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Yeats's Mask

Margaret Mills Harper
Warwick Gould

Shorter notes

Wheels and Butterflies: Title, Structure, Cover Design

Warwick Gould

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  • 1 Photographs of all the bronzes made from the original casts in papier-mâché now in the collection o (...)

1The gold-stamped heraldic design of Yeats’s Wheels and Butterflies (London: Macmillan, 1934; Wade 175), together with a colour to approximate to that of the cloth on that book, have been represented on the top board of the present volume. In Wheels and Butterflies that device was also replicated in black on the title-page. It was created by an unknown (and probably in-house) artist commissioned by Macmillan, working from photographs of masks by Hildo Van Krop for Vrouwe Emer’s Groote Strijd, the 1922 Dutch production of The Only Jealousy of Emer, as re-used or copied in the 1929 Dublin production of the new dance play based upon The Only Jealousy of Emer, Fighting the Waves.The three masks, arranged in a triskele (from top, clockwise) are respectively those of the Woman of the Sidhe, Emer, and Cuchulain (see Plates 21–23).1

  • 2 I am grateful to Yeats’s bibliographer, Dr Colin Smythe, for this information. His own dust-jacket (...)

2Yeats had sought to include all of Hildo Van Krop’s masks for that Dutch production in his aborted seven volume Edition de Luxe of 1931, and brought a copy of the renowned Dutch Modernist journal, Wendingen (which had carried the photographs in its February 1925 issue, Vol vii: ii), to his editor Harold Macmillan on 13 April, 1932. Macmillan judged the photographs to be of poor potential if reproᆳduced. Yeats tried again with Wheels and Butterflies but Macmillan ᆳity paper to be used for the volume, proposing instead that an artist prepare a design for the volume’s wrapper based on the masks. Yeats agreed with this approach, but, as it happened, the dust jacket did not reproduce the heraldic design based on masks, though both the top board and the title-page (see Plate 24) did.2

3On 21 September 1927, Yeats had written to Pieter Nicolaas van Eyck from Dublin to thank him for sending pictures of Van Krop’s ‘amazing’ masks.

... they are all fine but the “Cuchulain” and the “Bricriu” perhaps the finest of all. I shall be heartbroken if I cannot reproduce in a coming volume of autobiography these pictures. I wonder would the sculptor let me have copies of the photographs from which they are made for I imagine that would be necessary. But I have something much more important to ask. I imagine that you know the sculptor and you can probably tell me if I could obtain replicas of the masks themselves either to borrow, or purchase, for a forthcoming performance here. We have made a little theatre which holds a hundred people and it is especially arranged for Dance Plays. It is to be opened in a few weeks’ time and I am hoping that the first performance will be that of two plays of mine – “The Only Jealousy of Emer” and “The Hawk’s Well” ... These masks of Van Hildo Krop are so much finer than anything I have ever imagined that I would like to incorporate them in my work ... I had always the hope as I wrote that some great sculptor would take to mask making, and in his turn inspire new plays and playrights. It is really a question of the foundation of a new art and a new stage. I wonder if there are any photographs of the actors wearing these masks. I am full of curiosity as to the costume. Of course if there are photographs I am prepared to buy them – I don’t want to put anyone to any expense. I have asked about possible replicas of the masks on the supposition that they are the same masks of butter-muslin we are accustomed to use here. If they are in some harder and more permanent material they are beyond my reach. I again thank you – you have sent me something which has stirred my imagination profoundly (CL InteLex 5032).

Plate 24. Title-page design of Wheels and Butterflies (London: Macmillan, 1934). Artwork of unknown authorship.

  • 3 David R. Clark and Rosalind E. Clark assert that Van Krop was present, but there is no evidence fo (...)

4The rewriting of The Only Jealousy as Fighting the Waves finally resulted in the (delayed) production in Dublin on 13 August 1929,3 after which Yeats wrote to Olivia Shakespear:

My “Fighting the Waves” has been my greatest success on the stage since Kathleen-ni-Houlihan, & its production was a great event here, the politicians & the governor general & the American Minister present – the masks by the Dutch man Krop magnificent & Antheills music ... Every one here is as convinced as I am that I have discovered a new form by this combination of dance, speach & music. The dancing of the goddess in her abstract almost non representational mask was extraordinarily exciting ... The waves are of course dancers. It felt that the sea was eternity & that they were all upon its edge. The theatre was packed night after night so the play will be revived.
I regretted as I often do when we are more than usually spirited at the Abbey, that [you] could not be here. One writes & works for one[’s] friends, & those who read, or at any rate those who listen are people about whom one cares nothing – that seems the general rule at any rate (24 August [1929]; CL InteLex 5277).

5To Thomas Sturge Moore, Yeats had indicated that it was the Van Krop masks which had inspired the rewriting of The Only Jealousy of Emer as ‘the ritual of a lost faith’ (CL InteLex 5007, 5267; LTSM 110, 156). It was the success of Fighting the Waves which led, via the success of The Words upon the Window-pane, to Wheels and Butterflies. Yeats had had the title in his mind since at least 2 December 1930, when he had written to Shakespear that the book would be called

‘My Wheels & Butterflies’ – the wheels are the four introductions. Dublin is said to be full of little societies meeting in cellars & garrets so I shall put this rhyme on a fly-leaf ‘To cellar & garret | A wheel I send | But every butterfly | To a friend.’ The ‘Wheels’ are addressed to Ireland mainly – a scheme of intellectual nationalism’ (CL InteLex 5414).

  • 4 BL Add. MS 55727 ff. 271–73 at 272, Harold Macmillan to Yeats.

6By 15 April 1932, Macmillan had written to Yeats to summarize the series of volume by volume decisions arrived at in the meeting on 13 April about the new Edition de Luxe, saying that they were ‘to consider reproducing the Masks for “Four Plays for Dancers” from the copy of “Wendingen”, which is in our hands’ (i.e., the masks for the 1922 Amsterdam production of Vrouwe Emer’s Groote Strijd). The ‘essays’ for Wheels and Butterflies had been rewritten by Yeats since he submitted copy for that portion of the Edition de Luxe and the ‘new version is to be substituted for the one now in type.’4 That edition of course continued to languish in occasionally updated standing type due to poor economic conditions, and by 23 February 1934 Yeats could readily see that his publisher was ‘not yet ready to go ahead with’ the Edition de Luxe and that therefore they would agree to the publication ‘at once’ of ‘some of the work that I would otherwise have kept back for it’. He forwarded the revised and corrected Edition de Luxe proofs for ‘a little book called “Wheels and Butterflies”’, pressing Macmillan again about the Wendingen images, this time to be used to illustrate Fighting the Waves.

You have in your possession a booklet containing, photographs of the masks by Van Krop which were used in the production of one of the plays. I wonder if you would think of including these photographs, using the most effective perhaps on the wrapper? I leave the matter to your decision, for though you rejected them for the edition de luxe you may think it advisable to have them in this separate book (CL InteLex 6009, 23 February 1934).

7Macmillan readily agreed, setting the book in train and commenting with a characteristic eye to cost,

  • 5 BL Add. MS 55750 ff. 287–90 at 288, 6 March 1934.

The photographs of the masks by Van Krop which you left with us are not very good technically and I am rather inclined to think that they would not reproduce very effectively. I am not sure that the book would not look better if we had it without any plates and this would enable us to print it on a more attractive sort of paper. I am wondering, however, whether you would like us to try and prepare a wrapper, using one of the masks as a basis. I think this might be made rather effective and, with your permission, I would get an artist to make a design and submit it to you. As regards binding, I think “Wheels and Butterflies” might have quite a simple binding, different altogether in style from Mr. Sturge Moore’s designs for your last book of poems.5

8Macmillan was thinking of The Winding Stair and other Poems (1933), but it is difficult to resist a comparison, with Plate 25, the mask-motif of Sturge Moore’s design for The Cutting of an Agate (1919). Letters such as this are very much the staple of exchanges between Macmillan and Yeats and, indeed, brought out Yeats’s prudent, Pollexfen side. But Macmillan had also offered as an interim measure to bring out a popular, one volume of the Collected Plays to range alongside the similarly purposed Collected Poems of 1933, a suggestion which ‘delighted’ Yeats and allowed him to omit extra passages of The Only Jealously of Emer from appendices to Fighting the Waves in Wheels and Butterflies. On 9 March he replied from Riversdale with plans for an appropriately pared-down popular edition of the plays and commented further:

Plate 25. Thomas Sturge Moore’s original design forthe spine and top board of The Cutting of an Agate (London: Macmillan, 1919), image courtesy and © Senate House Library, University of London. All rights reserved.

I dare say you are right about the “Wheels and Butterflies” looking better without such representations of the Van Krop masks as would impose upon it inferior paper. The masks by the way are at the Abbey Theatre and can be re-photographed. They are rather remarkable pieces of sculpture. I may get a block made of the best to you later on.
I approve of your idea of getting an artist to make a wrapper for “Wheels and Butterflies” (CL InteLex 6091).

9By late May, Macmillan was seeking a photograph

  • 6 BL Add. MS 55753 f. 89, 23 May 1934.

of one of the Van Krop masks at the Abbey Theatre, which might possibly be used on the wrapper of the book. The illustrations we have in your copy of “Wendinged” [sic] would not reproduce very well, and perhaps you will choose a photograph for this purpose when you find a convenient opportunity.6

  • 7 BL Add. MS 55574 f. 269, 26 June 1934; see also BL Add. MS 55575 f. 99, 11 July 1934 and f. 224, 1 (...)
  • 8 BL Add. MS 55756 f. 201.
  • 9 Yeats could, however, have visited Macmillan’s offices when in London in early October, en route f (...)

10This appeal was reiterated in June and July, and Yeats finally sent three photographs by 18 July ‘for the use of the artist who is to design the wrapper’.7 Marked proofs of the book were dispatched on 16 August, but not of the ’Preliminary’ which would ‘reach you later, as we are having a special title designed’.8 While there are various other letters re Wheels and Butterflies before publication day (13 November 1934), none specifically mentions the prelims or the title-page or cover designs.9

  • 10 Yeats wrote to William Force Stead on 26 September 1934 that the ‘Butterfly is the main symbol on (...)

11Yeats and his reader at Macmillan, Thomas Mark, and his usual typesetters, R. & R. Clark, paid precise attention to the shape of the book and the arrangements of its contents, using his well-tried formulae of using epigraphs and half-titles for the purposes of framing and boxing. The attendant spaciousness of the layout and excellent quality laid paper show the firm doing its best for him in an edition of 3,000 copies and perhaps point to slightly better economic conditions in the autumn of 1934 than had prevailed a year before when Collected Poems had been prepared for the Christmas market, though no doubt the saving on plates had given the publisher some extra amplitude. The slightly revised ‘Wheels and Butterflies’ verse10

To Garret or Cellar a wheel I send,
But every butterfly to a friend.

12is placed as a centred epigraph on a fresh recto immediately after the colophon and provides the front portion of the frame for the whole book. The Preface and Contents follow on new fresh rectos with blank versos. Yet another fresh recto offers a half-title and date of first performance for The Words upon the Window-pane, with a blank verso, and a centred dedication ‘IN MEMORY OF | LADY GREGORY | in whose house it was written’. The verso lists the ‘Persons in the Play’, and the text of its Introduction, or ‘wheel’, is followed by that of the play (again beginning on a fresh recto) follows. After the closing scene, a blank verso then precedes a repeat of the pattern, centred half-title and date, blank verso, centred dedications, ‘Persons in the Play’, Introduction on a fresh recto, text ditto, and so on. Fighting the Waves is dedicated ‘TO | HILDO VAN KROP | who made the masks’;‘The Resurrection ‘TO | JUNZO SATO | who gave me a sword; and The Cat and the Moon ‘TO | JOHN MASEFIELD | who made me a ship’. Four plays, four dedications, are finally summed in an envoi which encloses Yeats’s work before the appendix of George Antheil’s music. It is centred on a fresh recto, facing a blank verso.

The bravest from the gods but ask:
A house, a sword, a ship, a mask ([157]).

13The house, Ballylee (‘Now that we’re almost settled in our house’ VP 323, 419), or the ‘small old house’ of Riversdale, VP 577); the ‘changeless’ sword of ‘My Table’ which Yeats had hoped would ‘moralise | My days out of their aimlessness ... Chaucer had not drawn breath | When it was forged‘, VP 421); the ship of the 1908–1909 mask reveries (Mem 152–53 and see above 8–9): the order of these is distorted to provide for the Mask the culminating rhyme. It comes right with ‘a click like a closing box’ (CL InteLex 6335, to Dorothy Wellesley, 8 September [1935]).

14That envoi is used as the epigraph to the present volume.


1 Photographs of all the bronzes made from the original casts in papier-mâché now in the collection of the Stadsschouwburg, Amsterdam, may be found in Liam Miller, The Noble Drama of W. B. Yeats (Dublin: Dolmen Press, 1977), plates XVIII–XXII. See also Sylvia Alting van Geusau and Rob van der Zalm, Hildo Krop: dans- en toneelmaskers (Steenwijk: Stichting Instituut Collectie Krop, 2010); also and, and D. J. Gordon, Images of a Poet (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1961), 76–80, Plates 21, 23–25.

2 I am grateful to Yeats’s bibliographer, Dr Colin Smythe, for this information. His own dust-jacket copy is in the Smythe collection in the Dublin Central Library.

3 David R. Clark and Rosalind E. Clark assert that Van Krop was present, but there is no evidence for this in Yeats’s letters: see CW2 899. The masks apparently were those of the 1922 Amsterdam production or had been remade from the original casts.

4 BL Add. MS 55727 ff. 271–73 at 272, Harold Macmillan to Yeats.

5 BL Add. MS 55750 ff. 287–90 at 288, 6 March 1934.

6 BL Add. MS 55753 f. 89, 23 May 1934.

7 BL Add. MS 55574 f. 269, 26 June 1934; see also BL Add. MS 55575 f. 99, 11 July 1934 and f. 224, 18 July 1934.

8 BL Add. MS 55756 f. 201.

9 Yeats could, however, have visited Macmillan’s offices when in London in early October, en route from Dublin to Rome, and approved them in person.

10 Yeats wrote to William Force Stead on 26 September 1934 that the ‘Butterfly is the main symbol on my ring – the ring I always wear – the other symbol is the hawk. The hawk is the straight road of logic, the butterfly the crooked road of intuition – the hawk pounces, the butterfly flutters ... a vision if I remember rightly’ (CL InteLex 6102).


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