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Yeats's Mask

Margaret Mills Harper
Warwick Gould

Yeats’s mask

Mask and Robe: Yeats’s Oxford Book of Modern Verse (1936) and New Poems (1938)

Michael Cade-Stewart

Texte intégral

1In late October 1934, Yeats agreed to take on the editorship of the Oxford Book of Modern Verse, a role that required him to read an extensive amount of contemporary poetry. He did so in the hope that it would render him ‘reborn in imagination’ (LDW 19); it certainly contributed to his final literary flourishing.

2In the introduction to the anthology, and in the BBC radio broadcast that anticipated its publication, Yeats invoked the notion of the poetic mask. He reflected that the employment of such masks enabled a poet like himself to ‘multiply personality’ (OBMV xxxvi), thereby dramatising internal divisions, contradictions and vacillation, and enabling these discrete aspects of his personality to be fashioned into coherence. By speaking through a mask, the poet is able to embody ‘an idea, something intended, complete’ (E&I 509).

3Consequently, it is by examining the poetic masks that Yeats employed in New Poems (1938), that we can best discern some of the effects that his reading for the anthology had upon his subsequent poems. This article focuses on the way that his reading of contemporary Irish poetry, in particular, enabled him to re-furbish established poetic masks and to consolidate a new one in his final poetry collection of his lifetime.

4The reading of poetry for the anthology furnished Yeats with new material for dramatized self-representation, but this came with a cost. For while the editorship provided him with a magisterial view of contemporary poetry, this was accompanied by the attendant burden of office. This burden might best be seen as encumbering robes, which induced Yeats to puff himself up in order that he might fill them. As I explore in the penultimate section of this article, such robes constitute an antithesis to the liberating energies of the mask.


5The fruits of Yeats’s reading for the anthology first manifest themselves in New Poems. Here we encounter the mask of the visionary peasant poet, familiar in Yeats’s oeuvre since the persona of Hanrahan the Red of The Secret Rose (1897) and The Wind Among the Reeds (1899). The mask has been re-furbished for New Poems, however, and now displays greater affinity with Irish-language poetry than ever before.

  • 1 See for example ‘Dust hath Closed Helen’s Eye’ (Myth 2005 14–19).

6Although inexpert in Irish, Yeats had long been familiar with Irish-language poetry. He had gradually become familiar with this body of verse via his acquaintance with Douglas Hyde and Lady Gregory, and its effects on his own work can first be seen clearly in his revisions to the prose stories of The Secret Rose at the start of the twentieth century, and the revised edition of The Celtic Twilight (1902).1 In the mid-1930s, reading and re-reading translations written in the intervening years, Yeats found new means to incorporate this material into his work.

7Lady Gregory’s translation of Douglas Hyde’s poem ‘He meditates on the Life of a Rich Man’ (OBMV 34–5) is a good example of this process. The poem’s structure and thought follow the ‘seven ages of man’ formula from Shakespeare’s As You Like It and as such, provide an Irish forebear for this structure (II.vii.139–66). It starts with ‘A golden cradle under you, and you young’, and passes on to ‘an old man among old men I Respect on you and honour on you’. Yeats’s poem ‘What Then?’ represents an expression of this mode, with its representation of the seven ages of the poet. In the penultimate stanza we see the poet married, and moved into a ‘small old house’:

All his happier dreams came true–
A small old house, wife, daughter, son,
Grounds where plum and cabbage grew,
Poets and Wits about him drew;
What then?sang Plato’s ghost.What then?’ (VP 577)

8This echoes the account of the poet in old age foreseen in Per Amica Silentia Lunae (1918), where the poet ‘will buy perhaps some small old house where like Ariosto he can dig his garden, and think that in the return of birds and leaves, or moon and sun, and in the evening flight of the rooks he may discover rhythm and pattern like those in sleep and so never awake out of vision’ (CW5 16). This echo of Yeats’s earlier work reflects one aspect of his strength as a poet: re-use of his own material. It seems quite probable, however, that Yeats was prompted to return to his earlier presentation of old age by a poem he anthologized by the Welsh poet W. H. Davies, ‘Truly Great’. Here we find:

With this small house, this garden large,
This little gold, this lovely mate,
With health in body, peace at heart–
Show me a man more great. (OBMV 130)

9Though as we have seen, Yeats increasingly lacked those things that might make him content (‘health in body, peace at heart’) and the refrain deprives the reader of quietude with its repeated questioning: ‘What then?’

10Hyde’s poem had ended with a rhetorical question, but of a different kind:

At the end of your days death, and then
Hiding away; the boards and the church.
What are you better after tonight
Than Ned the beggar or Seaghan the fool? (OBMV 35)

  • 2 This principle informs therapeutic applications in clinical psychology and psychiatry based on the (...)

11The question is presumably designed to gesture to the redressive resolution of the afterlife postulated by Christianity, where the rich man will lose his advantages over the beggar and the fool. Characteristically, Yeats’s rhetorical questions leave one less ready with an answer, and the question in his poem ‘What then?’ is no exception. As such, Yeats’s poem offers a secular interpretation, and issues a humanistic challenge to the Christian consolation of Hyde’s poem. For ‘Plato’s ghost’ represents the disquieting thoughts that plague the human mind no matter what the external circumstances of the body of which it is a part. For the most part, thoughts intruding on the present, rather than the experience of the present itself, are the real source of human suffering and discontent.2 Even if we are lucky enough to be like Yeats’s speaker, who has ‘swerved in nought I Something to perfection brought’, a voice in our head says: ‘What matter? What next?’: ‘What then?’ in short. Amidst all its Neoplatonic suggestion, Yeats’s poem is thus a profound witness of the secular human experience.

12Yeats had been familiar with this material for some time, encountering Hyde’s poem in Lady Gregory’s translation in The Kiltartan Poetry Book published by the Cuala Press in 1918. Yet it was apparently only after the reading for the anthology that he could utilise this formula himself. This process, of recent reading reactivating older material, can clearly be seen in action in Yeats’s poem ’The Curse of Cromwell’, which Yeats had completed by early January 1937.

  • 3 Literally ‘No Help I’ll Call’. Ddnta Aodhagdin Ui Rathaile: the Poems of Egan O’Rahilly, ed. Patri (...)
  • 4 See A. Norman Jeffares, A New Commentary on The Poems of W. B. Yeats (London & Basingstoke: Macmil (...)

13‘The Curse of Cromwell’ displays the most overt borrowing from Gaelic sources in Yeats’s last phase, lifting lines and phrases from two of Frank O’Connor’s translations from the Irish: the anonymous Irish Ballad, ‘Cill Chais (‘Kilcash’), and also Aogan Ó Rathaile’s poem beginning Cabhair Ni Ghairfead (1729), to which he gives the title ‘Last Lines’.3 These borrowings were identified by Jeffares nearly three decades ago, and the context and implications of these borrowings has been explored with relation to Ó Rathaile by Laura O’Connor.4 However, Yeats’s poem borrows material from a great number of Irish sources that have not been considered by scholarship. When the poem is considered in the light of Yeats’s reading for the anthology, it takes on a greater meaning that seems to justify how Yeats could consider it to be a candidate for ’the best poem I have written for some years’ (LDW144).

14It is understandable that critics have stopped their search for influence at Frank O’Connor’s translations, given how strikingly direct these borrowings are. O’Connor’s ‘Kilcash’ reads:

  • 5 OBMV 406; Frank O’Connor, The Wild Bird’s Nest (Dublin: Cuala Press, 1932), 24.

And the great earls where are they?
The earls, the lady, the people
Beaten into the clay.5

15Yeats takes this metaphor and expands it from the ruin of the house and dynasty of Kilcash to the plight of the whole class to which they belonged:

The lovers and the dancers are beaten into the clay,
And the tall men and the swordsmen and the horsemen, where are they? (VP 580)

16O’Connor’s translation of the closing lines of Ó Rathaile’s ‘Last Lines’ reads:

  • 6 O’Connor, The Wild Bird’s Nest, 23.

Henceforth I cease. Death comes and will have no delay
By Laune and Lane and Lee diminished of their pride.
I shall go after the heroes, ay, into the clay!
My fathers followed theirs before Christ was crucified.6

17The first stanza of Yeats’s ‘Curse of Cromwell’ closes with:

And there is an old beggar wandering in his pride–
His fathers served their fathers before Christ was crucified (VP 580).

  • 7 Frank O’Connor, Kings, Lords, and Commons (Dublin: Gill & Macmillan, 2001), v.

18This direct correspondence may have resulted from Yeats’s role in crafting O’Connor’s translations. Many critics have drawn attention to a statement by Frank O’Connor that suggests that Yeats was recovering lines that he had composed himself during joint translation sessions with O’Connor. In the younger man’s preface to the 1959 collection of his earlier translations, Kings, Lords, Commons, O’Connor claimed that, ’sometimes, having supplied some felicitous line of his own, [Yeats] promptly stole it back for one of his original poems’.7 Both of these borrowings in ‘The Curse of Cromwell’ are direct, and important, but the influences upon the poem do not stop here in its first stanza.

19As Laura O’Connor has observed, Yeats’s poem is ‘chock-full with conventional devices (the ballad stanza with its simple rhyme scheme and parallel syntax, the patriotic theme of the demonized villain, Cromwell, the revenant speaker, the refrain, the genres of aisling, satire, eulogy, elegy, and curse)’ (YA15 203). As this summary suggests, the poem is dense, especially for a ballad. Indeed, it is compacted in the same way as late poems like the ‘The Statues’. This is striking since its ballad-elements tend to (mis) identify it to readers as a simpler kind of poem with less intellectual charge – but despite its refrain, this is not a poem that can bring everything down to ‘fol de rol de rolly O’ (VP 357–58). Indeed, the ending of the poem is so complex that critics seem to have misread it completely. The import of the final two stanzas only becomes clear when the whole of Yeats’s poem is considered in the broader content of his reading of the poems and translations of Padraic Colum and James Stephens, and the writings of Lady Gregory, as well as Frank O’Connor.

  • 8 Tom Dunne, ‘Voices of the Vanquished: Echoes of Language Loss in Gaelic Poetry from Kinsale to the (...)
  • 9 I will cite from Macmillan’s reprint of 1931, the same edition in Yeats’s library (YL 1997), which (...)

20The second stanza of Yeats’s poem draws most heavily on the work of James Stephens, in particular his translations of the Gaelic poet Dáibhi Ó Bruadair. Ó Bruadair has been described as ‘the Gaelic world’s most passionate and graphic witness to the period between the Cromwellian settlement and the aftermath of Aughrim’.8 Yeats encountered translations of his work at least as early as 1918, in James Stephens’s collection of translations and original poems, Reincarnations. Re-reading Stephens’s work for the anthology, Yeats would have re-encountered these translations as the opening of Section V of Stephens’s Collected Poems (1926).9 In stark contrast to the lighter and whimsical poems that precede it, this section is dominated by curses, satires, and complaints.

  • 10 James Stephens, Collected Poems (London: Macmillan, 1931), 184; translation of ‘Le cluain ar lastu (...)

21These are mainly occasioned by the social upheavals of the Cromwellian and later post-Williamite plantations, which led to the dispossession of the landowners who had provided patronage for Ó Bruadair, and later for Ó Rathaile. This process is vividly distilled from the Gaelic originals in Stephens’s translations. In one translation from Ó Bruadair, ‘The Weavers’, the poet speaker is reduced to begging for a shirt from the weavers, unable to offer anything in return, since his verse is no longer afforded value;10 in another, under the title ‘Skim Milk’ the speaker complains that:

  • 11 Stephens, Collected Poems, 189; translation of ‘Mithigh soicheim go síol gCárthaigh’, in MacErlean (...)

... this old head, stuffed with latinity,
Rich with the poet’s store of grave and gay,
Will not get me skim-milk for half a day.11

  • 12 OBMV 221; Stephens, Collected Poems, 191.

22Just as for Ó Rathaile, a generation later, things were not always thus for Ó Bruadair. In the good times before dispossession the lot of the great poet was utterly different: ‘The great’, his patrons, would have ordered that he be provided with ‘That which serves his and serves our dignity’.12 When he anthologized these poems, Yeats arranged this translation to precede ‘Inis Fal’, a poem lamenting the social and cultural virtues now absent in Ireland:

  • 13 OBMV 221; Stephens, Collected Poems, 199; Stephen’s poem expands upon a loose translation of the l (...)

All comely quality!
All gentleness and hospitality!
All courtesy and merriment.13

  • 14 Stephens, Collected Poems, 186; translation of ‘Do shaoileas dá ríribh gur uachtarán’, in MacErlea (...)

23This sequence in the anthology fashions the poems into a coherent and affecting narrative of dispossession and social collapse. At the start of this sequence, Yeats anthologized Stephens’s translation of Ó Bruadair’s ‘Blue Blood’, a bitterly comic satire on a Cromwellian planter.14 The poem depicts the social embarrassment of one who has effectively displaced the previous gentry, and who has allowed the word to spread that he ‘is a king for sure ǀ Or the branch of a mighty and ancient and famous lineage’. This impression is dispelled as soon as he opens his mouth, however, revealing himself to be a ‘silly, sulky, illiterate, black-avised boor ǀ Who was hatched by a foreign vulgarity under a hedge!’ As the last line puts it: he was a ’lout, son of lout, by old lout, and was da to a lout!’ (OBMV 219–20). Although there is glee in this vitriol, it cannot compensate for the misery and destitution that has brought it forth.

24Stephens’s poems thus powerfully render the social instability and unhappiness that ensues in the wake of the collapse of an established social order. Yeats’s poem draws on this material to full effect, compressing the lines from ‘Inis Fál’ into the opening premise of the second stanza:

All neighbourly content and easy talk are gone,
But there’s no good complaining, for money’s rant is on,
He that’s mounting up must on his neighbour mount
And we and all the Muses are things of no account. (VP 580)

  • 15 OBMV 398; O’Connor, The Wild Bird’s Nest, 1.

25The bemoaning of the primacy of money, and the attendant disregard for artworks and their creators, finds precedent in Ó Bruadair’s lament ‘Skim Milk’, but also in the 9th Century Gaelic poem, ‘Lament of the Old Woman of Beare’, which Yeats would have encountered in translations by Gogarty, and by O’Connor. The latter’s translation, ‘The Old Woman of Beare regrets Lost Youth’, was anthologized by Yeats, and laments that ‘It is pay ǀ And not men ye love today’.15

26The first half of Yeats’s ‘Curse of Cromwell’ clearly draws on material from a fairly broad swathe of Gaelic literature, but the significance lies in the use to which these borrowings are put. Indeed, they reveal that Yeats conscripts Gaelic literature to oppose the social change attendant upon the Irish Free State. In so doing, he finally put into verse a moving encounter with a dispossessed artist, crippled and bereft of his patrons, which he had experienced in the early years of the Free State:

  • 16 Letter to Olivia Shakespear, 25 May 1926 (CL InteLex 4871).

An old beggar has just called I knew him twenty years ago as wandering piper but now he is paralyzed & cannot play. He was lamenting the great houses burned or empty – “The gentry have kept the shoes on my feet, & the coat on my back & the shilling in my pocket – never once in all these forty & five years that I have been upon the road have I asked a penny of a farmer”. I gave him five shillings & he started off in the rain for the nearest town – five miles – I rather fancy to drink it.16

27Still living by his code of refusing charity from a farmer, this beggar might well be the principal inspiration behind Yeats’s beggar ‘wandering in his pride’ despite his destitution.

  • 17 See letter to Ethel Mannin, 1 March 1937 (CL InteLex 6835).

28In drawing on historical Irish texts to express the contemporary plight of these dispossessed artists, and the collapse of the Anglo-Irish gentry, Yeats turned texts that were claimed for Gaelic and Catholic Nationalism into ones that lamented the loss of patronage and social change. This literary device is successful because Yeats actually reveals a real quality of these poems: their authors lament the loss of their patrons, first, and Ireland, second, if at all. As such, they offer a contrary social agenda to that of the Free State, which Yeats saw as increasingly dominated by ‘Catholic & Gaelic bigotry’.17


29Up to the second stanza, the content of ‘The Curse of Cromwell’ is primarily a re-casting of the seventeenth-century Gaelic poetry of poets like Ó Bruadair and Ó Rathaile, experienced through the translations of Stephens and O’Connor. The third stanza describes how there is a further force that causes the poetic speaker to experience anguish, however – likened to having a fox fatally savaging his torso. What is this ‘knowledge’ that somehow eclipses the dire social and cultural collapse described in the preceding stanzas? The stanza is not immediately clear; it asserts that it:

[...] proves that things both can and cannot be;
That the swordsmen and the ladies can still keep company;
Can pay the poet for a verse and hear the fiddle sound,
That I am still their servant though all are underground. (VP 580-81)

30How can this be? Laura O’Connor implies that it cannot. In her reading, the speaker’s belief is delusional, and the first three stanzas confront us with ‘the framing degradation that provokes the hallucination’ of the final stanza (YA15 198). Yet in the context of Yeats’s well-documented occult beliefs, it is unwise to dismiss any vision out of hand, especially one so numinous:

I came on a great house in the middle of the night,
Its open lighted doorway, and its windows all alight,
And all my friends were there and made me welcome too;
But I woke in an old ruin that the winds howled through;
And when I pay attention I must out and walk
Among the dogs and horses that understand my talk. (VP 581)

  • 18 See Daniel Corkery, ‘The Aisling’, in Irish Writing in the Twentieth Century: A Reader, ed. David (...)
  • 19 Daniel Hoffman, Barbarous Knowledge: Myth in the poetry of Yeats, Graves, and Muir (New York: Oxfo (...)

31The Irish word for vision is aisling, but the term has come to connote a specific literary form of a vision, and this definition can lead us astray. Daniel Corkery, an intellectual opponent of Yeats in many respects, defined the Irish aisling in terms of those written by the Jacobite poets of the eighteenth century. In The Hidden Ireland: A History of Gaelic Munster in the Eighteenth Century (1924), he gives a narrow account: ‘the vision the poet always sees is the spirit of Ireland as a radiant and majestic maiden’.18 If the vision at the end of ‘Curse of Cromwell’ is considered against these criteria, it appears defective: merely a ‘delusion’ rather than a normative vision. It is certainly not one that finds social reinforcement, since the speaker describes how it is only the ‘dogs and horses that understand my talk’. This notion of failure is consistent with Hoffman’s interpretation that the speaker’s response to the vision alludes to Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels (1726), ’in the echo of Gulliver in the stable after his return to England’.19 Laura O’Connor glosses his interpretation as the speaker resolving ‘to jettison human society, like Gulliver after his return from the land of the Houyhnhnms, for the companionship of animals’ (YA15 209). She thereby endorses an interpretation that is, in my view, mistaken.

  • 20 Phillip L. Marcus, Yeats and Artistic Power (New York: New York University Press, 1992), 173.

32Phillip Marcus interprets these lines as expressing the desperation of the dependant artist, who now ‘has no audience left except the dogs and horses’.20 Yet the speaker’s endorsement of ‘dogs and horses’ is prompted by his paying ‘attention’ to the vision. The reason he seeks out these particular animals, then, is because he believes them to be more sensitive to visions than most humans, and therefore more likely to ‘understand my talk’ of such things. We are not to take the speaker as absurdly misguided in this conviction. This idea of the visionary sensitivity of animals is expressed elsewhere in Yeats’s writings – most clearly in his introduction to An Indian Monk (1932), where exactly these two kinds of animals are referred to:

[In the late 1890s] Lady Gregory collected with my help the stories in her Visions and Beliefs. Again and again, she and I felt that we had got down, as it were, into some fibrous darkness, into some matrix out of which everything has come, some condition that brought together as though into a single scheme ‘exultations, agonies’, and the apparitions seen by dogs and horses[.] (E&I 429)

33This textual link of association with the Irish folklore research that Lady Gregory and Yeats undertook leads us to strong connections between the visionary experience they recorded, and the vision of the speaker of Yeats’s poem, written nearly forty years later.

  • 21 The essay relies on his notes and earlier folkloric articles that can be traced back as far as 189 (...)

34Yeats’s first concentrated attempt to relate Irish folklore and faery beliefs with contemporary spiritualism occurs in the essay ‘Swedenborg, Mediums, and the Desolate Places’, started in 1911 but not finished until 1914.21 It was originally conceived as an introduction to Lady Gregory’s folklore collection, later published as Visions and Beliefs in the West of Ireland (1920). In the first, deleted, section of his essay Yeats reflected on the nature of the ‘Sidhe’, or faery folk, who populate these visions. One line in particular stands out in the context of his later poem: ‘when they [the Sidhe] have a need they can build up a palace in a moment or remake an old stone castle, pulled down by Cromwell, filling it with noise and lights’ (CW5 289). Elements of the sentence appeared, almost verbatim, in the opening paragraph of Lady Gregory’s own introduction to her collections, but exactly how much of the sentence came from one or the other is largely immaterial. The importance lies in the accounts collected by Lady Gregory that this sentence summarizes, and which Yeats had drawn upon in his long essays on Irish folklore in the 1890s. In a vision described by ‘Mrs Sheridan’, the faery-built structure is specifically ‘a great house’, just as in Yeats’s poem:

... I saw a great house and a grand one, with screens [clumps of trees] at the ends of it, and the windows open. Coole House is nothing like what it was for size or grandeur. And there were people inside ... and ladies walking about, and a bridge across the river. For they can build up such things all in a minute (CW10 38).

35The speaker of Yeats’s poem seems to have encountered just such a ‘great house’, populated by swordsmen and ladies. A further, second-hand, account describes how, in a trip ‘away’ with the Sidhe, a man repeatedly visited this same castle, supernaturally reconstructed, and how on his visits there he saw ‘mostly all the people that he knew that had died out of the village’ amongst the noble company (CW10 74).

36The great house from the time of Cromwell, the nobility, and the presence of the dead amongst them come directly from these accounts of vision, recorded in the field in the rural West of Ireland. Castles and big houses do appear in the aislings of the eighteenth century poets, but only in a way incidental to their plots. In one of the most famous Jacobite aislings, Ó Rathaile’s ‘The brightness of brightness’ (‘Gile na Gile’), the speaker of the poem encounters the vision of a beautiful maiden wedded to an evil wizard who lives in a ’fair mansion’ that he has created by sorcery. The mansion of Ó Rathaile’s poem is essentially incidental to the allegory of a mesalliance between the maiden and the wizard, representing Erin being ruled by King William of Orange rather than the Catholic Pretender to the English throne. In Yeats’s ‘Curse of Cromwell’, the Big House is instead the subject of the vision.

37The ‘knowledge’ that so destroys the heart of the speaker of Yeats’s poem is the full metaphysical significance of his vision. To appreciate what this is, we need to understand Yeats’s thought as it stood in 1937 on the relation between the other-world of Irish folklore, spiritualism, and occult philosophy. Many years earlier, in the essay on Swedenborg, Yeats had posited a stage that the soul experiences after death where ‘the soul lives a life so like that of the world that it may not even believe that it has died’, and this state ‘may last but a short time or many years’ (Ex 34). A few, enlightened and lucky souls progress onwards and upwards through a process of purification that ends with reincarnation. These ideas are carried through to both versions of A Vision, but important changes are made to this early conception of the soul’s progression after death. In the Swedenborg essay, the place in which this stage occurs is ‘the other world of the early races, of those whose dead are in the rath or the faery hill, of all who see no place of reward and punishment but a continuance of this life, with cattle and sheep, markets and war’ (Ex 35). Any moral dimension to the afterlife is explicitly downplayed; from this perspective, a vision of a great house populated by the gentry and the dead would be nothing to mourn over, being closer to one of those ‘Dreams that have no Moral’ collected in The Celtic Twilight (Myth 2005 83-90).

38This stands in marked contrast to the section devoted to the after-life in the second version of A Vision (1937), titled ‘The Soul in Judgement’. As this title implies, the afterlife of the soul is now considered explicitly in terms of moral accountability, and each stage it undergoes represents a means of arriving at ethical equilibrium from a different angle. The first stage of the afterlife is called The Return, which ‘has for its object the Spirits separation from the Passionate Body, considered as nature, and from the Husk considered as pleasure and pain’ (AVB 226). In order for this to occur, the soul has to be reconciled with its recently incarnate existence, and if this entails expiating strong feelings of injustice, or tragedy, then it may take considerable time. This will occur:

... only after long and perhaps painful dreams of the past, and it is because of such dreams that the second state is sometimes called the Dreaming Back. If death has been violent or tragic the Spirit may cling to the Passionate Body for generations (AVB 224–25).

39This duration is extended for the reason that: ‘[a]fter each event of the Dreaming Back the Spirit explores not merely the causes but the consequences of that event’ (AVB 227–28). This is clearly no small task.

40In Yeats’s view, the Irish of the great houses, and their dependants, suffered great injustice and tragedy. Consequently, he would expect them to undergo a lengthy Dreaming Back, and this would be accessible in vision to others. The vision of the speaker of ‘The Curse of Cromwell’, then, is a vision of their Dreaming Back, where ‘the swordsmen and the ladies can still keep company; I Can pay the poet for a verse and hear the fiddle sound’, just as they did before their way of life was obliterated (VP 581). Because he experiences such visions he is always aware ‘that things both can and cannot be’, and as a result he can neither forgive nor forget. He may well experience such visions because the discarnate spirits are in need of ‘mortal help’; they need a contribution from the living in order to ‘explore the causes [and] the consequences’ of their fate. This contribution may be nothing more than the ’attention’ of the speaker, or a discussion about it, in parallel with the account in A Vision where a spirit ‘wanted to discover certain facts necessary to her Dreaming Back by creating discussion’ among the living (AVB 228–29). As a consequence of their need for the speaker’s help, he remains ‘their servant though all are underground’. Perhaps this grants a supernatural vitality to an individual’s or society’s sense of injustice, which Yeats refers to in the passage from his ‘General Introduction for My Work’ that references ‘The Curse of Cromwell’:

... no people, Lecky said at the opening of his Ireland in the Eighteenth Century, have undergone greater persecution, nor did that persecution altogether cease up to our own day. No people hate as we do in whom that past is always alive; there are moments when hatred poisons my life and I accuse myself of effeminacy because I have not given it adequate expression. It is not enough to have put it into the mouth of a rambling peasant poet (E&I 519).

  • 22 This would be a significant problem if, as Phillip Marcus claims, the ‘primary target of the satir (...)

41In these stanzas, then, Yeats opposes social tendencies in the Free State with the very texts it used for legitimacy, whilst also putting into poetry the fruits of his long quest to resolve Irish faery beliefs with contemporary spiritualism. While the result has affective potency for those that do not share these premises, this charge is calibrated for affecting those that do. This inevitably narrows its effectiveness.22 A growing sense of this may well have motivated Yeats to settle on the refrain: ‘O what of that, O what of that I What is there left to say?’ (VP 580).


42The refrain of ‘The Curse of Cromwell’ clearly stands in contradiction to its content: to say the least, the poem finds something new to say in its unique blending of sources, synthesising Irish folklore and contemporary spiritualism, and drawing on so much Irish language poetry. This contradiction finds a parallel in another poem that drew on the work of the Gaelic poets of the 17th and 18th Centuries: ‘Egan O’Rahilly’, by James Stephens. Here, the speaker of the poem graphically describes his fallen state – reduced to eating ‘things picked up from the shore: ǀ The periwinkle, and the tough dog-fish’ – yet also declares that he will not speak of such things:

  • 23 OBMV xiv; Stephens, Collected Poems, 191.

I am O’Rahilly:
Here in a distant place I hold my tongue,
Who once said all his say, when he was young!23

43‘The Curse of Cromwell’ shows rhetorical affinities with this pret-erition, this speaking out about not speaking out, but Yeats chose to celebrate another O’Rahilly in New Poems: ‘The O’Rahilly’, one Michael Joseph O’Rahilly (Micheal Seosamh O Rathaille), born 22 April 1875 and killed 29 April 1916 in the Easter Rising. In this poem, we see the manifestation of another refurbished poetic mask: the political balladeer.

44Unlike the O’Rahilly of Stephens’s poem, ‘The O’Rahilly’ is determined to speak out by confronting the leaders of the Rising for excluding him from their plans, just as they had excluded Yeats:

‘Am I such a craven that
I should not get the word
But for what some travelling man
Had heard I had not heard?’
Then on Pearse and Connolly
He fixed a bitter look,
‘Because I helped to wind the clock
I come to hear it strike’.
How goes the weather? (VP 585)

45In this mode, Yeats’s ballad-singer seems to envy the dead of the Easter Rising: of what Roy Foster identifies as ‘modern Ireland’s sacrificial foundation myth’. If he does so, it is because the independent Ireland that Yeats had struggled for now seemed to threaten almost everything he held dear. Throughout his life, Yeats had championed independence of thought: to his disgust, the Free State embraced a stultifying censorship of literary works, as provided for by the Censorship of Publications Act, 1929. Yeats had actively opposed the legislation before and after its passage. Once it had become law, Yeats repeatedly expressed concerns that the censorship mentality seemed poised, as Foster has put it, to extend ‘beyond the written word’ (Life 2, 645; 372-378; 463).

  • 24 For a detailed history of the other motivations, see Ronald Schuchard, The Last Minstrels: Yeats a (...)
  • 25 This underground poetry scene can be glimpsed in Yeats’s letters, such as that to Dorothy Wellesle (...)

46Immediately after the passing of the Act, Yeats set about establishing the Irish Academy of Letters as a means of resisting its provisions. In the ballads of New Poems, however, we see a more indirect means of circumventing censorship. He had long cherished and promoted the oral delivery of poetry for other deeply-held reasons, but the ongoing censorship provided an additional urgent motivation for returning to this project.24 Accordingly, a new series of Broadsides was conceived of in 1934, and published monthly through 1935 for subscribers. These printed publications were of course subject to censorship under the Act, but in promoting the oral delivery of poetry they could nurture an audience receptive to unpublished and unpublishable work.25 Edited jointly by F. R. Higgins and Yeats, the Broadsides were collected in a Cuala edition of 1935 titled: Broadsides. A Collection of Old and New Songs. This collected volume was prefaced with a joint poetic manifesto signed by the editors, which observed that a ‘political ballad’ might have ‘more effect than a speech’ (CW6 177).

47Circumventing censorship was only part of a package of instigating cultural change in Ireland through cultural forms. As Yeats intimated to Wellesley in September 1935, the main purpose of the Broadsides of that year has been to ‘get new or queer verse into circulation’, ‘& we shall succeed’, he went on:

The work of Irish poets, quite deliberately put into circulation with its music thirty & more years ago, is now all over the country. The Free State Army march to a tune called ‘Down by the Salley Garden without knowing that the march was first published with words of mine, words that are now folklore (LDW 29).

48The superlative example of a political ballad to be generated by this project was Yeats’s ‘Come Gather Round Me Parnellites’. The ballad has not quite become ‘folklore’, but it remains current among folk singers today.

49The poem’s title, as many have observed, might be clearer with the addition of a comma, but its absence draws attention to a textual source. The title itself, and the first line of the ballad, was conceived at a fairly late stage of drafting. The typescript penultimate draft of the poem has ‘Come All Old Parnellites’, while a version in a letter to Dorothy Wellesley of 8 September 1936 has ‘Come My Old Stand About Me Parnellites’ (CL InteLex 6644). The final version appears to draw upon the line ‘Gather ’round me boys, will yez’ from ‘The Song of Zozimus’ quoted in ‘The Last Gleeman’ section of the Celtic Twilight (Myth 2005 32, 243–4 nn.12–13). Here, as in Yeats’s poem, no punctuation interrupts the imperative clause to ‘gather round’.

  • 26 In particular, the filling of glasses, and the drinking to the memory of political heroes.
  • 27 Letter to W. J. Turner, 21 February 1937 (CL InteLex 6817).

50Other elements of the poem appear to be drawn from another well-loved poetic inheritance of Yeats’s: ‘The Memory of the Dead’ by John Kells Ingram (1823–1907), a ’98 ballad, commemorating the failed uprising of 1798.26 In drawing on the last gleeman, Zozimus, and a ’98 Ballad, Yeats was drawing on the materials that had created the Free State in order to critique that product. Yeats intimated to W. J. Turner that ‘I wrote [the ballad] against “The Bishops & the Party” [:] the Irish Catholic Church & the Irish National party’.27 Here, then, we have an Anglo-Irish parallel with Yeats’s subversive appropriation of Gaelic textual authorities in order to oppose growing social forces within the Free State.

  • 28 Brian Lewis, ‘The Queer Life and Afterlife of Roger Casement’, Journal of the History of Sexuality(...)

51The logical progression from Parnell was to Roger Casement, similarly betrayed by the country he had tried to serve. Casement had been executed for acts of treason against the British crown in 1916 for his part in assisting the Easter Rising. A distinguished campaigner for human rights, Casement might have enjoyed enough public support for an appeal to clemency. To mute the outcry against his trial and execution, the British authorities circulated private diaries, alleged to have been written by Casement, which detail his practice of homosexual intercourse. As Brian Lewis has summarized, selected pages of these diaries were ‘distributed among journalists, politicians, and leading Americans – anyone who might be prepared to mount or support an appeal for clemency’.28 The strategy was successful, as might be expected, given that homosexual acts were illegal in Britain until 1967, and in Ireland until 1993; the strategy must have intimidated would-be supporters, at the very least.

  • 29 See W. J. McCormack, Roger Casement in Death: or, Haunting the free state (Dublin: University Coll (...)
  • 30 Letter to the Editor of the Irish Press, 13 February 1937 (CL InteLex 6808).
  • 31 See Yeats’s letter to William J. M. A. Maloney, 19 January 1933 (CL InteLex 5808).

52The diaries are now known to be genuine.29 Nevertheless, as Yeats stated in a letter to the press ‘it was infamous to blacken Casement’s name with evidence that had neither been submitted to him nor examined at his trial’.30 In January 1933, Yeats read and critiqued a draft chapter of what would be published three years later as The Forged Casement Diaries, by William J. Maloney.31 When his first poem on ‘Roger Casement’ was published in the Irish Press for 2 February 1937 it was printed with the epigraph ‘After Reading “The Forged Casement Diaries” by Dr Maloney’ (VP 581).

53The publication of Maloney’s book in Ireland by Talbot press brought a media stir that Yeats’s ballad seems crafted to exploit. Yet it may not have been the only source of Yeats’s ‘Roger Casement’. Yeats’s treatment of the material is, like his Parnell ballad, situated in the vein of poem-as-journalism, but it is also a narrative ballad, and as such it finds a poetic precedent in much Irish poetry. Further, Yeats’s poem may find a direct poetic source: Colum’s ballad on ‘Roger Casement’, which Yeats would have encountered in the final section of Colum’s Poems (1932) during his reading for the anthology. Yeats’s poem has many elements in common with Colum’s: the gallows, the internment in quicklime, and the denouncement of the villains, ‘their Murrays, and their Cecils’:

  • 32 Padraic Colum, Poems (London: Macmillan, 1932), 216.

They have hanged Roger Casement to the tolling of a bell,
Ochone, och, ochone, ochone!
And their Smiths, and their Murrays, and their Cecils say it’s well,
Ochone, och, ochone, ochone!32

54To these elements, however, Yeats adds the argument elucidated by Maloney’s The Forged Casement Diaries, to show how Casement was ‘denied his last refuge – Martyrdom’ (LDW 128). This denies the promise of a redressive after-life that Colum had introduced in his poem, where Casement is lifted up by the men and women whose suffering he had brought to light, such that he ascends ‘for the eyes of God to see, I And it’s well, after all, Roger Casement!’ Laudable though his conduct was in the service of human rights, Casement’s homosexuality denied him a redemptive afterlife of any sort for the forces of social conservatism, not least the Irish Catholic Church. Colum’s ballad, then, penned from the other side of the Atlantic, warranted correction, along with the ‘blacken[ing]’ of Casement’s ‘good name’.

  • 33 Letter to Ethel Mannin, 7 December 1936. See also letter to Dorothy Wellesley of the same day (CL (...)
  • 34 William J. Maloney, The Forged Casement Diaries (Dublin & Cork: The Talbot Press, 1936), vi.

55The villains of Yeats’s ballad, therefore, are not those of Colum’s poem who approved of Casement’s execution for treason, but those who assisted with the alleged forgery and dissemination of Casement’s diaries. In an earlier draft submitted to close correspondents, Yeats fingered the wrong man: Gilbert Murray. As he embarrassedly informed them in subsequent letters: ‘I wronged Murray. He approved the execution but did not help the forgery. I muddled him & Noyes together – they were on the same page. I lost the book & trusted to memory’.33 It is indeed true that the Murray’s name appears in this context in Maloney’s book. In the summary of Chapter vil on the contents page, though not in the chapter itself, Murray is erroneously listed as one who spread British propaganda against Casement: ‘British storytellers: Sir Gilbert Murray; Professor Alfred Noyes, C. B.’.34 Since Murray is also (rightly) vilified by Colum’s ballad, together with Cecil Spring-Rice, for approving of Casement’s conviction, it may be that Yeats’s mistaken presentation of Murray is also partly symptomatic of his reworking of Colum’s ballad as a source. His error may, therefore, imply a community of origin.

56Yeats himself was indifferent on the subject of Casement’s alleged sexual orientation – ‘[i]f Casement were a homo-sexual what matter!’, he wrote privately to Wellesley – but was conscious that one of the strongest proponents of homophobia in Ireland was the Irish Catholic Church (LDW128). Just as with Parnell, here was a good man who had risked (and lost) everything for Ireland, only to be abandoned and disowned by the country because what he did in bed (or elsewhere) was outlawed by Catholicism.

  • 35 See the leading Features page, ‘Irish Poet’s Striking Challenge’, for the Irish Press, 2 February (...)

57The forces of social conservatism could be placated, however, if the diaries were held to be a forgery, enabling the state to celebrate Casement as a saintly martyr who gave his life in the service of the Free State. Yeats’s ballad thus brought him public thanks from important figures. As he reported to Wellesley, he was ‘publicly thanked by the vice-president of the Executive Counsil, by De Valera’s political secretary, by our chief antiquarian [John Macneill] & an old revolutionist, Count Plunket, who calls my poem “a ballad the people much needed”’. Further, ‘De Valera’s newspaper gave me a long leader saying that for generations to come my poem will pour scorn on the forgers & their backers’ (LDW 126). The latter included a sizeable potted biography of Yeats that gratifyingly concluded that he was ‘regarded by reputable critics as the greatest living poet’.35

58Yeats thus found himself (temporarily) a welcome member of the establishment, only one month after the publication of ‘Come Gather Round Me Parnellites’, which he had written in express opposition to ‘The Bishops & the Party’. While he may have been pleasantly surprised by the sudden shows of deference to his wife in the buses and shops of Dublin, his subsequent creative efforts offer an insight into his predominant feelings on the matter. Above all, there is a powerful sense of ambivalence, expressed in ‘The Old Stone Cross’ through the persona of a revenant Cuchulain (identified by his golden armour):

Because this age and the next age
Engender in the ditch,
No man can know a happy man
From any passing wretch;
If Folly link with Elegance
No man knows which is which,
Said the man in the golden breastplate
Under the old stone Cross. (VP 598-99)

59Celebrating Casement in the service of the future Ireland, then, had come with the unfortunate consequence of also strengthening his opponents’ hand in the present. He rapidly composed texts that were apparently designed primarily to separate himself from the eroto-phobic orthodoxy of the Free State. A good example is ‘A Model for the Laureate’, written in July of 1937, on the subject of the necessary separation of the ability of statesmen from their private sexual lives, occasioned by the abdication crisis in England:

On thrones from China to Peru
All sorts of kings have sat
That men and women of all sorts
Proclaimed both good and great;
And what’s the odds if such as these
For reason of the State
Should keep their lovers waiting,
Keep their lovers waiting? (VP 597)


60In ‘A Model for the Laureate’ Yeats returned to the preoccupations of the previous summer, where the most striking poetic mask of New Poems made its appearance: the eponymous ‘Wild Old Wicked Man’ (VP 587). While many of Yeats’s earlier poems addressed human sexuality with some directness, this mask was, effectively, new to his work. The bawdy strand in New Poems was both more prominent and more sustained than in previous collections, largely owing to the series of ‘The Three Bushes’ and its six companion ‘Songs’ (VP 569–75). The mask stood in defiance of the prevailing anti-eroticism of the Free State. In defying state censorship in this way, the poems of the ‘Wild Old Wicked Man’ were clearly intended to shock, partly in the service of intellectual liberty and vitality.

  • 36 Jon Stallworthy conclusively demonstrated that the poem owed little to Wellesley’s input. See Visi (...)

61In composing these poems, Yeats drew on the material of his poetic circle in Dublin, which he had been scrutinising for the anthology. The effects of this can be clearly seen in ‘The Ballad of the Three Bushes’ and its satellite poems. The text of that ballad might be thought to have given up all its secrets, with successive drafts set out in a celebrated correspondence with Dorothy Wellesley, yet more light can be shed on this poem by shifting attention to the Irish poets Yeats had been reading for the anthology.36

62The theme of ‘The Ballad of the Three Bushes’ forms an unusual, and metaphysically freighted, take on the three-person dynamic of lover, mistress and wife. Yeats encountered an Irish precursor in this vein in Frank O’Connor’s translation, ‘A Learned Mistress’, which he anthologized in the Oxford Book. The mistress intimates that her adulterous lover has heard a ‘tale’ that makes him jealous of her love; yet she loves him ’as much as my life’:

  • 37 OBMV 402–3; O’Connor, The Wild Bird’s Nest, 12–13.

If he kill me through jealousy now
His wife will perish of spite, He will die of grief for his wife,
So three shall die in a night.
All blessings from heaven to earth
On the head of the woman I hate,
And the man I love as my life,
Sudden death be his fate!37

63The complex fatalistic logic of the second stanza results in a conclusion that stands in dramatic contradiction to the emotions expressed in the opening. This intertwining of adultery with somewhat perverse solutions to intractable emotional problems finds similarity in Yeats’s ballad. Here too, the emotional entanglements are so intractable that they can only be resolved by termination in death; a melodramatic conclusion that is arguably a faithful testament to the intensity of such human passions.

64While Yeats’s poem may have been triggered by his reading of O’Connor’s poem, there is a more important relation between the poems. In a subtitle to his poem, Yeats asserted that it was a translation from a French text: ‘the “Historia Mei Temporis” of the Abbé Michel de Bourdeille’ (VP 569). Although Abbé Pierre de Bourdeille wrote sympathetically of human weaknesses among the nobility in his lengthy memoirs, the episode appears to be fabricated. The fabrication rendered Yeats’s poem, like O’Connor’s, a translation, which granted both poems some license. As Laura O’Connor has observed, the ribald diction that characterized Frank O’Connor’s translations was ‘due not so much to inherent Rabelaisian qualities in Gaelic as to their exaggeration in the O’Connor/Yeats anti-censorship translation aesthetic’ (YA15 202).

  • 38 See A. Norman Jeffares, ‘Know Your Gogarty’, YA14 298-322.

65The superlative source for bawdy poetry, however, came from the work of another anthologized friend of Yeats’s: Oliver St. John Gogarty, the well-known Dublin senator, doctor, poet and wit. This influence is most clearly to be found in poems that Yeats did not, and indeed could not, anthologize. Its effects can be seen in the satellite poems that followed on from ‘The Ballad of the Three Bushes’: ‘The Lady’s Second Song’ and ‘The Lady’s Third Song’, which owe a considerable debt to Gogarty’s bawdy poem ‘The Hay Hotel’.38 Yeats’s poem opens: ’When you and my true lover meet I And he plays tunes between your feet’ (VP 572–73), a bawdy conceit taken from Gogarty:

  • 39 Oliver St John Gogarty, The Poems & Plays, ed. A. Norman Jeffares (Gerrards Cross: Colin Smythe, 2 (...)

Where is Piano Mary, say,
Who dwelt where Hell’s Gates leave the street,
And all the tunes she used to play
Along your spine beneath the sheet?
She was a morsel passing sweet
And warmer than the gates of hell.
Who tunes her now between the feet?
Go ask them at the Hay Hotel.39

66In addition, one might also consider this stanza from Gogarty’s ’The Old Pianist’, which plays on the same ideas:

  • 40 Gogarty, Poems & Plays, 459.

‘Send up Piano Mary here,’
Sez Mack, ’and then send up a bottle;
She is a dreamy little dear,
But she can bend the strongest wattle,
Your spine will know what tunes that mott’ll
Strum on it like a piano player’s
She is the best thing in the brothel,
Since Nelly’s cooling down upstairs.’40

  • 41 See letter to Dorothy Wellesley, 11 June 1937 (CL InteLex 6963). The relevant part of the letter i (...)

67These poems by Gogarty were unpublished, but in wide circulation in manuscript form, and had become part of the oral tradition.41 This latter poem may also have provided a literary source for Yeats’s belief that ’warts are considered by the Irish peasantry a sign of sexual power’ (LDW 63), which is also expressed in a verse preface that Gogarty added to his translation of ‘The Old Woman of Beare’ (Cailleach Bheara), likening the Old Woman of Beare to aged prostitutes, ‘Fresh Nellie’ and ‘Mrs Mack’:

  • 42 Gogarty, Poems & Plays, 126.

(Or the honourable Mrs. Lepple –
Nipple to a kingly nipple –
For she never took advantage
Of the favours of her frontage;
Therefore she was held in honour
By the warty boys who won her;
Therefore some old Abbey’s shelf
Kept the record of herself,
Telling to men who disapprove
Of Love, the long regrets of Love.)42

  • 43 ‘We poets should be good liars, remembering always that the Muses are women & prefer the embrace o (...)

68Yeats’s preoccupation with the postulated connection between sexual potency and warts seems to stem from his re-reading of these poems, since it makes its first appearance in his writings in a letter to Laura Riding, of 23 May 1936.43 It later appeared in the poem ‘The Wild Old Wicked Man’ in a stanza where the titular speaker of the poem asserts that ‘“A young man in the dark am I, ǀ But a wild old man in the light”’, who enjoys the ability to ‘“touch by mother wit”’ things that are hidden from the younger ‘“warty lads”’:

‘A young man in the dark am I,
But a wild old man in the light,
That can make a cat laugh, or
Can touch by mother wit
Things hid in their marrow-bones
From time long passed away,
Hid from all those warty lads
That by their bodies lay.[’]
Daybreak and a candle-end. (VP 589)

69Prior to this, the one reference to warts in Yeats’s extant corpus comes in a description of ‘Cromwell’s warty opinionated head’, in a content that gives no suggestion that this should be taken as anything other than an unflattering contrast with the ‘perfectly proportioned human body’ that symbolized the previous historical phase (CW3 228).

70Turning back to Gogarty’s preface, we see that the Clergy’s status as (self-appointed) guardians of morality seems to have been demoted to mere recorders and archivists. This is also true in Yeats’s ballad, ostensibly taken from a history written by the Abbé. Yeats’s ballad goes one further down this track, however, in driving a wedge between the claims of religion and actual human morality:

When she was old and dying,
The priest came where she was;
She made a full confession.
Long looked he in her face,
And O, he was a good man
And understood her case.
O my dear, O my dear. (VP 571)

71It is not scripture that guides the priest but human compassion, and this renders him ‘a good man’. Thus he is able to overlook transgressions forbidden by scripture, and enact no punishment in a situation where none is appropriate.

  • 44 See letter to the Clarendon Press, c.17 September 1936 (CL InteLex 6652). The poem appears in OBMV(...)

72The bawdy strand of Yeats’s final phase takes further material from F. R. Higgins’s poetry. A prominent ribald poem in his corpus is ’Song for the Clatter Bones’, which has a direct source in Judaeo-Christian scripture: the death of the Queen Jezebel at the command of King Jehu (Kings 1:9). Higgins’s poem was first published in the Broadside for June 1935, accompanied by a striking hand-tinted print by Jack Yeats, illustrating the envisaged singer. It was later anthologized by Yeats in the Oxford Book, with the substitution of ‘bitch’ for ‘witch’; a decision justified by Yeats as being Higgins’s original intention.44 The ribald tone, grotesque material, and strong characterful female subject, recall Yeats’s ‘Crazy Jane’ poems from The Winding Stair, but Higgins brought to them a quality that Yeats admired. As the two observed in their joint introduction to the collected Broadsides for that year:

The street songs were more dramatic in their narrative, the singer had to shout, clatter-bones in hand, to draw the attention of the passer-by. One thinks of ‘Johnny I hardly Knew Ye’, magnificent in gaiety and horror, of the ‘Kilmainham Minut’, of ‘The Night Before Larry Was Stretched’[.] (CW6 176)

73Yeats’s ‘Three Songs to the Same Tune’, written a year before he started work on the anthology, drew on these very gallows ballads for their material, mixing gaiety with horror in an unsettling way. The sonic quality of his ‘Three Songs’, however, left something to be desired, and it was this quality that he appreciated in Higgins’s ‘Song for the Clatter Bones’, though he may have had reservations about such onomatopoeic excesses as:

So I’ll just clack: though her bones lack a back
There’s music in the old bones yet. (OBMV 372)

  • 45 Line from Ernest Dowson’s ‘Villanelle of the Poet’s Road’, OBMV 91.

74This jaunty and arresting take on the grotesque may have stimulated him to return to the Dowson’s themes from the ’90s, ’Wine, women and song’, from a new angle – ‘A Drunken Man’s Praise of Sobriety’:45

Come swish around my pretty punk
And keep me dancing still
That I may stay a sober man
Although I drink my fill.
Sobriety is a jewel
That I do much adore;
And therefore keep me dancing
Though drunkards lie and snore.
O mind your feet, O mind your feet,
Keep dancing like a wave,
And under every dancer
A dead man in his grave.
No ups and downs, my Pretty,
A mermaid, not a punk;
A drunkard is a dead man
And all dead men are drunk. (VP 591–92)

75This has much stronger sound-patterning than ‘Three Songs to the Same Tune’, but it represents a more restrained use of such patterning than his source. He similarly employs internal assonance and alliteration to emphasize a strong rhythm, but weakens internal rhymes by spreading them across lines, or toning them down – such as in the weak consonance on the unstressed of ‘under’ / ‘dancer’.

76The subject of Yeats’s ballad seems to owe something of a debt to Higgins’s ‘Cleopatra’, from Island Blood (1925), with its depiction of the sensuality of dance, and its oscillating fluidity:

  • 46 F. R. Higgins, Island Blood (London: John Lane, 1925), 42.

The white censer of your ripe body
Swings to this old worship
And drunken I follow the rich waves
Of your dance in a sheiling of Connacht[.]46

77This drunken paean serves as a sexually-infused return to Yeats’s ‘The Fiddler of Dooney’ from The Wind Among the Reeds, where ‘Folk dance like a wave of the sea’ (VP 178). In ‘A Drunken Man’s Praise of Sobriety’, then, Yeats seems to be recovering his simile of ‘dancing like a wave [of the sea]’ via Higgins’s ‘Cleopatra’ and taking some of the rest of that poem in the process.

  • 47 Assertion from Norman Haire, quoted in Richard Ellmann, W. B. Yeats’s Second Puberty: A Lecture De (...)

78Yeats clearly found much material for the bawdy strand of his final phase from his immediate literary circle in Dublin. His friendship with Gogarty, Higgins, and O’Connor, meant that everything he needed in terms of poetic stimulation and instruction lay close at hand. His donning of the mask of the ‘Wild Old Wicked Man’ in this way was also bound up with his decision to undergo a vasectomy on 5 April 1934. Richard Ellmann suggested that this operation was of central importance to Yeats’s creative energies, owing to the poet’s association of writing poetry with the ability to ‘have erections’.47 Yeats’s re-reading of the work of his friends clearly provided him with the means to realize this eroto-creative potential, and compose some of his most bawdy poems. In poems like ‘The Lady’s Third Song’, the most striking elements seem to have been borrowed entirely from another poet’s work (Gogarty’s, in this case). Quite what those poets made of this encroachment on their territory remains to be seen. Gogarty, for one, had already showed signs of irritation with Yeats’s late obsession with sex, parodying the opening lines of his earlier poem ‘The Old Men admiring Themselves in the Water’:

  • 48 Letter from Gogarty to Horace Reynolds, 11 October 1934. Quoted in Life 2, 499.

I heard the old, old men say everything’s phallic[.]48


79If Gogarty was irritated by Yeats’s encroachment upon his poetic territory, however, this must have been allayed by Yeats’s decision to make him the most anthologized poet. He is represented in the Oxford Book of Modern Verse by an astonishing seventeen poems (three more than Yeats himself). Situated as they are near the centre of the anthology, his poems are particularly prominent. Yeats clearly felt required to explain his high estimation, and did so in the anthology’s introduction. The passage is worth quoting in full:

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. I was present when he fulfilled that vow. His poetry fits the incident, a gay, stoical – no, I will not withhold the word – heroic song. Irish by tradition and many ancestors, I love, though I have nothing to offer but the philosophy they deride, swashbucklers, horsemen, swift indifferent men; yet I do not think that is the sole reason, good reason though it is, why I gave him considerable space, and think him one of the great lyric poets of our age (OBMV xv).

80Who might the other great lyric poets of the age be? Perhaps one is the poet with exactly the same number of pages: Yeats himself. The anecdote is spectacularly dramatic, but Gogarty’s poetry was not merely included to enable Yeats to rehearse it in a further publication (he had already done so in his introduction to Gogarty’s An Offering of Swans and Other Poems [1924]). Yeats’s admiration for his poetry was evidently in earnest, as evidenced by his subsequent textual borrowings.

81Most importantly, Gogarty’s work was ‘gay, stoical’ and ‘heroic’: qualities that Yeats aspired to in the poetic mask of the noble, dispassionate, sagacious mind. This is the archetypal poetic mask of Per Amica Silentia Lunae, and poems like ‘The Fisherman’ (VP 347) though its roots stretch back far earlier to the sages of The Wind Among the Reeds: Mongan, and Michael Robartes. As such, it is a complement to the mask of the unsophisticated but visionary peasant poet.

  • 49 Letter to Edmund Dulac, 6 July 1935 (CL InteLex 6280).

82Gogarty’s poetry accordingly influenced Yeats’s most significant poem in this vein in his penultimate collection: ‘Lapis Lazuli’. It is widely known that the poem was occasioned by the gift from Harry Clifton of what Yeats described as: ‘a huge piece of lapis lazuli carved into the semblance of mountain, with path, water, trees, a little temple, a sage & his pupil by some Chinese sculptor’.49 Yeats’s poem concludes with a description of the object, an ecphrasis that stands in contrast to the dramatic historical narratives of the preceding three stanzas. These narrate the cyclical pattern of Yeats’s system of history outlined in A Vision, and display much of the richness of art-history that informs that account, which was later expressed in poems such as ‘The Statues’, and ‘Under Ben Bulben’. Clifton gave Yeats the sculpture as a 70th birthday gift, but Yeats did not write his poem until the summer of the following year, 1936. As a consequence, the poem was written on the back of the reading Yeats had undertaken for the anthology, and it reflects its influence. In particular, it shows debts to Gogarty’s Selected Poems (1933). Here, Yeats would have encountered the poem ‘The Emperor’s Dream’, followed by ‘Palinode’, which he previously encountered in An Offering of Swans and Other Poems (1924). These two poems seem to contain the germs of the idea of ’Lapis Lazuli’, and many of its premises.

83Just like Yeats’s poem, ‘The Emperor’s Dream’ is partly occasioned by the contemplation of a Chinese carved crystal work of art; in Gogarty’s case a ‘Chinese crystal bird’. In both poems, the speaker takes inspiration from this carved object to reflect upon questions of permanence. In Gogarty’s, the crystal is posited to ‘last as long ǀ As Beauty gains from Art and Song’, and, like Yeats’s poem, the object is considered in the context of international art-history and exotic distant lands:

  • 50 Gogarty, Poems & Plays, 171.

When the internal dream gives out,
I let my eyes wander about
Amongst the gay and the grotesque
Ornaments upon my desk,
Where books are set on end and stacked
By Plato and by Homer backed;
But, in the present mood preferred,
I see my Chinese crystal bird:
A Phoenix maybe, who can say?
That ship that, off Arabia,
Sighted the Phoenix flying East,
Its crew could tell about it best.50

  • 51 The title suggests that the latter poem could be taken as a retraction of the previous one, but in (...)

84Such carved crystal objects seem apt to encourage a debate on permanence and transience in art and life. Yet specific affiliations seem to link Yeats’s poem with ‘The Emperor’s Dream’, and the subsequent poem in Gogarty’s Selected Poems: ‘Palinode’.51

85The retraction alluded to in the title is more a rebuff to sombre attitudes to life than the previous poem. ‘Palinode’ celebrates the decision to live life ‘full of mirth’ (and ’full of wine’), for why do otherwise?

  • 52 Gogarty, Poems & Plays, 178. Emphasis added.

Why should you drink the rue?
Or leave in righteous rage
A world that will leave you
Howe’er you walk the stage?
Time needs no help to do
His miracle of age.52

86Just as in ‘Lapis Lazuli’, we find the Shakespearean trope of ‘All the world’s a stage, I And all the men and women merely players’ (As You Like It, II.vii.139-40). Both poets enlist this theatrical metaphor for life in the service of their arguments. In so doing, Gogarty is very much one of those ‘poets that are always gay’, valorized by Yeats’s poem. Gogarty gives this theme a Latin motto in the title of a poem anthologized by Yeats: ‘Non Dolet’ (’No cause for grief’, or ‘It does not hurt’) (OBMV 181). Yeats combines this theatrical metaphor for the experience of human life with his notion of ‘tragic joy’:

All perform their tragic play,
There struts Hamlet, there is Lear,
That’s Ophelia, that Cordelia[.] (VP 565)

87Of course, Yeats’s doctrine of ’tragic joy’ goes further than such up-tempo stoicism, in incorporating a philosophical attitude to the contemplation of cataclysmic historical change. Yet this too finds some echoes in Gogarty’s ‘Palinode’:

  • 53 Gogarty, Poems & Plays, 178.

Prophets anticipate
What Time brings round by law;
Call age before its date
To darken Youth with awe.53

88Gogarty’s poems thus associated carved oriental crystal and theatrical metaphors for life with an attitude of ‘Non Dolet’. From here, it was but a small leap of cognition to arrive at recasting Hamlet, Lear, Cordelia, and Ophelia as embodiments of the principle of ’tragic joy’. In so doing, Gogarty’s poems seem to have provided Yeats with a combination of elements that allowed him to finally capitalize on the creative possibilities of his spectacular birthday gift from Harry Clifton. The result was a wide-ranging poem of which Yeats was justly proud.

  • 54 A. Norman Jeffares, ‘Notes on Yeats’s “Lapis Lazuli”’, Modern Language Notes 65 (1950), 488-91.

89For the narrative of apocalyptic historical change, however, Yeats looked to an older source than Gogarty, drawing on the ballad of the ‘Boyne Water’, which celebrates William of Orange’s victory over James Il’s forces in Ireland at the Battle of the Boyne (1690). As Norman Jeffares has demonstrated, the reference to William of Orange as King Billy, and the pitching of ‘bomb-balls’ are taken from the ballad.54 As with the reference to the Zeppelin, anachronistic in warfare in 1936, Yeats appears to have drawn on these images to demonstrate cyclical continuity; emphasising that apocalypse is not unique to any one time, and the consoling corollary to this idea:

All things fall and are built again
And those that build them again are gay. (VP 566)


90Yeats’s immersion in contemporary poetry clearly influenced his own work, enriching even long-held poetic masks. Yet while the editorship of the Oxford Book of Modern Verse also afforded Yeats with enhanced social status, this came with the burdensome robes of office. A desire to live up to expectations may well have motivated Yeats’s discussion of prosody in the introduction to the anthology; a discussion that he was, perhaps, ill-suited to enter into, given that he prescribed metrical principles that contradicted his own practice.

  • 55 Letter to John Sparrow, 23 September 1935 (CL InteLex 6356).

91Towards the end of Yeats’s reading for the anthology he also wrote the introduction to the collection of Broadsides for 1935. This similarly entered into an unprecedented discussion of prosody. The introduction to the Broadsides was written with some input from F. R. Higgins, but the prosody was lifted from an article by G. M. Young titled ‘Tunes Ancient and Modern’, published in February 1935. Young’s article was ostensibly a review of Edith Sitwell’s Aspects of Modern Poetry, and Cecil Day Lewis’s A Hope for Poetry (both published in 1934) but it made use of the opportunity to reflect broadly on the metrical practice of modern poets. In the course of this discussion it set out a number of principles for the composition of metrical verse. In thanking his correspondent, Yeats wrote that ’it has interested me deeply and taught me more about prosody than I have ever known. I shall make some use of it in an introduction I am writing for a collection of some Broadsides my sister is publishing’.55 He did just this; in fact, he went even further, repeating much of the content of the article in his writings and correspondence, and, most remarkably, may even have briefly attempted to follow one of its edicts.

  • 56 G. M. Young, ‘Tunes Ancient and Modern’, Life and Letters 11 February 1935, 544, 547, 548.

92Young posited that from Philip Sidney to Yeats, there was an ‘unbroken curve’ of rhythmical practice, shaped by gradual change and adaptation such that ‘[f]rom Sidney to Mr Yeats there is no point in English poetry at which one is conscious of any breach’. The poets after Yeats, however, wrote verse that Young found he could not scan – the continuum was broken. This impression seems largely justified. Young attempted to account for it by a philosophy of metre that regards poetry as arising from the rich heritage of folk music, nursery rhymes and hymns, which form the ‘ancestral, primitive metre’ of a ‘race’. This ‘ancestral, primitive metre’ entails what Young calls as ‘singsong’ rhythm of alternating beats and offbeats. If verse is to be rhythmical, he posited, variations and innovations of rhythm must be carried out by means of counterpoint with this regular rhythm. Accordingly, Young posited a prosody founded on metrical feet, and on foot-substitution constrained by the following prescriptions: ‘iamb for strength, trochee for grace; dactyls on your peril; resolution to taste; no pæons; no colliding stresses, and therefore no colliding stresses without a preparatory pause’.56 These edicts were intended to ensure that the ’ancestral’ rhythm was not lost: like much prosody, they constituted an attempt to account for rhythmical qualities using easily quantifiable features. If veridical, such a simplification would be invaluable for the construction and evaluation of metrical verse, but Young’s rules were not.

  • 57 Yeats owned the revised two volume version of Patmore’s Essay (first published in 1887) printed in (...)
  • 58 In his extant prose-writings Yeats made only two references to metrical feet: anapaests are mentio (...)

93For a brief period, Yeats seems to have been particularly convinced by Young’s prohibition of ‘pæons’, defined as a ‘foot’ of one stressed syllable and three unstressed (‘wwws’ or ‘swww’). This Classical term for a foot of four syllables, and its prohibition, was not singled out in the other works of prosody in Yeats’s library: Coventry Patmore’s Essay on English Metrical Law (1857) and MacDonagh’s Thomas Campion and the Art of English Poetry (1913).57 It made its first appearance in Yeats’s published writings in the introduction to the collection of Broadsides (1935). Here, in his discussion of the ballad ‘The Groves of Blarney’ he wrote that a reader coming to the poem from English ballad metre would find the third line ‘unmetrical’, since ‘a pæon or foot of four syllables, is not permissible in English ballad metre’ (CW6 1988). Elsewhere, he remarked jocularly to Dorothy Wellesley that he was in the process of composing new poetry, and that ‘if a foot of four syllables seems natural I shall know I am in for it’ (LDW 44). These utterances are remarkable not merely because they are the only references in his entire written corpus to ‘pæons’, but they are the first reference to metrical feet in his extant correspondence by any name.58

94For a time, Yeats apparently believed that pæons had no place in poems other than Anglo-Irish ballads. Such metrical feet entail an interval of three unstressed syllables between beats. This challenges the pattern of alternating beats and offbeats in typical lines in binary metres (like iambic pentameter). It does so more than an interval of two slack syllables, because an interval of three will normally imply rhythmical ’promotion’ of the syllable in the middle. To see an example of such ‘metrical promotion’ as it is sometimes called, consider this line from ‘The Wanderings of Oisin’:

Was not more level than the sea[.] (VP 13)

95In this example, the word ‘than’ would not normally receive linguistic stress, but the metre requires that it be stressed. A rhythmical performance would, therefore, give some stress to the word.

96In the case of lines including pæons, however, a rhythmical delivery requires maintaining an offbeat of three syllables. This requires some effort of the performer’s part, to overcome the expectation of a beat falling on the second of these slack syllables. One means of effecting this in performance would be to under-articulate the syllable boundaries, so that the syllables flow together. Yeats’s Collected Poems display a modest number of lines that include such extended intervals. Consider this line from ’Shepherd and Goatherd’ (published 1919), which seems like a hexameter line in a pentameter poem, unless the underlined syllables are performed as an offbeat:

Or else at meadow or at grazing overlooks[.] (VP 340)

97The same is true for this tetrameter line in ‘The Wild Swan’s at Coole’, which seems like pentameter:

Compánionable stréams or clímb the aír[.] (VP 323)

98The instance of a pason is just as clear in the poem ‘Ancestral Houses’ from the sequence ‘Meditations in Time of Civil War’ (first published January 1923). At the close of the second stanza, in iambic pentameter, we find this line, which requires an interval of three syllables at its beginning or at its end:

Shadows the inherited glóry of the rích. (VP 418)

99Yeats’s advocacy of Young’s edict against pæons, then, represents a contradiction of his own technique, and there is a tantalising suggestion that he even changed his practice temporarily to comply with it. ‘Lapis Lazuli’, drafted in the summer of 1936, is one of the first poems Yeats wrote after reading Young’s article. In the second stanza Yeats follows the Shakespearean trope of ‘all the world’s a stage’ to assert that such actors,

If worthy their prominent part in the play,
Do not break up their lines to weep. (VP 565)

  • 59 Colly Cibber’s Loves Last Shift; or, The Fool in Fashion (1696), and Vanbrugh’s ‘continuation’ of (...)

100It is part of a famous, and widely glossed section of the poem, but it might also represent a case of metrical theory damaging poetry if it encouraged him to omit the preposition ’of’ in ‘worthy of’. It may be that this construction serves as idiomatic of a dialect of English, but it does not appear elsewhere in Yeats’s writings or correspondence. Further, in the context of a discussion of canonical drama, a listener might erroneously conclude that ’Worthy’ is the name of the actor’s prominent part in the play – following the dramatic convention for naming characters as in a morality tale, as in some Renaissance and Restoration Drama.59 Orthography dictates that Yeats did not intend this meaning, but a person receiving the poem aurally does not have access to this information. Prosody appears to be damaging to poetic practice, here, and if so, we can only be grateful that Yeats eventually turned his back on such reductive ‘laws’, even if this did not extend to revising the line before his death.

101Whether or not they affected his subsequent poetry, the newly-adopted prosodic principles made an appearance in the brief discussion of prosody in the introduction to the anthology. Here we are confronted with the curious spectacle of Yeats, a poet who includes ‘slack’ extra syllables throughout his poetry – occasionally as many as three grouped together – consigning this practice to that of ’sprung verse’: ‘in sprung verse a foot may have one or many syllables without altering the metre, we count stress not syllable’ (OBMV 39). In contrast, he continued, ‘all syllables are important’ in the sort of poetry that he wrote. This is essentially a declaration that Yeats wrote ‘strict’ accentual-syllabic verse, with no extra syllables per ‘foot’. This is manifestly not the case; how can we explain this discrepancy between theory and practice?

  • 60 Reuven Tsur, Poetic Rhythm: Structure and Performance: An Empirical Study in Cognitive Poetics (Be (...)

102The answer is quite simply that Yeats was not much of a prosodist, when it came to theory. This probably contributed to his poetic achievement; until late in the twentieth-century, much English prosody was like early attempts at medicine: more likely to do harm than good. By reducing complex rhythmical qualities to rules about syllable-counting and foot-substitution, prosodies like Young’s prescribed rules intended to minimize deviations from purported ‘metricality’. As Reuven Tsur has argued, such approaches miss the point, which is that aesthetic pleasure and achievement arises from “the balance or reconcilement of opposite or discordant qualities”, in Coleridge’s phrase – and ‘the more discordant the qualities, the greater the artistic achievement when reconciled in a rhythmical performance’.60 Moreover, while Young’s premise focused on auditory phenomena, his rules did not; rhythm is not a product merely of the arrangement of stresses and unstresses, but of a whole gamut of phenomena including phonology, phonetics, grammar and syntax.

103By his ‘General Introduction for my Work’, written in 1937, Yeats was clearly ready to relinquish Young’s metrical laws. In the proper performance of poetry, he wrote, ‘[w]hat moves me and my hearer is a vivid speech that has no laws except that it must not exorcise the ghostly voice. I am awake and asleep, at my moment of revelation, self-possessed in self-surrender’ (E&I 524). Unlike his earlier pronouncements, this account is consistent with his own poetic practice.

104The introductions to the Broadsides and to the anthology clearly represent the high-water mark of Yeats’s enthusiasm for Young’s prosody. This implies that Yeats took up Young’s clear prescriptions because he felt obliged to demonstrate a technical understanding of metre, as the authoritative editor of the Oxford Book of Modern Verse, and (to a lesser extent) of the collection of Broadsides for 1935; he had shown no inclination of such an exposition elsewhere. His own systems for measuring and assessing rhythm were based on a lifetime of composing verse by running over the lines repeatedly, often aloud, and by a process of trial and error; which is to say, his systems were far more sophisticated than the rules set out by G. M. Young, and other contemporary prosodists.


105While his editorship of the Oxford Book of Modern Verse seems to have encumbered Yeats with the need to appear expert in prosody, this effect was entirely eclipsed by the creative potential of the extensive programme of reading that the project required. We might say that the encumbering robe of office proved less potent than the enabling energies of the new and refurbished masks that accompanied it.

106Yeats’s theory of poetic masks enabled him to ‘multiply personality’, and to fashion those discrete aspects to such an extent that each embodied ‘something intended, complete’, ‘even when the poet seems most himself’ (OBMV xxxvi; E&I 509). As Yeats’s final masks implicitly demonstrate, this approach to creative endeavour permits overt borrowings from other poets. In contrast, notions of creative ‘sincerity’ are frequently all-too contingent on an unhelpful valorization of originality.

107‘The Curse of Cromwell’, spoken through the mask of the visionary peasant poet, is a superlative example of the fruits of this process. Here, Yeats’s unification of Irish faery-lore and contemporary spiritualism is put to the service of excoriating the Irish Free State for the social collapse it instigated. The poem does so through an amalgamation of recent, and less recent, translations of seventeenth– and eighteenth-century Gaelic poetry, and the accounts of the other-world of faery collected by Lady Gregory near the start of Yeats’s career as a poet. Notwithstanding the importance of Yeats’s intellectual labours in synthesizing these disparate traditions, so much of the material of the poem is taken from these various sources that one might almost see his role as a compiler and arranger, rather than originator. Rather than dispel this impression, however, it is probably most instructive to realise that this is the proper way to regard all creative endeavour. As Yeats reminds us: ‘Talk to me of originality and I will turn on you with rage. I am a crowd, I am a lonely man, I am nothing’ (E&I 522).


1 See for example ‘Dust hath Closed Helen’s Eye’ (Myth 2005 14–19).

2 This principle informs therapeutic applications in clinical psychology and psychiatry based on the concept of ’mindfulness’; an approach first popularized in Jon Kabat-Zinn, Full Catastrophe Living: Using the wisdom of your body and mind to face stress, pain, and illness (New York: Delacorte Press, 1990).

3 Literally ‘No Help I’ll Call’. Ddnta Aodhagdin Ui Rathaile: the Poems of Egan O’Rahilly, ed. Patrick C. Dinneen (London: David Nutt, 1900), n. 21.

4 See A. Norman Jeffares, A New Commentary on The Poems of W. B. Yeats (London & Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1984), 383; Laura O’Connor, ‘Putting Words into a Rambling Peasant-poet’s Mouth: Frank O’Connor and W. B. Yeats’s Translations “from the Irish”’, YA15 190-218.

5 OBMV 406; Frank O’Connor, The Wild Bird’s Nest (Dublin: Cuala Press, 1932), 24.

6 O’Connor, The Wild Bird’s Nest, 23.

7 Frank O’Connor, Kings, Lords, and Commons (Dublin: Gill & Macmillan, 2001), v.

8 Tom Dunne, ‘Voices of the Vanquished: Echoes of Language Loss in Gaelic Poetry from Kinsale to the Great Famine’, Journal of Irish and Scottish Studies 1 (September 2007), 31.

9 I will cite from Macmillan’s reprint of 1931, the same edition in Yeats’s library (YL 1997), which follows the same pagination as the first edition.

10 James Stephens, Collected Poems (London: Macmillan, 1931), 184; translation of ‘Le cluain ar lastuire fatha do chloinn Órluith’, in Duanaire Dháibhí Uí Bhruadair: the Poems of David Ó Bruadair, ed. J. C. MacErlean, 3 vols. (London: David Nutt, 1910-1916), Vol. 2, n. 4, verses 2, 3, 5.

11 Stephens, Collected Poems, 189; translation of ‘Mithigh soicheim go síol gCárthaigh’, in MacErlean, O Bruadair, Vol. 3, n. 31, verses 5, 6, 14, 15, 18.

12 OBMV 221; Stephens, Collected Poems, 191.

13 OBMV 221; Stephens, Collected Poems, 199; Stephen’s poem expands upon a loose translation of the last stanza of Ó Rathaile’s ‘Créacta críc fódla’; see Dinneen, O’Rahilly, n. 1.

14 Stephens, Collected Poems, 186; translation of ‘Do shaoileas dá ríribh gur uachtarán’, in MacErlean, Ó Bruadair, Vol. 2, n. 31.

15 OBMV 398; O’Connor, The Wild Bird’s Nest, 1.

16 Letter to Olivia Shakespear, 25 May 1926 (CL InteLex 4871).

17 See letter to Ethel Mannin, 1 March 1937 (CL InteLex 6835).

18 See Daniel Corkery, ‘The Aisling’, in Irish Writing in the Twentieth Century: A Reader, ed. David Pierce (Cork: Cork University Press, 2000), 289.

19 Daniel Hoffman, Barbarous Knowledge: Myth in the poetry of Yeats, Graves, and Muir (New York: Oxford University Press, 1967), 58.

20 Phillip L. Marcus, Yeats and Artistic Power (New York: New York University Press, 1992), 173.

21 The essay relies on his notes and earlier folkloric articles that can be traced back as far as 1897. For detailed account, see CW5 466–68.

22 This would be a significant problem if, as Phillip Marcus claims, the ‘primary target of the satiric thrust’ of the poem was Cecil Day Lewis and ‘the other young English writers of the left’ (Marcus, Yeats and Artistic Power, 162).

23 OBMV xiv; Stephens, Collected Poems, 191.

24 For a detailed history of the other motivations, see Ronald Schuchard, The Last Minstrels: Yeats and the Revival of the Bardic Arts (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008).

25 This underground poetry scene can be glimpsed in Yeats’s letters, such as that to Dorothy Wellesley of 11 June 1937 (CL InteLex 6963).

26 In particular, the filling of glasses, and the drinking to the memory of political heroes.

27 Letter to W. J. Turner, 21 February 1937 (CL InteLex 6817).

28 Brian Lewis, ‘The Queer Life and Afterlife of Roger Casement’, Journal of the History of Sexuality 14 (2005), 367.

29 See W. J. McCormack, Roger Casement in Death: or, Haunting the free state (Dublin: University College Dublin Press, 2002).

30 Letter to the Editor of the Irish Press, 13 February 1937 (CL InteLex 6808).

31 See Yeats’s letter to William J. M. A. Maloney, 19 January 1933 (CL InteLex 5808).

32 Padraic Colum, Poems (London: Macmillan, 1932), 216.

33 Letter to Ethel Mannin, 7 December 1936. See also letter to Dorothy Wellesley of the same day (CL InteLex 6741, 6744).

34 William J. Maloney, The Forged Casement Diaries (Dublin & Cork: The Talbot Press, 1936), vi.

35 See the leading Features page, ‘Irish Poet’s Striking Challenge’, for the Irish Press, 2 February 1937. Reproduced in Life 2, 573, fig. 13.

36 Jon Stallworthy conclusively demonstrated that the poem owed little to Wellesley’s input. See Vision and Revision in Yeats’s Last Poems (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1969), 80–94.

37 OBMV 402–3; O’Connor, The Wild Bird’s Nest, 12–13.

38 See A. Norman Jeffares, ‘Know Your Gogarty’, YA14 298-322.

39 Oliver St John Gogarty, The Poems & Plays, ed. A. Norman Jeffares (Gerrards Cross: Colin Smythe, 2001), 455.

40 Gogarty, Poems & Plays, 459.

41 See letter to Dorothy Wellesley, 11 June 1937 (CL InteLex 6963). The relevant part of the letter is omitted from the correspondence in LDW; it reads:
At the Academy Banquet three weeks ago when Three Bushes was sung, Gogorty was in the chair, arrived half intoxicated as an act of defiance of Mrs Gogarty, who had broken a promise not to come, & became whole intoxicated.
‘Hay Hotel’ was sung this poem which has circulated for twenty years in MSS is an eloquent but unprintable enumeration of the names & charms of the harlots he frequented in his youth. In the sober fore noon he had forbidden it, but when he heard that Lennox Robinson had persuaded Mrs Gogarty to come he ordered it to be sung.

42 Gogarty, Poems & Plays, 126.

43 ‘We poets should be good liars, remembering always that the Muses are women & prefer the embrace of gay warty lads’ (CL InteLex 6563).

44 See letter to the Clarendon Press, c.17 September 1936 (CL InteLex 6652). The poem appears in OBMV 372.

45 Line from Ernest Dowson’s ‘Villanelle of the Poet’s Road’, OBMV 91.

46 F. R. Higgins, Island Blood (London: John Lane, 1925), 42.

47 Assertion from Norman Haire, quoted in Richard Ellmann, W. B. Yeats’s Second Puberty: A Lecture Delivered at the Library of Congress on April 2, 1984 (Washington: Library of Congress, 1985), 8.

48 Letter from Gogarty to Horace Reynolds, 11 October 1934. Quoted in Life 2, 499.

49 Letter to Edmund Dulac, 6 July 1935 (CL InteLex 6280).

50 Gogarty, Poems & Plays, 171.

51 The title suggests that the latter poem could be taken as a retraction of the previous one, but in his Collected Poems of 1951, he placed two other poems between them: ‘Lullaby’ (‘Wander no more, my Thoughts, but keep’), and ‘The Mill at Naul’; see Gogarty, Poems & Plays, 173-77.

52 Gogarty, Poems & Plays, 178. Emphasis added.

53 Gogarty, Poems & Plays, 178.

54 A. Norman Jeffares, ‘Notes on Yeats’s “Lapis Lazuli”’, Modern Language Notes 65 (1950), 488-91.

55 Letter to John Sparrow, 23 September 1935 (CL InteLex 6356).

56 G. M. Young, ‘Tunes Ancient and Modern’, Life and Letters 11 February 1935, 544, 547, 548.

57 Yeats owned the revised two volume version of Patmore’s Essay (first published in 1887) printed in her Poems, 2 vols. (London: George Bell, 1907), 215–67; for a textual history see Coventry Patmore, Essay on English Metrical Law, with a comment. by Mary Augustine Roth (Washington, DC: Catholic University of America, 1961), xii–xiv.

58 In his extant prose-writings Yeats made only two references to metrical feet: anapaests are mentioned in the introduction to the BIV (1895) in a discussion of Thomas Moore that was excised in the second edition (CW6 218); and his essay ‘Edmund Spenser’ (1912) observes that ‘Harvey set Spenser to the making of verses in classical metre, and certain lines have come down to us written in what Spenser called ‘Iambicum trimetrum’ (E&I 357).

59 Colly Cibber’s Loves Last Shift; or, The Fool in Fashion (1696), and Vanbrugh’s ‘continuation’ of the play, The Relapse: Or, Virtue in Danger, Being the Sequel of the Fool in Fashion (1696) both include a character called ’Worthy’. See The Broadview Anthology of Restoration & Early Eighteenth-Century English Drama, gen. ed. J. Douglas Canfield, assistant editor Maja-Lisa Von Sneidern (Peterborough, Ont. and Ormskirk: Broadview Press, 2001).

60 Reuven Tsur, Poetic Rhythm: Structure and Performance: An Empirical Study in Cognitive Poetics (Bern and New York: Peter Lang, 1998), 25.


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