ‘Ireland in the Coming Times’ (CW1 46), to find ways of evoking a physically present community. The ‘implied readers’ of reception-theory, ideal and otherwise, are embodied as dramatis personae (as in ‘The Fisherman’) or images. Similarly, Yeatsian ‘audience’ affirms literature’s oral and aural roots. His poem ‘At Galway Races’ specifies ‘Hearers [my italics] and hearteners of the work’ (96), and the theatre fleshed out his ideal audience: ‘A nation should be like an audience in some great theatre – “In the theatre,” said Victor Hugo, “the mob becomes a people” – watching the sacred drama of its own history; every spectator finding friend and neighbour there, as we find the sun in the bright spot under the burning glass’ (VP 836). Conversely, the people might become a mob, as in ‘At the Abbey Theatre’ (Imitated from Ronsard) (1911): Dear Craoibhin Aoibhin, look into our case. When we are high and airy hundreds say That if we hold that flight they’ll leave the place, While those same hundreds mock another day Because we have made our art of common things, So bitterly, you’d dream they longed to look All their lives through into some drift of wings. You’ve dandled them and fed them from the book And know them to the bone; impart to us – We’ll keep the secret – a new trick to please.

Ireland as Audience


Is there a bridle for this Proteus That turns and changes like his draughty seas? Or is there none, most popular of men, But when they mock us, that we mock again? (CW1 95)

This verse epistle’s pedigree (Ronsard, Shakespearean sonnet form) reinforces its polemic. In 1911, the Abbey Theatre, co-founded by Yeats and Lady Gregory, faced new attacks and problems. Audiences were falling off; other theatre groups were deemed closer to the national pulse; even friendly critics spoke of ‘decline’.2 Yeats fights back by noting the contradiction or bad faith, which approves neither the theatre’s ‘high and airy’ symbolic dimension nor its fidelity to ‘common things’. ‘Craoibhin Aoibhin’ was the Gaelic pen name of Douglas Hyde: folklorist, translator and Irish-language activist, first president of the Gaelic League (founded in 1893), later president of Ireland (1938–45). The Gaelic League, although not Hyde himself, had become increasingly aligned with ‘advanced nationalism’. Hyde had recently refused to back the Abbey when an American tour of Synge’s Playboy of the Western World attracted Irish-American hostility. If ‘Proteus’ personifies recalcitrant audience as volatile groundlings, ‘Craoibhin Aoibhin’ personifies it as treason of the clerks. ‘At the Abbey Theatre’ marks or confirms a split between the two main tendencies of Irish cultural nationalism that had emerged in the 1890s: a revival based on Irish literature in English and a revival based on the Irish language. For artistic as well as strategic reasons, Yeats always promoted cross-fertilisation between the two. He associated Hyde’s work with key terms of his early aesthetic. In 1891, he wrote of Hyde’s Beside the Fire: A Collection of Irish Gaelic Folk Stories: ‘[S]uch stories are not a criticism of life, but rather an extension thereby much more closely resembling Homer than . . . a social drama by Henrik Ibsen’; in 1893, he praised Hyde’s translations in Love Songs of Connacht for revealing a world where ‘[e]verything was so old that . . . every powerful emotion found at once noble types and symbols for its expression’ (UP1 187, 285). Yet Yeats would eventually fix Hyde as a defector from poetry to prose, from literature to rhetoric, from a style derived from ‘that delicate emotional dialect of the people’ to the ‘coarse reasoning’ required by Gaelic League propaganda (Mem 54). Perhaps the writing was already on the wall in 1892, when Hyde (like Yeats, an Irish Protestant) gave his influential lecture: ‘The Necessity for De-Anglicising Ireland’. While praising the lecture, Yeats anxiously and publicly asked: ‘Can we not build up a national tradition, a national literature, which shall be none the less Irish in spirit from being English


Yeats and Modern Poetry

in language?’ (CL1 338). ‘At the Abbey Theatre’ condenses, encodes and continues a series of clashes over ‘a national literature’. The first line sets the ironic tone by juxtaposing Hyde’s fey alter ego (‘Pleasant Little Branch’) with forensic appeal as to a man of the world and rival cultural entrepreneur: the officialese of ‘look into our case’ implies that Hyde the artist has been corrupted into an institution. Later, ‘dandled’ and ‘fed’ hint that he has infantilised his followers with populist pap. This was a public quarrel. In a verse counter-attack Hyde accused Yeats of excessive complexity, of ‘bewildering’ Irish audiences ‘with multitudinous things’, whereas: ‘all our offerings are at one shrine. / Therefore we step together’.3 Hyde’s ‘one’ and ‘we’ seem calculated to affront Yeats’s sundered ‘we’ and ‘they’: the Abbey’s, and his own, national claims. In the dialectics of The Green Helmet (1912 edition), ‘At Galway Races’ (1908) counterpoints ‘At the Abbey Theatre’ (my italics) by symbolising cultural ‘oneness’ in or on Yeatsian terms. Here ‘Delight makes all of the one mind’ as skilled performance bonds with the ‘crowd that closes in behind’ (CW1 96). Not so in the centrifugal ‘At the Abbey Theatre’, where art and audience fail to meet. Freighted with envy as well as irony, ‘most popular of men’ echoes ‘What is Popular Poetry?’ (1901) – an essay in which Yeats recalls his youthful desire ‘to find a style and things to write about that the ballad-writers might be the better’. Put less selflessly, he had coveted the audience of the patriotic verse which, in the Nation newspaper, had propagated the Young Ireland movement founded by Thomas Davis in the 1840s. This bid having failed, he concluded that ‘what we call “popular” poetry never came from the people at all’ but from the latter-day historical balladry of Sir Walter Scott and Lord Macaulay, from British (Anglo-Scottish) middle-class taste. Macaulay’s ‘The Armada’ begins: ‘Attend, all ye who list to hear our noble England’s praise’. For Yeats, a poem like Davis’s ‘Nationality’ changed the country, but not the structures: ‘May Ireland’s voice be ever heard / Amid the world’s applause!’ Thus Ireland, too, has ‘people who have unlearned the unwritten tradition which binds the unlettered . . . to the beginning of time and to the foundation of the world, and who have not learned the written tradition which has been established upon the unwritten’. Prefiguring the theatre’s ‘mockers’, such readers ‘mock all expression that is wholly unlike their own’ (CW4 6–8). ‘Fed them from the book’ implies that the Gaelic League’s mix of grammar and ideology, its neglect of literature, has replicated Young Ireland’s instrumentalism. Hyde may have taken ‘step together’ from the title of a Young Ireland ballad. By 1911, Yeats had long made a virtue of unpopularity. But he inwardly reclaimed a national audience by locating the true ‘people’ in a poetic

Ireland as Audience


bonding of written and unwritten, the Rhymers’ Club and the folk: ‘[The] old Irish peasant love-songs [Hyde’s versions] foreshadow a poetry whose intensity of emotion, or strangeness of language, has made it the poetry of little coteries’ (UP2, 188). The contexts of ‘At the Abbey Theatre’ place Young Ireland verse, the Gaelic League and Victorian literary values in a sin-bin outside this creative orbit. From the 1890s to the 1910s, Yeats’s difficulties with Irish audiences reinforced his sense of sharing in the Symbolist ‘revolt against exteriority, against rhetoric’ (see Chapter 3): ‘The poetry that comes out of the old wisdom must turn always to religion and to the law of the hidden world, while the poetry of the new wisdom must not forget politics and the law of the visible world; and between these poetries there cannot be any peace’ (UP2 193). This was, in part, a war about modern poetry, or for modern poetry, fought on Irish soil. Yeats’s hostility to the (Irish and British) middle class was aesthetic before it was aristocratic, and it hinged on poetry’s loss of audience to verse and worse. ‘At Galway Races’ yearns for the ‘good attendance’ supposedly available ‘Before the merchant and the clerk / Breathed on the world with timid breath’ (CW1 96). With The Green Helmet (1910, 1912) and Responsibilities (1914), an overtly ‘critical’ voice enters Yeats’s lyric, its tones deployed to defend the aesthetic principles at the core. Hitherto such a voice, the medium of epistle and epigram from Horace to Pope, had been alien to his poetry if not his prose. Titles like ‘On hearing that the Students of our New University have joined the Agitation against Immoral Literature’ or ‘To a Poet, who would have me Praise certain Bad Poets, Imitators of His and Mine’ (this poem ends ‘was there ever dog that praised his fleas?’) are critical essays in themselves (CW1 93). Pent-up anger spills over from Yeats’s prose criticism. As his poems take on other critics who ‘mock’, ‘agitate’ or ‘praise’, they necessarily have dealings with ‘the law of the visible world’, with rhetoric and exteriority. But Yeatsian rhetoric remains at odds with Victorian versifying because it protects interiority and functions in a classical sense. His poem ‘Upon a House Shaken by the Land Agitation’ defines achieved style as uniting ‘passion and precision’ (94). Yeats’s oratorical strategies, the emergent ‘powerful and passionate syntax’ that fractures the incantatory cadences of his early poetry, parallel his rebukes from the Abbey stage (CW5 212). Conversational shorthand (‘they’ll’, ‘You’ve’) adds a ‘common’ touch. By engaging so directly with audience, he tests poetry in the world of action, the modern world, not just an Irish world. The polemical syntax of ‘At the Abbey Theatre’ breaks with strict sonnet structure. Line 8 both pre-empts the ‘turn’ and overrides the quatrain with a new sentence.


Yeats and Modern Poetry

This accentuates the strong rhyme ‘look’ / ‘book’, which prepares for the repeated ‘mock’. Similarly, the syntactical cohesion of lines 11–14 adds impetus and bite to the movement from the third quatrain to the final couplet (more Pope than Shakespeare). By internalising the auditoria of their performance, Yeats’s poems sharpen their sensitivity to the ‘real’ world, to ‘the bright spot under the burning glass’. ‘At the Abbey Theatre’ is a title that specifies the poem’s own theatricality, its sense of itself on a stage or platform – for Yeats, the Abbey was both – its status as ‘syllogistic public argument’ (to quote Jahan Ramazani).4 The syllogism of lines 2–7 exposes the illogic that the poem targets. This speaker-as-advocate closes with rhetorical questions – a construction that would prove versatile for Yeats. But a reflexive subtext leaves further questions hanging, as the final couplet glances back over the poem’s genre, its critical voice, its ‘mockery’. To return mock for mock may be to admit defeat. Yeats’s much-quoted aphorism in ‘Anima Hominis’ (1917), ‘We make out of the quarrel with others, rhetoric, but of the quarrel with ourselves, poetry’ (CW5 8), should be taken neither as a watertight distinction nor as evidence that the quarrel between these quarrels – as poetic modalities – was over. In his 1890s battles with the Irish political mind (see below), battles complicated by his envy of its power, Yeats’s generic antagonist had been the ‘orator’, for whom ‘there are none but certainties’ (CL1 372). He particularly feared the lawyer J.F. Taylor who trampled on ‘convictions . . . founded not upon any logical argument but upon a series of delicate perceptions’ (Mem 66). In 1893, defending the view that ‘partisan politics’ had damaged the Irish intellect, Yeats said that a writer should ‘endeavour to become a master of his craft, and be ever careful to keep rhetoric, or the tendency to think of his audience, rather than of the Perfect and the True, out of his writing’ (CL1 371). Yet, by 1906 he was proposing that ‘oratory’ (now distinguished from ‘rhetoric’), rather than Walter Pater’s ‘music’, was ‘the type of all the Arts’: ‘I in my present mood am all for the man who, with an average audience before him, uses all means of persuasion – stories, laughter, tears, and but so much music as he can discover on the wings of words’ (CW4 196). The Green Helmet marks the release of Yeats’s repressed orator: his acquisition of verbal armour to protect ‘delicate perceptions’ – if at possible cost to their delicacy. In Responsibilities, audience moves centre stage. The vocative case is prominent as poems invoke or provoke, assign praise or blame. This poet-orator finds himself in an agora where art and politics interpenetrate; where audience-defined poetics have been given a further twist by Dublin’s reluctance to fund a gallery for Sir Hugh Lane’s gift of French

Ireland as Audience


Impressionist paintings. At one pole ‘audience’ is the caricature ‘Paudeen’; at the other, it is Renaissance Urbino and Ferrara, merged with Coole Park where Yeats’s patron Lady Augusta Gregory (Lane’s aunt) lived. As interventions in a row about ‘reception’, Yeats’s Lane poems have themselves been received as sectarian or colonialist rather than simply elitist. But when ‘September 1913’ contrasts the gallery’s opponents with ‘Robert Emmet and Wolfe Tone’, the Protestant as well as Catholic bourgeoisie are charged with betraying such (Protestant) patriots (CW1 107). Yeats counted the ‘pious Protestants of my childhood’ among Irish philistines, and knew that the ‘few educated men’ were by no means all Protestant (VP 819). But weight of numbers and the capacity to mobilise them ensured that the terms of opposition to Lane, as to the Revival, were largely Catholic. The Irish Catholic led the campaign against the gallery. As mass culture became linked with the rising Catholic middle class, ‘educated’ Irish Protestants began to assume the mystique of minority, tempting Yeats to connect two kinds of tradition: ‘Every day I notice some new analogy between [the] long-established life of the well-born and the artist’s life. We come from the permanent things and create them’ (Mem 156). ‘Analogy’ is always risky, and this one would get riskier. Yet tradition in Responsibilities can work against the binary ‘quarrel with others’ that threatens to simplify Yeats’s poetry. The opening poems address different auditors. A genealogical prologue, which calls assorted ‘old fathers’ into ‘ear-shot’, is followed by ‘The Grey Rock’, which seeks to please the ‘ears’ of the Rhymers’ Club poets ‘with whom I learned my trade’: poets committed to the principles of Aestheticism (see Chapter 3). These dead poets, especially Ernest Dowson and Lionel Johnson, are told: ‘You kept the Muses’ sterner laws, / And unrepenting faced your ends’ (CW1 101–2). In poems haunted by Synge’s death (in 1909), the ideal audience often seems to be dead. But, as ghostly auditors rededicate Yeats’s poetry to life and art, they raise its sights above more immediate contexts. They turn the past into posterity. The ever-receptive Rhymers are ahead of the poetic and critical audiences indicted in the closing poems of Responsibilities. In ‘A Coat’ (see p. 81), Yeats marks how his poetry has moved on, by again scorning his imitators, by depicting them as ‘fools’ stuck in his own past. This powerful literary-critical squib is followed by an involuted epilogue, which internalises ‘Coole’ as tradition (‘ancient’), literary solidarity, intelligent reception, therapeutic asylum, artistic survival: While I, from that reed-throated whisperer Who comes at need, although not now as once


Yeats and Modern Poetry A clear articulation in the air, But inwardly, surmise companions Beyond the fling of the dull ass’s hoof, – Ben Jonson’s phrase – and find when June is come At Kyle-na-no under that ancient roof A sterner conscience and a friendlier home, I can forgive even that wrong of wrongs, Those undreamt accidents that have made me – Seeing that Fame has perished this long while, Being but a part of ancient ceremony – Notorious, till all my priceless things Are but a post the passing dogs defile. (127)

That one-sentence sonnet-soliloquy, with its syntactic inversions, loops and parentheses, contrasts with the syllogistic thrust of ‘At the Abbey Theatre’. Witness the puzzling distance between ‘I’ and ‘surmise’, ‘me’ and ‘Notorious’. Taken together, the sonnets suggest that Yeats’s interpenetrating ‘quarrels’ have made his lyric stereophonic. This sonnet’s own difficulty is bound up with hearing difficulties. Hostile audiences have reciprocally inhibited ‘articulation’, driven inwards the ‘whisper’ of inspiration: a wistful recall of The Wind Among the Reeds (1899). Yeats holds in uneasy tension the Muse’s comings and goings, the ideal ‘companions’ that poetry seems to promise, artistic and critical rigour (‘A sterner conscience’), the rebuffs that have reduced ‘all my priceless things’ to ‘but a post the passing dogs defile’ (‘dull ass’s hoof ’ alludes to George Moore). Despite ‘forgive’, the syntax highlights ‘Notorious’ and gives ‘defilement’ the last word, thus leaving open the psychic wounds, the ‘wrongs’, inflicted by audience. The poem was originally called ‘Notoriety’. In Yeats and the Masks of Syntax, Joseph Adams notes how its ‘sharply interrupted’ sentence ‘seems to undergo disarticulation’.5 Yeats may have come close to this too. Responsibilities neither resolves, nor resolves into, antithetical versions of audience. The structures generated by the kind of reception that seemed to require ‘a thermometer of abuse’ (CL3 659) paved the way for what Yeats would later call ‘antinomies’. The ideal audience is itself deconstructed in ‘The People’ (1915), where he questions his need to be thanked ‘for all that work’, semi-parodies utopian Urbino (‘unperturbed and courtly images’), and digests Maud Gonne’s rebuke: ‘never have I . . . / Complained of the people’ (CW1 151). As Yeats internalises audiences, and thereby oratory, his poetry becomes dialectical at the level of syntax – with consequences for the angle of poem to poem and book to book. (My Postscript discusses some implications of his statement ‘As I altered my syntax I altered my intellect’ [CW2 24].) This fuels his special power to remake his lyric.

Ireland as Audience


With irony, ‘Words’ attributes Yeats’s mobile artistic horizon to Gonne’s (Ireland’s) misreadings: ‘every year I have cried, “At length / My darling understands it all, / Because I have come into my strength, / And words obey my call”’ (CW1 89). More obliquely, ‘Paudeen’ suggests how a struggle with audience has affected Yeats’s structures. The audience’s ‘fumble’ causes the poet’s ‘stumble’: Indignant at the fumbling wits, the obscure spite Of our old Paudeen in his shop, I stumbled blind Among the stones and thorn-trees, under morning light; Until a curlew cried and in the luminous wind A curlew answered; and suddenly thereupon I thought That on the lonely height where all are in God’s eye, There cannot be, confusion of our sound forgot, A single soul that lacks a sweet crystalline cry. (108–9)

‘Paudeen’ is less ‘the people’ than the bourgeoisie (‘shop’) that French poets could scorn or shock without running into ethno-sectarian sands. ‘Fumbling wits’ and ‘obscure spite’ sum up the history of obstructive reactions to the Revival (see below). The clashing sounds of the initial hexameters mimic a ‘stumbling’ block to art’s pulse and vision that has again passed from audience to creator. Then a synaesthetic ‘luminous wind’ reinstates full sensory and cognitive life (inspiration) – the ideal conditions for transmission and reception. This image, which invites the poem’s readers to become ideal readers, is set between the crying curlews at the poetic epicentre, at the point of reciprocity, at the point where chiastic syntax opens out across the line: ‘a curlew cried and in the luminous wind / A curlew answered’. This, in turn, enables the reflexively ‘thoughtful’ structure of the last three lines: a poem within a poem that culminates in harmonious rather than clashing sound effects. Yeatsian ascents to a ‘lonely height’ figure sublimation more than denial. The trope implies that, by engaging with infective audience, poetry acquires antibodies or rhythmic muscles that strengthen its ‘cry’. Perhaps exposure to ‘the law of the visible world’ has underlined the necessary ‘sternness’ of the Muses’ laws, of critical conscience and lyric form. The auditorium of Responsibilities musters differently pitched voices: ‘loud service to a cause’, ‘reed-throated whisperer’, ‘brazen throat’, ‘lover’s music’, ‘an old foul mouth’, a beggar’s ‘humorous happy speech’. In ‘Paudeen’, which condenses the dynamics of other poems, ‘confusion of our sound’ includes the poet’s own ‘indignant’ or critical voice. But this very confusion intensifies the ‘pure crystalline cry’ that ideally connects poetry and audience.


Yeats and Modern Poetry

Making an Irish Criticism Yeats’s critical prose, first of his media to be shaped by the quest for audience, has always competed with other approaches to Irish literature. That includes the contemporary academy with its drive, even where no special axes are being ground, to historicise, contextualise, correct and deconstruct his versions of the Literary Revival. Yet a poet announcing a new movement, inventing traditions for it or sculpting its (his) legacy, deserves some latitude. Yeats’s ‘neglected early critical writings’, to quote Roy Foster,6 are foundational to the writing of Irish literary history; and 1890s Ireland involved him in a conflict between aesthetic and historical-political priorities, which still occupies Irish literary studies. The arguments into which Yeats was drawn also test the wider remit of literature and criticism. Halfinnocently, he cast poetry into a political bear pit. He hit a nerve, and goes on hitting it. Throughout his career, Yeats shuttled between poet-critic and criticpoet. But during the 1890s he was also the critic in a more everyday sense: reviewer, journalist, editor, lecturer, evangelist. He constantly pressed the need for the Revival to be backed by indigenous criticism. Without it, English critics would still determine views of Irish literature; Irish critics would be ‘forced to criticise Irish books in English papers’ (CL1 417). In ‘Poetry and Tradition’ (1907), Yeats even puts criticism first. He describes his ‘school of writers’ as having sought ‘to begin a more imaginative tradition in Irish literature, by a criticism at once remorseless and enthusiastic’ (CW4 187). Given the patriotic immunity of Young Ireland verse, remorselessness was the harder to instil. In November 1894, Yeats took a public stand, which was more than self-serving: ‘The true ambition is to make criticism as international, and literature as National, as possible.’ Rejecting the view that Irish writers should ignore ‘the judgment of every public but the public of Ireland’, and citing American snubs to Whitman, he insisted: ‘[I]t is often necessary for an original Irish writer, to appeal, first not to his countrymen, but to that small group of men of imagination and scholarship which is scattered through many lands and many cities’ (CL1 409). Here Yeats again opts for purism after finding populism unviable. From the outset, he had to argue on behalf of literature itself, ‘almost the most profound influence that ever comes into a nation’, and of Irish literature in English, let alone advocate or advance indigenous literary criticism (398). Ireland circa 1890 was not quite the literary or critical vacuum that Yeats makes out. But he was radically reconceiving – or conceiving – ‘Irish literature’, and his differences with other cultural

Ireland as Audience


pundits bear on Irish critical belatedness. They also prove by default the need to talk about literary value: time has not yet reversed the judgement whereby ‘our criticism . . . set [James] Clarence Mangan at the head of the Young Ireland poets in the place of Davis, and put Sir Samuel Ferguson . . . next in the succession’ (CW4 187). Yeats wrote the bulk of his critical prose in the 1890s, partly because (before Lady Gregory subsidised him) he had to support himself through literary journalism, partly because he had enlisted in Irish culture wars, then fought over books rather than plays. Neither circumstance was conducive to purism. In Yeats, the Irish Literary Revival and the Politics of Print (2001), Yug Mohit Chaudhry shows how, as an aspiring author, Yeats maximised his London and Dublin contacts and trimmed his political sails: ‘[H]e wrote regularly and simultaneously for both the advanced nationalist weekly, United Ireland, and for [W.E.] Henley’s Scots and National Observer, which were not only unionist and imperialist, but also vehemently anti-Irish’.7 Yet this seems par for the course of youthful literary ambition, and Yeats somehow skirted ‘that whirlpool of insencerity [sic] from which no man returns’ (CL1 117). Henley was a noted patron, whereas Ireland then had ‘no recognised organs of literary opinion’ (299). By the same token, Yeats had to crusade for Irish literature in Irish periodicals hitherto dominated by politics. After the fall (owing to an adulterous affair) and death (1891) of Charles Stewart Parnell, politics’ difficulty became literature’s opportunity. According to Yeats, the split over Parnell’s leadership of Irish nationalism shook up polarities fixed, since 1879, by conflict over land ownership (resolved in the early 1900s): ‘[W]e began to value truth . . . free discussion appeared among us for the first time, bringing the passion for reality, the satiric genius that informs Ulysses, The Playboy of the Western World’ (VP 835). Yeats has been accused of mythologising the post-Parnell moment. Indeed, as he soon found, politics had not gone away. But he grasped, at the moment itself, the cultural possibilities created by ‘the lull of our political tumults’ (CL1 431). Further, as Chaudhry stresses, it was the Parnellite United Ireland that opened its denuded pages to literary concerns, if without modifying its advanced nationalism, ‘Catholic chauvinism’ or robust language.8 Old habits died hard. In 1900, Yeats warned the journalist D.P. Moran, then launching his paper the Leader, not to ‘bring to literary discussion, which needs a delicate and careful temper, the exasperated and violent temper we have learned from a century of political discussion’ (CL2 565). Moran paid little heed. In such a climate, it was inevitable that Yeats should begin by stressing Irishness over literature, quantity over quality, solidarity over critical


Yeats and Modern Poetry

discrimination. Often working through the literary societies he founded in London and Dublin, he promoted Irish books, issued lengthy lists of ‘the best’, compiled anthologies such as Representative Irish Tales (1891), and orchestrated public debate in journals and newspapers. He argued: ‘In a literature like the Irish . . . which is not only new but without recognised criticism, any list, no matter how personal, if it be not wholly foolish, is a good deed in a disordered world. The most that read Irish national literature read from patriotism and political enthusiasm’ (UP1 383). Yeats’s canon-making (in effect, his Irish literary baptism) was already contentious; as when he praised the prose writer William Carleton (1794–1869), from whom he derived his first ‘sense of Irish dialogue, and of peasant life’. Carleton had personified and articulated ‘the tensions of a region [in County Tyrone] where agrarian and sectarian violence had deep roots’.9 Besides demoting Davis, Yeats downgraded historical or political tomes (much the same thing) unless rich in proto-poetic legend like Standish James O’Grady’s History of Ireland: Heroic Period (1878). One result was a lost battle, in 1892, with Sir Charles Gavan Duffy (1816–1903), an old Young Irelander, over intellectual control of the New Irish Library: an amalgam of reprints and new publications. As regards criticism, this was a particularly sore defeat in Yeats’s battle with ‘the wreckage of Young Irelandism’ (Mem 154). Yeats accused Duffy of failing, in the Short Life of Thomas Davis, which he contributed to the Library, to understand the creative and critical paradigm shift in Irish poetry: ‘[H]e still persists in calling Davis – the maker of three or four charming songs that were not great, and of much useful political rhyme that was not poetry – a great poet. . . . No one who does not know literary Ireland can understand the harm done by such criticism’ (UP1 408). Yeats may have been ‘unfair’ to Duffy, as Foster argues, but not on this issue.10 D.P. Moran (1869–1936) was a more dangerous antagonist since he opposed Yeats on the ground of Irishness itself, rather than over the intellectual means to that end. It was Moran who introduced that still-vexed term ‘Anglo-Irish’ into critical vocabulary. Moran’s ‘Irish Ireland’ cultural ideology stressed economic self-sufficiency, Irish customs and the language revival. Reacting to Yeats’s essay ‘The Celtic Element in Literature’ (1897), Moran asked: ‘[W]hat good is the “Celtic note” in English literature to the Irish nation?’ The language movement enshrined the ideal-typical ‘Gael’ not ‘Celt’, and Moran notoriously asserted: ‘The Gael must be the element that absorbs.’11 Yet, from one angle, Moran has a point about ‘Celticism’; from another, his point might be called ‘criticism’. Thus he provoked (and, to do him justice, published) Yeats’s most cogent defence

Ireland as Audience


of the Revival. Here Yeats denies being influenced by Matthew Arnold’s On the Study of Celtic Literature (1867) and disowns ‘Celtic Renaissance’ and ‘Celtic Note’ as ‘vague’ terms, which he has never employed. ‘The Celtic Element’, indeed, corrects and redefines Arnold, as when Yeats calls ‘The Celtic Movement’: ‘principally the opening up of a [legendary] fountain’ that ‘may well give’ the new century ‘its most memorable symbols’ (CW4 137–8). Yet Moran can take some credit for Yeats’s phasing out any lingering Celtic element, and for concentrating his mind on the sectarian subtexts of literary taxonomies: You have decided, and rightly, considering your purpose, to call all ‘literature concerning Ireland written in English’, ‘Anglo-Irish literature’, and I shall certainly do the same when I would persuade a man that nothing written in English can unite him perfectly to the past and future of his country, but I will certainly call it Irish literature for short, when I would persuade him that [William Allingham’s] ‘Farewell to Ballyshannon and the Winding Banks of Erne’ should be more to him than [Rudyard Kipling’s] ‘The Absent-Minded Beggar,’ or when I am out of temper with all hyphenated words. (CL2 565–6)

On another flank, by talking about the ‘country’ and about ‘nationality’ rather than ‘nationalism’, Yeats sought to attract Irish unionists to the literary movement. This he (rather optimistically) saw as a question of criticism: ‘[C]hance has hitherto decided the success or failure of Irish books; for one half Ireland has received them with undiscriminating praise, and the other half with undiscriminating indifference’ (CL1 444). One of his objections to the New Irish Library was that it offered unionists what ‘looks like evidence of our lack . . . of any admirable precision and balance of mind, of the very qualities that make literature possible’. The series, said Yeats, could only be saved from ‘irrelevant dulness’ by ‘honest criticism, with as little as the “great day for Ireland” ritual as may be’ (398). He primarily wanted to impress the unionist academic Edward Dowden (1843– 1913), who had accused him and his cohorts of being uncritical. Indeed, all their enemies charged them with ‘log-rolling’ – which caused problems for the advocate of ‘honest criticism’. Dowden was first holder (from 1867) of the chair of English Literature at Trinity College, founded in 1592 as a university for Irish Protestants, and (until the later 1960s when the Catholic Archbishop of Dublin rescinded a ban on Catholic attendance) mainly Protestant in make-up. He wrote Shakspere: A Critical Study of His Mind and Art (1875), a life of Shelley (1896), A History of French Literature (1897) and derivative poetry. He championed Whitman, and was probably the first Dublin-based intellectual to absorb Nietzsche and Ibsen. But


Yeats and Modern Poetry

Yeats’s memoir of Dowden in ‘Reveries over Childhood and Youth’ ends with the adjective ‘provincial’ (CW3 96), and he continued to complain that ‘the one [Irish] man of letters with an international influence’ had done nothing for the Revival (170) – except, perhaps, to become Yeats’s first major critical whetstone. Dowden (a friend of Yeats’s father) presided over his earliest literary milieu, and praised the ‘beauty’ and ‘unity’ of The Wanderings of Oisin (CL1 129n.). But in January 1895, Dowden sparked off a public literary-critical controversy. Having attended a lecture on ‘The Poetry of Sir Samuel Ferguson’, he was reported as saying ‘that he did not take [an] enthusiastic view of Irish poetry . . . finding in it in general an undue tendency to rhetoric, sentimentality, and a deficiency of technique’. The Irish Times commented: ‘Professor Dowden would have been honester if he had declared that he did not believe in the existence of Irish poetry at all’ (4278n.). Yeats seized his chance to portray the ‘new creative impulse’ as critically rigorous: Professor Dowden says that Irish literature has many faults . . . nor could it well be otherwise in a young literature, an experimental literature, a literature preoccupied with hitherto unworked material. . . . The only question is whether we can best check these faults by carefully sifting out and expounding what is excellent, as . . . leaders of ‘the Irish literary movement’ are endeavouring to do, or by talking, like Professor Dowden, certain vague generalities about rhetoric and sentimentality and bad technique. . . . I ask him does he think he has quite done his duty by this new creative impulse. . . . Our ‘movement’ . . . has only existed three or four years, and during that time it has denounced rhetoric with more passionate vehemence than he has ever done. (CL1 430–1)

What – then and now – wins the argument for Yeats is that he convicts Dowden of being ‘remorseless’ without being ‘enthusiastic’. Ernest Boyd would later note Dowden’s double standards about standards: ‘Although [he] could become enthusiastic over the obscurest Elizabethan English poet . . . Thomas Moore could not secure his indulgence.’12 Yet Dowden’s literary-critical unionism presented a conceptual challenge. By spotlighting the fuzzy frontier with ‘English literature’, he colluded with nationalist foes in closing down the Revival’s space. Calling Dowden the movement’s ‘most serious opponent’, Yeats told his father that he had to be in ‘Reveries’ because he personified ‘certain Victorian ideals’ against which the memoir is ‘in a subconscious way . . . a history of the revolt’ (L 602–3, 606). An ‘image of romance’ in Yeats’s teens (perhaps even an adolescent crush), Dowden’s Oedipal presence stood for English literature in its intimidating totality as well as in certain late-Victorian

Ireland as Audience


guises (CW3 94). He was, indeed, an influential architect of ‘English’ literature as a transcendental construct that suppressed not only class or colonial questions but also national, cultural, religious and linguistic differences in the archipelago he saw as inhabited by ‘a single people [who] “speak the tongue that Shakespeare spake”’. The uneasy situation of southern Irish unionists led Dowden to solicit Swinburne, Kipling and Alfred Austin for ‘songs for unionists in Ireland’, and to celebrate Shakespeare as giving ‘impulse and vigour’ to ‘the Protestant type of character, and the Protestant polity in state and nation’.13 Cultural-political insecurities drove his hegemonic mission to prevent Irish or Scottish literary excellence from dividing Eng. Lit. into ‘separate streams’. Thanks to Dowden’s academic progeny – and that of Scottish unionist professors like David Masson – much subsequent literary criticism has been unionist without being named or recognised as such. Irish commentators on Dowden usually follow Yeats in consigning him to the wrong side of history. Boyd, whose Ireland’s Literary Renaissance (1916) initiated Revival studies, also calls him ‘provincial’ in an essay called ‘A Lonely Irishman’: ‘[Dowden] could have supplied precisely the element that was lacking, creative criticism. A sense of this need is his only legacy to our national literature.’ Eve Patten represents Dowden’s negativity more positively by restoring his intellectual and ‘civic’ positions to the ‘dynamics of the late nineteenth century into which Yeats emerged’: ‘His struggle to articulate the terms of a late Victorian scholarly ethos, international and interdisciplinary, was in clear recognition of the fact that Yeats and his colleagues were starting to move the cultural goal-posts a decade before the end of the century.’14 By calling Yeats’s gigantic bluff, Dowden laid down critical questions for the future – as did Francis Thompson, when he wrote of Yeats’s anthology A Book of Irish Verse (1895): ‘It is not as though his chosen band of poets were living in Ireland, cultivating the Muse on a few potatoes. Mr Yeats himself lives in London and has been seen in hansom cabs.’15 Again, most of the new poets were indeed slight talents whom Yeats boosted, partly because he could not boost himself, partly because he needed a movement and Synge had not yet turned up. He could not then afford to dismiss his ‘fleas’. This contrasts with Dowden refusing to contribute to another ‘Irish’ anthology (he appears in Yeats’s), because he preferred to be ‘one of the general crowd of small singers than one of a local group’. Yet, while desiring a literary ‘unity’ of Anglo-Celtic ‘strands’, he writes: ‘Unquestionably our strength comes from the soil in which we grow’ and sees ‘literature which consciously aims at cosmopolitanism’ as decadent.16 The terms ‘cosmopolitan’, ‘international’, ‘national’, ‘provincial’, ‘local’


Yeats and Modern Poetry

move between and around Yeats and Dowden in a way that was, and is, critically unstable. By a historical irony, Yeats’s quarrels with independent Ireland pushed him towards some Dowdenesque attitudes. Dowden had queried the omission of eighteenth-century ‘Anglo-Irish’ authors from the Revival’s canon. From the late 1920s, Burke (whom Dowden revered), Berkeley, Swift and Goldsmith became iconic for Yeats, who twisted them into masks for himself and the (true) Irish nation – now less folk-based: ‘I collect materials . . . for some identification of my beliefs with the nation itself. I seek an image of the modern mind’s discovery of itself . . . in that one Irish century that escaped from darkness and confusion’ (Ex 344–5). In ‘The Statues’ (1938), Yeats appropriates Berkeley’s phrase ‘We Irish’ to align eighteenth-century intellectuals with Revival mythopoeia and his own ‘plummet-measured’ forms, in implied answer to a question about the genesis of the Easter Rising: ‘When Pearse summoned Cuchulain to his side / What stalked though the Post Office?’ (CW1 345). But Dowden’s ghost may stalk through the poem itself. A Book of Irish Verse, ‘compiled towards the end of a long indignant argument’, was shaped by that argument. Having wisely omitted himself, Yeats defended his ‘faultfinding’, ‘combative’ introduction – the first manifesto of modern Irish poetry – as both a strike against ‘the old gush & folly’ and a shot in the battle with Dowden: ‘I wrote [it] . . . to convince [unionists] that we were critics & writers before all else’ (CL1 451, 455). Yet he attacks Trinity College for promoting ‘alien styles’. As for non-alien styles, Yeats musters Mangan, Ferguson and the ‘strong . . . wind [that] blows from the ancient legends of Ireland’ behind poets, who have begun to ‘build up a literature in English which . . . grows always more unlike others’. These new poets embrace ‘the arts which consume the personality in solitude’; cultivate ‘spiritual passions and memories’; desire ‘artistic perfection’; and see ‘craftsmanship’ – ‘laborious selection and rejection’ – as the means to that end. Here Irish poets are already being told to ‘learn their trade’ in terms not wholly ‘unlike’ other fin-de-siècle ‘literature in English’ (see Chapter 3).17 By 1900, when the anthology was reprinted, some ‘arguments’ had indeed receded (even if they still bubble under ‘At the Abbey Theatre’): Davis being devalued, Duffy dead, Moran deflated, Dowden more or less appeased. In 1903, however, Yeats would remind his publisher to ‘send no copies of [his] books to Dublin papers’ (CL3 341), while the Faustian pact between the Revival and post-Parnellite nationalism was blown apart as culture war transferred to the theatre, and (for instance) Arthur Griffith’s United Irishman called the Playboy ‘a vile and inhuman story told in the foulest language’.18 As for criticism, in 1899 a

Ireland as Audience


series of newspaper articles, an outcome of the Dowden controversy, was collected as Literary Ideals in Ireland. Here ‘John Eglinton’ [W.K. Magee] throws a spanner into the Revival’s works by proposing that the ‘epics of the present are the steam-engine and the dynamo, its lyrics the kinematograph, phonograph’. In ‘Nationalism and Cosmopolitanism’, AE [George Russell] holds the Revival line by asserting the superiority of literature created by writers ‘who have a common aim in building up . . . a soul for their country’. But Yeats’s Symbolist manifesto, ‘The Autumn of the Flesh [Body]’, which develops the aesthetics of his introduction to A Book of Irish Verse, moves away from country if not from soul. Written to ‘widen the controversy’ (CL2 289), this essay proposes that the arts are about to ‘fill our thoughts with the essences of things, and not with things’ (CW4 141–2). A second piece from Yeats hits back at Eglinton and invokes literary value: ‘[T]he difference between good and bad poetry is not in the preference for legendary, or for unlegendary, subjects, but in the volume and intensity of its passion for beauty, and in the perfection of its workmanship [and] all criticism that forgets these things is mischievous, and doubly mischievous in a country of unsettled opinion’.19 Three critics who responded to Yeats’s challenges, who advanced Irish criticism in the early twentieth century, were James Joyce, Ernest Boyd and Thomas MacDonagh. Kevin Barry argues that ‘Joyce’s international and cult status has concealed the ways in which his work is part of an articulate and broad debate within the Irish literary revival’: Joyce ‘address[es] us as if his text were a monologue, but this is an affectation’.20 A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man contains a vivid model of Irish ‘debate’. To the cry, ‘catch hold of this heretic’, Stephen Dedalus’s classmates beat him with a cane and a cabbage-stump for preferring Byron to Tennyson. In the National Library episode of Ulysses, under cover of Stephen’s more mature criticism, Joyce not only satirises Irish literary ‘argument’ circa 1904 but retrospectively joins in, and, as Clare Hutton has shown, ‘acknowledges the complexity of religious and cultural traditions in Ireland’.21 Literary Ideals in Ireland should ideally have included Joyce’s ‘The Day of the Rabblement’ (1901). By ‘rabblement’ Joyce means the Irish constituencies that the Literary Theatre was mistakenly courting instead of sticking to its avant-garde colours. In effect, as a supporter of the theatre, Joyce (then nineteen) calls Yeats on literary value, on his ‘treacherous instinct of adaptability’, on his ‘surrender to the trolls’, on audience and popularity: ‘If an artist courts the favour of the multitude he cannot escape the contagion of its fetishism and deliberate self-deception, and if he joins in a popular movement he does so at his own risk.’22 This astonishingly prefigures Yeats’s own later dialectics about audience and mob.


Yeats and Modern Poetry

In ‘Parnell’s Funeral’ (1933), he refers to ‘the contagion of the throng’ (CW1 285). Yeats may have taken courage from Joyce’s non serviam: harder for an Irish Protestant to finesse, and one of the under-noted currents of influence between them (see p. 43). For Joyce’s art and criticism, as for Yeats’s, Ireland as audience was a testing-ground. The very title of Ireland’s Literary Renaissance proclaims Ernest Boyd’s belief in ‘the creation of a national literature in the English language’. The book’s narrative arc and critical emphases largely follow a Yeatsian script: Young Ireland’s ‘aggressive patriotism’ has given way to an extra-political relation between literature and nationalism, this ‘truer . . . nationality’ being evinced by writers’ passion for folklore and ‘the vast field of Irish legend’. Mangan and Ferguson are identified as precursors, Hyde and Synge as conduits of the ‘old Gaelic spirit’, and Standish O’Grady’s heroic History as a foundational ‘source’. While judiciously ‘delimiting’ Yeats’s influence, Boyd gives him most of the credit: ‘[B]y taking his place beside the best living poets in England, he freed his countrymen from the inevitable ascendancy of the English tradition [and] refuted for us, by anticipation, the accusation of provincialism’. Yet he points out that Yeats’s poetry has ‘more imitators in England’ (where ‘the Celtic Note’ continued to flourish) than in Ireland and questions his ‘too deliberate’ mysticism, his ‘too weighty’ symbolism. This makes Boyd receptive to Responsibilities in a way that ascribes its innovations to Irish audiences rather than to Ezra Pound (see p. 57): ‘[The poems] are written out of the experience gained from years of controversy and struggle in the practical world on behalf of an ideal. . . . There is a firmness and directness of outline . . . [Yeats] has freed himself from the preoccupations of symbolism only to gain in beauty and energy what he has lost in vagueness and mystery.’ As for criticism itself, in keeping with his indictment of Dowden, Boyd writes: ‘The novel has fared badly, but criticism has fared worse. . . . The aesthetic reveries of W.B. Yeats, like the scattered articles of AE and others, do not bear witness to any deliberate critical effort on their part.’ Although Yeats’s ‘critical effort’ may now have taken different turns, including poetic turns (and ‘aesthetic reverie’ is also criticism), Boyd echoes the Yeats of 1890 when he finds ‘disconcerting alternations of idolatry and contempt’ because we allow ‘our criticism [to be] written for us by journalists in England’. But if Ireland fails to export critical values and paradigms, one reason is that, in a small country, ‘honest criticism . . . prefers to be silent where it cannot praise. [Hence] our habit of allowing every writer . . . to submit his work to outside criticism on the same terms as our most distinguished literary representatives. We cannot expect others to show more discrimination than ourselves.’23

Ireland as Audience


Accordingly, Boyd welcomes Thomas MacDonagh’s Literature in Ireland (also 1916). MacDonagh, a lecturer in English at University College, Dublin’s Catholic university, had published several collections of poetry in English and a study of Thomas Campion. Literature in Ireland, whose contrasting title dissolves the Revival into a longer vista, covers both languages, and MacDonagh’s first critical move is to replace ‘the Celtic Note’ with ‘the Irish Mode’. ‘Anglo-Irish literature’, he maintains, would qualify as ‘Irish’ ‘only when English had become the language of the Irish people, mainly of Gaelic stock; and when the literature was from, by, of, to and for the Irish people’. ‘Mode’ seeks to mend ‘a broken tradition’ – a project conditioned by religious as well as linguistic and political factors.24 Colin Graham notes that MacDonagh ‘sees Irish literature not as the totality of what’s been written by those who might be called Irish, but as the constant historic embodiment of some essential “mode”’, and finds a denominational subtext in MacDonagh’s view that Renaissance (Reformation) ‘intellectualism’ extinguished ‘spiritual intuitions’.25 All this contrasts with Boyd’s Whiggish progress from the ‘definite eclipse of the Irish language’ to the Revival.26 Yet MacDonagh also situates Irish poetry (his primary concern) in the present, in modernity. With Yeats and Synge in mind, he presses the Irish contribution to modern poetry: ‘Its mode is not that of the Futurists or the writers of vers libres; but . . . it stands as another element of disturbance, of revolution’. Calling Irish poetry ‘more direct, more modern’ than the poetry of Robert Bridges or Henry Newbolt, he attributes this (non-Celtic) element to Hiberno-English idioms and speech rhythms, and to sound effects crossing over from Gaelic.27 For Graham, MacDonagh’s ‘openness to a concept of the interweaving of English and Irish language literatures’ represents a ‘lost potential’ for Irish criticism.28 Loss (and its seed) is also exemplified by the dialectics between Literature in Ireland and Ireland’s Literary Renaissance. Boyd (1887–1946) was a Dublin Protestant who worked in the British consular service. He later (1920) settled in New York as a critic, editor and translator. Sponsored by H.L. Mencken, he enlivened American literary journals but was ‘lost’ to Irish criticism. MacDonagh (1878–1916) was primarily dedicated to the language revival (which he wanted to make more literary) and to advanced nationalist politics. While he, too, believes that something new is happening, his ‘Gaelic stand-point’ leads him to forget Yeats as critic and designate his book ‘a first attempt to find standards for criticism in Irish and Anglo-Irish literature’. Every chapter heading contains the word ‘Irish’, and his test for the Irishness of ‘Anglo-Irish’ literature is not just ‘substance’ (Boyd) but also its acceptance by Irish


Yeats and Modern Poetry

readers. Meanwhile ‘aggressive patriotism’ lingers in his expectation that ‘the cause, which has been the great theme of our poetry, may any day call the poets to give their lives in the old service’. On criticism, MacDonagh is protectionist, less concerned to overcome ‘provincialism’ than to allow for deferred nationhood: ‘Criticism here is of European stature [Dowden? Yeats?]. It sometimes takes advantage of its height to push through the ranks of the ungrown and to issue commands from the front. Its proper place is in the rear . . . this criticism of ours is an alien, an immigrant, or at least a cuckoo’. Rightly, MacDonagh insists that critics should not look for the ‘shapes and forms’ familiar from other countries, but ‘standards’ may be another matter.29 Critical potential was lost, as was MacDonagh himself – one of the executed leaders – in the Easter Rising. High on the list of Yeats’s immediate reactions to the Rising was his feeling, as he told Lady Gregory, ‘that all the work of years has been overturned . . . all the freeing of Irish literature and criticism from politics’ (L 613). His fear for criticism may be a strand in what ‘Easter, 1916’ perceives as ‘changed utterly’ (CW1 182). The ambiguity inscribed in this poem’s structures resumes the critical argument between Young Ireland balladry and Yeatsian poetics (see p. 120f.). The rhythms that define the latter can engender neither predictable refrain nor a certain future. That applies to the lines that elegise MacDonagh: ‘He might have won fame in the end, / So sensitive his nature seemed, / So daring and sweet his thought’ (183). The third line perhaps mourns MacDonagh the critic rather than the (not very good) poet. MacDonagh’s future as an icon of the Rising would differ from Boyd’s in Greenwich Village. Yet, in their common imprinting by the Revival, they share spacious literarycritical ground: ‘Through the English language has come a freshening breath from without: with the Gaelic Renaissance has come a new stirring of national consciousness: these two have been the greatest influences in all new literatures’ (MacDonagh).30 In a preface to the second edition of Ireland’s Literary Renaissance (1923), Boyd confirms that the prospects for Irish criticism have indeed ‘changed utterly’: ‘Now that political preoccupations are supreme, literature in Ireland has been relegated to the second plane. There is no sign of the influence of James Joyce in his own country. . . . Irish criticism is too largely the monopoly of the patriotic, whose unimpeachable sentiments concerning Ireland are regarded as entitling them to pass judgment upon questions of aesthetics.’31 Boyd is accurate in noting that Yeats’s ‘deliberate . . . effort’ to establish a modern Irish criticism had waned by 1900, as the theatre increasingly absorbed his evangelical energies. But Yeats’s critical crusade should be

Ireland as Audience


seen neither as wasted on an idiosyncratic backwater nor as divorced from the making of modern poetry. He met resistance which affected relations between the creative and critical principles in his own work, and which inflected the critical models he derived from non-Irish sources. He learned the hard way that criticism, not only Irish, not only other people’s, could never be wholly ‘freed from politics’. But he also made the artistically bracing discovery that you can’t please all the interpretive communities all the time, and the critically bracing discovery that a critic who champions literary value, amid powerful polarities, must specify literature’s distinctiveness in terms that literature originates.

‘The Yeats Question’ In a letter of 1901, Yeats illustrated his unpopularity by quoting a Dublin bookseller who had asked: ‘What is he doing here. Why doesnt he go away & leave us in peace’ (CL3 71). That might sum up some attitudes within the Irish literary academy, past and present: an audience divided over its own sources in Yeats and the Revival. As Ernest Boyd had feared, the Easter Rising and its aftermath ensured that ‘patriotic’ critics would revert to earlier patterns: suspicion of the Revival, overdetermined cultural politics, greater stress on Ireland than on aesthetics, problems with Yeats. This literary-critical Groundhog Day became modified in the later twentieth century, but not before Ireland had largely franchised Yeats criticism to America. Apart from Yeats’s selfcommentary, often oblique or encoded in poems, no critic immediately followed up the efforts of Boyd and MacDonagh to explain Irish modes to the world. Meanwhile, calls (mainly from poets) for ‘better criticism’ continued – calls, that is, for evaluation and analysis, for criticism that might be deemed ‘practical’. In 1940, the poet Austin Clarke echoed Boyd in 1923: ‘One of the paradoxes of the Irish literary revival is that we have failed to produce any movement in criticism and still depend on the views of critics in other countries. . . . In this matter our Universities have served us very badly indeed. . . . [F]or serious attempts in criticism we must turn to Cambridge, London or Yale.’32 In fact, a year later, Louis MacNeice would publish his landmark study The Poetry of W.B. Yeats. That this book might appear to fall outside mid-century Irish critical contexts is itself expressive (see Chapter 5). But Yeats’s claims for (and on) ‘a national literature’ ensured that Irish intellectuals would always have ‘views’ at another level. Paradoxically, his example encouraged the belief that literary criticism could speak for the nation – a belief that diverted critical energy into


Yeats and Modern Poetry

fresh disputes about his hegemonic credentials. To quote John Wilson Foster: ‘[A]t times in Ireland, the “Yeats Question” can seem very like the “National Question”’.33 Critique of Yeats and the Revival intensified again after 1969, when the Northern Ireland ‘Troubles’ began. And somehow Irish academic critics (myself included) could not avoid taking up old positions on the ‘Yeats Question’. The criticism of Daniel Corkery and Seamus Deane epitomises the continuity between these phases of renewed culture war; Corkery being a postcolonial critic avant la lettre, Deane après. For both critics, Yeats’s relation to Ireland matters more than his relation to modern – or indeed Irish – poetry, while Munster and Ulster, the Irish provinces with which Yeats had least to do, condition their perspectives. Corkery’s The Hidden Ireland (1925) is less literary history than nativist epic: an unconscious figure or figurative unconscious for the emergent Irish Free State whose cultural ideology he would greatly influence. Here eighteenth-century Gaelic Ireland, ‘self-contained and vital’, still ‘shimmers’ on rural hillsides beyond the colonial horizon. Like MacDonagh, Corkery goes behind the ‘rootless’ Renaissance / Reformation / Revival, and his thrust is to uproot the always-already rootless ‘Planters’ who ‘differed from the people in race, language, religion, culture; while the landscape they looked upon was indeed but rocks and stones and trees’.34 In Synge and Anglo-Irish Literature (1931), Corkery mentions Yeats, but as the author of ‘sophisticated alien-minded poetry’, the importer of literary moulds never ‘fashioned to express the genius of Ireland’. This book integrates and reinforces all previous resistance to a Yeats-identified literary movement and literary criticism. Corkery claims that only ‘in periods of national exaltation’ or ‘struggle’ does ‘Anglo-Irish literature make the effort to develop a body of criticism of its own’. Then it ‘once again becomes a free agent; once again begins unduly to reflect [foreign] movements and fashions’. This admits but erases the Revival, since ‘normal and national are synonymous in literary criticism’, and ‘the nation’s own critical opinion’ of any literary work is ‘the warrant of life or death’. In effect, Young Ireland criticism has risen from the ‘wreckage’. Corkery even posits that a ‘genuine’ school of AngloIrish poetry might spring from ‘popular’ (Davisite) verse, not from ‘its more famous, very distant relation above in the drawing room’. Listing literary expatriates (Joyce among them), he also implies that recourse to ‘an alien market’ is encoded in the literary genes rather than indexed to any censorship of ‘free agents’. Synge, however, despite his ‘spiritual’ lapses, immersed himself in the life and language of ‘the Catholic Gaelic people’, and so ‘came to know not only a place, but a nation’.35

Ireland as Audience


Sean O’Faoláin called Synge and Anglo-Irish Literature a quasi-‘fascist’ book ‘which dismissed Yeats and tied itself up in knots to try to preserve Synge’.36 Yet, in celebrating Synge, Corkery opened himself up to a writer who put his ideology under strain. ‘Knots’, as an effect of literary complexity, can be expressive – and seem intrinsic to Irish criticism as to Yeatsian ‘audience’. Seamus Deane’s criticism, infinitely subtler than Corkery’s, can also get knotted – usually over Yeats. One reason is that, like Seamus Heaney in some poems, he is alert to possible parallels between Corkery’s ‘hidden Ireland’ and Catholic experience in Northern Ireland.37 In Strange Country (1997), Deane depicts Yeats and Corkery as equally dubious twin founders of modern Irish criticism. He sees them as ‘reformulating’ Irish literary tradition, co-creating ‘the matrix of a national literature’, with reference to two ‘anti-modern’ communities: ‘Ascendancy and native’. But, if Corkery conceives literary tradition in such tribal terms, they travesty the cultural, let alone critical, reach of the Revival or Yeats. Deane, who had earlier called Yeats’s version of ‘Ascendancy’ eighteenth-century AngloIreland ‘an almost comically absurd historical fiction’, reads Yeatsian aesthetics less as they evolve in his poetry and criticism than from those aspects of his later politics most amenable to binary characterisation.38 To equate a criticism founded by or on Yeats, with one founded by Corkery, is another way of refusing to derive Irish critical paradigms from the Revival – or, indeed, from literature. In ‘Yeats and Northern Nationalism’, an essay on the criticism of Deane, Denis Donoghue and Seamus Heaney, John Wilson Foster concludes that ‘Deane’s reading of Yeats is a case not of Marxist anti-colonialism colliding with romantic colonialist nationalism, but of one nationalism colliding with another, one being Anglo-Irish (colonialist) . . . the other being northern Catholic. The collision causes Deane’s often brilliant readings to buckle and deform’.39 Sympathetic to Corkery, but conscious of the need to replace his essentialism with more sophisticated postcolonial critique, Deane renders Yeats now ultra-nationalist in an outmoded ‘heroic style’, now prone to ‘the pathology of literary unionism’ (Dowden stalks again).40 Despite Corkery, in the 1920s and 1930s Yeats had many ‘Hearers and hearteners’ who were Catholics or nationalists or both (O’Faoláin and Clarke, for instance), while solidarity against the new state’s censorship made most Irish writers see themselves as a kind of alternative regime or clerisy: a self-perception that persists. Yet Irish academic study of Yeats became a largely Protestant preserve; sometimes, even if Corkery remains unmentioned or unmentionable, with throbs of cultural defence. That applies to A.N. Jeffares’s W.B. Yeats: Man and Poet (1949) and T.R. Henn’s


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The Lonely Tower (1950), where eighteenth-century Anglo-Ireland is again a touchstone or battleground. Jeffares writes of Yeats’s poem ‘Blood and the Moon’, which welcomes ‘Goldsmith and the Dean, Berkeley and Burke’ to his ‘ancestral stair’ (CW1 241): ‘He understood these men; they were Irish in the sense that he was Irish; and he claimed his kinship proudly’.41 Henn recalls that he first read Yeats ‘against a [Sligo and Protestant] background which we shared, and particularly in relation to the Ireland of the period between 1916 and the Treaty [which provoked the Irish Civil War]’. If Henn usefully establishes this background, he also over-eggs ‘the whole Anglo-Irish myth, the search for beauty and stability in the midst of poverty and defeat’. He writes of ‘The Seven Sages’, another BurkeSwift-Goldsmith poem: ‘The poet’s ancestors were in the great tradition of political or literary achievement, men who had protested against tyranny or social decay.’ Like Deane, Henn reads Yeatsian genealogy literally, if positively, and reads it into his poetic origins (‘lonely tower’). Jeffares and Henn give hostages to postcolonial fortune since they fail to pick up the throbs of cultural defence in Yeats’s ‘ancestral stair’ poetry itself. ‘Blood and the Moon’ is an oblique elegy for his friend Kevin O’Higgins, minister for justice in the first Free State government. O’Higgins, who had imposed the death sentence on IRA combatants during the Civil War of 1922–3, was assassinated in 1927. Yeats somehow saw him as an honorary Protestant, and the elegy takes shape as a dark psychodrama, its nightmare vision reducing Irish history to a blood feud that implicates poetry. The tower ‘declared’ to be Yeats’s ‘symbol’ stands on ‘blood-saturated ground’ (242) and desire for vengeance almost ‘stains’ the ‘moon’ of imagination: another reflexive symbol for a disturbed and disturbing poem. In the second edition of The Lonely Tower (1966), Henn notes that the ‘interest, perhaps the microcosmic significance’ of the ‘whole Anglo-Irish background’ may have waned.42 Put another way, the southern Protestant contexts of Yeats’s Irish world were becoming ever less visible or intelligible, both inside and outside Ireland. That may explain why scholars with links to Irish Protestantism still often take, or are invited to take, a biographical / historical approach to Yeats. Terence Brown’s Life of W.B. Yeats (1999) begins: ‘This book is very significantly concerned with contexts’.43 And Roy Foster’s two-volume biography does more than Seamus Deane to deconstruct ‘ancestry’. Foster situates Yeats’s parents in ‘the variety of backgrounds, preoccupations and cultural identifications associated with the Victorian Irish Protestant bourgeoisie . . . a largely forgotten class’ – a class also haunted by ‘a sense of cultural and social marginalisation and insecurity’.44 Yet for John Wilson Foster (in some ways, assuming

Ireland as Audience


a rearguard Dowden position), the constituency absent from all Yeatsian critical equations is the northern mode of Irish Protestantism and unionism. Discussing Seamus Heaney’s eirenic account of Yeats’s nationalism as ‘essentially another avenue towards . . . “Unity of Being”’, he says: [From] the perspective of a Northern unionist (routinely erased by all of the writers and critics I have discussed), these would-be unities of being, culture, and island are not quite the good they seem to Yeats and Heaney. . . . [T]he engagement of Northern Catholic critics with [Yeats] has been a dialogue of peculiar intensity, but it has also been an intimacy of peculiar intensity. It has been a rivalry rather than a radical opposition.45

If Deane and John Wilson Foster return us to Groundhog Day, they also represent a time, from the 1970s onwards, when – if with another dark background – Irish criticism had livened up. Earlier, in 1955, we find Vivian Mercier renewing the complaints of Boyd and Clarke: ‘In nineteenth- and twentieth-century Anglo-Irish literary history, the amateurs have it all their own way . . . no native author of a comprehensive work has ever held a university post.’46 Mercier’s ‘An Irish School of Criticism?’ belongs to a trio of essays in the Jesuit journal Studies, which address the problem of (not only Irish) criticism. Now it’s academics who debate ‘literary ideals’ – the other contributors being Denis Donoghue, then teaching at University College Dublin, and the English poet-critic, Donald Davie, then teaching at Trinity. This symposium turns on the intersection between Irishness and criticism, between critical paradigms derived from within and outwith Ireland. Yeats figures in all three essays: in Donoghue’s ‘Notes Towards a Critical Method: Language as Order’ (the first published), as offering ‘potent’ and ‘multiple’ symbols. Donoghue writes of ‘Blood and the Moon’: ‘the words “blood” and “moon” are not so much made to carry a symbolic burden as to contain within themselves the sources of certain large areas of complex significance’. This apolitical reading proves his loyalty, and Yeats’s centrality, to the tenets of American New Criticism (see Chapter 2). Donoghue reconciles his critical model, and poetic ‘order’, with his Catholicism by distinguishing statements in poems from other statements. His hostage to fortune is a belief that this allows ‘a Jewish money-lender’ to appreciate Ezra Pound’s Cantos.47 Conditioned by secular England, resistant to American ‘purism’, Donald Davie views Donoghue’s distinction (which he contests) as both a product of the ‘Irish situation’ and as evidence that New Criticism is becoming old hat. Writing as a poet in ‘Reflections of an English Writer in Ireland’, Davie is wary of poetry being ‘walled up’ in universities – yet regrets that


Yeats and Modern Poetry

England and Ireland lack American ‘esteem’ for criticism. Nonetheless, ‘England has had critics, even a continuous tradition of literary criticism’, whereas in Dublin he has found an assumption ‘that any critical judgment, where it is not either log-rolling . . . or malice . . . is merely the statement of a personal opinion’. Without factoring in the Revival backstory, Davie connects the ‘idea that any degree of objectivity in criticism is impossible’ with his ‘conviction that Ireland has not yet absorbed the achievement of Yeats’: Nothing so surprised me from the first in literary Dublin as the extent to which Yeats is a prophet without honour in his own country. . . . Irish poets, Irish critics, and Irish readers have not yet recognised the logic of Yeats’s poetic development, still less worked out the consequences of that in terms of their own aims and procedures. . . . It is probable that [the] discontinuity in the Irish tradition, by which positions gained are silently abandoned, questions are left in mid-air, issues are left unresolved, is related to the lack of any continuous and self-respecting tradition of literary criticism.48

Like Davie, the Studies symposium triangulates English, American and Irish readings of Yeats – but not equilaterally. America’s unduly pure ‘Yeats’ allows Donoghue (for now) to bypass any problems that his poetry’s historicity or heresy might pose for nationalist Ireland as well as Catholic doctrine. Indeed, as both Davie and Mercier perceive, New Criticism placed a literary cordon sanitaire around belief rather as Catholic theology ring-fenced itself against the Enlightenment. Mercier, a southern Irish Protestant lecturing in America, charges Donoghue with having failed to recognise New Criticism as a ‘Puritan heresy’ which allows its exponents to enjoy poetic ‘beauty’ without compromising ‘propositional truth’. In rejecting this American paradigm for a notional ‘Irish school of criticism’, Mercier upholds Revival principles. He urges Donoghue to ‘disentangle himself from transatlantic controversies . . . and “call the Muses home”’ since ‘[t]here is plenty for him to do in Ireland’. He also counters Davie’s picture of a critical desert or discontinuity by instancing eighteenth-century Irish ‘critics and aestheticians’ and by denying that Yeats’s preface to The Oxford Book of Modern Verse is his ‘one contribution to criticism’. Mercier then sets out his own stall for ‘an Irish school of criticism’ that would take its cue from Yeats: From Yeats’s early correspondence alone, one could excerpt a large body of criticism devoted to Anglo-Irish literature of the nineteenth century. In his newspaper and magazine articles, as in his prefaces to anthologies, the young Yeats winnowed the only literary tradition that he was native to, preserving all that was valid, and rejecting only what had been vitiated by extra-literary aims or lack of talent.49

Ireland as Audience


Mercier himself did much to found Irish literary studies, as they now exist, although criticism has remained more problematic. If, as Davie says, Irish criticism is often ‘behind the clock’, New Criticism twinned with Cambridge criticism (from I.A. Richards onwards) may have been over in Ireland before it began. Since the 1980s, the adjectives ‘colonial’ and ‘postcolonial’ have thickly sprinkled academic writings on Irish literature: partly because (selected) aspects of this paradigm seem to fit issues revived by Northern Ireland, partly owing to a lack of well-established alternatives. Yet, often thanks to incomers like Davie, more ‘practical’ criticism had made headway in Irish universities during the late 1950s and the 1960s. It was certainly in the critical atmosphere when poets such as Seamus Heaney began writing at or around Queen’s University Belfast. Michael Allen, himself a significant critical voice in this milieu, wrote later: ‘Anglo-American “New Criticism” . . . governed the young Heaney’s notions of poetic technique and schooled him as a critic in the early 1960s.’50 Broadly speaking, after 1969 the oppositions of the 1890s renewed themselves in the Irish academy as Postcolonial theory versus New / Cambridge Criticism, both paradigms acquiring Irish accents. For instance, the poetry-based criticism of Peter McDonald is remote from Deane’s approach. In Mistaken Identities: The Poetry of Northern Ireland (1987), however, McDonald recognises that New Criticism’s posterity cannot ignore history. Concerned to differentiate responses to poems from Irish ‘identity politics’, he asks – as Yeats might have asked – how ‘a critical language can be found’ to account for ‘poetry’s distinctiveness as a mode of discourse’: a language ‘which is not itself compromised by the insistent crises and demands of its cultural and political context’.51 Denis Donoghue, now in America, became caught up in these oppositions. In 1986, he rewrote his ‘Critical Method’ of 1955: When I first read Yeats, Eliot, Pound, and the other major modern poets, I was admonished to respect what was called ‘the autonomy of the poem’. It was not clear to me what precisely I was to respect [except an insistence on] giving the artist whatever latitude he seems to ask for. Yeats’s poetry, in that context, caused a difficulty [because the] political attitudes implicit or explicit in his last poems seemed so outlandish that it was hard for me to extend to them the hospitality I readily extended to attitudes in Eliot or [Wallace] Stevens.

(Logically, Donoghue should now permit ‘a Jewish money-lender’ to dislike Pound or Eliot.) This essay is called ‘Yeats, Ancestral Houses, and Anglo-Ireland’ – Yeats once again meets literary-critical Catholic Ireland on the ground where, to quote Donoghue, Yeats ‘invented a century and called it the eighteenth’. Like Deane, he now reads ‘Ascendancy’ and ‘the


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defeat of aristocratic values’ into Yeats’s whole career. Donoghue finally half-withdraws from this position by making the ‘Yeats Question’ selfconscious. What some critics ‘resent’, he admits, is Yeats’s ‘claim to speak in the name of “the indomitable Irishry”’. He adds: ‘That resentment is so inclusive that little or nothing survives in its presence’.52 Donoghue himself does not move on from ‘difficulty’ to a new paradigm, and We Irish, his collected Irish criticism, shows that he has only patchily heeded Mercier’s neo-Yeatsian plea to ‘call the Muses home’. His ‘Yeats’ remains transatlantic or mid-Atlantic, still fixed in New Critical fraternity with Eliot, without Irish issue if no longer without Irish issues. Yet difficulty or knots may again be expressive. Donoghue arrives at a more consistent position in ‘Yeats: The New Political Issue’ (1998), where he reaffirms New Critical principles by using ‘close reading’ against ways in which Conor Cruise O’Brien (in an influential essay on Yeats and Fascism), Deane and Declan Kiberd represent Yeats. O’Brien is said to misread his poetry as driven by an ‘entirely political’ force, Deane sets up ‘reified and a-historical polarities [whereby] much of Yeats’s work is ignored’, and Kiberd’s version of ‘Leda and the Swan’, in which an ‘invading English occupier’ ravishes Ireland, is so ‘perverse’ that Donoghue finds it ‘necessary to remark that “Leda and the Swan” is a poem’.53 Overall, Donoghue might be seen as squeezed between the underdevelopment of Irish criticism and American critical hegemony. The growth of Irish literary studies since 1970 vindicates Yeats’s original critical project. Mainly led by academics from Ireland, this growth has been marked by collective monuments such as the three-volume Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing (1991), its two-volume feminist successor (2002), and the two-volume Cambridge History of Irish Literature (2006). Yet, for all the varied approaches of individual critics and scholars, the dominant paradigms have still not fully come to terms with the Revival, nor have they quite established ‘an Irish school of criticism’. Reviewing Jack B. Yeats’s novel The Aramanthers (1936), Samuel Beckett praised him because an island in it is not ‘throttled into Ireland’.54 Latterly, there has been a fresh drive to throttle Irish literature into Ireland, into encyclopaedic unity – even to write literary criticism as national epic. Declan Kiberd’s Inventing Ireland (1995) recalls Corkery in sweep and mission, although an obsession with Irish-English relations replaces Corkery’s Revival-phobia. Like Kiberd’s title, Field Day’s ‘Writing’ gives the national priority over the literary. Indeed, Seamus Deane, general editor of the Field Day Anthology, virtually declares ‘literary criticism’ (i.e., New Criticism) an enemy of the Irish people:

Ireland as Audience


The aesthetic ideology, which claims autonomy for the work of art, is a political force which pretends not to be so. But within that assertion this ideology has produced a very powerful form of auto-critique, sometimes known as literary criticism. . . . The ideological appeal is embodied in the claim that a work of art achieves, in Coleridge’s famous phrase, ‘a reconciliation of opposites’. . . . The idea that that which is chaotic, disorganised and ‘rude’ can be converted to order and civilisation was shared by English colonial writers and English literary critics.55

Although members of the editorial team may follow different tacks, the Field Day anthologies are conceived as historicised literature rather than literary history. Their discursive bias resurrects Charles Gavan Duffy and the New Irish Library. They do not build on the Revival but seek to expropriate it or go behind it. In the Cambridge History, ‘literature’ makes a comeback: four generic chapters are headed ‘The Irish Renaissance, 1890– 1940’, and Colin Graham’s overview of ‘Literary Historiography’ asks whether current ‘thinking primarily through an uncritical identity politics has blunted the critical faculties which give a shape to Irish literature’. Yet the editors themselves say: ‘A fundamental theme of this History is the role of literature in the formation of Irish identities’. While disclaiming ‘any unitary or essentialist definition of what it means to be Irish’, they clearly think that it means something to be Irish, and that most Irish literature means to mean this.56 Since the 1990s, political critique of Yeats has abated. His Muse has been called home not only by the soft nationalism of ‘what it means to be Irish’ but also by traditional academic nationalists like Deane and Kiberd. Yet here he passes muster less as poet or foundational critic – the only begetter of Irish criticism – than as a public intellectual discovered to be an Irish nationalist, or useful to Irish nationalism, after all. In Inventing Ireland, Kiberd folds the Revival into the ‘collaborative’ enterprise of a generation that ‘lived with conscious national intensity’ and credits it with ‘in many ways enabl[ing] the revolution that followed’.57 Reviewing the second volume of Roy Foster’s Yeats biography, Deane does not overlook ‘the Irish Protestant fear of democracy’ which ‘became a panic in Yeats’; his ‘cultural snobbery’; or ‘the sectarian, racist and bigoted and esoteric features of Yeats’s beliefs’. But he also thinks that those beliefs ‘vitalised his theatre and his poetry’. Yeats’s most extreme attitudes (induced by Irish audiences) now strike a chord in Deane himself: his apocalyptic ‘energy of renewal’, his Pearse-like desire for a genuine ‘redemption of the country’.58 Thus, if the ‘Yeats Question’ has been resolved, the terms of its resolution often recast the Revival as instrumental: Inventing Ireland is Young Ireland


Yeats and Modern Poetry

reinvented. Huge fissures are plastered over. George O’Brien has said brilliantly of Joyce’s latter-day critical repatriation: ‘One problem with the “Ireland of the Welcomes” treatment is that it tends to deprive Joyce, and us, of his exile.’59 That also applies to Yeats’s inner exile, to its significance for Irish criticism and modern poetry.

Poet and Echo Critics sometimes see Yeatsian form as containment. For Seamus Heaney, Yeats ‘makes a vaulted space in language through the firmness, in-placeness and undislodgeableness of stanzaic form’. Heaney also calls himself ‘awed by the achieved and masterful tones of that deliberately pitched voice’.60 It’s part of the story outlined above that Heaney should miss the insecurities ‘masked’ by Yeats’s rhetorical repertoire, and by his interacting or conflicting ‘tones’ – tones produce poetic ‘voice’, not vice versa. Ireland drew Yeats into conversations and quarrels that attached his poetic structures to community. He realised the country’s microcosmic potential, not as bounded space or stanzas, but as interactive form shaped by pressures that change their ratio from poem to poem. ‘At the Abbey Theatre’ locks ‘we’ (‘I’), ‘you’ and ‘they’ into a reciprocity that will play out in, and as, his poetry to the end. Like Edward Thomas and Robert Frost, Yeats stresses poetry’s relation to speech (see Chapter 3), but his sense of audience gives that relation a more fully theatrical character. Writing for the stage helped his lyric to link ‘Literature and the Living Voice’ – the title of an essay he wrote in 1906 (CW8 94), to subsume oratory into drama, to interfuse his two ‘quarrels’. In 1937, Yeats reaffirmed in theory what he was still intensifying in practice: I planned to write short lyrics or poetic drama where every speech would be short and concentrated, knit by dramatic tension. . . . I wanted to write in whatever language comes most naturally when we soliloquise, as I do all day long, upon the events of our own lives or of any life where we can see ourselves for the moment. I sometimes compare myself with the mad old slum women I hear denouncing and remembering. (CW5 212)

Yeats’s self-image as poet spans actor, character in a play (sometimes Shakespearean tragedy), theatre director, impresario. Two late backstage poems, ‘High Talk’ and ‘The Circus Animals’ Desertion’, share the word ‘show’. The former, where the poet speaks as bravura actor, proclaims and exemplifies the need for form to be performative: ‘Processions that

Ireland as Audience


lack high stilts have nothing that catches the eye’ (CW1 351). The latter, where he speaks as ringmaster, probes the prior psychic need driving ‘Those stilted boys, that burnished chariot’ (355). ‘Beautiful Lofty Things’ and ‘Man and the Echo’ also implicate audience. ‘Beautiful Lofty Things’ seems to redress the scenario of ‘At the Abbey Theatre’ by collating epiphanic moments when a Yeatsian pantheon, ‘All the Olympians’, faced down problematic audiences: ‘My father upon the Abbey stage, before him a raging crowd, / “This Land of Saints,” and then as the applause died out, / “Of plaster Saints”’; Standish O’Grady ‘Speaking to a drunken audience high nonsensical words’; Lady Gregory replying to an assassination threat: ‘I told him that nightly from six to seven I sat at this table / The blinds drawn up’ (309). This triad covers poetry as oratory, its ‘higher’ mysteries (cf. ‘high and airy’, ‘High Talk’), ways in which the Revival has braved enmity and answered to history. ‘Beautiful Lofty Things’ repeats the word ‘head’: ‘O’Leary’s noble head’, Yeats’s father’s ‘beautiful mischievous head’. This suggests that mind and imagination will prevail. More obliquely than in other late poems, Yeats draws on the visual arts: a way of affirming permanent ‘legacy’, of addressing posterity as an audience-in-waiting (see p. 197). The poem’s equivalence to a sculptor’s ‘head studies’ includes the absence of verbs – which pre-empts hecklers and mockers. Adjectives such as ‘nonsensical’ and ‘mischievous’ also render ‘beauty’ somehow impregnable. In contrast, ‘Man and the Echo’ (CW1 353–4) heckles itself; or perhaps the declarative question in another sculptural poem, ‘The Statues’, written three months earlier: ‘What stalked through the Post Office?’ Yeats now weighs the impact of his life and work by asking more complex questions – unanswered or unanswerable rather than rhetorical. One question concerns the Easter Rising. ‘Man’ asks, ‘Did that play of mine send out / Certain men the English shot?’ Cathleen ní Houlihán (1902), co-written with Lady Gregory, may have been partly motivated by attacks, like those of D.P. Moran, on the Revival’s nationalist bona fides. Set during the United Irishmen’s rebellion of 1798, and personifying Ireland as a woman robbed of her land, ‘that play’ unexpectedly bonded the theatre with advancednationalist audiences: perhaps because it also bonded the ‘high and airy’ (Yeatsian symbolism) with ‘common things’ (Gregory’s dialect dialogue).61 Yet Cathleen ní Houlihán marks the boundary of Yeats’s early quest for audience – a boundary that underlies his last questions about audience. In his poem ‘7, Middagh Street’, Paul Muldoon puns on ‘certain men’. Speaking as ‘Auden’, he answers Man’s question with reference to Auden’s line ‘For poetry makes nothing happen’ in his elegy for Yeats: ‘If Yeats had


Yeats and Modern Poetry

saved his pencil-lead / would certain men have stayed in bed?’62 But, given his fraught relations with oratorical ‘certainty’, the pun is surely Yeats’s. His distinction between poet and rhetorician is that ‘we sing amid our uncertainty’ (CW5 8). ‘Did that play of mine . . .?’ subtextually fears that Cathleen ní Houlihán had been overstatement or overcompensation: that, in upstaging the Revival’s critics, it had surrendered to their certainties. In 1904, Yeats was already troubled by the idea that ‘it is a political play of a propagandist kind . . . I have never written a play to advocate any kind of opinion’.63 And (as he may have known) when the Republican leader Eoin MacNeill tried to stop the Rising, he felt bound to remind the Irish Volunteers that ‘there is no such person as Cathleen ní Houlihán’. In ‘Man and the Echo’, ‘Man’ is answered only by his own words given a sinister twist. ‘Lie down and die’ and ‘Into the night’ lose their previous context in indicative sentences: ‘[I . . . would] lie down and die’ and ‘[And sinks at last] into the night’. They seemingly mutate into imperatives. This spooky dialogue ponders the poet’s responsibility to what is unknowable in ‘audience’, whether the Easter Rising deaths or the fate of Coole Park: ‘Could my spoken words have checked / That whereby a house lay wrecked?’ ‘Echo’ as ambiguous oracle figures the darkest horizon of Ireland as audience: does Yeats speak only to himself, should he have said more or less, does his work outrun his control? The poem ends with ‘Man’ saying that ‘some hawk or owl has struck’, and so: ‘A stricken rabbit is crying out / And its cry distracts my thought’. Having ‘lost the theme’, when contingency or history intrudes, this poet-speaker has lost his questions, let alone found answers. The ‘distracted’ poem cannot determine even its own path. The problematic audience, and (as we see) the problematics of seeking an audience, reach deeply into Yeats’s psyche, wounding his creative quick: ‘all my priceless things’. In a sense, audience created his lyric theatre, shaping ‘mask’ as well as ‘voice’. Begun in 1908, his anguished Journal, of which later poems are often a slow release, pivots on a crisis between poet and audience: ‘Irish things . . . make life nearly unendurable. The feeling is always the same: a consciousness of energy, of certainty, and of transforming power stopped by a wall, by something one must either submit to or rage against helplessly. . . . [I]s it the root of madness?’ (Mem 156–7). Rage induces ‘overstatement’, whereas ‘[s]tyle, personality (deliberately adopted and therefore a mask)’ detaches emotion from subjectivity, turns dialectics into drama, and enables mockery without injury to the mocker: ‘In pursuit of the mask I resolved to say only fanciful or personal things, and so to escape out of mere combat’ (139). In ‘A Dialogue of Self

Ireland as Audience


and Soul’ (1927), the ‘finished’ mask as poetic form (‘shape’, ‘figure’) still faces threats to its self-belief: The finished man among his enemies? – How in the name of Heaven can he escape That defiling and disfigured shape The mirror of malicious eyes Casts upon his eyes until at last He thinks that shape must be his shape? (CW1 240)

With its mirrored, enclosing repetition of ‘eyes’ and ‘shape’, this stanza dramatises a paranoid state: a Nietzschean stare into the abyss. You would hardly guess that Yeats was now a Nobel Prize winner and Irish senator. As he puts it himself in ‘What Then?’: ‘Everything he wrote was read // . . . Poets and Wits about him drew // . . . Let the fools rage’ (309). Yet ‘The Spur’, written in the same year (1936), names ‘rage’ as integral to his own late Muse (319). Perhaps Irish ‘fools’ could never be written out of Yeats’s inner script. The refrain of ‘What Then?’ discloses something insatiable in his quest for audience, some unappeasable reader who drives his poetry on: ‘“What then?” sang Plato’s ghost, “what then?”’ In ‘At the Abbey Theatre’, Proteus represents the antithesis of form: the mob’s refusal to be a people, to be a responsive or cohesive audience, to be the ideal reader. But in asking ‘Is there a bridle for this Proteus?’ Yeats created his protean art. He also brought all the communal sources and resources of poetry into a century that would need them.

C ha pt e r 2

Yeats and American Modernism

The biases of Yeats’s Oxford Book of Modern Verse can appear simply mad or mischievous. Having omitted Wilfred Owen, Yeats professes himself ‘excited’ by Lady Dorothy Wellesley, and calls the Irish versifier Oliver St John Gogarty ‘one of the great lyric poets of our age’ (OBMV xxxiii, xv). Although Austin Clarke’s absence annoyed (and still annoys) the Irish, the anthology abounds in minor Revival poets. Outraged by Yeats’s attitude to Owen, Stephen Spender spoke for England: ‘All Mr Yeats’s geese have to be swans, especially if they happen to have been born in Ireland.’1 Further, since T.S. Eliot and Ezra Pound were the only Americans to make the cut, and did so on the grounds that ‘long residence in Europe [has made them] seem to English readers a part of their own literature’ (xlii), Babette Deutsch spoke for America: ‘It is not representative of the development of modern poetry. . . . Here is a collection of “modern verse” that ignores . . . Robert Frost, Vachel Lindsay, Hart Crane, E.E. Cummings . . . while ample space is assigned to lesser verse-makers who happen to be natives of the British Isles.’ Or, as a subeditor headed her review: ‘His Choices for This Anthology Are Surprising. He Likes the Irish and Omits America’.2 Even so, the Oxford Book of Modern Verse illuminates Yeats’s presence in ‘modern poetry’. The editorial work recharged his historical and critical self-consciousness, testing long-held principles, raising the issue of ‘legacy’ and deepening the reflexivity of his later poems: ‘Lapis Lazuli’ (1936) is discussed below. Thinking about poetry ‘from three years before the death of Tennyson to the present moment’ (1892–1935) obliged Yeats to configure the 1890s with the 1930s; to juxtapose his poetic past and present; and hence to grasp his own modernity: ‘Even a long-lived man has the right to call his own contemporaries modern’ (OBMV v). Having praised the generation of Louis MacNeice and W.H. Auden (both born in 1907) for being ‘modern through the character of their intellectual passion’, Yeats declares: ‘[I]n this moment of sympathy I prefer them to Eliot, to myself: I too have tried to be modern’ (see Chapter 5). While claiming modernity for 34

Yeats and American Modernism


himself (his selection from his own poems begins in 1913), Yeats detaches Pound (b. 1885) as well as Eliot (b. 1888) from the young poets who were then making it newer: ‘Pound with his descent into Hades, his Chinese classics [is] too romantic to be modern’ (xxxv–vi). Such manoeuvres refuse to cede poetic modernity to Eliot or Pound – to America, perhaps. This chapter considers how Yeats positions his poetry, and how others position it, vis à vis their work. Eliot’s and Pound’s own manoeuvres will also enter the reckoning. Although Yeats’s lyric may be discussed in its own terms, as by Helen Vendler’s fine study Our Secret Discipline (2007), it does not stand outside the aesthetic dialectics of his day and ours. The legacy-conscious Oxford Book is silently aware of Pound’s Active Anthology (1933), which, besides calling Yeats himself ‘now muddled, now profound, now merely Celtic’, pointedly ‘presents . . . writers, mostly ill known in England, in whose verse a development appears . . . in contradistinction to authors in whose work no such activity has occurred’.3 Aside from Basil Bunting, all the ‘Active’ poets are American – which may have contributed to Yeats’s Irish bias. Yeats had already dubbed Pound’s younger protégés, like Louis Zukofsky, ‘shell-shocked Walt Whitmans’ (I&R2 61). In ‘The Statues’, he represents modernity as a threat to tradition (‘that ancient sect’) and form. But different concepts of tradition and form underlie all positions in this field.

‘Modernism’ By ‘American modernism’ I mean ways of conceiving modern poetry in English, which stress the practice and theory of Eliot and Pound, and which underpin ‘modernism’ as a literary-critical category or paradigm. If ‘modern poetry’ can seem oxymoronic to Yeats, perhaps ‘Yeats and modernism’ should seem so for criticism. Admittedly, Yeats is namechecked in most overviews or compendia with ‘modernism’ in their titles. But, while he usually features in the listing that characterises such works– the introduction to Malcolm Bradbury’s and James McFarlane’s Modernism (1976, 1991) amounts to a list of lists – he is less often cited for purposes of definition. A glance at the index will usually show that, whereas Eliot and Pound straddle the entire modernist landscape, Yeats is confined by history (1890s origins) or genre (poetry, drama). This conceptual absence has allowed his poetry to be swept into ill-fitting generalisations, as when Richard Sheppard writes in Modernism: ‘A similar sense of pessimism about the possibility of revivifying language, a similar sense that all that


Yeats and Modern Poetry

remains are a few isolated and arbitrary symbols, runs through the writings of Eliot, Yeats and Rilke.’4 Yeats could make-believe that his symbols came from anima mundi, and, for all its faults as audience, he associated Ireland with Homeric revival rather than semantic collapse. Thirty years later, Laurence Rainey included the whole of The Tower (1928) in Modernism: An Anthology (2005). Rainey’s introduction, which barely mentions Yeats, stresses ‘the sheer wildness and irredeemable opacity at the heart of modernist works’.5 Meanwhile, modernism is barely mentioned in the introduction to Yeats himself. Squeezed between Gertrude Stein and Joyce’s ‘Anna Livia Plurabelle’, he looks highly uncomfortable. Alternatively, he can fall out of the loop without a backward glance as to what this might mean for the loop. Thus Michael North writes: ‘Lawrence and Yeats defy the common requirement that modernist works are organised paratactically rather than hypotactically’. Here North identifies not a distinction but a difference – one on which large questions surely hinge. He again elides difference when he says of disjunctive and conjunctive literary structures: ‘[M]odernism ceaselessly creates forms and in so doing confounds critical desires for formal consistency’.6 But North himself requires and desires. Inconsistency allows academics, with a stake in modernism, to have their paradigmatic cake and eat it. As Michael Löwy and Robert Sayre say of Romanticism: ‘Some critics seem inclined to see contradiction, dissonance and internal conflict as the only unifying element. . . . [I]t is difficult to take that thesis as anything but an avowal of confusion.’7 Astradur Eysteinsson writes in The Concept of Modernism (1990): [W]hile modernism is often accused of being a cult of form, it is also . . . attacked for formlessness and for distorted and anarchic representation of society, disintegration of outer reality, and disorderly manipulation of language. . . . [I]n writings on modernism the theory of aesthetic autonomy frequently appears to coexist with that of cultural subversion.8

Eysteinsson also notes that modernism and modernity can magnetise one another in a reflective or mimetic sense, which conflicts with most modernist theory. Here Yeats’s very lack of realism, the modern city’s (seeming) absence from his poetry, counts against him. He is not mentioned in Marshall Berman’s All That Is Solid Melts Into Air (1982), where the city figures as the ‘maelstrom’ of modernity, and ‘modernism’ is defined as ‘any attempt by modern men and women to become subjects as well as objects of modernisation, to get a grip on the modern world and make themselves at home in it’.9 So: no swimming against the ‘filthy . . . tide’. As

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a rule, the more modernism expands to encompass the Zeitgeist, culture and all the arts, the less visible Yeats becomes. In Modernism: The Lure of Heresy (2007), Peter Gay parks questions such as ‘Where are . . . Yeats and Wallace Stevens among the poets?’ in order to ‘treat painters and playwrights, architects, and novelists, composers and sculptors as exemplars of indispensable elements in the modernist period’.10 Eliot, ‘the modernists’ poets’ poet’, is luckily on hand to represent poetry. Like North (‘modernism ceaselessly creates forms’), Gay puts the modernist cart before the artistic horse. Both illustrate John Harwood’s argument that ‘modernism’, actually a retrospective mode of reading, slips into being ‘personified as an active agent, expressing itself through writers, creating masterpieces and dictating events’.11 It thus denies the agency and contexts of individual authors. Marjorie Perloff even calls the First World War ‘the decisive event of modernism’.12 Modernism, in other words, has a shorter history than ‘modern poetry’. Eysteinsson, Harwood and others have shown that it is indeed a critical paradigm imposed after the event, which did not really begin its hegemonic career in the Anglophone literary academy until the later 1960s (‘modernism’ is a meaningless term in France). Between the 1920s and the 1960s, some poets and critics call some poetry ‘modernist’, but they do so variably and sporadically – often to intensify modern or to mean little more than ‘contemporary’. The adjective comes first, instead of, as now, being derived from the ‘ism’. The ‘avant-garde’ or ‘Symbolism’ (the category of choice in the 1940s and 1950s) embraced many of the same phenomena, but not necessarily in the same terms. Robert Graves’s and Laura Riding’s A Survey of Modernist Poetry (1927) is no exception. While these poet-critics highlight technical innovation, they limit its influence, stress the autonomy (‘independence’) of the poem, and depict modernist poetry (chiefly Eliot, Pound and E.E. Cummings) as salutary but already over: ‘There has been . . . a short and very concentrated period of carefully disciplined and self-conscious poetry. . . . Wherever attempts at sheer newness in poetry were made they merely ended in dead movements. Yet the new feeling in criticism did achieve something.’ Graves’s and Riding’s views are bound up with their own poetry and with competitive attitudes to Yeats, Eliot, Pound and Owen. While reprising Pound’s hostility to Victorian residues, they count Imagism, as well as ‘Celticism’ and ‘Georgianism’, among the ‘dead movements’. Their sense of poetry in 1927 – ‘an embarrassed pause after an arduous and erudite stock-taking’ – oddly prefigures how The Tower would change the post–‘Waste Land’ landscape (see Chapter 5).13


Yeats and Modern Poetry

Attracted to ‘indispensable elements’ across the arts (Gay), modernist criticism can override the historical twists and turns of poetic tradition, poetic form and concepts of both. In 1936, neither Yeats nor his critics invoked modernism; nor did Michael Roberts in his Faber Book of Modern Verse, also published that year. Roberts’s primary criterion, ‘any notable development of poetic technique’, leads him to exclude Robert Frost and Edward Thomas, but he includes Owen and Graves, and salutes Yeats as having ‘anticipated . . . many of the devices of the younger men’.14 The word ‘development’ suggests that Roberts has read the Active Anthology or otherwise been exposed to Pound’s biases – as against Frost; in his earlier Profile anthology, Pound calls Frost ‘[s]incere, very dull, without tragedy, without emotion, without metrical interest . . . without intellectual interest’.15 As Stan Smith shows in ‘The Descent of Modernism’, one younger man, Louis MacNeice, reserves the term ‘modernist’ for his own poetic generation in his Modern Poetry (1938). And in The Poetry of W.B. Yeats (1941), written as the Second World War began, MacNeice says: ‘The unreality which now overtook [Galway and Yeats] was also overtaking in my mind modern London, modernist art, and Left Wing politics.’ He continues: ‘If the war made nonsense of Yeats’s poetry and of all works that are called “escapist”, it also made nonsense of the poetry that professes to be “realist”.’16 Around 1940, ‘modernist’ and ‘realist’ were compatible terms. MacNeice may also be rethinking the fact that Yeats had called Auden and himself ‘modern’. And, rather than proposing any new taxonomy or calling the war ‘an event of X’, he recognises that history can shatter all aesthetic and critical categories. Towards the end of the 1930s, American poet-critics associated with the rise of New Criticism (Allen Tate, John Crowe Ransom, Randall Jarrell and others) began to define modern poetry in ways that would prove influential in the academy – and, for some years, place Yeats at the epicentre. Ransom’s essay ‘Poets Without Laurels’ (1938) talks about ‘modernism’, but as a condition or context that has elicited ‘distinct styles of “modernity”’ from poets such as Tate and Wallace Stevens: ‘Poets have had to become modern because the age is modern. Its modernism envelops them like a sea, or an air.’ In ‘The End of the Line’ (1942), Jarrell conceives modernism as a set of attributes (including experiment, intensity, irony, obscurity, allusiveness, the lyric’s primacy, the poet’s isolation) that variously characterise the ‘modernist poetry’ of ‘Pound, Eliot, Crane, Tate, Stevens, Cummings, MacLeish’. While both critics exclude Frost (Jarrell would later repent), the American poets they favour are – like themselves – by no means all notable for structural radicalism. Further, Jarrell echoes

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Graves and Riding in perceiving modernist poetry as over: ‘Modernism As We Knew It – the most successful and influential body of poetry of this century – is dead.’ He regrets this but thinks it inevitable as such poetry has reached ‘a limit which it is impossible to exceed’ (he does not foresee ‘Language Poetry’). Indeed, Jarrell’s list is designed to prove that modernist poetry is not a new phenomenon but ultra-Romantic: ‘evolutionary, not revolutionary’.17 The reopening of channels to Romanticism was significant for Yeats’s reputation. The New Critics pay Eliot-derived lip service to the Metaphysical poets, but their stress on the ‘symbolic’ character of the complex lyric has underlying Romantic and Yeatsian sources (see Chapter 3). In the massive Yeats memorial issue of Southern Review (1942), claiming that his ‘symbols are “made good”’ in his poems, Allen Tate declares Yeats ‘nearer the centre of our main traditions of sensibility and thought than the poetry of Eliot or of Pound’; while the influential critic Morton Dauwen Zabel represents Yeats’s ‘symbolic thought and language’ as bridging the nineteenth century and the contemporary: No man of the older generation that overshadowed Yeats’s – Swinburne, Mallarmé, Morris, Hardy, Verlaine – showed as fully the mixed forces that impressed the art and life of the second half of the nineteenth century. No representative of the younger insurgence that followed – Synge, Apollinaire, Valéry, Pound, Eliot – was to trace the youth and maturity of the contemporary spirit as candidly and passionately.18

Not every critic was so keen (Yeats’s supernatural interests would remain an issue on both sides of the Atlantic), and Eliot – more than Pound – was another New Critical icon. But Yeats’s mid-century American reputation had been established in terms of ‘modern poetry’ and ‘our main traditions’. Terence Diggory’s Yeats and American Poetry (1983) documents ‘the prodigious variety’ of his influence at this period.19 In the 1960s, modernism acquired Yeats in a job lot from Symbolism without at once realising the implications. But the rise of ‘postmodernism’, as New Criticism collapsed, decisively edged his poetry towards the conceptual margin. The same shift brought Pound’s textually multifarious Cantos out of the postwar cold. Yet, as Eysteinsson argues, postmodernism is often modernism by more or less the same means. Critics who ‘paint modernism as a rather conservative aesthetic project’ can ‘proceed to use terms such as “fragmentation”, “disruption”, and “disintegration of form” to characterise postmodernism, terms that generally have been brought to bear on modernism but are now being recycled to illustrate


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the reaction against it’.20 By taking modernism as literary-historical fact, postmodernism compounded the confusion of critical paradigm with creative practice. In Five Faces of Modernity (1987), Matei Calinescu, who sees postmodernism as siphoning off the ‘undecideable’ element in modernism, realises that ‘conflict between . . . two poetics, one of symbolism and the other of indeterminacy . . . makes it more difficult to speak of a more or less unified poetic modernism . . . to speak of Eliot and Pound in the same breath’.21 He fails to conclude that we might speak of ‘modern poetry’ rather than ‘poetic modernism’. James Longenbach does so speak, when he gives the title ‘Modern Poetry’ to his chapter in The Cambridge Companion to Modernism (1999). For Longenbach, perceptions of modernism have been changed: first, by critics, such as Harold Bloom, who stress the ‘continuum’ between ‘romantic, Victorian and modern poetics’; second, by the ‘pressure’ of ‘an increasingly powerful postmodernism’.22 Yet he still assumes that modernism / postmodernism constitutes a literary-historical sequence, and that Yeats, Pound and Eliot belong on the modernist side. Calinescu and Longenbach are responding to the often Pound-based criticism associated with American Language Poetry. In the 1980s, theorists and poet-theorists (as they now were) saw no problem in representing postmodernism as driving literary events – which then, in effect, it sometimes did. Such shifts also shifted poetry deeper into the academy. And if they elevated Pound, decoupling him from Eliot, they were still more liable to detach both from Yeats. Yeats figures as scapegoat in Marjorie Perloff’s The Dance of the Intellect: Studies in the Poetry of the Pound Tradition (1985). Quoting Yeats’s critique of Pound’s Cantos (‘merely exquisite or grotesque fragments’) in the Oxford Book, Perloff remarks: ‘What is . . . curious today, some fifty years later, Yeats’s questions are still being posed at poetry conferences and in little magazines’. She cites ‘poetic texts’ that manifest ‘the increasingly important role played in twentieth-century poetry by the “impurities” scorned by Yeats and his contemporaries as inimical to the hard gem-like flame of the perfect lyric moment’. Perloff’s resort to binary caricature suggests that, even as she pushes Yeats back towards Walter Pater, and identifies Pound with literary progress, aesthetic differences between the poets remained alive in 1980s America.23 Similarly, Peter Nicholls argues that Pound’s ‘writings have become the seedbed of a whole range of different poetries . . . a counter-tradition to the one associated in America with Eliot and the New Critics’ (and implicitly Yeats). Nicholls mentions poets such as Charles Bernstein, Susan Howe and John Ashbery, who embrace ‘complex, polyvocal textuality’, distrust ‘communicative

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competence’, value ‘randomness’, and even ‘court unreadability’. He concludes: ‘Pound’s problematic poem . . . retains its Alpine prominence partly because it fails to achieve the kind of coherence Pound desired for it . . . that gap between intention and achievement has allowed contemporary writers to read the poem as a source of new possibilities.’ But did Pound get away from Yeats quite so easily? In the Pisan Cantos the allusions to ‘Uncle William’ or ‘old Billyum’ betray Oedipal literary ‘anxiety’. Pound’s failure to match Yeats’s lyric ‘coherence’, his ultimate sense of the Cantos as ‘errors and wrecks’, might equally be a source of dead ends (see Postscript).24 Upholders of ‘the Pound tradition’ at least notice that modernism has plastered over formal fault lines between Yeats and Pound, with Eliot possibly caught in the middle. When preceded by the adjective ‘international’, modernism has also obscured the national contexts that play into aesthetic differences and critical perspectives. ‘International’, in the field where the poetry of Yeats, Eliot and Pound is discussed, often means little more than ‘Anglo-American’ with a soft pedal on ‘Anglo’. The least examined term in poetry criticism, it may also mean that poets have lived abroad; that their work shows they have read X or Y; that poets in Ireland and Britain (and indeed America) suffer from anxiety of insularity. Writing on the ‘indeterminacy’ of ‘internationalism’ as a political concept, Perry Anderson says: ‘It is claimed on all sides as a value, but who can identify it without challenge as a force?’ He also notes that ‘internationalism’ can become a nationalist rhetoric.25 Back in 1892, Yeats had himself been conscious of American poetry in national terms, and as a stimulus to the Irish movement: ‘America, with no past to speak of, a mere parvenu among the nations, is creating a national literature which in its most characteristic products differs almost as much from English literature as does the literature of France’ (CL1 339). Pound’s long and complicated friendship with Yeats is not the only warrant for American-Irish solidarity in literary revolution. But in ‘How to Read’, Pound first annexes then erases Ireland as he crows over the English: ‘[T]he language is now in the keeping of the Irish (Yeats and Joyce); apart from Yeats, since the death of Hardy, poetry is being written by Americans. All the developments in English verse since 1910 are due almost wholly to Americans.’26 Pound’s Anglophobia (after he fell out with literary London) was swallowed whole by Hugh Kenner, whose influential The Pound Era (1971) sets ‘International Modernism’ against ‘provincial’ England. For Pound, ‘British’ literary culture became ‘that horrible turba parisitorum paedagogorumque volgus which Mr Eliot tolerates in his vicinage’.27 And when Perloff asks whether ‘the Pound


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era’ or ‘the Stevens era’ is the apt label, neither Yeats / Ireland nor Britain exists.28 Even the less-imperial New Critics seem to appoint America the locus of modern poetry, as they co-opt Yeats for ‘our’ traditions. While American criticism did more than English criticism to rescue Yeats from Irish ambivalence, it entangled his poetry in its own concerns, anxieties and conflicts.29 Besides concealing an American national bias, modernism can become yet another Irish bias against Yeats. Modernism and Ireland: The Poetry of the 1930s (1995) is a collection of essays on minor vers libre poets, Samuel Beckett being the only notable figure. The editors’ aim is to promote Irish ‘neo-modernist’ poets (another post hoc category): [This] group of poets . . . turned their eyes to European and, to some extent, Anglo-American modernisms for their formal and thematic inspiration. . . . [They] shared an admiration for the anti-realist and internationalist writing of Joyce, and found a common aesthetic and intellectual focus in the cosmopolitan life of Paris. . . . [All] were more or less self-exiled by their common dissatisfaction with the narrow, anti-intellectual culture of the new Irish state and . . . its coercively nationalist, ruralist and bigoted ideology, and by their rejection both of Yeats as poetic ancestor-figure and of the latter-day Irish Yeatsian poets.

Here modernist critical terminology produces Irish historical nonsense. It retrospectively inverts the ‘Yeats Question’ by making Yeats too Irish rather than ‘alien-minded’; by folding him into all that he opposed, and that opposed him, in the 1930s. The editors partly backtrack by adducing a ‘Yeatsian paradigm of literary modernism’, which Irish neo-modernism did not favour.30 But their own paradigm depends on a mode of reading that cannot cope with Yeats’s significance for modern poetry, and hence his significance for modern Irish poetry. They also travesty Yeats’s conspicuously ‘European’ horizons by buying into the dubious opposition between national literary contexts and International Modernism. A comparison with Joyce’s Irish reception in the 1990s is instructive. Emer Nolan’s James Joyce and Nationalism (1995) was even then repatriating Joyce from the modernist imperium invoked to sideline Yeats. As Joseph Kelly shows in Our Joyce (1998), Pound’s sponsorship ensured that Joyce (if with his own complicity) became entangled, like Yeats, in modernist paradigms: ‘Pound de-Irished Joyce’s reputation, and, in the process, stripped his early fiction of its political force’ (Joyce is not always anti-realist, whereas Yeats is).31 But that does not ipso facto validate the opposite extreme. What George O’Brien calls the ‘“Ireland of the Welcomes” treatment’ (see p. 30) sometimes welcomes Joyce as not only

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national but nationalist, especially when the ‘Yeats Question’ looms. Len Platt represents the aesthetic and social (‘deep class animosities’) relation between Yeats and Joyce in binary terms: ‘The Joyce text . . . is devoted to an undermining of revivalism’s status as cultural nationalism, and to a displacement of the Yeatsian Protestant tradition from the round tower of Irish literary culture.’ But Joyce finessed rather than repudiated links to the Revival, and, as ‘The Day of the Rabblement’ indicates, he was tougher on ‘trolls’ than Yeats was (see p. 17). Joyce’s affinity with Yeats’s 1890s ‘religion of art’ or imitation of Yeats’s 1890s poetry, all encoded in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, is not ‘displaced’ in Ulysses by his comedy at the Revival’s expense. Joyce learned by heart Yeats’s ‘The Tables of the Law’: a mystical fable in which Owen Aherne finds himself unable to become a priest after being exposed to a heresy whereby the ‘hidden substance of God’ is revealed to be a ‘supreme art’ beyond morality and ‘spiritual and social order’ (Myth 300, 307). ‘The Tables of the Law’ reads like a blueprint for Joyce’s own apostasy (which is why he accuses Yeats’s theatre of being apostate from art). As for Yeats’s poetry, which Joyce also knew by heart: ‘In Paris Joyce’s friends considered his passion for Yeats quaint, and they were startled also by his distaste for Eliot.’32 Yeats admired and helped the young Joyce, despite his Ibsenite tendencies. In 1918, he told John Quinn that Joyce ‘has certainly surpassed in intensity any novelist of our time’ (L 651). Protestant and Catholic Ireland conditioned the complex symbiosis between Yeatsian and Joycean ‘intensity’ – central to the making of modern literature. But the conditions included crossovers and dialectics as well as differences. Attacking an earlier tendency to polarise Yeats and Joyce, MacNeice calls them ‘spoilt priests’ who share a ‘fanatical devotion to style’ and a ‘habit of cranky speculation’.33 Their historical solidarity in Aestheticism counts for more than their hypothetical clash in modernism. The fact that modernism can de-Irish Yeats’s poetry, both at home and abroad, once again suggests that nationality and modernism need to talk. Yet today they more often converge or merge. To speak of American modernism is to notice a critical bias, not to promote literary subdivisions into Irish, Scottish, Welsh or English modernism. But national literary studies like to capitalise on modernism’s prestige, sometimes with added postcolonial chic, although the problems posed separately by modernism and postcolonialism (see Chapter 5), as ways of reading Irish literature, may be compounded when they combine – when Joyce supposedly ticks all the boxes and Yeats ticks none. Nor does it help when modernism welcomes rather than evicts Yeats. Writing on ‘Yeats, Ireland and Modernism’ (2007),


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Anne Fogarty argues that Yeats fits ‘newly tooled, revisionist accounts of literary modernity precisely because of the unwieldy, multifaceted nature of his artistic and political career, his involvement in several different cultural spheres in Ireland, Britain and the USA, and the successive phases of his poetic oeuvre’. It’s hard to see that modernism is a necessary concept here at all, except as a portmanteau in which to stuff Ireland’s ‘unwieldy’ poet. At the same date, Daniel Albright’s essay ‘Yeats and Modernism’ was reproducing the old American modernist Yeats: ‘Yeats fights Modernism as hard as he can, only to find himself acknowledging that he is Modernist to the marrow of his bones.’34 Albright’s evidence is that Yeats, in ‘A Packet for Ezra Pound’, compares A Vision’s ‘stylistic arrangements of experience’ to Wyndham Lewis’s ‘cubes’ and Brancusi’s ‘ovoids’ (AVB 25). But Yeats’s ‘stylistic arrangements’ are not his style, and perhaps a subtext here is his refusal to be out-moderned by Pound. Some critics distance what they call ‘modernism’ from Ireland. Others collapse it into Ireland. If Yeats’s poetry slips through the cracks, the remedy may not be to talk of ‘modernisms’ or ‘poetries’ but rather to revisit the inter-national dynamics that created modern poetry in English.

Yeats, Eliot, Tradition T.S. Eliot’s essay ‘Tradition and the Individual Talent’ (1919) has often monopolised academic approaches to literary tradition – perhaps because it is, at root, an academic approach. MacNeice chides critics who ‘try to fit a particular artist into a niche in history as if history were a long corridor with all its niches there already’.35 Although Eliot proposes that new works ‘modify the existing order’, order clearly exists.36 Eliot’s ‘tradition’ has caused different ideas of poetic tradition, such as Yeats’s or Edward Thomas’s, to be neglected. Yeats writes of ‘The Waste Land’ as the death of tradition: ‘Tristram and Isoult were not a more suitable theme than Paddington Railway Station. The past had deceived us: let us accept the worthless present’ (CW5 95). As we shall see, Eliot reciprocally misreads Yeats. Yet ‘tradition’ was Yeats’s (oft-repeated) word before it was Eliot’s. When Eliot announced: ‘In English writing we seldom speak of tradition’, he forgot that he had just reviewed Yeats’s The Cutting of an Agate, which includes his essay ‘Poetry and Tradition’ (1907), and G. Gregory Smith’s Scottish Literature: Character and Influence, which, to quote Robert Crawford, ‘devotes particular attention to “the attitude to tradition” in Scottish Literature’.37 ‘Tradition and the Individual Talent’ sidelines versions of tradition that might unsettle Eliot’s self-positioning as

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spokesman for a metropolitan avant-garde, ‘the mind of Europe’, and the Anglo-American first-person plural (‘we’). His Yeats review is headed ‘A Foreign Mind’; his Smith review, ‘Was There a Scottish Literature?’ Eliot writes of Yeats: The difference between his world and ours is so complete as to seem almost a physiological variety, different nerves and senses. It is, therefore, allowable to imagine that the difference is not only personal, but national. . . . Mr Yeats’s mind is a mind in some ways independent of experience; and anything that occurs in that mind is of equal importance. It is a mind in which perception of fact, and feeling and thinking are all a little different from ours.38

Here Celticist stereotype, even Bostonian anti-Irish racism (witness his ‘Sweeney’ poems), reinforces Eliot’s command of ‘our’ world. He virtually depicts Yeats as resisting ‘the despotism of fact’. This section stresses differences between Yeats’s and Eliot’s ‘tradition’. Yet The Cutting of an Agate, although mostly written before 1912, cannot have been wholly foreign to Eliot. It touches on classical literature, Japanese drama, Shakespeare, Spenser, Dante, Cervantes, the Romantic poets, Tolstoy, Verlaine. In ‘Poetry and Tradition’, Yeats describes himself as ‘seeing all in the light of European literature’; regrets that power has passed to ‘small shopkeepers, to clerks’; and ends by lamenting (Ireland’s) failure to ‘fill our porcelain jars against the coming winter’ (CW4 181, 189– 90). That almost seems a template for ‘The Waste Land’. Yeats and Eliot also overlap in recommending tradition to other poets. First, they both attack Wordsworthian subjectivity. Yeats’s ‘perfection of personality, the perfection of its surrender’ (186) surely influenced Eliot’s ‘not the expression of personality, but an escape from personality’.39 Eliot’s review objects to Yeats exposing emotion in his poetry, but The Cutting of an Agate confirms Yeats’s rejection of ‘the gentle, sensitive mind’ (‘Ego Dominus Tuus’) for the objective mask, let alone proving his immersion in tradition as a live collective endeavour. (Eliot would eventually reconcile his own doctrine of ‘impersonality’ with the Yeatsian mask, by allowing that Yeats’s ‘greater expression of personality’ in his later poetry becomes ‘a general symbol’.)40 Second, Yeats advises ‘long frequenting of the great Masters’ (186); Eliot says: ‘Tradition . . . cannot be inherited . . . you must obtain it by great labour’.41 Yet ‘labour’ attaches a willed element, a work ethic, to something that Yeats lives with or by. This is not to imply that Eliot worked harder than Yeats or that Ireland made European ‘inheritance’ more automatic. It is to highlight conceptual differences. Before 1927, when he came out as


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‘classicist in literature, royalist in politics, and anglo-catholic in religion’, tradition, for Eliot, was predominantly literary: ‘[T]he historical sense compels a man to write not merely with his own generation in his bones, but with a feeling that the whole of the literature of Europe from Homer and within it the whole of the literature of his own country, has a simultaneous existence and composes a simultaneous order’.42 Yeats conceives tradition more holistically: as nationality or community, country ‘stories and beliefs’, ‘aristocracies’. Tradition is maintained not only by poets, folklorists and antiquarians but also by nationalist thinkers such as the Irish John O’Leary or the Italian Giuseppe Mazzini, by politicians who have ‘read Homer and Virgil’, by old countrymen with Homeric imaginations (CW4 183, 180). Yeats calls his essay ‘Poetry and Tradition’, although his own ‘individual talent’, like Eliot’s, is clearly at stake. He represents poets’ relation to tradition as organic, if not always continuous – an ‘unbroken’ thread or ‘an old and broken stem’ with a newly grafted rose. Here Irish poets, able to draw on ‘living precedents in the popular memory’, allegedly have an advantage. But tradition must be ‘shaped’, too – by the artist, by society figured as ‘little walled towns’ in Renaissance Tuscany. It requires both ‘ancient imagination’ and ‘the makers of deliberate literature’ (181–5). These are 1890s adjectives. Eliot, whose topographical subtext seems more London than Urbino, depicts the tradition, which poets must ‘obtain’, as a centrally established present-tense ‘order’: ‘the existing monuments’, ‘the main current’.43 Order reappears in ‘Ulysses, Order and Myth’ (1923), where Eliot does acknowledge Yeats as a mediator of tradition. Having praised Joyce’s ‘mythic method [in Ulysses] . . . of controlling, of ordering . . . the immense panorama of futility and anarchy which is contemporary history’, he says: ‘It is a method already adumbrated by Mr Yeats, and of the need for which I believe Mr Yeats to be the first contemporary to be conscious’.44 But ‘order’, ‘control’ and ‘method’ are Eliot’s words. Just as his review of The Cutting of an Agate fails to find order (or perhaps hierarchy) in Yeats’s mind, so in After Strange Gods (1933) Eliot writes of Yeats as ‘having arrived at greatness against the greatest odds’ because he had opted for ‘a lower mythology’. He continues: ‘[I]f [Yeats] has not arrived at a central and universal philosophy he has at least discarded, for the most part, the trifling and eccentric, the provincial in time and place’. Here ‘central’ and ‘provincial’ openly clash, while centrality, now centred on Dante, has come to require a ‘universal philosophy’ – not ‘crystal-gazing and hermetic writings’.45 Jason Harding, in his study of Eliot’s 1930s journal the Criterion, stresses Eliot’s ‘foundational desire’ to ‘stitch together into some kind of

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unity the Latin-Christian elements of the otherwise diverse cultures of Western Europe’.46 Today the Eliot of After Strange Gods is mainly recalled (rebuked) because his ideal society, bonded by ‘race and religion’, would ‘make any large number of free-thinking Jews undesirable’. But – another reason for not colluding with his suppression of the book – After Strange Gods is as significant for Eliot’s poetics as for his politics. He may deny that this Primer of Modern Heresy is literary criticism (‘I ascend the platform of these lectures only in the role of moralist’), but he clearly asserts his own faith-based aesthetic against the deviations of Yeats, Pound, Hardy and Lawrence. And ‘orthodoxy’, rather than ‘tradition’, is now his watchword. Tradition is ‘of the blood . . . rather than of the brain’; whereas orthodoxy demands ‘the exercise of conscious intelligence’47 – and gatekeepers like Eliot, perhaps. When Eliot’s tradition becomes less literary, it does not become more holistic. Yeats and Eliot are sometimes linked as hankering for authoritarian rule in the 1930s. But Yeats’s art-based ‘unity’ of culture responds to an actual disunited polity. Eliot indulges a theological fantasy about homogeneity and control. Yet, when they invoke tradition, both poets exemplify the survival – or revival – in modern poetry, of ‘[o]ne of the principal Romantic modalities for re-enchanting the world’: ‘the return to religious traditions, sometimes with mystical elements’.48 In ‘Poetry and Tradition’, Yeats recalls his original creative impulse as being ‘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’ (CW4 182). In The American T.S. Eliot (1989), Eric Sigg argues that his family’s New England Unitarianism alienated Eliot from American religious traditions and from American traditions more generally – hence his need to construct tradition from English and European sources. Unitarianism itself tends to ‘disenchant’ the world, being democratic, progressive, liberal and convinced that good works can increase spiritual stature. Sigg writes: ‘Eliot substituted pessimism for optimism, decay for progress, de-volution into sensuality for evolution to spirituality. . . . [A]gainst Unitarian reason and humanitarianism he opposed dogma, the Incarnation, and Original Sin.’49 A key distinction between Yeats and Eliot is that all Yeats’s mythologies, from fairies to gyres, invest poetry itself with ‘religious tradition’: ‘I am very religious, and deprived by Huxley and Tyndall, whom I detested, of the simple-minded religion of my childhood, I had made a new religion, almost an infallible Church of poetic tradition, of a fardel of stories, and of personages, and of emotions’ (CW3 115). In After Strange Gods, Eliot attacks this passage as stemming from Matthew Arnold’s heretical ‘doctrine . . . that poetry can replace


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religion’. His own essay ‘Religion and Literature’ (1935) segregates the elements of its title, because literary ‘“greatness” . . . cannot be determined solely by literary standards’.50 This is what takes Eliot from ‘classicism’ (see below) to the rarely attained literary-philosophical ideal of the ‘classic’ as exemplified by Dante. Did Eliot’s centripetal orthodoxy circumscribe his later poetry? MacNeice writes of Yeats: ‘Some might say that he made his bricks without straw, or, at least, out of very odd mixtures of clay and grit and rubbish. The great fact is that he made them.’51 Yeats again parallels Eliot in that his desire for tradition reacted not only to Darwinism but also against a Protestant religious background. Temperament might have made Yeats a Catholic; Irish history made him a Protestant (the Anglo-Catholic compromise was not on offer). In his essay ‘Edmund Spenser’ (1902), Yeats identifies with Spenser’s split between the new puritan ‘Anglo-Saxon nation’ and the Catholic ‘Anglo-French nation, the old feudal nation’ to which he really belonged. He argues that Spenser should (like himself ) have resolved the split by discovering in Ireland ‘all the kingdom of Faerie, still unfaded’, Homeric storytellers and Gaelic poets ‘with wonderful imaginations’ (CW4 263, 268). In the Oxford Book, perhaps having read After Strange Gods, Yeats diagnoses a similar split in Eliot: ‘[Eliot’s] religion compared to that of John Gray, Francis Thompson, Lionel Johnson in The Dark Angel, lacks all strong emotion; a New England Protestant by descent, there is little self-surrender in his personal relation to God and the soul’ (OBMV xxii). In After Strange Gods Eliot (who notes Yeats’s ‘Irish Protestant stock’) attributes heresies like the ‘religion of art’ mainly to ‘the decay of Protestantism’. This, he says, ‘makes much of our writing seem provincial and crude in the major intellectual centres of Europe’. Along with Lawrence’s messy ‘messiahship’, he slates Yeats’s ‘individual religion’.52 Yeats responds, it would seem, by implying that Eliot himself represents another variation on Protestant decay. Damning his faith as unconvinced and artistically unconvincing, he contrasts his poetry unfavourably with that of fin-de-siècle poet-converts to Catholicism like Johnson: the road his own quest for tradition did or could not take. In effect, ‘post-Protestant’ (Eliot’s term) differences, inflected by nationality, underlie the poetic dialectics between Eliot and Yeats. The poet and philosopher T.E. Hulme (1883–1917) brings these differences into focus. Hulme did much to confirm Eliot’s poetic, critical and ideological direction. Eliot celebrates him as ‘the forerunner of a new attitude of mind, which should be the twentieth-century mind’.53 In 1912, Hulme’s lecture ‘Romanticism and Classicism’ gave new currency to the

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tension between these literary poles: classicism being defined as ‘dry and hard’, aware of human limits, given to ‘accurate, precise and definite description’, never ‘flying up into the eternal gases’. This points to Hulme’s foundational role in Imagism (see Chapter 3). Before Eliot, Hulme fused tradition, order and discipline by embracing anti-humanism and religious ‘dogma’.54 His very radicalism may reinstate the Romantic idealisation (epitomised by Rousseau) it rejects. But Hulme’s attack on literary Romanticism, not just its Victorian guises, is profoundly at odds with Yeats’s aesthetic, since he targets all poetry and criticism that channels ‘spilt religion’: ‘W.B. Yeats attempts to ennoble his craft by strenuously believing in supernatural world, race-memory, magic, and saying that symbols can recall these where prose couldn’t. This is an attempt to bring in an infinity again.’55 Hulme’s extraction of religion from poetry throws light on Eliot’s straining to reconcile them. And it throws into relief how Yeats internalises the religious impulse as poetic tradition; religious ritual as poetic form. There are seeming paradoxes here: Romantic poet-atheists; anti-transcendental poet-converts; a devotee of tradition writing the vers libre poem that led Yeats, in his broadcast ‘Modern Poetry’, to call Eliot the ‘most revolutionary man in poetry in my lifetime’ – even if he adds: ‘though his revolution was stylistic alone’ (CW5 95). In the Oxford Book Yeats is less positive: Eliot has produced his great effect upon his generation because he has described men and women that get out of bed or into it from mere habit; in describing this life that has lost heart his own art seems grey, cold, dry. He is an Alexander Pope, working without apparent imagination, producing his effects by a rejection of all rhythms and metaphors used by the more popular romantics rather than by the discovery of his own, this rejection giving his work an unexaggerated plainness that has the effect of novelty. He has the rhythmic flatness of The Essay on Man . . . later, in The Waste Land, amid much that is moving in symbol and imagery there is much monotony of accent. (OBMV xxi)

Yeats quotes the lines beginning ‘When lovely woman stoops to folly’ without noticing that the ‘monotonous’ accents of ‘She smooths her hair with automatic hand’ might be psychologically apt. ‘The Waste Land’, in fact, is absent from the anthology: F.O. Matthiessen saw Yeats as ‘skilfully’ representing Eliot ‘by a selection that keeps him in a minor key’ (‘Preludes’, ‘The Hippopotamus’, ‘Whispers of Immortality’, Sweeney among the Nightingales’, ‘The Hollow Men’, ‘Journey of the Magi’, a Chorus from ‘The Rock’).56 Yeats also puts down Eliot by reading his poetry as the sum of its images and reading its images into its movement.


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He finds ‘the great manner’ only in the last two quatrains of ‘Sweeney among the Nightingales’ (where Agamemnon appears); ‘rhythmical animation’ only in the ‘short lines’ of ‘The Hollow Men’ and when Eliot’s ‘dramatic poems’ ‘sweep him away’ (xxii). This implies that rhythmically, too, Eliot’s poetry lacks ‘self-surrender’. That Yeats cannot hear Eliot is mainly due to Eliot’s (apparent) break with Romantic and Symbolist principles. Yeats attacks what he sees as poetry desacralised into prose: ‘description’, ‘plain’, ‘flat’, ‘grey’. Despite ‘much that is moving in symbol and image’, he fixes Eliot as a realist or satirist or classicist working ‘without apparent imagination’. This also defines Yeats’s own conjunctive aesthetic against ‘the disruptions, juxtapositions, wrenchings of metre, sudden restorations of regularity, breaks, shifts, transitions, and modulations that Eliot and Pound accomplished in what became virtually a joint enterprise’ (H.T. Kirby-Smith’s summation of ‘The Waste Land’).57 Yeats may have a point, although not a critical one, when he notices the reactive, parodic, echoic element in Eliot’s rhythms. Where ‘The Waste Land’ is less ‘haunted by an array of metrical ghosts’ (Kirby-Smith), it can be less finely tuned, as when ‘What the Thunder Said’ sounds a declarative note that prefigures Eliot’s post-conversion poems. In ‘Reflections on Vers Libre’ (1917), Eliot stresses that he does not seek an illusory ‘freedom’ in free verse, but accepts its historical inevitability: [T]he decay of intricate formal patterns has nothing to do with the advent of vers libre. It had set in long before. Only a closely-knit and homogeneous society, where many men are at work on the same problems, such a society as those that produced the Greek chorus, the Elizabethan lyric, and the Troubadour canzone, will the development of such forms ever be carried to perfection.58

That either cues in Yeats or renders him obsolete. It certainly cues in ‘The Waste Land’ where ‘the decay of . . . formal patterns’ joins other uneasy ‘burials of the dead’. To leap from a ‘closely-knit’ society to closely knit form, however, involves dubious historical and mimetic assumptions. It’s true that Ireland, even when unravelling, may keep Yeats closer to the close-knit. But that is not the only reason why his – ‘intricate’ – formal approach to ‘modern heterogeneity’ differs from Eliot’s (CW5 215). ‘The Waste Land’ and Yeats’s lyric sequence ‘Nineteen Hundred and Nineteen’ belong to the same postwar moment (1921). Yeats’s original title, ‘Thoughts upon the Present State of the World’, also fits ‘The Waste Land’. Whatever his later disclaimers, Eliot’s reference to contemporary ‘futility and anarchy’ implicates the state of the world, and the fate of tradition,

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in his ‘mythic’ domain. Both sequences mix inner and outer crisis in a way that makes tradition central to their reflexivity. Up to a point, the first section of ‘Nineteen Hundred and Nineteen’ is an elegy for tradition, communally defined, but with art as its apex and epitome. The opening stanza broods on earlier damage to Europe’s sense of itself, to its cultural and spiritual capital: Many ingenious lovely things are gone That seemed sheer miracle to the multitude, Protected from the circle of the moon That pitches common things about. There stood Amid the ornamental bronze and stone An ancient image made of olive wood – And gone are Phidias’ famous ivories And all the golden grasshoppers and bees. (CW1 210)

In the ‘Game of Chess’ section of ‘The Waste Land’, artworks endure, but the context of their transmission distances their natural or human or mythological sources. Tradition has become ‘withered stumps of time’: Huge sea-wood fed with copper Burned green and orange, framed by the coloured stone, In which sad light a carvèd dolphin swam. Above the antique mantel was displayed As though a window gave upon the sylvan scene The change of Philomel, by the barbarous king So rudely forced; yet there the nightingale Filled all the desert with inviolable voice And still she cried, and still the world pursues, ‘Jug Jug’ to dirty ears. And other withered stumps of time Were told upon the walls . . .59

Yeats’s ‘ancient image made of olive wood’ – Athena, artistic and religious tradition fused into a European root – contrasts with Eliot’s ‘antique mantel’, disconnected from any origin, just as ‘dirty ears’ are deaf to Philomel. But the ‘ancient image’, perhaps also marking Yeats’s deepest poetic sources, itself becomes a ‘stump’ in the Greek-Irish setting of his last stanza: ‘That country round / None dared admit, if such a thought were his, / Incendiary or bigot could be found / To burn that stump on the Acropolis’ (211). ‘Incendiary or bigot’ alludes to arson and sectarian mindsets in 1920s Ireland. For both poets, tradition and convention have been so ‘barbarously’ ruptured as to throw civilisation itself into question: Yeats’s ‘All men are dancers and their tread / Goes to the barbarous


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clangour of a gong’ (212). For both poets, too, barbarity centres on the violated female body; although Philomel ‘rudely forced’ may seem less immediate than Yeats’s ‘mother, murdered at her door’ and left to ‘crawl in her own blood’ (211) – a victim in the Anglo-Irish War / Irish War of Independence. But rape and other rude encounters belong with the trench-recalling ‘rats’ alley’ and dead or displaced persons that give Eliot’s spatial scenario historical co-ordinates. Modernist and postmodernist readings of ‘The Waste Land’ often regard its structures as relativistic in a liberating sense: dissolution of the lyric ‘I’; shifting viewpoint; textual synchronicity. Yet the poem may perceive its own deconstructions less positively. While original sin, especially sexual sin, seems constant across Eliot’s literary-historical time zones, his parodies hint at loss, as when the ‘sound of horns and motors’ brings ‘Sweeney to Mrs Porter’ rather than ‘A noise of horns and hunting’ bringing ‘Actaeon to Diana’.60 Of course, this could mean that Actaeon and Diana have always been Sweeney and Mrs Porter. Michael Levenson, like other critics, warns against the ‘facile’ assumption that Eliot sets a degraded present against the superior past(s), whether actual or literary. He reads ‘The Waste Land’ as, on one level, ‘critical’ work in progress, an ‘activity of tradition’, which implements the theory of ‘Tradition and the Individual Talent’: ‘the poem works and reworks its sense of the past’. Thus we do not need to characterise the result either as ‘a chaos of fragments’ or ‘a submerged unity’. Similarly, Gail McDonald sees ‘The Waste Land’ as ‘educating’ its readers: ‘The poetry aims for closure, coherence, and finish, but this aim is questioned as it is sought’.61 Critics find fragmentation in the form of ‘The Waste Land’; in the personae and images that enter its consciousness; in its allusive bric-àbrac. Yet there is a distinction between a poem’s coherence and coherence in some sphere that concerns it. Eliot’s fragments mix and match, and we hardly need the pre-conversion signposts of religious imagery like St Magnus Martyr (‘Inexplicable splendour of Ionian white and gold’) to hear, with Peter Ackroyd, the ‘sound of someone crying in an empty church’.62 Yeats was wrong to construe Eliot as saying: ‘The past had deceived us: let us accept the worthless present.’ But he may say that past and present have hopelessly contaminated one other. Here to ‘work and rework’ literary tradition conveys less epistemological rigour than a psychic impasse or an impasse between intellect and psyche, perhaps between critic and needy poet. The allusions in ‘The Waste Land’ serve ironical and expressive purposes more than they ‘modify an existing order’. At the same time, Eliot’s fixation on order links the two and implies that literary

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tradition, like other shaky monuments in his nightmarish London, can only serve such purposes, as opposed to yielding larger meaning. Yet, if the tradition of ‘The Waste Land’ is dis-ordered, its ‘self ’ dispersed, its quest self-questioning, its form disjunctive, the poem’s consciousness more or less coheres. And the principle that tells us neither to join up the thematic dots too tightly, nor to overdetermine their relation to the historical moment, should also be applied to the claims made for Eliot’s form – claims also made by Eliot himself. His belief that ‘closely-knit’ form is now impossible, his frustrated appetite for order, and ‘the way in which his feelings cluster around literary cadences’ (Ackroyd) create a blend that is highly specific to his own sensibility, to his American background and European foreground.63 There need be no (mimetic) conclusion that forms of incoherence demand incoherent forms or that poetic ‘closure, coherence and finish’ are over. Modernism, in effect, may not be the best way to read ‘The Waste Land’. By the same token, critical modernism may underrate the capacity of conjunctive structures to negotiate ‘futility and anarchy’ (nouns linked with Wilfred Owen and with Yeats). Yeats and Eliot use different poetic means to ‘think’ about ‘the present state of the world’. ‘Hieronymo’s mad againe’, amid the disjointed cries that end ‘The Waste Land’, contrasts with how the third poem of ‘Nineteen Hundred and Nineteen’ projects authorial suicide: The swan has leaped into the desolate heaven: That image can bring wildness, bring a rage To end all things, to end What my laborious life imagined, even The half-imagined, the half-written page; O but we dreamed to mend Whatever mischief seemed To afflict mankind, but now That winds of winter blow Learn that we were crack-pated when we dreamed. (CW1 212–13)

Although that stanza is bisected at its ‘half-written’ point, between the temptation to nihilistic ‘rage’ and lament for self-delusion, the fifth line’s poised pentameter signals that the ‘page’ can and will proceed. Yet Yeats’s psychodrama makes this seem a matter of choice or action rather than literary convention. The poem prefigures his later sequence ‘Meditations in Time of Civil War’ in being a first-person Hamlet-like ‘meditation’ (elsewhere in ‘Nineteen Hundred and Nineteen’ he speaks wholly as ‘we’), and in admitting us to the poet’s workshop. Yeats has actually reworked the


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ten-line stanza of the preceding poem (see p. 102), in which lines vary between six, five and three stresses, and which he first used in ‘All Souls’ Night’ to represent ‘mind’s wandering’ (CW1 100). It will reappear in ‘Meditations’. The hexameter that begins the stanza quoted above throws weight onto ‘desolate heaven’, with its metaphysical import, while the short monosyllabic third line stresses ‘end’. In picking up ‘desolate’ and ‘wildness’, this line also triggers a run of ‘d’ sounds culminating in the ironical clash between ‘crack-pated’ and ‘dreamed’. Peter McDonald notes the ‘weakness of “even”, stranded at the end of the fourth line’: its ‘faint rhyme and its unemphatic rhythmic position in the line help to throw emphasis on to “The half-imagined”’.64 In Yeats’s 1920s sequences, verseform, syntax, perspective and psychodrama work together (see p. 143). His poetic ‘self ’ is not dispersed, except insofar as ‘images’ also characterise it. But the play between ‘I’, ‘we’, the implied ‘I’ in the ‘we’, and third-person narrative establishes a complex of interior and collective responses to the historical moment. In other words, Yeats’s education by ‘Ireland as audience’ pays off. Here there need be no (mimetic) conclusion that adherence to traditional forms takes tradition’s survival – or its reality – for granted. Eliot sets ‘The Waste Land’ in space with a recessive time frame. Yeats reverses this ratio. His revised title, which gives full weight to a date, emphasises a diachronic locus between ‘then’ and a ‘now’ where the illusions of the past (as opposed to an illusion of the past) are no longer tenable: ‘Now days are dragon-ridden, the nightmare / Rides upon sleep’ (CW1 211). However, the poem that ends ‘Nineteen Hundred and Nineteen’, a symbolic collage of the story so far, has a more pronounced spatial setting: ‘Violence upon the roads: violence of horses . . .’ (214). Yet this scenario also condenses and figures the sequence’s temporal setting, as it moves from a ‘sudden blast of dusty wind’, associated with unspeakable acts, to ‘now wind drops, dust settles’. Both ‘The Waste Land’ and ‘Nineteen Hundred and Nineteen’ end apocalyptically. But Yeats’s poet-speaker, Yeats’s poem, takes responsibility for history in a political or European spirit that seems largely absent from ‘The Waste Land’; as from Pound’s ‘Hugh Selwyn Mauberley’, which polarises art and ‘botched civilisation’.65 Yeats’s imaginative effort to get a fix on ‘dragon-ridden’ days makes his sequence sequential in a further sense – as a function of its dialectics. Tonal switches – from lament to rage to guilt to mockery – if they do not resolve the situation, progressively expose it up to a last twist of irony and apocalypse. As at the end of ‘The Second Coming’ (see p. 123), a sinister image crystallises out of historical dynamics: But now wind drops, dust settles; thereupon There lurches past, his great eyes without thought

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Under the shadow of stupid straw-pale locks, That insolent fiend Robert Artisson To whom the love-lorn Lady Kyteler brought Bronzed peacock feathers, red combs of her cocks. (214)

This odd couple, a medieval Irish witch and her Satanic familiar (compare Eliot’s Mrs Porter / Madame Sosostris, Sweeney / Mr Eugenides), renders tradition at once debased and meaningless. ‘Ornamental bronze’, which recalls Horace’s boast for his poetry, has become ‘Bronzed peacock feathers’ destined for black magic. ‘Thought’, on which tradition depends, is a recurrent word in the sequence: ‘O what fine thought we had because we thought / That the worst rogues and rascals had died out’ (211). Yet, if political, philosophical and literary systems have failed, ‘apocalyptic nihilism’ (Michael Ignatieff’s term) is apprehended, not espoused. ‘Nineteen Hundred and Nineteen’ enacts as well as presses the continuing need to imagine, write and think. Eliot read the canonical message of The Oxford Book of Modern Verse. His memorial lecture on Yeats (1940) splices generosity with veiled counter-attack. Insisting that Yeats never influenced his own work, he allows him the ‘admiration’ of younger English poets, while claiming that it excluded influence: ‘It was good for them to have the spectacle of an unquestionably great living poet whose style they were not tempted to echo and whose ideas opposed those in vogue among them. You will not see, in their writing, more than passing evidences of the impression he made’ (for the inaccuracy of this claim, see Chapter 5). Yet Eliot continues contradictorily: ‘This, I am sure, was part of the secret of his ability, after becoming unquestionably the master, to remain always a contemporary.’ And, twenty years on, he takes back the ‘Foreign Mind’ review. While still finding ‘aspects of Yeats’s thought and feeling . . . unsympathetic’, Eliot calls him ‘one of those [poets] whose history is the history of their own time, who are a part of the consciousness of an age which cannot be understood without them’.66

Yeats, Pound, Form Eliot wanted tradition to take him to the heart of Europe. Pound wanted it to take him to the heart of poetry. In ‘What I Feel About Walt Whitman’ (1909), he recognises the American source of this desire: Mentally I am a Walt Whitman who has learned to wear a collar and a dress shirt (although at times inimical to both). Personally I might be very glad to conceal my relationship to my spiritual father and brag about my more congenial ancestry – Dante, Shakespeare, Theocritus, Villon, but the


Yeats and Modern Poetry descent is a bit difficult to establish. And, to be frank, Whitman is to my fatherland . . . what Dante is to Italy and I at my best can only be a strife for a renaissance in America of all the lost or temporarily mislaid beauty, truth, valour, glory of Greece, Italy, England and all the rest of it.

Pound wrote later: ‘My pawing over the ancients and semi-ancients has been one struggle to find out what has been done, once for all, better than it can ever be done again, and to find out what remains for us to do’. As they play the European card against England, Eliot and Pound invoke different ‘Romes’: Eliot being drawn towards the Latin-Christian centre; Pound, another fugitive from ‘decayed’ American Protestantism (Presbyterianism), towards Romance literature as a conduit to the classics. Unlike Eliot, he never ‘abandoned the Muses for Moses’.67 In 1913, Pound and F.S. Flint summed up the Imagistes’ ‘endeavour’ as having been ‘to write in accordance with the best tradition, as they found it . . . in Sappho, Catullus, Villon’. Perhaps Imagism marks the phase of Pound’s career when he most deeply absorbed tradition, and hence floated most free of it (see Chapter 3). The Cantos, in contrast, parade their bibliography. Pound himself remarked in a different context: ‘It has been complained, with some justice, that I dump my note-books on the public.’68 Pound’s transhistorical allusiveness makes a point about aesthetics rather than textuality: ‘All ages are contemporaneous [in art]’, he says in The Spirit of Romance (1910). Similarly, in ‘Tradition and the Individual Talent’, Eliot renders ‘the historical sense’ ‘simultaneous’. Stephen Spender argues that both poets relate to the literary past in an American or extra-European manner – as an entity, a thing in itself, rather than a continuum.69 For Pound, as for Eliot, this space-time difference has formal consequences that set him at odds with Yeats. Pound’s ‘strife’ for poetry can become irrational. Witness his anathematising of opponents, the cult-psychology that attended Imagist groups and regroupings.70 But his bracing if presumptuous mission ‘to resuscitate the dead art of poetry’ (‘Mauberley’), brought him into Yeats’s orbit, and he stayed there because Yeats was braced.71 Yeats was also reaping what he had sown: his early poetry had been formative for Pound. In Stone Cottage, James Longenbach stresses that ‘long before he met Yeats in [May] 1909, Pound absorbed the aesthetic of Ideas of Good and Evil [Yeats’s fin-de-siècle criticism] and imitated the rhythms of The Wind Among the Reeds’.72 In ‘What I Feel About Walt Whitman’, Pound wants ‘to scourge America with all the old beauty . . . and with a thousand thongs from Homer to Yeats, from Theocritus to Marcel Schwob [a French symbolist writer]’. Elsewhere he states: ‘The tradition is a beauty which we preserve and not a

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set of fetters to bind us.’ ‘Beauty’, which aligns tradition with form rather than order, is not an Eliot word. It was to find beauty and meet Yeats that Pound came to England. At a London literary soirée, a step towards these goals, he read a Yeats poem in a Yeats voice, and ‘talked of Yeats, as one of the Twenty of the world who have added to the World’s poetical matter’. To the young Pound, perhaps, Yeats personified ‘the best tradition’.73 During the key years (1913–16) of their friendship, Yeats and Pound wintered together at Stone Cottage near Ashdown Forest, with Pound acting as Yeats’s ‘secretary’. This friendship, which contrasts with more distant relations between Yeats and Eliot, has been much debated – usually in language that turns on literary power and its balance: Oedipal conflict, master and pupil, ancien régime and ‘make it new’, Ireland and America. There has also been a desire to install Pound as the only begetter of modern poetry by representing him as doing for Yeats what he undoubtedly did for ‘The Waste Land’. But Longenbach, like Yeats scholars before him, judges that ‘the actual turns of influence reveal Yeats as the dominant force’ – and this despite his belief that Pound and Yeats were conspiring to produce ‘the rise of literary modernism’.74 Pound himself credited Synge’s vigorous Hiberno-English idiom with helping to beget the ‘new Yeats’. In November 1910, he told a friend: ‘There has been no “influence” – Yeats has found within himself spirit of the new air’. And again: ‘Mr Yeats has once and for all stripped English poetry of its perdamnable rhetoric. He has boiled away all that is not poetic – and a good deal that is.’75 Yet Yeats’s tribute to Pound at a Poetry Magazine banquet in 1914 is still remembered as a great day for America: ‘We [in the Rhymers’ Club] rebelled against rhetoric, and now there is a group of younger writers who dare to call us rhetorical. . . . I had a young man go over all my work with me to eliminate the abstract. This was an American poet, Ezra Pound’. Yeats added discouragingly, however: ‘Much of his work is experimental; his work will come slowly, he will make many an experiment before he comes into his own’. And when he read aloud Pound’s ‘The Return’ (later cited in A Vision and quoted in the introduction to the Oxford Book), he called it ‘the most beautiful poem that has been written in the free form, one of the few [my italics] in which I find real organic rhythm’ (UP2 414). Some might call ‘The Return’ the most Yeatsian poem written in the free form: See, they return; ah, see the tentative Movements, and the slow feet, The trouble in the pace and the uncertain Wavering! . . .76


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Notions of poetic ‘progress’ do not allow for Yeats’s ability to absorb the challenges of his juniors, to draw younger poets into his quarrel with himself, to switch roles between precursor and disciple, to be both ‘master’ and ‘contemporary’. Like Irish ‘audience’, this kept his poetry on the move. Anyone who takes his tribute to Pound too literally should compare his homages to Dorothy Wellesley and W.J. Turner (OBMV xxxiii–iv). But, after Synge, Yeats’s most significant artistic friendship was with Pound. By keeping close a poet who personified ‘the most aggressive contemporary school of the young’, Yeats received Pound’s stimulus under controlled conditions (CL InteLex 2880). Terence Diggory shrewdly comments: ‘Yeats, having had more experience, knew exactly what he wanted from Pound, and was determined to appear to get it, even when Pound did not have it to give.’77 Modernism can be a factor when critics see Pound’s aesthetic as succeeding or superseding Yeats’s rather than as belonging to the same dialectical field. Chapter 3 will discuss the contention between Yeatsian Symbolism and Poundian Imagism. But the poets’ widening aesthetic divergence during the 1920s and 1930s, which reaches a polemical climax in Yeats’s introduction to the Oxford Book, turns on Pound’s Cantos. Roy Foster notes that ‘Mauberley’ (1919) was the last poem by Pound that Yeats really liked, ‘and then he restricted himself to the first fourteen pages’.78 If Yeats reads Eliot’s work as a denial of poetry, he reads the Cantos as a denial of form. The latter critique goes deeper, perhaps because intimacy had exposed the roots of difference. In 1928, Yeats’s difficulty with Pound’s freewheeling translations of Cavalcanti led Pound to savage Yeats’s recent poems, and Yeats to write ‘A Packet for Ezra Pound’ (1929), later attached to A Vision. Here Yeats invokes ‘Ezra Pound, whose art is the opposite of mine, whose criticism commends what I most condemn’ (AVB 3). The assonantal chiasmus ‘commends’ / ‘condemn’ reinforces the sense that, in a work concerned with his ‘new system of symbolism’, a system that depends on antinomial ‘gyres’, Yeats is indeed ‘call[ing] to my own opposite’ (CW1 161). Yet to cast Pound as the antithetical creative gyre need not be wholly negative – either in terms of A Vision or if we accept that fruitful literary relationships may sharpen difference rather than foster likeness. To quote Pound himself: ‘How the hell many points of agreement do you suppose there were between Joyce, W. Lewis, Eliot and yrs. truly in 1917 . . . or between me and Yeats, etc.?’79 In A Packet (which can also mean ‘a beating’), Yeats bases his doubts about the Cantos on sequence: ‘I have often found there brightly printed kings, queens, knaves, but have never discovered why all the suits could

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not be dealt out in some quite different order’ (AVB 4). This tells us something about ‘Nineteen Hundred and Nineteen’, and, in depicting Pound’s ‘mathematical structure’ as not yet ‘taken up into imagination’ (5), Yeats obliquely contrasts the multitasking Cantos with his own care to distinguish between the ‘geometrical symbols’ of A Vision and the poetry that those symbols underpin (9). He is also conscious that Pound’s synchronic scheme, which jumps from Homeric and Ovidian sources to ‘medieval or modern historical characters’ and back again, differs from his own philosophy of history (4). In the Oxford Book, Yeats nods to friendship (‘I have tried to suspend judgment’) but intensifies his attack on Pound’s nonsequential approach to both history and form: Ezra Pound has made flux his theme; plot, characterisation, logical discourse, seem to him abstractions unsuitable to a man of his generation. He is mid-way in an immense poem in vers libre. . . . The relation of all the elements to one another, repeated or unrepeated, is to become apparent when the whole is finished. There is no transmission through time, we pass without comment from ancient Greece to modern England, from modern England to medieval China; the symphony, the pattern, is timeless, flux eternal and therefore without movement. Like other readers I discover at present merely exquisite or grotesque fragments. He hopes to give the impression that all is living, that there are no edges, no convexities, nothing to check the flow; but can such a poem have a mathematical structure? Can impressions that are in part visual, in part metrical, be related like the notes of a symphony; has the author been carried beyond reason by a theoretical conception? . . . Style and its opposite can alternate, but form must be full, sphere-like, single. Even where there is no interruption he is often content, if certain verses and lines have style, to leave unbridged transitions, unexplained ejaculations, that make his meaning unintelligible. (OBMV xxiii–v)

Here Yeats sets ‘single’ form against ‘merely exquisite or grotesque fragments’; diachronic against synchronic temporality; conjunction against ‘unbridged transitions, unexplained ejaculations’. Yeats’s awareness of Pound colours some occasions when his later poetry draws attention to its own form. In ‘The Statues’, Greek sculpture’s ‘plummet-measured face’ represents the mathematical basis of all art. Punning on ‘calculation, number, measurement’ as also intrinsic to poetry, Yeats yet contrasts what Pythagoras ‘planned’ with what Phidias created: ‘Calculations that look but casual flesh’. These are terms of his quarrel with Pound, perhaps stuck at the Pythagorean stage; just as his ‘immense poem in vers libre’ may have a share in the ‘Asiatic vague immensities’ rejected, according to Yeats, by ‘Europe’ and ‘We Irish’ (CW1 344–5). In


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his essay ‘Bishop Berkeley’ (1931), Yeats had already identified his art with eighteenth-century Ireland, conceived as contrary to ‘a new naturalism that leaves man helpless before the contents of his own mind’. He adds: ‘One thinks of Joyce’s Anna Livia Plurabelle, Pound’s Cantos’. Yeats proceeds to ask: ‘[W]hy should I, whose ancestors never accepted the anarchic subjectivity of the nineteenth century, accept its recoil; why should men’s heads ache that never drank?’ (CW5 109–10). All this blithely denies Yeats’s own roots in Romantic subjectivity, along with the concessions that his gyres make to relativity or flux. But, as in ‘The Statues’, he is primarily resisting a ‘modern [poetic] tide’, and defending his own approach to form – defending form itself, form as mind. MacNeice writes: ‘Yeats’s formalising activity began when he thought about the world’. This predates Michael Wood’s argument that form is a mode of ‘knowing’.80 But, for Yeats, some forms know more or think better than others. In ‘Bishop Berkeley’, he resists a modern literary ‘consciousness that has shrunk back, grown intermittent and accidental, into the looking-glass’, aligning it with Buddhist passivity (109). ‘The Statues’, in which ‘Grimalkin crawls to Buddha’s emptiness’, is a pre-emptive strike against the postmodernist idea that ‘Mirror on mirror mirrored is all the show’. Yeatsian form will not make the final concession to ‘accidence’, to inner or outer flux. Modernist / postmodernist criticism favours open, ‘decentred’, disjunctive form rather than the unity or closure that Yeats’s ‘full, sphere-like, single’ seems to assert. When C.K. Stead compares Yeats and Pound as models for other poets, he (like Peter Nicholls) makes a case for Pound’s very incoherence: ‘It is the difference between the marmoreal and the Mallarméan, between the stillness and finality of the musée and the action and inconclusiveness of the atelier’.81 In Canto LXXX, Yeats strays into Pound’s atelier: and as to poor old Benito one had a safety-pin one had a bit of string, one had a button all of them so far beneath him half-baked and amateur or mere scoundrels To sell their country for half a million . . . the problem after any revolution is what to do with your gunmen as old Billyum found out in Oireland in the Senate, Bedad! Or before then Your gunmen thread on moi drreams

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O woman shapely as a swan, Your gunmen tread on my dreams Whoi didn’t he (Padraic Colum) keep on writing poetry at that voltage ‘Whenever you get hold of one of their banknotes (i.e. an Ulster note) ‘burn it’ said one of the senators planning the conquest of Ulster This he said in the Oirish Senate showing a fine grasp of . . . of possibly nothing. But if a man don’t occasionally sit in a senate how can he pierce the darrk mind of a senator? . . . but old William was right in contending that the crumbling of a fine house profits no one (Celtic or otherwise) . . . As Mabel’s red head was a fine sight worthy his minstrelsy a tongue to the sea-cliffs or ‘Sligo in Heaven’ or his, William’s, old ‘da’ at Coney Island perched on an elephant beaming like the prophet Isaiah . . . 82

Like Eliot’s lecture, this is partly a riposte to the Oxford Book and other barbs. Yeats is mocked for pulling rank, as he does in ‘A Packet for Ezra Pound’, over being a senator and political insider. Deconstructing Yeats’s memorial versions of himself, Pound mimics his accent; parodies or paraphrases his poems (‘Upon a House Shaken by the Land Agitation’, ‘Upon a Dying Lady’, ‘He wishes for the Cloths of Heaven’). Yeatsian form is inseparable from the dramatic principle that a poet is ‘never the bundle of accident and incoherence that sits down to breakfast; he has been re-born as an idea, something intended, complete . . . [H]e has stepped out of a play’ (CW5 204). Pound reimports ‘accident and incoherence’ into Yeats’s poetic cosmos by dumping table-talk notes ‘on the public’: Yeats gossiping, his father’s boast that he had given ‘a tongue to the sea-cliffs’. But he pays affectionate tribute (‘worthy his minstrelsy’) as well as indulging in shallow satire: ‘Your gunmen thread on moi drreams’. For Donald Davie, Pound’s ‘open’ method ‘manifests a respect for the uniqueness and otherness of the other person, a flexibility of feeling incompatible with the Yeatsian private pantheon’. He quotes Hugh Kenner for whom, taking his cue (as ever) from Pound: ‘Yeats’s


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incorrigibly symbologising mind infected much of his verse with significance imposed on materials by an effort of will’.83 Yet we have access to neither poet’s ‘will’. Pound, too, selects and imposes: the relation between ‘materials’ and significance created by means we recognise as poetic, is not predetermined. At a rhythmical and syntactical level, for instance, this Canto’s signifying means are relatively simple, prosaic. Line-breaks hardly matter, and changes of tone or tack mostly involve addition rather than mutual complication (‘and’, ‘but’, ‘or’, ‘as’). At another level, Pound’s negotiations with memory and history do not go beyond a slack language of value judgment (‘poor’, ‘so far beneath him’, ‘right’, ‘fine’), while montage is routinely used rather than specifically exploited – Irish and Italian politics should have had more to say to one another. From one angle, the whole effect is poignantly parasitic. You might say that Yeats defeats Pound. Yeats’s self-memorialising, self-symbolising ‘The Municipal Gallery Revisited’ seems clearer about the ambiguities of art, history, power and violence – and about the relation between an artist’s ‘images’ and their sources in life: Around me the images of thirty years; An ambush; pilgrims at the water-side; Casement upon trial, half hidden by the bars, Guarded; Griffith staring in hysterical pride; Kevin O’Higgins’ countenance that wears A gentle questioning look that cannot hide A soul incapable of remorse or rest; A revolutionary soldier kneeling to be blessed . . . (CW1 326)

Here form is ‘single’ because parts cohere (‘plot, characterisation, logical discourse’) not because ambiguities – including how the portraits’ sitters ‘look’ – are or will be resolved. The compressed phrase-images, the periodic expansion of the lines on O’Higgins, again exemplify how stanzaic form can work with rhythm and syntax to ‘think about the world’ (MacNeice) in ways that, as in ‘Nineteen Hundred and Nineteen’, remain ‘open’. This oxymoronic montage poses continuing questions about intersections between religion, politics, psychology and war. For Paul Morrison, Pound’s sprawling ‘decentred’ structures impose their own kind of closure; they might be ‘characterised not as “unthinkable” but as strategically resisting thought: a modality of power that would not be known as such’.84 ‘Poor old Benito’ belongs to the same tone as Yeats’s ‘old “da”’. By limiting his formal – and hence emotional, intellectual and ethical – repertoire, Pound may turn ‘open form’ into a kind of prison: ‘flux eternal’.

Yeats and American Modernism


‘Lapis Lazuli’ Four months before The Oxford Book of Modern Verse was published, Yeats wrote ‘Lapis Lazuli’, perhaps a coda or summa: I have heard that hysterical women say They are sick of the palette and fiddle-bow, Of poets that are always gay, For everybody knows or else should know That if nothing drastic is done Aeroplane and Zeppelin will come out, Pitch like King Billy bomb-balls in Until the town lie beaten flat. All perform their tragic play, There struts Hamlet, there is Lear, That’s Ophelia, that Cordelia; Yet they, should the last scene be there, The great stage curtain about to drop, If worthy their prominent part in the play, Do not break up their lines to weep. They know that Hamlet and Lear are gay; Gaiety transfiguring all that dread. All men have aimed at, found and lost; Black out; Heaven blazing into the head: Tragedy wrought to its uttermost . . . (CW1 300)

This poem presents itself as a critical intervention spoken by a poetcritic or critic-poet. The first eight lines parody another critical position, questionably voiced by ‘hysterical women’. Here Yeats seems to attack the Marxist demand for engagé art; also, perhaps, the 1930s mood and mode of ‘waiting for the end’. His opinion of ‘war poetry’, of Wilfred Owen as a model for contemporary poets, contributes to the tone (see Chapter 4). Yet, as in the Oxford Book, the 1890s may meet the 1930s on a wider front, with Yeats more broadly concerned to redefine Aestheticism for a decade of exceptional political pressure from every direction. Thus he revisits his contrast, in ‘J.M. Synge and the Ireland of his Time’ (1911), between Synge’s life-affirming art and the ‘fixed idea’ that can make Irish politics resemble ‘an hysterical woman’ obsessed with ‘some logical deduction from a solitary thought’ (CW4 228). Yeats’s old enemy (inner enemy too), the political mind, has resurfaced in new guises: ‘if nothing drastic is done’ mocks the urgent voice of all politics. But as the poem’s focus shifts to performance and form, the speaker may also attack another


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target: poems that ‘break up their lines’ because they have surrendered to flux as well as crisis. In the Oxford Book, Yeats calls Poundian form ‘constantly interrupted, broken, twisted into nothing by . . . nervous obsession, nightmare, stammering confusion . . . [t]his loss of self-control’ (OBMV xxv). That is, Pound lacks the discipline of the mask; whereas ‘Hamlet and Lear’ are doubly theatrical masks for how Yeats’s lyric faces its audience. Michael Valdez Moses argues that ‘Lapis Lazuli’ illustrates ‘Yeats’s ethically irresponsible and politically misguided response to the growing threats of fascism and a wider war in Europe’ – a response only justifiable on ‘the Nietzschean view that the highest duty of the artist is to transform the violence and cruelty of human existence into an object worthy of aesthetic and philosophic contemplation’.85 But to say of the ‘Chinamen’ that adorn the lapis lazuli, ‘On all the tragic scene they stare’, is to demarcate the sphere of art rather than to license the ‘aesthetic gaze’: Two Chinamen, behind them a third, Are carved in Lapis Lazuli, Over them flies a long-legged bird A symbol of longevity; The third, doubtless a serving-man, Carries a musical instrument. Every discolouration of the stone, Every accidental crack or dent Seems a water-course or an avalanche, Or lofty slope where it still snows Though doubtless plum or cherry-branch Sweetens the little half-way house Those Chinamen climb towards, and I Delight to imagine them seated there; There, on the mountain and the sky, On all the tragic scene they stare. One asks for mournful melodies; Accomplished fingers begin to play. Their eyes mid many wrinkles, their eyes, Their ancient, glittering eyes, are gay. (CW1 301)

Reflecting on Synge’s knowledge that he was terminally ill, Yeats describes ‘the creative joy’ as ‘arousing within us, through some sympathy perhaps with all other men, an energy so noble, so powerful, that we laugh aloud and mock, in the terror or the sweetness of our exaltation, at death and oblivion’ (CW4 233). When the poet-speaker of ‘Lapis Lazuli’ says, ‘There struts Hamlet, there is Lear’, he is talking about lyric personae, about how a poem works. We are again in the workshop when he ‘delights to imagine’

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the figures into whom he breathes life. Synaesthetic vividness (‘Sweetens’ appeals to both nose and eye) is backed up by pan-artistic allusiveness: to music, drama, painting, sculpture, carving. Those arts are invoked for their craft: ‘Tragedy wrought to its uttermost’; ‘Callimachus / Who handled marble as if it were bronze’. ‘Lapis Lazuli’ not only identifies art with form: it identifies art as form. Without ‘Accomplished fingers’, there will be no ‘mournful melodies’ to do justice to ‘the tragic scene’. Yeats may adapt his saying ‘We begin to live when we have conceived life as tragedy’ (CW3 163) by implying that, to cope with ‘dread’, art must conceive history as tragedy, and that catastrophic history demands poetry. This almost pre-empts Theodor Adorno’s belief that to write poetry after Auschwitz adds to the monuments of the society that engendered Auschwitz. The Chinamen, at once creative and (twice) created, ever ‘imagined’ in the poem’s present tense, the musician always ‘beginning to play’, personify the artistic impulse, also felt as rhythmic pulse. The architecture of ‘Lapis Lazuli’ makes good its statement: ‘All things fall and are built again / And those that build them again are gay’ (301). Yeats ‘builds’ successive climaxes, which culminate in the crescendo of the last two lines. The repeated ‘their eyes’ prolongs and stresses the sentence’s subject, setting up ‘are gay’: itself repeated. All this insists that ‘gaiety’ goes deep, ‘mid many wrinkles’; while ‘ancient’, highlighted by its deferral, aligns formal accomplishment with tradition. If ‘Lapis Lazuli’ has Pound in mind, Yeats may set his own practical accomplishment against Pound’s theoretical conception. The poem’s flexible switching between five- and four-beat lines, the absence of a fixed stanza, help Yeats to pass effortlessly ‘from ancient Greece to modern England . . . to China’, but not ‘without comment’. Yeats even plays Pound at the game of ‘accidence’. The eye, which figures the poet’s inventiveness, incorporates the stone’s natural qualities (‘discolouration’, ‘dent’) into its art. At this point, ‘Lapis Lazuli’ becomes a partly ‘found’ ekphrastic poem (not that ‘dent’ / ‘accidental’ is accidental). Its ending is a version of the iconic sonnet associated with Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Moreover, the stone arrives in the poem as a stand-alone ‘unbridged transition’. Perhaps it also arrives as three couplet-haiku: an effect that draws on Yeats’s and Pound’s shared oriental interests. But Yeats then builds subtle bridges back and forth, including metrical bridges. With an intricacy beyond anything in Pound, the haiku are integrated into the underlying quatrain structure, and set up the Rossettian finale. The nod to Rossetti, who personifies links between poetry and the visual arts, is again no accident. ‘Lapis Lazuli’ intertwines the arts in a


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spirit of Pre-Raphaelite solidarity or cross-fertilisation, as opposed to the Poundian hybridity that Yeats finds problematic: ‘Can impressions that are in part visual, in part metrical, be related like the notes of a symphony?’ Yeats makes the visual metrical: the carved stone becomes verbal music. In ‘Art and Ideas’ (1913), another critical essay echoed by ‘Lapis Lazuli’, Yeats recalls that he ‘learned to think in the midst of the last phase of Pre-Raphaelitism’ (CW4 250), but thinks that Pre-Raphaelitism itself did not do enough thinking. He ends the essay by proposing a ‘re-integration of the mind, our more profound Pre-Raphaelitism’. That is, he wants to retain ‘aesthetic poetry’ (see Chapter 3), but to reverse its solipsistic tendency in a way that anticipates his later attitude to ‘helplessness before the contents of [one’s] own mind’. He writes: ‘[W]hen we take pleasure in some Chinese painting of an old man meditating upon a mountain path, we share his meditation, without forgetting the beautiful intricate pattern of the lines’. Anticipating the ‘civilisations’ that, in ‘Lapis Lazuli’, come ‘on shipboard, / Camel-back, horse-back’, Yeats asks: ‘Shall we . . . live amid the thoughts that can go with us by steam-boat and railway as once upon horse-back, or camelback?’ As a prospectus for ‘modern poetry’, this would mean poetry restoring its intellectual dimension (Yeats has been reading Herbert Grierson’s edition of Donne); substituting ‘passionate thought’ for ‘sedentary meditation’; re-bonding with its traditional resources; and thereby ‘rediscovering . . . the old abounding, nonchalant reverie’ (256). In ‘Lapis Lazuli’, Yeats’s question has become an answer. ‘Gaiety’ defines ‘creative joy’ as transfiguration – as the formal ‘energy’ an artist summons when compelled to confront the worst: ‘Tragedy wrought to its uttermost’. Yeats may have needed the literary-political climate of the 1930s to get ‘more profound Pre-Raphaelitism’ fully into focus. In her important study On Form (2007), Angela Leighton observes that ‘[f ]orm, as a critical term, has in recent years come back into fashion’ with its multiple meanings: ‘from the specifics of technique to the workings of creativity . . . from artistic integrity to the nature of knowledge . . . the art work per se, or the whole business of how art is made and interpreted’.86 Yeatsian form more or less covers and claims all these meanings. For him, conceptually too, form is ‘full, sphere-like, single’. ‘Lapis Lazuli’, perhaps the most intensely reflexive poem by an intensely reflexive poet, is more complex as criticism than Yeats’s introduction to the Oxford Book. Opposition to Poundian form, as well as to the 1930s politicisation of poetry, has sparked an ultimate aesthetic credo. The poem’s layerings, interlacings and involutions insist that form is the sine qua non. So

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does the manner in which ‘tragic play’, ‘tragic scene’ and ‘wrought’ blur the boundaries between art and life. ‘More profound Pre-Raphaelitism’ includes Yeats’s 1890s notion that art, ‘the hidden laws of the world’ (CW4 120), should not so much retreat from life as take it over. Yet, conversely, life invades art. Writing on ‘Yeats’s Feet’, Leighton points out how Yeats allies poetic rhythm with actual ‘feet’, in a way that marks his ‘lifelong concern with rhythm, with a ground-bass of meaning from which his poems start’.87 In ‘Lapis Lazuli’, Hamlet ‘struts’, civilisations arrive ‘On their own feet’. But we also have Callimachus’ ‘handiwork’ and ‘Accomplished fingers’. Yeats’s later poetry involves the visual arts (and dance) in its selfimage, as a way of stressing poetry’s bodily origins and formal materiality. If the work of form is done with hands and feet, done with the body, done as a function of body as well as mind, perhaps this might reverse the attributions of musée and atelier. The dialectics traced in this chapter seem central to modern poetry. They may explain, as opposed to being explained by, ‘American modernism’, and – a point that broad-brush ‘modernism’ obscures – they pivot on poetic structure. The introduction to his work, which Yeats wrote in 1937, draws out some implications of ‘Lapis Lazuli’ when he enshrines dramatic ‘soliloquy’ as his ‘first principle’: the poet is ‘Lear, Romeo, Oedipus, Tiresias; he has stepped out of a play’. Yeats goes on to stress the structural importance of ‘a powerful and passionate syntax’ (see Postscript). Inter alia, this implies a poetic ‘mind’ able to confront its own contents. Because Yeats believes that such syntax requires ‘those traditional metres that have developed with the language’, rather than ‘broken-up’ lines, he obliquely reprises his differences with Eliot and Pound (the latter possibly targeted as ‘egotistical’ and ‘indiscreet’) over tradition and form: [A]ll that is personal soon rots; it must be packed in ice or salt. . . . 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. . . . I must choose a traditional stanza, even what I alter must seem traditional. . . . Ancient salt is best packing. (CW5 213)

For Yeats, free verse lacks the formal means to dramatise experience at the highest pressure: ‘wrought to its uttermost’. His paradoxical imperative, ‘even what I alter must seem traditional’, is a mini-manifesto to set alongside Pound’s ‘make it new’.

Ch a p t er 3

Intricate Trees: The Survival of Symbolism

This chapter again triangulates Yeats with two younger contemporaries: the Anglo-Welsh Edward Thomas (1878–1917) and the American Wallace Stevens (1879–1955). To link these poets (who never met) is to draw out Yeats’s side of the dialectics traced in Chapter 2. All three can be said to conceive form as ‘full, sphere-like, single’, and I will argue that the term ‘Symbolism’ illuminates (and is illuminated by) their common aesthetic bearings. Thomas’s Poems (1917) and Last Poems (1918) and Stevens’s Harmonium (1923) are largely absent from the foundational story of modern poetry, perhaps because both poets wrote or published belatedly. Yet belatedness – finding ways round or through nineteenth-century poetic modes – is itself part of the story. Stevens has often been compared to Yeats; Thomas seldom, despite the felt affinities suggested by his reviews of Yeats’s work.1 Even so, a Yeats-Stevens axis has rarely been central to critical narratives – at least since New Criticism receded. Edward Clarke can reasonably claim that his recent study, The Later Affluence of W.B. Yeats and Wallace Stevens, ‘is the first to concentrate on Yeats and Stevens together in . . . detail’.2 Modernist criticism has played its part in obscuring the parallels between three poets whose relation to the literary past, specifically to Romantic poetry and 1890s Aestheticism, is more evolutionary than revolutionary. Thanks to ‘Irish America’, as well as to Pound and New Criticism, Yeats made it across the Atlantic. But Stevens was not published in the UK until 1953, although read by poets and sometimes anthologised;3 and Thomas, despite his closeness to Robert Frost, remains little known in the United States. Thomas, then a prose writer, overworked reviewer and influential poetry critic, met Frost in 1912. His reviews of North of Boston (1914) helped to establish Frost’s English, and hence American, reputation. Their friendship, disrupted in 1915 by Frost’s return to America and by Thomas’s enlistment, also helped to make Thomas a poet. When he wrote his first poems in December 1914, Frost’s stimulus played into a creative chemistry 68

Intricate Trees


where the Great War reacted with more inward elements (see Chapter 4). The poetic traffic was not one-way. This inter-national poetic exchange was charged by Frost’s sense of Thomas’s immersion in English poetry (‘I never saw anything like you for English’) and Thomas’s sense of Frost’s American difference: ‘It is curious to have such good natural English with just that shade of foreignness in the people and in the poet himself.’ Frost would later question the reality of literary ‘chasms’ between Britain and America.4 Yet seeming or actual chasms also open up within countries. Stevens’s other life as a lawyer distanced him from literary-academic circles. Thomas, despite his influence on later British and Irish poets,5 has often languished in the categories ‘Georgian poet’ or ‘war poet’. Even the latter, since he was killed before he could write ‘trench poems’, has been a delayed attribution. As for modernism, here Thomas, like Frost, barely exists. Peter Howarth writes in British Poetry in the Age of Modernism: ‘The number of people for whom Thomas’s and [Wilfred] Owen’s poetry matters . . . means no critical account of the period which leaves them as notquite-modernists will do them justice.’ Howarth proposes that ‘a century’s hindsight’ might make Yeats the missing link between the modernist and the not-quite, but retreats into aligning Yeats with Pound.6 Stevens’s relation to ‘American modernism’ resembles Yeats’s. While his Americanness helps to keep him on side, his poetry has little conceptual influence, and postmodernism caused strains in Stevens criticism too. For instance, while Albert Gelpi, editor of Wallace Stevens: The Poetics of Modernism (1985), aims to ‘specify Stevens’s place in the evolution of Modernist poetics in English’, several contributors demur. Gerald L. Bruns criticises Stevens’s sonnet ‘Autumn Refrain’ because ‘heteroglossia’ are ‘appropriated by a unitary language’. Even if American birds (‘grackles’) and American idiom (the ‘skreak and skritter of evening’) subvert the English lyric (‘these evasions of the nightingale’), Bruns finds that ‘the mental echo left by the grackles is harmonised, or poetised’. For Marjorie Perloff, Stevens exemplifies ‘The Impasse of Modernist Lyric’ because he adheres to the lyric itself, and to poetry as a transcendental ‘supreme fiction’. Elsewhere, Perloff consigns Stevens, with Yeats, to the ‘Romantic line’, which Pound has allegedly ‘ruptured’ since the textual democracy of the Cantos dissolves ‘the past’ in which Stevens ‘dwells’. She positions Pound where he eventually came to position himself: as an American revolutionary who neither went native in England like Eliot nor retained some English poetic roots like Stevens. Gelpi himself exposes taxonomic tensions when he contrasts Stevens with William Carlos Williams. After noting: ‘Where Williams found himself sharing Pound’s Imagist principles, Stevens spoke as a representative of


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the Symboliste tradition coming into English’, he calls this ‘a schism, or at least an irresolution, at the heart of Modernism’.7 But ‘Symbolism’ and ‘Imagism’, terms actually current around 1912, signpost divergent paths or emergent dialectics in modern poetry rather than ‘within Modernist poetics’ (see below). Pound despaired of making Yeats an Imagist. He wrote of Responsibilities: ‘Mr Yeats is a romanticist, symbolist, occultist, for better or worse, now and for always’.8 A decade later, Stevens similarly bucked the apparent trend. As John Timberman Newcomb shows in Wallace Stevens and Literary Canons, few critics knew what to make of Harmonium. Stevens missed the ‘Waste Land’ tide; then, during the 1930s, his ‘dandyism’ offended the Marxist turn in American criticism. Yet this turned to his advantage as New Criticism took hold. By the mid-1950s Stevens, as much as Yeats and more than Eliot, seemed ‘a model of the constructing and ordering imagination’. In Harold Bloom’s The Visionary Company (1961), which brings to the surface the Romantic element in supposedly ‘classical’ New Criticism (and modern poetry), he rubs shoulders with Blake, Keats and Yeats. Canonical splits would eventually pit ‘the Stevens Era’ (Bloom) against Kenner’s ‘Pound Era’ (see pp. 41–2). Newcomb does not dispose of this polarity either by calling all American poetry after 1910 ‘modernist’ or by demonstrating the limits of any criticism (negative or positive) that depicts Stevens’s poetry as ignoring history.9 In effect, Stevens, like Yeats, unsettles critical paradigms. Stefan Holander notices some unpersuasive attempts to claim him for postmodernism, for ‘decentred’ poetics, for strategies that induce ‘vertigo of the bottomless textual abyss’. Yet Holander and other critics anxiously insist that Stevens must not be excluded from modernism, thereby colluding with the desire of some modernist (and even postmodernist) criticism to keep big fish in categorical nets.10 If Yeats and Stevens elude those nets, one reason may be that poetry soaked in ‘spilt religion’ (as is Stevens’s too) resists approaches that favour disjunctive or ungrounded structures. In any case, as Newcomb says: ‘Of the broadly canonical poets of American literature, Wallace Stevens has long been the least situated within the historical contexts of American modernism’ (he means poetry, not criticism).11 The most perceptive review of Harmonium, by the London-based American Imagist John Gould Fletcher, was headed ‘The Revival of Estheticism’: Mr Wallace Stevens is an aesthete, but he is at all events an honest aesthete. . . . [He] is definitely out of tune with life and with his surroundings, and is seeking an escape into a sphere of finer harmony between instinct and intelligence. . . . [O]f all the purely aesthetic artists of today, he wields

Intricate Trees


the finest and most distinguished weapon of style. Any reader who will take the trouble to compare ‘Le Monocle de Mon Oncle’ or ‘Sunday Morning’ with Mr T.S. Eliot’s Waste Land, or the best work of the Sitwells, or even M. Paul Valéry’s ‘Jeune Parque’, will realise that Mr Stevens need fear no comparisons. . . . It is true that he, like these others, is an obscure writer. But his obscurity comes from a wealth of meaning and allusion which are unavoidable; and his intention, when we finally do fathom it, is far clearer and more earnestly pursued than theirs. He holds that the artist can do nothing else but select out of life the elements to form a ‘fictive’ or fictitious reality. But this is not necessarily a higher reality; he is unable to take any moral category for granted. It is merely the artist’s reality.12

‘The Revival (or Survival) of Symbolism’ might equally fit Stevens’s ‘sphere of finer harmony’ and ‘wealth of meaning and allusion’. Admittedly Symbolism, even in its French guise, can be as hazy a category as modernism. Like modernism, it ‘drew attention to, rather than created, artistic practices’. Patrick McGuinness, editor of Symbolism, Decadence and the Fin de Siècle (2000), writes: ‘The Symbolist “manifesto” of 18 December 1886 . . . was less the launch of a movement than a taking stock of what already existed’.13 But, closer to the literary event than modernism, Symbolism then affected poets’ consciousness of their practices. This was so with Yeats, who wrote in 1897 of ‘a gradual, half-perceptible revolt, as is the fashion of English as contrasted with French revolts [whereby] poetry has been for two generations slowly contracting its limits and becoming more and more purely personal and lyrical in its spirit’ (UP2 39–40). Yeats, who always stresses the greater extremity of the French ‘revolt’, was more aware than some later critics that ‘Symbolic, Symbolist, and Symboliste . . . are not synonymous words’.14 Just as French Symbolist aesthetics had external sources (English Romanticism, Edgar Allan Poe’s impact on Baudelaire), so their effect was filtered through, or became allied with, distinctive conditions elsewhere. For instance, New Critical symbolism has trace elements of American transcendental idealism, and McGuinness points out: ‘To complicate matters, Symbolism was not the same thing in Germany and Italy as it was in France, much less in France’s nearest neighbour, Belgium, and none of these Symbolisms happened at the same time.’15 It may be less a matter of English-language poets imitating French models than of a cumulative shift in their idea of the poem itself.

The Lyric and the Fin de Siècle In 1893, Yeats compared the growth of a literature to that of a tree. Literatures, he said, start from ‘a simple seed’, gradually develop ‘a complex


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trunk . . . all innumerable and intricate leaves, and flowers and fruit’. It is ‘the age of lyric poetry’ that represents the tree’s ‘greatest complexity of leaf and fruit and flower’. Yeats dates this age from Tennyson’s ‘In Memoriam’ and Rossetti’s sonnets, and sees it as an interior move. It is by ‘looking in upon itself ’, that the ‘human spirit’ produces ‘every kind of subtlety, obscurity, and intricate utterance’ (UP1 268–72). When Yeats portrays the machine-like mind of ‘J.F. Taylor, the orator’ as poetry’s opposite, he says that it has ‘no intricacy of leaf and twig’ (CW4 228–9). In 1901, Edward Thomas prophesied: ‘Increasing complexity of thought and emotion will find no such outlet as the myriad-minded lyric, with its intricacies of form as numerous and as exquisite as those of a birch-tree in the wind.’16 These tree metaphors open up the matrix of poetic practice and theory to which the term ‘Symbolism’ had become attached: the matrix for a continuing ‘age of lyric’. When Yeats and Thomas laud ‘intricacy’, ‘complexity’ and heightened (self-) consciousness, a common point of reference is the ‘aesthetic criticism’ of Walter Pater (1839–94), especially Pater’s Studies in the History of the Renaissance (1873) and especially the conclusion to that work – immediately ‘taken’, to quote Arthur Symons, ‘as the manifesto for the so-called “aesthetic” school of poetry’.17 Aestheticism and Symbolism melt into one another as terms for late nineteenth-century mutations of the lyric poem and for their apotheosis in early Yeats. But Aestheticism primarily suggests form or devotion to form; Symbolism suggests vision. Pater wrote the English gospel for the ‘religion of art’, and his advocacy of ‘the poetic passion, the desire of beauty, the love of art for art’s [later, ‘its own’] sake’18 implicated literary structure as well as constructions of literature. Angela Leighton stresses that ‘form’ became ‘one of the most precious terms in the vocabulary of Victorian aestheticism’, and that its meanings included ‘a new and specific sense of bodily presence’.19 Pater preserves subject ‘matter’ when he writes that ‘lyrical poetry, precisely because in it we are least able to detach the matter from the form, without a deduction of something from that matter itself, is, at least artistically, the highest and most complete form of poetry’. His insistence on craft counters Coleridge’s appeal to ‘Nature, the prime, genial artist’: [T]he artist has become almost a mechanical agent: instead of the most luminous and self-possessed phase of consciousness, the associative act in art or poetry is made to look like some blindly organic process of assimilation. The work of art is likened to a living organism. That expresses truly the sense of a self-delighting, independent life, which the finished work of art gives us: it hardly figures the process by which such work was produced.

Intricate Trees


Pater’s ‘process’, which includes ‘exquisite analysis’ and ‘many stages of refining’,20 is a context for Yeats urging ‘perfection of . . . workmanship’ on Irish poets (see p. 17) and for ‘Adam’s Curse’ (1901) where ‘beauty’ depends on ‘labour’: ‘I said, “A line will take us hours maybe; / Yet if it does not seem a moment’s thought, / Our stitching and unstitching has been naught . . .”’ (CW1 78). It is also a context for Thomas’s ‘intricacies of form’ and use of the Pateresque adjective ‘exquisite’. To figure lyric form as a tree is to retune the ‘Aeolian lyre’, the wind-tossed tree of Romantic inspiration. The focus switches from poet to poem, while keeping the architectonic in touch with the organic. Not that inspirational ‘wind’ was over; Yeats’s The Wind Among the Reeds (1899) would relocate it in western Ireland. But in ‘The Two Trees’ (1892), tossing branches and shaking leaves are already structural: Beloved, gaze in thine own heart, The holy tree is growing there; From joy the holy branches start, And all the trembling flowers they bear. The changing colours of its fruit Have dowered the stars with merry light; The surety of its hidden root Has planted quiet in the night; The shaking of its leafy head Has given the waves their melody, And made my lips and music wed, Murmuring a wizard song for thee. There, through bewildered branches, go Winged Loves borne on in gentle strife, Tossing and tossing to and fro The flaming circle of our life. When looking on their shaken hair, And dreaming how they dance and dart, Thine eyes grow full of tender care: – Beloved gaze in thine own heart. Gaze no more in the bitter glass The demons with their subtle guile Lift up before us when they pass, Or only gaze a little while; For there a fatal image grows, With broken boughs and blackened leaves And roots half hidden under snows Driven by a storm that ever grieves.


Yeats and Modern Poetry For all things turn to barrenness In the dim glass the demons hold – The glass of outer weariness, Made when God slept in times of old. There, through the broken branches, go The ravens of unresting thought; Peering and flying to and fro, To see men’s souls bartered and bought. When they are heard upon the wind, And when they shake their wings – alas! Thy tender eyes grow all unkind: – Gaze no more in the bitter glass.21

Yeats draws on a lyric by Blake (‘Joys upon out branches sit, / Chirping loud and singing sweet’) and on Blake’s antithesis: ‘Art is the Tree of Life . . . Science is the Tree of Death’.22 Also occasioned by something like Coleridgean ‘joy’, the poem as ‘holy tree’ transports its Romantic sources into the fin de siècle by ‘growing’ as religiously inflected art. In creating what it contemplates, this art recalls Pater’s influential stress on subjective ‘impressions . . . which burn and are extinguished with our consciousness of them’.23 With its deliberate stylisation, its self-commentary, ‘The Two Trees’ exemplifies the origins of Yeats’s formal intricacy and lyric reflexivity in aesthetic poetry. But the second stanza complicates the religion of art, as it complicates love, and Yeats’s opposition of inwardness to ‘outer weariness’ and ‘unresting thought’ makes the poem a Symbolist ars poetica too. Maud Gonne’s political interests have personalised the Symbolist struggle against ‘exteriority’ – against the compromises that Victorian poetry has made with the age by ‘admitting so much psychology, science, moral fervour’ (CW5 91). Yeats’s ‘holy tree’ is related to his tree of literary evolution, the ‘two generations’ that culminated in the Pre-Raphaelite lyric with its pan-artistic horizons: ‘colours’, ‘dance’, ‘melody’. In The Wanderings of Oisin, Oisin comes upon similar trees ‘trembling ceaselessly, / As though they all were beating time / Upon the centre of the sun / To the music of the golden rhyme / Sung of the birds’. The trees ‘tremble’ because ‘round each branch the song-birds flew, / Or clung as close as swarms of bees’.24 Birds in or around trees multiply analogies with the sound and movement of the lyric. Oisin’s birds anticipate the golden bird of ‘Sailing to Byzantium’ (CW1 197), as well as the ‘Winged Loves’ of ‘The Two Trees’ and their anti-poetic obverse, the ‘ravens of unresting thought’. Yeats’s tree-aesthetic implies that rhythm and intensity are interdependent: ‘beating time / Upon the centre of the sun’; ‘Tossing and tossing to and fro / The flaming circle of our life’. Pater’s most famous sentence asserts: ‘To

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burn always with this hard, gem-like flame, to maintain this ecstasy, is success in life.’ He ends The Renaissance: ‘art comes to you professing frankly to give nothing but the highest quality to your moments as they pass, and simply for those moments’ sake’.25 Yeats blamed Tennyson’s ‘brooding over scientific opinion’ for extinguishing his ‘central flame’ (CW4 120), whereas he and his Rhymers’ Club cohorts, such as Dowson and Johnson, ‘wished to express life at its intense moments, those moments that are brief because of their intensity, and at those moments alone’ (CW5 91). The Oxford Book of Modern Verse names Pater as ‘master’ of a generation that sought to ‘restore’ poetry (‘a tradition like religion’) ‘by writing lyrics technically perfect, their emotion pitched high’ (OBMV ix). Pater was himself influenced by Poe’s ‘poetic principle’ that ‘a long poem . . . is simply a contradiction in terms’. Thomas disagreed; Yeats and Stevens wrote long poems.26 Nevertheless, poetic intensity had been indexed to lyric form – to the ‘short’ poem with an overt or implied ‘I’-speaker. ‘The Two Trees’ advertises its own concentrated technique, as in the syntactical and verbal parallels between the mirror-imaged stanzas. Each twenty-line stanza of four-beat lines is itself divided into ABAB quatrains and framed by refrain. Almost every line ends with a monosyllabic full rhyme. An exception is the fulcrum of the second stanza, where ‘barrenness’ / ‘weariness’ appropriately drags the pace in contrast with the first stanza’s crescendo. That stanza refers to itself as: ‘Murmuring a wizard song for thee’. Yet ‘murmuring’ fits Yeats’s rosary-like rhythm and reverential posture in other early poems better than a momentum underscored by more reflexively vigorous verbs (‘shaking’, ‘tossing’, ‘dance and dart’), by rhythms that mimic growth, by a syntax of accumulation. In the second stanza, where the dominant image is apocalyptic ‘storm’, darker words for movement accompany the more unsettled rhythm: ‘Driven’, ‘unresting’, ‘Peering and flying’. In both stanzas, the need to persuade Gonne, rather than simply adore her, has already begun to introduce rhetoric into Yeatsian incantation: cumulative catalogues, competing adjectives (‘holy’, ‘broken’), imperative refrains. Each stanza’s dynamic overrides the quatrains, as a tree its branches; while the dynamic between them leaves unresolved an ultimately psychological conflict between ‘grief ’, linked with ‘unresting thought’ (the speaker’s too), and ‘joy’ or ‘surety’. Gazing into its own mirrors, ‘The Two Trees’ dramatises, if in rudimentary fashion, the conflicted inner sources of Yeats’s lyric and what these will require of form. The first stanza implicitly attaches its own form to the unitary tree of life or art. But the poem’s self-awareness as a dualistic tree shows that this is not the end of the story. ‘Strife’ and ‘flaming circle’ anticipate the


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second stanza, while a trail runs from ‘The Two Trees’ to the antinomies of A Vision. Like ‘Ille’ in ‘Ego Dominus Tuus’, the ‘holy tree’ ‘calls to [its] own opposite’ (CW1 161). It’s no accident that Yeats factored in the gyres when he revised lines 13–15: ‘There the Loves a circle go . . . / Gyring, spiring to and fro . . .’ (44). For Thomas and Stevens, too, bird and tree, separately or together, figure poetry. Thomas’s ‘The Unknown Bird’ (1915) invokes a Shelleyan Muse-bird which sang ‘In the great beech-wood all that May and June’, and which cannot be heard or identified by other auditors, including ‘The naturalists’ – perhaps a literary as well as scientific category.27 ‘Aspens’ (1916) is Thomas’s most comprehensive tree ars poetica: All day and night, save winter, every weather, Above the inn, the smithy, and the shop, The aspens at the cross-roads talk together Of rain, until their last leaves fall from the top. Out of the blacksmith’s cavern comes the ringing Of hammer, shoe, and anvil; out of the inn The clink, the hum, the roar, the random singing – The sounds that for these fifty years have been. The whisper of the aspens is not drowned, And over lightless pane and footless road, Empty as sky, with every other sound Not ceasing, calls their ghosts from their abode, A silent smithy, a silent inn, nor fails In the bare moonlight or the thick-furred gloom, In tempest or the night of nightingales, To turn the cross-roads to a ghostly room. And it would be the same were no house near. Over all sorts of weather, men, and times, Aspens must shake their leaves and men may hear But need not listen, more than to my rhymes. Whatever wind blows, while they and I have leaves We cannot other than an aspen be That ceaselessly, unreasonably grieves, Or so men think who like a different tree.28

‘Aspens’ presents another dualistic scenario: human society, ‘the inn, the smithy, and the shop’, is ‘ghosted’ by war and ecological foreboding. A reflexive subtext stresses the intensity that powers the rhythm or which the rhythm powers. Aspens ‘must’ shake their leaves; the poet ‘cannot other

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than an aspen be’; the poet / poem ‘ceaselessly, unreasonably grieves’. This sound-conscious poem seems to contrast ‘exteriority and rhetoric’ (the ‘clink, the hum, the roar, the random singing’) with what its own music suggests. The ‘tree with tongues’, the aspen’s folk-name, ‘talks’, ‘whispers’, ‘calls’. So does the poem, and its ‘whispers’ depend on a strong trunk of syntax, as in the climactic run-on between the middle quatrains. Thomas fulfils his 1901 prophecy by voicing ‘complexity of thought and emotion’ in tree-figured ‘intricacies of form’. Stevens’s tree in a stanza of ‘Le Monocle de Mon Oncle’ is not wholly different: The fops of fancy in their poems leave Memorabilia of the mystic spouts, Spontaneously watering their gritty soils. I am a yeoman, as such fellows go. I know no magic trees, no balmy boughs, No silver-ruddy, gold-vermillion fruits. But, after all, I know a tree that bears A semblance to the thing I have in mind. It stands gigantic, with a certain tip To which all birds come sometime in their time. But when they go that tip still tips the tree.29

Inter alia this oblique manifesto targets Yeats’s ‘silver apples of the moon / . . . golden apples of the sun’ in ‘The Song of Wandering Aengus’ (CW1 56). Yet, while the poet-speaker of ‘Le Monocle’ laments his Muse’s exhaustion, buoyant irony pits his supposedly ‘yeoman’ aesthetic against ‘fancy’, ‘mystic’ and ‘magic’. The crescendo of the last five lines conjures up a far from naturalistic tree, beyond spurious mysticism or Wordsworthian overflows, in lyric symbiosis with ‘all birds’. Like Thomas’s aspen (‘Or so men think’), Stevens’s ‘semblance to the thing I have in mind’ asserts a distinctive lyric art: ‘that tip still tips the tree’. Birds and trees have key roles in Harmonium’s masterpiece and manifesto: ‘Sunday Morning’. Here the ‘bough of summer and the winter branch’, birds’ ‘sweet questionings’, ‘the consummation of the swallow’s wings’, and ‘trees, like serafin’ vocalise an ‘earthly’ mode of ‘spilt religion’, governed by the repeated affirmation: ‘Death is the mother of beauty’. Writing on the ‘paganism’ of aesthetic poetry, Pater refers to ‘the desire of beauty quickened by the sense of death’.30 The first ‘poem’ in The Oxford Book of Modern Verse enshrines Aestheticism – Pater’s ‘Mona Lisa’ – as the mother of modern poetry. Yeats sets out as verse an extract from Pater’s commentary on Leonardo’s portrait: art criticism that ‘dominated a generation’. He claims: ‘Only by


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printing [this passage] in vers libre can one show its revolutionary importance’ (OBMV viii). Yeats’s found poem begins: ‘She is older than the rocks among which she sits’ (thus sneaking ‘older’ into the first line of his ‘modern’ anthology), and ends with Pater saying of the ancient vistas behind the painting: ‘all this . . . lives / Only in the delicacy / With which it has moulded the changing lineaments, / And tinged the eyelids and the hands’ (OBMV 1). In ‘Meditations in Time of Civil War’, Yeats has already echoed this passage to symbolise vanished or banished civilisation: ‘ladies’ with ‘quivering half-closed eyelids’, unicorns with ‘long, delicate and slender’ legs. His own ladies, too, consummate the past as religiously venerated works of art: ‘Nothing but stillness can remain when hearts are full / Of their own sweetness, bodies of their loveliness’ (CW1 209–10). Perhaps Pater’s more theoretical remarks gave Yeats the idea to kick off his anthology so boldly: The fancy of a perpetual life, sweeping together ten thousand experiences, is an old one; and modern philosophy has conceived the idea of humanity as wrought upon by, and summing up in itself, all modes of thought and life. Certainly, Lady Lisa might stand as the embodiment of the old fancy, the symbol of the modern idea.31

Yeats might appear to concede to Pound by opting for vers libre (if equated with prose and executed by his left hand), as also by asking: ‘[D]id Pater foreshadow a poetry, a philosophy, where the individual is nothing, the flux of The Cantos?’ (OBMV xxx). Yet ‘Mona Lisa’ embodies deep tradition, the old made modern. Pre-empting those critics for whom the 1890s simply begat ‘modernism’, Yeats implies that Pater’s ‘revolution’ has bifurcated. To link Yeats with Pater is commonplace, and it’s a truism of Stevens studies that his juvenilia are ‘steeped in Pater and Dowson’. Harold Bloom suggests that Stevens’s ‘Nomad Exquisite’, a ‘hymn’ to Florida, rewrites Pater’s ‘Conclusion’: ‘in me, come flinging / Forms, flames, and the flakes of flames’.32 Here Thomas might appear the odd man out. Yet when he began to write, in the mid-1890s, Pater was as important to him as the country books of Richard Jefferies. His youthful prose swings between Nature notes and Pateresque exquisiteness. With self-irony, he confirms Yeats’s account of Pater’s ‘Mona Lisa’: ‘Everyone could repeat some phrase out of that description, and used it as an incantation. . . . [No] one was too humble to claim something like the “strange thoughts and fantastic reveries and exquisite passions” out of which was wrought the beauty of Mona Lisa.’33 Besides the appeal of ‘ecstasy’ and ‘the desire of beauty’, personal

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unhappiness led Thomas into the fin-de-siècle psychic territory marked by ‘strange thoughts and fantastic reveries’. He took opium and brooded on suicide, and his review (in 1905) of the dead Dowson’s Collected Poems identifies with what Yeats would later call ‘The Tragic Generation’: [Moralists] will talk of the connection between excess and a feeble frame, and liver, delirium, and despair; and it is likely that they will end with a lament and a question as to what Dowson might have done had he been moderate, in spite of the testimony of the thousands of moderate persons who black our boots and write our reviews. Yet is it not clear that Dowson was simply the embodied groan on the brief stage of humanity’s long probation on the wheel of Time?. . . The passion in his swaying, his tortured or his simple rhythms, and in his clear, pure, and simple diction is such that although hundreds have said the things he says, none but the great have said them in a way which can appeal nearly so much to men of his own day. Deep within the dark background of them all is the comic, terrible cry of the superfluous man.34

Thomas ends by calling Dowson ‘an unbodied melancholy’. The words ‘melancholy’, ‘beauty’, ‘desire’ and even ‘ecstasy’ survive in his own poetry, and ‘the superfluous man’ is a psycho-social category (a Turgenev-derived prototype for ‘alienation’) to which Thomas assigns himself. His poem, actually called ‘Melancholy’, which also recalls the yearning Yeats of The Wind Among the Reeds, consciously indulges Dowsonesque reverie: ‘The rain and wind, the rain and wind, raved endlessly. / . . . Yet naught did my despair / But sweeten the strange sweetness’. ‘Rain’ ends with a starker version of the Pateresque death wish: ‘the love of death, / If love it be towards what is perfect and / Cannot, the tempest tells me, disappoint’.35 Thomas’s ability to recast ‘melancholy’ has sources in his alertness to generational shifts. Aptly, in 1902 he succeeded Lionel Johnson, the other frail pillar of Yeats’s 1890s pantheon, as the Daily Chronicle’s poetry reviewer. In 1910, he wrote of Yeats’s friend Arthur Symons (whose criticism he admired): ‘[I]n this critic’s disposition the literary aesthete is too predominant still, as at one time it was supreme’.36 The years 1900–12 are often elided in accounts of modern poetry; or, in their English aspect, loosely filed under ‘Georgianism’: a post hoc label for poets associated with Edward Marsh’s anthologies of Georgian Poetry (1912–22). As Thomas dryly noted: ‘Not a few of these [poets] had developed their qualities under Victoria and Edward’.37 After 1900, poets were broadly, if disparately, trying to move on from aesthetic poetry, without necessarily rejecting all its premises. In the Oxford Book, Yeats draws an ironically firm line under a poetic past which, as ‘Lapis Lazuli’ shows, remained alive in his


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own work: ‘[I]n 1900 everybody got down off his stilts . . . nobody went mad; nobody committed suicide; nobody joined the Catholic church; or if they did I have forgotten’ (OBMV xi). Thomas’s (self-) critical quarrel with Aestheticism, a quarrel that prepared the ground for his poetry, culminated in his study Walter Pater (1913). True to his regard for Dowson, Thomas’s critique neither invokes morality nor relegates craft nor reverts to Naturalism – with which his poetic focus on the natural world should not be confused. Rather, he reformulates art’s relation to life: ‘The aesthetic critic will hardly have time for the passions except of others. . . . He must beware of the bestial waste of nature, the violent, brief passion.’ Thomas rebukes Pater for gauging intensity like an ‘aesthetic spectator with a stopwatch’. As he finds more ‘connoisseurship’ than impulse in Pater’s critical responses, so he finds a lack of pulse, of ‘progressive movement’ and ‘natural expressive rhythm’, in his style: Pater makes ‘language as hard and inhuman a material as marble’; he ‘expresses himself not by sounds, but by images, ideas and colours’; ‘his prose embalms choice things, as seen at choice moments, in choice words’.38 Half-unconsciously, Thomas is exorcising the Paterian origins and faults of his own prose, its blocking of channels to poetry. He told Frost that he had not simply stolen his ideas about ‘speech and literature’: ‘[M]y “Pater” would show you I had got onto the scent already’39: Literature . . . is divided in outward seeming from speech by what helps to make it in fact more than ever an equivalent of speech. It has to make words of such a spirit, and arrange them in such a manner, that they will do all that a speaker can do by innumerable gestures and their innumerable shades, by tone and pitch of voice, by speed, by pauses, by all that he is and all that he will become.

Like Thomas’s numerous in 1901, ‘innumerable’ is allied to intricacy, and he retains form: ‘Pater’s influence has tended to encourage meticulosity in detail and single words, rather than a regard for form in its largest sense.’40 Thomas’s quarrel with Pater and himself persists into his poetry. ‘The Watchers’ (1916) comments on ‘aesthetic spectatorship’: By the ford at the town’s edge Horse and carter rest: The carter smokes on the bridge Watching the water press in swathes about his horse’s chest. From the inn one watches, too, In the room for visitors That has no fire, but a view And many cases of stuffed fish, vermin, and kingfishers.41

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Compare Yeats’s ‘A Coat’: I made my song a coat Covered with embroideries 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. (CW1 127)

Each miniature ars poetica contrasts distance from life with immersion in it. ‘A Coat’ rejects an art of decorative surfaces for one of bodily energy manifested as speech-rhythms, as in the kinetic spark between heel and throat even before the verb ‘walk’ appears (Thomas, too, aligns a poem’s movement with walking). Monosyllabic verbal stabs offset ‘embroideries’ and ‘mythologies’. There is similar rhythmic counterpoint between the quatrains in which Thomas opposes ‘carter’ to ‘visitor’ as portraits of the artist. The ‘pressure’ of water against horse figures the energy that charges the poem itself, while the itemised syntax of the last line (‘meticulosity in . . . single words’) mimics the second watcher’s taxidermist-like aesthetic gaze: ‘no fire, but a view’. Another poem by Thomas, ‘Swedes’, may gloss ‘embalm’ in his critique of Pater. He juxtaposes ‘Blue pottery, alabaster, and gold’, found in ‘a Pharaoh’s tomb’, with ‘the white and gold and purple of curled fronds’ (a luxuriously unfolding line) that appears when a swedeclamp is opened up. The poem ends: ‘But dreamless long-dead Amenhotep lies. / This is a dream of Winter, sweet as spring’.42 The self-irony of Yeats’s fable ‘The Dolls’ parallels this contrast and Thomas’s remark about ‘the bestial waste of nature’. The ‘aesthetic poet’ as doll-maker finds his dolls / poems objecting to his baby: ‘A noisy and filthy thing’. His wife apologises: ‘O dear, / It was an accident’ (CW1 126). For Thomas, the aesthetic gaze ominously confines humanity to ‘the room for visitors’. Stevens, too, rejected ‘art – art all alone, detached’.43 Yet Aestheticism persists, transmuted, in the intricacy and reflexivity of their poems. In Harmonium, Stevens’s reflexivity is, as it would remain, close to the surface or on the surface. Like ‘Le Monocle de Mon Oncle’, his mock epic ‘The Comedian as the Letter C’ has a poet-protagonist doomed to negotiate relations between art and life.44 This voyage tale, also an essay in criticism, takes the vocational quests of Shelley’s ‘Alastor’ and Yeats’s ‘Oisin’ into more artistically self-conscious realms, starting with ‘The World


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without Imagination’. By calling his poet-voyager ‘Crispin’ (curly-haired), a name that evokes Ben Jonson’s Poetaster and the valet-figure in French burlesque drama, Stevens reflects quizzically on Crispin’s mythic precursors. The wit and mannerism of ‘The Comedian’, as of Harmonium more generally, mingles fin-de-siècle echoes with the neo-Aestheticism of the 1920s. Like Edith Sitwell, Stevens wrote sound-play poems. His ‘Bantams in Pine-Woods’ begins: ‘Chieftain Iffucan of Azcan in caftan / Of tan with henna hackles, halt!’45 Crispin himself voyages among exotic words; what Frank Kermode calls ‘a sustained nightmare of unexpected diction’ may represent both the symbolism intrinsic to language itself and poetry’s defamiliarising shock. But Fletcher was right to call Harmonium a ‘revival’ of Aestheticism (my italics), as it is much more than ‘neo’. ‘The Comedian’ explores what a poet ‘steeped in Pater and Dowson’ can bring from that steeping into 1921 (the year of ‘Nineteen Hundred and Nineteen’ and ‘The Waste Land’). Challenges to ‘the artist’s reality’, including war, have led Stevens to revise as much as revive Aestheticism. He, too, deploys reflexive metaphors of clothing / nakedness, detachment / immersion. Indeed, Michel Benamou sees all Stevens’s poetry as a struggle between ‘the imagination of covering’ and ‘the intelligence of divestment’. In ‘An Ordinary Evening in New Haven’ (1949), ‘Naked Alpha’ and ‘the hierophant Omega’ define the points between which Stevens’s gyres of existential / poetic ‘reality’ shuttle. But, for all three poets, ‘nakedness’ is a dance of many veils.46 Crispin sets out as a ‘ribboned stick, the bellowing breeches’ to the ‘New World’: the Americas, new poetry, American poetry. His travels to Yucatan and Havana, also a variant and comment on French poésie de départs, take him from one literary template, mode or style to another. The minor ‘lutanist of fleas’ is initially ‘washed away by magnitudes’ on the sea of Romantic imagination until he becomes ‘some starker, barer self / In a starker, barer world’, ‘an introspective voyager’. Now that the ‘valet in the tempest’ has been ‘annulled’, Crispin seems a creative tabula rasa in a zone staked out by artistic poles: the poem as ‘gemmy marionette’, the poem as ‘sinewy nakedness’. One pole magnetises various kinds of ‘afflatus’, which include Pateresque tendencies to be ‘intricate / In moody rucks, and difficult and strange / In all desires’, a ‘connoisseur of elemental fate, / Aware of exquisite thought’. Crispin also sees his voyage as ‘A sally into gold and crimson forms’, and spills religion into works of ‘sacrament / And celebration’. Pulled towards the other pole, he becomes a ‘pricking realist’; sticks to ‘what he saw across his vessel’s prow’; envisages ‘prose / More exquisite than any tumbling verse’; and commits himself to the ‘quotidian’, to ‘social nature’. The seeming synthesis of the last section positions him as

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‘Illuminating, from a fancy gorged / By apparition, plain and common things’. In an odd parallel with Thomas’s ‘Swedes’: The world, a turnip once so readily plucked, Sacked up and carried overseas, daubed out Of its ancient purple, pruned to the fertile main, And sown again by the stiffest realist, Came reproduced in purple, family font, The same insoluble lump.

Coming round full circle, Crispin finds that the problem of life and art persists. Aestheticism also persists, if sea-changed, as the poem surfs its polysyllabic billows. Exploiting the ambiguities of free indirect style, Stevens blurs the boundary between protagonist and narrator, between his poem’s aesthetic and what it says about aesthetics. Crispin’s self-dedication to ‘plain and common things’ is heralded: ‘Thrum with a proud douceur / His grand pronunciamento and devise’. Such diction, which (not unusually for Stevens) combines French, Spanish, archaism and onomatopoeia, suggests that there is no getting away from artifice and reflexivity. The poem ends by marking that poems end: ‘So may the relation of each man be clipped’. In ‘The Comedian as the Letter C’, Stevens charts his own artistic antinomies. But he may also track poetry’s vicissitudes between the 1890s and the 1920s.

‘The Symbolism of Poetry’ Yeats’s essay ‘The Symbolism of Poetry’ (1900) was epoch-marking rather than epoch-making. Perhaps his most calculated critical act, the essay speaks of ‘change’, and would influence the future, as when it provided ‘authority for the essential New Critical doctrine of the organic relations between the parts of a poem’.47 But ‘The Symbolism of Poetry’ is essentially a summa – the summa – of the 1890s. Yeats attacks ‘externalities’; reaffirms ‘the laws of art, which are the hidden laws of the world’ (112, 114); and once again proclaims ‘the age of lyric’. Now reversing the move from trunk to leaf, he sees ‘a little lyric . . . flowing out . . . among the blind instincts of daily life, where it moves a power within powers, as one sees ring within ring in the stem of an old tree’ (CW4 116). Compare Stevens: ‘Poetry is a finikin thing of air / That lives uncertainly and not for long / Yet radiantly beyond much lustier blurs.’48 A newer factor is that Arthur Symons, whose influential study The Symbolist Movement in Literature (1899) is dedicated to Yeats – ‘the chief representative of that movement in our country’ – has alerted him to the


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European contexts of his aesthetic. Now backed by ‘theory’ and ‘criticism’, Yeats scorns the English view that ideas cannot inspire art. Yet, in showing ‘how many profound writers have . . . sought for a philosophy of poetry in the doctrine of symbolism’ (113), Symons has boosted Yeats’s artistic confidence rather than brought him closer to French poetry. Yeats says in one elusive retrospect: ‘I [will never] know how much my practice and my theory owe to the passages that [Symons] read me from Catullus and from Verlaine and Mallarmé’ (CW3 246). But he told Ernest Boyd more bluntly: ‘Of the French symbolists I have never had any detailed or accurate knowledge’ (L 592). His sense, in the 1890s, that the movement’s ‘French expression is more intelligible and obvious than its English expression, because more extreme’ (UP2 52), fits the contrast between Yeats and Mallarmé as post-Romantic, post-religious poets. Yeats does not emulate Mallarmé’s ‘chimerical search after the virginity of language’ (Symons),49 conditioned by his lost Catholic faith. He thought that the ‘new belief ’, which drove Mallarmé and others to pursue ‘almost disembodied ecstasy’, would ‘make the world plastic under our hands again’, would re-empower the lyric poem (CW4 142). In 1937, after reading a translation of Mallarmé, he told Dorothy Wellesley: ‘I find it exciting, as it shows me the road I and others of my time went for several furlongs. It is not the way I go now, but one of the legitimate roads. He escapes from history; you and I are in history’ (L 887). Conversely, French criticism de-historicised Yeats and was slow to cope with his later poetry as it conflicted with the premises of French Celticism as well as of French Symbolism.50 In Wallace Stevens and the Symbolist Imagination (1972), Michel Benamou finds Stevens as slippery as Yeats where French Symbolism is concerned. He quotes one evasive comment: ‘It is always possible that where a man’s attitude coincides with your own attitude, or accentuates your own attitude, you get a great deal from it without effort.’ Benamou emphasises Stevens’s conceptual differences from Baudelaire and Mallarmé: ‘Baudelaire remembers nature before the fall; Stevens projects his Adamic hopefulness. Mallarmé seeks a land of the mind beyond reality; Stevens a land beyond the mind, as part of reality’ (like Yeats, if less obviously, Stevens remains ‘in history’). He also contrasts Mallarmé’s and Stevens’s approach to ‘words and things’: In accord with his aesthetics of separation, Mallarmé sought to purify by cutting. He broke each word away from its wonted associations. Hence the fragmented sentence, in which each word, gemlike and pure, reflects the next unearthed jewel. Almost nothing of this divisive technique [appears] in Stevens’s style: metaphors seem to generate one another instead of being

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juxtaposed forcibly, by folding one word on top of another. Another contrast is vocabulary: which Mallarmé purified by sterilising (two thousand different words in all), Stevens freshened by renewing.51

Stevens blamed Mallarmé’s ‘Un Coup de Dés’ for ‘aberrations’ whereby ‘the exploitation of form involves nothing more than the use of small letters for capitals, eccentric line-endings, too little or too much punctuation’. He adds: ‘These have nothing to do with being alive.’52 His own belief that ‘The poem refreshes life so that we share, / For a moment, the first idea’ is closer to Thomas’s ‘Words’: ‘though older far / Than oldest yew, – / As our hills are, old, – / Worn new / Again and again’.53 While not identifying word with thing, both poets espouse an aesthetics of association rather than separation; in Thomas’s ‘Old Man’, a plant’s names: ‘Half decorate, half perplex, the thing it is’; in ‘The Comedian’: ‘The words of things entangle and confuse. / The plum survives its poems.’ Yet ‘Worn new’ defines poetic language as historical and ecological, not ‘Adamic’. Besides Thomas’s deeper absorption of Darwin, this may mark a European / American difference. It’s also the case that, more than Yeats or Thomas, Stevens minimises any possible ‘exteriority’ that might come with ‘the conscious mind’s intelligible structure’ (to which Richard Ellmann stresses Yeats’s ‘loyalty’ as against the defections of Joyce and Pound)54 and its syntactical guises. The wordplay of ‘Chieftain Iffucan of Azcan’ or ‘The Comedian’ signposts more oblique ways in which words themselves ‘generate’ symbols; for instance, ‘tip’ changing from noun to verb in ‘That tip still tips the tree’: an oddly suggestive phrase that suggests Symbolist ‘suggestion’ itself. The stanza as a whole has an apparently declarative and logical (‘yeoman’) syntax. But its locus is a more mysterious dimension of language as a ‘semblance’ of ‘mind’ or interiority. A seeming refusal of Stevens’s syntax to make good all its logical promises or premises will remain intrinsic to his Symbolism. The Belgian Symbolist Maurice Maeterlinck brings into focus some links and differences between Yeats’s and Thomas’s relation to Symbolism. In 1897, reviewing Maeterlinck’s play Aglavaine et Selysette, Yeats used the occasion to stress that the ‘literary movement of our time . . . a movement against the external and heterogeneous . . . never mentions an external thing except to express a state of the soul’ (UP2 52). It’s here that he calls the French movement ‘more extreme’. Yet, while Maeterlinck influenced his own symbolic theatre, Yeats thought that he lacked ‘the definiteness of the great mystics’ (46). Thomas’s Maurice Maeterlinck (1911), along with his Walter Pater and Algernon Charles Swinburne (1912), show him to be engaged in a significant critical retrospect on aesthetic poetry and prose.


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Like Yeats, Thomas thinks that Maeterlinck’s mysticism and Symbolism do not go deep enough: he calls his poem ‘Serres Chaudes’ ‘a catalogue of symbols that have no more literary value than words in a dictionary’.55 Yet Thomas’s critique of Maeterlinck becomes a critique of Yeats. Reviewing Yeats in 1908, he had said: ‘At his best, his poetry is fine because its symbols are natural, ancient, instinctive, not invented’, but queried the use of ‘old mythological terms as if in themselves they had some effect besides their quaintness’.56 Now he argues: The laws governing aesthetic and spiritual effects are innumerable; those which can be discovered are probably few in comparison, and if these are deliberately followed it is more likely that many others will be fatally disobeyed. . . . [In ‘The Symbolism of Poetry’] when he comes to give examples of potent symbolism [Mr Yeats] finds them chiefly in writers like Burns, who did not know the word and would perhaps have been astonished and even amused by the theory itself. Even Mr Symons . . . has to say that ‘Symbolism, as seen in the writers of our day, would have no value if it were not seen also, under one disguise or another, in every great imaginative writer’. . . . [E]ntirely conscious symbolism comes very near to being allegory, which of all things is abhorred by symbolists. Mr Yeats himself is . . . far more than a symbolist, yet it is possible to see in his work this danger skirted, and sometimes on the wrong side.57

Speaking again from a critical viewpoint that has moved on from the fin de siècle, Thomas poses two key questions: Is ‘Symbolism’ only ‘theory’? Can it be derived, and yet distinguished, from effects in earlier poetry? Elsewhere Thomas writes of Symons’s French Symbolists: ‘[T]heir finest achievements, as distinct from the theories of Mallarmé . . . are neither in a backwater nor at a fountain head’.58 This asks for longer perspectives – on French and English poetry alike. Indeed, it may be apt as well as inept of Yeats to (mis)quote two lines from Burns to illustrate the ‘perfectly symbolical’: ‘The white moon is setting behind the white wave, / And Time is setting with me, O!’ (CW4 115). As William York Tindall briskly puts it: ‘Yeats was a symbolist poet long before he had heard of the French. He based his symbolism upon the poetry of Blake, Shelley and Rossetti and above all these on the occult.’59 In ‘Symbolism in Painting’ (1898), Yeats names ‘Keats’s odes, Blake’s pictures and poems’ among Symbolist works (110). The posterity of Romantic poetry did (does) not proceed in a straight line. It depends on how, as well as when, certain poets are read – and how certain critics are read: Yeats regularly cites Arthur Hallam’s essay ‘On Some of the Characteristics of Modern Poetry’ (1831) as having formed his own first ‘principles’ (251). Hallam’s post-Romantic,

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proto-Pater characteristics include the ‘return of the mind upon itself ’, and the subordination of ‘opinions’ to ‘the desire of beauty’.60 Yeats collapses the distance between songs of Romantic innocence and ‘art for art’s sake’ when he calls Blake ‘the chanticleer of the new dawn’: one who ‘announced the religion of art, of which no man dreamed in the world he knew’ (111, 84). An influential study by Swinburne had sparked off the interest in Blake, to which belong Yeats’s essays and his three-volume edition of Blake’s works (with Edwin Ellis, 1893). Yeats writes: ‘[W]hen one reads Blake, it is as though the spray of an inexhaustible fountain of beauty was blown into our faces’ (86). Reviewing one of ‘so many appeals to the public on behalf of William Blake’, Thomas writes: ‘He drenches the mind with eternity’.61 In effect, neo-Romanticism intersected with Aestheticism and Symbolism as progeny of Romanticism. To quote Joseph Carroll: ‘For Stevens . . . romanticism was not a remote historical episode. It overlapped with his own life and it formed the immediate historical background to his life’s work.’62 Keats, too, ‘presided over’ the lyric ‘intensity’ of the late nineteenth century.63 Yeats in 1898 thought Keats ‘a fragmentary symbolist, for while he evokes in his persons and his landscapes an infinite emotion, a perfected emotion, a part of the Divine Essence, he does not set his symbols in the great procession, as Blake would have him’. Yeats himself will never be content (as Thomas would have him) to take his symbols as they come, preferring a somewhat paradoxical role model: the ‘systematic mystic’ (CW4 110–11). By the same token, Keats is hugely important to the less systematic Thomas and Stevens. Helen Vendler has shown how obsessively Stevens ‘hovers over’ Keats’s ode ‘To Autumn’.64 In ‘Autumn Refrain’, Stevens also invokes ‘To a Nightingale’ (‘the name of a bird and the name of a nameless air / I have never – shall never hear’), and perhaps ‘On a Grecian Urn’, as American ‘grackles’ make it into poetry: ‘The stillness is all in the key of that desolate sound’.65 If Stevens measures the distance between himself and Keats’s odes, he also registers their meaning for his lyric. In his short book Keats (1916), Thomas writes of the odes: ‘[T]he poet made for himself a form in which the essence of all his thought, feeling, and observation, could be stored without overflowing or disorder’. He notes how ‘simple’ lines such as ‘The grass, the thicket, and the fruit-tree wild’ ‘gain from their environment an astonishing beauty’.66 Thomas praises the odes in terms akin to Yeatsian Symbolism: ‘a form’ that distils ‘essence’, a holistic poetic ‘environment’. Yeats refers to ‘one emotion . . . made out of . . . distinct evocations’ (CW4 116).


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The most Keatsian poem in Harmonium is ‘Sunday Morning’ (1915). The Great War confirmed Stevens’s rejection (or redirection) of Aestheticism, jolting him into a ‘vision of loss’. To quote James Longenbach: ‘If “Sunday Morning” was the first fruit of [his] lifelong ambition to write the great poems of the earth, then the war propelled the shift in attitude that made the poems possible.’ The expanded Harmonium includes Stevens’s powerful elegy ‘The Death of a Soldier’: ‘Death is absolute and without memorial’.67 In October 1915, Thomas began a period of training at army camps in Essex. During October and November he wrote three poems in dialogue with Keats’s odes: ‘October’, ‘There’s nothing like sun’ and ‘Liberty’. Thomas and Stevens obviously differ in their relation to the war. But it seems more than coincidence – a matter of common aesthetic bearings – that, in 1915, Keats should so occupy both their imaginations. The end of ‘Sunday Morning’ (the poem comprises eight fifteen-line stanzas) rewrites the end of ‘To Autumn’: We live in an old chaos of the sun, Or old dependency of day and night, Or island solitude, unsponsored, free, Of that wide water, inescapable. Deer walk upon our mountains, and the quail Whistle about us their spontaneous cries; Sweet berries ripen in the wilderness; And, in the isolation of the sky, At evening, casual flocks of pigeons make Ambiguous undulations as they sink, Downward to darkness, on extended wings.68

Comparing this with the last stanza of ‘To Autumn’, Vendler comments: ‘Both poets use successive clauses of animal presence (gnats, lambs, crickets, redbreast, and swallow in Keats; deer, quail and pigeons in Stevens); both poems close with birds in the sky . . . and with the sense of sound (including a whistling bird) in each’.69 Thomas’s ‘There’s nothing like sun’ is also conscious of ‘whistling what / Once [Keats] sang’: There’s nothing like the sun as the year dies, Kind as it can be, this world being made so, To stones and men and beasts and birds and flies, To all things that it touches except snow, Whether on mountain side or street of town. The south wall warms me: November has begun, Yet never shone the sun as fair as now While the sweet last-left damsons from the bough

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With spangles of the morning’s storm drop down Because the starling shakes it, whistling what Once swallows sang . . .70

Perhaps war has given new currency to Keats’s intense blend of physical sensations and mortality (witness Wilfred Owen). ‘Sunday Morning’ begins languorously with ‘Complacencies of the peignoir, and late / Coffee and oranges in a sunny chair, / And the green freedom of a cockatoo / Upon a rug’. But, to the woman whose dreams, feelings and senseexperiences raise ontological questions: ‘The pungent oranges and bright, green wings / Seem things in some procession of the dead’. Later, the main speaker speculates about a world without divinity: ‘shall the earth / Seem all of paradise that we shall know?’ In invoking the sun, the source of all experience, Thomas takes this as given. His poem ends with something blunter and more ironical than a dying fall: ‘No day of any month but I have said – / Or, if I could live long enough, should say – / “There’s nothing like the sun that shines today.” / There’s nothing like the sun till we are dead’.71 Stevens’s refrain, ‘Death is the mother of beauty’, suggests that war has not so much abolished Aestheticism as made it serious. A poem by Alun Lewis, written during the Second World War, refers to a hill ‘where Edward Thomas brooded long / On death and beauty’.72 Thomas’s ‘October’ freeze-frames an autumn scene: ‘The green elm with the one great bough of gold / Lets leaves into the grass slip one by one’, and continues: ‘And now I might / As happy be as earth is beautiful, / Were I some other or with earth could turn / In alternation of violet and rose . . .’ In stressing ‘earth’, Thomas and Stevens accentuate the global symbolic reach of Keats’s odes (day and night, the seasons, sun and moon). They also extend his anxieties about where or whether human consciousness fits in. Like ‘Sunday Morning’, Thomas’s ‘Liberty’ meditates on ‘solitude’, connection, ‘freedom’ and necessity (Stevens’s ‘inescapable’): ‘There’s none less free than who / Does nothing and has nothing else to do’. In a place where the only light is ‘This moonlight lying on the grass like frost’, ‘the moon and I’ preside over a historical chasm: ‘It is as if everything else had slept / Many an age’.73 As with Stevens’s ‘old chaos of the sun’, a sense of belatedness and obsolescence becomes a kind of cosmic elegy that implicates poetry itself. Like Thomas’s ‘sweet last-left damsons’, Stevens’s ‘Sweet berries’ (Keats’s ‘sweet kernel’) belong more to a ‘downward’ trajectory than to autumnal ripeness. The end of ‘Liberty’, less blunt than that of ‘There’s nothing like the sun’, parallels Stevens’s ‘Ambiguous undulations’


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(felt as rhythm) and his perception that God’s death makes the sky ‘a part of labour and a part of pain’: And yet I still am half in love with pain, With what is imperfect, with both tears and mirth, With things that have an end, with life and earth, And this moon that leaves me dark within the door.

Yeats’s ‘The Wild Swans at Coole’ (1917) again refreshes Keatsian ‘autumn’: The trees are in their autumn beauty, The woodland paths are dry, Under the October twilight the water Mirrors a still sky; Upon the brimming water among the stones Are nine-and-fifty swans . . . (CW1 131)

As in ‘October’, ‘beauty’ attaches aesthetic value to the natural world, arrested at an autumnal moment, and especially to the swans who take over from Keats’s nightingale: ‘I have looked upon those brilliant creatures, / And now my heart is sore’. Human dissociation from natural rhythms, from creaturely brilliance, from ‘the cold / Companionable streams’, may again be aggravated by war: ‘All’s changed since I, hearing at twilight, / The first time on this shore, / The bell-beat of their wings above my head, / Trod with a lighter tread.’ This echoes the refrain of ‘Easter, 1916’: ‘All changed, changed utterly’ (182). Change (in Yeats’s poetry too) has already been dramatised by the swans’ refusal to be controlled by the aesthetic gaze: ‘I saw, before I had well finished, / All suddenly mount / And scatter wheeling in great broken rings . . .’ What has happened to ‘The Symbolism of Poetry’ between ‘The Two Trees’ and ‘The trees are in their autumn beauty’? ‘The Two Trees’ draws on esoteric sources such as the Sephirotic tree of the Kabbalah, which represents the interlinked dualisms of the universe and the human mind. Here Thomas’s point (‘entirely conscious symbolism comes very near to being allegory’) faces Yeats’s insistence: ‘The one gave dumb things voices, and bodiless things bodies; while the other read a meaning – which had never lacked its voice or its body – into something heard or seen’. Yet in ‘The Symbolism of Poetry’, Yeats also differentiates between ‘emotional’ and ‘intellectual’ symbols: ‘If I say “white” or “purple” in an ordinary line of poetry, they evoke emotions so exclusively that I cannot say why they move me; but if I bring them into the same sentence with such obviously intellectual symbols as a cross or a crown of thorns, I think of purity and sovereignty’ (CW4 108, 118). If ‘The Two Trees’ sets off the greater symbolic complexity of ‘The

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Wild Swans at Coole’, the former does not only depend on the Kabbalah for its effect, and the ‘intellectual symbols’ supplied by the gyres may lie behind ‘great broken rings’. But the later poem is located in history and Nature as well as the ‘heart’. That includes the swans, who – ‘Mysterious, beautiful’, Symbolism and Aestheticism embodied – figure poetry itself, as they will continue to do. ‘Broken’, a word common to both poems, acquires richer inner and outer resonance. On a spectrum from ‘instinctive’ to ‘conscious’, Stevens comes somewhere between Thomas and Yeats. Yet all three poets overlap in their instinctive (organic, emotional, archetypal) symbols. Among Stevens’s ‘chief motifs’, listed by Carroll, are ‘the seasons, stars, sun, moon, day, night, sea, mountain, sky, earth, fire, wind, trees.’74 For Yeats in the 1890s, the two essential qualities of Symbolist art were interiority (‘a state of the soul’) and access to some sphere beyond the self and the material world (‘the Divine Essence’). Interiority is fundamental to modern poetry. ‘Soul’ is becoming psyche when Yeats writes: ‘[T]he soul moves among symbols and unfolds in symbols when trance, or madness, or deep meditation has withdrawn it from every impulse but its own’ (CW4 119). In ‘Anima Mundi’, he details the spiritual, occult and literary means whereby he has sought to ‘immerse’ himself ‘in the general mind where that mind is scarce separable from what we have begun to call “the subconscious”’ (CW5 16). Symbolism underlies the lyric structures that enabled Yeats to dramatise inner conflict; to go further into the interior; to penetrate the unconscious. ‘The Two Trees’ points towards all the adventures of ‘heart’ in his poetry, towards A Vision. The latter, in its traffic with ‘communicators’ who may be ‘personalities of a dream shared by my wife and myself ’ (AVB 22–3), is partly a work of psychoanalysis or a product of psychotherapy. The crudely split self of ‘The Two Trees’ has become a multifaceted self defined by flux and conflict. Thomas’s poetry, too, plays out a psychodrama. As in ‘Melancholy’ and ‘Rain’, it reprises years of mental turmoil, which introduced him to early psychoanalysis. His poem ‘The Other’ (1914) is an inner journey, symbolised by road and forest, where self and ‘other’, ego and id, patient and analyst, disturbingly shuffle their guises. ‘Beauty’ associates its title word with ‘what yet lives’ in a depressed speaker who compares himself to ‘a river / At fall of evening . . . while / Cross breezes cut the surface to a file’.75 Here we catch Aestheticism in the act of becoming psychotherapy: ‘through the dusk air / Flies what yet lives in me. Beauty is there’. Similarly, Harmonium gives ‘beauty’ and ‘imagination’ potentially healing roles with respect to moods variously termed ‘unhappiness’, ‘misery’, ‘depression’, ‘monotony’, ‘the malady of


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the quotidian’. In Wallace Stevens and the Seasons, George Lensing argues that Stevens’s art sublimates ‘loneliness’ by finding an ‘outlet in the natural world’.76 Like Thomas, Stevens compulsively walked the countryside and recorded his impressions. Their affinity in Keats instances a similar psycho-aesthetic relation to Nature – not their only relation to it. Stevens’s ‘Valley Candle’ (‘My candle burned alone in an immense valley’), where night and wind overwhelm the self, is psychic twin of Thomas’s ‘Out in the dark’, where chilling ‘winds blow’ and ‘Stealthily the dark haunts round’.77 The poets’ overarching or underlying symbols inform landscapes at once interior and microcosmic. Where does a ‘state of the soul’ leave off, ‘Divine Essence’ begin? After 1900, Yeats continued to represent his symbols / images as emanating from, or providing access to, some outside source: ‘Spiritus Mundi’, ‘images, in the Great Memory stored’ (CW1 189, 200). Still suspending disbelief, he conceives both his own creative processes and ‘the hidden laws of the world’ according to symbols communicated in trance, dream, reverie. ‘Byzantium’ (1930) can be read as a renewed Symbolist and Aesthetic ars poetica. ‘The unpurged images of day recede’ that the poet-speaker may enter a midnight world where ‘images’ take on ‘superhuman’ reality; where lyric intensity arrives as ‘flames begotten of flame’; where art rules: ‘The smithies break the flood, / The golden smithies of the Emperor!’ (253) For Yeats, the semi-conscious states that generate poetry, ‘Those images that yet / Fresh images beget’, were subsumed and validated by his wife’s automatic writing, by the mediumship that allegedly revealed A Vision. Those ‘hard symbolic bones under the skin’ (AVB 24) may seem far from the ‘disembodied’ powers that his early poetry believes itself to conjure up as Rose or ‘holy tree’ (CW4 116). But Yeats’s gyres, like his ‘Byzantium’ poems, still refuse to set foot on the ground of Naturalism. If less driven to elaborate a cosmology, Thomas and Stevens also construct post-Darwinian world (or earth) pictures. Like Yeats, they maintain Symbolism’s two-way traffic by revisiting metaphysical resources that Romanticism had brought into play at the onset of modernity. Besides Keats, Thomas builds on Wordsworth, on multifarious pastoral traditions, on the accumulated body of thought about the natural world. His poetic structures accord with his ecocentric self-perception as ‘an inhabitant of the earth’.78 Consciously post-Darwinian as well as proto-ecological, the metaphysic that shapes Thomas’s poetry cannot be called ‘spilt religion’. Yet his concern with the problematics of memory, if not with the Great Memory, involves a mystique of the earthly past that encompasses the unknown and unknowable, the ‘strange’ or unheimlich,79 the

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‘ghostly room’ of ‘Aspens’, the ‘avenue, dark, nameless, without end’ that ends ‘Old Man’ (see p. 142). In contrast, Stevens’s mystique keeps faith with the religion of art or with art as religion – not quite the same thing: ‘[I]n the absence of a belief in God, the mind turns to its own creations, not alone from the aesthetic point of view, but for what they reveal, for what they validate and invalidate, for the support that they give’. And again: ‘[P]oetry is that essence which takes [religion’s] place as life’s redemption’; ‘God and the imagination are one’; ‘The structure of poetry and the structure of reality are one.’80 If, at one pole, Stevens proposes that all things are subjective creations, this owes more to the positive thinking of Coleridge or Pater than to modernist relativism. For Stevens to write ‘great poems of the earth’: ‘Poetry has to be something more than a conception of the mind. It has to be a revelation of nature.’ Revelation, through ‘perception’ as opposed to ‘conception’, is Stevens’s objective pole: he brilliantly calls Surrealism ‘invention without discovery’.81 This neo-Coleridgean metaphysic is not ecological; to affirm imagination is to preserve anthropocentrism. Stevens’s ‘Adamic’ possessive pronouns take ‘my green, my fluent mundo’ more for granted than does Thomas: ‘Deer walk upon our mountains’. In ‘The Idea of Order at Key West’, ‘earth’ has less agency than in ‘Sunday Morning’; humanity and art more. The perplexed dreamer of the earlier poem gives way to a woman from whose song all dynamics flow – reflexively, the poem itself: ‘She sang beyond the genius of the sea’. Yet idea and sea coexist in a reciprocal, vocal, rhythmic and mysterious (‘ghostly’ again) relation. What attracts the ‘maker’s rage to order’ are ‘words of the sea . . . And of ourselves and of our origins, / In ghostlier demarcations, keener sounds’.82 The dispersed oxymoron, ‘ghostlier’ / ‘keener’, implies that poetry at its most intense is the threshold of revelation. Stevens’s unremitting endeavour to close the gap between existential and poetic ‘reality’ keeps the symbolism of poetry in touch with ‘the hidden laws of the world’.

Symbolism and Imagism The brevity of (most) Imagist poems is inversely indexed to the commentary that surrounds them. From the outset, doctrinal and personal clashes caused manifestos to multiply. Two of the annual anthologies, which followed the original Des Imagistes (1914), come with prefaces that seek to dispel ‘misunderstanding’;83 and while Ezra Pound soon renounced and denounced a movement in which he had been prime mover, he fiercely pursued the aesthetic issues at stake. As a consequence, the introduction


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and appendices take up a third of Peter Jones’s valuable anthology Imagist Poetry (1972). More recently, Helen Carr’s The Verse Revolutionaries: Ezra Pound, H.D. and the Imagists (2009) weighed in at 982 pages. Here biography as well as theory overwhelms poetry. Carr, whose title quotes Richard Aldington, also grandly situates the ‘verse revolution’ amid protest against ‘a class-ridden and patriarchal society [and] ideas of progress and the superiority of Western modernity’. To explain why poems, not ‘among the great achievements of literature’, are subject to such critical inflation, Jones quotes Eliot’s pronouncement in 1953: ‘The point de repère usually and conveniently taken as the startingpoint of modern poetry is the group denominated “imagists” in London about 1910.’ Jones comments: ‘Their historical importance is clear.’84 Yet this may be a latter-day modernist perception: in 1935, Louis MacNeice called the Imagists ‘almost forgotten’.85 Eliot’s literary history, which certainly suits his own ‘convenience’, not only elides Yeats but also forgets battles long ago. In 1914, Pound reviewed Responsibilities. Having accepted that Yeats, ‘the best poet in England’, need not ‘recast his style to suit our winds of doctrine’, he asks: ‘Is Mr Yeats an Imagiste?’ No, Mr Yeats is a symbolist, but he has written des Images as have many good poets before him; so that is nothing against him, and he has nothing against them (les Imagistes), at least so far as I know – except what he calls ‘their devil’s metres’ . . . he has driven out the inversion and written with prose directness . . . the new note . . . was apparent four years ago in ‘No Second Troy’ . . . one has felt his work becoming gaunter, seeking greater hardness of outline.86

Pound also mentions ‘A Coat’, and praises ‘The Magi’ for its ‘quality of hard light’. ‘Hard’ is a high-value term in Imagist criticism and poetry. H.D.’s ‘The Garden’ begins: ‘You are clear, / O rose, cut in rock, / hard as the descent of hail’.87 There may be some literal-minded confusion between ‘hardness’ as an aesthetic principle and imagery of hard objects: does Yeats get brownie points for likening the Magi’s faces, although ‘ancient’, to ‘rain-beaten stones’ (CW1 125)? Another review of Responsibilities is where Pound concedes that Yeats is incurably ‘romanticist, symbolist, occultist’. He goes on to call him ‘the only one left who has sufficient intensity . . . to turn these modes into art’ – perhaps a hopeful epitaph for ‘these modes’.88 Yet the ‘romanticist, symbolist’ (if yet unpublished) Stevens and Thomas separately found themselves at odds with Imagism; in Stevens’s case, with William Carlos Williams, author of ‘Fire Spirit’:

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I am old. You warm yourself at these fires? In the centre of these flames I sit, my teeth chatter! Where shall I turn for comfort?

Stevens scolded Williams about the fragmentary and ‘casual’ character of his poems, warning that ‘incessant new beginnings lead to sterility’: ‘to carry a thing to the extreme necessity to convey it one has to stick to it. . . . Given a fixed point of view, realistic, imagistic or what you will, everything adjusts itself to that point of view, and the process of adjustment is a world in flux, as it should be for a poet’. He even continued this lifelong argument in a preface to Williams’s Collected Poems (1934). Here Stevens links Williams’s ‘anti-poetic’ aesthetic with Imagism: ‘a phase of realism which [he] has always found congenial’.89 Thomas, too, saw Imagism as largely sterile, but owing to mannerism rather than realism. His review of Des Imagistes calls the anthology ‘a tall marble monument’: not in compliment to its ‘hardness’ but in line with his critique of Pater’s style. Again, he is less exercised about vers libre (not at all) than about the stylistic outcome of Imagist efforts, again rather literal-minded, to reinstate ‘Greek’ clarity: ‘Either [the poems] are translations or paraphrases, or they are written in the manner of translations. . . . [That is] the ordinary prose translation of the classics – in short, the crib’. H.D.’s ‘Priapus’ refers to ‘honey-seeking, golden-banded’ bees, and announces: ‘I fell prostrate, / Crying. / Thou hast flayed us with thy blossoms; / Spare us the beauty / Of fruit-trees!’ More than half the poems in Des Imagistes draw on Greek myth. Yet Thomas also puts his finger on the most vital element when he says that Pound himself ‘has seldom done better than here under the restraint imposed by Chinese originals or models’. He quotes ‘Ts’ai Chi’h’: The petals fall in the fountain, the orange-coloured rose-leaves, Their ochre clings to the stone.90

In 1913, Pound and F.S. Flint summarised ‘Imagisme’: ‘Direct treatment of the “thing”, whether subjective or objective’; ‘To use absolutely no word that [does] not contribute to the presentation’; ‘As regarding rhythm: to compose in sequence of the musical phrase, not in sequence of a metronome’.91 This wish list harks back to T.E. Hulme advocating dry, hard, classical verse (see p. 48). Hulme formulated his proto-Imagist precepts


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in direct opposition to Symbolism, especially its Yeatsian mode, as well as to Romanticism. Significantly, he thought that ‘the lyrical impulse [had] attained completion . . . once and forever, in Tennyson, Shelley and Keats’. And he had read ‘The Symbolism of Poetry’. Having rebuked Yeats for trying ‘to bring in an infinity’ via ‘symbols’, Hulme again finds ‘spilt religion’ in Yeats’s account of rhythm as ‘prolonging the moment of contemplation, the moment when we are both asleep and awake . . . the one moment of creation’ (CW4 117). In his lecture ‘Modern Poetry’ (1908), Hulme attacks the idea that rhythm should induce ‘a kind of hypnotic state’. This, he says, belongs not to the ‘modern conception of the poetic spirit’ (a ‘distinct new art’, to be read not heard) but to the ‘older art . . . originally a religious incantation’: This is for the art of chanting, but the procedure of the new visual art is just the contrary. It depends for its effect not on a kind of half sleep produced, but on arresting the attention. . . . Regular metre to this impressionist poetry is cramping, jangling, meaningless, and out of place. Into the delicate pattern of images and colour it introduces the heavy, crude pattern of rhetorical verse.92

Ronald Schuchard argues that Hulme’s polemic was partly ‘provoked’ by ‘the art of chanting’, or ‘Speaking [poetry] to the Psaltery’, on which Yeats had collaborated since 1903 with the actress Florence Farr.93 1908 is too early for Hulme to recognise that Yeats’s rhythms were changing, if not his ‘lyrical impulse’. But Symbolism survives in his own theory: Hulme on Yeatsian rhythm echoes Yeats on Victorian rhetoric, and he appears to retain Yeats’s ‘element of evocation, of suggestion’ (114). Imagists would later claim descent from French Symbolism (hence ‘Imagiste’), if not from English neo-Romanticism. Yet they broadly aimed to replace Symbolist ‘evocation’ with ‘precision, hardness, clarity of outline’; Symbolist ‘essence’ or ‘transcendence’ with concrete ‘impressions’ (a word that moves around between Symbolism and Imagism). Williams replied to Stevens’s critique by lauding ‘that particularity which gives an object a character by itself ’, as opposed to false ‘associational or sentimental value’.94 Similarly, Pound’s definition of ‘the image’, as ‘that which presents an intellectual and emotional complex in an instant of time’, contrasts with the desire, in Stevens’s ‘To the One of Fictive Music’ (which echoes Yeats’s ‘To the Rose upon the Rood of Time’), for an image not ‘Too near, too clear, saving a little to endow / Our feigning with the strange unlike’.95 The ‘winds of doctrine’ would blow Pound himself to other positions – as into the ‘Vortex’, where ‘the image’ becomes ‘the point of maximum energy’, ‘a

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radiant node or cluster’.96 But poems written by the core Imagists (Pound, H.D., Aldington, Flint), in the core period, tell a simpler story than the theories. Some theoretical clashes stem from the ambiguity of the word ‘image’. Hulme’s prospectus for a ‘new visual art’ was not necessarily achieved – or achievable. The prefaces to the second and third Imagist anthologies deny painterly aspirations. And while there is a tendency to overdo colour (‘golden-banded’, ‘orange-coloured’, Aldington’s ‘rose-yellow moon in a pale sky / When the sunset is faint vermilion’), the better poems, like H.D.’s kinetic ‘Oread’, also appeal to other senses: Whirl up, sea – Whirl your pointed pines, Splash your great pines On our rocks, Hurl your green over us, Cover us with your pools of fir.97

‘Oread’ is less visualised than presented. ‘Presentation’ is a key word in Imagist theory: ‘that which presents an intellectual and emotional complex’. The stress on ‘presentation’, ‘particularity’, ‘directness’, ‘instantaneity’, partly owing to the impact of Chinese and Japanese poetry, governs Imagism’s most obvious structural feature – neither a visual bias nor vers libre, but simplified syntax. Pound’s ‘In a Station of the Metro’, the quintessential Imagist poem, has no verb: ‘The apparition of these faces in the crowd; / Petals on a wet, black bough.’98 Fine as it is, that couplet suggests how the brief present-indicative sentence, which employs (or ‘understands’) the verb ‘to be’, became the default setting of Imagist presentation. It again seems literal-minded to equate presentation with the present tense, although the indicative is varied by the imperative, by exclamations, questions and apostrophes: ‘Whirl up, sea’; ‘I sit, my teeth chatter! / Where shall I turn for comfort?’ If Imagist poems are pulled towards the visual or marmoreal, it’s because Imagist theory neglects speech and syntax as sources of ‘prose directness’ (Pound did not realise that Chinese ideograms have a phonetic content). This is where Yeats, Thomas, Frost and Stevens come in. Yeats’s involvement with the theatre had alerted him to how ‘voice’ might strengthen poetry’s ‘bony structure’ (CW8 107). In 1906, he regretted ‘the over development of the picture-making faculty’ since ‘[t]he great thing in literature . . . is rhythm and movement’ (L 466). This insight fuelled incipient changes in his aesthetic: ‘In literature, partly from the lack of that spoken word which


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knits us to normal man, we have lost in personality, in our delight in the whole man – blood, imagination, intellect, running together’ (CW4 195). Writing to his father ten years later, Yeats aligned Vorticism with ‘rhetoric’ and ‘abstraction’, whereas ‘[r]hythm implies a living body a breast to rise and fall’ (CL InteLex 2902). As we have seen, Thomas argues that literary ‘tone and pitch of voice’ should parallel a speaker’s ‘innumerable gestures and their innumerable shades’. He says of William Cobbett: ‘The movement of his prose is a bodily thing’. Thomas’s aspens ‘talk together’, and ‘The Watchers’ may target Imagism as well as Paterism. In 1907, Thomas wrote with reference to The Playboy of the Western World: Since Lyrical Ballads there has hardly been such a notable purification of the diction of English verse (and prose, too) as has come in the past generation, chiefly from Irishmen like . . . Yeats and Synge. The best of the old ballads are not more direct. . . . Not many writers can hope to mend their writing by listening to Irish peasant girls through a thin floor, but a comparison of Mr Synge’s prose with the leading article or literary criticism of today will perhaps knock some young men off their stilts before it is too late. . . . By nature or by art, we must achieve a speech something like this which corresponds with the thought almost onomata-poetically, or fail.99

Thomas’s receptivity to Yeats and Synge (he also admired Synge’s ‘poetry shrunk almost to its bones’), prepared for his receptivity to Frost, who himself cites Yeats’s authority for basing literature on ‘everyday speech’. Frost’s opposition to Imagist theory, his scorn for ‘eye readers’, sharpened his aesthetic of the ‘sentence sound’: ‘The ear is the only true writer and the only true reader’. Imagist ‘eye writing’ contributed to later interest in poetry’s spatial, typographical and textual existence as not simply cueing the ear but also as potentially part, or even all, of its meaning (see Postscript). Stevens, too, is ‘strikingly deviant in relation to modern poetics as defined by Imagism’ (Holander), when he says: ‘[A]bove everything else, poetry is words; and . . . words, above everything else, are, in poetry, sounds’. Stevens calls the poet ‘an orator whose speech sometimes resembles music’.100 In contrast, when giving Imagism a Vorticist makeover, Pound advocates poetry in which ‘painting or sculpture seems as if it were “just coming over into speech”’. Here, to quote Michael Levenson, he ‘strains against his linguistic medium’.101 In the letter quoted above, Yeats reads the pictorial rhythmically rather than forces picture into rhythm. He combines a different take on the ‘Chinese’ with praise of Keats, who ‘makes pictures one cannot forget & sees them as full of rhythm as a Chinese painting’. Imagism and Vorticism clarified Yeats’s own position. ‘Lapis Lazuli’ mobilises the stone.

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Yet Imagist poems also strain towards music. There is a further conceptual gap where Hulme and Pound polarise ‘regular metre’ against the ‘delicate pattern of images and colour’; ‘metronome’ (actually an instrument that measures tempo) against ‘musical phrase’ / ‘cadence’. This allows ‘traditional form’ no rhythmic or musical variables. In Schuchard’s view, ‘musical phrase’ is indebted to Yeats’s ‘art of chanting’ and to his stress on the ear in arguments with Pound.102 But Imagist ‘music’, like Imagist painterliness, represses intonation, and although Pound and H.D. often give their lyrics a distinctive movement, ‘the sequence of the musical phrase’ can stop lines short, prevent much happening mid-line or between lines, and, indeed, promote ‘phrase’ over the deeper structure of ‘clause’. Stevens’s free-verse sequence, ‘Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird’ (1917),103 sometimes co-opted for Imagism, may actually criticise it: I Among twenty snowy mountains, The only moving thing Was the eye of the blackbird. II I was of three minds, Like a tree In which there are three blackbirds . . . IX When the blackbird flew out of sight, It marked the edge Of one of many circles . . . XII The river is moving. The blackbird must be flying . . .

Whether or not Stevens’s blackbird poems argue with Imagism, they mark his differences from and with it. He calls the poems ‘sensations’,104 but they are hardly ‘presentations’. They imply that such concreteness is elusive, just as they sabotage the primary sense of ‘looking’. In this work of aesthetic epistemology, the gaze shifts or blurs, the ground ‘moves’, voice and syntactical order vary. Where will the blackbird turn up? But Stevens’s thrust is again revelatory rather than relativist. Besides figuring the manifold ‘ways’ that ‘eye’, ‘mind’ or art might go, ‘the blackbird’ is a meta-symbol that suggests the power of Symbolism (or the need for it) to penetrate cognitive ‘circles’: ‘I know . . . / That the blackbird is involved / In what I know’. In the sixth poem, ‘The shadow of the blackbird’ induces a ‘mood’


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that ‘Trace[s] in the shadow / An undecipherable cause’. Compared to ‘Thirteen Ways’ – and its riddling tree with ‘three blackbirds’ – Imagism indeed seems a form of realism or positivism. To contrast short poems by Yeats and Thomas with Imagist poems of the same date is to notice the stronger role of sentence sounds in shaping rhythm and perspective. The two sentences of ‘A Coat’ observe a rhetorical and dramatic logic that reaches its climax when the last six lines, a kind of sestet (CDCEDE), juxtapose the spitting double rhymes: ‘wrought it’, ‘take it’. Tone and pitch of voice are less overtly dramatic in the two sentences of ‘The Watchers’, but ear readers will pick up the implied difference between fully sensing and merely looking. In muting poetry as speech, as sentence sounds, as rhythm generated by the play between syntax and verse form, did Imagism restrict its own possibilities? Alan Robinson calls it ‘a truncated Symbolist aesthetic’.105 For John Gould Fletcher: ‘It was the fault of imagism never to let its devotees draw clear conclusions about life’. Stevens writes: ‘Not all objects are equal. The vice of Imagism was that it did not recognise this.’106 But it seems a question of intricacy rather than of conclusiveness or scale. Thanks to the haiku, ‘leaves’ and ‘petals’, not the whole tree – ‘Oread’ is an exception – pervade Imagist poems and could be their self-image. Some poems are fragments, hence their appeal to critical modernism; the short poems of Yeats, Stevens and Thomas might be called ‘miniatures’. Thomas’s short poems (some just a single quatrain) may owe something to Pound’s Chinese restraint. But if ‘Bright Clouds’ features ‘blossom’, its present-tense visual imagery is historically framed: Bright clouds of may Shade half the pond. Beyond, All but one bay Of emerald Tall reeds Like criss-cross bayonets Where a bird once called, Lies bright as the sun. No one heeds. The light wind frets And drifts the scum Of may-blossom. Till the moorhen calls Again Naught’s to be done

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By birds or men. Still the may falls.107

Thomas wrote ‘Bright Clouds’ while waiting to be mobilised for active service: ‘bayonets’, ‘scum’, ‘frets’. Suspense conditions this suspended moment, and the way in which a ‘falling’ rhythm counterpoints ‘stillness’: an effect that the one-sentence final line compresses as well as completes. Rhyme works with syntax and irregular line lengths, as an initial pattern of enclosing / enclosed rhymes becomes disturbed. The last five lines are again enclosed (by ‘Till’ / ‘Still’, ‘calls’ / ‘falls’), but the sound momentum of ‘moorhen’ / ‘Again’ / ‘men’ works against this. The placing of ‘Naught’s to be done’ after the sentence’s temporal clause, the rhyme’s reference back to ‘sun’, adds further complication. This line also picks up ‘No-one heeds’ (another one-sentence line) in a way that turns an impression of indifference into a tone of fatalism. Thomas’s images do not entirely speak for themselves. All the poem’s elements contribute to a symbolic space-time orbit, as poetry waits on history. In Yeats’s ‘Memory’, image depends more overtly on statement (a statement about images). A syllogistic periodic sentence runs across a mainly half-rhymed stanza: One had a lovely face, And two or three had charm, But charm and face were in vain Because the mountain grass Cannot but keep the form Where the mountain hare has lain. (CW1 150)

The pun on ‘form’ contrasts partial qualities of the Muse / poem with absolute identity between ‘form’ and ‘hare’, sealed by the only full rhyme and the repeated ‘mountain’: a word that conveys largeness, wildness, perhaps the Symbolist scope of even this miniature. Yeats, Thomas and Stevens were all aware of Imagism – fruitfully and dialectically as well as antagonistically. Yet Symbolism survived. Pound’s mission, following Hulme’s, to cut the fat from poetry was salutary, but it sometimes cut through bone and muscle. A few Imagist poems endure: ‘Their ochre clings to the stone’. But ‘Imagism’ too often obscures other verse revolutions or evolutions.

‘Form, in all its kinds’ The elements of Yeats’s Symbolism melt into one another. ‘Nineteen Hundred and Nineteen’ exemplifies this. In the second poem, ‘Loie


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Fuller’s Chinese dancers’ – a memory from the 1890s – supply a one-off, left-field, single-stanza, visual-kinetic symbol for historical commotion: When Loie Fuller’s Chinese dancers enwound A shining web, a floating ribbon of cloth, It seemed that a dragon of air Had fallen among dancers, had whirled them round Or hurried them off on its own furious path; So the Platonic Year Whirls out new right and wrong, Whirls in the old instead; All men are dancers and their tread Goes to the barbarous clangour of a gong. (CW1 212)

Yet ‘dragon of air’ connects with the sequence’s larger symbolic patterns of storm and animals, and the next poem reworks this distinctive metric and ‘floating’ or ‘whirling’ rhythm into slower-paced ‘meditative’ stanzas (see p. 53). Yeats attaches fixed meanings to some symbols, but their local impact depends more on association, including patterns created from poem to poem, than on his ‘system of symbolism’ (AVB 9). Yet A Vision, that ‘strange amalgam of philosophy, eschatology, history and psychology’ (Ian Fletcher’s summary), contributes a kind of skeleton.108 What Yeats calls ‘hard symbolic bones’ are Symbolism as mathematics, as the deep structure of Yeatsian poetics, as metaphysical rather than metaphorical orchestration. If ‘whirling gyres’ (L 668) power the force with which the dancers are ‘whirled’, the dancers embody that force. For Yeats, finally, a fourth sense of Symbolism may unite all the others. In ‘The Symbolism of Poetry’ he asks what would happen, were we ‘to accept the theory that poetry moves us because of its symbolism’. The ultimate (and inclusive) outcome, he claims, is that we could no longer deny ‘the importance of form, in all its kinds’. To ‘give a body to something that moves beyond the senses’ requires ‘words . . . as subtle, as complex, as full of mysterious life, as the body of a flower or of a woman’ (CW4 120). Aestheticism and Symbolism meet in form as ‘mysterious life’. Such beliefs underpin Yeats’s critique of Vorticist ‘abstraction’ as lacking a ‘living body’: ‘Loie Fuller’s Chinese Dancers’ give a Yeatsian vortex ‘rhythm’. The Symbol is the poem; the poem, the Symbol: ‘form, in all its kinds’. Yeats called his essay ‘The Symbolism of Poetry’, not ‘Symbolism in Poetry’. By 1936, Yeats’s forms had changed. But he still means ‘the symbolism of poetry’ when he states: ‘form must be full, sphere-like, single’. The implications are not confined to ‘traditional form’. For instance, they might rescue D.H. Lawrence’s poetry from the critical sidelines: there

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is no more powerfully and consistently ‘symbolic’ modern poem than ‘Bavarian Gentians’. Harmonium contains free-verse poems, and Stevens would later say: ‘The essential thing in form is to be free in whatever form is used’.109 Thomas wrote poems in free-ish blank verse and poems that combine blank verse with irregular rhyme. What counts is that ‘the symbolism of poetry’ should realise itself as distinctive form to which every structural element contributes: Thomas’s aspen music and blossom fall; Stevens’s flyaway blackbird poems as contrasted with the gravitational pull of ‘Sunday Morning’. When Yeats revisits the poem-as-tree in ‘Among School Children’, he has been considering the paradox that Maud Gonne’s ‘image’ changes: ‘O chestnut tree, great rooted blossomer, / Are you the leaf, the blossom or the bole?’ (CW1 221). The implied answer is that the tree is none and all of these: ‘single’ form. The follow-up question, ‘How can we know the dancer from the dance?’ expects a similar answer. Taken together, these questions reassert the simultaneously organic and architectonic nature of poetry. Later, in ‘A Bronze Head’, form rather than image straddles life and art; while another rhetorical question asks of Gonne: ‘who can tell / Which of her forms has shown her substance right’ (348). This historicises forms without splitting or relativising form. Perhaps because less dogged by history, Stevens remained truer than Yeats to the ‘revolt against exteriority’. His proposition that ‘Poetry must resist the intelligence almost successfully’ keeps faith with the Symbolist essence. Stevens can even be too true to Symbolism. Some of his later poetry ‘tips the tree’ towards obsession with its own metaphysic; towards a less strategic or ironical solipsism; towards total reflexivity; towards an abstract zone where poem and critical aphorism merge: ‘Poetry must resist . . .’ figures as both.110 Stevens dwells more on ‘poetry’ than poems; on ‘form’ more than ‘forms’ or ‘form, in all its kinds’. Similarly, he increasingly dwells in language rather than also in form. Randall Jarrell wrote in 1951: ‘[O]ne keeps thinking that [Stevens] needs to be possessed by his subjects, to be shaken out of himself, to have his subjects individualise his poem; one remembers longingly how much more individuation there was in Harmonium’.111 That covers formal ‘individuation’ too: Stevens’s overuse of couplets and tercets. But one of his fine last poems, ‘Long and Sluggish Lines’ (1952), is a reflexive tree-poem that plays against its title. The poetspeaker, conscious ‘at so much more / Than seventy’, that Spring has come before, that his poetry has been here before, returns – in one of Stevens’s gyre-like movements – to the Adamic threshold where ‘The life of the poem in the mind has not yet begun’. That ‘wakefulness inside a sleep’, which is creative latency, has been proleptically proved by how the poem


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renews the longer line and the couplet. This tree symbolism is again dualistic. It condenses Stevens’s ‘sadness’, and its visionary ‘opposite’: Wood-smoke rises through trees, is caught in an upper flow Of air and whirled away. But it has been often so. The trees have a look as if they bore sad names And kept saying over and over one same, same thing, In a kind of uproar, because an opposite, a contradiction, Has enraged them and makes them want to talk it down. What opposite? Could it be that yellow patch, the side Of a house, that makes one think the house is laughing . . .112

To link Thomas with Stevens rather than Frost alters familiar alignments. Yet Symbolism casts light on the language in which Thomas praises Frost’s North of Boston (‘discord and fuss’ is a smack at Pound): These poems are revolutionary because they lack the exaggeration of rhetoric, and even at first sight appear to lack the poetic intensity of which rhetoric is an imitation. . . . The metre avoids not only the old-fashioned pomp and sweetness, but the later fashion also of discord and fuss. In fact, the medium is common speech and common decasyllables. . . . Yet almost all these poems are beautiful. They depend not at all on objects commonly admitted to be beautiful; neither have they merely a homely beauty, but are often grand, sometimes magical. Many, if not most, of the separate lines and separate sentences are plain, and, in themselves, nothing. But they are bound together and made elements of beauty by a calm eagerness of emotion.113

Thomas claims Frost not for Naturalism, but for Aestheticism and Symbolism. He dismisses ‘rhetoric’, invokes ‘beauty’, ‘intensity’ and ‘magic’, and sees a poem’s constituents as ‘bound together and made elements of beauty’ by a single impulse. Frost, too, has symbolic trees, and trees that symbolise poetry. ‘After Apple-Picking’, at one level about writing poems, again recasts Yeats’s silver and golden apples: ‘Magnified apples appear and disappear / Stem end and blossom end, / And every fleck of russet showing clear’.114 Yet Thomas’s review anticipates how his own, more intensive engagement with Symbolism will differentiate his poetry from Frost’s (less narrative, for instance). In another anticipation, Maeterlinck’s ‘catalogue of symbols’ provokes him to define ‘the symbolism of poetry’ for himself: These worlds of living poems may be of many different kinds . . . they may be lit by the sun of every one, or by another, or by the moon, or by a green lantern. . . . Anything, however small, may make a poem; nothing, however

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great, is certain to. Concentration, intensity of mood, is the one necessary condition in the poet and in the poem.115

In March 1916, Yeats thought similarly about art and world: To me it seems that [art uses] the outer world as a symbolism to express subjective moods. The greater the subjectivity, the less the imitation. Though perhaps there is always some imitation. . . . The element of pattern in every art is I think the part that is not imitative for in the last analysis there will always be somewhere an intensity of pattern that we have never seen with our eyes. In fact imitation seems to me to create a language in which we say things which are not imitation. (CL InteLex 2880)

Yeats writes of the ‘revolt against Victorianism’: ‘Poets said to one another . . . “We must purify poetry of all that is not poetry”’ (OBMV ix). Although that ‘revolt’ did not go according to 1890s plan, it can be seen as the apotheosis of lyric rather than of soul. With Symbolism, and with Yeats, poetic form moved up a gear or rediscovered all its gears. This may be most significant, if least obvious, as regards ‘those traditional metres that have developed with the language’ (CW5 213). But not every modern lyric meets the demands of ‘form, in all its kinds’.

C h a pt e r 4

‘Monstrous familiar images’: Poetry and War, 1914–1923

Yeats’s omission of Wilfred Owen (1893–1918) from The Oxford Book of Modern Verse gave national as well as literary offence – perhaps deliberately. While expressing ‘distaste for certain poems written in the midst of the great war’, since ‘passive suffering is not a theme for poetry’ (OBMV xxxiv), Yeats justifies his contrary indulgence to Oliver St John Gogarty by boasting a superior Irish nexus between poetry and war. Gogarty’s ‘heroic song’ is an obvious mask for Yeats himself: Twelve years ago Oliver Gogarty was captured by his enemies, imprisoned in a deserted house on the edge of the Liffey with every prospect of death. Pleading a natural necessity he got into the garden, plunged under a shower of revolver bullets and as he swam the ice-cold December stream promised it, should it land him in safety, two swans . . . His poetry fits the incident, a gay, stoical – no, I will not withhold the word – heroic song. (xv)

Like ‘Lapis Lazuli’, although in less complex terms, Yeats’s introduction to the Oxford Book maintains that ‘tragedy is a joy to the man who dies’ (xxxiv). He did not omit Julian Grenfell’s ‘Into Battle’, a poem that celebrates ‘joy of battle’. But the Irish ‘incident’ harks back to the Civil War of 1922–23, which his sequence ‘Meditations in Time of Civil War’ (this chapter’s focal work) represents more bleakly. Yeats has not always found the ‘heroic’ unproblematic. Nor are he and Owen poetically so far apart; witness their similar roots in Romanticism and Symbolism, their intersecting influence on ‘public’ poetry of the 1930s (see Chapter 5). In ‘The Gyres’, Yeats may react to the reaction to Owen’s omission: ‘What matter though numb nightmare ride on top, / And blood and mire the sensitive body stain?’ (CW1 299). At least this improves on calling Owen’s poetry ‘all blood, dirt and sucked sugar-stick’ (L 874). As a defensive manoeuvre, the rhetorical question makes Yeatsian ‘nightmare’ ‘matter’ as little (or as much) as battlefield images. 106

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But it’s not only Yeats who gives ‘war poetry’ a thematic stress that effaces ‘poetry’, and hence war’s impact on its aesthetics. As a basis for dissolving some categorical barriers between ‘war poetry’ and ‘modern poetry’, this chapter aligns poems by Yeats, which range across European and Irish conflicts, with poems more directly ‘of ’ the Great War. All poems written after 1914, in whatever form, come under Yeats’s rubric: ‘Established things were shaken by the Great War’ (CW5 94–5). In shaking metaphysical systems, belief in progress, constructions of tradition and memory, the war shook or shocked poetry. To quote from Owen’s ‘1914’ and Yeats’s ‘Nineteen Hundred and Nineteen’: War broke: and now the Winter of the world With perishing great darkness closes in . . .1 O but we dreamed to mend Whatever mischief seemed To afflict mankind, but now That winds of winter blow Learn that we were crack-pated when we dreamed. (CW1 213)

‘Times like these’ Yeats notoriously disclaimed interest in the Great War. He called it ‘merely the most expensive outbreak of insolence and stupidity the world has ever seen’,2 and told Henry James: ‘I shall keep the neighbourhood of the seven sleepers of Ephesus . . . till bloody frivolity is over’ (L 600). The latter is his gloss on ‘A Reason for Keeping Silent’ (February 1915): I think it better that at times like these We poets keep our mouths shut, for in truth We have no gift to set a statesman right; He’s had enough of meddling who can please A young girl in the indolence of her youth, Or an old man upon a winter’s night.3

Yeats contributed this poem to The Book of the Homeless (1916), an anthology edited by Edith Wharton and sold to raise funds for refugee Belgian children (Theodore Roosevelt’s introduction refers to Belgium ‘being trampled into bloody mire’).4 He later changed the title to ‘On being asked for a War Poem’; the second line to ‘A poet keep his mouth shut’, then to ‘A poet’s mouth be silent’; ‘He’s’ to ‘He has’. In ‘W.B. Yeats and Wilfred Owen’, a rare discussion of the poets together, Jon Stallworthy construes these revisions as reluctance to be associated with ‘savagely colloquial


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trench poems’.5 Yet the changes Yeats had made by 1917 (title, from ‘We poets’ to ‘A poet’, from ‘at times’ to ‘in times’) mainly disguise the poem’s immediate contexts in the first months of the war, and in irritation at the ‘hurricane of poetry’6 that war had unleashed. This phenomenon was unique to Britain: Catherine Reilly’s bibliography lists 2,225 published poets, fifty-plus anthologies.7 Other poets, too, resisted the hurricane or thought the war ‘stupid’: ‘a necessary stupidity, but still a stupidity’, said T.E. Hulme (who joined up as a private soldier and was killed in 1917). Ezra Pound’s ‘War Verse’ urges: ‘O two-penny poets be still / . . . Be still, give the soldiers their turn’.8 Like Pound, Yeats asks who is qualified to speak about the war. He not only disqualifies himself (and poetry), he sets the possible wrongness of statesmen against ‘truth’ and peaceful images of youth and age. The anti-war-poem war poem helps to keep war poetry self-critical, to clarify its responsibilities. In ‘This is no case of petty right or wrong’, Edward Thomas questions the capacity of ‘politicians or philosophers’ to ‘judge’ the situation, and says: ‘I hate not Germans, nor grow hot / With love of Englishmen, to please newspapers’. In ‘Insensibility’, Owen reminds himself, too, that ‘these are troops who fade, not flowers, / For poets’ tearful fooling’. Besides refusal to speak, ‘who speaks’, and how to speak, a trope of induced silence covers ‘millions of the mouthless dead’ (Charles Hamilton Sorley) and those unable to speak for themselves or ‘of comrades that went under’ (Owen).9 Yet, as ‘times like these’ increasingly shook Europe from Ireland to Russia, silence ceased to be an option for Yeats. This was no longer a short-term crisis (‘at’) but a transforming cataclysm (‘in’). To quote Terence Brown: the war ‘internationalised’ his poetry.10 It’s true that even Yeats’s elegies for Robert Gregory, Lady Gregory’s son, minimise direct allusions to ‘the great war beyond the sea’, as his first elegy, ‘Shepherd and Goatherd’, calls it (CW1 143). But not to probe his self-distancing from the war, and its poetry, is to accept dubious national and critical assumptions. In The Great War in Irish Poetry, Fran Brearton highlights Yeats’s complicity in ‘placing the Great War on the English side of an English-Irish opposition’. Meanwhile, as she also shows, the British canon of war poetry has often narrowed its own horizon to ‘soldier poets’, and soldier poets to ‘trench poets’ – a category that excludes Thomas, who wrote all his poems before reaching the trenches. Yet the widening of anthologies to include non-combatants and vernacular voices has perhaps done more for cultural studies than for insight into how the Great War conditioned modern poetry. It certainly does not accommodate Yeats. Brearton argues that the events of 1914–23 not only ‘internationalised’ his poetry, they

‘Monstrous familiar images’


restructured it. Conflict had already entered Yeats’s structures as ‘the day’s war with every knave and dolt’ (CW1 92). And his absorption of Synge’s drama had led him to think that ‘all noble things are the result of warfare’, both ‘visible’ and ‘invisible . . . the division of a mind within itself ’ (CW4 233). But now the dialectical, dramatic and symbolic evolution of his aesthetic came up against what Brearton calls ‘a disruption in his thinking which [took] some years to resolve’.11 It also took A Vision (1925), which she sees as crucially shaped, in successive incarnations, by the Great War and its collateral damage; by Yeats’s need to absorb ‘times like these’ into his own artistic matrix. For James Longenbach, too: ‘Although the Great War is not mentioned in A Vision, it overshadows the entire work.’12 Yeats refers his ‘expanding and contracting gyres’ to Heraclitus’ antinomies of Love and Strife (Concord and Discord) (CW13 106). Effectively, the war silenced Yeats because he had no language for it, no symbolism. It gave him a more pressing need to connect his inner and outer ‘quarrels’, to conceive psychology and history according to ‘antinomies’. The ‘whirling gyres’ (L 668) enabled him to distance the war yet acknowledge it. Thus he smuggles it into ‘tragic’, ‘terrible’ Phase 22 amid other cases of ‘abstraction’ producing ‘absurdity’: ‘In the world of action such absurdity may become terrible, for men will die and murder for an abstract synthesis, and the more abstract it is the further it carries them from compunction and compromise’. The ‘man of this phase’, he says, ‘may become a destroyer and persecutor, a figure of tumult and of violence’ (CW13 78). The words ‘tumult’ and ‘violence’ occur in ‘Nineteen Hundred and Nineteen’, where Yeats now speaks as a poet who ‘can read the signs’ of the times (CW1 211). Yeats’s poetry ‘reads the signs’ more deeply than his prose. A Vision sometimes contrasts good and bad war in a way that anticipates his attitude to Owen, and retains something of Nietzsche’s precepts: ‘You say it is the good cause that hallows even war? I tell you: it is the good war that hallows every cause. . . . Not your pity but your bravery has saved the unfortunate up to now.’13 Nevertheless, Yeats’s critique of unheroic war seems to need ‘compunction’. He greatly revised A Vision after publishing the version, ‘rooted in the historical moment of 1925’ (CW13 xlvii), from which I have been quoting. But his repeated attempts to explain European turmoil as the birth pangs of a new era involve contradictions, tensions and ambiguities that betray the continuing force of the ‘disruption’. One persona (Michael Robartes) talks of change from ‘an age of necessity, truth, goodness, mechanism, science, democracy, abstraction, peace’ to one of ‘freedom, fiction, evil, kindred, art, aristocracy, war’. He says:


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‘Love war because of its horror, that belief may be changed, civilisation renewed.’ Another persona (Owen Aherne) asks: ‘[W]hy should war be necessary?’ (AVB 52–3). In Yeats’s 1920s sequences, terms from the same side of this equation oppose one another: ‘art’ / ‘evil’, ‘mechanism’ / ‘goodness’. The intermittent appeal of authoritarian Fascism, which balances his fear of communism, explains his more positive projections. But the point is that the terms of A Vision, however confused or hedged or absurd, are marked by war. And it’s partly because those terms underscore apocalyptic symbolism that they helped Yeats’s poetry to confront ‘the growing murderousness of the world’ (CW8 192). In ‘The Second Coming’ (1919), ‘a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi / Troubles my sight’. The speaker of ‘A Prayer for my Daughter’ (also 1919) imagines that ‘the future years [have] come, / Dancing to a frenzied drum’ (CW1 189–90). The last poem of ‘Meditations in Time of Civil War’ is headed: ‘I see Phantoms of Hatred and of the Heart’s Fullness and of the Coming Emptiness’ (1923). Such scenarios darkly recast Yeats’s millenarian hopes for spiritual revolution: the ‘dusty wind’ of ‘Nineteen Hundred and Nineteen’ replaces ‘Surely thine hour has come, thy great wind blows’ (67) in ‘The Secret Rose’ (1896). Symbolic weight shifts from apocalypse as revelation to apocalypse as the destruction that precedes it. One reason why Yeats’s dismissal of Owen can seem a denial of likeness is that Owen preceded him in developing a visionary-prophetic response to ‘times like these’. Owen, too, conceives the European future / present as war-begotten apocalypse, as Armageddon. Hulme would have diagnosed another case of ‘spilt religion’: Owen, once a committed Anglican, had ‘murdered [his] false creed’, and substituted for it the creed of poetry. Both Yeats and Owen are inverted ‘Romantic millenarians’,14 their visions conditioned by world war as those of earlier Romantics by the French Revolution. Yeats’s apocalyptic poetry, indeed, derives from Blake and other believers in ‘Jerusalem’. Directly shaped by evangelical Christianity, as well as by its crossovers into Romantic poetry, Owen’s vision remains closer to Christian cosmology and eschatology: ‘the sorrowful dark of hell, / Whose world is but the trembling of a flare, / And heaven but as the highway for a shell’; ‘Before the last sea and the hapless stars’. Apocalypse enters the poets’ rhythms: ‘The Second Coming’ slows down with the ‘rough beast’ creepily ‘moving its slow thighs’ (CW1 190); ‘A Prayer for my Daughter’ speeds up into storm and wild dancing. In Owen’s ‘Spring Offensive’, ‘Earth set[s] sudden cups in thousands for their blood’ (a parodic communion); whereas ‘Insensibility’ – almost every line end-stopped by consonantal rhyme – moves like an inexorable march:

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‘The long, forlorn, relentless trend / From larger day to huger night’.15 In ‘Strange Meeting’, Owen mixes slow-motion history with ‘swifter’ apocalypse: It seemed that out of battle I escaped Down some profound dull tunnel, long since scooped Through granites which titanic wars had groined. Yet also there encumbered sleepers groaned, Too fast in thought or death to be bestirred . . . Now men will go content with what we spoiled, Or, discontent, boil bloody, and be spilled. They will be swift with swiftness of the tigress. None will break ranks, though nations trek from progress . . .16

Owen and Yeats take ‘phantasmagoria’, as Yeats calls it (CW5 204), to ominous millenarian extremes. Like Owen’s ‘sleepers’, Yeats’s ‘Phantoms’ in ‘Meditations’ belong to a cosmos defamiliarised by violence. A ‘moon / That seems unlike itself ’ presides over ‘Monstrous familiar images’ (CW1 209). ‘The Show’, Owen’s darkest version of the earth and the body as trench-landscape (‘pitted with great pocks and scabs of plagues’), piles on Gothic horror. The speaker is shown a ‘worm’ with ‘the feet of many men / And the fresh-severed head of it, my head’.17 ‘The Show’ rewrites its epigraph from Yeats’s dramatic poem ‘The Shadowy Waters’: ‘We have fallen in the dreams the Ever-living / Breathe on the tarnished [Yeats has ‘burnished’] mirror of the world / And then smooth out with ivory hands and sigh’ (CW1 421). Yeats’s ‘dreams’ become nightmare: the dying speaker’s ‘soul’ looks down on his body until he ‘falls’ to earth. Nothing is smoothed out. Owen’s ‘S.I.W.’ is prefaced by another ironically pointed quotation from Yeats. In Yeats’s play ‘The King’s Threshold’, the hunger-striking poet Seanchan ‘has set his teeth to die’ (CW2 137); in ‘S.I.W.’, a suicidal soldier is buried with ‘the muzzle his teeth had kissed’.18 Further, Seanchan’s voluntary death, because the king has downgraded poets’ ‘authority’ in the state (122), might seem a solipsistic sulk, throwing into relief the responsibilities to which war calls poetry. But Owen’s irony rewrites his (Romantic) poetic precursors without rejecting all they stand for. He regarded Yeats’s plays as a model for future work. Stallworthy judges that only Keats had greater influence on him, and shows how Owen blends echoes from Keats and Yeats.19 Owen probably never knew that Yeats’s own poetic cosmos had ‘changed utterly’ by 1917. Yet war sent the poets on parallel tracks towards ironical, tragic, apocalyptic visions, which subvert or invert Romantic transcendence


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without sacrificing Romantic scope. If Owen had no time to elaborate a ‘system’, he sets the Great War on a huge metaphysical stage. Yeats did not see that Owen’s poetry attains the condition of Symbolism. Just as he thought Ibsen and Eliot mere realists, he was blinded by his premise that poems ‘written in the midst’ of the Great War (my italics) could never achieve perspective. In the Oxford Book, he ‘substitutes . . . Herbert Read’s End of a War written long after’ (OBMV xxxiv) and Siegfried Sassoon’s ‘On Passing the New Menin Gate’. Sassoon’s critique of ‘this sepulchre of crime’ may have recalled ‘bloody frivolity’. Great War poetry, indeed, continued to be written after the event – by Robert Graves and Edmund Blunden, for instance – and the war still rumbles under contemporary poetry as its débris disturbs the soil in northern France. Yet to stress distance over ‘midst’ again favours Yeats himself as war poet. The anthology includes ‘An Irish Airman foresees his Death’: an elegy for Gregory, which is about several kinds of distance. In claiming to be ‘driven’ by a ‘lonely impulse of delight’, the ‘airman’ defines the aesthetic that drives Yeats’s poem. Reflecting on the Abbey’s rejection of Sean O’Casey’s war play ‘The Silver Tassie’ (1928), Yeats wrote: ‘To [English critics] a theme that “bulks largely in the news” gives dignity to human nature, even raises it to international importance.’ This note, which mentions Berkeley and Mallarmé, continues in ‘We Irish’ vein: ‘We on the other hand are certain that nothing can give dignity to human nature but the character and energy of its expression.’20 If Yeats’s politics detach the Great War from Ireland, his aesthetics attach it to Irish culture wars. He consigns Great War literature to the Young Ireland sin-bin, while hinting at what a Symbolist poet might do (or has done) with such material. On a different front, War stamps the ‘packet’, later attached to A Vision, in which Yeats challenges Pound’s approach to form, and presents his own version of the relation between flux and aesthetic ‘unity’: ‘My instructors identify consciousness with conflict, not with knowledge, substitute for subject and object and their attendant logic a struggle towards harmony, towards Unity of Being. Logical and emotional conflict alike lead towards a reality which is concrete, sensuous, bodily’ (AVB 214). This is ‘the symbolism of poetry’ in a new key. Yeats’s denials of the Great War are less idiosyncratic than they might appear. It consorts with broader Irish nationalist attitudes, then and later, that ‘An Irish Airman’ should erase Gregory’s political ‘impulse’ (he was an Irish unionist and British patriot), and detach the war from Ireland: ‘Those that I fight I do not hate, / Those that I guard I do not love’ (CW1 135). Ben Levitas calls Yeats’s ‘tacit neutrality’ both ‘an obvious and politic

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position’ and ‘a delicate compromise between the split National and Irish Volunteer movements’.21 That is, constitutional nationalists, led by John Redmond, promoted Irish enlistment; the republican Volunteer movement, seedbed of the Easter Rising, did not. The rebels’ proclamation of an Irish Republic refers to ‘gallant allies in Europe’, meaning Germany. Redmond’s party argued that Irish support for the Allies would guarantee Home Rule, promised for after the war, and linked this policy with duty to defend Belgium as another ‘small (and Catholic) nation’. Yeats’s line in ‘Easter, 1916’, ‘For England may keep faith’, is a Redmondite touch. Since republicans won out, Irish war service (210,000 men) was absent from the official life of independent Ireland, while unionist Northern Ireland flagged the ‘sacrifice’ of the Somme rather than the Rising. Yet, thanks to a historiographical, literary and finally political shift, the last forty years have largely witnessed the death of denial. One landmark was the publication of Our War: Ireland and the Great War (2008): a collection of essays / lectures co-sponsored by the Royal Irish Academy and Radio Telefis Eireann. The editor, John Horne, writes: ‘Few countries were more decisively affected by the Great War than Ireland. Not only did Irishmen from all backgrounds fight and die in greater numbers than in any other conflict in the country’s past, but Ireland’s modern political shape to a great extent derives from it.’22 Horne stresses the distinctive social forces behind the ‘war cultures’ that led men to mobilise in various countries. Within Ireland itself, rival war cultures engendered a split that belongs to the European breaking and making of nations. The proliferating ‘new history’ of Ireland and the Great War provides contexts for Yeats’s war. He lived much in England (he was there during the Easter Rising). He dodged air raids. He spent two winters with Pound in Stone Cottage, where they closely followed war news. In The Book of the Homeless, ‘A Reason for Keeping Silent’ is not out of place amid the range of positions – from ardently nationalist to pacifist – that British, continental and American writers and artists take on the war. Further, Yeats was caught up in Irish-British wartime politics. Deeply critical of the government and the military higher command, he feared all measures, such as imposing conscription on Ireland, which might further inflame ‘the old historical passion’ roused by the Rising (L 649). He tried to prevent the execution of Roger Casement (who had run guns from Germany) so that ‘moderate opinion’ might recover (CL InteLex 3002). The literary-critical ground has also shifted, rescuing Yeats from his own obfuscations. Brearton judges that European and Irish conflicts are ‘inextricably linked’ in his mind as in reality.23 In May 1918, indeed, he


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planned a lecture on ‘English War poetry & Irish Rebellion Poetry’ (CL InteLex 3436). Political caution killed this project: ‘[T]imes are too dangerous for me to encourage men to risks I am not prepared to share or approve’ (L 649). It might be added that Yeats was hardly up to speed with English war poetry, even if Owen’s poems had not yet been published. In November 1919, he told Pound: ‘[T]he war (which was to give us all better morals & better art) has produced nothing besides much clotted ejaculation & Kiplinglike facility . . . but has permitted one or two good sonnets by Brooke & a charming poem by Grenfell (not a masterpiece) which might have been written at any time’ (CL InteLex 3679). Once more, Great War poetry figures as thematic, given over to (patriotic) opinion, while ‘We Irish’ implicitly do better. Yet, the planned lecture may have helped Yeats in ‘Nineteen Hundred and Nineteen’ to configure the conflicts of 1914–21. In fact, Irish Great War and ‘Rebellion’ poems did not coexist in a war anthology until Gerald Dawe’s Earth Voices Whispering: An Anthology of Irish War Poetry 1914–1945 (2008). The anthology includes Great War poems by the serving soldiers Francis Ledwidge, Thomas MacGreevy, Patrick MacGill and Tom Kettle. Yeats did not publish his own ‘Rebellion’ poems (written from September 1916 to April 1917) until 1920, and then in Michael Robartes and the Dancer (1921). ‘Easter, 1916’ was printed privately but withdrawn from the contents list of The Wild Swans at Coole (1919). One result (perhaps one aspect) of Yeats’s caution here is that the poem did not appear alongside ‘On being asked for a War Poem’ and his Gregory elegies: a missed chance for a Rebellion poem and Great War poems to speak to one another. At the safer remove of 1936, ‘The Rose Tree’ and ‘An Irish Airman’ would meet in the Oxford Book of Modern Verse. Yeats’s exclusion of Owen does not exclude Yeats from the orbit of Great War poetry. If we no longer place the war ‘on the English side of an English-Irish opposition’ (Brearton), it becomes clearer that he internalised ‘times like these’ to a degree that has its closest counterpart in those soldier poets (Owen, Thomas, Sassoon, Isaac Rosenberg, Ivor Gurney) for whom the Great War was an aesthetically defining moment: a matter of psycho-imaginative receptivity. In this respect, Yeats belongs neither with Eliot nor Pound, nor with ‘senior’ poets like Thomas Hardy (b. 1840) or Robert Bridges (b. 1844), nor, indeed, with Kipling, his exact contemporary. Unlike Hardy and Kipling, he was not going to be among the twenty-five leading authors summoned to assist the War Propaganda Bureau. Bridges (the Poet Laureate) edited a best-selling anthology, The Spirit of Man (1915), in which subheadings such as ‘Christian Virtue’, ‘The

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Happy Warrior’ and ‘Life in Death’ drive home the message that ‘our beloved who fall in the fight . . . die nobly as heroes and saints die’.24 Hardy wrote some fine new war poems, and Paul Fussell argues that this ‘master of situational irony’ not only inspired direct imitation, as when Sassoon redirects tropes from Satires of Circumstance, but also laid down a deeper structural template.25 Hardy’s Boer War poems and The Dynasts, his cosmic Napoleonic epic, were also influential. Yet Hardy was more precursor than player; witness the generational dialogue between Thomas’s ‘As the team’s head-brass’ and Hardy’s ‘In Time of “the Breaking of Nations”’ (see below). In one sense, Kipling was very much a player: from his work for the Propaganda Bureau to his devising the poignant phrase ‘Known unto God’ for the headstones of unknown soldiers. But, even despite his son’s death, the war made little aesthetic difference to Kipling’s poetry. Yeats was, of course, a precursor: for Owen, for Thomas. But ‘times like these’ helped to keep him a ‘contemporary’ as well as ‘master’ (to quote Eliot). In April 1916, the Easter Rising brought history home: ‘I had no idea that any public event could so deeply move me – and I am very despondent about the future’ (L 613). Besides the Rising and its fallout – ‘we are living in the explosion’, he wrote in 1922 (L 690) – Yeats was moved by the Russian Revolution and by Lady Gregory’s grief at her son’s death. Events set in motion by the Great War cumulatively occupied his imagination. The ‘Monstrous familiar images’ of ‘Meditations in Time of Civil War’ do not allude only to the sequence’s own imagery or occasion, they also reprise and symbolise Yeats’s poetic engagement with modern war.

Muses in Arms E.B. Osborn’s anthology The Muse in Arms was published in 1917. To pluralise its title is to mark the diverse ways in which poets, including Yeats, were then creating an unprecedented body – and aesthetics – of war poetry. Osborn himself paints a confused picture. His anthology contains some poems (by Sassoon, Gurney, Graves, Sorley) that ‘cry aloud from the “battered trenches” against the established order of things’. Yet one subheading is ‘Chivalry of Sport’, and he claims that German poets ‘are moved more by hatred for other people’s countries than by love of their own’, and that ‘as munitions of spirituality, their poems are of less value than Zulu war-chants’.26 Rupert Brooke’s death, taken with his sonnet sequence 1914, had supplied British (English) ‘munitions of spirituality’. Like Grenfell’s ‘Into Battle’, his sonnets promote a heroic-sacrificial Liebestod. Thus, to adapt


Yeats and Modern Poetry

Yeats: out of the quarrel with Brooke, other poets made war poetry. Owen’s ‘An Imperial Elegy’ is a riposte to Brooke’s ‘The Soldier’, his ‘corner of a foreign field / That is for ever England’: Not one corner of a foreign field But a span as wide as Europe; An appearance of a titan’s grave, And the length thereof a thousand miles . . .27

Thomas’s ‘No one cares less than I’ has two Brooke sonnets in its sights: ‘The Soldier’ and the sonnet beginning ‘Blow out, you bugles, over the rich Dead!’: ‘No one cares less than I, Nobody knows but God, Whether I am destined to lie Under a foreign clod,’ Were the words I made to the bugle call in the morning. But laughing, storming, scorning, Only the bugles know What the bugles say in the morning . . .28

Thomas called Brooke’s sonnets ‘a nervous attempt to connect with himself the very widespread idea that self sacrifice is the highest self indulgence’. Sorley, too, thought that Brooke had ‘taken the sentimental attitude’, being ‘far too obsessed with his own sacrifice regarding the going to war of himself (and others) as a highly intense, remarkable and sacrificial exploit, whereas it is merely the conduct demanded . . . by the turn of circumstances’. Rosenberg criticised Brooke’s ‘begloried sonnets’ because the war ‘should be approached in a colder way, more abstract, with less of the million feelings everyone feels’. Gurney wrote his own ‘Sonnets 1917’ as ‘a counterblast’ against Brooke’s ignorance of ‘the grind of war’: a ‘protest of the physical against the exalted spiritual; of the cumulative weight of small facts against the one large’.29 The sonnet was itself a battleground. Although some poets (Sassoon, Gurney) began by imitating Brooke’s sonnets – proof that he laid certain foundations – this iconic synecdoche for ‘English poetry’ soon absorbed new material and rhythms.30 Sorley’s deflationary sonnet, beginning, ‘When you see millions of the mouthless dead / Across your dreams in pale battalions go’, refutes ‘soft things as other men have said, / That you’ll remember’. For fourteen mostly unrhymed lines, Owen’s ‘Parable of the Old Man and the Young’ conflates Genesis (the story of Abraham and Isaac) with war vocabulary. Then he adds a shocking couplet: ‘But the

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old man would not so, but slew his son, / And half the seed of Europe, one by one’. Thomas’s ‘February Afternoon’ moves from the ‘mill-like’, warlike ‘roar’ of starlings in an oak to another indifferent or complicit ‘God’: ‘And God still sits aloft in the array / That we have wrought him, stone-deaf and stone-blind’.31 Perhaps Yeats’s ‘Leda and the Swan’ (1923) is the ultimate heretical war sonnet: ‘A shudder in the loins engenders there / The broken wall, the burning roof and tower / And Agamemnon dead’ (CW1 218). More generally, counterblasts to Brooke provide a rough aesthetic snapshot into which Yeats broadly fits. First, there is consensus on the need for new language – not necessarily a single or ‘realist’ language. Second, poetry is seen to require scope commensurable with the human and European tragedy – scope variously defined as mythic or symbolic (Owen’s ‘titan’s grave’), as saying hard things (Sorley), as philosophical ‘abstraction’ (Yeats would oblige), as broaching the ‘unknown’: Thomas’s poetry configures his journey to war with a psychological and cognitive quest: ‘Now all roads lead to France’ ( ‘Roads’).32 Third, there is the ultimately structural question of focus and proportion: where should a poem’s stress fall to avoid the ‘million feelings everyone feels’? Gurney’s insistence on ‘small facts’ of trench life, such as ‘Infinite lovely chatter of a Bucks accent’, subverts the ‘exalted’ language that, in ‘The Silent One’, has doomed the chatterer’s corpse to hang on barbed wire.33 In ‘Break of Day in the Trenches’, Rosenberg’s irony highlights the ‘cosmopolitan sympathies’ of a ‘queer sardonic rat’ able to cross No Man’s Land.34 Such strategies recall Thomas’s pre-war credo: ‘Anything, however small, may make a poem; nothing, however great, is certain to’ (see pp. 104–5). Thomas himself picks this up in ‘The Word’, where the speaker recalls ‘a pure thrush word’ but otherwise suffers a huge amnesia that puts war in its place: ‘I have forgot, too, names of the mighty men / That fought and lost or won in the old wars’.35 To play with proportion can be to magnify as well as reduce: in Owen’s ‘Futility’, a dying soldier fills the cosmos. Owen noted the paradox that ‘[I] who write so big am so minuscule’.36 Strategic shifts of focus adjust the balance of power between poetry and war. In ‘Easter, 1916’, Yeats contrasts the fixed purpose that impelled the Rising, ‘Too long a sacrifice / Can make a stone of the heart’, with the ‘living stream’ that compels the poet: ‘The long-legged moor-hens dive, / And hens to moor-cocks call’ (CW1 183–4). There are parallels with ‘On being asked for a War Poem’ and with Thomas’s ‘The Word’. Thanks to his reading and criticism, perhaps to deeper promptings, Thomas was quicker than most poets to conceptualise poetry and war. His


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review article ‘War Poetry’, written just before he began to write poetry himself in December 1914, reacts to the first gusts of the verse hurricane: ‘It is the hour of the writer who picks up popular views or phrases, or coins them, and has the power to turn them into downright stanzas.’ Thomas stresses that ‘few younger men who had been moved to any purpose could be expected to crystallise their thoughts with speed’, although ‘a mature man who has seen other wars and is not shaken from his balance [might] seize the new occasion. . . . Mr Hardy has done [so].’ Having invoked Coleridge’s ‘Fears in Solitude’ – ‘one of the noblest of patriotic poems’ but written by ‘a solitary man who, if at all, only felt the national emotions weakly or spasmodically’ – he adds: ‘I need hardly say that by becoming ripe for poetry the poet’s thoughts may recede far from their original resemblance to all the world’s, and may seem to have little to do with daily events. They may retain hardly any colour from 1798 or 1914.’37 Thomas’s own poetry would largely follow this interiorised model, which has (Symbolist) parallels with Yeatsian distance. His poem ‘Rain’ places the war dead, ‘Myriads of broken reeds all still and stiff’, amid inner and outer dissolution: ‘Rain, midnight rain, nothing but the wild rain’. ‘Wild rain’ and other quasi-apocalyptic natural images are not Thomas’s only way of figuring war. The difference between the amnesiac speaker of ‘The Word’, and the engagé speaker of ‘This is no case of petty right or wrong’, exemplifies the dialectical shifts in his self-positioning as war poet, the extent to which he upsets the critical binarism of patriotism versus protest. Partly in oblique rivalry with Brooke’s appropriation of ‘England’, his poetry encompasses cultural defence (see following section), yet criticises the war as issuing from a self-harming culture already hollowed out by imperialism, by loss of connection with its past and the natural world. ‘The Combe’ ends: ‘But far more ancient and dark / The Combe looks since they killed the badger there, / Dug him out and gave him to the hounds, / That most ancient Briton of English beasts’.38 Owen had less time to think. To redirect Yeats’s phrase, he positions his poetry ‘in the midst’. Stallworthy shrewdly remarks: ‘[T]he poet of distance, past and future, failed to recognise the poet of the foreground, the here and now’.39 Issuing as from a present-continuous limbo, Owen’s manifestos insist that poetry must blot out everything except ‘War, and the pity of War’: now the only measure of politics, ethics and aesthetics. He starts, not from pathos, as Yeats implies, but from empathy. The sequencing of ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’ maps how Owen’s art moves from sensory and empathetic immersion (‘we cursed through sludge’, ‘As under a green sea, I saw him drowning’), to an imagination imprinted by such

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experience (‘In all my dreams, before my helpless sight, / He plunges at me’), to rousing the reader’s own senses, imagination and hence empathy: ‘If in some smothering dreams you too could pace / Behind the wagon that we flung him in . . .’ Pity and terror become Aristotelian. We have to be there. As audience conscious as Yeats, Owen seeks to involve his implied reader not only in participatory theatre but also in a permanent evangelical mission to ‘plead’, ‘minister’, ‘protest’, ‘warn’, expose the ‘old lie’, tell ‘the truth untold’. Adapting the structures of sermon, prayer, litany, parable, psalm, sacrament and prophecy, he adumbrates a new New Testament to challenge the Old Testament framing of a Just War, to indict ‘nations’ that ‘trek from progress’. Owen’s rhetorical shock tactics include negation and inversion: above all, Above I am not concerned with Poetry’ in his draft preface. ‘Apologia pro Poemate Meo’ begins: ‘I, too, saw God through mud’. The oxymoronic internal half rhyme prepares for spiritual and literary values (‘laughter’, ‘exultation’, ‘love’, ‘joy’, ‘beauty’) to be redefined by war: ‘Merry it was to laugh there – / Where death becomes absurd and life absurder’.40 At the end of ‘Apologia’, Owen employs an unusual (and preacherly) tactic that tests the quality of our attention, our presence: ‘except you share / With them in hell the sorrowful dark of hell . . .’ This poem judges its reader rather than the other way round. As Mark Rawlinson says, the ‘reversals’ of ‘Apologia’ ‘appear excessive’ because their irony sails too near the wind of ‘afflatus’. Thus the lines after ‘absurder’ might sound like ‘an active glorification of battle’: ‘For power was on us as we slashed bones bare / Not to feel sickness or remorse of murder’.41 Yet here Owen again goes to a phantasmagoric extreme. His reversals suggest how poetry of ‘in the midst’ generates its own modalities, whether negative ‘absurdism’ or positive paradox: ‘I have perceived much beauty / In the hoarse oaths that kept our courage straight’. ‘Beauty’: Owen is another poet who transposes affiliations to Aestheticism.42 Inversion in Owen can also verge on perversion. ‘Apologia’ redefines ‘love’ as a bonding (bondage?) of pain and pleasure: ‘wound with war’s hard wire whose stakes are strong; / Bound with the bandage of the arm that drips’. Troubled by Owen’s and Sassoon’s failure to be consistent pacifists, Adrian Caesar faults them for ambivalence about violence, for voyeuristic and sado-masochistic overtones, and for a tendency to liken the poet as well as soldier to Christ crucified. This implies that they revise, rather than exorcise, self-sacrificial Liebestod.43 But, for Jahan Ramazani, Owen’s ‘guilty’ speaker ‘occupies a dual position as both victimised soldier and performer of the victimisation’, and the ‘reader’s position is similarly dual’.44 Owen sometimes involves us by forcing us to be co-voyeurs. In


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‘Wilfred Owen and the Sense of Touch’, Santanu Das gives a nuanced account of the homoerotic and sadomasochistic strains in Owen’s empathy. He notices the ‘perverse aestheticisation of violence’ in images like ‘Your slender attitude / Trembles not exquisite like limbs knife-skewed’. Yet, as he points out, this ‘Caravaggio-like’ approach to the dying soldier’s body, also creates the ‘caressive voice’ that makes ‘Futility’ such a powerful protest: ‘Move him into the sun – / Gently its touch awoke him once . . .’45 Owen’s embedded poetry uniquely embodies war. Some of the poetry may be in the perversity. War is perverse; so is being ‘a conscientious objector with a very seared conscience’, as Owen termed himself.46 Das writes: ‘Instead of a seamless blend of the public and private, there is usually a conflict between the two, creating a powerful frisson in [Owen’s] mature verse. The erotic undertow complicates the political but also gives it a lyric intensity.’47 In Owen’s poetry, psychodrama enters a war; in Yeats’s poetry (like Thomas’s) war enters a psychodrama. ‘Easter, 1916’ registers how the Rising has disrupted ‘public and private’ worlds that already interpenetrated: ‘All changed, changed utterly: / A terrible beauty is born’ (CW1 182). ‘Changed utterly’ also covers Yeats as poet, while ‘terrible beauty’ might be a synonym for ‘war poetry’: a term always latently oxymoronic. Given Yeats’s fear that ‘all the work of years has been overturned . . . all the freeing of Irish literature and criticism from politics’ (L 613), ‘Easter, 1916’ is more than reflexively interested in its own newborn aesthetic – in what war has done to beauty. Like poems at odds with Brooke, Yeats’s ‘Rebellion poems’ contest other mediations of the event – even the event itself. Owen and other poets actually contest two influential kinds of war poem: hectoring imperialist balladry as well as Brooke’s more insidious blend of Romantic transcendence (the dead as ‘gathered radiance’), chivalric ‘honour’ and spiritual crusade: ‘Now God be thanked who has matched us with his hour’.48 Similarly, Yeats was up against not only the Young Ireland ballad, cloned from its imperial counterpart, but also Patrick Pearse’s public staging of something that unsettlingly resembled or surpassed poetry in performative and transformative power. Historians disagree as to the nature and extent of Pearse’s political calculation, but like Brooke, like continental poets such as Maeterlinck, Péguy and Claudel, he had certainly absorbed the idea, widespread in early twentieth-century Europe, that blood sacrifice could renew a nation (he thought that Orangemen were also right to take up arms). He was not alone in imbuing this idea with Catholic martyrology or in fancying that the destined saviour might be a poet. Patriotic Liebestod replaces the beloved with the nation: Owen’s

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eroticism is political because he makes the nexus between love and death human again. While Yeats deplored the execution of the Rising’s leaders and other ‘miscarriages of justice’ (L 613), he had long seen Pearse as ‘a man made dangerous by the Vertigo of Self Sacrifice’ (CL InteLex 2935). The complexity of ‘Easter, 1916’ depends on how he steers between the Scylla of Young Ireland and the Charybdis of Liebestod to find his own poetic bearings. The poem keeps artistic as well as political options open. Irish commemorative ballads rarely ask: ‘Was it needless death after all?’ More than 90 per cent of ‘Easter, 1916’ is occupied with the personal and political shock of the Rising, with the questions (still debated as its centenary approaches) it has raised rather than resolved, with the irrevocability of change. But finally Yeats can no longer postpone the ‘verse’ inscribed or prescribed by the occasion. His unorthodox ballad ends with a more orthodox one: I write it out in a verse – MacDonagh and MacBride And Connolly and Pearse Now and in time to be, Wherever green is worn, Are changed, changed utterly: A terrible beauty is born. (CW1 184)

Here partly critical portraits of the dead men (Yeats has called John MacBride, Maud Gonne’s husband, a ‘drunken, vainglorious lout’) give way to traditional tropes underscored by a canonical nationalist ballad, ‘The Wearing of the Green’: ‘They are hanging men and women / For the wearing of the green’. This ballad was composed during the 1798 rebellion – a point of reference for the Rising as for Yeats’s and Lady Gregory’s Cathleen ní Houlihán. More obliquely than ‘Did that play of mine . . . ?’ (see p. 31), the layered aesthetics of ‘Easter, 1916’ implicate Yeats’s literary career and how the whole cultural movement has been read. Quoting Pearse’s phrase, ‘the excess of love I bear the Gael’, the speaker asks: ‘And what if excess of love / Bewildered them till they died?’ ‘Bewilder’ introduces the motif of madness that will recur in Yeats’s war poetry. Roy Foster has distinguished Yeats’s generation of nationalist intellectuals from a more single-minded ‘revolutionary generation’.49 In his earlier ballad ‘September 1913’, a shot in the Lane controversy, Yeats had ascribed the death of ‘Romantic Ireland’ to a bourgeois attitude that would think patriots such as ‘Robert Emmet and Wolfe Tone’ ‘mad’ (107). Now ‘what if ’ raises as much as dismisses doubts about the national romance, about the step from culture to politics to insurrection.


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Doubts about the symbolism empowered by the Rising lurk behind the scenes in ‘The Rose Tree’: ‘But where can we draw water,’ Said Pearse to Connolly, ‘When all the wells are parched away? O plain as plain can be There’s nothing but our own red blood Can make a right Rose Tree.’ (CW1 185)

‘Sixteen Dead Men’ backs this up by representing the voice of (wartime) ‘logic’ (‘You say that we should still the land / Till Germany’s overcome’), or voice itself, as trumped by symbol: ‘MacDonagh’s bony thumb’ (185). Blood and the relic-like ‘thumb’ do not align Yeats’s Rebellion poems with Pearsean ‘terrible beauty’ any more than with neo-Davisite ‘verse’. By dramatising different perceptions / receptions of the Rising, he reaches for a more capacious vision and symbolism. In ‘Easter, 1916’ Ireland, where ‘motley was worn’, changes its national genre to tragedy: like Owen’s ‘pity’, Yeats’s ‘terror’ is quasi-Aristotelian. And the tragic actors, ‘Hearts with one purpose alone’, who compose the revolutionary generation, force him to revisit his old opposition between poetry and opinion: Hearts with one purpose alone Through summer and winter seem Enchanted to a stone To trouble the living stream. The horse that comes from the road, The rider, the birds that range From cloud to tumbling cloud, Minute by minute they change . . . The long-legged moor-hens dive, And hens to moor-cocks call; Minute by minute they live: The stone’s in the midst of all. (183)

The opposition of ‘stone’ and ‘stream’ completes a chiasmus initiated earlier by the rebels’ ‘vivid faces’ fronting ‘grey / Eighteenth-century houses’. This impasse – as to which principle is on the side of life – may be partly overcome, at a rhythmic level, in the shifting stresses that evoke ‘horse’, ‘rider’, ‘clouds’, ‘moor-hens’ and ‘moor-cocks’. Here poetry – in being rhythm, a live pulse – seems to outflank ‘one purpose alone’ and its verse vehicles. More broadly, the dialectics of ‘Easter, 1916’, the dialogic modes of ‘The Rose Tree’ and ‘Sixteen Dead Men’, show poetic structures consolidated in Responsibilities being tested by history.

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Yeats’s attitude to violence varies with context.50 But ‘times like these’ presented violent scenarios so contradictory and extreme – international violence, revolutionary violence, state violence, internecine violence – that they drew forth his most complex poetic response: poems that, like ‘The Second Coming’, speak from poetry’s shaken ground: Turning and turning in the widening gyre The falcon cannot hear the falconer; Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world, The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere The ceremony of innocence is drowned; The best lack all conviction, while the worst Are full of passionate intensity. Surely some revelation is at hand; Surely the Second Coming is at hand. The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi Troubles my sight . . . And what rough beast, its hour come round at last, Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born? (CW1 189–90)

Here the ‘worst’ have expropriated poetry’s sine qua non: ‘passionate intensity’. Overwhelming forces now implicitly ‘trouble’ – a verb repeated from ‘Easter, 1916’ – poetic as well as social order: ‘the centre cannot hold’. A still more terrible birth, ‘beast’ not ‘beauty’, takes the question beyond one of artistic options. The drafts of ‘The Second Coming’ suggest that it was the Russian Revolution which led Yeats to perceive the ‘blood-dimmed tide’ as global, and that he mediated this event through Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France: ‘And there’s no Burke to cry aloud, no Pitt’.51 Burke attacks the radical (and millenarian) cleric Richard Price for comparing the French Revolution to Christ’s birth. ‘The ceremony of innocence is drowned’ echoes Burke’s great cry, ‘the age of chivalry is gone’.52 But ‘ceremony’ evokes the doomed formalities of art as well as court, and the ‘best’, who ‘lack all conviction’, include poets. Yeats had called the Great War ‘a sacrifice of the best for the worst’53 – either echoing Pound’s belief that the war should spare artists or regretting that an officer class was about to immolate itself for undeserving proles, or both. In the ironical third poem of ‘Nineteen Hundred and Nineteen’, ‘Come let us mock at the great’ (CW1 213), the ‘best’ become ‘good, wise [and] great’ who failed to ‘bar that foul storm out’, owing to their ‘opium dream’ that there ‘will never be another war’.54 Here the speaker mocks poets too. But, as in


Yeats and Modern Poetry

‘At the Abbey Theatre’, Yeats does not accept ‘mockery’ as a valid ethical, critical or poetic position, any more than Owen condones ‘dullards whom no cannon stuns’.55 The ‘we’ of the next poem, like some Great War poets, attaches collective responsibility for violence to the hollow public / poetic vocabulary of pre-war Ireland, Britain and Europe: We, who seven years ago Talked of honour and of truth, Shriek with pleasure if we show The weasel’s twist, the weasel’s tooth. (213)

In the third poem of ‘Nineteen Hundred and Nineteen’, with its threat of artistic suicide (see p. 53), Yeats’s self-image vis à vis ‘Those winds that clamour of approaching night’ is a swan poised between ‘flight and fight’: ‘The wings half spread for flight, / The breast thrust out in pride’ (212). ‘Meditations in Time of Civil War’ will open up this holding -position on poetry and ‘times like these’. The Irish contexts of Yeats’s 1920s sequences keep war alive in the postwar era. In ‘The Road at My Door’, the fifth poem of ‘Meditations’, war literally arrives on the poet’s doorstep: An affable Irregular, A heavily-built Falstaffian man, Comes cracking jokes of civil war As though to die by gunshot were The finest play under the sun. A brown Lieutenant and his men, Half dressed in national uniform, Stand at my door, and I complain Of the foul weather, hail and rain, A pear tree broken by the storm . . . (CW1 208)

An image in the next poem (‘The Stare’s Nest by My Window’) parallels the reduction of Owen’s gas victim to an object ‘flung’ into ‘a wagon’: ‘Last night they trundled down the road / That dead young soldier in his blood’ (209). Like ‘Nineteen Hundred and Nineteen’, this sequence alludes once, powerfully, to actual blood. Yeats supported the national soldiers of the Free State Provisional Government as opposed to those republicans (the IRA ‘Irregular’) who saw the 1921 Treaty, which accepted dominion status and hence ‘the language and symbolism of empire’, as betraying Irish self-determination. The anti-Treatyites precipitated armed conflict in which nearly 1,000 people, mainly combatants, died. The total includes seventy-seven republicans executed by the state: a measure, enforced by

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his friend Kevin O’Higgins, that Yeats approved. Yet ‘Meditations’ does not take but ponders ‘sides’. Just as in 1922, Yeats called Irish unionism and nationalism ‘each but the other’s headache’ (CW3 192), so he blamed both civil-war parties for ‘this whirlpool of hatred’. Such ‘rage’ (his word in ‘Meditations’) means that the Civil War, like the Rising, is not dead politics. Bill Kissane attributes its ‘enduring impact on Irish political culture’ to the fact that the Treaty served as a catalyst for ‘ideological polarisation’ by activating ‘older traditions within Irish nationalism’.56 Yeats’s links with those traditions, even though some links had weakened, may explain why he also represents the Treaty split as a psychic split; why the issue of speech and silence returns in a more problematic guise. The eloquent Irregular – an anti-self, Fortinbras to Yeats’s Hamlet – contrasts with the poet who displaces civil war onto storm damage, if with a symbolic subtext. The last stanza drives ‘silence’ further inwards: ‘I count those feathered balls of soot / The moor-hen guides upon the stream, / To silence the envy in my thought’. This echo of ‘Easter, 1916’, the moor-hen image having progressed from the sexual to the maternal, applies temporary therapy for inner struggle. Not until the final poem (‘I see Phantoms’) does Yeats really speak, or let his unconscious speak, of what fundamentally troubles ‘Meditations’. Civil war has exposed a self-fuelling nihilism at the root of war and located it in the human psyche. Psychodrama intensifies as the speaker comes dangerously close to joining a ‘rage-driven, rage-tormented, and rage-hungry troop’ which ‘Plunges towards nothing’ (209). Compare ‘Blood and the Moon’ (see p. 24). As with Owen’s eroticism, Yeats’s recognition of his own ‘rage’, his violent impulses, helps his poetry to embody and internalise war. What can or should poetry do? The poems in ‘Nineteen Hundred and Nineteen’ have numbers; the poems in ‘Meditations’, titles. The possessive pronoun designates local or poetic particularity a stay against global confusion: ‘My House’, ‘My Table’, ‘My Descendants’, ‘My Door’, ‘My Window’. Their titles also place the poems as meditations on poetry itself: ‘I’ as poet-speaker now takes centre stage. The stage-set – Yeats’s tower / house in Co. Galway (Thoor Ballylee) – figures poetry’s sidelining by war, his poetry’s interior and exterior worlds, his situation as civil-war poet. The verbless catalogue, which runs across the first two stanzas of ‘My House’, seems to strip him down for poetic action: An ancient bridge, and a more ancient tower, A farmhouse that is sheltered by its wall, An acre of stony ground, Where the symbolic rose can break in flower,


Yeats and Modern Poetry Old ragged elms, old thorns innumerable, The sound of the rain or sound Of every wind that blows; The stilted water-hen Crossing stream again Scared by the splashing of a dozen cows; A winding stair, a chamber arched with stone, A grey stone fireplace with an open hearth, A candle and written page. Il Penseroso’s Platonist toiled on In some like chamber, shadowing forth How the daemonic rage Imagined everything. Benighted travellers From markets and from fairs Have seen his midnight candle glimmering . . . (205)

The imagery summons poetry’s traditional (‘ancient’, ‘old’) resources: the durability (not fixity) of ‘stone’, buildings that combine fortification with ‘shelter’. The ‘symbolic rose’ concentrates Yeats’s own resources, his poetic backlist. At the same time, the speaker is ‘open’, like his hearth, to contingent impressions and their ominous import: rain – ‘every wind that blows’, ‘scared’ water-hens. Yeats also summons role models. ‘Il Penseroso’s Platonist’, a many-faceted icon, fuses poetry with philosophy and (in Coleridgean style) the world-creating ‘daemonic rage’ with ‘imagination’. ‘Midnight candle’ (Minerva’s owl?) centres hope on the mind’s, or the poem’s, activity. As poetry picks itself up from the ground zero of ‘Nineteen Hundred and Nineteen’ (see p. 54), the ‘half-imagined . . . halfwritten page’ seems to have been completed. The third and final stanza builds in a complementary model of persistence against the odds: Two men have founded here. A man-at-arms Gathered a score of horse, and spent his days In this tumultuous spot, Where through long wars and sudden night alarms His dwindling score and he seemed castaways Forgetting and forgot; And I, that after me My bodily heirs may find, To exalt a lonely mind, Befitting emblems of adversity. (205–6)

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In ‘My Table’, where the poet-speaker soliloquises like Hamlet, a Japanese sword potentially identifies ‘lonely mind’ with ‘man-at-arms’: ‘Sato’s gift, a changeless sword, / By pen and paper lies, / That it may moralise / My days out of their aimlessness’. The sword, ‘Curved like new moon, moonluminous’, epitomises the power of imagination, craft and tradition to create a ‘marvellous accomplishment’ spanning ‘centuries’. Yet the speaker proceeds to question ‘changelessness’, and to complicate identity between the poetic and martial arts. As if once again moving on from the 1890s, Yeats detaches art from the ‘soul’s unchanging look’ and attaches it to contingencies: ‘only an aching heart / Conceives a changeless work of art’ (206). In ‘I see Phantoms’, the sword / moon itself changes aspect: I climb to the tower-top and lean upon broken stone, A mist that is like blown snow is sweeping over all, Valley, river, and elms, under the light of a moon That seems unlike itself, that seems unchangeable, A glittering sword out of the east. A puff of wind And those white glimmering fragments of the mist sweep by. Frenzies bewilder, reveries perturb the mind; Monstrous familiar images swim to the mind’s eye . . . (209)

The strange cosmos viewed from ‘the tower-top’ defamiliarises the landscape of the preceding poems. Despite the historical and psychic speed of events, the longer lines (up to fifteen syllables) slow down apocalyptic spectacle. Symbolic ‘foul weather’ has played a more muted part in ‘Meditations’. But here wind, mist and snow distort perception as the ‘unchangeable’ sword / moon distorts relations between Nature, imagination and artwork. Ambiguously ‘glittering’, the moon may portend war or represent the kind of poetry that advocates it. I have suggested that these distorted cognitive and poetic bearings reprise Yeats’s engagement with war. ‘Monstrous familiar images’ has replaced ‘A terrible beauty is born’ as his defining oxymoron. His war poems repeat themselves as that stanza repeats ‘mist’ and ‘mind’. They brood on ‘change’, ‘trouble’, ‘tumult’, ‘wind’, ‘storm’, ‘desolation’, ‘blood’. ‘Bewilder’ echoes ‘Easter, 1916’; ‘frenzies’ and ‘reveries’, ‘A Prayer for my Daughter’. But it’s now the poet-speaker, obsessed or possessed by the ‘rage-driven’ troop, who suffers the madness associated with violence: ‘and I, my wits astray / Because of all that senseless tumult, all but cried / For vengeance on the murderers of Jacques Molay’ (209). Yet, if he has internalised the ‘tumult of images’ in ‘Nineteen Hundred and Nineteen’, ‘all but’ marks a crucial resistance. The absent ‘cry’ is the civil-war poem that Yeats refuses to write.


Yeats and Modern Poetry

The cause of Jacques Molay (a murdered French Templar) he calls ‘fit symbol for those who labour for hatred, and so for sterility’ (CW1 606). So it’s back to the sidelines – perhaps where poetry should be – and to the poet as philosopher of dying and emergent gyres. In the last two stanzas, phantasmagoria assumes a more emblematic shape. ‘Cloud-pale unicorns’ with ‘ladies on their backs’ – images that evoke the Celtic Twilight and Walter Pater (see p. 78) – give way ‘to an indifferent multitude . . . / To brazen hawks’. The latter, phantoms of ‘the Coming Emptiness’, are said to lack ‘self-delighting reverie’, ‘hate of what’s to come’ and ‘pity for what’s gone’. Yet poetry survives. First, the poet-speaker himself is neither ‘indifferent’ nor without ‘reverie’. Second, he resolves his ‘envy’ of civil-war actors. In ‘The Road at My Door’, he ‘turn[s] towards my chamber, caught / In the cold snows of a dream’. Now this ‘turn’ becomes decisive: I turn away and shut the door, and on the stair Wonder how many times I could have proved my worth In something that all others understand or share; But O! ambitious heart, had such a proof drawn forth A company of friends, a conscience set at ease, It had but made us pine the more. The abstract joy, The half-read wisdom of daemonic images, Suffice the ageing man as once the growing boy. (210)

Re-entry into the tower reaffirms Symbolist interiority. ‘Daemonic’, an adjective that calls back ‘Il Penseroso’s Platonist’, marks a dimension without which poetry ceases to be itself and so cannot take its own kind of action. In arriving at his belated version of ‘the muse in arms’, Yeats reviews all war in the light of civil war: the psychic splits into which civil war shades, the aesthetic questions that it further complicates. At a conceptual level, Yeats, Owen and Thomas approach the interface between poetry and war differently. For Owen, war sets poetry a supreme self-denying test: ‘The Poetry is in the pity.’ For Thomas, the Great War seems to have intensified the perplexities of earthly existence to a degree that demands poetry: ‘Now all roads lead to France’. For Yeats, war almost becomes a rival mode of cognition or power. In ‘Under Ben Bulben’, where he unwisely allies himself with the rival power, the modes converge to echo ‘Mitchel’s prayer . . . / “Send war in our time, O Lord!”’ (CW1 334). But, twenty years earlier, war had radically ‘shaken’ his faith in poetry and in the forms of that faith: ‘the centre cannot hold’. That is why ‘Meditations in Time of Civil War’ revisits first principles, why its poet-protagonist soliloquises like Hamlet. ‘The Stare’s Nest’ represents this figure at his most chastened. Like the maternal moor-hen, the switch

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of focus to birds and insects has a reflexive subtext. It suggests that Yeats is seeking or creating an aesthetic antidote to poetry’s (his own) share in ‘fantasies’ that incubate violence: We had fed the heart on fantasies, The heart’s grown brutal from the fare; More substance in our enmities Than in our love; O honey-bees, Come build in the empty house of the stare. (209)

Elegy, Memory ‘Pity for what’s gone’: since the Great War, elegy has been war poetry’s dominant genre, its default setting. By the same token, elegy has extended its own remit. Owen calls all his poems ‘elegies’: ‘[T]hese elegies are to this generation in no sense consolatory. They may be to the next.’ Thomas identifies his lyric with the aspen, which ‘ceaselessly, unreasonably grieves’.57 That elegy may fail to console or never abate fits with Jahan Ramazani finding ‘elegy for elegy’ in the ‘melancholic . . . unresolved, violent, and ambivalent character’ of ‘modern mourning’.58 Yet mutation and hybridity have given elegy new life. Owen’s ‘elegies’ vary in generic make-up. ‘The Show’ is a Gothic nightmare. ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’ intermingles reportage, dream / trauma and j’accuse. All elegy protests against death: Great War elegy protests against needless death. The political agency with which Owen imbues elegy is one reason why ‘passive suffering’ is wide of the mark. At the personal level, modern ‘immersion in loss’ (Ramazani), stripped of consolatory ritual and divine reassurance, creates problems for elegy. At the public level, partly by remixing the tropes of personal elegy, anti-consolatory elegy politicises mourning and allies it with warning. Owen’s ‘Futility’, a mourning ritual adapted to a particular casualty, poses large questions: Move him into the sun – Gently its touch awoke him once, At home, whispering of fields half-sown . . . Was it for this the clay grew tall? – O what made fatuous sunbeams toil To break earth’s sleep at all?59

Sorley spotlights dead ‘millions’ by saying: ‘None wears the face you knew’. The very title of Rosenberg’s ‘Dead Man’s Dump’ memorably violates memorial conventions. In ‘Butchers and Tombs’, Gurney makes up


Yeats and Modern Poetry

for hasty war burials (‘the commonness of the tale / Made it a thing not fitting ceremonial’) by commemorating another kind of commemoration, at once communal and intimate: ‘the Gloucesters turning sudden to tell to one / Some joke, would remember and say – “That joke is done,” / Since he who would understand was so cold he could not feel’.60 Great War elegy blends lament, protest and commemoration in varying ratios and guises. This section focuses on elegy’s function as cultural memory. In recalling the dead, elegy weighs war’s sociocultural cost: ‘empty houses’. More than literally, ‘Futility’ conjures up a farmworker’s lost hinterland and future. In ‘Dead Man’s Dump’, Rosenberg invokes a Judaic genealogy whereby ‘God-ancestralled essences’ have been violated. War desecrates ‘home’, while simultaneously making it problematic as both a psychological and cultural locus. Rosenberg depicts soldiers ‘dream[ing] of home, / Dear things, war-blotted from their hearts’. In ‘Exposure’, Owen forebodes: ‘Slowly our ghosts drag home . . . on us the doors are closed’. Gurney’s war poems pivot on homesickness for ‘Cotswold’, while also creating an ad hoc home from home compounded of Cotswold, northern France and his comrades in the Gloucesters. Thomas wrote three poems called ‘Home’. In the first, home is purely psychological, the object of never-realised desire: ‘That land, / My home, I have never seen’. In the second, home is partly local, partly cognitive, ultimately ecological and defined by the natural rather than public world: ‘one nationality / We had, I and the birds that sang, / One memory’. In the third poem, home comes with inverted commas. Mention of the ‘word “Home”’ leads the speaker to say of himself and two fellow soldiers: ‘Between three counties far apart that lay / We were divided’. Home means different things to different people, and, as Thomas’s other ‘home’ poems indicate, need not coincide with nation: perhaps, as artificially as the army, ‘a union that ends / With the necessity for it’.61 Yeats’s ‘In Memory of Major Robert Gregory’, if partly owing to the ambiguity of Gregory’s ‘nation’, elegises a loss to locality and art: ‘We dreamed that a great painter had been born / To cold Clare rock and Galway rock and thorn’ (CW1 134). Like ‘An Irish Airman’, the poem builds in self-elegy by deploying Yeats’s language for lyric poetry: ‘intensity’, ‘intricacies’. And to call Gregory ‘Our Sidney and our perfect man’ gives Irish cultural loss a Renaissance aura. ‘Nineteen Hundred and Nineteen’, all about loss, can be seen as retrospective protest elegy. This ‘lamentation over lost peace and lost hope’ (L 668) attacks Europe’s failure, not only to prevent war but also to deploy its supposed cultural capital to that end. In lamenting a desecrated Irish home – ‘the

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mother, murdered at her door’ (211) – along with the burnt ‘stump on the Acropolis’, Yeats laments the violation of European ‘dwelling’. The troubled bearings of ‘Meditations in Time of Civil War’ are conditioned by postwar chaos and reconstruction in Europe and by how civil war might affect the culture, and cultural memory, of independent Ireland. Home remains problematic: ‘We are closed in, and the key is turned / On our uncertainty’ (CW1 208); while recovery, in a double sense, takes on local urgency: ‘somewhere / A man is killed, or a house burned / . . . Come build in the empty house of the stare’ (CW1 208). With ‘ingenious lovely things’ now less the object of lament or protest than of possible salvage, houses have become central to Yeats’s symbolism. Mansion, tower, farmhouse and nest represent affiliations that run from high civilisation to domesticity. Yeats wrote the first poem, ‘Ancestral Houses’, before the Irish Civil War. It was immediately based not on Coole Park but on Lady Ottoline Morrell’s grander house and salon at Garsington near Oxford. Yet the poem encompasses ‘Coole’, revisits Yeats’s ‘analogy’ or conduit ‘between [the] long-established life of the well-born and the artist’s life’ (Mem 156), and develops the dialectics between house and war laid down by ‘In Memory of Major Robert Gregory’ and ‘A Prayer for my Daughter’. The former, which begins with the poet and his wife ‘almost settled in our house’, anticipates post-war dereliction in asking of Gregory: ‘What other could so well have counselled us / In all lovely intricacies of a house . . .?’ (134). ‘In Memory’ initiated Yeats’s symbolic wartime uses for his own house. ‘[S]eeing how bitter is that wind / That shakes the shutter’ (135), he furnishes or fortifies ‘th’ ancient tower’ with Lares and Penates, with ‘all lovely intricacies’, with poetry. ‘In Memory’ and ‘Prayer’ are closely linked. Both poems employ the eight-line ‘Cowley’ stanza (rhymed AABBCDDC), in which the fourth, sixth and seventh lines have four, not five, stresses. Another link is that a newborn woman seems to redeem losses personified by a dead man, as well as balancing the more ominous births that precede the poem in Michael Robartes and the Dancer: ‘terrible beauty’ and ‘rough beast’. ‘Prayer’ (190–2) begins by evoking a ‘screaming’ wind that blows from ‘the murderous innocence of the sea’ where ‘the ceremony of innocence’ has been drowned: ‘Once more the storm is howling, and half hid / Under this cradle-hood and coverlid / My child sleeps on’. The storm, against which the house / poem supplies protective cover, symbolises violence and its political sources: Maud Gonne’s politics are called ‘an old bellows full of angry wind’. ‘Howl’ and ‘scream’ figure the malformed voice of opinion (compare ‘Wind shrieked’ in ‘Nineteen Hundred and


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Nineteen’). Yeats prays for his ‘daughter’ / Ireland: ‘So let her think opinions are accursed’. Yet, as here, Yeats’s own ‘opinionated mind’ threatens ‘magnanimities of sound’ – the poem’s phrase for its reflexive goal of a Muse and music predicated on domestic settlement. There are parallels with the trajectory of ‘Paudeen’ and with the earlier psychodrama of ‘The Two Trees’. It is as if war is compelling Yeats to define home. The last stanza’s ideal home reinstates the ‘ceremony of innocence’ by countering formal and other senses in which ‘the centre cannot hold’: And may her bridegroom bring her to a house Where all’s accustomed, ceremonious; For arrogance and hatred are the wares Peddled in the thoroughfares. How but in custom and in ceremony Are innocence and beauty born? Ceremony’s a name for the rich horn, And custom for the spreading laurel tree. (192)

The slowed, ritualistic pace, the aptly repeated ‘custom’ and ‘ceremony’, the syllabic balance and chiastic assonance of ‘Where all’s accustomed, ceremonious’, the insistent verb ‘to be’, the mainly full rhymes: all tend to a centripetal conclusion. This reverses how the seeming stanza that begins ‘The Second Coming’ loses even its half rhymes. The Cowley stanza’s couplets can give it an aphoristic bite. In ‘Prayer’, Yeats uses the third couplet to attack Gonne: ‘It’s certain that fine women eat / A crazy salad with their meat’ (191). But the last stanza changes the pattern by splitting this couplet between a self-answered question and its backup, and by lengthening the second line. ‘The Second Coming’, in contrast, ends with an unanswered question that leaves ‘born’ unrhymed. Yeats also fortifies or purifies his aesthetic by detaching ‘beauty’ from ‘terror’. Gonne, ‘beauty’s very self ’, has taken beauty dangerously close to the sublime, which Elaine Scarry calls ‘an aesthetic of power’.62 Yeats’s ‘not entirely beautiful’ wife (for now) restores beauty’s ‘innocence’. ‘Ancestral Houses’ is less certain about houses: What if the glory of escutcheoned doors, And buildings that a haughtier age designed, The pacing to and fro on polished floors Amid great chambers and long galleries, lined With famous portraits of our ancestors; What if those things the greatest of mankind Consider most to magnify, or to bless, But take our greatness with our bitterness? (CW1 205)

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The previous stanza similarly depends on ‘what if ’, a phrase that does not, as in ‘Easter, 1916’, also dismiss doubt: ‘O what if levelled lawns and gravelled ways / . . . But take our greatness with our violence?’ Yeats’s ‘great’ houses throw into question quasi-dynastic continuities that European war has disrupted: ‘buildings that a haughtier age designed’ are cultural traditions or traditions of culture. Like Ireland, central Europe was in postwar turmoil. As for art, the poem extends ‘self-delight’, Yeats’s term for the lyric impulse, to the impulse behind all civilisation: ‘Homer had not sung / Had he not found it certain beyond dreams / That out of life’s own self-delight had sprung / The abounding glittering jet’. Yet, in asking whether ‘some marvellous empty sea-shell’ is a truer ‘symbol’ for ‘the inherited glory of the rich’, the speaker deconstructs ancestry and acknowledges change. It also upsets a neat polarity between civilisation and violence if each impulse bleeds into the other, ‘bitterness’ marking the spot: ‘Some violent bitter man, some powerful man / Called architect and artist in . . . / Bitter and violent men’ to create the ‘sweetness that all longed for’ (204). Yet to link the creative and destructive energies is to destabilise intellectual achievement. ‘My Descendants’ introduces another dynastic ‘what if ’: ‘And what if my descendants lose the flower . . . ?’ This fear, which implicates the Irish Revival as well as family, prompts a curse that would destroy Yeats’s ‘house’ in all its figurative aspects: ‘May this laborious stair and this stark tower / Become a roofless ruin’ (207). As with ‘Frenzies bewilder’ later on, the poet-speaker does more than admit his share in violence – he virtually commits it or commits it virtually. His anger marks what is at stake: artistic legacy and cultural memory. But the next stanza pulls back from ‘apocalyptic nihilism’, from his prospective self-image as an owl ‘cry[ing] / Her desolation to the desolate sky’. He accepts that construction and ‘alteration’ are interdependent. The ambiguous ‘stones’ could mean that maximum or minimum traces will survive: The Primum Mobile that fashioned us Has made the very owls in circles move; And I, that count myself most prosperous, Seeing that love and friendship are enough, For an old neighbour’s friendship chose the house And decked and altered it for a girl’s love, And know whatever flourish and decline These stones remain their monument and mine. (207)

Like ‘Befitting emblems’ at the end of ‘My House’, ‘monument’ underlines the poem’s own memorial function.


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Although they share ‘chamber’, Yeats’s house differs in symbolic decor from ‘Ancestral Houses’: not ‘escutcheoned doors’ but ‘heavy trestles, and a board’ (206); not ‘levelled lawns’ but ‘stony ground’. Even so, even if this house denotes poetic and cultural work in progress, it might seem far from Owen’s ‘whispering of fields half-sown’ (read literally) or Thomas’s elegy for ‘A Private’: This ploughman dead in battle slept out of doors Many a frosty night, and merrily Answered staid drinkers, good bedmen, and all bores: ‘At Mrs Greenland’s Hawthorn Bush,’ said he, ‘I slept.’ None knew which bush. Above the town, Beyond ‘The Drover’, a hundred spot the down In Wiltshire. And where now at last he sleeps More sound in France – that, too, he secret keeps.63

Yet Thomas, too, does interesting things with an eight-line stanza and couplets, and Yeats’s imagery matters less than its tenor. He and Thomas are both occupied with cultural memory, both take a long view of history, both measure what war has done to memory and to that view: ‘But far more ancient and dark / The Combe looks . . .’ France ‘darkens’ Thomas’s English combes and downs (another reversal of Brooke), as it does the lanes in Owen’s ‘The Send-Off’: ‘Down the close darkening lanes they sang their way’.64 Owen and Thomas meet in the enforced historical trajectory that ‘The Send-Off’ symbolises. Yet Owen’s elegiac cosmology tends to conceive the war spatially, as earth taken over by the trenches; whereas Thomas locates ‘earth’ in vistas of time and memory. Like the combe, the spoof inn ‘Mrs Greenland’s Hawthorn Bush’ signals that ancient ties to Gaia – our primordial home – have been violated. The graveless ploughman opens up a long eco-historical perspective. Allied to home, pastoral takes the shock of war in tandem with elegy. ‘War pastoral’, not quite an oxymoron, has classical roots. Jane Haber argues that pastoral has always been a reflexive genre, which ‘problematises both its own definition and stable definitions within its texts’. From the genre’s inception in the shadow of epic, ‘presence, continuity, and consolation have been seen as related to – indeed as dependent on – absence, discontinuity and loss’.65 Virgil’s Eclogues and Georgics belong to, and criticise, civil war. By making ‘The torn fields of France’, ‘A burnt space through ripe fields’ (Rosenberg’s lines),66 central to Great War symbolism, the Western Front defamiliarised English pastoral along with English landscape. Gurney called his first collection Severn and Somme (1917), and his poems reverse Thomas’s by looking back at England through

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France: ‘Riez Bailleul in blue tea-time / Called back the Severn lanes . . . // But the trench thoughts will not go’. In Thomas’s ‘As the team’s headbrass’, trench thoughts invade rural community. Whereas in Hardy’s ‘In Time of “the Breaking of Nations”’ a pastoral timelessness is said to prevail over ‘war’s annals’; here, talk between the soldier-speaker and a ploughman interjects history and loss into the agricultural cycle, the plough’s rotation, the poem’s rhythms: ‘Have you been out?’ ‘No.’ ‘And don’t want to, perhaps?’ ‘If I could only come back again, I should. I could spare an arm. I shouldn’t want to lose A leg. If I should lose my head, why, so, I should want nothing more. . .. Have many gone From here?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Many lost?’ ‘Yes: a good few. Only two teams work on the farm this year. One of my mates is dead. The second day In France they killed him . . .’

The poem ends: ‘for the last time / I watched the clods crumble and topple over / After the ploughshare and the stumbling team’. The lines’ elegiac freight includes the ‘death of rural England’ (see below), the death of pre-war worlds, the obsolescence of some versions of pastoral.67 After 1914, pastoral found new ways to represent peace and war. ‘Georgic’ might cover war poems set in a rural environment, however war-disrupted; whereas ‘eclogue’ consciously deploys a rural setting to ‘meditate’ on war. Neither category is watertight. Thomas’s poetry, with its eco-historical long view, its status as ‘literature of preparation’ for the trenches, blends georgic and eclogue. It also encodes his thinking about traditions of writing on Nature and the countryside. ‘In Memory of Major Robert Gregory’ and ‘A Prayer for my Daughter’ are eclogues in a relatively exact sense. In attaching Gregory and his art to the land, the former has digested Yeats’s first attempt at elegy: the classically pastoral ‘Shepherd and Goatherd’. ‘Prayer’ echoes one of his touchstones: Virgil’s ‘messianic’ fourth eclogue, which prophesies that a child’s birth will inaugurate a golden age (‘the rich horn’). Both poems also hark back to seventeenth-century English pastorals in which country houses represent a civilised ideal: Jonson’s ‘To Penshurst’ (seat of the Sidneys); Marvell’s ‘Upon Appleton House’, where a young girl figures the future. Coleridge and Wordsworth are more surprising pastoral presences in ‘Prayer’. Yeats’s sleeping child and celebration of the self-delighting ‘soul’ recall Coleridge’s ‘Frost at Midnight’, and to pray ‘O may she live like some green laurel / Rooted in one dear perpetual place’ is to invoke Wordsworth’s ‘Lucy’ (CW1 191–2). As war mobilises


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Thomas’s personal and literary experience of the countryside, so pastoral strengthens Yeats’s cultural fortifications. ‘Meditations’ mingles civil-war eclogue, war-disrupted georgic, country-house pastoral, observation of Nature, Nature as spiritual nurture. Yeats overlaps with Thomas when the natural world humbles human ‘fantasies’ or models recovery and rebuilding: ‘The bees build in the crevices / Of loosening masonry, and there / The mother birds bring grubs and flies . . .’ (CW1 208). Yeats’s house is closer to Nature than we might think. Thomas’s houses are always close to the earth of which he calls himself an ‘inhabitant’. In his poetry (as his poetry), houses figure the cultural effects of earthly habitation. Some, like the farmhouse in ‘Haymaking’ – ‘A white house crouched at the foot of a great tree’ – affirm continuities. But in ‘Two Houses’, a ‘velvet-hushed’ farmhouse represents an illusory dream of home to a speaker, implicitly en route to war, who also notices ‘another house’: a trench-like tumulus haunted by ‘the dead that never / More than half hidden lie’.68 Thomas’s symbolic houses are often derelict or (like Yeats’s) besieged by wind and rain; here war compounds ‘the death of rural England’.69 Since the late nineteenth century, the farming culture of southern England had been devastated by the importation of American wheat. Similarly, whatever his investment in an Irish future, Yeats’s house symbolism is inflected by the death of Protestant southern Ireland (‘a house burned’). While Lady Gregory’s nationalism was likely to protect Coole Park, IRA Irregulars burned more than 200 ‘big houses’ that belonged to unionists. In fact, agricultural reform had already made the Protestant landed gentry less landed. For both poets, prior sensitivity to cultural change adds depth to wartime elegy. Thomas’s ‘The Mill-Water’ records that ‘Only the sound remains’ of a mill, ‘Where once men had a work-place and a home’.70 That Thomas’s poetry may carry the only traces of this and other buildings or ‘homes’, underlines the elusiveness, arbitrariness, mutability and vulnerability of memory. The poets’ cultural elegies know that functional memory cannot be guaranteed. Yeats confronts nihilism; ‘Old Man’, Thomas’s well-known poem about memory, confronts nothingness: ‘I see and I hear nothing’. Before the war, Thomas wrote that words ‘outlive the life of which they seem the lightest emanation . . . the things are forgotten, and it is an aspect of them, a recreation of them, a finer development of them, which endures in the written words’. Here word and thing, while non-identical, remain in touch. ‘Old Man’ is less convinced that cognitive traces ‘endure’. The speaker cannot ‘think what it is I am remembering’. All that ‘appears’ is ‘an avenue, dark, nameless, without end’. Thomas’s poetry switches between seeing itself as a mediator of memory (he calls words

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‘lost homes’) and finding itself in zones where human memory, memory of humans, fades. ‘House and Man’ begins: ‘One hour: as dim he and his house now look / As a reflection in a rippling brook . . .’71 In ‘My House’ Yeats pits his ‘emblems’ against the fate of the man-at-arms, whose ‘dwindling score and he seemed castaways/ Forgetting and forgot’ (CW1 206). War led Yeats to conceive ‘whirling gyres’. Thomas’s road ‘to France’ shades into the darker vistas of eco-history where humanity’s effort to imprint itself on the earth can appear as mistaken or meaningless as the causes that led war to ‘turn young men to dung’. Yet, on the constructive side of their dialectics, both poets engage in cultural defence. This is not the same as national defence, although it depends on the fact that, before 1914, they thought deeply about Irish and English culture. When Yeats packs his symbolic house / tower with an aesthetic and cultural survival kit, he is not only thinking of Ireland. And, while Thomas’s allusive long poem ‘Lob’ symbolises a spirit ‘English as this gate, these flowers, this mire’, home remains a complex variable in his poetry. His approach to England is shaped by a mainly Welsh background, by his further outsider status as one of ‘those modern people who belong nowhere’, and by Yeats’s influence. For Thomas, Irish poets ‘sing of Ireland . . . with an intimate reality’, beside which ‘Britannia is a frigid personification’. At odds with Kipling as with Brooke, neither imperially nor mistily patriotic, his poetry stages an internal Kulturkampf too. Like Yeats’s, Thomas’s ‘tradition’ is holistic. Set in Wiltshire, ‘Lob’ defines the ‘intimate’ ground of all literature – Nature and locality, folklore and folk-idiom, language and its sources in the compulsion to name: ‘And in a tender mood he, as I guess, / Christened one flower Love-in-idleness’. Here words, things and people belong to the same ecosystem. Thomas’s survival kit stresses how humanity has proved or earned (must prove, must earn) its habitation of earth as home. Like Yeats, he factors in change: language is ‘Worn new / Again and again’; and Lob, a metamorphic figure, faces into war as ‘One of the lords of No Man’s Land’. Yet, at the same time: ‘This is tall Tom that bore / The logs in, and with Shakespeare in the hall / Once talked, when icicles hung by the wall’.72 If in a different key, the effect resembles the textual weave and cultural memo of ‘Il Penseroso’s Platonist toiled on / In some like chamber . . .’

War Poetry, Modern Poetry Books with ‘modernism’ in their title seldom mention ‘war poetry’ or even the Great War itself. Yeats’s co-option by American modernism may be


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a further reason why the war’s impact on his poetry – on poetry – has been underplayed. Again, disjunctive poetics did not have a particularly good war; there is a touch of scissors, paste and underworked Owen about Pound’s ‘Mauberley’: ‘Died some, pro patria / non “dulce”, non “et décor” . . . / walked eye-deep in hell / believing in old men’s lies, then unbelieving / came home, home to a lie’.73 Perhaps that explains why Vincent Sherry’s essay ‘The Great War and Modernist Poetry’ invests so heavily in David Jones’s retrospective In Parenthesis (1937): ‘The whole tradition of urban modernity in verse – stemming from the proto-modernism of mid-nineteenth-century French poetry . . . to Eliot – is brought into the presenttense of Jones’s own service in war-torn France . . . all in all the ruined and ruinous beauty that is the muse of the mainstream tradition of modernist poetry over the long turn of the century.’74 Like American troops, American modernist criticism may take time to arrive, but it does arrive. Another difficulty is that some avant-garde writers and artists fetishised war. F.T. Marinetti notoriously proclaimed in his Futurist Manifesto (1909): ‘We will glorify war – the world’s only hygiene – militarism, patriotism, the destructive gesture of freedom-bringers’. Writing on ‘The Great War and the European avant-garde’, Marjorie Perloff does not excuse such ideas, but she seems to believe that glorifying war as ‘hygiene’ was a wholly continental or avant-garde phenomenon, that all apocalyptic visions were pro-war, and that the ‘problematic response of the avant-garde’ is criticised only by those who ‘expect the poet to be a “nice” person’.75 American poets living in London are often deemed more ‘international’ than English poets fighting in France. But not only Rosenberg’s rat had ‘cosmopolitan sympathies’. Thomas read widely in European literature. Two pre-war years in France introduced Owen to French Symbolism through his friendship with the gay French poet Laurent Tailhade. Seven pre-war months in Germany introduced Sorley to German literature, and influenced his conviction that nationalism prevents us from seeing ourselves as ‘strangers and pilgrims on the earth’.76 Rosenberg’s training at the Slade, and Gurney’s at the Royal College of Music, linked them with new developments in the arts. And the war did not stop poets, including Owen, from being ‘concerned with Poetry’. Muses in arms and not in arms (although soldier-poets were ubiquitous) mingled or clashed in coteries, manifestos, magazines and anthologies. War itself grouped poets: Sassoon and Graves in the Royal Welch Fusiliers; Sassoon and Owen at Craiglockhart Hospital. Harold Monro’s Poetry Bookshop was a hub. Monro published the Georgian and Imagist anthologies. War poems, like some poets, appeared in both. Thomas reviewed poetry for Monro’s

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journal Poetry and Drama. In March 1916, Monro advised Owen about his work, telling him ‘what was fresh and clever, and what was second-hand and banal; and what Keatsian, and what “modern”’.77 Yet I suggested in Chapter 3 that Keats is compatible with modernity and war; this chapter has noted further Romantic and Symbolist survivals. To illustrate ‘war poetry’s complex negotiations with Romanticism’, Santanu Das singles out a phrase from ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’: ‘the vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues’, which he calls ‘a masterly rewriting of Keats’s “palate fine”’.78 At another pole, Rosenberg’s ‘Returning, we hear the Larks’ positions the bird icon of Romantic transcendence above a ‘poison-blasted track’: But hark! joy – joy – strange joy. Lo! Heights of night ringing with unseen larks. Music showering our upturned list’ning faces. Death could drop from the dark As easily as song – But song only dropped, Like a blind man’s dreams on the sand By dangerous tides, Like a girl’s dark hair for she dreams no ruin lies there, Or her kisses where a serpent hides.79

In fact, ‘strange joy’ covers the trenches too, and neo-Romantic oxymoron persists into a collision between song and death. Rosenberg translates ‘Lamia’ or ‘La Belle Dame Sans Merci’ into a war Muse who personifies danger and deception (a poem by Hugh MacDiarmid calls Salonika ‘La Belle Terre Sans Merci’). The same figure lurks in Owen’s ‘Exposure’: ‘the merciless iced east winds that knive us’. Whereas Thomas reworks the existential disturbance that Keats’s odes set in a seasonal-earthly frame, Owen (who read Thomas’s book on Keats) reworks his empathetic, erotic and prophetic structures. Both poets build on the sensory density with which Keats invests language, although Owen’s focus on the trenches and the body ensures that he lays it on thicker: ‘Pale flakes with fingering stealth come feeling for our faces’ (‘Exposure’).80 Romanticism and Symbolism survive because ‘times like these’, with their dark new symbols, demand a poetic scope beyond ‘the cumulative weight of small facts’ (Gurney). Keats’s feel for the life – and death – of ‘sensations’ is one kind of scope; Romantic-apocalyptic phantasmagoria, another. Yeats and Owen also keep Romantic faith with poetry itself (Thomas is more agnostic). Yeats recommits himself to a Blakean pursuit of ‘daemonic images’. Despite ‘I am


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not concerned with Poetry’, the spirit of Owen’s preface updates Shelley’s Defence of Poetry. War compelled poets to negotiate (with) tradition. Besides specific subversions or revisions, it sparked much canon making on the hoof – partly a search for models, partly a perception that poetry since ‘Spring had bloomed in early Greece’ (Owen) was on the line. The underworld of ‘Strange Meeting’ revisits Homer, Virgil, Dante and Milton. Rosenberg reflects: ‘The Homer for this war has yet to be found – Whitman got very near the mark 50 years ago with “Drum Taps”.’81 In Stand in the Trench, Achilles, Elizabeth Vandiver explores the ‘range of possible meanings that First World War poetry assigned to classical texts and classical culture’ – a range that runs from unexamined parroting, skewed by public-school ideology, to deep reworking.82 Ditto with English-language texts. The bad sense in which this, to quote Paul Fussell, was ‘a literary war’, can obscure the serious ways in which English poetry was practically and conceptually tested. Owen asked: ‘Do you know what would hold me together on a battlefield?’ and answered: ‘The sense that I was perpetuating the language in which Keats and the rest of them wrote.’83 Thomas’s anthology This England (1915), which ‘Lob’ synthesises, builds cultural defence ‘round a few most English poems like “When icicles hang by the wall”’. When he pleads in ‘Words’, ‘Choose me, / You English words’, he seeks to give his own work similar status.84 Here Yeats is by no means the odd man out. ‘Meditations’ builds in many ancestral voices, and mentions Homer, Chaucer, Milton and Shakespeare (‘Falstaffian’). It’s not a question of ‘tradition and the individual talent’, or of a choice between dumping literary tradition and clinging to its presumed wreckage, but rather of tradition comprehensively ‘shaken’ in the crucible of change. What Carl Schorske says of ‘thinking with history’ applies intensively to war poets ‘writing with tradition’: ‘If we locate ourselves in history’s stream, we can begin to look at ourselves and our mental life, whether personal or collective, as conditioned by the historical present, as it defines itself out of – or against – the past.’85 War poetry occupies more than a corner of the formal field. Yeats, Owen and Thomas are alert to the whole field, even if their (diverse) practice falls within the orbit of ‘those traditional metres that have developed with the language’ (CW5 213). Some critics wonder why those metres or forms have endured. One answer may be the under-noted role of the Great War in conditioning ‘modern poetry’, in reconditioning traditional verse-forms. Certainly, more ‘open’ forms also mediate war and are shaped by it. Rosenberg writes in irregular line lengths and, as when he highlights

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the rat, creates effects akin to Imagist freeze-frames. ‘Returning, we hear the Larks’ combines these structures with larger symbolic orchestration. ‘Joyous’ longer lines alternate with rhythms that convey ‘dangerous tides’. Rosenberg’s masterpiece ‘Dead Man’s Dump’ consists of uneven paragraphs, unevenly rhymed. As in Whitman and Lawrence, repeated words draw on and create biblical resonances: Here is one not long dead; His dark hearing caught our far wheels, And the choked soul stretched weak hands To reach the living word the far wheels said, The blood-dazed intelligence beating for light, Crying through the suspense of the far torturing wheels Swift for the end to break, Or the wheels to break, Cried as the tide of the world broke over his sight . . .86

Forced from juvenilia into maturity, the war poems of Owen, Rosenberg and Gurney can be flawed: ‘the choked soul stretched weak hands’. But unsettling signs of improvisation, of work in progress or draft, of a struggle to find commensurable language are intrinsic to the effect (and fact) of war poetry. As Gurney puts and proves it in ‘War Books’: What did they expect of our toil and extreme Hunger – the perfect drawing of a heart’s dream? Did they look for a book of wrought art’s perfection, Who promised no reading, nor praise, nor publication? Out of the heart’s sickness the spirit wrote . . .

Gurney omits connectives and syncopates phrases (‘heart’s dream’, etc.) as if no poem can pack everything in: ‘Another wrote all soldiers’ praise, and of France and night’s stars – / Served his guns, got immortality, and died well’.87 Gurney’s syntactical / conceptual knots, which have sources in bipolar illness rather than in ‘modernist’ disjunction, and which keep him in some ways a naïve poet, powerfully suggest what may be incommunicable about war. Yet the main story of war and poetic form after 1914 is that ‘traditional form’ internalised history as new complications of voice, syntax, diction, image, stanza, line, rhythm and sound – ultimately, symbol. This is epitomised by what war does to blank verse at the centrifugal core of ‘ ‘As the team’s head-brass’. As ironical talk of dismemberment tugs against English iambics, Thomas consciously disturbs the classical-pastoral ground of the poetic line: the ploughman’s ‘turn’ (versus). We cannot


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say whether Thomas might have written differently (or at all) had the Great War not occurred. We can say that, in keeping with This England, his poetry seems to anthologise, reinvent, and find multiple uses for most of the English verse-forms: blank verse; couplet; sonnet, double sonnet and near-sonnet; quatrains of various or variable line lengths; one-off stanzas; lines that range from two to sixteen syllables. Perhaps Thomas’s most distinctive structural move is to unsettle a sentence’s linear progress and progress across lines (inversion is not always archaism). He organises the relation between clause, phrase and verse-form in a way that implicates other kinds of sequence, multiplies shades of emphasis, and helps to entangle in a poem’s mesh all that presses on its occasion, its historical moment. ‘Old Man’ begins: ‘Old Man, or Lad’s-love, – in the name there’s nothing / To one that knows not Lad’s-love, or Old Man’. The last sentence of ‘A Private’ starts with a prolonged noun-clause object (‘And where now at last he sleeps . . .’), and this memorial to the missing almost mislays its subject and verb. Further inversion tucks in ‘secret’ to underscore the ironies of ‘privacy’.88 Owen’s most distinctive structural move – consonantal rhyme – affects line more than stanza. The opposite of enjambment, it not only end-stops a line, as in the slowly unfolding couplets of ‘Strange Meeting’ (Owen usually plays his sentences forward), but consummates lack of elision within the line. Such sound-oxymoron helps to give words their full space, weight and texture: ‘With a thousand pains that vision’s face was grained;/ Yet no blood reached there from the upper ground’.89 ‘Sculptural and scriptural’, Sassoon’s phrase for Rosenberg’s poetry,90 equally applies to how Owen fuses resonance with display. His ‘shows’ show that he retains more of Aestheticism than does Thomas. Yet Owen is not just a one-trick formal pony. He also mingles full and half rhyme, and, among other forms, rings the changes on couplet, quatrain and sonnet (‘Dulce et Decorum Est’ is a disguised double sonnet). Like Yeats and Thomas, Owen creates one-off forms in which ‘the symbolism of poetry’ pervades every structural element. The short line pulls readers up short in the refrain of ‘Exposure’ (‘But nothing happens’) and in ‘The Send-Off’, where the rhythm dissonantly combines the lilt of song, men marching, dead ends: Down the close darkening lanes they sang their way To the siding-shed, And lined the train with faces grimly gay. Their breasts were stuck all white with wreath and spray As men’s are, dead . . .91

‘Monstrous familiar images’


Other elegies move as if laden with cosmic entropy: I saw his round mouth’s crimson deepen as it fell, Like a sun, in his last deep hour; Watched the magnificent recession of farewell, Clouding, half gleam, half glower, And a last splendour burn the heavens of his cheek. And in his eyes The cold stars lighting, very old and bleak, In different skies.92

Yeats had more chance than most ‘soldier poets’ to achieve ‘wrought art’s perfection’. Did ‘times like these’ prompt his intricate lyric sequences, or would he have got there anyway? The correlation between his later forms and ‘whirling gyres’ favours the first alternative, as does the extent to which some poems dwell on the changed conditions in, or from, which they work. Reflexivity takes on new urgency. When Helen Vendler describes Yeats’s sequences as ‘strategies for investigating multiple aspects of complex events or concepts’, or refers to his ‘imperious management’ of forms, she may underrate the shaping force of ‘events’ themselves.93 From The Rose onwards, Yeats intertwined his poems. But his formal path from draughts to chess, from the higher ‘rhetoric’ of Responsibilities to the conundrum of poetic unity and historical anarchy (‘symbolic rose’ / ‘ragedriven . . . troop’), suggests that his difficulty in getting a fix on the Easter Rising raised the structural stakes. ‘Nineteen Hundred and Nineteen’ and ‘Meditations’ go further than Yeats’s Rebellion poems, or the dynamics between ‘The Second Coming’ and ‘A Prayer for my Daughter’, in making dialectical variations on lyric form integral to how he ‘thinks about the world’ (see p. 60). Like ‘Nineteen Hundred and Nineteen’, ‘Meditations’ begins with what is becoming his staple ottava rima rhymed ABABABCC, its syntax now subjunctive (‘what if ’) rather than all-too indicative (‘Many ingenious lovely things are gone’). In repeating this stanza for ‘My Descendants’, Yeats maintains its association with questions of tradition and inheritance. Weightier than the ‘Cowley’ stanza, it retains the couplet’s aphoristic kick: ‘And maybe the great-grandson of that house, / For all its bronze and marble, ’s but a mouse’ (CW1 204). The more varied stanza of ‘My House’, again repeated from ‘Nineteen Hundred and Nineteen’, again brings its mix of line lengths to the traffic between interiority and history, as when the speaker hopes: ‘My bodily heirs may find, / To exalt a lonely mind, / Befitting emblems of adversity’ (206). ‘My Table’, which broods on Sato’s problematic sword, consists of alternate


Yeats and Modern Poetry

four-beat and three-beat couplets undivided into stanzas. Perhaps because set in Yeats’s inmost workshop, and concerned with the dynamics of art, this poem has a volatile pulse that either overwhelms the couplet (‘And through the centuries ran / And seemed unchanging like the sword’) or is stopped short by it: ‘only an aching heart / Conceives a changeless work of art’ (206). ‘The Road at My Door’ and ‘The Stare’s Nest’ share a five-line stanza with mainly four-beat lines rhymed ABAAB. This simpler form, combined with syntax that carries the factual burden – or ‘no clear fact’ – of civil war, places Yeats at his closest to war reportage (208). Finally, the more expansive ottava rima of ‘I see Phantoms’ (hexameters or fourteeners rhymed ABABCDCD) takes meditation to a new visionary pitch. Yeats’s sequences are themselves a sequence. ‘Meditations’ ends, as it begins, in formal dialogue with ‘Nineteen Hundred and Nineteen’. The latter’s phantasmagoric finale, which primarily speaks through a ‘tumult of images’, subsumes three six-line stanzas into a single block. The selfcontained stanzas of ‘I see Phantoms’ represent space cleared by and for ‘meditation’ and its dialectical syntax. This poem begins: ‘I climb to the tower-top’ rather than: ‘Violence upon the roads’. Similarly, ‘The Stare’s Nest’ reverses the direction of ‘Come let us mock at the great’. Both poems consist of four five-line stanzas, but a change in rhyme scheme, from ABABB to ABAAB, marks a shift from aphoristic finality (‘They never saw how seasons run, / And now but gape at the sun’ [CW1 213]) to tentative rhythms of recovery. A refrain starting with ‘Come’ also changes its tone and tune. Rather than ironically foreclosing possibility in the first line (‘Come let us mock’), it ends each stanza by appealing to the future: ‘O honey-bees, / Come build . . .’ ‘The Stare’s Nest’ might symbolise poetic forms shaken by war and rebuilt on a new basis. To configure Yeats with Great War poets is to place the survival of traditional forms, not as anomalous, but as informed by historical cataclysm. Yeats’s 1920s sequences recharged the lyric’s scope and complexity. So did the earlier quasi-sequences that (with war a more immediately pressing horizon) poems by Owen and Thomas seem to compose. The English line does not sound as it did before 1914: ‘Down the close darkening lanes they sang their way’, ‘Myriads of broken reeds all still and stiff’, ‘Monstrous familiar images swim to the mind’s eye . . .’

C h a pt e r 5

Yeats’s Other Island

In 1904, Yeats congratulated George Bernard Shaw on having acquired ‘a geographical conscience’ (CL3 661). By setting John Bull’s Other Island largely in Ireland, Shaw had at last done something for literary nationalism. But was Yeats’s own conscience entirely clear? When campaigning for the Irish Revival, he suppressed – psychologically as much as strategically – what he owed to English literature, to Romanticism in England and Scotland, to ‘aesthetic poetry’, to the Rhymers’ Club: a metropolitan hub for poets from England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales. Yeats’s ‘British’ dimension (not to be confused with ‘Anglo-Irishness’ as a presumed caste or class) has already made various appearances in this book and is, up to a point, a critical truism. Even so, to advertise it seems like throwing him to the wolves of the Gaelic League or postcolonial theory. But, for my purposes here, ‘Yeats’s other island’ will be less a ‘geographical’ entity than a key site of his presence in modern poetry.

‘Near to the Sligo quay’ With the Union of Great Britain and Northern Ireland breaking down into devolved parts, or possibly breaking up, has come greater awareness of its ramifications. Both ‘union’ and ‘nation’ have had more than one meaning over the centuries. Given the historical and semantic variables, the jury may forever be out as to whether British-Irish relations fit an extra-Britannic, extra-European colonial pattern (compare Africa and India); whether, in ‘colonial’ and other respects, they belong to internal European dynamics (compare the Hapsburg Empire); whether ceaseless traffic across the Irish Sea has as significantly ‘entwined’ as estranged the islands (compare Scandinavia);1 or whether all of the above applies. In Ireland and Empire (2000), Stephen Howe refers to ‘unique hybrid forms, involving extensive integration and consensual partnership as well as exploitation and coercion’.2 Meanwhile Northern Ireland (where the jury may be) remains 145


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poised between mosaic and melting pot. It also points to a religious element in the ‘whethers’. Academic paradigm shifts have accompanied, sometimes led, the shifts in consciousness: an ‘extensive literature on territorial politics and identity in Britain and in Ireland has expanded enormously since 1997’.3 That includes moves to reconceive Yeats’s islands in ‘archipelagic’ terms, which potentially affect how we understand the contexts of his poetry’s composition and reception. Literary criticism, as in John Kerrigan’s foundational Archipelagic English (2008), has latterly taken some turns pioneered by historians as the ‘new British history’, ‘four nations history’ or ‘Atlantic history’.4 For Kerrigan, who explores ‘devolutionary and interactive dynamics’ in the seventeenth century, the archipelagic ‘cultural and literary field’ is ‘expansive, multilevelled, discontinuous, and polycentric’. He stresses that ‘interactivity’ should be neither a euphemism for violence nor (as with language issues) for cultural imposition. Nor should it ‘obscure the locally constant’, ‘make us look straight through the ubiquitous’, undervalue ‘the capacity of broadly held conventions to signify differently on a local basis’, or blind us to the possibility that ‘the appropriate unit of enquiry might be the nation or a locality’.5 In fact, national / local and archipelagic enquiries complement one another, while ubiquity or different signification can be revealing too. For Kerrigan, the application of postcolonial theory to these islands has proved more theoretical than applied: ‘[T]he gross effect of the turn towards the study of empire and its aftermath has been to overlook the uneven, inherited relationships between the parts and peoples of Britain and Ireland’.6 What Howe calls ‘misplaced’ analogies ‘between Irish and Afro-Asian cultural nationalisms’7 are rarely nuanced by a precise focus on the archipelago, even as England’s ‘inner empire’. Postcolonial criticism has done little for modern Irish poetry except to reinforce its national framework or resurrect the ‘Yeats Question’. But if (partly thanks to identity politics) national frameworks have generally become more powerful in poetry criticism,8 T.S. Eliot’s ‘reduction of Ireland, Scotland, and Wales to provincial outposts of England’ (Kerrigan) has not gone away.9 For Cairns Craig, F.R. Leavis’s ‘tradition’ epitomises how ‘core cultures operate by taking to themselves all significant achievements in the periphery that can be accommodated without too great a stress’, hence the ‘judgment that the periphery represents an impoverished and impoverishing tradition’.10 As we have seen, too, American modernism may disguise American imperialism. But the fact that Anglo-American criticism renders nationality invisible is no reason for Irish or Scottish criticism to overdo it. Both the denial and the overemphasis, the core-periphery model itself, mean that the

Yeats’s Other Island


archipelago punches below its collective, interactive literary weight. And to conceive the archipelago as ‘Atlantic’ opens up, beyond modernism, the full range of poetic traffic between the islands and America. In Yeats as Precursor (2000), Steven Matthews seeks to place Yeats amid this traffic. But Matthews splits his coverage between Ireland, Britain (actually, England) and America, without sufficiently allowing for crosscurrents or for the distinction between national and artistic identity. An ethnocentric scheme, like a poet-by-poet scheme (which Matthews also employs), atomises Yeats’s impact by simplifying the cultural and aesthetic cat’s cradle. Matthews notices some internal Irish differences, but firmly segregates an ‘Irish Yeats’ from a ‘British Yeats’. Taking his cue from Declan Kiberd’s Inventing Ireland (see p. 28), he argues that, for Irish poets, the ‘process of self-remaking is inextricable from processes of national founding’; whereas English poets (like W.H. Auden or Ted Hughes) decontextualise Yeats into a ‘wider concern around matters of poetic diction and form’, ‘the specific and the local impulses behind his work [being] resisted or excluded’. Yet Irish poets are not always keener on nation-founding than on trade-learning; Yeats’s ‘local’ is neither fixed nor coextensive with Ireland; and resistance or exclusion might signal ‘interactivity’. Matthews has a point when he notices an English problem with elements in Yeats that appear ‘mystical, or of-the-past . . . not appropriable’.11 But since Irish poets can have the same problem, his binary model again begs interactive questions. As with some English attitudes to Dylan Thomas, the negative mode of (English) Celticism may be at work. So may tension between English-Irish and Anglo-American horizons: Ireland as the poetic past, America as the future. The case history of Donald Davie (see below) exemplifies this. ‘Yeats as precursor’ must reckon with ‘Yeats as inheritor’ – Roy Foster’s term. Yeats’s poetry combines many strands for his successors to tease out and re-weave. In Words Alone: Yeats and his Inheritances (2011), Foster discusses Yeats’s nineteenth-century Irish precursors (rather than Blake, Rossetti et al.), but he also stresses the cross-fertilisation between Irish and Scottish ‘national tales’,12 and hence between Irish and Scottish literary bearings. In the Romantic period, to quote from Katie Trumpener’s influential Bardic Nationalism, ‘interconnected’ Scottish and Irish cultural revivals ‘partly offset a process of . . . centralisation’.13 Interconnection sparked rivalry. Yeats was at once fired and haunted by Robert Burns as a ‘popular’ national poet (D.P. Moran jibed that he was too esoteric to be Ireland’s Burns [CL3 10n.]), and the Oxford Book of Modern Verse proves that Irish poetic assertiveness in the archipelago did not end with (most


Yeats and Modern Poetry

of ) the Union. Seamus Heaney is assertive too, when he writes: ‘Ulster was British, but with no rights / On the English lyric’.14 Further back, Foster sees The Wanderings of Oisin as ‘deliberately recolonising . . . territory’ that James McPherson’s ‘Ossianic poetic “fragments”’ had occupied in the 1760s.15 When Yeats initiated the Irish Literary Revival by reclaiming the Celtic Ur-poet from Scotland and conflating him with Shelley’s ‘Alastor’, this was as much the apotheosis of Romantic cross-hatchings as a new dawn or twilight. In the same gesture, he effectively ‘Celticised’ the other island’s poetry. ‘Archipelagic criticism’, which existed avant la lettre, is sometimes suspected of being Dowden Redivivus or unionism’s answer to postcolonial theory.16 But the paradigm, like the suspicion, points to unresolved unionist-nationalist tensions at the very root of academic literary study (see pp. 15–16). If tradition can be covertly unionist, literary nationalism can rewrite history. Foster suggests that early nineteenth-century Irish and Scottish fiction ‘needs to be read in the light not only of latent or proto-nationalism, but of experimental Unionism’.17 Similarly, the further wanderings of Oisin / Ossian / Yeats around these islands should be neither ethnically nor politically foreclosed. Irish poets themselves have not only been exposed to a national or unmediated ‘Yeats’ any more than a national Yeats sprang from the head of Zeus. Knowingly or not, they have also read Yeats through Edward Thomas, W.H. Auden, Philip Larkin and other poets mainly attached to the other island. Of course, Yeats can be read through American poetry too – his other continent. But proximity has triggered particularly intricate responses, and responses to responses. Kerrigan notes the archipelago’s capacity to foster ‘fusions and transformations’.18 A complex map might trace poetic interactions within and between the islands since 1890: a map of genres, forms, images, mythologies, tropes, languages, lexis, contexts, intertexts, ancestry, influence, domicile, schools, groups, networks, publishers and anthologies. Interactive dead spots would be equally revealing. This chapter is sometimes concerned with ‘influence’, sometimes with how Yeats’s bi-insular presence, a legacy of his bi-insular literary world, makes the map look. In mid-twentieth-century Britain, poets rather than academics put Yeats on the map. I.A. Richards ‘enormously’ admired The Tower and transmitted his admiration to William Empson.19 But, on the whole, Cambridge criticism was less interwoven with contemporary poetry than was American New Criticism. The most notable critical work on Yeats tends to be studies of his symbolism, in a relatively strict sense, and in a perspective where his Romantic hinterland is not yet obscured by modernism. Yeats gives

Yeats’s Other Island


Graham Hough’s The Last Romantics (1949) its title, and he figures centrally in Frank Kermode’s Romantic Image (1957). When Kermode seemingly prefers Yeats’s ‘concern for the relation of symbol to discourse’ to Eliot’s practice,20 he is in line with how ‘Movement’ poets and poet-critics then saw Yeats (see below). Twenty-five years earlier, Leavis’s New Bearings in English Poetry had appeared. During the 1930s, Leavis’s critical journal Scrutiny and Geoffrey Grigson’s New Verse, the leading poetry magazine, were mostly on different planets. But New Bearings was an unusually bold academic attempt to map the contemporary. At the same time, we can glimpse the hegemonic advance of T.S. Eliot’s critical dicta. Leavis takes his main ‘bearings’ from Eliot’s ‘mind . . . of rare distinction’ and ‘directing influence’ in ‘the field of critical thought’. He says, rather innocently: ‘[Eliot’s] criticism and his poetry reinforce each other’. Leavis praises Empson (praise later withdrawn), stressing his debt to Eliot, but notoriously preferred the dud Ronald Bottrall to Auden. And, in Leavis’s version of emergent modern poetry, Eliot has out-manoeuvred Yeats. Yeats figures as always already ‘disabled’ by his Romantic-Victorian origins and by ‘an unfortunate [occultist] habit of mind’, whereas Eliot’s ‘Prufrock’ ‘represents a complete break with the nineteenth century and a new start’. Hardy and the war poets are briskly swept aside. Yet, just as Leavis has a marvellous digression on Edward Thomas, so he responds to Yeats in an oddly conflicted way that subverts his Eliot-derived thesis: ‘What then, it might be asked after this account of Mr Yeats’s achievement, is there to complain of?’ ‘Mr Yeats’s career . . . magnificent as the triumph was that he compelled out of defeat, is a warning.’21 Leavis’s attitudes suggest some reasons why it took an Irish poet living in Britain (MacNeice) to write the first full-length critical book on Yeats: an instance of archipelagic criticism avant la lettre. The archipelago itself is a context for Yeats’s ‘Under Saturn’: Do not because this day I have grown saturnine Imagine that lost love, inseparable from my thought Because I have no other youth, can make me pine; For how should I forget the wisdom that you brought, The comfort that you made? Although my wits have gone On a fantastic ride, my horse’s flanks are spurred By childish memories of an old cross Pollexfen, And of a Middleton, whose name you never heard, And of a red-haired Yeats whose looks, although he died Before my time, seem like a vivid memory. You heard that labouring man who had served my people. He said Upon the open road, near to the Sligo quay –


Yeats and Modern Poetry No, no, not said, but cried it out – ‘You have come again, And surely after twenty years it was time to come.’ I am thinking of a child’s vow sworn in vain Never to leave that valley his fathers called their home. (CW1 181–2)

Written in November 1919, ‘Under Saturn’ addresses Yeats’s wife George Hyde-Lees. The last six lines recall September 1918 when, a year after their marriage, Yeats took a pregnant George to Sligo. They were then living in Oxford. Fatherhood may have helped to make ‘Under Saturn’ archipelagic on a dynastic level. The Pollexfens originally came from Devon, and to stress this family name accommodates Yeats’s English wife. The ‘open road, near to the Sligo quay’ also marks Yeats’s own comings and goings. For years, he had physically shuttled between the actual islands, between London lodgings, Dublin, and Coole Park. That the Pollexfens ran a shipping business in Sligo, then a working port, is part of the context. Before the later twentieth century, Irish and British poetry was often conditioned by the archipelagic heyday of boat and train: an era marvellously captured by A Floating Commonwealth (2008), Christopher Harvie’s book on the commerce, culture and politics of Atlantic and Irish Sea coasts. Yeats’s ‘The Lake Isle of Innisfree’ (1888), which the ‘pining’ of ‘Under Saturn’ rewrites, laid down an influential template for intra-archipelagic poetic travel; that is, for poems shaped by migration, by nostalgia for home, by the problematics of that word: their trajectory mainly (not always) from city to country or east to west. The London-Welsh Edward Thomas was imaginatively drawn to family roots in Wiltshire and Wales, as the London-Irish Yeats to Sligo. In Michael Robartes and the Dancer (1921), the dynastic-domestic ‘Under Saturn’ precedes ‘Easter, 1916’. This highlights the dialectics between Yeats’s married Muse and his Rebellion poems, which implicate ‘lost love’, and which ‘A Prayer for my Daughter’ brings to a head (see p. 131). The allusion to Pegasus refers back to ‘Easter, 1916’, where Pearse ‘rode our wingèd horse’, but the speaker dissociates his current ‘fantastic ride’ from any emotion that Maud Gonne or patriotism or both together might have induced. The climactic stress on ‘that valley his fathers called their home’, like the home poems discussed in Chapter 4, obliquely detaches home from nation. Similarly, ‘my people’ is not ‘the people’. ‘Pollexfen’ and ‘Middleton’ name Sligo as Yeats’s mother’s county. He writes (in 1909): ‘[M]y mother, who loved Sligo where she had been born and bred with the same passion, was, if she had any politics, Unionist. That love was instinctive and left the soul free.’ He adds: ‘If I could have kept it and yet never felt the influence of Young Ireland I had given a more profound

Yeats’s Other Island


picture of Ireland in my work.’ Yeats praises Synge’s ‘purity’ in this respect, having already contrasted Thomas Davis’s ‘conscious patriotism’ and ‘artificial’ Ireland with the poetry of William Allingham (1824–89), in which he finds ‘the entire emotion for the place one grew up in which I felt as a child’ (Mem 153–4). Donegal-born Allingham was another (Protestant) London-Irish poet. Allingham’s ‘The Emigrant’s Adieu to Ballyshannon’, his ‘local rather than national feeling’ for ‘the winding banks of Erne’, influenced ‘Innisfree’ and Yeats’s Sligo-set tale John Sherman (1891). Yet in ‘Under Saturn’ homecoming is a complex matter – still deferred at the end of the poem. Sligo, where ‘childish memories’ fuse with family history, is one of those Muse-places first known in childhood holidays (Yeats’s family also lived in Sligo between 1872 and 1874). The ambiguous ‘childish’ rather than ‘childhood’ implies self-rebuke for being so carried away, but Yeats pursues the strangely displaced ‘memory’ that mediates access to ‘that valley’. After straight recall of ‘an old cross Pollexfen’, the speaker alludes to ‘a Middleton, whose name you never heard’ (nor is it fully heard now), and to a never-seen Yeats ‘whose looks’ yet ‘seem like a vivid memory’. ‘Vivid’, a noticeably vivid adjective, cross-refers to the ‘vivid faces’ of the 1916 leaders. But here it goes deeper, marking a quest for something as elusively ‘named’ as remembered, something that only poetry’s ‘fantastic ride’ back to its own origins might reach: ‘called their home’ suggests that neither home nor names are given. ‘Home’ (also applied to Coole) is a rare word in Yeats, and rarely so conspicuous. His actual father, erratic in more senses than one, moved the family around between Dublin and London. At this time of war and marriage, Yeats’s concern with houses is coloured by past rootlessness. Thoor Ballylee, bought in 1917, was the first house he owned. In ‘Under Saturn’, the ‘saturnine’ (gloomy) speaker suggests the poet as returning Odysseus, burdened with the guilt of absence: an impression that the weighty, weary hexameters reinforce. Odysseys do not need the Mediterranean. Travel within these islands may suffice – the poetry of Yeats’s absence is inscribed in ‘Under Saturn’ – while complicating the polarity of home and abroad. Two poets discussed here, MacNeice and Larkin, attribute aesthetic meaning to travels between Britain and Ireland. MacNeice’s ‘Carrick Revisited’ (1945) lays out autobiographical and poetic coordinates. Here ‘western Ireland’, marking family roots similar to Yeats’s, and ‘southern England’ frame intermediate Carrickfergus beside Belfast Lough (‘the lough as hazily lazy’ as ‘thirty years ago’), where MacNeice internalised a mobility central to his own aesthetic: ‘Time and place – our bridgeheads into reality / But also its concealment!’22 Larkin is not usually hailed as a theorist of ‘difference’. Yet


Yeats and Modern Poetry

in ‘The Importance of Elsewhere’, his retrospect on five years in Belfast, the interplay between ‘home’, ‘strangeness’ and ‘speech’ implicates poetry: Lonely in Ireland, since it was not home, Strangeness made sense. The salt rebuff of speech, Insisting so on difference, made me welcome: Once that was recognised, we were in touch . . .23

Larkin’s allusion to Belfast’s ‘faint / Archaic smell of dockland’, like Yeats’s ‘quay’ and MacNeice’s ‘lough’, signals sea passages and sea changes. The poem ends with the speaker’s difficult return to English ‘customs and establishments’: ‘Here no elsewhere underwrites my existence.’ Yet ‘Ireland’, the real ‘elsewhere’, has enabled perspectives on ‘here’. Exotic trace elements in Larkin’s Belfast remind us that Romanticism itself did not always look far afield for the ‘strange’ or sublime. Hence Celticism. ‘Strangeness’ occurs within as between the islands, even when various ‘wests’ are not involved. Edward Thomas can find it in a day’s walk. Joep Leerssen thinks all Irish writing prone to ‘auto-exoticism’.24 In ‘Loch Thom’, another rewriting of ‘Innisfree’, W.S. Graham measures distances between middle age and youth, Cornwall and Scotland, industrial-maritime Greenock and an inspirational loch: Just for the sake of recovering I walked backward from fifty-six Quick years of age wanting to see And managed not to trip or stumble To find Loch Thom and turned round To see the stretch of my childhood Before me . . .25

Archipelagic coordinates that reach the poetic surface call attention to their deeper presence. The next three sections discuss a few examples (from among many possibilities) that centre on Yeats’s own presence and / or influence. But, even as geography, the archipelago is not always factored into critical vocabulary that concerns the locus of poems or poets. In ‘Under Saturn’, the dialectics between attachment and mobility show that attachment itself, in its post-Romantic forms, moves around the islands. Yeats, of course, was not the only emergent modern poet with affiliations to a country, countryside or originary ‘valley’ – witness Whitman and Hardy. And he was highly conscious of other poets’ affiliations: at seventeen (probably thanks to Dowden) he had ‘Whitman in [his] pocket’ (OBMV v). Thoreau, as well as Allingham, influenced ‘Innisfree’. In 1893, attacking ‘cosmopolitan water-gruel’, Yeats quoted Emerson’s ‘admirable

Yeats’s Other Island


saying’, which ‘should be writ over the mantelpiece of every poet’: ‘To thine orchard’s edge belong / All the brass and plume of song’ (UP1 289). Yeats’s very alertness to diverse archipelagic / Atlantic poetic landscapes has made him a benchmark for the flexible uses of place along a spectrum from nationality to locality to community to home to versions of pastoral to Muse-valleys to microcosmic or fictive regions. He mediates between Romantic topographies and their modern guises. Wordsworth influenced his initial response to the lakes and mountains of Sligo / Leitrim: a debt that ‘Under Saturn’ virtually admits. Yeats’s attacks on Wordsworth, ‘that typical Englishman’ (CW5 211), mask ‘interactivity’.26 At the same time, Blake and Shelley keep his landscapes symbolic: ‘The trees are in their autumn beauty’. Archipelagic horizons, in tandem with Symbolism, might modify the paradigm that attaches emergent modern poetry so exclusively to the city, to Eliot’s very particular ‘London’. The locally variable dynamics of country and city in British and Irish poetry were / are shaped, as in their Green mode, by Britain’s early industrialisation and London’s exponential growth. Yeats’s poems barely mention London, but, as for Thomas, it is hugely there. Yeats does not so much evade the city’s ‘modern heterogeneity’ (CW5 215) as obliquely – symbolically – take it on. There is more than meets the eye in that initial conflict between ‘pavements grey’ and ‘Innisfree’. Criticism has not always reconciled a ‘national’ and ‘international’ Yeats, despite his own summation in 1907: ‘While seeing all in the light of European literature, [I] found my symbols of expression in Ireland’ (CW4 181). Yeats might have enjoyed William Carlos Williams’s reaction to a French ‘plea for a [poetic] meeting of the nations’: ‘Paris will be more than slightly abashed to find parodies of the middle ages, Dante and langue d’oc foisted upon it as the best in United States poetry’.27 A truly inter-national account of modern poetry would go beyond Poundian reading lists to cover Kerrigan’s ‘polycentric’ archipelagic field and different kinds of interaction between ‘orchard edges’. Critics often split some poet-migrant’s work into Irish bits, English bits, Scottish bits, whatever. Poets who have suffered from critical failure to think in archipelagic terms include Yeats himself, when seen as not Irish enough; Graham, when seen as not Scottish enough; and MacNeice, when seen as ‘divided’. The Atlantic migrations of Auden or Thom Gunn or Paul Muldoon (not to say Eliot) are further cases for interactive treatment. Yet few poets are securely bounded by national frontiers. Larkin can be seen as English in too pure and simple a sense; Edward Thomas as English in ways that overlook his Welsh hinterland, his American and Irish influences. Addressing Scottish writers


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in Edinburgh, Dylan Thomas called himself ‘a border case’: ‘Regarded in England as a Welshman (and a waterer of England’s milk), and in Wales as an Englishman, I am too unnational to be here at all. I should be living in a small private leper-house in Hereford or Shropshire, one foot in Wales and my vowels in England.’28 Poetic form itself may encode many strata of interactivity. Archipelagic criticism is not about admitting border cases into national canons but about thinking in the inter-national and interactive terms that border cases show to be necessary.

Folk Ghosts Yeats says in his introduction to The Oxford Book of Modern Verse: Folk-song, unknown to the Victorians . . . must, because never declamatory or eloquent, fill the scene. If anybody will turn these pages attending to poets born in the ’fifties, ’sixties, and ’seventies, he will find how successful are their folk-songs and their imitations. In Ireland, where still lives almost undisturbed the last folk tradition of western Europe, the songs of [Joseph] Campbell and [Padraic] Colum draw from that tradition their themes, return to it, and are sung to Irish airs by boys and girls who have never heard the names of their authors. (OBMV xiii)

As in the 1890s, Yeats proclaims Ireland’s uniquely ‘living’ folk tradition, and aligns folk expression with Symbolism (see p. 3). He also betrays a long-held ambition that some of his own poems should lodge in folk memory: the ultimate audience. ‘Easter, 1916’ may have done so. One folk-based love poem certainly did. The ‘Songs and Ballads since 1801’ section of The Penguin Book of Irish Poetry (2010) places Yeats’s ‘Down by the Salley Gardens’ alongside Campbell’s ‘My Lagan Love’ and Colum’s ‘She Moved through the Fair’. In February 1937, Yeats was delighted by the popular currency of his political ballad ‘Roger Casement’, written in the belief that British agents had forged Casement’s ‘black [homosexual] diaries’. Yeats exaggerates when he talks of folk song ‘filling the scene’ – let alone his own scene – but he also makes the serious claim, and perhaps claims credit, that folk song has been a significant force in modern poetry. The folk-song ‘imitations’ in his anthology include Hardy’s ‘The Night of Trafalgar’, Wilde’s ‘Ballad of Reading Gaol’, Kipling’s ‘Saint Helena’s Lullaby’, poems from Housman’s The Shropshire Lad and Walter de la Mare’s ‘The Silver Penny’. For Yeats, ‘the written tradition’ is still ‘established upon the unwritten’ (see p. 4). In 1937, he criticised poets whose ‘verse kills the folk ghost and yet would remain verse’ (CW5 215). Yeats’s concern with the ‘folk’ is neither a special nor Irish case. Folk ghosts

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‘ubiquitously’ haunt late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century poetry in these islands – another instance of the neo-Romantic becoming modern. Hardy’s entire oeuvre may be so haunted. In what follows, Edward Thomas and Hugh MacDiarmid will broaden the archipelagic horizon. In his 1936 broadcast ‘Modern Poetry’, Yeats said: ‘Modern Irish poetry began in the midst of [the] rediscovery of folk thought. . . . The English movement [was] checked by the realism of Eliot, the social passion of the war poets’ (CW5 100). He is, typically, unaware that a protest elegy might be a protest ballad, and that Thomas’s interest in folk songs included the ability to sing them. Yet, as in the Oxford Book, he rightly sets the ‘rediscovery of folk thought’ in an archipelagic context – a context that again includes cultural rivalry. Yeats says of Housman: ‘a mile further and all had been marsh’ (OBMV xiii). Earlier, he had put down Scotland and Burns for lacking the ‘ancient imagination’ of an old Irish countryman who ‘would have understood Homer better than “The Cottar’s Saturday Night” or “Highland Mary”’ (CW4 183) and remarked that ‘English witch trials are like the popular poetry of England, matter-of-fact and unimaginative’ (CW5 79). The latter snub may reflect England’s slow start in the folk / folk-song field. In English Folk-Song: Some Conclusions (1907), Cecil Sharp asks: ‘Who will do for our English ballads and songs what Scott and Burns did for the Scottish?’29 The English folk-song Revival, led by Sharp and Ralph Vaughan Williams, arose from belated emulation of Scottish collectors, although Romantic poets, including Wordsworth (taking his cue from Burns) and John Clare (in a similar position to Burns), had already got the literary point. Scotland’s early start in 1802, with Scott’s Minstrelsy of the Scottish Borders – designed to distinguish Scottish from English literature – produced two misleading notions: ‘that the ballad tradition in the British Isles was primarily Scottish’; that the Scottish tradition itself was primarily Borders.30 Yet here ‘border’ again works against ‘nation’. Throughout Europe, some proponents of folk song have had nationalist agendas, and folk tradition has often been conscripted or fabricated for national purposes, but most singers and collectors have long rejected the original folklorists’ belief in some essential national ‘folk’. As Louise Pound wrote in 1945: ‘[A]ll oral tradition is necessarily regional or group lore’.31 Nonetheless, travellers (migrants, soldiers, sailors, itinerant workers) moved songs and airs around and between the islands (and across the Atlantic), making ‘oral tradition’ supra- as well as sub-national, making it interactive. The ballad is not an indigenous Irish form: ‘[P]opular traditional song in Ireland is characteristically lyrical’.32 Yet sixteenth-century ‘Old English’ settlers brought the ballad with them, as did seventeenth-


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century Scottish and English ‘planters’. The ballad contributed to what Andrew Carpenter calls ‘the cross-cultural writing’ of late eighteenthcentury Ireland, when Hiberno-English, still strongly inflected by Gaelic, entered chapbooks and ballad sheets.33 To whom do folk songs, folk ghosts, belong? Sharp and some of his successors have come under Marxist attack, as in Georgina Boyes’s The Imagined Village (1993), not only for nationalising the local but also for allegedly promoting a ‘Merrie England’ ideology, which stole the people’s songs, froze them in time and airbrushed their radical aspects. To quote Steve Roud and Julia Bishop, editors of The New Penguin Book of English Folk Songs (2012): The folk-song collectors were drawn from such a narrow social background, it was argued, and their fieldwork was so narrowly focused on a small section of working people’s experience, that their work constituted a distortion of the vernacular culture of their time. Worse still, they invented the whole category of ‘folk-song’ to serve their own class-based agenda.34

There are parallels with postcolonial critique of Yeats and Lady Gregory for presuming that their folklore collecting in the 1890s had opened up the ‘book of the people’ (CW1 249). In Primitivism, Science and the Irish Revival (2004) Sinéad Garrigan Mattar gives a more complex account of Irish Revival anthropology, showing that it had moved on from Romantic ‘primitivism’. But, as with Sharp and Vaughan Williams, aesthetic motives (which, by definition, respect folk artistry) may still not be cut enough slack. Sharp, who felt that England was playing European as well as archipelagic catch-up (witness Bartók and Kodály), hoped that ‘the recent recoveries of English folk-song . . . [would] eventually lead to the foundation of an English National School of composition’. He also writes: ‘if [a folk song] is not beautiful, declaring it to be as old as Moses will not make it so’.35 Edward Thomas enthusiastically reviewed Sharp’s book and sought his help when compiling A Pocket Book of Poems and Songs for the Open Air (1907): an anthology that links poetry and song on an archipelagic basis. In 1909, Thomas applied to poetry Sharp’s hopes for folk song’s musical potential. As if projecting a second-wave Lyrical Ballads, he asks whether ‘the recovery of old ballads’ can have a more than antiquarian meaning ‘now that the first effects upon Wordsworth and his contemporaries have died away’; whether it can ‘give a vigorous impulse to a new school of poetry’ geared to ‘the life of our time’. Like Yeats, he allies folk song with Symbolism: [O]f all music, the old ballads and folk songs and their airs are richest in the plain, immortal symbols. The best of them seem to be written in a

Yeats’s Other Island


language that should be universal, if only simplicity were truly simple to mankind. Their alphabet is small; their combinations are as the sunlight or the storm, and their words also are symbols. Seldom have they any direct relation to life as the realist believes it to be. They are poor in such detail as reveals a past age or a country not our own. They are in themselves epitomes of whole generations, of a whole countryside . . . the quintessence of many lives and passions. . . . The men and women – who hundreds of years ago were eating and drinking and setting their hearts on things – still retain a thin hold on life through the joy of us who hear and sing their songs, or tread their curving footpaths, or note their chisel marks on cathedral stones. . . . The words, in league with a fair melody, lend themselves to infinite interpretations. . . . What great literature by known authors enables us to interpret thus by virtue of its subtlety, ballads and their music force us to do by their simplicity.36

Thomas’s ‘plain, immortal symbols’ rebukes the hermetic tendency in Symbolism (see p. 86), for which Yeats himself sought a folk cure. Both poets invest traditional musicians with pagan mystique. Yeats’s ‘Fiddler of Dooney’ trumps his priestly brothers by making people ‘dance like a wave of the sea’ (CW1 71). Thomas’s ‘Gypsy’ shows his special powers by playing ‘a rascally Bacchanal dance’ on his mouth organ.37 Folk song’s generic range offers rich archetypes and masks: ‘many lives and passions’. Thomas called two of his first poems ‘An Old Song’. As these poems rework ‘The Lincolnshire Poacher’ and ‘A’rovin’, new song takes off from the old: ‘And all I did was to repeat: / “I’ll go no more a-roving/ With you, fair maid”’.38 Yeats, too, saw folk song as a contemporary model – a template for expressing ‘whatever in the thoughts of [the artist’s] own age seems . . . to press into the future’ (CW8 99). He told Katharine Tynan that ‘we should search [old ballads and poems] for new methods of expressing our selves’ and that his anthology Fairy and Folk Tales of the Irish Peasantry (1888) ‘was meant for Irish poets [who] should draw on it for plots and atmosphere’ (CL1 119, 99). Fifty years later, he claimed the folk poet or ballad singer as his meta-mask: I can put my own thought . . . into the mouth of rambling poets of the seventeenth century, or even of some imagined ballad singer of today, 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 our 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. (CW5 209)

Reviewing ‘My permanent or impermanent images’ in ‘The Municipal Gallery Revisited’, Yeats uses the simile: ‘As though some ballad singer had


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sung it all’ (CW1 327). This self-image consorts with ‘even what I alter must seem traditional’ (see p. 67). As Yeats needs otherworldly ‘communicators’ for A Vision or mystifies the cognitive trail to ‘that valley’, so he requires folk song qua poetry to ‘go back’ – even if he wants to project it forwards: ‘We thought it was in the very nature of poetry to look back’ (CW5 92). He certainly knew that ‘Johnny I hardly knew ye’ was a nineteenthcentury Irish anti-recruiting song. He may have known that ‘Down by the Salley Gardens’, which he first called ‘An Old Song Re-Sung’, comes from another still-sung song: ‘Ye Rambling Boys of Pleasure’. But his gloss makes everything more mysterious: ‘This is an attempt to reconstruct an old song from three lines imperfectly remembered by an old peasant woman in the village of Ballysodare, Sligo’.39 Yeats and Thomas differ as regards the kind of ‘past’ to which ‘old songs’ give access, the kind of access they give. Folk song is such by virtue of transmission, not origin. What starts with individual authorship depends on communal approval and reproduction, and oral culture has long intersected with print culture: Yeats’s fiddler buys a ‘book of songs / . . . at the Sligo fair’. For Thomas, folk songs (like words) bear traces which link ‘generations’. His poem ‘The Ash Grove’ is partly about that fragile chain. The speaker recurrently recalls a spatial and temporal ‘interval’ experienced in a decayed ash grove, where, if the trees ‘led to a house, long before they had seen its fall’. This recall he likens to hearing the Welsh song ‘The Ash Grove’ sung: And now an ash grove far from those hills can bring The same tranquillity in which I wander a ghost With a ghostly gladness, as if I heard a girl sing The song of the Ash Grove soft as love uncrossed, And then in a crowd or in distance it were lost, But the moment unveiled something unwilling to die And I had what most I desired, without search or desert or cost.40

This ghostliness, implicating Thomas’s Welsh ancestry, represents the occluded past: a half-dead grove, a hypothetical ‘house’, an almost ‘lost’ song. The song (which also ‘wanders’, as folk songs do) epitomises all that is elusive, chancy, mutable in personal and cultural memory. The ‘something unwilling to die’ (his own poem) may depend on the folk ghost. Yeats, wired to Olympus, is more compelled by origins (‘ancient imagination’) than history. He disliked Young Ireland songs partly because they were so un-Homeric, so obviously made up, so much a print phenomenon, even if set to older airs or sung on communal occasions. ‘Spilt religion’

Yeats’s Other Island


contributed to the lure of folklore, of the Irish ‘country spiritism’ that poems by Allingham and Edward Walsh had already channelled (CW4 181). Yeats wrote in 1893: ‘Folklore is at once the Bible, the Thirty-nine Articles, and the Book of Common Prayer, and well-nigh all the great poets have lived by its light. Homer, Aeschylus, Sophocles, Shakespeare, and even Dante, Goethe, and Keats were little more than folk-lorists with musical tongues’ (UP1 284). Hugh MacDiarmid is less likely to invoke ‘ancient’ folk models than to boast his progressive-internationalist credentials. Yet his poetry has close links with the thing itself. His contribution to the Scottish Renaissance, largely founded on a reinvention of the Scottish ballad and its Scots medium, was enabled by the vernacular culture of his Borders upbringing. The Irish Revival and Yeats’s cultural nationalism influenced MacDiarmid’s projected renaissance, but Langholm localism underlies his ‘nation’ as Sligo underlies Yeats’s. The word ‘folk’ retains its full meaning in Scottish speech; what MacDiarmid combats is ‘Kailyard’ travesty of the folk, propagated by Burns’s imitators. He called his first mature collection (1925) Sangschaw (Song-festival), and the poems were influenced by the fact that F.G. Scott was setting most of them to music. The common root of ballad / song and poetry, in English / Scots, is the stressed line: the foundational beat where ‘the folk ghost’ resides. But, beyond that pulse, verbal and musical elaborations go their separate ways: in song proper, words play second fiddle. To quote Adam Newey, poetry differs from song ‘precisely because it carries its own music within it’.41 The longest poem in Sangschaw is ‘Ballad of the Five Senses’ dedicated to the ‘President of the Burns Federation, in appreciation of his efforts to foster a Scottish literary revival’. Written in the staple ballad-quatrain (alternate four- and three-beat lines rhymed ABCB), this poem seems to hail revival by rejoicing in its own form and language as well as in the senses. The diction of the second line and the stresses of the third involve distinctively verbal elaborations: I wot there was nae sicht nor scent, Nae savour, substance, soon’, I didna see, smell, taste, or feel Or hear as I gae’d roon’. As I gae’d roon the divers warl’ That ony man can ken Wi’ een and nose and ears and haun’s And mou’ as I gae’d then . . .42


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But brief lyrics, such as ‘The Bonnie Broukit Bairn’, which bounces off an eighteenth-century song called ‘The Bonnie Brucket Lassie’, and may allude to the ‘auld mune’ of ‘Sir Patrick Spens’, are the core of Sangschaw: Mars is braw in crammasy, Venus in a green silk goun, The auld mune shak’s her gowden feathers, Their starry talk’s a wheen o’ blethers, Nane for thee a thoctie sparin’, Earth, thou bonnie broukit bairn! – But greet, an in your tears ye’ll droun The haill clanjamfrie!43

Formally more complex than ‘The Ballad of the Five Senses’, ‘The Bonnie Broukit Bairn’ improvises on the ballad-quatrain. Its mirror-image rhyme scheme is ABCCDDBA; the first two lines have three beats, the next two lines four beats, and the double rhyme ‘feathers’/ ‘blethers’ slows the movement to create a new kind of emphasis. Here MacDiarmid exploits rhythmic and lexical possibilities, absorbed from the ballad-quatrain and from its adaptation to other song genres. Besides reinforcing everyday monosyllables with ballad-beat, he juxtaposes the colloquial (‘a wheen o’ blethers’) with the abstract or exotic. The triple rhyme ‘crammasy’ / ‘clanjamfrie’ links an archaism, derived from his truffling in Jamieson’s Etymological Dictionary of the Scottish Language, with a current word. MacDiarmid’s ‘Synthetic Scots’ has folk roots. ‘The Ballad of the Five Senses’ shows MacDiarmid’s absorption of ballad-architectonic, largely founded on ‘incremental repetition’ – a structure that, as Alan Bold notes, his lyrics exploit.44 MacDiarmid would soon put such architectonic to unprecedented tests in the 2,684-line A Drunk Man Looks at the Thistle (1926), which he calls ‘a gallimaufry in braid Scots’ and in forms that ‘range from ballad measure to vers libre’.45 A Drunk Man contradicts his protest in ‘To One Who Urges More Ambitious Flights’ (Penny Wheep, also 1926) that ‘Wee bit sangs are a’ I need’. ‘To One Who Urges’ is a manifesto for lyric intensity grounded in folk song: ‘ferlies nae yin sees / In a bensil o’ a bleeze’ (wonders no one sees in a big fire).46 In fact, neither MacDiarmid nor his critics ever quite decide whether A Drunk Man is a long poem or a lyric sequence. But its aesthetic ground is certainly his short poems, with their mix of the down-to-earth and the cosmic-metaphysical: Is it the munelicht or a leprosy That spreids aboot me; and a thistle

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Or my ain skeleton through wha’s bare banes A fiendish wund’s begood to whistle? The devil’s lauchter has a hwyl like this. My face has flown open like a lid – And gibberin’ on the hillside there Is a’ humanity sae lang has hid!47

For the Oxford Book of Modern Verse, Yeats selected three stanzas from a ballad in A Drunk Man. Recreating the traditional ballad ‘The Twa Musicians’, the tale of a cuckolded bridegroom, MacDiarmid fuses the bawdy, the comic and the supernatural in a way that must have appealed to Yeats: ‘O wha’s been here afore me, lass, / And hoo did he get in? / – A man that deed or I was born / This evil thing has din.’48 A Drunk Man is conceptually indebted to Yeats, being occupied with Blakean ‘contraries’ and set ‘whaur / Extremes meet’.49 To quote Patrick Crotty, MacDiarmid ‘deploys ideas, images and even phrases from A Vision to construct “The Great Wheel”, the 460-line tour-de-force in tetrameter triplets that brings [the poem] to its tragicomic climax’. But Crotty stresses that Yeats and MacDiarmid also connect where the influence of English Romantic poets combines with ‘dependence upon “folk” materials of one sort and another’.50 The deepest affinity between the poets may have more to do with neo-Romantic folk ghosts than with either nationalism or gyres. MacDiarmid says of A Drunk Man: ‘Largely, the engine that motivates the whole poem and keeps it going is the ballad measure. . . . It comes back to the ballad all the time.’51 Helen Vendler emphasises ‘the strong role’ that the ballad and ‘the insoluble question of how to write a modern ballad’ played in Yeats’s poetic career – although without distinguishing ‘ballad’ from ‘song’, as Yeats does from the start.52 In ‘To Ireland in the Coming Times’, he calls Irish poetry ‘a company / That sang, to sweeten Ireland’s wrong, / Ballad and story, rann [stanza] and song’ (CW1 46). Yet ‘sang’ governs all: common in Yeats’s early poem titles, ‘song’ will represent ‘poetry’ throughout his work – not only because metrically more convenient. His narrative ballads (like ‘The Ballad of Moll Magee’) would soon give way to the richer variables of song, although the political ballad was biding its time. In ‘The Host of the Air’, which concerns a bride stolen by fairies, atmosphere matters more than plot. The poem’s reflexive focus is the supernatural music evoked by its rhythms: ‘He heard while he sang and dreamed / A piper piping away’ (53). Perhaps, for Yeats, Wordsworth, Coleridge and Keats had made the ballad irrevocably lyrical. His rather wooden narrative


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ballads contrast with the distinctive lilt he often finds when he identifies his poetry with musical folk-personae in other-worldly scenarios. ‘The Song of Wandering Aengus’, based on a Greek folk song, Irish legend and the ballad-quatrain, dramatises poetic inspiration in terms that ally it with folk sources, while incremental repetition serves a symbolic quest: I went out to the hazel wood, Because a fire was in my head, And cut and peeled a hazel wand, And hooked a berry to a thread . . . (55)

The Symbolist and the Folk blend seamlessly in a poem that defines Yeats’s poetry as a commitment to ‘pluck till time and times are done / The silver apples of the moon, / The golden apples of the sun’. Yeats seems to re-immerse himself in folk song whenever his poetic batteries need recharging. Vendler sees the ballad as disappearing from his middle phase ‘when he was intent on exploring more complex lyric forms’, but perhaps it disappeared into those forms.53 In Responsibilities, song both reinforces the ‘quarrel with others’ and, in its alignment with beggarly outcasts and free spirits, eases withdrawals from that quarrel. Here the folk ghost exposes or resists political, theological and psychological constraints: ‘To a Friend whose Work has come to Nothing’, addressed to Lady Gregory, proposes the unlikely therapy of emulating ‘a laughing string / Whereon mad fingers play / Amid a place of stone’ (CW1 108). Back in the agora, ‘September 1913’ adapts to culture war the polemical scorn of a Young Ireland ballad such as ‘Who Fears to Speak of ’Ninety-Eight’, the third stanza being an incremental tour de force: ‘Was it for this the wild geese spread / The grey wing upon every tide; / For this that all that blood was shed, / For this Edward Fitzgerald died . . .?’ (107). ‘The Three Hermits’, an eschatological folk fable, sounds very different: ‘Three old hermits took the air / By a cold and desolate sea . . .’ Strongly stressed trimeter quatrains are merged into a rolling anapaestic rhythm that befits the comic urgency with which two of the hermits debate whether ‘the shades of holy men / Who have failed, being weak of will, / Pass the Door of Birth again’. Two refrain lines (partly in being refrain) identify the poem’s viewpoint with the third hermit, who ‘Giddy with his hundredth year, / Sang unnoticed like a bird’ (112–13). Five years later, the Easter Rising precipitated conflict between Yeats’s debts to folk song. This occurs both within ‘Easter, 1916’, where the underlying balladquatrain modulates into subtler rhythms, and in how the poem’s overall movement contrasts with the more regular ballad-beat assigned to Pearse

Yeats’s Other Island


and Connolly in ‘The Rose Tree’: ‘There’s nothing but our own red blood / Can make a right Rose Tree’ (185). The sequence ‘Words for Music Perhaps’ marks another re-immersion. In spring 1929, after Yeats had been ill, ‘life returned to [him] as an impression of the uncontrollable energy and daring of the great creators’.54 He identified this return with – or as – the folk ghost. Yeats wanted the poems he calls ‘mechanical little song[s]’ to have a verbal music ‘all emotion and all impersonal’ (L 758). The folkquatrain is the poems’ basic mechanism, even when amplified, or when line length, rhyme scheme and stress pattern vary: Bring me to the blasted oak That I, midnight upon the stroke, (All find safety in the tomb.) May call down curses on his head Because of my dear Jack that’s dead. Coxcomb was the least he said: The solid man and the coxcomb. (‘Crazy Jane and the Bishop’, CW1 260) ‘O cruel Death, give three things back,’ Sang a bone upon the shore; ‘A child found all a child can lack, Whether of pleasure or of rest, Upon the abundance of my breast’: A bone wave-whitened and dried in the wind. (‘Three Things’, 268)

To quote ‘The Spur’: in the later 1930s ‘rage’ spurred Yeats to write political ballads (like ‘Roger Casement’ and ‘Come Gather Round Me Parnellites’), while ‘lust’ spurred him to write bawdy songs. But he also had a renewed interest in uniting ‘music and speech’. He thought that the ‘right balance between sound and word’ might help poetry to ‘get back its public’. The stress on folk song in his Oxford introduction is linked with the monthly series of old and new broadsides to which he and other poets contributed in 1935 and 1937. In ‘Anglo-Irish Ballads’, their preface to the collected first series, Yeats and F.R. Higgins are excited by the ‘possibility that the simple metres based on lines of three or four accents, eight or six syllables, all that constitute what Mr G.M. Young calls the fundamental “sing-song of the language”, come to the poet’s ear with their appropriate tunes’. HibernoEnglish and Scots, Irish and Scottish traditional music, change some of the tunes.55 In 1937, Yeats wrote that the first line of Paradise Lost could be pronounced both according to the beat of its feet, and as ‘passionate prose’. With the latter emphasis, ‘the folk song is still there, but a ghostly voice, an unvariable possibility, an unconscious norm’. He then says: ‘What moves me and my


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hearer is a vivid speech that has no laws except that it must not exorcise the ghostly voice’ (CW5 214). The quatrain, whose folk root makes it the foundational English form or norm,56 is a crucial building block in Yeats’s stanzaic poetry. Poems highlighted in this book – ‘At the Abbey Theatre’, ‘Lapis Lazuli’, ‘The Two Trees’, sections of ‘Meditations in Time of Civil War’, ‘Under Saturn’ – have different rhythmic characters, but all are built on the quatrain. Discussing Thomas’s ‘sensitive adaptation of ballad metre’, Jonathan Barker finds that ‘over one third’ of his poems show the ballad’s influence.57 That is to say they are written in a range of quatrains: a stanza on which Thomas, too, builds larger units. As for folk ‘imitations’: Thomas also echoes other song forms, while, like Yeats, he uses the quatrain flexibly and complicates its stress pattern. ‘The Gallows’ begins: There was a weasel lived in the sun With all his family, Till a keeper shot him with his gun And hung him up on a tree, Where he swings in the wind and rain, In the sun and in the snow, Without pleasure, without pain, On the dead oak tree bough . . .58

‘The Gallows’ is a bleak parable of war. Perhaps the folk ghost becomes less ghostly when love or death or war demands ‘truly simple’ simplicity. Yeats compresses the gist of ‘Nineteen Hundred and Nineteen’ into We, who seven years ago Talked of honour and of truth, Shriek with pleasure if we show The weasel’s twist, the weasel’s tooth. (CW1 213)

Refrain epitomises incremental repetition: not only a matter of word, phrase or syntactical structure, but the basis of all poetic sound effects. MacNeice calls Yeats’s use of refrain ‘peculiar’: ‘First, the music of his refrain is often less obvious or smooth than that of the verses themselves, being sometimes flat, sometimes halting, sometimes strongly counterpointed. Secondly, his refrains tend to have either an intellectual meaning which is subtle and concentrated, or a symbolist or nonsense meaning which hits the reader below the belt.’59 The poems quoted above from ‘Words for Music Perhaps’ have double refrains. The lines differ in their relation to one another; each pair in its relation to the rest of the poem. In ‘Crazy Jane and the Bishop’ the first refrain line, with its

Yeats’s Other Island


‘vowel music’ (MacNeice), is a seeming non sequitur that points away from the world. The oxymoronic second refrain line, a comment on the Bishop’s values, points towards the world. The refrains that identify a ‘bone’ as singer incrementally suggest the spectral locus that this poem inhabits. Yet all Yeats’s refrains, eerie or worldly, ‘nonsensical’ or ‘intellectual’, oblique or in-your-face, call up the folk ghost as an unlocated impersonal voice: singing hermit, singing bone, ‘some ballad singer’, ‘Echo’ in ‘Man and the Echo’. There are more roads than one to what Eliot calls ‘escape from personality’. Refrain proper and the more irregular ‘repetend’ (a repeated word or phrase),60 stem from poetry’s mnemonic origins. ‘September 1913’ maximises both, as does ‘The Gallows’, which reverses one of its refrain lines (‘Without pain, without pleasure’), and adds further lists of ‘beasts / And birds, skin, bone and feather’ to an incremental indictment of mass slaughter. Ballad-like repetends include such various effects as Yeats’s ‘The weasel’s twist, the weasel’s tooth’, MacDiarmid’s ‘Like a yowdendrift’ in ‘The Eemis Stane’, and ‘forest’ in Thomas’s ‘The Green Roads’: I’ the how-dumb-deid o’ the cauld hairst nicht The warl’ like an eemis stane Wags i’ the lift; An’ my eerie memories fa’ Like a yowdendrift. Like a yowdendrift so’s I couldna’ read The words cut oot i’ the stane . . . (‘The Eemis Stane’)61 The green roads that end in the forest Are strewn with white goose feathers this June, Like marks left behind by someone gone to the forest To show his track. But he has never come back . . . (‘The Green Roads’)62

‘Forest’, which ends the first line of each unrhymed couplet, is repetend / refrain / rhyme. This poem also imitates folk song in the wandering nursery rhyme–like internal rhyme of the couplet’s second line. Yeats, Thomas and MacDiarmid pick-and-mix the repetition devices that run between folk song and poetry. They often use these in defamiliarising ways, which imply that we cannot step into the same river twice. In ‘Easter, 1916’, refrain itself ‘changes utterly’. MacDiarmid’s ‘Like a yowdendrift’ (blizzard) unsettles as it intensifies. In ‘The Green Roads’, ‘forest’ hangs like a refrain in search of completion, as if soundtracking the folk ghost itself or signposting a road to France. And modern refrain


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does not always know its place; ‘forest’ ominously takes over. Refrain has such structural importance to Yeats that sometimes, as MacNeice says of ‘Long-legged Fly’, ‘the refrain, far from being a mere decoration, is practically the focal point’63: ‘Like a long-legged fly upon the stream / His mind moves upon silence’ (CW1 347). ‘O honey-bees’ similarly takes centre stage. Praising the language of Yeats and Synge, Thomas says: ‘The best of the old ballads are not more direct’.64 Folk imitations by Yeats, Thomas and MacDiarmid vary in complexity of diction and syntax, but the aesthetic crux is that ‘simple’ language can create highly complex effects, sometimes as part of a larger orchestration: ‘The weasel’s twist’, ‘O honey-bees . . .’ Here song and speech converge. Thomas grafts ‘tone and pitch of voice’ (see p. 80) onto the small ‘alphabet’, the basic English, of folk song: ‘But he has never come back’. As Responsibilities shows, Synge brought the ‘folk’ qua language alive for Yeats. He writes of the Aran and Blasket islanders on whose speech Synge draws: ‘Here were men and women who under the weight of their necessity lived, as the artist lives, in the presence of death and childhood, and the great affections and the orgiastic moment when life outleaps its limits’ (CW4 235). The ‘labouring man’ phrases the nub of ‘Under Saturn’ in a colloquial idiom, which Yeats imbues with rhetorical and tonal subtlety: ‘You have come again, /And surely after twenty years it was time to come.’ For all three poets, folk song’s lexical basics encode other basics. MacDiarmid claims that ‘one of the most distinctive characteristics of the [Scots] Vernacular, part of its very essence, is its insistent recognition of the body, the senses’.65 The overlapping vocabulary of the poems quoted above includes ‘night’, ‘midnight’, ‘munelicht’, ‘forest’, ‘oak’, ‘shore’, ‘wind’, ‘weasel’ (and other animals), and parts of the body – especially ‘bones’. Such words, and more abstract basics like ‘pleasure’ / ‘pain’, are associated with ‘plain, immortal symbols’ (Thomas); with ‘reconciliation . . . between the base and the beautiful’ (MacDiarmid);66 with elemental scenarios like ‘death and childhood and the great affections’ (Yeats). The folk ghost ‘haunts’ in a mysterious as well as rhythmic sense, and it often shows up in conditions of bodily or psychological extremity: the ‘drunk man’ agonises on a weird hillside ‘whaur / Extremes meet’; where ‘a’ humanity sae lang has hid’ is exposed. ‘The Other’, Thomas’s narrative parable of self-division, its stanza based on the ballad-quatrain, is set in a psychic landscape comprised of ‘forest’ and ‘The sum / Of what’s not forest’.67 ‘Crazy Jane’ and related ‘singing fools’ bring new intensity to Yeats’s masks. Lear-like Jane, walking the roads, projects his psychodrama

Yeats’s Other Island


at its utmost pitch: paranoia and borderline ‘madness’, the poles of sex and death. In 1934, Ezra Pound criticised Yeats’s play ‘The King of the Great Clock Tower’ – calling it ‘Putrid’.68 Yeats riposted with ‘A Prayer for Old Age’, which attacks the abstraction of Pound’s Cantos: God guard me from those thoughts men think In the mind alone; He that sings a lasting song Thinks in a marrow-bone . . . (CW1 288)

Strongly stressed quatrains back up an implied link between poetry’s durability and its status as song: a hitching of traditional form to the folk ghost’s powers. Similarly, after MacDiarmid had renounced the Scots ballad for Poundian freewheeling, the poet and folk-song collector Hamish Henderson accused him of kicking away the ladder that had made him a poet.69 Pound himself wrote one ballad: ‘The Ballad of the Goodly Fere’. Yeats praised it, but Pound would soon dismiss ‘babble about folk song’.70 Perhaps partly as a result, the new sounds of modern poetry are more often credited to vers libre than to reinventions of the ballad-quatrain or MacDiarmid’s effort to combine the two. But if limp quatrains abound, so does limp free verse. And the folk ghost transmits other things with or within rhythm and refrain. ‘Thinks in a marrow-bone’ insists on poetry’s holistic sources. It also insists that immersions in folk song have kept Yeats’s own ‘thought’ in touch with the body, with poetic embodiment, with the bones of poetry.

The 1930s ‘Public Poem’ In May 1938, Yeats told Dorothy Wellesley: There has been an article upon my work [by the American poet-critic Archibald MacLeish] in the Yale Review, which is the only article on the subject which has not bored me for years. It commends me above other modern poets because my language is ‘public’. That word, which I had not thought of myself, is a word I want. Your language in ‘Fire’ is ‘public’, so is that of every good ballad. . . . It goes on to say that, owing to my age and my relation to Ireland, I was unable to use this language on what is evidently considered the right public material, politics. The enclosed little poem is my reply. (L 908–9)

For MacLeish, Yeats is ‘the best of modern poets’ because he has become ‘a poet of public speech and the world’, because he has written ‘the first


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poetry in English in more than a century in which the poem is an act upon the world’.71 Yeats’s enclosure to Wellesley was a draft of ‘Politics’. The published version begins: How can I, that girl standing there, My attention fix On Roman or on Russian Or on Spanish politics . . . (CW1 356)

The poem’s ironical epigraph is Thomas Mann’s statement, quoted by MacLeish: ‘In our time the destiny of man presents its meanings in political terms.’ As in ‘Lapis Lazuli’, Yeats questions whether man or poet in any age, at any age, should limit the meanings of destiny. Yet he will continue to write politicised poems and may well be piqued by MacLeish’s failure to see that the politics of his public poetry reach beyond Ireland. In refusing to ‘attend’ to ‘war and war’s alarms’, ‘Politics’ rewrites ‘On being asked for a War Poem’ – perhaps as ‘On not being asked for a Political Poem’ – and the shift of focus to a ‘girl’ and an old man (now Yeats himself ) again seems half-strategic. Yet both MacLeish and Yeats understand that the ‘public’ exceeds the ‘political’. It covers the entire res publica: all the communal and civil relations that Yeats’s engagement with ‘Ireland as audience’ has brought into poetic play. As he tells Wellesley, part of the ballad’s appeal is that community has made its language ‘public’. ‘Politics’, based on the ballad-quatrain, is itself a public poem and may be named as also (in some sense) a political poem. Yeats’s attitude to the left-wing poets, who comprised a self-consciously ‘new’ poetic generation in 1930s Britain, is more complex than might appear. When editing the Oxford Book of Modern Verse, he defined his main ‘problem’ as: ‘“How far do I like the Ezra, Eliot, Auden school and if I do not, why not?”’ (L 833). Yet he came to see that there had been more than one ‘school’: ‘Ten years after the war certain poets combined the modern vocabulary, the accurate record of the relevant facts learnt from Eliot, with the sense of suffering of the war poets, that sense of suffering no longer passive’. Yeats draws Auden, MacNeice and their contemporaries closer to himself than to Owen or Eliot or Pound when he calls them not ‘passive’ but ‘passionate’ (‘modern through the character of their intellectual passion’); when he finds that shared ‘belief’ gives them ‘intensity’ and that they ‘seek beyond the flux something unchanging, inviolate’ (OBMV xxx–viii). But his most significant claim on the young is a formal claim. With apparent casualness, he says that they ‘handle the traditional metres with a new freedom – vers libre lost much of its vogue some five years ago’ (xli). Elsewhere,

Yeats’s Other Island


he writes that English poets have ‘followed [his] lead’ in ‘making the language of poetry coincide with that of passionate, normal speech’ (CW5 212). Although the Oxford Book under-represents Auden, Yeats attaches the ‘thirties’ poets to his own legacy. MacNeice sees him as turning away from Irish clones ‘towards English poets who were breaking his own rules’.72 And, beneath political differences (Yeats’s absence from ‘the great struggle of our time to create a juster social order’)73 and differences over the status of politics, Yeats has accurately picked up his presence in their work – especially as public poet. Stephen Spender recalls that the impact of The Tower (1928) ‘was felt within a few months’; that ‘as rhythm and rhetoric’, lines such as ‘It is time that I wrote my will’ (from ‘The Tower’) ‘caught on like wildfire’. He says: ‘Probably The Tower was the volume by a contemporary published in this century which most affected the style of other poets’; also that ‘with The Tower Yeats restored rhetoric to poetry’ (Yeats had actually ‘restored rhetoric’ in 1910 with The Green Helmet).74 For Auden, in ‘Yeats as an Example’ (1948): [Yeats] transformed a certain kind of poem, the occasional poem, from being either an official performance . . . or a trivial vers de société into a serious reflective poem of at once personal and public interest. A poem such as ‘In Memory of Major Robert Gregory’ . . . never loses the personal note of a man speaking about his friends in a personal setting . . . and at the same time the occasion and characters acquire a symbolic public significance.75

Auden’s own public mode in the 1930s drew on Yeats’s ballads, along with his grander stanzaic ‘reflections’. In The Poetry of W.B. Yeats, MacNeice cites broadly public grounds when he argues that ‘in spite of their violently “modern” content’, the new ‘school of poets’ was ‘not so much in reaction against Yeats’ as against Eliot: Eliot . . . had maintained that the poet must adapt himself to [a difficult and complex] world. . . . Poets like Auden and Spender . . . returned to the old, arrogant principle – which was Yeats’s too – that it is the poet’s job to make sense of the world, to simplify it, to put shape on it. The fact that these younger poets proposed to stylise their world in accordance with communist doctrine or psychoanalytical theory (both things repugnant to Yeats) is comparatively irrelevant. Whatever their system was, they stood with Yeats for system against chaos, for a positive art against a passive impressionism. Where Eliot had seen misery, frustration, and ruins, they saw heroic struggle – or, sometimes, heroic defeat – and they saw ruins rebuilding.76

‘Passive’ may be as unfair to Eliot as when Yeats calls Owen ‘passive’. But changing times condition what poets see in, or need from, precursors. In


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the 1930s, it mattered that Yeats ‘did not turn his back on either society or statement’.77 ‘Ruins rebuilding’ echoes ‘Lapis Lazuli’. Modernist criticism usually ignores, or views as a conservative blip or ‘negative feedback’ (see below), what MacNeice calls a poetic ‘reaction from’ as well as ‘to’ Eliot in 1930s Britain. For Auden by 1933, to quote Edward Mendelson, ‘Yeats [had] supplanted Eliot’.78 Even so, Auden’s emigration to the United States (in 1939) can vaguely attach him to modernism and decouple him aesthetically from MacNeice, who still has little American reputation. Yet The Poetry of W.B. Yeats marks a doubly critical moment: not only in Yeats’s reception history but also as regards the course and concept of modern poetry. It certainly superseded New Bearings in English Poetry. MacNeice speaks for ‘my generation’, for principles agreed between himself and Auden, as in their co-authored Letters from Iceland (1937), and for complex Irish-English poetic interactivity. Pound declared himself unable to ‘share the Auden craze’. In ‘Letter to Lord Byron’, cornerstone of Letters from Iceland and effectively a poetic manifesto, Auden parodies Pound’s macaronic effects: ‘what this may mean / I do not know, but rather like the sound / Of foreign languages like Ezra Pound’.79 MacNeice’s response to A Draft of Thirty Cantos resembles Yeats’s: ‘Mr Pound does not know when to stop; he is a born strummer’. He says: ‘What [Geoffrey] Grigson calls “the cultural-reference rock-jumping style”, even if feasible in a poem of the length of The Waste Land, where every reference can be manoeuvred to pull its weight, is bound to lose its virility in a work as vast as the Cantos.’ Form is again of the essence. Yeats’s remark that Auden et al. ‘handle the traditional metres with new freedom’ chimes with what Auden sees as Yeats’s second ‘main legacy’: ‘he released regular stanzaic poetry . . . from iambic monotony’80. In Modern Poetry (1938), rather than inexorable progress towards ever-freer verse, MacNeice stresses a formal spectrum now (freely) available: ‘All experiment is made on a basis of tradition; all tradition is the crystallisation of experiment.’81 In other words, Yeats’s dialectics with Eliot and Pound were simultaneously being played out in the aesthetics of Auden and MacNeice. Their ability to absorb Yeats may be one reason why their poetry has outlasted that of Spender and Cecil Day Lewis. While Yeats seems ahead on form (the influence that goes deepest), he is right to stress the impact of Eliot’s ‘modern vocabulary’, although not to align it with ‘facts’. In ‘Letter to Lord Byron’ Auden says, if half-ironically: ‘For gasworks and dried tubers I forsook / The clock at Grantchester, the English rook’. In Modern Poetry, MacNeice refers to Eliot’s use of diction ‘distilled from the streets’. When he first read ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred

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Prufrock’ and ‘The Waste Land’, they evoked for him ‘that “smell” of a modern city’ along with ‘the human element below that surface’.82 One way in which Auden and MacNeice break Yeats’s rules is by admitting ‘modern heterogeneity’, urban heterogeneity, the icons and idioms of contemporary culture, into their poems. Even if Yeats eventually sets a poem (a section of ‘Vacillation’) ‘In a crowded London shop’ – a café (CW1 255), Eliot is largely responsible for Auden’s beginning ‘September 1, 1939’: ‘I sit in one of the dives / On Fifty-Second Street’.83 The language of modernity pours into the poetry of Auden and MacNeice through a dyke chiefly, if cautiously, breached by Eliot. It’s integral to the aesthetic of ‘Letter to Lord Byron’ that the poet-speaker should ‘talk on any subject that I choose’, to the aesthetic of MacNeice’s Autumn Journal (1939) that the protagonist should breathe ‘London’s packed and stale and pregnant air’.84 Auden and MacNeice also build on Eliot’s gasworks by making modern phenomena symbolic. MacNeice is widely credited with having done so for traffic.85 When poets in the 1930s looked to Yeats as example, precursor or contemporary, did they connect his public voice with his formal practice? MacNeice writes: We admired him too for his form. . . . Yeats went back to an earlier tradition [than the methods of The Waste Land], and suggested by his example that, given a chaotic world, the poet is entitled, if he wishes, to eliminate some of the chaos, to select and systematise. Treatment of form and subject here went hand in hand. Yeats’s formalising activity began when he thought about the world; as he thought it into a regular pattern, he naturally cast his verse in regular patterns also. A parallel process can be observed in W.H. Auden.86

As already noted, in refuting the mimetic assumption that ‘a chaotic world’ requires disjunctive poetry, MacNeice reflects Yeats’s own belief that a poet should not be ‘helpless before the contents of his mind’ (see p. 60). Yet he also states as a general axiom: ‘[I]t is difficult to see that any definite form x is especially suited to expressing any definite subject matter y: consider the vagaries of the sonnet’. For MacNeice, it’s a matter of artistic choice made at the deep level where form and subject meet – although aesthetic and historical variables ‘condition’ (a verb he prefers to the Marxist ‘determine’) that choice. In the 1930s, the variables included raised political consciousness and a swing of the formal pendulum after free verse had helped to loosen up ‘mummified and theorised tradition’.87 Where those factors intersected, they re-emphasised poetry as a functional social medium (not the same as a medium for social issues): thus Letters from Iceland revived that quintessentially social genre, the verse epistle. This emphasis parallels


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Yeats’s holistic uses for Ireland as tradition, community and audience. In Auden’s ‘The Public v. the Late Mr. William Butler Yeats’ (1939), the ‘Counsel for the Defence’ is not just engaged in special pleading when he cites Yeats’s ‘sustained protest against the social atomisation caused by industrialism’ and his ‘attempt to find through folk tradition a binding force for society’.88 (William Morris is the common root here.) In Modern Poetry, MacNeice insists that the ‘poet is once again to make his response as a whole’, and that poets receive words as ‘a community-product’. He criticises Mallarmé for ‘trying to drop communication’. Yet a poet’s public function is to be ‘not so much the mouthpiece of a community (for then he will only tell it what it knows already) as its conscience, its critical faculty, its generous instinct’.89 ‘Letter to Lord Byron’ and Autumn Journal criticise the public language of the day. It might be argued that traditional forms have richer access to communicative resources: Auden likens the free-verse poet to ‘Robinson Crusoe on his desert island’, who must do everything for himself. In 1932, Auden represented verse-form as dance, a society of words, a social template: ‘When a poet is writing verse, the feeling, as it were, excites the words and makes them fall into a definite group, going through definite dancing movements, just as feeling excites the different members of a crowd and makes them act together.’ He calls metre ‘group excitement among words’ and rhythm ‘what is expected by one word of another’. In the same essay Auden laments, as later in ‘Letter to Lord Byron’, that literature, which benefits from a small ‘united’ society, ‘suffers whenever society breaks up into classes, sects, townspeople and peasants, rich and poor’. Auden’s response to atomisation is, like MacNeice’s, to aim at ‘a positive art’. He attacks the 1890s (always seen as the opposite pole) for a detachment that ‘lost’ poetry ‘responsibilities and friends’ (see p. 2) and does not, like Eliot in 1917, assume that traditional form is over. Rather, he writes stanzaic poems, sonnet sequences, and his long ‘Letter’ in Rhyme Royal: a seven-line stanza used by Chaucer and Shakespeare. As he tells ‘Byron’, after portraying Aestheticism and Symbolism as a solipsistic binge: ‘the sobering few / Are trying hard to think of something new’.90 Earlier, Yeats had ‘thought of something new’ when, to quote MacNeice, he stopped ‘throttling the rhetorician inside himself ’. If the folk ghost renews poetry’s rhythmic and communal heartbeat, public engagement may renew its syntactical brain. Yeats had shown how ‘[r]hythm and rhetoric in wedlock’ (MacNeice) could give poetry a public voice – even if the public did not listen.91

Yeats’s Other Island


Yeats’s influence on Auden and MacNeice is confined neither to the public poem nor to the 1930s. His aesthetics would reverberate throughout their work. Indeed, MacNeice begins The Poetry of W.B. Yeats by saying that, as he embarked on the book, Hitler’s invasion of Poland changed his attitude to Yeats’s poetry, enlarging his sense of its ‘reality’, since ‘war spares neither the poetry of Xanadu nor the poetry of pylons’.92 This may vindicate ‘Lapis Lazuli’ and ‘Politics’. MacNeice’s study does not represent always-held positions but a retrospective and prospective coming to terms. In doing justice to Yeats’s variety (a principle of his own aesthetic), he discusses aspects of his poetry, such as refrain, which he has not yet creatively absorbed (see pp. 205–6). But it’s crucial to Yeats ‘as an example’ that Yeats does not narrow the scope of the public poem itself (1930s communist verse has much in common with Young Ireland). He makes room for the ‘personal’ and for distinctive ‘formalising activity’. In MacNeice’s ‘Birmingham’ (1933) and Auden’s letter to Christopher Isherwood (1935), ottava rima acquires new rhythms. The poems end: On shining lines the trams like vast sarcophagi move Into the sky, plum after sunset, merging to duck’s egg, barred with mauve Zeppelin clouds, and Pentecost-like the cars’ headlights bud Out from sideroads and the traffic signals, crème-de-menthe or bull’s blood, Tell one to stop, the engine gently breathing, or to go on To where like black pipes of organs in the frayed and fading zone Of the West the factory chimneys on sullen sentry will all night wait To call, in the harsh morning, sleep-stupid faces through the daily gate.93 This then my birthday wish for you, as now From the narrow window of my fourth-floor room I smoke into the night, and watch reflections Stretch in the harbour. In the houses The little pianos are closed, and a clock strikes. And all sway forward on the dangerous flood Of history, that never sleeps or dies, And, held one moment, burns the hand.94

MacNeice is usually readier than Auden to stretch the stanzaic line (here to seventeen syllables) or let syntax overpower line and iambic beat: ‘duck’s egg, barred with mauve / Zeppelin clouds’. This befits his tendency to figure city life as sense-experience, mobile experience, a stream of consciousness. The poem’s traffic becomes symbolic by way of a metaphorical kaleidoscope: ‘sarcophagi’, ‘Zeppelin’, ‘Pentecost’, ‘bull’s blood’, ‘black


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pipes’, ‘sullen sentry’. Symbolism survives: this urban phantasmagoria is hardly Yeats’s ‘accurate record’. Yet it subsumes reportage and comment. Images of entombment, mechanism and war add up to a critique that gives the 1920s ‘Decline of the West’ motif a late-capitalist twist. Formally and metaphysically, ‘Birmingham’ steers between system and surrender to ‘flux’. As later in Autumn Journal, MacNeice admits flux into the poet’s mind, but dramatised as consciousness. Influenced by Virginia Woolf, by ‘flux-philosophers’ from Heraclitus to Henri Bergson, his poetry seems to go with the flow while insinuating pattern. If Yeats ‘will not accept life as a hailstorm of data that melts before it reaches the ground’, MacNeice tries to catch the hail just before it melts.95 Hence his perception that Auden’s ‘stylisation’ of thought and stanza is closer to Yeats. These lines, from Yeats’s ‘In Memory of Eva Gore-Booth and Con Markiewicz’, strike a note that Auden echoes: ‘The innocent and the beautiful / Have no enemy but time’ (CW1 237). Auden’s letter to Isherwood features ‘The defeated and disfigured marching by’, ‘The acid and austere’, and ‘Greed showing shamelessly her naked money, / And all Love’s wondering eloquence debased’ (we may catch the tone of Yeatsian rebuke). Not only Auden’s recourse to Marxist or Freudian frameworks but also his grammar – his abstract nouns or noun-adjectives, his categorising definite article – parallels Yeats’s persistent ‘desire to docket the universe’ (MacNeice).96 So does his stylisation of psychosocial types. ‘In Memory of Major Robert Gregory’ speaks of bringing ‘to mind / All those that that manhood tried, or childhood loved / Or boyish intellect approved, / With some appropriate commentary on each’ (135). Auden tells Isherwood: ‘All types that can intrigue the writer’s fancy, / Or sensuality approves, are here’. Similarly, his letter-poem is dated ‘this hour of crisis and dismay’, and it reflexively holds ‘history’ in its hand by generalising the image as well as by abstracting the trend. The houses, with their typifying ‘little pianos’, contrast with the local immediacy of MacNeice’s trams. Yet this poet-commentator, while ‘watching’ from above, ultimately connects ‘all’ his historical freight since the stanza connects its own elements. Whereas in ‘Birmingham’ the traffic of consciousness and history overruns variously rhymed couplets, Auden exploits rhetorical crescendo to convey ‘the dangerous flood’ in a more demotic version of Yeats’s ‘complete coincidence between period and stanza’ (CW5 212). His unrhymed stanza depends on the tonal relations between its three sentences: the first rendering the poet’s mood, the second projecting it into the houses and the third making a conclusive generalisation symbolic. Common to both poems are the crisis-laden omens that, in 1930s poetry, update wartime

Yeats’s Other Island


apocalypse. Owen, as much as Yeats, influenced such ‘warnings’ together with poets’ perception of themselves as somehow implicated or responsible or answerable. That stanzaic snapshot by no means covers the formal variables in the early 1930s, but it broadly suggests that MacNeice’s public poems favour immersion, Auden’s, the panoptic. This contrast, and its relation to Yeats, cannot readily be explained in terms of Irish / English differences. MacNeice’s artistic attraction to Yeats, as when he highlights his poetry’s ‘leaping vitality’, depends on more complex factors than strong cultural links that include religion and its attendant politics: ‘Like Yeats, I was brought up in an Irish middle-class Protestant family.’ Even here, it’s also significant that the work of all three poets is conditioned by archipelagic variations on the historical nexus between poetry and Anglicanism: Yeats’s disaffection from Church of Ireland ‘piety’ (see p. 7), Auden’s securely Anglo-Catholic background, MacNeice growing up, amid Ulster’s denominational tensions, as ‘the rector’s son’. Again, MacNeice’s versions of Birmingham and Belfast (‘A city built upon mud; / A culture built upon profit’) overlap in a context of archipelagic industrial history, and of industry’s still-felt shock to Romantic (and Yeatsian) sensibilities.97 Nevertheless, MacNeice is central to Yeats’s posterity because he responded to him in both Irish and British contexts, and in ways that caused the one to react with the other. He inhabited a new configuration of Yeats’s biinsular literary world, and hence his public world. In 1938–9, Yeats’s example seems to have become still more necessary as history became more pressing, war more imminent. At its best, the endof-the-thirties poetry of Auden and MacNeice combines, as Auden says of Yeats, a ‘personal note’ and ‘a personal setting’ with ‘symbolic public significance’. Section XVI of Autumn Journal begins by invoking Yeats and two of his public poems: Nightmare leaves fatigue: We envy men of action Who sleep and wake, murder and intrigue Without being doubtful, without being haunted. And I envy the intransigence of my own Countrymen who shoot to kill and never See the victim’s face become their own Or find his motive sabotage their motives. So reading the memoirs of Maud Gonne, Daughter of an English mother and a soldier father, I note how a single purpose can be founded on A jumble of opposites:


Yeats and Modern Poetry Dublin Castle, the vice-regal ball, The embassies of Europe, Hatred scribbled on a wall, Gaols and revolvers . . .98

‘We envy’ aligns MacNeice with Yeats in ‘The Road at My Door’. The allusion may point to ‘Meditations in Time of Civil War’ as a particular model for Autumn Journal. MacNeice’s speaker constantly juggles with ‘To be or not to be’ dilemmas like those that perplex Yeats: the poet’s ambivalence about ‘men of action’; ‘doubt’ or ‘uncertainty’ striving to assert its value(s) against ‘Hearts with one purpose alone’. Here ‘jumble’ subverts Gonne’s ‘singleness’. MacNeice calls Autumn Journal ‘something half-way between the lyric and the didactic poem’. This long poem is more effectively discursive than his earlier public poetry, more able to interweave the immersive and panoptic, more conscious of being a public poem, even if he claims that he is not ‘attempting to offer . . . a final verdict or a balanced judgment’. MacNeice also claims that the poem’s ‘personal’ aspect, its status as ‘lyric’, licenses ‘over-statements’.99 More crucially, it adds depth and texture, as when a memory from Carrickfergus follows the literaryhistorical excursus quoted above: ‘And I remember, when I was little, the fear / Bandied among the servants / That Casement would land at the pier / With a sword and a horde of rebels’. Autumn Journal’s personal dimension, its psychodrama, corresponds to MacNeice’s critical stress on the ‘dramatic’ character of Yeats’s lyric.100 The flow between the protagonist’s inner and outer worlds, past and present, exploits the double resonance of ‘journal’ (diary, journalism) as reports of the unfamiliar upset ‘diurnal’ patterns, as reportage generates symbol: ‘They are cutting down the trees on Primrose Hill . . . / The guns will take the view’. Compare Yeats’s: ‘somewhere / A man is killed, or a house burned’ (CW1 208). In Section XVI, the speaker proposes, but questions, the idea that ‘Ireland is small enough / To be still thought of with a family feeling’. Yet this is also an implied template for public poetry, which MacNeice transmutes into the poem’s pivotal relation between the speaker and London preparing for war: ‘The cylinders are racing in the presses, / The mines are laid, / The ribbon plumbs the fallen fathoms of Wall Street, / And you and I are afraid’.101 That effect has learned from Yeats’s pronouns in ‘Easter, 1916’, as Autumn Journal more broadly from ‘Ireland as audience’. Yet Britain and Europe enter MacNeice’s digest of Gonne’s memoirs, and his account of Irish political dynamics intersects with how the poem perceives the Spanish Civil War and the Munich Agreement: its overarching public occasion. Yeats

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never wrote a public poem as long as Autumn Journal; it might be said that MacNeice extraverts the structures of ‘Meditations’ or ‘A Prayer for my Daughter’. One paradoxical effect is to put Eliot’s ‘London’ together again as war impends. When Glyn Maxwell analyses the verse structure of Autumn Journal (‘Sometimes it rhymed, sometimes it did not, it appeared to elongate and truncate at will’), he also captures how lyric and didactic interact to make the poem public: ‘[T]he form in this poem needs to be good enough for hurrying through the streets, upstanding idealism, sedentary regret, horizontal anguish, all manner of posture.’102 Auden always thought that Ireland’s ‘family feeling’ gave Yeats an advantage as regards public poetry. He wrote in 1955: ‘Yeats is probably the only poet in this century who has written great poetry on political subjects . . . the scale of the political has become so great that a personal relation with it is impossible.’103 Yet in the 1930s, Auden found his own means to conjure up communal horizons. Even the implied element of coterie in ‘Letter to Lord Byron’ – ‘the personal note of a man speaking about his friends in a personal setting’ – helps to mediate a public world defined (in one sense, more cohesively than usual) by ‘Social Questions’ and ‘Rumours of War’. The conceit of updating Byron allows Auden’s ‘conversational song’ to speak for collective experience: to combine autobiography, history, literary criticism, sociopolitical critique and travelogue into a serio-comic commentary on the condition of Britain and Europe.104 Autumn Journal blends similar ingredients. But the format of MacNeice’s best public poem keeps him in touch with ‘lyric’, whereas the epistle seems to suit Auden’s manner of columnist rather than reporter, his more consistently discursive (‘talk on any subject’) engagement with the res publica. ‘September 1, 1939’ is essentially an epistle or editorial. Although it encompasses ‘our private lives’, the speaker’s own private life mostly remains in the background: I sit in one of the dives On Fifty-Second Street Uncertain and afraid As the clever hopes expire Of a low dishonest decade: Waves of anger and fear Circulate over the bright And darkened lands of the earth, Obsessing our private lives; The unmentionable odour of death Offends the September night . . .105


Yeats and Modern Poetry

Set in ‘neutral’ New York, this poem, too, stakes out its relation to (a global) audience by way of pronouns: ‘Our private lives’; ‘I and the public know. . . / Those to whom evil is done / Do evil in return’; ‘The dense commuters come, / Repeating their morning vow’; ‘We must love one another or die’; ‘Our world in stupor lies’. Besides pronouns, the parallels with ‘Easter, 1916’ include title – a history-changing date – and metre. In adapting Yeats’s fluid trimeters, Auden breaks with his concealed quatrain and regular rhyme-scheme, but his own lopsided eleven-line stanza manifests similar tensions between crisis and the poet’s effort to ‘formalise’ it, to find language for it. Joseph Brodsky’s brilliant reading of the poem stresses the relation between diction and tone. He writes of the ‘The unmentionable odour of death / Offends . . .’: The poet . . . gives us two euphemisms in a row: an epithet and an object, and we almost see a wriggled nose. The same goes for ‘offends’. Euphemism . . . is inertia of terror. What makes these lines doubly horrid is the mixture of the poet’s real fear with a roundabout locution, aping his audience’s reluctance to call a spade a spade.106

Brodsky notices what Auden learned from Yeats: how to configure public and personal voices; how to let the quarrel with the self inform the quarrel with others. In ‘Easter, 1916’, the speaker criticises his own former euphemism and denial, his ‘polite meaningless words’ (CW1 182). There are also structural parallels with how ‘A Prayer for my Daughter’ recovers from epochal ‘gloom’. Having attacked the ‘windiest militant trash / Important Persons shout’ (shades of Maud Gonne), ‘September 1, 1939’ moves into the imperative (‘We must love one another’) and optative moods that mark ‘a positive art’: May I, composed like them Of Eros and of dust, Beleaguered by the same Negation and despair, Show an affirming flame.107

Another link between ‘Easter, 1916’ and ‘September 1, 1939’, perhaps why Yeats’s poem got into Auden’s head, is that each poet-speaker has been humbled – humbled as public poet – his ‘certainty’ overturned. The Yeats-speaker had once been ‘certain that they and I / But lived where motley is worn’ (CW1 182). And if the Auden-speaker is ‘Uncertain and afraid’, it’s partly because the dashed ‘clever hopes’ have also been Auden’s own as poster-boy for the English literary Left. The public Yeats is much on Auden’s mind in his valedictions to England and the decade. His elegy ‘In Memory of W.B. Yeats’ and his dialogue-essay ‘The Public v. the Late

Yeats’s Other Island


Mr. William Butler Yeats’ are shaped by what he now sees as his own false position (perhaps his false poetry) during the 1930s. It seems a personally prophylactic move when the elegy tells Yeats: ‘You were silly like us: your gift survived it all’. There may be a parallel between Yeats’s underlying guilt over Cathleen ní Houlihán (see p. 32) and Auden’s feelings about those who could have read his poem ‘Spain’ as a battle call: ‘But today the struggle’.108 ‘In Memory’ represents Yeats’s death as a ‘public’ event: He disappeared in the dead of winter: The brooks were frozen, the air-ports almost deserted, And snow disfigured the public statues . . .109

Then the dying poet becomes a state or city overthrown: ‘The provinces of his body revolted, / The squares of his mind were empty’; his posterity, a takeover by other regimes: ‘scattered among a hundred cities’. Yet the poem’s oft-quoted second section appears to detach Yeats’s poetry from public significance and consequence: ‘Ireland has her madness and her weather still, / For poetry makes nothing happen’. This picks up Owen’s accusatory refrain in ‘Exposure’ (‘But nothing happens’), and echoes the defence case in ‘The Public v. the Late Mr. William Butler Yeats’, which argues that Yeats’s reactionary views do not matter, since ‘art is a product of history, not a cause’. There are contradictions in Auden’s position; he also thinks the poet ‘a man of action [in] the field of language’ (compare MacLeish’s view), and his elegy goes on to define poetry as ‘A way of happening, a mouth’. Again, as later in ‘September 1, 1939’ (‘All I have is a voice / To undo the folded lie’), so in the ballad-like final section he attaches poetic ‘voice’ to public intervention: ‘With your unconstraining voice / Still persuade us to rejoice’. ‘Rejoice’, a word and value in Yeats’s ‘The Gyres’, akin to ‘gaiety’ in ‘Lapis Lazuli’, still has its eye on the public world. So does the climax of ‘In Memory’, which exhorts the poet to exhort: ‘In the prison of his days / Teach the free man how to praise’. Where Auden most problematically contradicts himself is where he begins to detach style from meaning: ‘Time . . . will pardon Paul Claudel, / Pardons him for writing well’.110 This lays the fuse for what he says of ‘revision’ in the preface to his Collected Shorter Poems (1966): ‘I have never, consciously at any rate, attempted to revise my former thoughts or feelings, only the language in which they were first expressed’.111 Auden does not include ‘September 1, 1939’ or ‘Spain’ in this collection, and had earlier changed ‘We must love one another or die’ to ‘We must love one another and die’. The first version has a public / political meaning; the second, either a religious or flatly literal meaning. Auden’s late-1930s


Yeats and Modern Poetry

brooding on poetry and the public world replicates Yeats’s quarrel with himself over ‘opinion’, the quarrel with others. Auden sometimes sets out the issues dialectically – in his forensic dialogue, in a set of aphorisms that co-opt Blake’s contrary principles ‘The Prolific and the Devourer’ to represent the artistic and political mentalities, the poet’s ‘struggle’ between private and public life.112 But, unlike Yeats, Auden did not maintain this struggle as dialectics, contraries or antinomies. He sheered away from being ‘devoured’. Towards the end of The Poetry of W.B. Yeats, MacNeice responds to ‘The Public v. the Late Mr. William Butler Yeats’. While praising Auden for demolishing the ‘very superficial view’ that Yeats’s politics damn and marginalise his poetry, he notes that Auden’s contradictions lead him to misread Yeats (here, Irish antennae count): ‘Auden . . . as was natural in a poet who had abruptly abandoned the conception of art as handmaid of politics for the conception of art as autotelic, overstates his case’. For MacNeice, the prosecution’s ‘fallacy’ lies in thinking, not that art affects history but rather ‘that it is the function of art to make things happen and that the effect of art upon actions is something either direct or calculable’. Citing the possibly ‘unintentional’ impact of Cathleen ní Houlihán, he says: ‘[Yeats] knew that art can alter a man’s outlook and so indirectly affect his actions’. Yeats’s acute historical consciousness, his long exposure to ‘times like these’, and ‘Ireland as audience’ kept the word ‘public’ applicable to his poetry. Yeats, too, was a ‘thirties poet’. ‘Lapis Lazuli’ is a thirties poem. It’s from a thirties perspective that MacNeice sums up Yeats’s message as ‘we who are on the gyres are lucky to be in at the deaths and births of history’.113 In 1939, the ‘deaths and births of history’ loomed large. MacNeice writes: ‘The coal-black turf-stacks rose against the darkness / Like the tombs of nameless kings’.114 Both in his critical book and in his lyric sequence ‘The Closing Album’ (August–September 1939), MacNeice, like Auden, says goodbye to the 1930s – and hello to war – through the lens of Yeats. The quotation above is from ‘Sligo and Mayo’, third poem of ‘The Closing Album’. Like Auden again, MacNeice absorbed ‘The Coming of War’ (the sequence’s original title) in a neutral country, if closer to home and to Yeats; that is, during an Irish holiday when he visited the west and Dublin. Because Ireland provides a symbolic ground for the crisis, ‘The Closing Album’ exemplifies now MacNeice responds to Yeats in a dual or multiple context. And because war has made more than Yeats and Ireland ‘unreal’, ‘Meditations in Time of Civil War’ (war pastoral that defamiliarises western landscape) may now be a more immediate model: the

Yeats’s Other Island


ominous ‘turf-stacks’, ‘the falling ear-rings / Of fuchsias red as blood’.115 After the semi-extraverted Autumn Journal, MacNeice returns autobiography and history to Yeats’s lyric base. Yet ‘Meditations’ itself has links with the other island’s ‘war poetry’, and, from a British generic angle, ‘The Closing Album’ is a late-thirties case of literary travelogue mutating into ‘journey to a war’. The first poem, ‘Dublin’, extends MacNeice’s local variations on the ‘city poem’, while flagging up archipelagic conflict and hybridity: neither ‘Irish’ nor ‘English’, Dublin is ‘Fort of the Dane, / Garrison of the Saxon, / Augustan capital / Of a Gaelic nation . . .’116 Nonetheless, or all the more, this complex poem again rewrites ‘Easter, 1916’ and retunes its metre. It may also be an oblique elegy for Yeats: a reconciliatory climax to MacNeice’s dialectics with Yeats that shows what he has taken from Yeatsian dialectics. MacNeice thinks Yeats ‘outstanding among modern poets for his mastery of the short-line poem with three or four stresses to a line’, in which you must ‘arrange the sentences so as to avoid breaking the run of the whole’ and ‘control the rhythms [so] that the poem does not get into a skid’.117 ‘Dublin’ begins: Grey brick upon brick, Declamatory bronze On sombre pedestals – O’Connell, Grattan, Moore – And the brewery tugs and the swans On the balustraded stream And the bare bones of a fanlight Over a hungry door And the air soft on the cheek And porter running from the taps With a head of yellow cream And Nelson on his pillar Watching his world collapse . . .118

MacNeice’s twelve- or thirteen-line stanza, his two- to four-beat lines, differ rhythmically both from Auden’s stanza and the Yeatsian template. This is partly because his strategy is again immersive, his city more sensually inhabited and fluidly circumambient than Auden’s New York. The conjunctive catalogue (‘And’), a staple structure of Autumn Journal, keeps the opening sentence on the run, while dispersed rhymes prevent rhythmic skid. Yet the poem sets off at a slower pace than its precursors. The last stanza tells ‘Dublin’, ‘You poise the toppling hour’, and ‘poise’ characterises MacNeice’s approach to the tension between poetic pattern and public turbulence – not only Nelson’s world is ‘collapsing’.


Yeats and Modern Poetry

‘Dublin’ ends by circling back refrain-like, gyre-like to the first line: ‘O greyness run to flower, / Grey stone, grey water, / And brick upon grey brick’. The poem’s stone-and-water imagery contributes to its dialogue with ‘Easter, 1916’. MacNeice interfuses ‘Grey stone, grey water’ in a way that tempers and distances Yeats’s opposition between ‘grey / Eighteenthcentury houses’ and ‘vivid faces’; ‘stone’ opinion and ‘living stream’ (CW1 182–3). The movement of ‘Dublin’ too, more simultaneously than that of ‘Easter, 1916’, evokes the city’s two faces as ‘stream’ and architecture. It somehow suggests both a river flowing and a piling of line upon line as ‘brick upon brick’. MacNeice’s syntax, as with the conjunctive ‘and’, also tempers Yeatsian oppositions. He softens the oxymoronic core of ‘Easter, 1916’ with phrases like ‘balustraded stream’, ‘seedy elegance’, ‘The catcalls and the pain, / The glamour of her squalor’. Similarly, a muted version of Yeats’s ‘Declamatory bronze’, perhaps an allusion to ‘The Statues’, exploits ‘incremental repetition’ and rhetorical crescendo: ‘grey’, the build-up to ‘Nelson on his pillar’, this single-sentence critique with its rungs of internal rhyme: But oh the days are soft, Soft enough to forget The lesson better learnt, The bullet on the wet Streets, the crooked deal, The steel behind the laugh, The Four Courts burnt.119

The Four Courts were ‘burnt’ during the Irish Civil War. Yeats’s Dublin may be receding, but it figures the unlearned lessons that have led to a second European war. This is a dark sense in which, as the speaker says, the city ‘holds my mind’. Yet the reconciliatory poise of MacNeice’s oblique elegy for Yeats, for the pre-war world, hints that poetic, if not political, lessons have been learned. ‘Swans’ and ‘brewery tugs’ appear in the same line.

The Postwar ‘English Lyric’ A poet’s posterity depends on who reads what, when, where and how. The instant impact of The Tower in Britain was not replicated in Ireland. Similarly, when Donald Davie wrote in 1955 that Irish poets had still not ‘recognised the logic of Yeats’s poetic development’, he implied that his own postwar generation of English poets had done so (see p. 26). In 1964,

Yeats’s Other Island


in an essay that told young poets to notice how Yeats combines ‘abstract words’ with everyday speech, Davie said: Fifteen or twenty years ago . . . it was Yeats’s use of metre which was most instructive, and if this is instructive no longer it’s because the lesson has been very thoroughly learned already. For nothing is more striking about poems in English . . . than the way in which poets have turned away from ‘free verse’, to using again the traditional metres. . . . [N]o one has been so influential as Yeats in bringing about this most marked reversion to metre.120

This ‘reversion’ differs from the 1930s reversion since it pivots on the lyric poem and largely eschews discursive ‘formalising activity’ in a public sphere. For instance, Thom Gunn’s ottava rima ‘On the Move’ evokes 1950s bikers in a way that seems more heroic-visionary than socially immersive or politically trend-spotting. The poem is partly powered by what Gunn calls ‘a mere Yeatsian wilfulness’: A minute holds them, who have come to go: The self-defined, astride the created will They burst away; the towns they travel through Are home for neither bird nor holiness, For birds and saints complete their purposes. At worst, one is in motion; and at best, Reaching no absolute, in which to rest, One is always nearer by not keeping still.121

Although ‘neither bird nor holiness’ suggests that ‘On the Move’ is moving away from Byzantium, it may also be heading there. Like other English poets born between 1922 and 1932, Gunn was drawn to the Yeats for whom Aestheticism and Symbolism revived the ‘intensity’ of Catullus, the Greek Anthology, ‘the Jacobean Lyrists’ (CW5 91–2). Formally intense (and intensely formal) lyrics had, of course, been written during the 1930s and during the war. Keith Douglas may be exactly the kind of ‘war poet’ that ‘Lapis Lazuli’ desiderates. Yet it’s a question of emphasis: MacNeice and Auden were then reacting against aspects of their former selves. Graves, Empson and, indeed, Auden’s shorter poems also provided structural models after the war, but, to quote from Robert Conquest’s introduction to his anthology New Lines (1956): ‘[T]he general recognition of Yeats as the great poet of the century is reflected in a considerable debt of matter and method among the poets in this book’. As regards ‘method’: Conquest invokes Yeats when he speaks of ‘refusal to abandon a rational structure and comprehensible language, even when the verse is most highly charged with sensuous or emotional intent’.122


Yeats and Modern Poetry

Despite such contemporary witness, Yeats is often absent from a tenacious critical narrative about poetry in England between 1950 and 1960. Here the formalism of the original New Lines poets such as Larkin, Gunn and Davie (Conquest published a second anthology in 1963), denotes a restricted aesthetic and vision personified by Larkin. Although these poets denied any group identity, they became known as the Movement. In 1957, Charles Tomlinson attacked their ‘Middlebrow Muse’, and A. Alvarez, in his influential anthology The New Poetry (1962), argued that the Movement’s ‘gentility’ continued a counter-revolutionary ‘series of negative feed-backs’ designed to ‘correct the balance [Eliot’s and Pound’s] experimentation had so unpredictably disturbed’. Since the ‘great moderns [had] experimented not just to make it new formally, but to open poetry up to new areas of experience’, Alvarez urged poets to engage with history as ‘mass evil’, with psychology as ‘libido’, and with all ‘the forces . . . which destroy the old standards of civilisation’. That sounds like an invitation to rewrite ‘The Second Coming’, but the ‘great modern’ Yeats goes unmentioned. For Alvarez, American poets (Robert Lowell, John Berryman), explore ‘experience sometimes on the edge of disintegration and breakdown’ in a way that few English poets – he nominates Ted Hughes – can manage.123 A half-century later, ‘Movement’ remains an abusive shorthand for lack of structural and conceptual daring, for resistance to (mainly American) innovation. Even the contributors to The Movement Reconsidered (2009), a revisionist collection of essays that hopes to challenge ‘stereotypes’, seldom enlist Yeats. One reason may be that his co-option by modernism has segregated him from what the editor, Zachary Leader, calls ‘the perceived hostility of Movement poets to modernism’.124 Yet Yeats was a Pound-baiter before Larkin. Again, as poets changed aesthetic tack, they sometimes erased Yeats’s early importance to them. Thus Davie came to internalise Alvarez’s anxiety-inducing thesis about the scope and status of ‘English’ poetry. Davie’s worries about ‘a breakdown in communication’ with American poetry, his mid-Atlantic critical oscillations in books on Hardy and Pound (the former representing ‘modesty of intention’, the latter American ‘liberties’), ended in him implausibly declaring himself ‘A Son of Ezra’.125 Meanwhile, kickstarted by Yeats’s centenary in 1965, the Yeats industry as well as critical modernism took off in the mid-1960s. It, too, overlaid what had been primarily the poets’ Yeats. A linking factor in all this may be that Eliotdefined Anglo-American horizons (which exclude Yeats’s transatlantic impact along with much else in American poetry) blot out the archipelago beyond England. When Larkin edited the Oxford Book of Twentieth-

Yeats’s Other Island


Century English Verse (1973) and adjusted Yeats’s Irish bias by seeking an ‘English tradition coming from the nineteenth century with people like Hardy’, he distanced Eliot as ‘American’ and Yeats, with less validity, as ‘Celtic’.126 But Yeats’s presence in poets’ heads and work contradicts the polarised narrative. In a sense, Yeats arrived freshly on the postwar scene. Only in the 1950s did editions of his prose start to appear: Autobiographies in 1955 and Mythologies in 1959. Essays and Introductions (1961) made widely available for the first time Yeats’s important introduction to his poetry. The selected Letters was published in 1954. As for the poems, MacNeice began his review of the 1950 Collected Poems: ‘Why we should have had to wait over ten years for a complete edition of Yeats’s poems is hard to imagine’. In fact, the reasons included the war and, as Warwick Gould has shown, the delays caused by an ambitious plan for an Edition de Luxe of all Yeats’s works, which the pre-war Recession made too expensive.127 At Cambridge, Gunn recalls: I and my friends discovered Yeats together for ourselves. The most extraordinary thing about Yeats is that he was not in the curriculum . . . he’d been out of print the whole of the war and [when] the Collected Poems finally came out . . . we all bought copies. It was extraordinary because we’d always understood that Eliot was the king of the world, that Eliot was the modern poet. There was no possible rival, and suddenly here was somebody as good or better, it seemed to us, someone with a lot more vigour, a bigger range, and more exciting.128

Yet Yeats had not been quite invisible during the war. In a 1961 survey of Yeats criticism, Ian Fletcher says: ‘Yeats’s historical pessimism suited the mood of many young intellectuals in uniform [and] Louis MacNeice’s . . . Poetry of W.B. Yeats had an incalculable effect.’129 In 1943, Larkin acquired ‘the 1933 plum-coloured Macmillan edition’ of the Collected Poems and would ‘limber up’ for writing poetry by reading it. He ‘spent three years trying to write like Yeats’. The young Ted Hughes learned all Yeats’s poems, including The Wanderings of Oisin, by heart. In 1956, he told Sylvia Plath that he had been on the moors ‘reading Yeats aloud until I was frozen and my fingers were numb’. Yeats was a shared enthusiasm before Hughes and Plath met. One of Plath’s three epigraphs to her Smith College journal is Yeats’s ‘[w]e only begin to live when we conceive life as tragedy’ (a misquotation); the others are a sentence from Joyce beginning ‘[h]old to the now, the here’ and MacNeice’s ‘Aubade’. After their marriage, Plath wrote in her journal: ‘Ted is an excellent poet: full of blood & discipline, like Yeats.’130


Yeats and Modern Poetry

If in extreme terms, ‘blood & discipline’ dissolves a supposed dichotomy. Lyric intensity is common to the three most celebrated collections published by English poets in the second half of the 1950s: Larkin’s The Less Deceived (1955), Hughes’s Lupercal (1959) (preceded by The Hawk in the Rain [1957]), and Geoffrey Hill’s For the Unfallen (1959). In all three collections formal concentration is bound up with a fresh, and diverse, turn towards interiority – towards the psyche, the spirit – what Yeats calls ‘mysterious life’ (CW4, 120), the mysteries of poetry itself. Lawrence, Graves and Dylan Thomas also influenced this turn; less so where vision meets form, although Hughes introduces Lawrence’s mimetic stress into stanzaic shape. But Graves’s forms can seem detached from his mythopoeia, while Thomas, as structural model, presents a contrary problem. An admirer of Yeats, Thomas always insisted on his own ‘rigorous compression’, his ‘hewn’ forms. In 1933, he claimed to have ‘spat me of the sprawling formlessness of Ezra Pound’s performing Yanks and others’. Yet Thomas’s encrypted compression (Hughes refers to his ‘super-ego stylist’) proved less inspiring than his neo-Romanticism, his reassertion of poetry’s Symbolist scope with a ‘preconceived symbolism derived . . . from the cosmic significance of the human anatomy’. To quote from ‘In the Beginning’: ‘And from the cloudy bases of the breath / The word flowed up, translating to the heart / First characters of birth and death’.131 Aside from his own influence, Thomas may have helped to make aspects of Yeats visible again – hence his impact on MacNeice.132 Geoffrey Hill’s ‘Genesis’ (1952) presents a poet just as cosmically committed to first and last things: ‘Against the burly air I strode, / Where the tight ocean heaves its load, / Crying the miracles of God’.133 Hughes and Larkin were self-confessedly saturated in Yeats. With Hill, it’s more that his early lyric aimed at the totality achieved by Yeatsian symbolism. Hill, too, was ‘trying to make lyrical poetry out of . . . the sense of not being able to grasp true religious experience’, even if this was already an earthed (‘burly air’) and conflicted endeavour: ‘There is no bloodless myth will hold’. Hill may also have recognised that Yeats’s syntax had been influenced by what he, too, admired in the Metaphysical poets (see p. 200): ‘fusion of intellectual strength with simple, sensuous and passionate immediacy’.134 In his manifesto-essay ‘Poetry as “Menace” and “Atonement”’, which identifies ‘atonement’ with at-oneness, Hill glosses Yeats’s remark about a poem ‘coming right with a click like a closing box’ (LDW 24). He says: ‘[W]hat is there effected is the atonement of aesthetics with rectitude of judgment’. In an earlier essay (1971), based

Yeats’s Other Island


on Richard Ellmann’s remark that Yeats ‘remained stubbornly loyal to the conscious mind’s intelligible structure’ (see p. 85), Hill praises Yeats’s ‘energetic’ syntax as not simply a grammatical or rhetorical ordering but as fundamental to the creative act: ‘A poet who possesses such near-perfect pitch is able to sound out his own conceptual, discursive intelligence. . . . The poet is hearing words in depth and is therefore hearing, or sounding, history and morality in depth’.135 ‘God’s Little Mountain’ (1952), which seems to recall Yeats’s ‘The Cold Heaven’, involves, and comments on, an effort to find language that unites mind and world. These are the second and third quatrains: I thought the thunder had unsettled heaven, All was so still. And yet the sky was cloven By flame that left the air cold and engraven. I waited for the word that was not given, Pent up into a region of pure force, Made subject to the pressure of the stars; I saw the angels lifted like pale straws; I could not stand before those winnowing eyes . . .136

As in ‘The Cold Heaven’, where the sky ‘seemed as though ice burned and was but the more ice’ and ‘imagination and heart [are] driven / . . .wild’ (CW1 124), ‘heaven’ marks a visionary epiphany defined by a fusion of sensory extremes, which the mind struggles to apprehend – the struggle being the apprehension. The speaker says that he ‘lacks grace to tell what I have seen’, but the poem itself constitutes ‘a region of pure force’. Most lines consist of a single clause, which throws weight onto each quatrain’s (more or less) single rhyme sound and gives the rhythm a compacted power. Hill echoes Yeats’s rhyme ‘heaven’ / ‘driven’. If Hill is drawn to Yeats’s ‘conscious mind’, although for its ability to sound the depths, Hughes identifies with the Yeatsian unconscious, its mythic and magical guises. Folklore returns: ‘I was swallowed alive by Yeats. From that point, my animal kingdom, the natural world, the world of folktales and myth, and poetry, became a single thing – and Yeats was my model for how the whole thing could be given poetic expression.’137 Hughes’s early poem ‘The Thought-Fox’ makes ‘a whole thing’ of those elements. It draws on Yeats’s seance scenarios in which the poet-speaker awaits mysterious presences that sometimes reflexively bring the poem into being. There are echoes of ‘The Second Coming’, ‘Byzantium’ and ‘All Souls’ Night’: ‘Midnight has come, and the great Christ Church Bell /


Yeats and Modern Poetry

And many a lesser bell sound through the room . . . A ghost may come . . .’ (CW1 231). ‘The Thought-Fox’ begins: I imagine this midnight moment’s forest: Something else is alive Beside the clock’s loneliness And this blank page where my fingers move. Through the window I see no star: Something more near Though deeper within darkness Is entering the loneliness . . .138

Like ‘God’s Little Mountain’, ‘The Thought-Fox’ is a Yeats-inflected ars poetica. As such, it is finely balanced between ‘blood & discipline’, inspiration and control, unpredictably stressed lines and rhymed quatrains. The fox, ‘an eye . . . / Brilliantly, concentratedly, / Coming about its own business’, figures the intensity with which the poem arrives at it own completion, ‘enters the dark hole of the head’. The equivalent in ‘All Souls’ Night’ is ‘such thought have I that hold it tight / Till meditation master all its parts, / Nothing can stay my glance’ (234). More literally than Yeats, Hughes believed in poetry as occult visitation. One result was that concentrated form (stylistic superego) became less important to him; Lawrence’s methods, and other kinds of free verse, more so. But he remained ‘swallowed’ by Yeatsian myth. Hughes’s response to ‘The Second Coming’ is a measure of what he took from Yeats, and what he did not. He calls the conjectural ‘rough beast’ an ‘upsurge of psychic energy that would, in [Yeats’s] opinion, transform society’. This is to read the poem as straight ‘revelation’ – revelation that endorses revolution. Yeats, in Nietzschean mode, can indeed be drawn to what Hughes terms ‘strong, positive violence’.139 But Hughes shows his remoteness from the historical and public dimensions of Yeats’s poetry by failing to consider that ‘The Second Coming’ might be ambiguous or savagely ironical or politically horrified; Yeats’s ‘beast’ is not his own pent-up ‘Bull Moses’, nor would ‘The Thought-Beast’ be an apt title for the poem. Similarly, Hughes’s mystique of Englishness owes much to Yeats’s mystique of Irishness (as well as to Celticism more generally), but nothing to his correction of it.140 He was also significantly outraged by how Auden, in ‘Yeats as an Example’, dismisses ‘the whole deposit of earlier and other religion, myth, vision, traditional wisdom and story in folk belief, on which Yeats based all his work’. If Hughes’s structures became less Yeatsian, less disciplined, he held to ‘blood’ and to the Romanticism and Symbolism he initially sensed in

Yeats’s Other Island


The Wanderings of Oisin: ‘an all-embracing vision, the golden radiance of an unfathomable poetic source, a poetic substance that seems irreducible & universal & infinitely energised, like the source-flow of the first particles’.141 Yet, since Plath maintains both blood and discipline, and does not split visionary intensity from formal intensity, her poetry may be more deeply in touch with Yeats’s ‘symbolism of poetry’. Lyric reflexivity makes a comeback in The Hawk in the Rain and For the Unfallen, but Philip Larkin was the English poet of this generation who most deeply absorbed Yeats as form. The Welsh poet Vernon Watkins converted Larkin to Yeats by telling him: ‘The shape of a poem by Lawrence is the shape of the words on the page; the shape of a poem by Yeats is the shape of the instrument on which the poem is played.’ Larkin says: ‘I saw instantly what he meant’.142 This is not to say that Yeats’s ‘conscious mind’ or the Yeatsian unconscious left no traces. Indeed, Larkin’s formal attention to Yeats means that he assimilated more facets of his lyric than did Hill or Hughes, including its dialectical and dramatic structures. Although Larkin professes to have imitated Yeats ‘not because I liked his personality or understood his ideas but out of infatuation with his music’,143 this trio cannot be so easily unscrambled even if aesthetic attraction came first – or attraction to the aesthetic: Larkin strangely reproduces Yeats’s poetic origins in the ‘religion of art’. In 1945, he wanted a friend who, like himself, ‘consciously accepts mystery at the bottom of things . . . who devotes themself to listening for this mystery – an artist – the kind of artist who is perpetually kneeling in his heart – who gives no fuck for anything except this mystery, and for that gives every fuck there is’. He remained true to that gospel and, quite as much as Hughes, believed that ‘writing a poem is . . . not an act of the will’.144 Larkin’s ‘Dublinesque’ (1970), a poem of Romantic desire, circles back behind ‘Dublin’ and ‘Easter, 1916’. The ‘mystery’ for which this poem ‘listens’ is defined by the Yeatsian moment when Aestheticism met Celticism: ‘A voice is heard singing / Of Kitty, or Katy, / As if the name meant once / All love, all beauty’. While the Yeatssaturated poems in The North Ship (1945) echo Yeats’s poetry up to The Winding Stair, they fit the yearning psychic profile of The Wind Among the Reeds: ‘Out-worn heart, in a time out-worn’ (Yeats, CW1 55); ‘I find only an ancient sadness falling / . . . The heart in its own endless silence kneeling’ (Larkin).145 Larkin’s psychodrama continued to centre on frustrated desire. He may say that reading Hardy relieved him from having to ‘jack myself up to a concept of poetry that lay outside my own life’, but underlying postures persisted. In ‘The Tower’, the speaker asks (partly about the Muse): ‘Does the imagination dwell the most / Upon a woman


Yeats and Modern Poetry

won or woman lost?’ (201). This is the emotion, if not the diction, of Larkin’s ‘Wild Oats’, where ‘two snaps / Of bosomy rose’ outlast a sevenyear relationship with ‘her friend in specs I could talk to’.146 It may have been his psychodramatic needs that led Larkin to stop imitating Auden and start imitating Yeats. He mythologises how Hardy cured him of his ‘Celtic fever’, but the earlier conversion seems quite as significant. At one point in the early 1940s, Larkin begins a poem like this: ‘The ego’s county he inherited / From those who tended it like farmers’; at another point, like this: ‘To write one song, I said, / As sad as the sad wind / That walks around my bed . . .’147 For Larkin: ‘Writing poetry is playing off the natural rhythms and word order of speech against the artificialities of rhyme and metre.’ Asked what other poets had taught him, he replied: ‘Yeats and Auden, the management of lines, the formal distancing of emotion’.148 While Larkin may also have absorbed the Yeats in Auden, there are differences between how Auden and Yeats ‘formally distance’ emotion. Auden is more liable to write in the third person or to project aspects of the self onto parabolic landscapes (as in his Yeats elegy or his masterpiece ‘In Praise of Limestone’), than to let a poem orbit around the lyric ‘I’ – hence Larkin’s phrase, ‘ego’s county’. The Less Deceived mostly consists of ‘I’ or ‘I – you – we’ poems, and the location of the ‘I’ ranges from the societal (‘“Why, Coventry!” I exclaimed. “I was born here”’) to the ethereal: ‘Where has the tree gone, that locked / Earth to the sky? What is under my hands, / That I cannot feel?’149 When Larkin speaks as a less personal ‘we’, or presents third-person scenarios, he still universalises rather than generalises. ‘Wires’ is more psychodrama than parable: The widest prairies have electric fences, For though old cattle know they must not stray Young steers are always scenting purer water Not here but anywhere. Beyond the wires Leads them to blunder up against the wires Whose muscle-shredding violence gives no quarter. Young steers become old cattle from that day, Electric limits to their widest senses.150

This is closer to Yeats’s ‘management of lines’ than are the quatrain poems by Hill and Hughes quoted above. As in Yeats’s short poems, syntax and metre cooperate with particular economy. Larkin breaks the ‘coincidence between period and stanza’, as Yeats himself does on occasion (see p. 206), but takes it further. Starting midline, and running across the stanzas, the

Yeats’s Other Island


middle sentence differs from the more orderly relation between clause and line that precedes it, and from the fatalistic final couplet / sentence. It’s here, too, that the aptly ‘fenced’ rhyme scheme (ABCDDCBA) declares itself, ‘wires’ coming up ‘against . . . wires’, and the phrasing intensifies: ‘Beyond the wires’ as noun, ‘muscle-shredding’ as adjective. Larkin learned from Yeats how to place compound adjectives in a line: ‘The salmon-falls, the mackerel-crowded seas’ (CW1 197). Poems (poems of desire) that dramatise ‘limits’ are not ipso facto limited: ‘Wires’ does not deny bulls, beasts or id. ‘Muscle-shredding violence’ is a horrific image, implicitly felt by the speaker, for psychic inhibition internally or externally imposed. Nor is Larkin’s poetry any stranger to Yeats’s problematic ‘spurs’ of ‘lust and rage’ (CW1 319), including rage against death. Andrew Motion’s biography and the Selected Letters help us to understand Larkin’s complex poetic psychodrama.151 Yet they have sometimes weirdly confirmed Movement stereotypes. Marjorie Perloff’s review of these publications (in Robert Conquest’s fair summary) judges that Larkin is both ‘a bad poet and a bad man’. Perloff connects his ‘special form of paranoia’ with English ‘failure to envision change’, a combination happily not to be found in poets free from Larkin’s alleged ‘animosities to Modernist-Symbolist poetry’.152 This is the same Perloff who thinks that only those who expect a poet to be ‘nice’ criticise some avant-garde responses to the Great War (see p. 138). Yeats once again goes unmentioned. Yeats figures on both sides of an argument, at the time and later, about 1950s English poetry. He shows that argument to be a binary, Anglocentric distortion of the postwar lyric. Larkin, Hughes and Hill shared in a reversion to intensity and interiority, which, at its best, remixed Yeats’s original recoil from ‘exteriority and rhetoric’. However conditioned by 1950s England or coloured by individual sensibilities, this reversion centred on the lyric poem. That some poets later changed tack does not change the late-fifties lyric. Nor does it change Yeats’s importance to that moment or to its repercussions. In 1979, Thom Gunn, now influenced by ‘freer’ American modes, still showed a debt to Yeats in his thinking about poetry: Rhythmic form and subject matter are locked in a permanent embrace: that should be an axiom nowadays. So, in metrical verse, it is the nature of the control being exercised that becomes part of the life being spoken about. It is poetry making great use of the conscious intelligence, but its danger is bombast – the controlling music drowning out everything else. Free verse invites a different style of experience, improvisation. Its danger lies in being too relaxed, too lacking in controlling energy.153


Yeats and Modern Poetry

In the 1950s, as in the 1930s, Yeats’s ‘example’ was significantly channelled through his ‘other island’. This has shaped his Irish posterity too. My Postscript suggests that, in the 1960s, poets from Northern Ireland had a key role in bringing Yeats back home. Irish literary historiography has not yet fully worked out where ‘northern Irish poetry’ came from, but Larkin, Hughes and Hill undoubtedly mattered as immediate precursors. It’s no accident that Seamus Heaney focuses on their poetry in his essay ‘Englands of the Mind’ (1976). But here Heaney may also be responding to hidden ‘Irelands of the mind’, and to many layers of Yeats’s archipelagic origins, influence and presence.


This book has often been concerned with Yeats’s legacy. This Postscript highlights Yeats’s own concern with legacy, the more intense as audience morphed into posterity, and relates it (both concern and legacy) to aesthetic issues in contemporary poetry. If my tone becomes polemical, to talk of ‘legacy’ is to say that a poet’s work is alive. In the refrain of his last poem, ‘The Black Tower’, the dying Yeats promised to go on stirring things up: ‘Old bones upon the mountain shake’ (CW1 339).

‘It is time that I wrote my will . . .’ In ‘Meditations in Time of Civil War’, Yeats blurs the line between his Horatian ‘monument’ and his ‘bodily heirs’ (see p. 133). Creativity again merges into procreation in the testamentary third poem of ‘The Tower’ (1925), where the three interwoven sequences that began with ‘Nineteen Hundred and Nineteen’ come to a climax within a climax. The ‘fisherman’, ideal Muse-reader of Yeats’s poetry, now becomes the bearer of its vitality and fertility, its aesthetic genes: It is time that I wrote my will; I choose upstanding men That climb the streams until The fountain leap, and at dawn Drop their cast at the side Of dripping stone; I declare They shall inherit my pride, The pride of people that were Bound neither to Cause nor to State . . . The people of Burke and of Grattan That gave, though free to refuse – Pride, like that of the morn, When the headlong light is loose, Or that of the fabulous horn, 193


Yeats and Modern Poetry Or that of the sudden shower When all streams are dry . . . (CW1 201–2)

The selfish gene has long been intrinsic to lyric poetry as a bid for immortality, a contest between death and beauty. Moreover, Yeats’s poetic legacy intersects with his vulnerable cultural legacy, grandly glossed as bestowed by those who ‘gave, though free to refuse’. Here Yeats exposes the insecure Irish context of his mid-1920s will making. Taken together, Irish and modern tides could make him fear for poetry itself: ‘that high horse riderless’, to quote ‘Coole and Ballylee, 1931’ (249). If Yeats induced ‘anxiety of influence’ in some poets (see below), various insecurities induced ‘anxiety of succession’ in Yeats.1 That may be why every draft of his poetic will touches base with Aestheticism. ‘The Grey Rock’ was a prototype for this: ‘I have kept my faith, though faith was tried . . .’ (CW1 105). ‘Sailing to Byzantium’ begins The Tower by invoking art’s holy of holies, where the ‘soul’ sings, where ‘form’ (‘such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make’) ensures that art outlasts ‘nature’ (197–8). Yeats then gives the ‘tower’, as matrix of his art, priority over war-torn history by arranging his three major sequences in reverse chronological order. ‘Old age’ has raised the stakes between death and beauty: ‘Never had I more / Excited, passionate, fantastical / Imagination’ (198). If ‘pride’ hands on a cultural and creative torch, ‘faith’ is again the Aesthetic gospel: And I declare my faith: I mock Plotinus’ thought And cry in Plato’s teeth, Death and life were not Till man made up the whole, Made lock, stock and barrel Out of his bitter soul, Aye, sun and moon and star, all, And further add to that That, being dead, we rise, Dream and so create Translunar Paradise . . . (202)

The pun on ‘made up’ encapsulates the religion of art (nature imitates art), and Symbolism does more than survive in the extension of human ‘creation’ to ‘sun and moon and star, all’. This testamentary vision offers Yeats’s vision as testament. Ten years later, ‘Lapis Lazuli’ recast his Aesthetic ‘faith’ for the 1930s, and the Oxford Book of Modern Verse tried to identify



‘upstanding’ poets. I suggested in Chapter 2 that editing the anthology gave Yeats a longer view of legacy, hence the manoeuvres in his introduction and selection. Some manoeuvres light on worthy heirs (Auden and MacNeice); others show him self-deceived by semblances of his past or his principles. Thus Dorothy Wellesley stands in for Lady Gregory (aristocracy); F.R. Higgins, Yeats’s collaborator in bawdy ballad making, for Synge (folk); and W.J. Turner is implausibly credited with ‘a control of plastic material, a power of emotional construction, Pound has always lacked’ (OBMV xxviii). Yeats’s selection from his own poems (the anthology’s reflexive subtext) implicates posterity at a deeper level. To start with ‘After Long Silence’ is again to put aesthetics first. Addressed to his former lover Olivia Shakespear, this poem proclaims the imperative to ‘descant and yet again descant / Upon the supreme theme of Art and Song’ (CW1 269–70): a theme continued by ‘Sailing to Byzantium’. But ‘After Long Silence’, which combats ‘unfriendly night’ and ‘Bodily decrepitude’, equally sets an elegiac or self-elegiac tone. Also included are ‘The Rose Tree’, ‘An Irish Airman foresees his Death’ and ‘Three Things’, with its ‘wave-whitened’ bone. Yeats ends his selection with another memento mori – the long, death-freighted lines of ‘From “Oedipus at Colonus”’: ‘Never to have lived is best, ancient writers say . . . / The second best’s a gay goodnight and quickly turn away’ (231). The most conspicuous elegies, however, are two linked ottava rima poems for Lady Gregory: ‘Coole Park, 1929’, which ‘meditate[s] . . . / Upon an aged woman and her house’ (246), and ‘Coole and Ballylee, 1931’, written when Gregory was dying. These poems are elegy as legacy, as ‘anxiety of succession’. Seemingly determined that the Oxford Book should mark what ‘Coole’ means to him and to modern poetry, Yeats also includes an earlier poem for Gregory: ‘To a Friend whose Work has come to Nothing’. The question of work coming to nothing or something hovers over all three poems. Yeats flags up the Revival’s legacy, and threats to that legacy, in a way that connects with the squad of Irish poets in the anthology. The relation between ‘Coole Park’ and ‘Coole and Ballylee’ is dialectical. The first stanza of ‘Coole Park’ specifies legacy as ‘Great works constructed there in nature’s spite / For scholars and for poets after us’. The last stanza instructs posterity more generally, in a manner that does not doubt its attention: ‘Here, traveller, scholar, poet, take your stand’. Although Gregory’s actual house may end up as ‘a shapeless mound’ (it did), her symbolic house has achieved permanent shape. The poem’s centripetal


Yeats and Modern Poetry

imagery backs this up: ‘Thoughts long knitted into a single thought’. It is said of Revival worthies, like Synge and Hugh Lane: They came like swallows and like swallows went, And yet a woman’s powerful character Could keep a swallow to its first intent; And half a dozen in formation there, That seemed to whirl upon a compass-point, Found certainty upon the dreaming air, The intellectual sweetness of those lines That cut through time or cross it withershins. (CW1 247)

‘Coole and Ballylee’ is centrifugal in imagery, rhythm and theme: Under my window-ledge the waters race, Otters below and moor-hens on the top, Run for a mile undimmed in Heaven’s face Then darkening through ‘dark’ Raftery’s ‘cellar’ drop, Run underground, rise in a rocky place In Coole demesne, and there to finish up Spread to a lake and drop into a hole. What’s water but the generated soul? (247–8)

Yeats’s and Gregory’s houses of art, linked by an underground stream that also attaches Raftery, the blind eighteenth-century Gaelic poet, to the Revival’s psyche and legacy, are besieged by flux. Coole as ‘ancestral’ house, as tradition, has reached its ‘last inheritor’; modernity being defined as a state where ‘Man shifts about – all that great glory spent’. Meanwhile, Coole as ‘Nature’, no longer ‘spited’, has ‘pulled her tragic buskin on’. Or Yeats has, so art may still be in control: ‘all the rant’s a mirror of my mood’. This poem’s ‘rant’ intensifies and ‘darkens’ elements in ‘The Wild Swans at Coole’: ‘dry sticks under a wintry sun’ replaces ‘The trees are in their autumn beauty’; the swan ‘mounts’ with ‘sudden thunder’: ‘Another emblem there! That stormy white / But seems a concentration of the sky’. ‘Stormy white’ also ‘concentrates’ the oxymoronic mode of the poem’s centrifugal course. In the last stanza, the ‘All’s changed’ of ‘The Wild Swans at Coole’ and ‘All changed’ of ‘Easter, 1916’ become an apocalyptic epitaph for poetry: We were the last romantics – chose for theme Traditional sanctity and loveliness; Whatever’s written in what poets name The book of the people; whatever most can bless The mind of man or elevate a rhyme;



But all is changed, that high horse riderless, Though mounted in that saddle Homer rode Where the swan drifts upon a darkening flood. (249)

It may seem tactless or provocative to elegise poetry in The Oxford Book of Modern Verse. It may seem, too, that Yeats’s self-elegy overwhelms Gregory, as he engrosses poetry from Homer to 1890s ‘sanctity and loveliness’. Yet a key motif of Yeatsian legacy is artistic collectivity. His notes for ‘Coole Park’ reflect: ‘Each man more than himself through whom an unknown speaks’.2 However irrepressible the artistic selfish gene, ‘We’ is more than ‘I’, and it encompasses ‘that compact with my fellow-men made in my name before I was born’ (CW5 218). The poetic and cultural tradition said to lack heirs is collective, even if Coole’s claims on the ‘book of the people’ might be disputed. Poetry as ‘form’ appears to need the Revival as ‘formation’. Yeats’s poetic dialectics about posterity continue to the end. ‘The Municipal Gallery Revisited’ (1937) is another ottava rima elegy for ‘Coole’ (CW1 326–8). Here ‘glory’, a word for collective legacy in all three poems, is no longer ‘spent’: ‘Think where man’s glory most begins and ends / And say my glory was I had such friends’. Earlier, ‘last’ and the past tense have given way to assertion that the Revival lives: ‘“This is not” I say / “The dead Ireland of my youth, but an Ireland / The poets have imagined, terrible and gay.”’ History does not now uncontrollably ‘flood’ but is held in the poet’s head; it comes from poets’ heads – ‘terrible and gay’ defines the new Ireland in Yeatsian terms. Yet oxymoron still marks unresolved questions – among Yeats’s ‘images of thirty years’ is ‘A revolutionary soldier kneeling to be blessed’ – including the relation between ‘revolutionary’ poets and the Revival. This may be why Yeats’s testamentary rhetoric so often summons the tangibly durable visual arts (paintings, sculpture, ‘Grecian goldsmiths’) to support the verbal ‘image’: to ratify his poetry as ‘a lasting song’. Anxiety of succession resurfaces in the authoritarian postures of some late poems. ‘Under Ben Bulben’ (1938) is less will and testament than a Nietzschean will to power: ‘Here’s the gist of what they mean’; ‘Irish poets learn your trade / Sing whatever is well made’ (333, 335). Tonal and rhythmic monotony, the resort to diktat rather than dialectics, the suppression of drama by oratory, the equation of social order with ‘well made’ art, betray the ‘forms’ that constitute the would-be bequest. Yeats’s last legacy poems are most telling when showing; when, sometimes with self-irony, they present the poet still at his trade. ‘High Talk’ is a positive rewriting, a reversal, of ‘We were the last romantics’


Yeats and Modern Poetry

(see Preface). Comic-grotesque ‘Malachi Stilt-Jack’ defiantly figures Yeats’s continuing career as a modern poet: his phantasmagoria, his symbolism (‘All metaphor, Malachi’), his craft (‘I take to chisel and plane’), his capacity for self-renewal. In a return to the dawn light of ‘The Tower’, Yeats irresistibly ‘stalks on’: I, through the terrible novelty of light, stalk on, stalk on; Those great sea-horses bare their teeth and laugh at the dawn. (351)

‘High Talk’: The Survival of Syntax Yeats’s and Pound’s disagreement about form is still playing out in contemporary poetry – whether poets know it or not. If they do not know, one reason may be the shrinking of channels between Anglophone poets on different sides of the Atlantic: Donald Davie’s ‘breakdown of communication’ has continued. Keith Tuma refers to ‘the near total neglect of British poetry now characterising American academic life’. Dana Gioia, while criticising such neglect as wilful ignorance, talks of ‘two poetic languages shaped by different principles and used for dissimilar ends’. Introducing essays on British and American Poetic Relations since 1925 (2004), Steve Clark and Mark Ford back up the perception that there has been a gradual, sometimes deliberate, American divorce from ‘the traditions of English poetry’ – like the UK itself, now just one among various points of reference.3 They detect (at that date) few signs of British or Irish influence on contemporary American poetry. Yet neither ‘Britain’ nor ‘America’ is homogeneous; individual poets, readers and critics always contradict supposed trends; as with Yeats and Pound, difference need not be indifference. Clark and Ford cite a fair number of exceptions to a decree nisi, and Paul Muldoon is now poetry editor of the New Yorker. Cultural shifts apart, channel-shrinking factors include the theoretical attack on value, ‘the death of the critic’, the decay of poetry reviewing, and the extent to which ‘academic life’ has ceased to be literary. The compensatory growth of poetry as ‘creative writing’ makes for atomised clusters or hermetic schools, within countries too. The centre cannot hold if we talk of ‘poetries’. Yet form itself remains a (fractious) focus of transatlantic interchange. American so-called New Formalists, such as Gioia, look to certain British or Irish models; ‘experimental’ British or Irish poets seek American succour in what they view as their war with a so-called mainstream. This succour was forthcoming in Tuma’s Anthology of British & Irish Poetry (2001), which aimed to reopen channels by introducing American



readers to British and Irish poets whose work, ‘indebted to an international modernism’, deserves ‘the profile of comparable poetries in the United States’. In Tuma’s introduction, Movement anti-modernism makes its due appearance, and Yeats’s ‘towering presence’ duly confuses the paradigms; Tuma cops out by saying that Yeats ‘strikes some readers as a transitional figure and others as a modernist’. We have been here before with ‘international’ as an unexamined mantra (see p. 41), with American modernist imperialism. Elsewhere, Tuma darkly notes ‘the near obstinance or difficult nuisance of residual forms of poetic practice’ in Britain and Ireland.4 Yeats may be to blame. Inverted cultural cringe (Gioia refers to American poetic ‘triumphalism’ and ‘chauvinism’) remains cultural cringe. Some American critiques of Larkin combine anti-anti-modernism with the literary Anglophobia kept up by Pound and William Carlos Williams (see p. 41). Clark and Ford comment that the ‘progressive teleology’, which leads as well as urges poets from the British Isles to adopt ‘predominantly American’ experimental models, seems to make originality ‘curiously derivative, a form of cultural obsequiousness’.5 We cannot know whether Yeats would embrace the New Formalists, or Pound every poet now claimed for ‘the Pound tradition’. In From Modernism to Postmodernism (2005), Jennifer Ashton persuasively contests the belief that ‘the poetics of indeterminacy’, which reached their apotheosis in various branches of so-called Language Poetry, are laid down in the work of precursors like Pound and Gertrude Stein. Earlier, I distinguished modernism, essentially a post hoc critical paradigm, from postmodernism as a theoretical paradigm that influenced poetic practice (see p. 40). The broader rise of ‘theory’ promoted ‘forms of poetry . . . strongly associated with the academy, and . . . positioned as part of contemporary theoretical debates’. Or, as the late Michael Donaghy crisply put it: ‘[F]or the first time in history a kind of poetry [was] created by the critical apparatus designed to interpret it’.6 Because poets theorise their work in a way that resembles, or intersects with, conceptual art, ‘conceptual poetry’ seems a suitable umbrella term. Rod Mengham, co-editor of the ‘New Modernist’ Anglo-American anthology Vanishing Points (2004), says: ‘Each writer has a definable project [that] refers to a body of concepts.’7 For Mengham, too, ‘international’ is a mantra. The linguistic radicalism of Mallarmé seems the strongest link between early and late twentieth-century poetic avant-gardes. But Pound was ‘a key influence’ on J.H. Prynne as well as on American neo-modernists.8 Like Mallarmé’s scatter of the verbal dice, Pound’s ‘unbridged transitions’ (Yeats), macaronic montages and ‘open’ form (or inability to close the Cantos) appeared to license free syntax as


Yeats and Modern Poetry

well as free verse (see p. 60). Free syntax can take poetry to an elliptical extreme where grammatical connectives are omitted or words ‘amputated’; where letters, phonemes and graphemes ‘overwhelm words and sentences’;9 and where Mallarméan blankness, T.E. Hulme’s ‘new visual art’ and Pound’s Chinese ideograms become a ‘spatial’ poetry of, as well as on, the page. To put this another way: the ‘New Sentence’, ‘non-integrationing’ sentence, non-sentence or non-sense of ‘the disjunctive poetics that emerged [in America] in the late 1970s’ is at the opposite pole to the conjunctive meaning (and meaning as conjunction) that syntax acquired in Yeats’s theory and practice – partly owing to his differences with Pound.10 Calling poetry ‘high talk’ suggests that syntax is integral to its ‘stilts’. The long lines of ‘High Talk’ seem designed to showcase the nexus between rhythm and unfolding sentences: ‘I, through the terrible novelty of light, stalk on, stalk on’. Witness the placing of ‘I’; how inversion turns the prepositional clause into a polysyllabic obstacle; how this adds stress and force to the delayed, repeated, verb. Yeats’s introduction to his poetry centres on syntax: I tried to make the language of poetry coincide with that of passionate, normal speech. . . . It was a long time before I had made a language to my liking; I began to make it when I discovered some twenty years ago [i.e., around 1916] 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. (CW5 212–13)

Herbert Grierson’s edition of Donne (1912) influenced Yeats’s approach to syntax. In a letter to Grierson, which praises his later essay on Byron, Yeats attributes the weakness of ‘much poetry up to our own day’ to ‘the lack of natural momentum in the syntax’. ‘This momentum’, he says, ‘underlies almost every Elizabethan and Jacobean lyric’ (L 710). Rosamond Tuve, who questioned easy analogies between modern Symbolism and seventeenth-century imagery, thought that Yeats’s ‘clarifying’ syntax made him a partial exception: ‘[T]here are few difficult images in Yeats in which the syntax does not repay study; syntax is the most unobtrusive of all methods of clarification, the closest one can come to the paradox of saying something tacitly’.11 Although ‘passionate syntax’ might seem an oxymoron, Yeats’s accounts of poetic syntax represent it as effecting a Donnelike fusion between ‘thought’ and ‘passion’; also as making lyric speech auditory and theatrical. Introducing his plays, he writes (in contra-Imagist



spirit) of having ‘cleared out of poetry every phrase written for the eye, and bringing all back to syntax that is for ear alone’. He says, too: ‘As I altered my syntax I altered my intellect’ (CW2 24). That interestingly puts the seeming cart before the seeming horse. Like passion, it gives syntax a shaping role beyond the ‘conscious mind’s intelligible structure’. It chimes with Geoffrey Hill’s sense that poetic syntax can ‘sound history and morality in depth’ (see p. 187). And it suggests that the unconscious mind’s more mysterious structure also gets into syntax, or syntax gets into its expression. Otherwise syntax could hardly contribute to ‘the symbolism of poetry’. ‘As I altered my syntax I altered my intellect’ is broadly in line with how Cognitive Grammar views syntax (admittedly, a contested area for linguists). Cognitive Grammar posits that grammar resides in the ‘patterns of neural processing’ that generate all language as ‘complex symbolic assemblies’. The argument that syntax is inseparable from phonology and semantics (all of which are attached to lexicon) challenges the idea that it is an autonomous or second-order system of rules.12. The ‘syntagmatic chain’ may be more DNA than manacle. During the last thirty years, some conceptual poets have believed that their work liberates language in ways that encode political liberation. Bob Perelman refers to ‘the textual activism of Language writing’; John Kinsella to ‘the smouldering rejectionism of the “Cambridge School”’.13 In stripping language down to ‘the pure sound and shape of syllables’, in supposedly ceding authorial agency, Charles Bernstein and Ron Silliman envisaged a collectivist creativity produced by the multiple readings thus invited. For Ashton, however, insistence on the ‘irreducible materiality of language’ eliminates rather than multiplies semantic – let alone political – possibility, as ‘we can no longer think of ourselves as reading’ or of the marks as language.14 Donaghy doubts that ‘writing a poem entirely composed from punctuation marks will help bring down the arms trade’. Mengham similarly scorns the ‘illusory liberations of “Language” poetry’ but claims that the asyntactical structures of Prynne’s Word Order (1989) indict ‘the brutal and contradictory demands of [capitalism’s] language of profit and loss’ by resisting ‘the hardened language of a restrictive word order’.15 Prynne writes in a later work, Red D Gypsum: ‘Did you light furtive aggregate late-flow samples / to peter out frozen turns almost dive back cloven / slate, nearly slow now.’16 Even a favourable critic, for whom unrelated lexical items, which place readers ‘at the switching point of thousands of words and phrases’, say something about volatile ‘financial markets’, wonders what to do: ‘Sometimes you feel as if you are in the midst of a four-dimensional crossword’.17 For Donaghy: ‘Capitalism long


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ago defeated the avant-garde by accepting it as another style’.18 Revolution has not yet occurred in Cambridge. By the same token, has conceptual poetry won or lost its battle with the ‘mainstream’ now that, in 2013, it is equally institutionalised in university departments? But perhaps the real politics have always been poetic: a pseudo-Marxist attack on the lyric poem as an under-theorised ‘poetics of the “individual voice”’. The lyric supposedly speaks as a unitary self, claims an ‘authenticity’ rooted in ‘prepoetic experience’ and clings to the comfort blanket of transcendence or closure.19 For Simon Perril, Prynne’s Bands Around The Throat (1987) explores ‘the expression and exploitation of privileged rhetoric – and the rhetoric of privilege – that lies at the foundation of the lyric stance’. He says: ‘The bands around the throat squeeze the rhetoric of lyric privilege until it wheezes its complicity in a ghastly death-rattle.’20 That conjures up some appalling Stygian showdown between Yeats and Pound. But Pound cannot be blamed for an iconoclasm that seems more than anti-lyrical. At its purist or puritanical extreme, it amounts to Anti-poetry. To defeat the lyric, it seems necessary to caricature it: to deny its dramatic or psychodramatic status, its formal and generic variety, the interactions that drama and rhetoric imply, ‘the symbolism of poetry’. Because Yeats’s poetry is a modern apotheosis of lyric, of structures against which successive waves of innovation have hurled themselves, he exemplifies all that the caricature seeks to disprove. He also fits, or lies somewhere behind, the terms used by Don Paterson to characterise the poets in New British Poetry (2004) – an anthology at odds with Tuma’s and meant to give Americans a different view of British poetry. Paterson calls these poets ‘part of a long evolution . . . engaged in an open, complex and ongoing dialogue with the whole of the English lyric tradition’ (he cites Auden and MacNeice as having ‘maturely assimilated’ the innovations of Eliot and Pound). Where conceptual poetry abandons syntax is where it abandons not only that historical dialogue but also poetry’s dialogue with audience on ‘the ground of consensual meaning’ (Paterson).21 Is it collectivist or arrogant to return language, part of even longer ‘evolution’, to ground zero? ‘Form in all its kinds’ may tap into similarly deep sources. Yeats identifies rhythm with ‘a living body’ (see p. 102). For Glyn Maxwell, ‘unmooring from the margin or destabilising the space’ is not ‘freedom’ but ‘a submission to mortality and the perilous closeness of chaos’. He says: ‘If you ditch the idea of any fixity – to say the least your heart beating or the top of your breath – without anything to show in its place, you have a sandcastle.’22 For Paul Muldoon: ‘[T]hese devices like repetition and rhyme are not artificial . . . they’re not imposed, somehow on the



language. They are inherent in the language. Words want to find chimes with each other, things want to connect.’23 Words that connect are words that communicate. Repetition, rhyme, rhythm, verse and transmutations of speech became the terms of poetry’s contract with community – which does not mean ‘telling it what it knows already’ (see p. 172). If a poem like ‘Under Ben Bulben’ appears to claim lyric ‘privilege’, the ‘ground of meaning’ allows for a non-consensual ‘cold eye’. Yeats rightly judged that history and ‘Ireland as audience’ had taken his poetry along a different route from Mallarmé’s quest for linguistic virginity (see p. 84). Not only in his overtly ‘public’ poems is he closer to the spirit – if not always letter – of Karl Kraus: ‘My language is the universal whore whom I have to make into a virgin.’24 Earlier chapters have noted some parts played by syntax in the permutations and combinations of Yeats’s psychodrama, public rhetoric and meditative dialectics. ‘It is time that I wrote my will’ is another variation on his short-lined quatrain-based poem in which, to quote MacNeice, he ‘arrange[s] the sentences so as to avoid breaking the run of the whole’ (see p. 181). Here ‘the run’ takes shape as crescendo that befits the legacy’s cumulative abundance. One of the poem’s structural self-images is a nest ‘at the loophole there’, being built with ‘twigs layer upon layer’. ‘Incremental repetition’, operating through ‘rhythm and rhetoric in wedlock’ (MacNeice), is part of the point. Assonantal stresses (‘Drop’ / ‘dripping’, the rhymes from ‘whole’ to ‘all’) reinforce repeated, layered words and phrases: ‘people’, ‘pride’, ‘Or that of ’. The second extract quoted above repeats a triadic structure at the level of noun, verb and clause, while incremental repetition as syntax enters the foreground with ‘And further add to that’. It’s harder to introduce polysyllables into the short-lined poem, hence the power of ‘Translunar Paradise’ as a syntactical / rhythmic climax. In completing his trio of soliloquies about old age, Yeats alludes to ‘we’ and ‘man’. The tower’s interior stage becomes the earthly setting of the mortal condition. And this poem which ‘writes a will’, which evokes a swan ‘sing[ing] his last song’, is highly aware of itself as dramatic speech before an audience: ‘declare’, ‘mock’, ‘cry’ – modified in the final diminuendo to ‘a bird’s sleepy cry / Among the deepening shades’ (CW1 203). If ‘It is time that I wrote my will’ engages a reader’s ear and humanity, it is not by standing on lyric ‘privilege’ but because its pulse seems in tune with biorhythms. Yeats, of course, is not the only modern poet whose theory or practice highlights lyric poetry as periodic syntax: Robert Frost, Edward Thomas and Robert Graves run him close. In Frost and Thomas, the American


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‘sentence sound’ meets the English lyric. But Yeats marks the end of the spectrum where syntax most fully comes into its own as a constituent of lyric intensity; Bernstein, the end of the spectrum where poetry becomes ‘th . . . b . . . rb . . . n th . . . mb . . . l . . . n . . .’25 Yeats again might seem to put the cart first when he says: ‘Because I need a passionate syntax for passionate subject-matter I compel myself to accept those traditional metres that have developed with the language.’ Yet this suggests, besides the inseparability of rhythm and syntax, that ‘traditional metres’ make syntax work harder. Frost reverses the cart-and-horse conundrum: ‘[S]ummoning [the sentence-tones] is not all. They are only lovely when thrown and drawn and displayed across spaces of the footed line.’26 Reviewing a book on Frost, MacNeice scolds poetry critics for neglecting syntax: ‘A sentence in prose is struck forward like a golf ball; a sentence in verse can be treated like a ball in a squash court’. He calls Frost ‘a master of angles’.27 In Frost’s blank-verse ‘eclogues’, the sentence sound (and hence syntax) is more prominent, but less concentrated, as a constituent of rhythm and angles. This is usually the case wherever poetry tests or exploits the border with prose. It applies to Yeats’s ‘Under Saturn’, although written in rhymed hexameters, as when the poet’s speech comes up against that of the ‘labouring man’: ‘You heard that labouring man who had served my people. He said / Upon the open road, near to the Sligo quay – / No, no, not said, but cried it out – “You have come again . . .”’ (CW1 182). Poems and poets have distinctive syntactical signatures. Yet poetry-as-syntax is indivisible; whether it means Yeats at his tightest or Frank O’Hara at his (apparent) loosest in ‘Joe’s Jacket’: returning by car the forceful histories of myself and Vincent loom like the city hour after hour closer and closer to the future I am here and the night is heavy though not warm, Joe is still up and we talk only of the immediate present and its indiscriminately hitched-to past the feeling of life and incident pouring over the sleeping city . . .28

Mark Ford notices how ‘O’Hara’s energetic syntax crams together disparate elements into an exhilarating synaesthetic maelstrom’29 – a description that might also fit MacNeice’s ‘Birmingham’. From Yeats and Frost onwards, ‘talk’ in or as modern poetry has interacted with varied, shifting intonations and idioms of the language’s speakers. In becoming form, the most informal speech becomes ‘high talk’. O’Hara’s ‘“I do this I do that” / poems’ are predicated on present-tense syntax.30 The dialectics between song and speech, which map onto the dialectics between traditional form and freer verse (all this could happen in one poet’s work or in one poem),



belong to the ground of meaning. That cannot really be said of poetry in which syntax does not survive, even if John Kinsella hopefully invokes a tradition running from the ‘metrically variable lyrics of Sidney through to the resonant paratactics of Prynne’.31 In Red D. Gypsum, Prynne makes parataxis routine. MacNeice’s ‘Reflections’ deploys it to particular effect: The mirror above my fireplace reflects the reflected Room in my window; I look in the mirror at night And see two rooms, the first where left is right And the second, beyond the reflected window, corrected But there I am standing back to my back. The standard Lamp comes thrice in my mirror, twice in my window, The fire in the mirror lies two rooms away through the window, The fire in the window lies one room away down the terrace . . .32

Disturbingly, these statements don’t quite add up. Another rhetorical figure, aporia, also applies to the perplexity or impasse suffered by the disoriented speaker. In syntactically disjunctive poetry, there is little but aporia – a perpetual cognitive ‘void’, to quote Louise Gluck. When Gluck criticises the poetics of the ‘incomplete sentence’, Yeats’s poetry might come to mind as the syntactical opposite: [T]he non-existent, the unspoken, becomes a focus; ideally, a whirling concentration of questions . . . language has faltered (language, which has done so well for so many centuries), overwhelmed by the poet’s urgencies or by the magnitude of the subject, or by the impossible and unprecedented complexity of the present moment. What’s curious is how quickly this gesture turns rote, how little (apparently) there is to explore there. . . . The problem is that though the void is great, the effect of its being invoked is narrow. . . . Too often . . . the idea behind [the gesture] never develops. Its failure to do so suggests the extent to which such gestures are willed or constructed, despite the regularity with which this art suggests a psychological, as well as epistemological, imperative. The dilemma can be put another way. The sentence suggests variety through its concreteness, its presentness, through meaning (or being). It initiates or organises fields of association which (in the manner of the void) may continue to circulate indefinitely. . . . The paradox is that the named generates far more complex and powerful associations than does the unnamed.33

Gluck contests the view that a poetry of complete sentences cannot represent ‘psychological [and] epistemological’ crisis – something MacNeice achieves in ‘Reflections’. A hall of mirrors, ‘Reflections’ plays the syntactical ‘angles’ on a court of concealed quatrains, but syntax takes the rhythmic


Yeats and Modern Poetry

lead in creating ‘fields of association’. In the later 1950s, MacNeice built on Yeats’s ‘rhythm and rhetoric in wedlock’, and on their apotheosis as refrain / repetend, to broach more specific, and hence more alarming, ‘voids’. Yet the new things he does with poetic syntax (as contrasted with the fluid periods of Autumn Journal) also maintain Yeats’s dialectical contraries.34 When Yeats himself breaks the sentence or verse-form, the impact is momentous, as in ‘Man and the Echo’, or when two stanzas of ‘The Tower’ do not quite ‘follow’: ‘Hanrahan rose in frenzy there / And followed up those baying creatures towards – // O towards I have forgotten what – enough!’ (CW1 200) Yet Yeats’s syntax shows that poetic syntax does not have to break down (as it seems) to mark cognitive complexity. His rhetorical questions are themselves ‘a whirling concentration of questions’: ‘And what rough beast . . .’ ‘Coole Park, 1929’ and ‘Coole and Ballylee, 1931’ reflexively ponder form as legacy, legacy as form: the difficulty of making language stick. Yeats’s ‘arrogantly pure’ swan might be ‘murdered with a spot of ink’ (CW1 248). Chiasmus is the defining figure of the centripetal ‘Coole Park’: ‘Thoughts long knitted into a single thought’; ‘They came like swallows and like swallows went’. These lines, like the image of ‘whirling upon a compass-point’, evoke ‘form . . . full, sphere-like, single’ (OBMV xxv). The centrifugal first stanza of ‘Coole and Ballylee’, Yeats’s fastest-paced ottava rima, proves able to dramatise the forces ranged against its own cohesion. The asyndeton of monosyllabic verbs, allied with repetition and alliteration, exploits syntactical ‘momentum’ to convey historical or entropic momentum: race, run, drop, run, rise, spread, drop. The contraction of ‘darkening’ to ‘“dark”’ adds to the impetus, as does the last stanza’s repetition of ‘darkening’ amid similar alliteration: ‘Where the swan drifts upon a darkening flood’. The drifting swan may forebode poetry voided of meaning.

Yeats’s (Northern?) Irish Posterity I began Chapter 1 with the proposition that Yeats’s presence in Irish poetry is not distinct from his presence in modern poetry. If so, it follows that poetic structures discussed in this book have a bearing on the wider aesthetic significance of contemporary Irish poetry. I will end by arguing that this is particularly the case with what is called – sometimes controversially – ‘northern Irish poetry’. In 1934, Samuel Beckett doubted that ‘upstanding’ Irish poets would appear to claim their Yeatsian inheritance: ‘His bequest in “The Tower” of



his pride and faith to the “young upstanding men” has something almost second-best bed, as though he knew that they would be embarrassed to find an application for those dispositions.’35 MacNeice writes, perhaps in ‘application’: From his early days [Yeats] had expressed a hope that he might found a school of Irish poetry. Superficially he succeeded; since 1890 there has been a steady and remarkable output of poetry by Irishmen, most of which would never have appeared had it not been for his example or encouragement. A ‘school’, however, implies more than this. Most of his Irish successors followed him in eschewing the industrial world and in writing their verses carefully, but they followed him in little else. There is rarely much meat on their poems. Yeats himself seems at times to have felt impatient with them, to have turned away towards English poets who were breaking his own rules.36

In 1940, MacNeice saw that Yeats’s legacy involved principles deeper than national affiliation or surface ‘rules’. But (while new talent does not necessarily arrive on cue) Irish circumstances could inhibit this perception, and so may have delayed a ‘school of Irish poetry’ as well as a school of criticism. Whereas cultural affinities helped MacNeice to demystify Yeats, to understand his ‘integrity’, his ‘identity in difference’,37 Ireland compounded the anxiety of influence felt by some poets. Austin Clarke (b. 1896), who always kept faith with the Revival, found it difficult not to see Yeats’s later poetry as apostasy: ‘[W]e may well feel that the very ground on which we once stood so firmly has been undermined’; ‘Yeats’s attitude to home rule in Irish letters in his later years is somewhat of a mystery’. Writing on Yeats’s ‘new composite style’, Clarke says that it combines ‘the organ notes of English poetry’ with ‘the individual Anglo-Irish note which one finds in Burke and Grattan’, plus traces of ‘the earlier tremulo’.38 This analysis confuses the ethnic with the aesthetic, and takes Yeatsian cultural defence too literally. The terms in which Clarke thinks of Yeats’s early poetry as ‘Irish’ cause him to misread (and not absorb) the later Yeats. MacNeice calls Yeats an ‘encourager’, an enabler. The evidence is there. Clarke, whose anxieties about Yeats were markedly Oedipal, compares him to ‘an enormous oak-tree, which, of course, kept us in the shade’.39 But, given Clarke’s loyalty to the Revival, this seems mainly a grievance about reputation. In contrast, Patrick Kavanagh (b. 1904), who accepted Daniel Corkery’s view of the ‘Anglo-Irish’ as a ‘limbo-stranded class’, had problems with Yeats that were literary and sectarian as well as Oedipal. Antoinette Quinn writes: ‘Kavanagh’s polemic against the Revival was an


Yeats and Modern Poetry

act of dispossession which was the literary equivalent of the burning of the Big House.’40 As when Len Platt talks about Joyce ‘displacing the Yeatsian Protestant tradition from the round tower of Irish literary culture’ (see p. 43), binary vocabulary threatens critical complexity. For all Kavanagh’s attacks on Synge or Padraic Colum or the Yeatsian ‘West’, his poems respond to the Monaghan countryside in ways indebted, as well as antagonistic to ‘the evil aegis of the so-called Irish Literary Movement’. That is how schools of poetry evolve. Indeed, MacNeice and Kavanagh between them occupy much of the poetic territory opened up by Yeats. Kavanagh also inconsistently writes (in 1948), as if yearning for some neo-Yeatsian ‘formation’: ‘During the lifetime of Yeats that living poem appeared again and again; and as it flashed, the dead bodies stirred with desire . . . nearly all the literary activity which gave the country a name was due in some measure to Yeats.’ In his essay ‘Nationalism and Literature’, Kavanagh’s equally conflicted attitude to Irish nationalism leads him to question ‘Ireland as a myth which could protect and nourish a body of creative artists’, but he ends up (via a poem by Mangan) saying: ‘I almost begin to believe in the myth of Ireland as a spiritual reality.’41 Yeats’s most comprehensive legacy to Irish poets was, perhaps, to render ‘Ireland’ unusually plastic to poetry. He proved or created the country’s mythic, symbolic, pastoral, communal, public and microcosmic possibilities, its potential to be ‘thought of with a family feeling’ (MacNeice), to mediate between ‘the parish and the universe’ (Kavanagh).42 As Justin Quinn says, introducing the Cambridge Companion to Modern Irish Poetry (2008): ‘Modern Irish poetry would be impossible without [Yeats]’.43 To narrow the focus, as I am about to do, is not to deny the multifarious ways in which contemporary Irish poets draw on – or contest – Yeats’s ‘will’. The ‘Yeats Question’ can still sideline the aesthetic question: where, after MacNeice, is Yeats’s formal legacy to be found? Too much discussion of his Irish posterity, whether explicitly or not, centres on ‘Yeats and X and Ireland’. I argued in Chapter 5 that, between 1930 and 1960, some of Yeats’s structures were most significantly assimilated or developed on his ‘other island’. I also suggested that, in the 1960s, northern Irish poets (i.e., Seamus Heaney, Derek Mahon and Michael Longley) brought Yeats back home, but in ways partly mediated by his impact elsewhere. To set Yeats in an archipelagic context may also be to set northern Irish poetry there, to dissolve distracting arguments about national labels, to reveal peculiarly heightened cultural, and hence poetic, ‘interactivity’. For good or ill, Northern Ireland is a cats’ cradle of archipelagic history, language and traditions, with added local entanglements. The traditions include folk



traditions and folk song, and the conditions replicate, if in a different mode, the cultural meetings that engendered the Irish Literary Revival. The first collections of these poets – Heaney’s Death of a Naturalist (1966), Mahon’s Night-Crossing (1968) and Longley’s No Continuing City (1969) – point to a wide range of influences (e.g., Baudelaire, Crane, Frost, Graves, [George] Herbert, Hopkins, Kavanagh, Lowell, Propertius, Rimbaud, Roethke, Stevens, Dylan Thomas, Edward Thomas, Wilbur, Wordsworth, Villon). Nonetheless, MacNeice, Auden, Larkin, Hughes and Hill – and Yeats – are among the most obvious precursors. In what follows, I do not mean to constrain diverse poets, with diverse bearings, into a Yeatsian mould. Indeed, diversity is part of the point. But Yeats frames the field in that (as positive and negative critics agree) all three collections are the work of poets interested in highly concentrated form. Fran Brearton ends her essay ‘Poetry of the 1960s: the “Northern Ireland Renaissance”: While [the] poetry can be read as a response to the violent consequences of the break-up of rigid and divisive political structures in the North after 1969, it is also, before 1969, one manifestation of the ‘new energy’ that helps to engender that break-up. As with Yeats earlier, form can become a form of resistance, an antithetical act. In that sense, Northern poetry’s radical formalism raises questions as to whether experimentalism may become its own form of conservatism.44

Here Brearton rebuts the assumption that ‘break-up in society should be mirrored by a break-up in form’:45 a mimetic assumption that takes us back to the differences between ‘Nineteen Hundred and Nineteen’ and ‘The Waste Land’. She also implies the advent of an aesthetic configuration likely to be at odds with conceptual poetry. In ‘Yeats, Form and Northern Irish Poetry’ (1996), Peter McDonald shows how formalism acquired extra-literary ideological connotations (as of ‘law and order’) which, for some critics, made Yeats ‘a negative example’ rather than aesthetic asset: form being ‘understood as a kind of political limitation’.46 It’s no wonder, as McDonald recognises, that Seamus Heaney should have trodden warily between his admiration for Yeatsian form and postcolonial critique which seemed to designate Yeats a taboo model for a poet from the Catholic community in Northern Ireland. It’s also the case that Heaney’s critical writings on Yeats evince residual Oedipal anxiety, bound up with a sense of cultural distance and the issue of Yeats’s Irish literary authority. For instance, Heaney’s essay ‘Yeats as an Example?’ (1978) adds a subtle question mark to Auden’s title, and, notwithstanding Yeats’s self-portrayal in ‘Coole Park, 1929’ as ‘one that


Yeats and Modern Poetry

ruffled in a manly pose / For all his timid heart’ (CW1 247), applies to Yeats strongly masculine adjectives such as ‘pugnacious’, ‘domineering’ and even ‘bullet-proof’. For Heaney, Yeats tends to be impervious, invulnerable: ‘Yeats the Father’. Yet perhaps Heaney – as poet-critic – has truly resolved the ‘Yeats Question’ since, when ‘all the objections have been lodged’, he always falls back on form: Yeats’s ‘elaborated command of the structures of English verse’.47 McDonald notes that, for Mahon and Longley, the ‘Question’ has never seemed to be on the agenda. This may be because, coming (like MacNeice) from broadly Protestant backgrounds, they could imitate or criticise or rework Yeats without having to negotiate a perceived cultural / political divide. McDonald writes: ‘In learning to “Sing whatever is well made”, Longley and Mahon learned that the “well made” can allow for modes in which Yeats’s performances are scrambled and re-pitched.’48 Yet the ‘Yeats Question’ was somewhere in the air when these two poets served their poetic apprenticeships in Trinity College Dublin circa 1960. Whereas Trinity’s poetry magazines had no problem with seeing Yeats as the only begetter of modern Irish poetry, magazines associated with University College Dublin (then mainly Catholic as Trinity was mainly Protestant) sometimes had different bearings. Yeats’s centenary in 1965, although celebrated in the Irish Republic, exposed certain tensions. Thus the poet Anthony Cronin both praised Yeats as ‘the most exciting poet of the century’, and condemned his ignorance of ‘the people to whom most of us belong’.49 Concluding his study of how Heaney, Longley, Mahon and Muldoon have ‘absorbed Yeats as a formal precedent’, McDonald says: Much of the misunderstanding of Northern Irish poetry sees in a supposed formalism only a set of abstractable assumptions and prejudices, and these can be perceived in Yeats as well, given the same quality of misunderstanding. But the central fact which such approaches ignore is that of the flexibility and the changing nature of poetic form: in Yeats’s hands, as much as those of his successors, form and performance are constantly moving, shifting modes that set the authorial will a fresh challenge each time a new poem has to be written.50

The ‘flexibility and the changing nature of poetic form’ is proved by the collections that have appeared since the 1960s, by how a second northern Irish ‘generation’ – Muldoon, Medbh McGuckian, Ciaran Carson – at once assimilated and challenged the structures of their elders, by the evolution of poets’ distinctive formal (and syntactical) signatures. The second generation (others follow) also extended the Yeatsian field by bringing a Joycean concern with language into the poetic foreground. This, and the interplay with the Irish language for which Carson’s work is especially



notable, might be seen as fulfilling the scope that Yeats had originally projected for a school of Irish poetry. Poets sometimes rework specific Yeatsian verse-forms in conjunction with Yeatsian themes. For instance, Heaney’s elegy ‘Casualty’ is another powerful public variation on the matter and metre of ‘Easter, 1916’. Like Yeats, Heaney mutually complicates the pulses of political emotion and ‘living stream’. In ‘At the Sign of the Black Horse’, Muldoon rearranges the stanza of ‘In Memory of Major Robert Gregory’ and ‘A Prayer for my Daughter’ to update the symbolic tension between ‘house’ and historical ‘storm’.51 These reworkings exemplify Yeats’s wider legacy of keeping form open to history. Poets have also ‘scrambled and re-pitched’ (McDonald) particular elements of verse structure. Mahon has specialised in the big stanza. McGuckian has partly deconstructed the stanza by making its syntax more elusive. Muldoon has diffused rhyme into infinite gradations of assonance. He has even made it, as also refrain, ‘the focal point’ (see p. 166), or the principle that orchestrates complex formal gyrations. Carson has lengthened the long line and shortened the short line. Longley’s variations on the dynamic between verse-form and syntax include hexameter poems constructed as single sentences, and whereas Muldoon retains rhyme but not consistent line length, Longley, for the most part, does the opposite. The short poem, the lyric sequence and the architectonic that binds a Yeats collection have also been taken further. But it’s more than a question of specific forms, formal elements or traditional form. It is the question of form itself. Symbolism survives as ‘the flexibility and the changing nature of poetic form’. Here Aestheticism (‘high talk’, ‘high horse’) also survives, or has undergone fresh mutations. One sign of this is the extent to which poems ‘self-theorise’: Jahan Ramazani’s term for Yeats’s lyric reflexivity (see p. xii). They often do so with reference to the visual arts or various kinds of music. The spirit of ‘Lapis Lazuli’ persists. Critics may have under-explored northern Irish poetry for its reflexive ‘news’, for its collective as well as individual aesthetic implications. In contrast, the poetry may have been over-explored for its ‘Troubles’ news; or, at times, too narrowly explored. That spacious sequence ‘Meditations in Time of Civil War’ supplied a template for Troubles poetry – not only owing to historical continuity with the ‘explosion’ of the Easter Rising, together with the Rising’s archipelagic and European contexts. Indeed, poets’ relation to a longer, culturally embedded catastrophe differed from Yeats’s to the Civil War of 1922–3. But in entwining the public with the personal, in being such a close encounter between form and history, in dramatising a fractured poetic psyche, ‘Meditations’ pioneered


Yeats and Modern Poetry

a ‘civil-war poetry’ adaptable to how violence and home interpenetrated in Northern Ireland. Great War elegy, as Brearton shows in The Great War in Irish Poetry: W.B. Yeats to Michael Longley (2000), was another model. I argued in Chapter 4 that this model, which redefined elegy’s scope, is not set apart from Yeats’s war poetry. That may have helped poets to create new blends of both. Similarly, Yeats’s influence, along with Owen’s, on the 1930s public poem is part of what poets brought home before 1969. After 1969, Yeats, Great War poetry and the public poem framed the reopened – and more than local – question of a poet’s responsibility to ‘times like these’: to politics, community and ‘lost lives’.52 Two final quotations: Muldoon praises Yeats’s ‘combination of intractable material with intricate formal methods’; Mahon says: The hissing chemicals inside the well-wrought urn; an urnful of explosives. That’s what’s so great about Yeats, after all: the Dionysian contained within the Apollonian form, and bursting at the seams – shaking at the bars, but the bars have to be there to be shaken.53


Preface 1 Delmore Schwartz, ‘An Unwritten Book’, Southern Review 7, 3 (Winter 1942), 472. 2 See, for instance, Terence Diggory, Yeats and American Poetry: The Tradition of the Self (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1983); Klaus Peter Jochum (ed.), The Reception of W.B. Yeats in Europe (London: Continuum, 2006). 3 Michael Löwy and Robert Sayre, Romanticism against the Tide of Modernity (Durham: Duke University Press, 2001), 21; Denis Donoghue, Yeats (London: Fontana, 1971), 32. 4 Jahan Ramazani, ‘Self-Theorising Poetry’, Yeats Annual 16 (London: Macmillan, 2005), 53. 5 Robin Skelton (ed.), J.M. Synge: Collected Works, Vol. 1 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1962), xxxvi. 6 Archibald MacLeish, ‘Public Speech and Private Speech in Poetry’, Yale Review (Spring 1938), 536–47 (544). Chapter 1. Ireland as Audience: ‘To write for my own race’ 1 The English Auden, ed. Edward Mendelson (London: Faber, 1977), 187. 2 See R.F. Foster, W.B. Yeats: A Life I (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997), 454–5. 3 See Foster, Yeats I, 555. 4 Yeats Annual 16 (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005), 53. 5 Joseph Adams, Yeats and the Masks of Syntax (New York: Columbia University Press), 71. 6 R.F. Foster, Words Alone, Yeats & His Inheritances (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), xix. 7 Yug Mohit Chaudhry, Yeats, The Irish Literary Revival and the Politics of Print (Cork: Cork University Press, 2001), 43. 8 Ibid., 124. 9 Foster, Yeats 1, 97; Terence Brown, ‘Carleton and Violence’, in Gordon Brand (ed.), William Carleton: The Authentic Voice (Gerrards Cross: Colin Smythe, 2006), 185. 213


Notes to Pages 12–22

10 Foster, Words Alone, 145. 11 D.P. Moran, The Philosophy of Irish Ireland (Dublin: James Duffy, 1905), 22, 37. See Deirdre Toomey, ‘Moran’s Collar: Yeats and Irish Ireland’, Yeats Annual 12 (1996), 45–83. 12 Ernest A. Boyd, ‘A Lonely Irishman’, Appreciations and Depreciations (Dublin: Talbot Press; London: T. Fisher Unwin, 1917), 147. 13 The Letters of Edward Dowden (London: Dent, 1914), 383; Dowden, New Studies in Literature (London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co., 1895), 14–15; Dowden, Shakspere: A Critical Study of His Mind and Art (London: Henry S. King, 1875), 38. 14 Boyd, Appreciations and Depreciations, 162; see Eve Patten, ‘A “General Crowd of Small Singers”: Yeats and Dowden Reassessed’, Yeats Annual 12, 29–44. 15 Francis Thompson, review of W.B. Yeats (ed.), A Book of Irish Verse, The Academy, 17 March 1900, 235. 16 Letters of Dowden, 285; Dowden, New Studies, 16–17. 17 W.B. Yeats (ed.), A Book of Irish Verse (London: Methuen, 1895, 1900), preface to second edition, xxvii–xxi. 18 See Foster, Yeats I, 363. 19 John Eglinton et al., Literary Ideals in Ireland (London: T. Fisher Unwin, 1899), 43, 81, 37. 20 James Joyce, Occasional, Critical, and Political Writing, ed. Kevin Barry (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), xxix. 21 See Clare Hutton, ‘Joyce and the Institutions of Revivalism’, Irish University Review 33, 1 (2003), 117–32 (127). 22 Joyce, Occasional Writing, 51–2. 23 Ernest A. Boyd, Ireland’s Literary Renaissance (Dublin and London: Maunsel, 1916), 27–8, 17, 72, 122, 187, 142–4, 397–8. 24 Thomas MacDonagh, Literature in Ireland (1916; repr. Nenagh, Tipperary: Relay Books, 1996), 4, 40, 98. 25 See Colin Graham, ‘Literary Historiography, 1890–2000’, Margaret Kelleher and Philip O’Leary (eds), The Cambridge History of Irish Literature II (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 562–98 (577). 26 Boyd, Ireland’s Literary Renaissance, 15. 27 MacDonagh, Literature in Ireland, 5, 53. 28 Graham, ‘Literary Historiography’, 576. 29 MacDonagh, Literature in Ireland, xii, 12, 73, 99, 101. 30 Ibid., 73. 31 Ernest A. Boyd, Ireland’s Literary Renaissance, new edition (London: Grant Richards, 1923), 7. 32 Austin Clarke, review of Una Ellis-Fermor, The Irish Dramatic Movement, and A. Rivoallan, Littérature Irlandaise Contemporaine, reprinted in Reviews and Essays of Austin Clarke, ed. Gregory A. Schirmer (Gerrards Cross: Colin Smythe, 1995), 99. 33 John Wilson Foster, ‘Getting the North: Yeats and Northern Nationalism’, Yeats Annual 12 (1996), 180–212 (191).

Notes to Pages 22–30


34 Daniel Corkery, The Hidden Ireland: A Study of Gaelic Ireland in the Eighteenth Century (Dublin: M.H. Gill, 1925), xviii, 90, 56. 35 Daniel Corkery, Synge and Anglo-Irish Literature (1931; Cork: Mercier Press, 1966), 7, 3, 2, 26, 5, 239, 109, 236. 36 Sean O’Faoláin, The Bell 5, 2 (November 1942). 37 ‘[Heaney] had been introduced to The Hidden Ireland while at St Columb’s [the Derry School also attended by Deane], but he re-read it in the early sixties, and gave a brief lecture on Corkery [in] 1965’, Michael Parker, Seamus Heaney: The Making of the Poet (Houndmills, Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1993), 39. 38 Seamus Deane, Strange Country: Modernity and Nationhood in Irish Writing since 1790 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1997), 154–5; Celtic Revivals (London: Faber, 1985), 30. 39 Foster, ‘Getting the North’, 196. 40 Deane, Heroic Styles: The Tradition of an Idea (Derry: Field Day, 1984), 10. 41 A. Norman Jeffares, W.B. Yeats: Man and Poet (London: Macmillan, 1949), 249. 42 T.R. Henn, The Lonely Tower (London: Methuen, 1950, 1966), xvii, 5, 10, xxi, xxii. 43 Terence Brown, The Life of W.B. Yeats (London: Blackwell, 1999), x. 44 R.F. Foster, Yeats I, 1, 5. 45 John Wilson Foster, ‘Getting the North’, 210. 46 Vivian Mercier, ‘An Irish School of Criticism?’, Studies 45 (1956), 87. 47 Denis Donoghue, ‘Notes Towards a Critical Method: Language as Order’, Studies, 44 (1955), 186–7, 192. 48 Donald Davie, ‘Reflections of an English Writer in Ireland’, Studies 44 (1955), 439, 444, 440, 441, 443. 49 Mercier, ‘An Irish School of Criticism?’, 84, 87, 85–6. 50 Davie, ‘Reflections’, 442; Michael Allen (ed.), Seamus Heaney (London: Macmillan, New Casebooks, 1997), 1. 51 Peter McDonald, Mistaken Identities: Poetry and Northern Ireland (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997), 19. 52 Denis Donoghue, We Irish (Brighton: Harvester, 1986), 63–4, 55, 56, 66. 53 Denis Donoghue, The Practice of Reading (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998), 240, 243, 246–7. 54 Dublin Magazine (July–Sept, 1936), 80–1. 55 Seamus Deane, general introduction, in Deane (ed.), Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing I (Derry: Field Day, 1991), xxvi. 56 Graham, ‘Literary Historiography’, 591; introduction, Cambridge History of Irish Literature II, 6. 57 Declan Kiberd, Inventing Ireland (London: Jonathan Cape, 1995), 3–4. 58 Seamus Deane, review of R.F. Foster, W.B. Yeats: A Life II, Irish Times (27 September 2003), Weekend Review, 10. 59 George O’Brien, ‘The Joyce Problem’, Dublin Review 15 (Summer 2004), 33. 60 Seamus Heaney, ‘William Butler Yeats’, Field Day Anthology II, 790; Heaney, ‘Yeats as an Example?’, Preoccupations (London: Faber, 1980), 109.


Notes to Pages 31–39

61 See Deirdre Toomey, ‘Moran’s Collar’, 45–83; Edna Longley, ‘Introductory Reflections’, Yeats Annual 12, 10. 62 English Auden, 242; Paul Muldoon, Meeting the British (London: Faber, 1987), 39. 63 Quoted by Foster, Yeats I, 249. Chapter 2. Yeats and American Modernism 1 Stephen Spender, review of Oxford Book of Modern Verse, Daily Worker (16 December 1936), 9. 2 Babette Deutsch, New York Herald Tribune Books (13 December 1936), 7. 3 Ezra Pound (ed.), The Active Anthology (London: Faber, 1955), 18, unnumbered. 4 Richard Sheppard, ‘The Crisis of Language’, in Malcolm Bradbury and James McFarlane (eds), Modernism: A Guide to European Literature 1890–1930 (London: Penguin, 1976, 1991), 324. 5 Lawrence Rainey (ed.), Modernism: An Anthology (London: Blackwell, 2005), xix. 6 Michael North, Reading 1922 (Oxford University Press, 1999), 209. 7 Michael Löwy and Robert Sayre, Romanticism against the Tide of Modernity (Durham: Duke University Press, 2001), 1. 8 Astradur Eysteinsson, The Concept of Modernism (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1990), 15–16. 9 Marshall Berman, All That Is Solid Melts into Air: The Experience of Modernity (1982; London: Penguin, 1988), 5. 10 Peter Gay, Modernism: The Lure of Heresy (London: Heinemann, 2007), xix–xx, 226. 11 John Harwood, Eliot to Derrida: The Poverty of Interpretation (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1995), 41. 12 Marjorie Perloff, ‘The Great War and the European Avant-Garde’, in Vincent Sherry (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to the Literature of the First World War (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005), 163. 13 Robert Graves and Laura Riding, A Survey of Modernist Poetry (London: Heinemann, 1927), 131, 264–5. 14 Michael Roberts (ed.), The Faber Book of Modern Verse (London: Faber, 1936; 1960), 1–2. 15 Ezra Pound (ed.), Profile (Milan: John Scheiwiller, 1931), 46. 16 See Stan Smith, ‘“A Package Deal”: The Descent of Modernism’, in Steve Clark and Mark Ford (eds), Something We Have That They Don’t: British and American Poetic Relations since 1925 (Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2004), 53–74; Louis MacNeice, The Poetry of W.B. Yeats (1941; London: Faber, 1967), 17–18. 17 John Crowe Ransom, ‘Poets Without Laurels’, reprinted in Praising It New: The Best of the New Criticism (Athens: University of Ohio Press, 2008), 204, 206; Randall Jarrell, ‘The End of the Line’, reprinted in Praising It New, 214, 218, 213.

Notes to Pages 39–44


18 Allen Tate, ‘Yeats’s Romanticism: Notes and Suggestions’, Southern Review 7, 3 (Winter 1942), 600: Tate is actually, like MacNeice, defending Yeats against the charge that he is ‘romantic’ in the sense of ‘escapist’; Morton Dauwen Zabel, ‘The Thinking of the Body’, Southern Review 7, 3, 562–3. 19 Terence Diggory, Yeats and American Poetry: The Tradition of the Self (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1983), 225. 20 Eysteinnsson, Concept of Modernism, 128. 21 Matei Calinescu, Five Faces of Modernity (Durham: Duke University Press, 1987), 265, 299. 22 James Longenbach, ‘Modern Poetry’, in Michael Levenson (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Modernism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985), 100. 23 Marjorie Perloff, The Dance of the Intellect: Studies in the Poetry of the Pound Tradition (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985), vii–ix. 24 Peter Nicholls, ‘Beyond the Cantos: Pound and American Poetry’, in Ira B. Nadel (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Ezra Pound (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 140, 152–6. 25 Perry Anderson, ‘Internationalism: A Breviary’, New Left Review 14 (March– April 2002), 5–25 (5). 26 Literary Essays of Ezra Pound, ed. T.S Eliot (London: Faber, 1954), 34. 27 Pound, Active Anthology, 27. 28 See Perloff, Dance of the Intellect, 1–32. 29 See Edna Longley, ‘Critical Debate 1939–1970’, in David Holdeman and Ben Levitas (eds), Yeats in Context (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), 385–95. 30 Introduction to Patricia Coughlan and Alex Davis (eds), Modernism and Ireland: The Poetry of the 1930s (Cork: Cork University Press, 1995), 1, 19, 11. Alan Gillis’s study Irish Poetry of the 1930s (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005) presents a counter-argument. 31 Joseph Kelly, Our Joyce: From Outcast to Icon (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1998), 63–4. 32 See Chapter 1, note 56; Len Platt, Joyce and the Anglo-Irish: A Study of Joyce and the Literary Revival (Amsterdam-Atlanta: Rodopi, 1998), 232; see Richard Ellmann, ‘Yeats and Joyce’, in Liam Miller (ed.), The Dolmen Press Yeats Centenary Papers (Dublin: Dolmen Press; London: Oxford University Press, 1965–8), 448, 473. 33 MacNeice, Poetry of Yeats, 176. 34 Anne Fogarty, ‘Yeats, Ireland and Modernism’, in Alex Davis and Lee M. Jenkins (eds), The Cambridge Companion to Modernist Poetry (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), 128; Daniel Albright, ‘Yeats and Modernism’, in Marjorie Howes and John Kelly (eds), The Cambridge Companion to W.B. Yeats (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 75. 35 MacNeice, Poetry of Yeats, 26. 36 Eliot, ‘Tradition and the Individual Talent’, Selected Prose of T.S. Eliot, ed. Frank Kermode (London: Faber, 1975), 38.


Notes to Pages 44–55

37 Eliot, ‘Tradition’, 11; Robert Crawford, Devolving English Literature (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1992), 256–7. 38 T.S. Eliot, Athanaeum (4 July 1919), reprinted in A. Norman Jeffares (ed.), W.B. Yeats: The Critical Heritage (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1997), 231–2. 39 Eliot, ‘Tradition’, 43. 40 T.S. Eliot, ‘Yeats’ [lecture, Dublin 1940], Selected Prose, 251; ‘Tradition’, 38. 41 Eliot, ‘Tradition’, 38. 42 T.S. Eliot, For Lancelot Andrewes: Essays on Style and Order (London: Faber, 1928, 1970), 7; Eliot, ‘Tradition’, 38. 43 Ibid., 38–9. 44 Eliot, ‘Ulysses, Order and Myth’, Selected Prose, 177. 45 T.S. Eliot, After Strange Gods: A Primer of Modern Heresy (London: Faber, 1933), 45–6. 46 Jason Harding, The Criterion: Cultural Politics and Periodical Networks in Inter-War Britain (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), 228. 47 Eliot, After Strange Gods, 20, 12, 30, 21. 48 Löwy and Sayre, Romanticism, 31. 49 Eric Sigg, The American T.S. Eliot (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989), 8. 50 Eliot, After Strange Gods, 44; ‘Religion and Literature’, Selected Prose, 97. 51 MacNeice, Poetry of Yeats, 194. 52 Eliot, After Strange Gods, 44, 38, 33, 44. 53 T.S. Eliot, ‘A Commentary’, The Criterion 2, 7 (April 1924), 231. 54 T.E. Hulme, Selected Writings, ed. Patrick McGuinness (Manchester: Carcanet, 1998), 75, 78, 72, 157, 222. 55 McGuinness, Hulme: Selected Writings, 71, 57. 56 F.O. Matthiessen, ‘W.B. Yeats and Others’, Southern Review 2, 4 (Spring 1937), 810. 57 H.T. Kirby-Smith, The Origins of Free Verse (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1996), 204. 58 Eliot, Selected Prose, 36. 59 T.S. Eliot, Collected Poems 1909–1962 (London: Faber, 1974), 66. 60 Ibid., 70. 61 Michael H. Levenson, A Genealogy of Modernism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984), 206, 181, 189–90; Gail McDonald, Learning to Be Modern: Pound, Eliot and the American University (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993), 164. 62 Eliot, Collected Poems, 73; Peter Ackroyd, T.S. Eliot (London: Hamish Hamilton, 1984), 163. 63 Ackroyd, Eliot, 120. 64 Peter McDonald, ‘Yeats, Form and Northern Irish Poetry’, Yeats Annual 12 (London: Macmillan, 1996), 221. 65 Ezra Pound: Early Writings, ed. Ira B. Nadel (London: Penguin 2005), 130. 66 Eliot, ‘Yeats’, Selected Prose, 249, 257.

Notes to Pages 56–68


67 Pound, Early Writings, 188, 261; see Ackroyd, Eliot, 172. 68 Pound, Early Writings, 261, 209, 260. 69 Ezra Pound, The Spirit of Romance (London: J.M. Dent, 1910), vi; Eliot, Selected Prose, 38; see Stephen Spender, Love-Hate Relations: A Study of AngloAmerican Sensibilities (London: Hamish Hamilton, 1974). 70 See Helen Carr, The Verse Revolutionaries: Ezra Pound: H.D. and the Imagists (London: Jonathan Cape, 2009). 71 Pound, Early Writings, 127. 72 James Longenbach, Stone Cottage: Pound, Yeats and Modernism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988), x–xi. 73 Pound, Early Writings, 188, 267; quoted in Longenbach, Stone Cottage, 12. 74 Longenbach, Stone Cottage, 19, x. 75 Quoted in Longenbach, Stone Cottage, 17; Pound, Early Writings, 262. 76 Pound, Early Writings, 52. 77 Diggory, Yeats and American Poetry, 34. 78 R.F. Foster, W.B. Yeats: A Life II (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003), 380. 79 The Letters of Ezra Pound 1907–1941, ed. D.D. Paige (London: Faber, 1951), 300. 80 MacNeice, Poetry of Yeats, 157; see Michael Wood, Literature and the Taste of Knowledge (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005), 135–6. 81 C.K. Stead, Pound, Yeats, Eliot and the Modernist Movement (London: Macmillan, 1986), 158. 82 The Cantos of Ezra Pound (London: Faber, 1954), 529–30, 541–2. 83 Donald Davie, Ezra Pound: Poet as Sculptor (London: Routledge, 1965), 180–1. 84 See Paul Morrison, The Poetics of Fascism: Ezra Pound, T.S. Eliot, Paul de Man (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996), 122–3. 85 Michael Valdez Moses, ‘Nietzsche’, in David Holdeman and Ben Levitas (eds), Yeats in Context (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), 274–5. 86 Angela Leighton, On Form: Poetry, Aestheticism, and the Legacy of a Word (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007), 23, 27. 87 Leighton, On Form, 165. Chapter 3. Intricate Trees: The Survival of Symbolism 1 See, for instance, Frank Lentricchia, The Gaiety of Language: An Essay on the Radical Poetics of W.B. Yeats and Wallace Stevens (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1968); and for Thomas’s reviews of Yeats, Edna Longley (ed.), A Language Not to Be Betrayed: Selected Prose of Edward Thomas (Manchester: Carcanet, 1981), 79–87. 2 Edward Clarke, The Later Affluence of W.B. Yeats and Wallace Stevens (London: Palgrave, 2012), 1. 3 See George S. Lensing, ‘Wallace Stevens in England’, in Frank Doggett and Robert Buttel (eds), Wallace Stevens: A Celebration (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1980), 130–48.


Notes to Pages 69–74

4 Matthew Spencer (ed.), Elected Friends: Robert Frost & Edward Thomas to One Another (New York: Handsel Books, 2003), 43; Thomas, letter to John Freeman, 14 August 1914, reprinted in Edward Thomas Fellowship Newsletter 38 (January 1998), 7; Frost, ‘A Romantic Chasm’, in Frost: Collected Poems, Prose, & Plays (New York: The Library of America, 1995), 80. 5 See, for instance, Guy Cuthbertson and Lucy Newlyn (eds), Branch-Lines: Edward Thomas and Contemporary Poetry (London: Enitharmon, 2007). 6 Peter Howarth, British Poetry in the Age of Modernism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005), 3, 8–9. 7 Albert Gelpi (ed.), Wallace Stevens: The Poetics of Modernism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985), vii, 38, 41–64, 10, 12; Marjorie Perloff, The Dance of the Intellect: Studies in the Poetry of the Pound Tradition (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985), 20–1. 8 Ezra Pound, review of Responsibilities and Other Poems, Poetry 9 (December 1916), 150–1. 9 See John Timberman Newcomb, Wallace Stevens and American Canons ( Jackson and London: University Press of Mississippi, 1992), passim and 79–80, 187, 219ff. 10 Stefan Holander, ‘Between Categories: Modernist and Postmodernist Appropriations of Wallace Stevens’, in Marianne Thormahlen (ed.), Rethinking Modernism (London: Palgrave, 2003), 228, 225. See Holander, Wallace Stevens and the Realities of Poetic Language (London: Routledge, 2008), passim. 11 Newcomb, Wallace Stevens, 23. 12 John Gould Fletcher, Freeman 8 (19 December 1923), 355–6; reprinted in Charles Doyle (ed.), Wallace Stevens: The Critical Heritage (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1985), 46–7. 13 Patrick McGuinness (ed.), Symbolism, Decadence and the Fin de Siècle: French and European Perspectives (Exeter: University of Exeter Press, 2000), 1–2. 14 See Michel Benamou, Wallace Stevens and the Symbolist Imagination (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1972), xi. 15 McGuinness, Symbolism, 2. 16 Daily Chronicle, 27 August 1901; Longley, Language Not to Be Betrayed, 63. 17 See Eric Warner and Graham Hough (eds), Strangeness and Beauty: An Anthology of Aesthetic Criticism 1840–1910 II (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983), 216. 18 Walter Pater, The Renaissance: Studies in Art and Poetry, ed. Donald L. Hill (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1980), 190. 19 Angela Leighton, On Form: Poetry, Aestheticism, and the Legacy of a Word (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007), 9. 20 Pater, Renaissance, 108; Pater, ‘Coleridge’ (1866), reprinted in Appreciations (London: Macmillan, 1889), 81. 21 This is the original printed text: see Edward Larrissy (ed.), The First Yeats: Poems by W.B. Yeats 1889–1899 (Manchester: Carcanet, 2010), 125–6. 22 See Frank Kermode, Romantic Image (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1957), 96–7.

Notes to Pages 74–85 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32

33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52


Pater, Conclusion, Renaissance, 187. Larrissy, The First Yeats, 8–9. Pater, Renaissance, 189–90. Edgar Allan Poe, ‘The Poetic Principle’, Poems and Essays (London: J.M. Dent, 1927), 91; see Longley, Language Not to be Betrayed, 18. Edward Thomas, The Annotated Collected Poems, ed. Edna Longley (Tarset: Bloodaxe, 2008), 55. Ibid., 97. Wallace Stevens, Harmonium (1923; London: Faber, 2001), 19. Ibid., 81–3; Pater, Appreciations, 227. Pater, Renaissance, 99. James Longenbach, Wallace Stevens: The Plain Sense of Things (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991), 3; Harold Bloom, Wallace Stevens: The Poems of Our Climate (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1976), 80; Stevens, Harmonium, 118. Edward Thomas, Walter Pater (London: Secker, 1913), 10. Review of The Poems of Ernest Dowson, Daily Chronicle, 26 May 1905; Longley, Language Not to Be Betrayed, 60–1. Thomas, Annotated Collected Poems, 85, 105. Review of Arthur Symons, The Romantic Movement in English Literature, Morning Post, 20 January 1910; Longley, Language Not to Be Betrayed, 18–19. Review of Georgian Poetry, 1911–1912, Daily Chronicle, 14 January 1913; Longley, Language Not to Be Betrayed, 112. Thomas, Pater, 70, 95, 101, 103, 107–8, 104. Spencer, Elected Friends, 9–10. Thomas, Pater, 210, 215. Thomas, Annotated Collected Poems, 119. Ibid., 54. Stevens’s Journal 1899, quoted in Holly Stevens, Souvenirs and Prophecies: The Young Wallace Stevens (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1977), 38. Stevens, Harmonium, 32–50. Ibid., 91. Frank Kermode, Wallace Stevens (London: Faber, 1967), 45; Benamou, Stevens, 62; Stevens, Collected Poems, 469. Terence Diggory, Yeats and American Poetry (Princeton: Princeton University Press), 214. Stevens, Collected Poems, 155. Arthur Symons, Studies in Two Literatures, Collected Works of Arthur Symons, Vol. 2 (London: Martin Secker, 1924), 182. See Carle Bonafous-Murat, ‘The Reception of W.B. Yeats in France’, in Klaus Peter Jochum (ed.), The Reception of W.B. Yeats in Europe (London: Continuum, 2006), 25–49. Benamou, Stevens, xviii, 47–8, 73. Wallace Stevens, The Necessary Angel: Essays on Reality and the Imagination (London: Faber, 1960), 168.


Notes to Pages 85–93

53 Stevens, Collected Poems, 382, Harmonium, 45; Thomas, Annotated Collected Poems, 92, 36. 54 Richard Ellmann, Eminent Domain (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1967), 52. 55 Edward Thomas, Maurice Maeterlinck (London: Methuen, 1911), 28, 30. 56 Review of The Collected Works of William Butler Yeats, Morning Post, 17 December 1908; Longley, Language Not to Be Betrayed, 85. 57 Thomas, Maeterlinck, 32–3. 58 Review of (reprint of ) Arthur Symons, The Symbolist Movement in Literature, Longley, Language Not to Be Betrayed, 15. 59 W.Y. Tindall, ‘The Symbolism of W.B. Yeats’ (1945), reprinted in James Hall and Martin Steinmann (eds), The Permanence of Yeats (New York: Collier, 1961), 241. 60 See Warner and Hough, Strangeness and Beauty, 5–6. 61 Morning Post, 17 December 1906. 62 Joseph Carroll, ‘Stevens and Romanticism’, in John N. Serio (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Wallace Stevens (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), 87. 63 See Warner and Hough, Strangeness and Beauty, 2, 5. 64 Helen Vendler, Part of Nature, Part of Us: Modern American Poets (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1980), 21. 65 Stevens, Collected Poems, 160. 66 Edward Thomas, Keats (London: T.C. & E.C. Jack, 1916), 57, 56. 67 Longenbach, Stevens, 58, 46; Stevens, Harmonium, 124. 68 Stevens, Harmonium, 83–4. 69 Vendler, Part of Nature, 22. 70 Thomas, Annotated Collected Poems, 102. 71 Stevens, Harmonium, 80, 81; Thomas, Annotated Collected Poems, 102. 72 Alun Lewis, Selected Poetry and Prose (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1966), 69. 73 Thomas, Annotated Collected Poems, 101, 103. 74 Carroll, ‘Stevens and Romanticism’, 91. 75 Thomas, Annotated Collected Poems, 40, 58; see Thomas, Annotated Collected Poems, 156n. 76 George S. Lensing, Wallace Stevens and the Seasons (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2001), 1–2. 77 Stevens, Harmonium, 57; Thomas, Annotated Collected Poems, 138. 78 Edward Thomas, The South Country (London: J.M. Dent, 1909), 144; Thomas, Annotated Collected Poems, 42. 79 See Thomas, Annotated Collected Poems, note, 157. 80 ‘Adagia’, Wallace Stevens, Opus Posthumous: Poems/ Plays / Prose (1957; New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1989), 186, 185, 202; Stevens, Necessary Angel, 81. 81 Stevens, Opus Posthumous, 191, 203. 82 Stevens, Collected Poems, 407, 128, 130.

Notes to Pages 93–99


83 Some Imagist Poets: An Anthology (London: Constable, 1915), vi; Some Imagist Poets, 1916 (London: Constable, 1916), v. These anthologies and Some Imagist Poets, 1917 contain the same six poets: Richard Aldington, H.D., John Gould Fletcher, F.S. Flint, D.H. Lawrence and Amy Lowell. Des Imagistes, which includes poems by James Joyce and William Carlos Williams, is more eclectic. 84 Peter Jones (ed.), Imagist Poetry (London: Penguin, 1972), 135, 13–14; Helen Carr, The Verse Revolutionaries: Ezra Pound, H.D. and the Imagists (London: Jonathan Cape, 2009), 3. 85 Alan Heuser (ed.), Selected Literary Criticism of Louis MacNeice (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987), 18. 86 Poetry (11 May 1914); reprinted in A. Norman Jeffares (ed.), W.B. Yeats: The Critical Heritage (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1977), 187–9. 87 H.D., Collected Poems, 1912–1944 (New York: New Directions, 1983), 24. 88 See note 8 in this chapter. 89 William Carlos Williams, Collected Earlier Poems (London: MacGibbon & Kee, 1938, 1951), 24; Stevens, letter, 1918, quoted by Williams in Imaginations (New York: New Directions, 1970), 15; Stevens, Opus Posthumous, 214. 90 Thomas, review of Des Imagistes: An Anthology, New Weekly, 9 May 1914; Longley, Language Not to Be Betrayed, 123–5; Jones, Imagist Poetry, 61, 95. 91 Ezra Pound, Early Writings: Poems and Prose (London: Penguin, 2005), 209–10. 92 Patrick McGuinness (ed.), T.E. Hulme: Selected Writings (Manchester: Carcanet, 1998), t9, 64, 57, 64–5. 93 See Ronald Schuchard, The Last Minstrels: Yeats and the Revival of the Bardic Arts (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), xxiii and CW4 12–24. 94 See Michael Levenson, A Genealogy of Modernism: A Study of English Literary Doctrine 1908–1922 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984), 120; Williams, Imaginations, 14. 95 Stevens, Harmonium, 109–10. 96 Pound, ‘Vorticism’, Early Writings, 278, 289. 97 Richard Aldington, Collected Poems, 1915–1923 (London: Allen & Unwin, 1929), 20; H.D., Collected Poems, 55. 98 Pound, Early Writings, 82. 99 Thomas, preface to William Cobbett, Rural Rides (London: J.M. Dent, 1912), xi; Thomas, Bookman, August 1907; Daily Chronicle, 26 July 1909. See Longley, Language Not to Be Betrayed, 143–4, 87. 100 Frost, Collected Poems, Prose, & Plays, 677, 694; Stevens, The Necessary Angel, 38, 126; Holander, Wallace Stevens, 11. 101 Pound, Early Writings, 279; Levenson, Genealogy of Modernism, 131. 102 Schuchard, Last Minstrels, 278. 103 Stevens, Harmonium, 115–17. 104 Holly Stevens (ed.), Letters of Wallace Stevens (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1966), 251.


Notes to Pages 100–109

105 Alan Robinson, Symbol to Vortex: Poetry, Painting and Ideas, 1885–1914 (New York: St Martin’s Press, 1985), 75. 106 Fletcher quoted in Jones, Imagist Poetry, 33; Stevens, Opus Posthumous, 187. 107 Thomas, Annotated Collected Poems, 125. 108 Ian Fletcher, ‘The Present State of Yeats Criticism’, Literary Half Yearly 2, 2 (July 1961), 25. 109 Stevens, Opus Posthumous, 240. 110 Ibid., 197. Stevens, Collected Poems, 350. 111 ‘Reflections on Wallace Stevens’, Partisan Review 18 (May–June 1951); Doyle, Critical Heritage, 328–40 (335). 112 Stevens, Collected Poems, 522. 113 Thomas, review of Robert Frost, North of Boston, Daily News, 22 July 1914; Longley, Language Not to Be Betrayed, 125–6. 114 Frost, Collected Poems, Prose, & Plays, 70. 115 Thomas, Maeterlinck, 28. Chapter 4. ‘Monstrous familiar images’: Poetry and War, 1914–1923 1 The Poems of Wilfred Owen, ed. Jon Stallworthy (London: Hogarth Press, 1985), 93. 2 Letter to John Quinn, June 1915, quoted by R.F. Foster in W.B. Yeats: A Life II (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003), 5. 3 Edith Wharton (ed.), The Book of the Homeless: Le Livre des Sans-Foyer (London: Macmillan, 1916), 45. 4 Wharton, Book of the Homeless, ix. 5 See Jon Stallworthy, ‘Yeats and Wilfred Owen’, Critical Quarterly 11, 3 (Autumn 1969), 199. 6 Patrick Beaver (ed.), The Wipers Times (London: Macmillan, 1975), 45. 7 See Catherine W. Reilly, English Poetry of the First World War: A Bibliography (London: George Prior, 1978). 8 See Robert Ferguson, The Short, Sharp Life of T.E. Hulme (London: Allen Lane, 2002), 241; quoted by James Longenbach in Stone Cottage: Pound, Yeats, and Modernism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988). 9 Edward Thomas, The Annotated Collected Poems, ed. Edna Longley (Tarset: Bloodaxe, 2008), 104; Poems of Owen, 122, 170; Collected Poems of Charles Hamilton Sorley, ed. Jean Moorcroft Wilson (London: Cecil Woolf, 1985), 91. 10 Terence Brown, ‘Writing the War’, in John Horne (ed.), Our War: Ireland and the Great War (Dublin: Royal Irish Academy, 2008), 245. 11 Fran Brearton, The Great War in Irish Poetry: W.B. Yeats to Michael Longley (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), 45, 49. 12 Longenbach, Stone Cottage, 134. 13 R.J. Hollingdale (ed.), Friedrich Nietzsche: Thus Spoke Zarathustra (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1962), 74. See Edna Longley, ‘Yeats and Violence’, in Fran Brearton and Alan Gillis (eds), The Oxford Handbook of Modern Irish Poetry (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), 95–110.

Notes to Pages 110–118


14 Wilfred Owen, Selected Letters, ed. John Bell (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1985), 68; see Morton D. Paley, Apocalypse and Millennium in English Romantic Poetry (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999); Tim Fulford (ed.), Romanticism and Millenarianism (New York & Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2002). 15 Poems of Owen, 101, 123. 16 Ibid., 125. 17 Ibid., 132–3. 18 Ibid., 138. 19 Stallworthy, ‘Yeats and Owen’, 200, 202. 20 Quoted in Joseph Hone, W.B. Yeats, 1865–1939 (London: Macmillan, 1962), 389. 21 Ben Levitas, ‘War, 1914–1923’, in David Holdeman and Levitas (eds), W.B. Yeats in Context (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), 47. 22 Horne, Our War, 3. 23 Brearton, Great War in Irish Poetry, 49. 24 Robert Bridges (ed.), The Spirit of Man: An Anthology in English & French From the Philosophers and Poets (London: Longman’s, Green & Co., 1915), preface. 25 Paul Fussell, The Great War and Modern Memory (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1975, 2000), 6. 26 E.B. Osborn (ed.), The Muse in Arms (London: John Murray, 1917), xiv, xvii. 27 Rupert Brooke, Complete Poems (London: Sidgwick & Jackson, 1932), 150; Poems of Owen, 177. 28 Thomas, Annotated Collected Poems, 123. 29 R. George Thomas (ed.), Edward Thomas: Selected Letters (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995), 111; quoted in Jean Moorcroft Wilson, Charles Hamilton Sorley: A Biography (London: Cecil Woolf, 1985), 175; Ian Parsons (ed.), The Collected Works of Isaac Rosenberg (London: Chatto and Windus, 1979), 237; R.K.R. Thornton (ed.), Ivor Gurney: War Letters (London: Hogarth Press, 1983), 130. 30 See Edna Longley, ‘The Great War, History, and the English Lyric’, in Vincent Sherry (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to the Literature of the First World War (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005), 57–84 (62–4). 31 Sorley, Collected Poems, 91; Poems of Owen, 151; Thomas, Annotated Collected Poems, 109. 32 Thomas, Annotated Collected Poems, 107. 33 Ivor Gurney, Collected Poems, ed. P.J. Kavanagh (Manchester: Carcanet, 1984), 250. 34 Rosenberg, Collected Works, 103. 35 Thomas, Annotated Collected Poems, 93. 36 Owen, Selected Letters, 297. 37 See Edna Longley (ed.), A Language Not to Be Betrayed: Selected Prose of Edward Thomas (Manchester: Carcanet, 1983), 131–5. 38 Thomas, Annotated Collected Poems, 105, 48. 39 Stallworthy, ‘Yeats and Owen’, 214.


Notes to Pages 119–136

40 Poems of Owen, 192, 117, 101. 41 Mark Rawlinson, ‘Wilfred Owen’, in Tim Kendall (ed.), The Oxford Handbook of British & Irish War Poetry (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007), 114–33 (126–7). 42 See Dominic Hibberd, Wilfred Owen: A New Biography (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2002), 136–7; Owen’s poem ‘Beauty’, Poems of Owen, 180. 43 See Adrian Caesar, Taking It Like a Man: Suffering, Sexuality and the War Poets (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1993), 71, 77–8, 108, 149–54, 161. 44 Jahan Ramazani, Poetry of Mourning: The Modern Elegy from Hardy to Heaney (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994), 86. 45 Santanu Das, Touch and Intimacy in First World War Literature (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005), 140, 153, 159; Poems of Owen, 143, 135. 46 Owen, Selected Letters, 247. 47 Das, Touch and Intimacy, 151. 48 Brooke, Complete Poems, 149, 146. 49 Lecture, ‘The Making of a Revolutionary Generation in Ireland, c. 1890–1916’, Queen’s University Belfast, 10 May 2012. 50 See Longley, ‘Yeats and Violence’. 51 See Jon Stallworthy, Between the Lines: Yeats’s Poetry in the Making (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1963), 17–20; Longley, ‘Yeats and Violence’, 100–1. 52 Edmund Burke: Reflections on the Revolution in France, ed. J.C.D. Clark (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2001), 238. 53 Letter to Lady Gregory, quoted in Longenbach, Stone Cottage, 117. 54 See Foster, Yeats II, 265. 55 Poems of Owen, 123. 56 Anne Saddlemyer (ed.), W.B. Yeats & George Yeats: The Letters (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), 82; Bill Kissane, The Politics of the Irish Civil War (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), 63, 12. 57 Poems of Owen, 192; Thomas, Annotated Collected Poems, 97. 58 Ramazani, Poetry of Mourning, 4, 8. 59 Poems of Owen, 135. 60 Sorley, Collected Poems, 91; Gurney, Collected Poems, 241. 61 Rosenberg, Collected Works, 110; Poems of Owen, 162; Thomas, Annotated Collected Poems, 64, 81, 114, 62 Elaine Scarry, On Beauty and Being Just (London: Duckworth, 2000), 85. 63 Thomas, Annotated Collected Poems, 50. 64 Poems of Owen, 149. 65 Jane Haber, Pastoral and the Poetics of Self-Contradiction (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994), 1. 66 Rosenberg, Collected Works, 103, 100. 67 Gurney, Collected Poems, 146; Thomas, Annotated Collected Poems, 123–4. 68 Ibid., 42, 95, 100. 69 See Alun Howkins, The Death of Rural England: A Social History of the Countryside since 1900 (London: Routledge, 2003). 70 Thomas, Annotated Collected Poems, 98.

Notes to Pages 137–146


71 Ibid., 36–7, 92, 60; Thomas, Richard Jefferies (1909; London: Faber, 1978), 298. 72 Thomas, Annotated Collected Poems, 131, 76–9, 114, 92; Edward Thomas, The South Country (London: J.M. Dent, 1909), 7; Thomas, review of The Dublin Book of Irish Verse, ed. John Cooke, Morning Post, 6 January 1910. 73 Ezra Pound, Early Writings (London: Penguin Books, 2005), 130. 74 Vincent Sherry, ‘The Great War and Modernist Poetry’, in Kendall, Oxford Handbook, 190–207 (190–1). 75 See Marjorie Perloff, ‘The Great War and the European Avant Garde’, Sherry, Cambridge Companion, 144, 161. 76 Letter, 15 January 1915, quoted in Anne Powell (ed.), A Deep Cry: A Literary Pilgrimage to the Battlefields and Cemeteries (Aberforth: Palladour Books, 1993), 30. 77 Owen, Selected Letters, 181. 78 Das, Touch and Intimacy, 158. 79 Rosenberg, Collected Works, 109. 80 Poems of Owen, 162. 81 Ibid., 93; Rosenberg, Collected Works, 250. 82 Elizabeth Vandiver, Stand in the Trench, Achilles: Classical Receptions in British Poetry of the Great War (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), 393. 83 Owen, Selected Letters, 130. 84 Thomas, Annotated Collected Poems, 92; Edward Thomas (ed.), This England: An Anthology from Her Writers (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1915), preface. 85 Carl E. Schorske, Thinking with History: Explorations in the Passage to Modernism (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1998), 3. 86 Rosenberg, Collected Works, 111. 87 Gurney, Collected Poems, 258. 88 Thomas, Annotated Collected Poems, 36, 50. 89 Poems of Owen, 125. 90 Rosenberg, Collected Works, foreword, ix. 91 Poems of Owen, 149. 92 Ibid., 100. 93 Helen Vendler, Our Secret Discipline: Yeats and Lyric Form (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007), 86, 63. Chapter 5. Yeats’s Other Island 1 Between 2005 and 2012, the British Council published four volumes of essays by a wide range of people under the title: Britain & Ireland: Lives Entwined. 2 Stephen Howe, Ireland and Empire: Colonial Legacies in Irish History and Culture (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), 232. 3 John Coakley, Brigid Laffan and Jennifer Todd (eds), Renovation or Revolution? New Territorial Politics in Ireland and the United Kingdom (Dublin: University College Dublin Press, 2005), 5.


Notes to Pages 146–155

4 In 1975, J.G.A. Pocock set the ball rolling with his essay ‘British History: A Plea for a New Subject’, Journal of Modern History 47 (4), 602–28. See also Hugh Kearney, The British Isles: A History of Four Nations (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989). 5 John Kerrigan, Archipelagic English: English Literature, History and Politics 1603–1707 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), 11, 82–4, 26. 6 Ibid., 3. 7 Howe, Ireland and Empire, 234. 8 See Peter McDonald, Mistaken Identities: Poetry and Northern Ireland (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000). 9 Kerrigan, Archipelagic English, 5. 10 Cairns Craig, Out of History: Narrative Paradigms in Scottish and English Culture (Edinburgh: Polygon, 1996), 19. 11 Steven Matthews, Yeats as Precursor: Readings in Irish, British and American Poetry (Houndmills, Basingstoke: Macmillan, 2000), 94, 97, 144–5. 12 See R.F. Foster, Words Alone: Yeats and his Inheritances (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), 1–44. 13 Katie Trumpener, Bardic Nationalism: The Romantic Novel and the British Empire (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1997), ix. 14 Seamus Heaney, North (London: Faber, 1975), 65. 15 Foster, Words Alone, 10. 16 See Liam McIlvanney and Ray Ryan (eds), Ireland and Scotland: Culture and Society, 1700–2000 (Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2005), 14. 17 Foster, Words Alone, 10. 18 Kerrigan, Archipelagic English, 89. 19 John Haffenden, William Empson, Vol. I (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), 206. 20 Frank Kermode, Romantic Image (London: Routledge, 1957), 160. 21 F.R. Leavis, New Bearings in English Poetry (London: Chatto & Windus, 1932), 25, 132, 50, 49, 46, 50. 22 Louis MacNeice, Collected Poems, ed. Peter McDonald (London: Faber, 2007), 261–2. 23 Philip Larkin, The Whitsun Weddings (London: Faber, 1964), 34. 24 See Joep Leerssen, Remembrance and Imagination: Patterns in the Historical and Literary Representation of Ireland in the Nineteenth Century (Cork: Cork University Press, 1996), 35–8. 25 W.S. Graham, New Collected Poems (London: Faber, 2004), 220. 26 See Edna Longley, Poetry & Posterity (Tarset: Bloodaxe, 2000), 113. 27 William Carlos Williams, Imaginations (New York: New Directions, 1970), 26. 28 Quoted in E.W. Tedlock (ed.), Dylan Thomas: The Legend and the Poet (London: Mercury, 1963), 8. 29 Cecil J. Sharp, English Folk-Song: Some Conclusions (London: Simpkin; Novello, 1907), 103.

Notes to Pages 155–164


30 See David Buchan, The Ballad and the Folk (London: Routledge, 1972), 5–6; The New Penguin Book of English Folk Songs (London: Penguin, 2012), xv. 31 Quoted in Buchan, The Ballad and the Folk, 5. 32 Hugh Shields, ‘Old British Ballads in Ireland, Irish Folk Life 10 (n.d.), 70. 33 Andrew Carpenter (ed.), Verse in English from Eighteenth-Century Ireland (Cork: Cork University Press, 1998), 4. 34 New Penguin Book, xviii. 35 Sharp, English Folk-Song, 129, 126. 36 See Edna Longley (ed.), A Language Not to Be Betrayed: Selected Prose of Edward Thomas (Manchester: Carcanet, 1981), 217–18. 37 Edward Thomas, The Annotated Collected Poems, ed. Edna Longley (Tarset: Bloodaxe, 2008), 58. 38 Ibid., 47. 39 See Edward Larrissy (ed.), The First Yeats: Poems by W.B. Yeats 1889–1899 (Manchester: Carcanet, 2010), 83. 40 Thomas, Annotated Collected Poems, 108. 41 Adam Newey, review of Glyn Maxwell, On Poetry, Guardian, 14 August 2012. 42 Michael Grieve and W.R. Aitken (eds), The Complete Poems of Hugh MacDiarmid, Vol. 1 (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1985), 36. 43 Complete Poems of Hugh MacDiarmid, 17. 44 Alan Bold, MacDiarmid: Christoher Murray Grieve: A Critical Biography (London: John Murray, 1988), 195. 45 Hugh MacDiarmid, A Drunk Man Looks at the Thistle, ed. Kenneth Buthlay (Edinburgh: Polygon, 1987), 1. 46 Complete Poems of Hugh MacDiarmid, 57. 47 A Drunk Man, 81. 48 Ibid., 101. 49 Ibid., 63. 50 Patrick Crotty, ‘Swordsmen: W.B. Yeats and Hugh MacDiarmid’, in Peter Mackay, Edna Longley and Fran Brearton (eds), Modern Irish and Scottish Poetry (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011), 33, 30. 51 See Alan Bold (ed.), The Thistle Rises: An Anthology of Poetry and Prose by Hugh MacDiarmid (London: Hamish Hamilton, 1984), 278. 52 Helen Vendler, Our Secret Discipline: Yeats and Lyric Form (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007), 111. 53 Ibid. 54 See Yeats’s Poems, ed. A.N. Jeffares (London: Macmillan, 1989), 605n. 55 See prefaces to Broadsides: A Collection of Old and New Songs (Dublin: Cuala Press, 1935) and Broadsides: A Collection of New Irish and English Songs (Dublin: Cuala Press, 1937), unnumbered pages. 56 See Paul Fussell, Poetic Meter and Poetic Form (New York: Random House, 1979), 133ff.


Notes to Pages 164–171

57 Jonathan Barker, ‘The Pocket Book of Poems and Songs for the Open Air: Edward Thomas and the Folk Tradition’, in Barker (ed.), The Art of Edward Thomas (Bridgend: Poetry Wales Press, 1987), 139. 58 Thomas, Annotated Collected Poems, 129. 59 Louis MacNeice, The Poetry of W.B. Yeats (1941; London: Faber, 1967), 147. 60 See New Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1993), 1036; and Neil Corcoran, ‘The Same Again? MacNeice’s Repetitions’, in Fran Brearton and Edna Longley (eds), Incorrigibly Plural: Louis MacNeice and His Legacy (Manchester: Carcanet, 2012), 257–73. 61 Complete Poems of Hugh MacDiarmid, 27. 62 Thomas, Annotated Collected Poems, 128. 63 MacNeice, Poetry of Yeats, 148. 64 Bookman, August 1907; Longley, A Language Not to Be Betrayed, 143. 65 Hugh MacDiarmid, ‘A Theory of Scots Letters’, in Selected Prose, ed. Alan Riach (Manchester: Carcanet, 1992), 22. 66 Ibid. 67 Thomas, Annotated Collected Poems, 40. 68 See R.F. Foster, W.B. Yeats: A Life II (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003), 501. 69 For the quarrel between MacDiarmid and Henderson, see Timothy Neat, Hamish Henderson: Vol. 2, Poetry Becomes People (Edinburgh: Polygon, 2012). 70 Ezra Pound, Early Writings (London: Penguin, 2005), 22, 347n., 267. 71 Archibald MacLeish, ‘Public Speech and Private Speech in Poetry’, Yale Review (Spring 1938), 536–47 (544). 72 MacNeice, Poetry of Yeats, 180. 73 W.H. Auden, ‘The Public v. the Late Mr. William Butler Yeats’, in The English Auden: Poems, Essays and Dramatic Writings 1927–1939, ed. Edward Mendelson (London: Faber, 1977), 390. 74 Stephen Spender, ‘The Influence of Yeats on Later English Poets’, Tri-Quarterly (Fall, 1965), 84–5. 75 The Complete Works of W.H. Auden: Prose, Vol. 2, 1939–1948, ed. Edward Mendelson (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2002), 388. 76 MacNeice, Poetry of Yeats, 191. 77 Ibid., 195. 78 Edward Mendelson, Early Auden (London: Faber, 1981), 179. 79 The Letters of Ezra Pound 1907–1941, ed. D.D. Paige (London: Faber, 1951), 312; English Auden, 170. 80 Selected Literary Criticism of Louis MacNeice, ed. Alan Heuser (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987), 17; Auden, Collected Prose, Vol. 2, 388. 81 Louis MacNeice, Modern Poetry: A Personal Essay (1938; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1968), 35. 82 English Auden, 195; MacNeice, Modern Poetry, 145; MacNeice, Selected Criticism, 152. 83 English Auden, 245.

Notes to Pages 171–183


84 Ibid., 172; MacNeice, Collected Poems, 102. 85 See, for instance, Hugh Haughton, ‘MacNeice’s Vehicles’, in Brearton and Longley, Incorrigibly Plural, 103–12. 86 MacNeice, Poetry of Yeats, 156–7. 87 MacNeice, Selected Criticism, 26, 12. 88 English Auden, 393. 89 MacNeice, Modern Poetry, 29, 3, 19. 90 W.H. Auden, The Dyer’s Hand and Other Essays (London: Faber, 1963), 22; English Auden, 307–8, 311–12, 186–7. 91 MacNeice, Poetry of Yeats, 64, 111. 92 Ibid., 17–18. 93 MacNeice, Collected Poems, 23. 94 English Auden, 157. 95 MacNeice, Selected Criticism, 19; Poetry of Yeats, 37. 96 MacNeice, Poetry of Yeats, 112. 97 Ibid., 197, 50; MacNeice, Collected Poems, 140. For the rector, see David Fitzpatrick, ‘Solitary and Wild’: Frederick MacNeice and the Salvation of Ireland (Dublin: Lilliput, 2012). 98 MacNeice, Collected Poems, 137–8. 99 Ibid., 791. 100 MacNeice, Collected Poems, 138; see MacNeice, Poetry of Yeats, 146. 101 MacNeice, Collected Poems, 115, 139, 110. 102 Glyn Maxwell, ‘Turn and Turn Against: The Case of Autumn Journal’, in Brearton and Longley, Incorrigibly Plural, 172. 103 The Complete Works of W.H. Auden: Prose, Vol. 3, 1949–1955, ed. Edward Mendelson (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2008), 519. 104 English Auden, 182, 197, 199. 105 Ibid., 245–7. 106 Joseph Brodsky, Less Than One: Selected Essays (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1986), 317. 107 English Auden, 247. 108 Ibid., 242, 210. 109 Ibid., 241. 110 Ibid., 242–3, 246, 393. 111 W.H. Auden, Collected Shorter Poems 1927–1957 (London: Faber, 1966), 16. 112 English Auden, 401. 113 Poetry of Yeats, 192, 197. 114 MacNeice, Collected Poems, 181. 115 MacNeice, Poetry of Yeats, 17; MacNeice, Collected Poems, 181. 116 MacNeice, Collected Poems, 180. 117 MacNeice, Poetry of Yeats, 105. 118 MacNeice, Collected Poems, 178. 119 Ibid., 179–80. 120 Donald Davie, ‘Yeats, the Master of a Trade’, reprinted in Modernist Essays: Yeats, Pound, Eliot (Manchester: Carcanet 2004), 112.


Notes to Pages 183–189

121 Thom Gunn, The Occasions of Poetry: Essays in Criticism and Autobiography (London: Faber, 1982), 177; The Sense of Movement (London: Faber, 1957), 11. 122 Robert Conquest (ed.), New Lines (London: Macmillan, 1956), xvii, xv. 123 Charles Tomlinson, ‘The Middlebrow Muse’, Essays in Criticism 7, 2 (April 1957), 208–17; A. Alvarez (ed.), The New Poetry (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1962), 21, 26–7, 29. 124 Zachary Leader (ed.), The Movement Reconsidered (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), introduction 11, 13. 125 See Davie, Thomas Hardy and British Poetry (London: Routledge, 1973), 183, 11, 188; Davie, Modernist Essays, 228–41. 126 Philip Larkin, Further Requirements: Interviews, Broadcasts, Statements and Book Reviews 1952–1985 (London: Faber, 2001), 96. 127 MacNeice, Selected Criticism, 171; see Warwick Gould, Appendix Six, in Yeats’s Poems, Jeffares, 706–49. 128 Thom Gunn, Shelf Life, Essays Memoirs and an Interview (London: Faber, 1993), 223. 129 Ian Fletcher, ‘The Present State of Yeats Criticism’, Literary Half Yearly 2, 2 (July 1961), 24. 130 Philip Larkin, introduction, The North Ship (1945; London: Faber, 1966), 9–10; Letters of Ted Hughes, ed. Christopher Reid (London: Faber, 2007), 61; The Journals of Sylvia Plath 1950–1962, ed. Karen. V. Kukil (London: Faber, 2000), 7, 270. 131 Selected Letters of Dylan Thomas, ed. Constantine Fitzgibbon (London: J.M. Dent, 1966), 196, 36, 97; Ted Hughes, Winter Pollen: Occasional Prose (London: Faber, 1994), 80; Dylan Thomas, Collected Poems (London: J.M. Dent, 1952), 22. 132 See MacNeice, Selected Criticism, 183–9; John Goodby, ‘“Bulbous Taliesin”: MacNeice and Dylan Thomas’, Brearton and Longley, Incorrigibly Plural, 204–23. 133 Geoffrey Hill, For the Unfallen: Poems 1952–1958 (London: Andre Deutsch, 1959), 15. 134 John Haffenden, Viewpoints: Poets in Conversation (London: Faber, 1981), 89, 80. 135 Geoffrey Hill, Collected Critical Writings (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), 4, 12; Geoffrey Hill, ‘“The Conscious Mind’s Intelligible Structure”: A Debate’, reprinted in David Pierce (ed.), Yeats: Critical Assessments, Vol. 3 (Mountfield, East Sussex: Helm Information, 2000), 314–15. 136 Hill, For the Unfallen, 18. 137 Letters of Hughes, 625. 138 Ted Hughes, The Hawk in the Rain (London: Faber, 1957), 14. 139 Hughes, Winter Pollen, 264, 254. 140 See Edna Longley, ‘The Poetics of Celt and Saxon’, in Longley, Poetry & Posterity, 87–9. 141 Letters of Hughes, 426, 493.

Notes to Pages 189–199


142 Philip Larkin, Required Writing: Miscellaneous Pieces 1955–1982 (London: Faber, 1983), 41. 143 Larkin, North Ship, 9. 144 Selected Letters of Philip Larkin, ed. Anthony Thwaite (London: Faber, 1992), 106; Larkin, Required Writing, 84. 145 Philip Larkin, High Windows (London: Faber, 1974), 28; Larkin, North Ship, 21. 146 Larkin, Required Writing, 175; Philip Larkin, The Whitsun Weddings (London: Faber, 1964), 41. 147 Larkin, North Ship, 10; Philip Larkin, Early Poems and Juvenilia, ed. A.T. Tolley (London: Faber, 2005), 157, 243. 148 Larkin, Required Writing, 71, 67. 149 Philip Larkin, The Less Deceived (Hessle: Marvell Press, 1955), 38, 21. 150 Ibid., 27. 151 See Edna Longley, ‘Larkin, Decadence and the Lyric Poem’, in Longley, Poetry & Posterity, 178–202. 152 Leader (ed.), Movement Revisited, 310–11; Marjorie Perloff, ‘What to Make of a Diminished Thing’, Parnassus 19, 2 (1994), 29, 27. 153 Gunn, Occasions of Poetry, 179. Postscript 1 See Edna Longley, “‘It is time that I wrote my will”: Anxieties of Influence and Succession’, Yeats Annual 12 (1996), 117–62. 2 W. B. Yeats, Poems, ed. A.N. Jeffares (London: Macmillan, 1989), 598n. 3 Keith Tuma (ed.), Anthology of Twentieth-Century British & Irish Poetry (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001), xxiv; Dana Gioia, Barrier of a Common Language: An American Looks at Contemporary British Poetry (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2006), 4; Steve Clark and Mark Ford (eds), Something We Have That They Don’t: British & American Poetic Relations since 1925 (Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2004), 16. 4 Tuma, Anthology, xxi–iii; Keith Tuma, Fishing by Obstinate Isles: Modern and Postmodern British Poetry and American Readers (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1998), 3. 5 Gioia, Barrier of Language, ix, 3; Clark and Ford, Something We Have, 10. 6 Jennifer Ashton, From Modernism to Postmodernism: American Poetry and Theory in the Twentieth Century (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005), 28; Andrew Michael Roberts, Introduction, Roberts and Jonathan Allison (eds), Poetry and Contemporary Culture: The Question of Value (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2002), 2; Michael Donaghy, The Shape of the Dance: Essays, Interviews and Digressions (London: Picador, 2009), 131. 7 Rod Mengham and John Kinsella (eds), Vanishing Points: Neo-Modernist Poems (Cambridge: Salt, 2004), xviii. 8 Ian Brinton (ed.), A Manner of Utterance: The Poetry of J.H. Prynne (Exeter: Shearman Books, 2009), 167.


Notes to Pages 200–206

9 Ashton, From Modernism, 4–5. 10 Steve McCaffery, ‘Parapoetics and the Architectural Leap’, in Louis Armand (ed.), Contemporary Poetics (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 2007), 33. 11 Rosemond Tuve, Elizabethan and Metaphysical Imagery: Renaissance Poetic and Twentieth-Century Critics (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1947), 177. 12 Ronald W. Langacker, Cognitive Grammar: A Basic Introduction (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), 174, 6. 13 Armand, Contemporary Poetics, 74; Mengham and Kinsella, Vanishing Points, xiv. 14 Ashton, From Modernism, 90–2. 15 Donaghy, Shape of the Dance, 70; Rod Mengham, ‘Politics and Intricacy in the Work of J.H. Prynne’, in Brinton, Manner of Utterance, 74, 78–9. 16 J. H., Prynne, Poems (Tarset: Bloodaxe, 2005), 436. 17 Nigel Wheale, ‘Crosswording Paths through “Red D Gypsum”’; in Brinton, Manner of Utterance, 169–77. 18 Donaghy, Shape of the Dance, 160. 19 John Koethe, quoted in Alan Golding, ‘Recent American Poetry Anthologies and the Idea of the “Mainstream”’, in Roberts and Allison, Poetry and Contemporary Culture, 127. 20 Simon Perril, ‘Hanging on Your Every Word’, in Brinton, Manner of Utterance, 86, 101. 21 Don Paterson and Charles Simic (eds), New British Poetry (Saint Paul: Greywolf Press, 2004), Introduction, xxxi, xxiv, xxxii. 22 Glyn Maxwell, On Poetry (London: Oberon Books, 2012), 57. 23 Paul Muldoon, interviewed by John Redmond, Thumbscrew 4 (Spring 1996), 2–18. 24 Auden’s translation, W.H. Auden, The Dyer’s Hand (London: Faber, 1963), 23. 25 Quoted by Ashton, From Modernism, 20. 26 Robert Frost, Collected Poems, Prose, & Plays (New York: Library of America, 1995), 691. 27 Louis MacNeice, Selected Literary Criticism, ed. Alan Heuser (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987), 245. 28 Mark Ford (ed.), The New York Poets: An Anthology (Manchester: Carcanet, 2004), 41–2. 29 Ibid., xv. 30 Ibid., 45. 31 Mengham and Kinsella, Vanishing Points, xv. 32 Louis MacNeice, Collected Poems, ed. Peter McDonald (London: Faber, 2007), 561. 33 Louise Gluck, ‘Ersatz Thought’ (1998), reprinted in Metre 7/8 (Spring– Summer 2000), 123–4. 34 See Neil Corcoran, ‘The Same Again? MacNeice’s Repetitions’, in Fran Brearton and Edna Longley (eds), Incorrigibly Plural: Louis MacNeice and His Legacy (Manchester: Carcanet, 2012), 257–73.

Notes to Pages 207–212


35 Samuel Beckett, ‘Recent Irish Poetry’, reprinted in Seamus Deane (ed.), The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing III (Derry: Field Day, 1991), 45. 36 Louis MacNeice, The Poetry of W.B. Yeats (1941; London: Faber, 1967), 179–80. 37 Ibid., 196; MacNeice, Selected Literary Criticism, 40. 38 Austin Clarke, ‘Irish Poetry Today’ (1935), ‘W.B. Yeats’ [obituary] (1939) reprinted in Gregory A. Schirmer (ed.), Reviews and Essays of Austin Clarke (Gerrards Cross: Colin Smythe, 1995), 58, 13, 11. 39 Irish Literary Portraits: W.R. Rodgers’s Broadcast Conversations (London: BBC, 1972), 19. 40 Patrick Kavanagh, A Poet’s Country: Selected Prose, ed. Antoinette Quinn (Dublin: Lilliput, 2003), 174; Antoinette Quinn, Patrick Kavanagh: BornAgain Romantic (Dublin: Gill & Macmillan, 1991), 170. 41 Kavanagh, Poet’s Country, 306; Patrick Kavanagh, ‘Poetry in Ireland Today’, Bell 16, 1 (April 1948), 39; Kavanagh, Poet’s Country, 246, 251, 42 See Patrick Kavanagh, Collected Pruse (London: Macgibbon & Kee, 1967), 281–3. 43 Justin Quinn, The Cambridge Introduction to Modern Irish Poetry, 1800–2000 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008), 4. 44 Fran Brearton, ‘Poetry of the 1960s: the “Northern Ireland Renaissance”’: in Matthew Campbell (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Contemporary Irish Poetry (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 94–112 (109). 45 Ibid. 46 Peter McDonald, ‘Yeats, Form and Northern Irish Poetry’, Yeats Annual 12 (1996), 213–42 (222). 47 Seamus Heaney, Preoccupations: Selected Prose 1968–1978 (London: Faber, 1980), 105, 112, 99; Seamus Heaney, ‘William Butler Yeats’, Field Day Anthology II, 790, 786. 48 McDonald, ‘Yeats, Form’, 236. 49 See Edna Longley, ‘Phoenix or Dead Crow? Irish and Scottish Poetry Magazines, 1945–2000’, in Peter Mackay, Longley and Fran Brearton (eds), Modern Irish and Scottish Poetry (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011), 294–312 (306). 50 McDonald, ‘Yeats, Form’, 240. 51 Seamus Heaney, Field Work (London: Faber, 1979), 21; Paul Muldoon, Moy Sand and Gravel (London: Faber, 2002), 73. 52 See Lost Lives: The Stories of the Men, Women and Children Who Died as a Result of the Northern Ireland Troubles, ed. David McKittrick, Seamus Kelters, Brian Feeney and Chris Thornton (Edinburgh: Mainstream, 1999). 53 Paul Muldoon, Poetry Book Society Bulletin 195 (Winter 2002), 5; Derek Mahon, interviewed by John Brown, in Brown, In the Chair: Interviews with Poets from the North of Ireland (Cliffs of Moher, Clare: Salmon Publishing, 2002), 119.


Abbey Theatre, 3 Ackroyd, Peter, 52 Adams, Joseph, 8 Adorno, Theodor, 65 AE (George Russell), ix, 17 Aestheticism form and, 102, 211 lyric poetry and, 72 modernism and, 68 Owen and, 119 in Oxford Book of Modern Verse, 77–8 redefinition of, 63 rejection of, during Great War, 88 revival of, 70–1 for Thomas, E., 80, 91 war poetry and, 107 for Yeats, 18, 63, 74, 91, 194–5 Albright, Daniel, 44 Aldington, Richard, 94, 97 All That Is Solid Melts Into Air (Berman), 36 Allen, Michael, 27 Allingham, William, 13, 151, 159 Alvarez, A., 184–5 American modernism, 35, 43–4, 69, 137–9 imperialism and, 146–7, 199 American New Criticism, 25–8, 148 rise of, 38–9 The American T. S. Eliot (Sigg), 47 Anderson, Perry, 41 Anglo-Irish War, 52 anima mundi, 36 Anthology of British & Irish Poetry (Tuma), 198–9 antithetical audiences, 8–9 anti-war war poetry, 108 Aoibhin, Craoibhin. See Hyde, Douglas The Aramanthers (Yeats, Jack B.), 28 Archipelagic criticism, 145–54 symbolism and, 153 Archipelagic English (Kerrigan), 146–7 Arnold, Matthew, 47–8 On the Study of Celtic Literature, 13

Ashbery, John, 40 Ashton, Jennifer, 199 ‘At the Abbey Theatre’ (Yeats) cultural nationalism and, 3 mob and, 2–3 polemical syntax of, 5–6 Auden, W. H., 2, 34, 148, 168–80, 190, 202 Collected Shorter Poems, 179 ‘In Memory of W. B. Yeats,’ 31, 178–9 ‘Letter to Lord Byron,’ 2, 170, 172 Letters from Iceland, 170, 171, 177–9 poem to Christopher Isherwood, 173, 174 ‘The Prolific and the Devourer,’ 180 ‘The Public v. the Late Mr. William Butler Yeats,’ 172–3, 179 ‘September 1, 1939,’ 171, 177–9 ‘Yeats as an Example,’ 169 public poetry of, 180–2 audience antithetical, 8–9 deconstruction of, 8 problematic, 32–3 in Responsibilities, 6–7, 8–9 Austin, Alfred, 15 ballad, folksong and, 155–6, 161–2 Bardic Nationalism (Trumpener), 147 Barker, Jonathan, 164 Barry, Kevin, 17 beauty for Owen, 119 for Stevens, 89, 91 for Thomas, 89, 91 for Yeats, 120, 132 Beckett, Samuel, 42, 206–7 Benamou, Michel, 82, 84–5 Bergson, Henri, 174 Berkeley, George, 16, 24, 59–60, 112 Berman, Marshall, 36 Bernstein, Charles, 40, 201 Bishop, Julia, 156


238 Blake, William, 86–7, 153 Bloom, Harold, 40, 70, 78 Blunden, Edmund, 112 Bold, Alan, 160 The Book of the Homeless (Wharton), 107, 113 Bottrall, Ronald, 149 Boyd, Ernest, 14, 15, 18, 84 Easter Rising and, 21 Irish criticism and, 17 Boyes, Georgina, 156 Bradbury, Malcolm, 35 Brearton, Fran, 108–9, 209, 211–12 Bridges, Robert, 19, 114–15 British and American Poetic Relations since 1925 (Clark and Ford), 198 British Poetry in the Age of Modernism (Howarth), 69 Brodsky, Joseph, 178–9 Brooke, Rupert, 115–17 1914, 115 ‘The Soldier,’ 116 as influence on Thomas, E., 116 sonnets, critique of, 116–17 Brown, Terence, 24 Bruns, Gerald L., 69 Bunting, Basil, 35 Burke, Edmund, 16, 24, 123 Burns, Robert, 147, 157, 159 Caesar, Adrian, 119 Calinescu, Matei, 40 The Cambridge Companion to Modern Irish Poetry, 208 The Cambridge Companion to Modernism, 40 Cambridge criticism, 148 Cambridge History of Irish Literature, 28 Campion, Thomas, 19 Carleton, William, 12 Carpenter, Andrew, 156 Carr, Helen, 94 Carroll, Joseph, 87, 91 Carson, Ciaran, 210, 211 Casement, Roger, 113 Catholicism, and Yeats, 7, 25, 48 Celticism, 12–13, 37, 147, 188, 189 Chaudhry, Yug Mohit, 11 Clare, John, 91, 155 Clark, Steve, 198 Clarke, Austin, 21, 34, 207 Clarke, Edward, 68 Classicism, Romanticism and, 48–9 Cobbett, William, 98 cognitive grammar, 201 Coleridge, Samuel Taylor, 72, 74, 93, 118, 126, 135, 161

Index colonialism Great Britain and, in postcolonial theory, 146–7 in Ireland, 145 The Concept of Modernism (Eysteinsson), 36 Conquest, Robert, 183 conscious patriotism, 151 Corkery, Daniel, 22, 23, 207 Craig, Cairns, 146 Crane, Hart, 34 criticism. See also American New Criticism; Archipelagic criticism; Irish criticism; literary criticism; poet-critic modernist, 38 practical, 27 of Young Ireland movement, 22 Crotty, Patrick, 154, 161 Cummings, E. E., 34 The Dance of the Intellect: Studies in the Poetry of the Pound Tradition (Perloff), 40 Das, Santanu, 139 Davie, Donald, 25–6, 61–2, 182, 198 Davis, Thomas, 4 conscious patriotism of, 151 Dawe, Gerald, 114 Deane, Seamus, 22, 23, 28–9 Deutsch, Babette, 34 dialectical poetry, syntax and, 8–9, 203 Diggory, Terence, 39, 58 Donaghy, Michael, 199, 201 Donne, John, 66, 200 Donoghue, Denis, x, 23, 25, 27–8 Douglas, Keith, 183 Dowden, Edward, 13, 23, 25, 152 criticism of Irish literature, 14–15 and unionism, 14–15 Yeats and, 13–16 Dowson, Ernest, 7, 79 Collected Poems, 79 Duffy, Charles Gavan (Sir), 12, 29 Earth Voices Whispering: An Anthology of Irish War Poetry 1914–1945 (Dawe), 114 Easter Rising, 20, 115, 120–2 Boyd and, 21 Yeats and, 20, 115, 120–122 ecological metaphysics, 92–3 Eglinton, John (W. K. Magee), 17 ekphrastic poem, 65 elegy, 129–37 in ‘Dulce et Decorum Est,’ 129 in Michael Robartes and the Dancer, 131 for Owen, 134 pastoral roots in, 134–6

Index at public level, 129 for Ramazani, 129 for Thomas, E., 134 Eliot, T. S., ix, 34, 46 influenced by The Cutting of an Agate, 45 on Ireland, as provincial outpost of Great Britain, 146 modernism and, 35–6 order for, 52–3 Protestantism for, 47, 48 religion for, 48 Romanticism and, break from, 50 symbolist principles and, break from, 50 tradition for, 44–55 Eliot, T. S., works of. See also ‘The Waste Land’ After Strange Gods, 46, 47 The Criterion, 46 ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,’ 170 ‘Sweeney among the Nightingales,’ 49 ‘Tradition and the Individual Talent,’ 44–5 ‘Ulysses, Order and Myth,’ 11, 17, 46 Ellmann, Richard, 85, 186 Empson, William, 148, 183 End of War (Read), 112 English Folk-Song: Some Conclusions (Sharp), 155 exteriority, 5, 74, 103–4 Eysteinsson, Astradur, 36 Faber Book of Modern Verse (Roberts), 38 Ferguson, Samuel (Sir), 11, 14, 16 Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing, 28–9 First World War. See Great War Five Faces of Modernity (Calinescu), 40 Fletcher, Ian, 102, 185 Fletcher, John Gould, 70–1, 100 Flint, F. S., 56 Imagism for, 95–6 A Floating Commonwealth (Harvie), 150 Fogarty, Anne, 44 folksong authorship of, 158 ballad and, 155–6, 161–2 definition of, 154 Easter Rising, and, 162–3 imitations of, 154–5, 166 in Ireland, 154–5 for MacDiarmid, 155, 159 modern poetry and, 155–6 oral tradition in, 155 quatrain structure in, 163 range of, 157–8 revival of, in England, 155–6 in Scotland, 155 symbolism and, 156–7


for Thomas, E., 155, 156, 157, 164 for Yeats, 154–67 Ford, Mark, 198, 204 form, in poetry, 101–5, 198–9 Aestheticism and, 102, 211 free verse and, 103 for Lawrence, 102–3 open, 61–2 for Pound, 55–62 in public poetry, 170–1 symbolism and, 102 traditional, xiii, 54, 67, 172, 183 in ‘The Waste Land,’ 52–3 for Yeats, 55–62, 65–7 formalism, 184, 209–10 Foster, John Wilson, 22, 23, 24–5 Foster, Roy, 10, 29–30, 58, 121 Yeats as inheritor, 147 free verse, 67 form and, 103 in ‘Thirteen Ways of looking at a Blackbird,’ 99 for Thomas, E., 103 for Yeats, 103 French symbolism, 71, 86–7 Imagism and, 96 Owen and, 138 Yeats and, 71, 84–5 From Modernism to Postmodernism (Ashton), 199 Frost, Robert, 30, 34, 104 ‘After Apple-Picking,’ 104 North of Boston, 68, 104 friendship with Thomas, E., 68–9 Imagism for, 98 modern poetry and, exclusion from canon, 38 symbolism for, 104–5 syntax for, 203 Fussell, Paul, 115, 140 Futurist Manifesto (Marinetti), 138 Gaelic League, 3, 145 grammar and ideology for, 4 Gay, Peter, 37 Gelpi, Albert, 69 Georgian Poetry (Marsh), 79 Georgianism, 37 Gioia, Dana, 198 Gluck, Louise, 205–6 Gogarty, Oliver St. John, 34, 106 Goldsmith, Oliver, 16, 24 Gonne, Maud, 8, 74, 131–2 Gould, Warwick, 185 Graham, Colin, 19, 29 Graham, W. S., 152 ‘Loch Thom,’ 152



Graves, Robert, xiii, 37, 112, 183, 186 syntax for, 203 Great Britain folksong revival in, 155–6 national identity for, 147 postcolonial theory and, 146–7 Yeats, assessment in, 145–54 Great War. See also war poetry elegy and, 130–1 internationalisation of Yeats’ work after, 108–9 Irish interests in, 113 mortality and, 89 Owen’s works during, 110–11, 118–20 pastoral genre during, 135–6 poets’ response to, 108, 114–17 rejection of Aestheticism and, 88 for Thomas, E., 108, 117–18, 128 war poetry after, 112 Yeats’ attitude to, 107–8, 112–13 The Great War in Irish Poetry: W. B. Yeats to Michael Longley (Brearton), 108–9, 211–12 Gregory, Augusta (Lady), 7, 31–2, 115, 162, 195–7 Gregory, Robert, 108 Grenfell, Julian, 106 ‘Into Battle,’ 106 Grierson, Herbert, 66, 200 Griffith, Arthur, 16 Grigson, Geoffrey, 149 Gunn, Thom, 153, 191 ‘On the Move,’ 183 Gurney, Ivor, 115–17 ‘Butchers and Tombs,’ 129–30 ‘The Silent One,’ , 117 ‘War Books,’ 141 Hallam, Arthur, 86–7 Harding, Jason, 46–7 Hardy, Thomas, xiii, 114, 115, 155 The Dynasts, 115 ‘In Time of “the Breaking of Nations,”‘ 115 pastoral works, 135 Harvie, Christopher, 150 Harwood, John, 37 HD (Hilda Doolittle) ‘The Garden,’ 94 ‘Oread,’ 97 ‘Priapus,’ 95 Heaney, Seamus, 23, 148, 209–10 ‘Casualty’, 211 Death of a Naturalist, 209 ‘Yeats as an Example?’, 209 on nationalism of Yeats, 25 Henley, W. E., 11 Henn, T. R., 23–5

The Hidden Ireland (Corkery), 22 Higgins, F. R., 163, 195 high talk, 200–1 Hill, Geoffrey, 186, 187–8 For the Unfallen, 186 ‘Genesis,’ 186–7 ‘God’s Little Mountain’, 187–8 ‘Poetry as Menace and Atonement’, 186 poetic syntax for, 201 A History of French Literature (Dowden), 13 History of Ireland: Heroic Period (O’Grady), 12, 18 Holander, Stefan, 70–1 holy tree, symbolism of, 74 home for Thomas, E., 130 for Yeats, 132, 150–1 Horne, John, 113 Hough, Graham, 149 houses, in symbolism, 135–6 Housman, A. E., 154, 155 Howe, Stephen, 145–6 Howe, Susan, 40 Hughes, Ted, 185, 187–8 ‘The Bull Moses’, 188 The Hawk in the Rain, 186, 189 Lupercal, 186 ‘The Thought Fox’, 187–8 poetry as occult visitation for, 188 Hugo, Victor, 2 Hulme, T. E., 48–9, 95–6, 108, 200 Imagism and, 49 spilt religion and, 49, 70, 92, 96, 110, 158–9 Hutton, Clare, 17 Hyde, Douglas, 3–5 Beside the Fire: A Collection of Gaelic Folk Stories, 3 Love Songs of Connacht, 3 Hyde-Lees, George, 150 Ibsen, Henrik, 3, 43, 112 The Imagined Village (Boyes), 156 Imagism, 37, 93–101 for Flint, 95–6 French symbolism and, 96 for Frost, 98 Hulme and, 49 MacNeice on, 94 modernism and, 70 music and, 99 for Pound, 56, 93–6, 98–9 presentation in, 97 rhythm in, 100 for Stevens, 94–6 symbolism and, 93–101

Index syntax and, 97–8 for Thomas, E., 94–6 Imagist Poetry (Jones, P.), 94 Des Imagistes, 93, 95 In Parenthesis (Jones, D.), 138 interiority, symbolism and, 91–2 International Modernism, 41, 199 Inventing Ireland (Kiberd), 28, 29, 147 Ireland British colonialism in, 145 folksong tradition in, 154–5 Gaelic League in, 3 Great War and, 113 as imaginative resource for poetry, 2 legacy in, for Yeats, 206–12 Literary Revival in, 2, 3, 10–11 national identity for, 147 public poetry and, 177 Young Ireland movement in, 4 Ireland and Empire (Howe), 145–6 Ireland’s Literary Renaissance (Boyd), 15, 18 later edition of, 20 The Irish Catholic, 7 Irish Civil War, 24, 124–5, 131, 182, 211 Irish criticism academic debate over, 25 Boyd on, 17 emergence of, xii failure of, 1 ‘J. M. Synge and the Ireland of his Time’ and, xii Joyce and, 17 MacDonagh and, 17 Irish Literary Revival, 2, 10–11, 26, 159, 208 Dowden’s criticism of, 14–15 Gaelic League and, 3 MacDonagh and, 19–20 nationalism and, 17 Irish literary studies growth of, 28–9 postcolonial criticism and, 146 Irish poets national identity as influence on, 147, 154 Yeats as influence on identity for, 148 Irish Times, 14 Isherwood, Christopher, 173 James Joyce and Nationalism (Nolan), 42 Jamieson’s Etymological Dictionary of the Scottish Language, 160 Jarrell, Randall, 38–9, 103 Jeffares, A. N., 23–4 John Bull’s Other Island (Shaw), 145 Johnson, Lionel, 7, 79 Jones, David, 138


Jones, Peter, 94 Jonson, Ben, 82, 135 Joyce, James, 17, 43, 85, 210 Irish criticism and, 17 nationalism and, 42–3 repatriation of, 30 Yeats and, 17–18, 43 Kavanagh, Patrick, 207 Keats, John, 70, 86–9, 92, 96, 98, 111, 139–40, 159, 161 Kelly, Joseph, 42 Kenner, Hugh, 41, 61–2 Kermode, Frank, 82, 149 Kerrigan, John, 146–7 Kettle, Tom, 114 Kiberd, Declan, 28, 147 Kinsella, John, 199, 201, 204–5 Kipling, Rudyard, 114–15, 137 Kissane, Bill, 125 Kraus, Karl, 203 Lane, Hugh, 6–7, 196 Language Poetry, 40, 199 ‘Lapis Lazuli’ (Yeats), 63–7 architecture of, 65 as ekphrastic poem, 65 free verse and, 67 pre-Raphaelitism in, 66–7 syntax in, 67 war poetry and, 63 Larkin, Philip, 148, 186 ‘Dublinesque,’ 189 ‘The Importance of Elsewhere,’ 151–2 The Less Deceived, 190 The Oxford Book of Twentieth-Century English Verse, 184 ‘Wild Oats,’ 190 ‘Wires,’ 190 Belfast allusions in works of, 152 lyric poetry for, 189–90 reflexivity for, 189 The Last Romantics (Hough), 149 The Later Affluence of W. B. Yeats and Wallace Stevens (Clarke), 68 Lawrence, D. H., xiii, 141 form for, 102–3 Leader, Zachary, 184 Leavis, F. R., 146, 149 Ledwidge, Francis, 114 Leerssen, Joep, 152 Leighton, Angela, 66–7, 72 Lensing, George, 92 Levenson, Michael, 52, 98 Lewis, Alun, 89



Lewis, Cecil Day, 170 Life of W. B. Yeats (Brown), 24 Lindsay, Vachel, 34 literary criticism. See also Archipelagic criticism; Irish criticism in Archipelagic English, 146–7 Literary Ideals in Ireland, 17 Literature in Ireland (MacDonagh), 19–20 The Lonely Tower (Henn), 24–5 Longenbach, James, 40, 109 Longley, Michael, 209, 210, 211 No Continuing City, 209 Löwy, Michael, x, 36 lyric poem, 71–83, 182–92, 202 Aestheticism and, 72 criticism of, 184–5 intensity of, 186–7 Larkin and, 189–90 Nature in, 72, 73–4 reflexivity in, 189–90 structure of, 190 symbolism and, 72 Thomas, E., and, 72, 75 Yeats and, 72, 75, 96, 202 MacDiarmid, Hugh, 155, 159–60 ‘Ballad of the Five Senses,’ 159 ‘La Belle Terre Sans Merci,’ 139 ‘The Bonnie Broukit Bairn,’ 160 A Drunk Man Looks at the Thistle, 160–1 ‘The Eemis Stane,’ 165 ‘To One Who Urges More Ambitious Flights,’ 160 Penny Wheep, 160 Sangschaw, 159 MacDonagh, Thomas, 17, 19–20 Irish Literary Revival and, 19–20 on Irish literature, 19 MacGill, Patrick, 114 MacGreevy, Thomas, 114 MacLeish, Archibald, xii MacNeice, Louis, xiii, 34, 168–81, 195, 202, 207 Autumn Journal, 175–7 ‘Birmingham,’ 173 ‘Carrick Revisited,’ 151–2 ‘The Closing Album,’ 180 ‘Dublin,’ 181–2 Letters from Iceland, 170, 171 Modern Poetry, 38 The Poetry of W. B. Yeats, 21–2, 38, 170, 173–4, 180–2, 185 ‘Reflections,’ 205 ‘Sligo and Mayo,’ 180 on Imagism, 94 modernism for, 38

Maeterlinck, Maurice, 85–6 critique of, by Thomas, E., 86 symbolism for, 104–5 Mahon, Derek, Night-Crossing, 209 Mallarmé, Stéphane, 84–5, 112, 199–200, 203 Mangan, James Clarence, 11, 16 Mann, Thomas, 168 Marinetti, F. T., 138 Marsh, Edward, 79 Masson, David, 15 Mattar, Sinéad Garrigan, 156 Matthews, Steven, 147 Matthiessen, F. O., 49 Maxwell, Glyn, 177, 202 Mazzini, Giuseppe, 46 McDonald, Gail, 52 McDonald, Peter, 27, 209–10 McFarlane, James, 35 McGuckian, Medbh, 210, 211 McGuinness, Patrick, 71 McPherson, James, 148 memory, 130, 133–4, 136–7 Mencken, H. L., 19 Mendelson, Edward, 170 Mengham, Rod, 199, 201 Mercier, Vivian, 25 metaphysics ecological, 92–3 in works of Thomas, E., 92–3 Millenarianism, 110 Minstrelsy of the Scottish Borders, 155 Mistaken Identities: The Poetry of Northern Ireland (McDonald, P.), 27 modern poetry, ix-xiii cultural war about, 5 folksong and, 155–6 Frost and, exclusion from canon, 38 influenced by Yeats, ix, 34–5 ‘J. M. Synge and the Ireland of his Time’ and, xii in Oxford Book of Modern Verse, xi as oxymoron, x Pater’s ‘Mona Lisa’ as foundation of, 77–8 Pound tradition in, 199–200 rhythm in, 96–7 Thomas, E., and, exclusion from canon, 38 tradition in, 44–55 war poetry and, 137–44 modernism, 35–44 Aestheticism and, 68 American, 35, 43–4, 69, 137–9, 146–7 as critical paradigm, 35–40 Eliot and, 35–6 expansion of, 36–7 history of, 37

Index Imagism and, 70 for MacNeice, 38 Pound and, 35–6, 58 public poetry and, 170–1 Stevens and, 69–71 symbolism and, 37, 39, 70 ‘The Waste Land’ and, 52, 53–4 Modernism (Bradbury and McFarlane), 35 Modernism: An Anthology (Rainey), 36 Modernism and Ireland: The Poetry of the 1930s, 42 Modernism: The Lure of Heresy (Gay), 37 modernist criticism, 38 ‘Mona Lisa’ (Pater), 77–8 Monro, Harold, 138 Moran, D. P., 11, 31 as antagonist for Yeats, 12–13 Celticism for, 12–13 Morris, William, 39, 172 Morrison, Paul, 62 mortality, Great War and, 89 Moses, Michael Valdez, 64 Motion, Andrew, 191 The Movement Reconsidered (Leader), 184–5 Muldoon, Paul, 153, 198, 202–3 ‘At the Sign of the Black Horse,’ 211 ‘7, Middagh Street,’ 31–2 The Muse in Arms (Osborn), 115 National Observer, 11 nationalism Irish Literary Revival and, 17 Joyce and, 42–3 Yeats and, 10–13, 25, 29 Nature, 91, 127, 135–7, 196 in lyric poetry, 72, 73–4 in ‘The Two Trees,’ 73–5 in works by Stevens, 76–7 in works by Thomas, E., 76–7, 92, 135 New Bearings in English Poetry (Leavis), 149 New Formalists, as poetry movement, 198 New Lines (Conquest), 183 The New Penguin Book of English Folk Songs (Roud and Bishop), 156 The New Poetry (Alvarez), 184 New Verse (Grigson), 149 New Yorker, 198 Newbolt, Henry, 19 Newcomb, John Timberman, 70 Newey, Adam, 159 Nicholls, Peter, 40–1 Nietzsche, Friedrich, 13, 33, 109, 197 Nolan, Emer, 42 North, Michael, 36, 37 Northern Ireland, 22, 25, 27, 145–6, 208–10


O’Brien, Conor Cruise, 28 O’Brien, George, 30, 42–3 O’Casey, Sean, 112 O’Faoláin, Sean, 23 O’Grady, Standish James, 12, 18 O’Hara, Frank, 204 ‘Joe’s Jacket’, 204 O’Higgins, Kevin, 24, 124–5 O’Leary, John, 46 On Form (Leighton), 66–7 open form, in poetry, 61–2 opinion, poetry and, 122 oral tradition, in folksong, 155 order, 52–3 Osborn, E. B., 115 Our Joyce (Kelly), 42 Our Secret Discipline (Vendler), 35 Our War: Ireland and the Great War (Horne), 113 Owen, Wilfred, xiii, 34, 63 Aestheticism and, 119 beauty for, 119 elegy for, 134 French symbolism and, 138 millenarianism for, 110 omission from Oxford Book of Modern Verse, 34, 106, 114 psychodrama in works of, 120 rhyme scheme for, 142–3 war poetry for, 118–20, 128 works during Great War, 110–11, 118–20 Yeats as influence on, 111–12 Owen, Wilfred, works of ‘The Show,’ 111, 129 ‘Apologia pro Poemate Meo,’ 119 ‘Dulce et Decorum Est,’ 118–19 ‘Exposure,’ 130, 139, 142, 179 ‘Futility,’ 117, 120 ‘I saw his round mouth’s crimson deepen as it fell’, 143 ‘An Imperial Elegy,’ 116 ‘Insensibility,’ 108, 110–11 ‘Parable of the Old Man and the Young,’ 116 ‘Preface,’ 119, 140 ‘The Send-Off,’ 134, 142 ‘Spring Offensive,’ 110 ‘Strange Meeting,’ 111 Oxford Book of Modern Verse (Yeats), 26, 197 Aestheticism in, 77–8 canonical message of, 55 Owen’s omission from, 34, 106, 114 Pater in, 75 Yeats in, 195–7



Parnell, Charles Stewart, 11 pastoral genre, in poetry elegy in, 134–6 during Great War, 134–6 Hardy and, 135 inception of, 134–5 reflexivity in, 134 Thomas, E., and, 135–6 Yeats and, 134–7 Pater, Walter, 6, 72, 75, 77–8 influence on Yeats, 78 and Stevens, 78 and Thomas, E., 78, 80–1 Paterson, Don, 202 patriotism. See conscious patriotism Patten, Eve, 15 Pearse, Patrick, 120 The Penguin Book of Irish Poetry (Crotty), 154 Perloff, Marjorie, 37, 40, 69, 138, 191–2 Perril, Simon, 202 Plath, Sylvia, 185 Platt, Len, 43, 207–8 The Playboy of the Western World (Synge), 11, 98 Poe, Edgar Allan, 71, 75 poet-critic, xi, 10–11 poetry. See also form, in poetry; Imagism; Language Poetry; modern poetry; pastoral genre, in poetry; public poetry; war poetry dialectical, syntax and, 8–9 ekphrastic, 65 extraction of religion from, 49 as high talk, 200–1 Ireland as imaginative resource for, 2 literary assessment of, 94 New Formalists and, 198 as occult visitation, 188 opinion and, 122 as psychodrama, 91–2 rebellion, 120–1 reflexivity in, xii sound-play, 82 as speech, 30–33, 81, 97–8 Poetry and Drama, 139 Poetry Magazine, 57 poets grouping of, conventional grounds for, xiii leftwing, politics of, 168 response to Great War, 108, 114–17 politics, 11, 167–8 of leftwing poets, 168 in public poetry, 168 in After Strange Gods, 47 A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (Joyce), 17, 43

postmodernism, 40, 70 rise of, 39 ‘The Waste Land’ and, 52 Pound, Ezra, ix, 18, 25, 34. See also Pound tradition Anglophobia, 41, 199 criticism of Yeats, 167 form for, 55–62 friendship with Yeats, 57–8 Imagism for, 56, 93–6, 98–9 MacNeice, on, 170 modernism and, 35–6, 58 open form for, 61–2 Protestantism for, 56 Pound, Ezra, works of Active Anthology, 35 ‘The Ballad of the Goodly Fere,’ 167 Cantos, 25, 60–1 A Draft of Thirty Cantos, 170 ‘How to Read,’ 41 ‘Hugh Selwyn Mauberley,’ 54, 138 ‘In a Station of the Metro,’ 97 Profile, 38 ‘The Return,’ 57 The Spirit of Romance, 56 ‘Ts’ai Chi’h’, 95 ‘War Verse,’ 108 ‘What I Feel About Walt Whitman,’ 55–6 The Pound Era (Kenner), 41 Pound tradition, 41–2, 199–200 pre-Raphaelitism, 66–7 Price, Richard, 123 Primitivism, Science and the Irish Revival (Mattar), 156 problematic audiences, 32–3 Protestantism for Eliot, 47, 48 for Pound, 56 for Yeats, 7, 24–5, 48, 175 Prynne, J. H., i, 199, 201 Bands Around the Throat, 202 Red D. Gypsum, 201, 205 Word Order, 201 psychodrama, 91–2 syntax and, 203 in war poetry, 120 public poetry, 167–82 of Auden, 180–2 in Autumn Journal, 175–7 ‘Birmingham’ (MacNeice), 173 ‘The Closing Album’ (MacNeice), 180 ‘Dublin,’ (MacNeice), 181–2 form in, 170–1 Irish advantage in, 177 leftwing poets and, 168

Index modernist criticism of, 170–1 politics in, 168 rhetoric in, 169 structure of, 174–5 The Tower, 181–2 as war poetry, 175–7 Quinn, Antoinette, 207 Quinn, Justin, 208 Rainey, Laurence, 36 Ramazani, Jahan, xi, 119 elegy for, 129 Ransom, John Crowe, 38 Rawlinson, Mark, 119–20 Read, Herbert, 112 rebellion poems, 120–1 Redmond, John, 113 Reflections on the Revolution in France (Burke), 123 reflexivity, xii, 189, 211 for Larkin, 189 in pastoral genre, 134 in poetry, xii for Stevens, 81 for Yeats, xii, 61 refrain, 164–6 religion for Eliot, 48 extraction from poetry, 49 religion of art, 72, 74, 93, 189 spilt religion, 49, 70, 92, 96, 110, 158–9 in war poetry, 110–11 for Yeats, 47 rhetoric in public poetry, 169 syntax and, 203 for Yeats, 5–6, 172, 203 rhyme scheme for Owen, 142–3 for Yeats, 144 Rhymers’ Club, 1–2, 7, 75, 145 rhythm in Imagist poetry, 100 in modern poetry, 96–7 syntax and, 204 Riding, Laura, 37 Roberts, Michael, 38 Robinson, Alan, 100 Romantic Image (Kermode), 149 Romanticism classicism and, 48–9 Eliot’s break from, 50 as modern critique of modernity, x Stevens and, 87


Thomas and, 87, 92 unifying elements of, 36 war poetry and, 139–40 Yeats and, 39, 74, 86–7, 94 Romanticism Against the Tide of Modernity (Löwy and Sayre), x Rosenberg, Isaac ‘Break of Day in the Trenches,’ 117 ‘Dead Man’s Dump’, 129, 130, 141 ‘Returning, we hear the Larks,’ 139, 141 Rossetti, Dante Gabriel, 65, 72 Roud, Steve, 156 Russell, George, ix, 17 Sassoon, Siegfried, 112 ‘On Passing the New Menin Gate,’ 112 Sayre, Robert, x, 36 Scarry, Elaine, 132 Schorske, Carl, 140 Schuchard, Ronald, 96 Schwarz, Delmore, ix Scotland, folksong tradition in, 155 Scots Observer (Henley), 11 Scott, Walter (Sir), 4, 155 Scottish Literature: Character and Influence (Smith, G. G.), 44–5 Shakespear, Olivia, 195 Shakespeare; A Critical Study of His Mind and Art (Dowden), 13 Sharp, Cecil, 155 Shaw, George Bernard, 145 Shelley, Percy Bysshe, 76, 81, 86, 96, 140, 148 Sheppard, Richard, 35–6 The Short Life of Thomas Davis (Duffy), 12 The Shropshire Lad (Housman), 154 Sigg, Eric, 47 Silliman, Ron, 201 ‘The Silver Tassie’ (O’Casey), 112 Sitwell, Edith, 71, 82 Smith, G. Gregory, 44–5 Smith, Stan, 38 Sorley, Charles Hamilton, 116, 138 ‘When you see millions of the mouthless dead,’, 116 sound-play poems, 82 Southern Review, 39 Spender, Stephen, 34, 169 The Spirit of Man (Bridges), 114–15 Stand in the Trench, Achilles (Vandiver), 140 Stead, C. K., 60 Stein, Gertrude, 36 Stevens, Wallace, 38, 77 beauty for, 89, 91 dandyism of, 70 exteriority for, 103–4



Stevens, Wallace (cont.) history in works of, 70 Imagism for, 94–6 lack of international reputation for, 69 lyric poem and, 71–83 Mallarmé compared to, 84–5 modernism and, 69–71 Nature in works by, 76–7 reflexivity in works of, 81 Romanticism for, 87 sound-play poems of, 82 syntax for, 85 Williams compared to, 69–70 Stevens, Wallace, works of ‘Autumn Refrain,’ 69, 87 ‘Bantams in Pine-Woods,’ 82 ‘The Comedian as the Letter C,’ 82–3 Harmonium, 82, 88, 91–2 ‘The Idea of Order at Key West,’ 93 ‘Long and Sluggish Lines,’ 103 ‘Le Monocle de Mon Oncle,’ 77 ‘Nomad Exquisite,’ 78 ‘Sunday Morning,’ 71, 88, 89, 103 ‘Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird,’ 99 ‘To the One of Fictive Music,’ 96 ‘Valley Candle,’ 92 Strange Country (Deane), 23 Studies in the History of the Renaissance (Pater), 72 A Survey of Modernist Poetry (Graves and Riding), 37 Swift, Jonathan, 16, 24 symbolism Archipelagic criticism and, 153 Eliot’s break from, 50 folksong and, 156–7 form and, 102 French, 138 French models of, 71, 86–7, 96 for Frost, 104–5 of holy tree, for Yeats, 74 Imagism and, 93–101 interiority and, 91–2 lyric poetry and, 72 for Maeterlinck, 104–5 modernism and, 37, 39, 70 for Stevens, 84–5, 92–3 for Thomas, E., 85–6, 92–3, 104 in war poetry, 139–40 for Yeats, 85–6, 91–2, 101–2 Symbolism, Decadence and the Fin de Siècle (McGuinness), 71 Symbolist manifesto, 17 The Symbolist Movement in Literature (Symons), 83–4

symbols, from anima mundi, 36 Symons, Arthur, 72, 79, 83–4 Synge, John Millington, xii, 1, 3, 63–4, 98, 166, 195 Synge and Anglo-Irish Literature (Corkery), 22, 23 syntax, 198–206 cognitive grammar and, 201 dialectical poetry and, 8–9, 203 for Frost, 203 for Graves, 203 high talk and, 200–1 for Hill, 201 Imagism and, 97–8 in ‘Lapis Lazuli,’ 67 for Prynne, 201 psychodrama and, 203 rhetoric and, 203 rhythm and, 204 for Stevens, 85 for Thomas, E., 101, 142, 203 for Yeats, 5–6, 8–9, 67, 75, 200–1, 203–5 Tailhade, Laurent, 138 Tate, Allen, 38–9 Taylor, J. F., 6 Tennyson, Alfred, 72, 74–5, 96 Thomas, Dylan, 147, 154 ‘In the Beginning,’ 186 Thomas, Edward Aestheticism for, 80 beauty for, 89, 91 Brooke as influence on, 116 elegy for, 134 on folksong, 155, 156, 157, 164 free verse for, 103 on French symbolism, 86–7 friendship with Frost, 68–9 Great War and, 128 home for, 130 Imagism for, 94–6 influenced by Yeats, 148 lack of international reputation for, 68–9 lyric poem and, 71–83 Maeterlinck critiqued by, 86 melancholy for, 79 metaphysics in, 92–3 modern poetry and, exclusion from canon, 38 Nature in works by, 76–7 pastoral works of, 136 Pater and, 80 proto-ecological metaphysics in, 92–3 psychodrama in works of, 91–2 Romanticism and, 87, 92 symbolism for, 85–6, 92–3, 104 syntax for, 101, 142, 203 tree metaphors for, 72

Index visual imagery in works of, 100–1 on war, 108 as war poet, 69, 108, 117–18, 128 Thomas, Edward, works of Algernon Charles Swinburne, 85 ‘As the team’s head-brass’, 115 ‘The Ash Grove,’ 158 ‘Aspens,’ 76–7 ‘Beauty,’ 57, 91 ‘Bright Clouds,’ 100–1 ‘The Combe,’ 118 ‘February Afternoon,’ 117 ‘The Gallows,’ 164 ‘The Green Roads,’ 165 ‘The Gypsy,’ 157 ‘Home’ poems, 115, 131, 151 Keats, 87 Last Poems, 68 ‘Liberty,’ 88, 89–90 ‘Lob,’ 137 Maurice Maeterlinck, 85 ‘Melancholy,’ 79, 91 ‘The Mill-Water,’ 136 ‘No one cares less than I,’ 116 ‘October,’ 88, 89 ‘Old Man,’ 93 ‘The Other,’ 91 ‘Out in the dark,’ 92 A Pocket Book of Poems and Songs for the Open Air, 156 Poems, 68 ‘A Private,’ 134, 142 ‘Rain,’ 79, 91 ‘Roads,’ 117 ‘Swedes,’ 81, 83 ‘There’s nothing like the sun’, 88–9 This England, 140 ‘This is no case of petty right or wrong,’ 108, 118 ‘Two Houses,’ 136 Walter Pater, 80 ‘War Poetry,’ 117–18 ‘The Watchers,’ 80 ‘The Word,’ 117, 118 ‘Words,’ 85, 140 Thompson, Francis, 15, 16, 17 Tindall, William York, 86 Tomlinson, Charles, 184 tradition in After Strange Gods, 47 for Eliot, 44–55 as holistic, 46 in revival of modern poetry, 47 war poetry and, 140, 141–2 in ‘The Waste Land,’ 51–2 for Yeats, 7, 44–55


traditional form, in poetry, xiii, 54, 67, 172, 183 Tragic Generation, 79 Trumpener, Katie, 147 Tuma, Keith, 198–9 Turner, W. J., 58, 195 Tuve, Rosamond, 200 Tynan, Katherine, 157 unionism, 14–15, 23, 25, 148 United Ireland, 11 United Irishman (Griffith), 16 United Irishmen’s rebellion, 31 United States (U.S.). See also American modernism; American New Criticism national identity for, 147 Vandiver, Elizabeth, 140 Vanishing Points (Mengham and Kinsella), 199 Vendler, Helen, 35, 87, 143 The Verse Revolutionaries: Ezra Pound, H. D. and the Imagists (Carr), 94 violence, 123 A Vision (Yeats), xi, 91, 102, 109–10 The Visionary Company (Bloom), 70 Vorticism, 98, 102 Wallace Stevens and Literary Canons (Newcomb), 70 Wallace Stevens and the Seasons (Lensing), 92 Wallace Stevens and the Symbolist Imagination (Benamou), 84–5 Wallace Stevens: The Poetics of Modernism (Gelpi), 69 Walsh, Edward, 159 war poetry. See also lyric poem Aestheticism and, 107 anti-war, 108 British canon of, 108, 113–14 formality of, 140–1 after Great War, 112 Kipling and, 114–15 ‘Lapis Lazuli’ and, 63 modern poetry and, 137–44 in The Muse in Arms, 115 for Owen, 118–20, 128 psychodrama in, 120 public poetry as, 175–7 religion in, 110–11 Romanticism and, 139–40 symbolism in, 139–40 of Thomas, E., 69, 117–18, 128 tradition and, 140, 141–2 ‘The Waste Land’ (Eliot), 44, 50–5 formal fragmentation in, 52–3



‘The Waste Land’ (Eliot) (cont.) modernist readings of, 52, 53–4 postmodernism and, 52 tradition in, 51–2 Watkins, Vernon, 189 Wellesley, Dorothy (Lady), 34, 58, 84, 167 Wharton, Edith, 107 Whitman, Walt, 10, 13, 35, 56, 141, 152 Williams, Ralph Vaughn, 155 Williams, William Carlos, 69–70, 153, 199 Collected Poems, 95 ‘Fire Spirit,’ 94–5 Wood, Michael, 60 Woolf, Virginia, 174 Words Alone: Yeats and his Inheritances (Foster), 147–8 Wordsworth, William, 45, 77, 92, 135, 153, 155, 156, 161 World War I. See Great War Yeats, Jack B., 28 Yeats, the Irish Literary Revival and the Politics of Print (Chaudhry), 11 Yeats, W. B. See also war poetry; Yeats, W. B., works of Aestheticism for, 18, 63, 74, 91, 194–5 American modernism and, 137–9 ancient favoured over modern for, x beauty for, 132 British assessment of, 145–54 Cambridge criticism of, 148 Catholicism and, 7, 25, 48 Dowden and, 13–16 folksong for, 154–67 free verse for, 67, 103 friendship with Pound, 57–8 global studies on, ix Great War, attitude to, 107–8, 112–13 holy tree for, 74 home for, 132, 150–1 house-symbolism of, 136 Hughes influenced by, 185 as influence on Thomas, E., 148 as inheritor, 147 internationalisation of work, Great War as influence on, 108–9 Irish academic study of, 21–30 Irish legacy for, 206–12 as Irish poet, 148 as literary journalist, 11 millenarianism for, 110 as modern poet, xii modern poetry influenced by, ix, 34–5 Moran as antagonist for, 12–13 nationalism and, 10–13, 25 Nature in works of, 72, 73–4

Owen influenced by, 111–12 Pater as influence on, 78 personal concern over legacy, 193–8 Plath influenced by, 185 as poet-critic, xi, 10–11 poetry as speech for, 30–3 Pound as critic of, 167 Protestantism for, 7, 24–5, 48, 175 rebellion poems of, 120–1 rhetoric for, 5–6, 172, 203 rhyme scheme for, 144 Rhymers’ Club and, 7, 75, 145 Romanticism and, 39, 74, 86–7, 94 self-image of, 30–1, 158 symbolism for, 85–6, 91–2, 101–2 Symbolist manifesto of, 17 syntax for, 5–6, 8–9, 67, 75, 200–1, 203–5 tradition for, 7, 44–55 on Tragic Generation, 79 unpopularity of, 4–5, 21 violence and, 123 Yeats, W. B., works of. See also ‘At the Abbey Theatre’; ‘Lapis Lazuli’; Oxford Book of Modern Verse ‘After Long Silence,’ 195 ‘All Souls’ Night’, 54, 187, 188 ‘Among School Children,’ 103 ‘Ancestral Houses,’ 132 ‘Anima Hominis,’ 6 ‘Anima Mundi,’ 91 ‘Art and Ideas,’ 66 ‘At Galway Races,’ 2, 4 Autobiographies, 185 ‘The Autumn of the Flesh [Body],’ 17 ‘The Ballad of Moll Magee,’ 161 ‘Beautiful Lofty Things,’ 31 ‘The Black Tower,’ 193 ‘Blood and the Moon,’ 24, 25, 125 A Book of Irish Verse, 15, 16, 17 ‘A Bronze Head,’ 103 ‘Byzantium,’ 92, 187 Cathleen ní Houlihán, 31–2, 179–80 ‘The Circus Animals’ Desertion’, 30 ‘A Coat,’ 81, 94 ‘The Cold Heaven,’ 187–8 ‘Come Gather Round Me Parnellites,’ 163 ‘Coole and Ballylee, 1931,’ 195, 196, 206 ‘Coole Park, 1929,’ 195–6, 206 ‘Crazy Jane and the Bishop,’ 163–5 The Cutting of an Agate, 45 ‘A Dialogue of Self and Soul,’ 32–3 ‘The Dolls,’ 81 ‘Down by the Salley Gardens,’ 154, 158 ‘Easter, 1916,’ 20, 90, 113, 117, 120, 121, 122, 125, 133, 150, 154, 162, 176, 178, 178, 181, 182, 196–7, 211

Index ‘Edmund Spenser,’ 48 ‘Ego Dominus Tuus,’ x, 45, 76 Essays and Introductions, 185 Fairy and Folk Tales of the Irish Peasantry, 157 ‘The Fisherman,’ 1 The Green Helmet, 5, 6 ‘The Grey Rock,’ 7, 194 ‘The Gyres,’ 106, 179 ‘He wishes for the Cloths of Heaven,’ 61 ‘High Talk,’ x, 30, 197–8, 200 ‘The Host of the Air,’ 161 ‘I see Phantoms of Hatred and of the Heart’s Fullness and the Coming Emptiness’, 110, 127 Ideas of Good and Evil, 56 ‘In Memory of Eva Gore-Booth and Con Markiewicz,’ 174 ‘In Memory of Major Robert Gregory,’ 131, 135, 174, 211 ‘An Irish Airman foresees his Death,’ 112, 195 ‘J. M. Synge and the Ireland of his Time,’ xii, 63 John Sherman, 151 ‘The King of the Great Clock Tower,’ 167 ‘The King’s Threshold’, 111 ‘The Lake Isle of Innisfree,’ 150 ‘Leda and the Swan,’ 117 ‘Literature and the Living Voice,’ 30 ‘Long-legged Fly,’ 166 ‘The Magi,’ 94 ‘Man and the Echo,’ 32, 165 ‘Meditations in Time of Civil War,’ 53, 78, 106, 110, 124, 128–9, 131, 164, 176, 180, 193, 211 ‘Memory,’ 101 Michael Robartes and the Dancer, 114, 131, 150–1 ‘Modern Poetry,’ 40, 49, 155–6 ‘The Municipal Gallery Revisited,’ 62, 157–8, 197 ‘My Descendants,’ 125, 133, 143 ‘My House,’ 125–7 ‘My Table,’ 125, 127, 143–4 Mythologies, 185 ‘Nineteen Hundred and Nineteen,’ 50–5, 124 ‘On being asked for a War Poem,’ 107, 114, 168 ‘On hearing that the Students of our New University have joined the Agitation against Immoral Literature,’ 5 ‘A Packet for Ezra Pound,’ 58–60 ‘Parnell’s Funeral’, 18 ‘Paudeen,’ 9, 132 ‘The People,’ 8 ‘Poetry and Tradition,’ 10, 44, 45, 47 ‘Politics,’ 168–9, 173 ‘A Prayer for my Daughter,’ 131, 135, 177, 211 ‘A Prayer for Old Age,’ 167


Representative Irish Tales, 12 Responsibilities, 5, 6–9, 70, 94 ‘The Road at My Door,’ 124, 128, 176 ‘Roger Casement,’ 163 ‘The Rose Tree,’ 122, 163 ‘Sailing to Byzantium,’ 74, 194, 195 ‘The Second Coming,’ 187, 188 ‘September 1913,’ 7, 121, 162, 165 ‘The Seven Sages,’ 24 ‘The Shadowy Waters,’ 111 ‘Shepherd and Goatherd,’ 135 ‘Sixteen Dead Men,’ 122 ‘The Song of Wandering Aengus,’ 77, 162 ‘The Spur,’ 33, 163 ‘The Stare’s Nest by My Window’’, 124, 128–9, 144 ‘The Statues,’ x, 16, 31, 60–1 ‘The Symbolism of Poetry,’ 83–93 ‘The Tables of the Law,’ 43 ‘The Three Hermits,’ 162 ‘Three Things,’ 163, 195 ‘To a Friend whose Work has come to Nothing,’ 162, 195 ‘To a Poet, who would have me Praise certain Bad Poets, Imitators of His and Mine,’ 5 ‘To Ireland in the Coming Times,’ 161 ‘The Tower,’ 169, 189, 193–4 The Tower, 148, 181–2 ‘The Two Trees,’ 73–6 ‘Under Ben Bulben,’ 197, 203 ‘Under Saturn,’ 149–50, 166 ‘Upon a Dying Lady,’ 61 ‘Upon a House Shaken by the Land Agitation,’ 5, 61 ‘Vacillation,’ 171 A Vision, xi, 91, 102, 109–10 The Wanderings of Oisin, 14, 74–5, 148, 185 ‘What is Popular Poetry?,’ 4 ‘What Then?,’ 33 ‘While I, from that reed-throated whisperer,’ 7–8 ‘The Wild Swans at Coole,’ 90–1, 196 The Wild Swans at Coole, 114 The Wind Among the Reeds, 8, 56, 73, 189 ‘Words,’ 9 ‘Words for Music Perhaps,’ 163, 164 Yeats and American Poetry (Diggory), 39 Yeats and the Masks of Syntax (Adams), 8 Yeats as Precursor (Matthews), 147 Young, G. M., 163 Young Ireland movement, 4, 22, 29, 173 criticism of, 22 instrumentalism of, 4 Zabel, Morton Dauwen, 39 Zukofsky, Louis, 35