Version classiqueVersion mobile

Yeats's Mask

Margaret Mills Harper
Warwick Gould


W. B. Yeats, At The Hawk’s Well and The Cat and the Moon: Manuscript Materials, ed. by Andrew Parkin (Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 2010), lxiv + 267 pp.

Richard Allen Cave

Texte intégral

1Given how remarkably innovative was the dramaturgical transformation that came over Yeats’s playwriting with the composition of At the Hawk’s Well, it is disappointing to discover that little remains from the earliest stages of the play’s composition. The first extant manuscripts show the songs already taking a decisive shape in Yeats’s imagination: the tone, aim and to some degree even the content is immediately recognisable and some phrases were to persist with little change through into the finished text (‘I would know but human faces | And be deliv[ere]d from those eyes’; ‘Folly alone will I cherish’; ‘I fear being but a sweet mouthful of air’). The first draft of what was initially entitled ‘The Well of Immortality’ (eleven pages in holograph with remarkably few interventions to redraft sections) shows the play already fully formed, since it exactly follows the scheme of the final version for staging found in Collected Plays. Here are the musicians’ evocation of the place where the action is set, the arrival of the Old Man and the Young Man, their exchange which reveals their reasons for being there, the transformation of the guardian of the Well into a miraculous hawk, the mesmeric dance that distracts Cuchulain away from the well, the plashing of the waters, the dejection of the Old Man, the noise of the women warriors preparing for battle, Cuchulain’s seizing his spear, his asserting his identity with a chilling war-cry and the characters’ departure from the playing space. There is even a précis of the final song into three lines that lean more towards the frustration of the Old Man as a summation of the play’s import than the balanced and settled contentment of the final version.

2It is tantalising that we are left with no indication of what levels of creativity and consequent forms of revision preceded this draft, which has more the appearance of a copying out of the play from ‘foul papers’ now lost. It is highly confident and competent, far more vigorous and exact than one would suppose an attempt at a wholly new dramatic form would achieve at so early a stage (and one so theatrically challenging in its demands for singers, a dancer, actors of sufficiently versatile a technique to enable them to perform in masks, performers willing to submit themselves to a discipline of stylisation – all features quite alien to the conventions of early twentieth-century theatre practice).

3Yeats had, of course, experimented already with some of the constituent elements of his new dramatic form,. Song, ritual, incantation, degrees of stylisation, a narrative line that focused on the climax and laid great importance on retrospection, memory and meditation – all occur in earlier plays. An intense stage discipline controlled all aspects of a play in production (even an interest in masks, through discussions with Edward Gordon Craig). But they had not, to date, come into a synthesis, and there had not been before the interest in dance which Yeats’s new-found engagement with Noh as both text and performance promoted. A considerable leap of vision, creativity and daring had been necessary to achieve that synthesis and one misses the evidence to show how it was accomplished.

4There had clearly been extensive discussion with Ezra Pound, who was editing Fenellosa’s papers in preparation for publishing them as Noh or Accomplishment (Macmillan, 1916) and the papers themselves had provided Yeats with magnificent formative examples of this most sophisticated form of theatre to study, as is witnessed by his essay, ‘Certain Noble Plays of Japan’, which he completed earlier that same year. It might have been possible to determine how much Pound influenced Yeats’s decision to adopt the Japanese form for his own purposes had any earlier drafts survived, though that is to suppose that there were earlier jottings, such as an outline scenario, preliminary sketches of the central dialogue sections of the play, in the way those few fragments of verse referred to above anticipate the finished songs; and that these were jettisoned once the copy had been made of them, which that eleven-page holograph represents.

5Pound was at this time acting as Yeats’s amanuensis because of the severe eye-strain the poet was suffering, so it is possible that the composition began through discussion, shaping a narrative that would sit comfortably within the Noh form, exploring the inner theme that in Noh is invariably more intimated than defined. It was a theme that was to undergo some changes in emphasis as the process of extant revisions reveals and which are perhaps best summed up by the important change of title from ‘The Well of Immortality’ to ‘At the Hawk’s Well’, which gives far more emphasis to the Guardian of the sacred waters and to her metamorphosis into a fierce bird of prey than on the actual waters and their legendary significance. It may be that the earliest jottings were made by Pound in his role as secretary and that the holograph manuscript was written by Yeats as a basic draft on which to work, fine-tuning details, resolving dilemmas or expanding episodes that did not yet quite have the theatrical impact that he wanted, using Pound’s notes as a guide but which Yeats then discarded once he had his own fair copy.

6This is all hypothesis, of course, and has to remain so, given the want of any conclusive evidence; but to rehearse the possible history of the process of composition of At the Hawk’s Well in its earliest stages and the questions it raises is to appreciate the magnitude of uncertainty which characterises our knowledge of what was a major turning-point in Yeats’s career as dramatist, one which would continue to reverberate right into his last plays. If he had not made such a confident start with the first of his Noh-inspired dance plays, it is unlikely that he would have persisted with the form to the extent of beginning to work intricate variations on the prototype even within the initial Four Plays for Dancers, a fruitful line in experimenting that Yeats continued to pursue through works like The Resurrection and The Herne’s Egg until The Death of Cuchulain. It is a pity that Yeats’s correspondence, though informative about progress on the venture and problems faced when the play went into rehearsal, offers no insight into this crucial first stage of its development.

7Fragments of dialogue follow the first copy, featuring the meeting of Cuchulain with the Old Man, and an evocation of the Guardian’s transformation into a hawk and its bringing Cuchulain to ‘frenzy’ (43). A further draft of seventeen pages in holograph together shows Yeats amplifying the drama while beginning steadily to turn the text of the dialogue into verse and expand the contribution of the musicians. Unlike the copied qualities of the previous draft referred to above, Yeats is now revising in earnest: frequently phrases, lines or whole sections of text are scored through and immediately redrafted so that progress is by fits and starts. Notable features of the redrafting are the frequent compressions of ideas to achieve considerable economy of expression: some twelve lines attempting to describe the Old Man’s appearance and his making a fire, for example, are finally reduced to four: ‘The old man’s limbs are doubled up | Among the rocks where he is climbing | He has made a little heap of leaves | He lays the dry sticks on the leaves’ (53). Sometimes the changes, however slight, seem designed to bring greater dramatic tension: When the Old Man, for example, rounds on the Guardian in desperation at her perpetual silence, her want of ‘pleasant and companionable’ traits, and notices the ‘glassy look’ about her eyes which remind him of the ‘last time it happened’, he questions and dismisses her roughly: ‘Do you know anything | You are enough to drive an old man crazy.’ Yeats appears immediately to have re-thought this, crosses out the second line of the above as shown and replaces it with a barely revised verse that he then continues by expanding into a new idea and sentence: ‘It is enough to drive an old man crazy | To look all day upon the broken rocks ...’ (59, my italics). The Old Man observes the Guardian’s changed condition but immediately reverts to luxuriating in his own selfpity. He sees and yet he does not see: after years of waiting in vain for the plashing of the waters that, if drunk, would bring him immortality, it is as if he expects invariably to fail; his mind is so programmed to futility and loss. That simple grammatical change has deepened the characterisation of the man: his abject stance is the outward realisation of an inner malaise. At a far later stage in the composition when Yeats was annotating the rehearsal text and recording there decisions made jointly by himself and Edmund Dulac as directors, he asked that the Old Man’s movements be accompanied by drum taps so that the actor would appear to move ‘like a marionette’; already in this revision under discussion we find Yeats preparing this effect by showing the degree to which the Old Man’s mind is mechanical in its self-centred processes of response. A change that brings dramatic impact occurs directly after this outpouring from the Old Man. In the first draft Yeats had the Musicians describe both the Old Man’s and the Young Man’s ascent of the mountain; this new version makes no mention of Cuchulain’s approach. Instead when the Old man rages against the Guardian for never speaking to him, the Young Man’s voice is now unexpectedly heard: ‘Then speak to me’. (The element of dramatic surprise was augmented in the production by having Henry Ainley, the actor playing Cuchulain, walk through the audience to effect his entrance, speaking as he did so.)

8While a number of such improvements occur in this version as Yeats has immediate second thoughts while actually engaged in drafting, there are as many other instances where some addition has occurred to him in the interstices between periods of composition. A telling instance here (one not worked over in the manner outlined above, but arriving already fully formed) is the contrast between the Old Man’s peevishness, the product of years of vain expectation, and Cuchulain’s cocksure certainty that the waters will flow for him, ‘for never | Have I had long to wait for anything’ (67). This again neatly anticipates why later he will abandon his larger quest to taste the well-water in preference for pursuing the hawk: he sees, he wants, he expects gratification. This ably dramatises precisely how young this Young Man is. The text is getting to be the stuff of drama and Yeats is finding ways to encourage his spectators to listen imaginatively to what they hear spoken by building a sense of cumulative power into the action, an inevitability of which the characters themselves are not actually aware.

9Two pages later we find Yeats struggling to get the tone right when the sudden hawk’s cry from the Guardian has Cuchulain remembering the vast and fierce hawk that attacked him when he first landed from the sea, how it excelled any previously in his possession, how it lured him on, staying just outside the reach of his sword or any stone he might throw at it. There was a shorter account of this episode in the earlier full draft where the passage ends with Cuchulain turning from the hawk when he found ‘it was leading me away, from | the hills’; to have continued the chase would have risked his losing his way to the sacred well. In the new full draft Yeats revised the details of the pursuit considerably in the space of some nineteen lines (the published version runs to fourteen lines) to ensure, seemingly, that the account moves smoothly into what is now a differently conceived conclusion: ‘And just before I had turned the big rock there | An saw seen this place, it [the hawk] seemed to vanish away’ (71). As re-imagined, this has become another instance of the excitable Cuchulain missing the point of his own perceptions: he never thinks that the bird might have deliberately lured him to the place for a purpose beyond the scope of his own intentions. Bird and place, he has been informed by the Old Man, are most likely under the power of the Sidhe. To have sensed a greater ordering in the shaping of event than his own purposes would have required intuition; but perhaps intuition, in being generally considered feminine, is anathema to the heroic mind-set. Yeats had already examined this theme in his first Cuchulain play, On Baile’s Strand, where the older hero’s failure to intuit why he is drawn so powerfully and so strangely to Connla results in a weight of tragic suffering. It is characteristic of Yeats to build echoes and resonances like this between the plays that make up his sequence on Cuchulain’s life and death. It is equally characteristic of Yeats to have his hero dismiss the glimpse he is afforded of the workings of fate in preference for an assertion of his personal will: ‘Could I but find a means to bring it down, | I’d hood it.’

10While the main shape of the play is now clear and much of the dialogue in an advanced stage of composition, the episode involving the dance has yet to be developed: only the actual placing is set with the terse direction, ‘Corus [sic] & dance’ (79). The Musicians’ contribution generally is at the level of sketches: there is no opening song to accompany the ceremony with the cloth, though it is specified interestingly in this manuscript that the chorus enters with a ‘black cloth’ (49), from which one may suppose that Yeats has begun to think about ways of staging an impressive opening appropriate for a bare, uncurtained stage. The play begins here with the chorus’s evocation of place, time of day and atmosphere, though the initial line (‘The dry leaves fall from the tree’) is rather pedestrian beside the final version (‘The boughs of the hazel shake’), which has greater specificity and a hint of the ominous: it works far more immediately to stir ‘the eye of the mind’ to imagine.

11Curiously the manuscript is framed by first drafts: one on an independent sheet inserted before the play proper, of what eventually was to be situated as the final song after the second unfolding and folding of the cloth that begins ‘The man that I praise’ (47); the second continuing after the body of the play is a substantial realisation of that part of the final song, comprising three stanzas, which precedes the ceremony with the cloth. The second of these is close to completion: only one change was necessary, turning ‘Among the watered meadows’ (83, my italics) to the highly evocative ‘Among indolent meadows’, which captures exactly the come-what-may attitude that dominates the two parts of this song in their mounting scorn of the heroic life and its idealistic pursuits (that revision was not made until late in the rehearsal process, see 155).

12By contrast the draft of the other section shows Yeats somewhat struggling to achieve a precise but allusive expression and avoid the obvious, such as ‘the clang of a bell’ rather than ‘a hand on the bell’ to summon the cows to milking. What in time were to undergo major revision were the final two lines of each stanza: the first has a grazing cow draining the well dry, the second asks: ‘For who but I if any can praise | A bare tree’ (47). Perhaps it was the placing of the two parts of the song together that prompted Yeats to revise these lines to the mordantly sardonic references to an idiot as the only man likely to praise a dry well and ‘withered tree’. This is in time to be the final expression of a largely studied detachment that the Musicians preserve throughout the performance, which, as in Brecht’s later explorations of the Noh form, incite an audience to decide their own position in relation to the choices that determine the action (there is to be one dramatic breaking out of this stance, which is discussed below).

13A group of holograph sheets next show Yeats working at gaps in the text as it stands: the song accompanying the first ceremony with the cloth (massively overwritten, but still the finished version emerges through the plethora of cancelled lines and phrases); the opening exposition by the Musicians and their depiction of the Old Man (the first virtually a clear copy, the second needing several complete revisions before a final version is accepted, though it will require further reworking); a first attempt at pacing the complex sequence of events that encompass the dance, largely in terms of the chorus’s contribution (the change of Guardian to Hawk with the shedding of the encompassing cloak and the impact of her appearance on Cuchulain; the musicians’ fear and their warning Cuchulain to avoid her ‘dancing feet ... | Two feet that are like quivering blades’ (93); their awareness of the plashing of the waters in the well and that Cuchulain has heard it too); several brief efforts at the lyric the Musicians sing after Cuchulain, entranced, has followed the Bird-Woman from the stage. These last, in imagining the life that Cuchulain might have led instead of what is to befall him, repeatedly get confused in their phrasing with lines from the stanza they sing to end the play;. Next come two heavily revised attempts to evoke the horror of the metamorphosis. There is ‘The sliding through being & vein | Of a cold undying will’ (99) – too verbose by comparison with the finally realised terse prayer for divine protection from a shocking awareness of being possessed; and on the last sheet a loose four-line attempt at the song, ‘Come to me human faces’, far slacker in expression than the opening stanza as published.

14What is interesting, however, is the placing of this sheet directly after the evocation of the horror of possession which suggests, perhaps, an emotional and psychological connexion between the two in Yeats’s thinking – a useful point for director and performers to bear in mind in production. It is as if rising horror moves the chorus out of their detached stance so that they first show more understanding of Cuchulain in terms of what he has lost in chasing the hawk and end by embracing their own humble lot in preference for any engagement with the heroic or supernatural. A further comment about production issues may be made in relation to the reference to the dancer’s ‘quivering blades’. Yeats of course knew little about dancing and came to trust his dancers to experiment to find an appropriate style, but the image is powerful in terms of what it might usefully convey to a choreographer or dancer, who frequently enjoy working with evocative imagery. Though the phrase was to be excised eventually from the text of At the Hawk’s Well, it does indicate what Yeats in general terms expected: that the dance be fast, fierce (even ferocious) and violent in its effect.

15The play is now all but complete and the chronologically next extant typescript while containing evidence of local revisions is heavily marked with details of production which indicate its use in rehearsals. This is a fascinating document, since it contains not only Yeats’s changes to the text but also Allan Wade’s notes about his movements as the Old Man and Dulac’s observations about the timing of episodes deploying his music and pencil sketches of how he wished the actors to deport themselves. These are most likely the sketches that Yeats and Dulac worked on together to help Ainley understand how they wished him to move and position himself in the playing space, especially to make best use of his mask. Though a highly accomplished actor, Ainley’s technique did not embrace the difficult art of wearing masks; that technique proved to be too entrenched to enable him fully to grasp this challenging innovation, since Yeats’s letters show how keen he was to jettison Ainley from the cast at the earliest opportunity.

16If it is studied alongside Dulac’s music and his designs for ceremonial cloth, costumes and masks, this document amounts to a remarkably detailed production script or performance text of the first staging in 1916. There is one notable revision, perhaps relating to the Young Man’s mask, that shows Yeats the practical man of theatre, displacing Yeats the poet and playwright. At the moment when Cuchulain tries to calm the anxiety of the Old Man (the latter fears that, if they are together when the waters plash, the burly hero may well push him aside and drain every drop), Yeats in earlier drafts gives Cuchulain the line: ‘I’ll dip my helmet in. We shall both drink’ (139). Dulac’s mask for the Young Man sports a most impressive helmet with an upward-curving horn by way of decoration. In the design helmet and mask look independent, making it look as if the removal of the helmet were feasible. In order to avoid any unforeseen and embarrassing accident, the two were most likely fused in the making to create a full-headed mask, similar to that worn by Allan Wade – Alvin Langdon Coburn’s photographs of the two actors in costume certainly suggest this – which would make the original line, even if not accompanied by any actualising gesture, potentially risible, given how close the initial audience in Lady Cunard’s drawing room would be seated in proximity to the players. At some point during the rehearsals Yeats, ever alert to details of a production that might disturb the carefully created atmosphere of a performance, cancelled the line in favour of a more plausible revision: ‘I’ll take it in my hands. We shall both drink ...’ (139). The new phrasing is fitter in context too: the Old Man has told how so little water rises that it but wets the stones of the well. A dipped helmet would require a certain depth. This may seem a trite point to make, but it shows both Yeats’s attention to issues of practicality and his exacting engagement with the details of the imagined world he is creating onstage.

17The one feature of the play still not properly devised and described is the ceremony with the cloth that opens and closes the action. This version instructs that the Chorus enter carrying their instruments and the black cloth, bearing the image of a hawk, which ‘is stretched between them so as to fall perpendicularly’ (113). Not surprisingly, this is heavily scored through since it would require remarkably agile performers to carry instruments and cloth! Two related manuscripts from this period of the text’s gestation show first in holograph and then in typescript what is certainly a record of how the opening was handled in rehearsal by Yeats and Dulac: the instruments are now placed on the perimeter of the stage before the performance begins so the players have only the bringing in followed by the folding and unfolding of the cloth on which to focus, while the ceremony follows in outline the pattern of movement accompanied by the musicians’ singing that recurs with numerous adjustments and amplifications in subsequent printed texts. The variant readings as they progress towards the direction to be found in Collected Plays move from prescribing a sequence following that staged in 1916 to a more open discussion about possibilities for staging, which may be the fruit of the several revivals of the play to be staged in Yeats’s lifetime, including those at the Abbey within the different formation of a proscenium theatre. Comparing the directions for Yeats’s plays is always a fruitful exercise, since they generally record the changing circumstances of different stagings and, more importantly, demonstrate how adaptable Yeats became when those circumstances required it: there is nothing dictatorial about his later attitudes to performance.

18In a similar fashion a group of sheets in holograph with typescript copies show Yeats working on several sequences to incorporate material evolved during rehearsal and present them in a cleaner copy, presumably in preparation for printing. These include the first entrance of the Musicians and their sung ritual (these sheets include drafts of the second stanza, performed while re-folding the cloth, which does not appear in the rehearsal script but was incorporated in a copy Yeats inscribed to Lady Gregory at the time of the first performances, which she was prevented from seeing). They also include the dance sequence (where the timing of danced and mimed action with choric speech and song is exactly laid out); the Old Man’s warning to Cuchulain about the dangers of involving himself with the Woman of the Sidhe (it was to undergo yet further revision); the haunting moment in the opening scene-setting where the Second Musician intrudes into the First Musician’s explanations of what the audience are to understand by the stylised image they see before them to voice a fear of the place, introducing a new emotional charge into the introduction; and, lastly, the Old Man’s speech on waking in which he curses the ‘shadows’ that continue to delude him. (Further revision was chiefly to bring more bitterness and rage to the speech through simple changes to the punctuation, particularly to avoid the risk of flatness when lines are repeatedly and heavily end-stopped, as here.) Taken together, these all show Yeats heightening the drama of the various episodes, particularly giving actors more opportunity to exploit their vocal range and the emotional and psychological ‘colouring’ they can contribute to the unfolding narrative.

19This part of the volume concludes with a transcription of the 1917 printing of At the Hawk’s Well in To-Day, which Yeats had heavily revised in places (the play was first published some months earlier in Harper’s Bazaar, but the English journal is preferred as including most of the emendations and redrafting that had occurred till this date). This text is carefully collated with subsequent printings until Collected Plays. Corrections are chiefly local, designed to improve punctuation to bring greater clarity and variety to the text when spoken, to introduce a more idiomatic expression especially in the Old Man’s speeches, to improve the versification, expand on or insert more detailed stage directions concerning the actors’ movements within the playing space and to create a better integration of such movements within the musical accompaniment, requiring a particularly focused attentiveness amongst the Musicians.

20The most notable insertions are a precise placing of an instruction for when the dancer throws off her cloak to emerge in Dulac’s magnificent hawk costume. Disappointingly the revisions do not include more detailed directions drawn from the Abbey staging involving de Valois, when the ecstatic movement of the bird steadily drew Cuchulain on his rising into the patterns of the dance, as the hawk-woman became by turns seductive and fiercely repelling. The episode in this staging became an embodiment of Yeats’s fascination with the interplay of love and loathing (picking up the theme of Cuchulain’s intricate relations with Aoife, as he relates them to Conchubar in On Baile’s Strand). But perhaps Yeats would have seen this as too prescriptive, just as were the precise timings for stages in the dance that were included in earlier versions of the text. The final state of the ending is worth comment. The text as recorded from Four Plays for Dancers on to Collected Plays offers cast and director some interesting choices: initially the directions ask that the Musicians perform the first part of their final song while unfolding the cloth and then accompany the second part while refolding it; but then the practical-minded Yeats notes that, if Dulac’s music is used, then the Musicians should not rise and begin the ritual until they start the second part of the song (‘The man that I praise ...’).

21This indicates a complete willingness for future casts to commission new music. Even by 1921, when the play was published as the first of the Four Plays for Dancers, Yeats was not expecting the original staging to be viewed as sacrosanct. This perhaps accords with the dissatisfaction his letters express while that first production was undergoing rehearsal and performance, though already by July 1918 Yeats had lost control of that production, once Michio Ito, who first danced the role of the Guardian, had performed the piece in New York without the dramatist’s permission, with American-speaking Japanese players and new music by the Japanese composer, Yamada. Yeats may have been bowing to the inevitable, but this date marks the start of his more exploratory attitude to the staging of his dance plays.

22So original within the practices of European theatre and dramaturgy was Yeats’s engagement with this new dramatic form and style that the manuscript materials invite a protracted discussion of details like this to appreciate the speed and integrity marking his progress towards full mastery of his inspiration. By the time he came to draft The Cat and the Moon in 1917 Yeats had substantially completed a second exploration of his prototype (The Dreaming of the Bones) as again a vehicle for tragedy and had made some headway with a third (The Only Jealousy of Emer). That he should wish to vary his experimenting with the potential of the dance play by moving into the comic mode seems a logical development: Noh offered him the precedent of the Kyogen play. What impresses about the resulting drama, as Andrew Parkin in his admirably informative Introduction makes clear, is how deftly Yeats fuses a relatively simple, comic narrative with an abundance of references that fuse European with Japanese cultural expression, and Christian with Theosophical, Buddhist and Zen thought. As with the best of Noh, a surface simplicity masks a sophisticated complexity of allusion that invites as deep or as profound an engagement with the play in performance as a spectator chooses to adopt.

23Given that quality, it is again frustrating as with the early stages of the composition of At the Hawk’s Well that virtually nothing is extant that could show how that intricate layering of effect was achieved. Parkin lists the numerous sources that Yeats turned to in shaping his action but no materials survive to show how their fusion was evolved and realised: no scenario, no holograph manuscripts or early typescripts of exploratory drafts. The first extant document is a typescript prepared for use as a rehearsal copy that is to be found in the Abbey Theatre archives, which predates the play’s publication by some seven years; copies of this were used as the basis of Pound’s printing of The Cat and the Moon in The Dial (1924, the year that the play also appeared in The Criterion) and as copy text for The Cat and the Moon and Certain Poems (Cuala, also 1924). The play was first staged by the Dublin Drama League in 1926. Parkin muses whether, given the lack of foul papers, Yeats dictated the play throughout its gestation, but this is hypothetical. The Abbey typescript is transcribed by Parkin and collated with two further copies of it now in America (one being that sent to Pound) and with sets of marked proofs not only for the 1924 volume but also for the planned Edition de Luxe (c.1932 and c.1937), Wheels and Butterflies (1934) and Collected Plays (1934).

24The long delay, unusual within the Yeats canon, between the play’s completion (signified by the preparation of an acting copy) and its publication together with the curious fact of its non-appearance in the collection of plays for dancers may be explained by a comment Yeats made to Lady Gregory where he referred to ‘a play copy I had lost and forgotten for some years’. (The remark is situated in a draft of his dedication to Gregory of the Cuala volume.) Curiously it must have been the dialogue only that went missing, since the three songs from the Musicians that open the play, provide for a passage of time while the two beggars approach the saint’s tree and then close the performance, were published, together and undivided, as a poem entitled ‘The Cat and the Moon’ in both Nine Poems (1918) and The Wild Swans at Coole (1919). Why the stanzas became separated from the rest of the play is not clear, particularly since they are firmly in place in the acting script. Because of the advanced compositional state of that script which provides Parkin with his base text, revisions, as the collations demonstrate, were largely limited to matters of punctuation, spelling and idiomatic elisions. The thinly disguised satire of Martin and Moore as the holy man from Laban and his friend, the old lecher, was in time rendered more comic by breaking up the original prose story and re-phrasing statements as questions that the Lame Beggar struggles in vain to answer, while the Blind Beggar luxuriates in his companion’s ignorance. The story in the telling comes to have all the rough vigour of a shanachie’s art (see 222–25).

25The most sustained revision was to the ending, which appears originally to have had no dance, concluding simply with the Lame Beggar and the (imagined) Saint on his shoulder quitting the playing space ‘to drum taps and flute’. However at ninety degrees to the main body of text, there is typed addition offering an expanded ending with the Saint requiring the Lame Beggar to bow and so bless the road before, behind and to the sides of them. Further there is a marked caret after the Lame Man’s words, ‘Let us be going, Holy Man’ with the instruction (in holograph and encircled): ‘Insert slip’; also an inked cross after the stage direction relating to the Lame Beggar’s exit is accompanied by a new handwritten direction: ‘Dance –’ (239). The new dialogue is cancelled through, but the references to slip and dance remain. When exactly each of these additions was added to or marked on the script is open to question: much relies on identifying different shades of ink and nibs used for Yeats’s holograph insertions. His ‘Note’ on the play for the Cuala edition refers to the drama as ‘unfinished’ and states it must remain so till the play has been performed ‘and I know how the Lame Man is to move’. He posits a number of possibilities: that the Lame Man stay on one knee after the Blind Man has gone; that he avail himself of the Blind Man’s stick to leave the stage; that he should ‘walk stiffly or limp as if a leg were paralysed’. He continues: ‘Whatever his movements are they must be artificial and formal, like the movement upon a puppet stage or in a dance ...’ (see VPl 805). Taking Yeats at his word that the ending would be revised only when he had seen the play performed, one is inclined to suppose that additional dialogue typed at an angle to the main text was inserted after the production in 1926 or, maybe, when the play was in rehearsal for the Drama League’s staging in 1926.

26The confusion that attends the last page of the acting script is somewhat eased by the final materials that Parkin transcribes: the ‘slip’ may well refer to a sheet of Renvyle Hotel notepaper on which an expanded ending has been jotted by Yeats. This includes an enlarged version about how to bless the road at the start of a journey, then additional new material follows leading up to the Holy Man’s advice to the Lame Beggar: ‘Then dance’. The play was revived in 1931 and some performances were given at Gogarty’s hotel before the opening in Dublin, where Yeats appears to have had new thoughts about a fit conclusion and devised the material in the hotel for insertion in the acting script in place of both the short and the slightly enlarged endings to be found there. More revision followed on loose sheets of notepaper and on a typescript that basically refine this newest of endings, while an extant proof of the conclusion from the Edition de Luxe of 1934 contains a detailed scenario for the actual danced sequence.

27This is notable for removing the word ‘perhaps’ at the start of a sentence describing how clashes of cymbals should mark the moments in the dancing whenever the Lame Beggar strikes his foot on the ground. That possibilities have become certainties here may well reflect, as Parkin argues, how Yeats’s confidence in what dance might convey was strengthened by the time of the 1931 rehearsals. Certainly by that date he had been working with Ninette de Valois on staging several of his Noh-inspired plays at the Abbey as well as seeing the dance repertory she staged there with pupils from the Abbey School of Ballet; and he now had direct experience of the range of moods that dance, classical and modern, can convey. He appreciated that dance could accomplish the transition that the play’s narrative requires at this point from the comic grotesque to the profoundly spiritual: his emended direction now firmly requests that the choreography do just that.

28Andrew Parkin’s volume is a welcome addition to the Cornell series, offering in his Introduction an exhaustive account of the cultural contexts in which the composition of each of the plays took place and a detailed and convincing account of why he has ordered the extant materials in a particular way. This is no easy task: slips of paper on which local revisions were made have over time become separated from the manuscripts or typescripts to which they were attached, making the determining of an exact chronology problematic; texts published in American journals where proofs were corrected before publication sometimes contain different readings of lines and sequences than other sets which were emended at a later date after the play’s submission to English journals for publication (as neither can be viewed appropriately as the base text of a particular version of a play in composition, this makes collation difficult). To help readers around this challenging issue, Parkin has compiled a chronology, itemising the fifty-six materials he has consulted in preparing the edition. This is a remarkable feat of organisation. Appendices offer useful production materials relating to music for the stagings of The Cat and the Moon. First, J.F. Larchet’s music, scored for Flute, Zither and Drum, for the production seen at Oliver St. John Gogarty’s Renvyle House Hotel and at the Abbey Theatre in August and September 1931, which significantly (after the settings for the songs) includes a short burst of music headed ‘Dance’. Secondly, Lennox Robinson’s sketches for a musical rendering of the songs (presumably for the 1926 production, which he directed and in which he also played one of the musicians); these are more in the plain-chant style of Florence Farr’s cantilation to the psaltery. Given how valuable are the insights these offer, one wonders why Parkin did not include all the material Dulac provided for the 1916 production of At the Hawk’s Well. The designs and music have been republished from time to time since they first appeared in Four Plays for Dancers, but generally they are not readily accessible to readers and it would have been useful to scholars to have all that material collected alongside the manuscripts as relevant to a full interpretation of the latter.

29If the scholarship shaping the Introduction and the apparatus criticus is never less than exemplary, the quality of the transcriptions (especially of the holograph materials) and the proof-reading is not consistently of that calibre. Cancellations in the manuscripts are not always replicated in the transcribed text. In the manuscript sheet reproduced on page 12, for example, the whole of line 1 (‘The dawn is breaking whr the grey mountain side’) is cancelled out and a new line entered above this (‘Night is coming on – the mountainside is darkening’), while part of the following line (‘The leaves of the hazel, & of the oa and of have fallen’) are struck through as shown with ‘have’ reinserted above that last cancelled word; neither cancellation is observed in the transcription. On line 5 of page 14, Yeats changes his mind about the direction of the wind (‘north east west’) but both readings are left to stand in the transcription. Similar slips are to be found on page 19, line 10; page 21, lines 9 and 13; page 23, line 8; page 25, lines 6 and 14; page 31, line 16; and these relate to but one manuscript, NLI 8773(3) a. One might continue this exercise.

30Yeats’s holograph is never easy to read at any stage of his career, except perhaps when he is making clear copies of heavily emended text (such as the songs about the cat and the moon to be found in NLI 13,587(22) reproduced here on page 206. When the fit of composition was on him and inspiration flowed fast, Yeats tended to write the initial letters of words and then add a flourish to suggest their completion; those flourishes, however, tend to be regular and consistently deployed for particular words and so take on a kind of legibility. It is a matter of personal interpretation perhaps, but the same juxtaposition of rudely formed letters are present in lines 14 and 20 on the manuscript reproduced on page 20 and would appear to be shaping the word ‘that’, which is the reading Parkin offers for line 20; but the identically formed word in line 14 he transcribes as ‘the stony rim’, though ‘that’ would seem the logical reading in the full context of the word’s usage. If confirmation were needed, it may be found two lines above (12), where in the phrase ‘I found the stones wet’, the formulation of the letters by Yeats’s pen is quite different from the word transcribed as ‘the’ two lines below. Similarly on page 90 in lines 4 and 12 two intricate flourishes, though they bear marked similarities in the penmanship are rendered differently as ‘stone’ and ‘thorn’ respectively. The Musicians are at this point describing the Old Man’s appearance after years spent in this desolate landscape: the larger context of the first reading is ‘He is all doubled up | He is all dry stone among the rocks’. These lines are cancelled as is the whole group of eight lines in which they are situated. Below Yeats makes a second attempt at the passage, following the cancelled version carefully but compressing the expression to render it more powerfully immediate; the two lines in question are now transcribed: ‘He is all doubled up | A thorn tree among rocks’ (my italics throughout). ‘Doubled up’ exactly captures the appearance of both a man crippled with age and thorn trees surviving in windswept landscapes. (‘Crooked’ was always a favourite Yeatsian descriptive epithet for such a sight: see, e.g., VSR 137; Myth 2005 184 for an example from 1896.)

31The manner in which Yeats revises the first passage to create the second suggests that ‘thorn’ should be used for both transcriptions. It could be argued that this is a matter of taste and judgement, but the transcription principles for the Cornell series have a mode of presentation for ‘equally possible conjectural readings’, if an editor has doubts about too precise an interpretation. This, if used, allows readers to make their own choice from the evidence. There is a similar example of this issue on pp. 98–99, where in ll. 1 (cancelled), 8 and 16 (cancelled), Yeats is searching for an epithet to describe the experience being undergone by the Guardian of the Well of being possessed by a supernatural force; in all three cases what his pen forms with something of an elision seems to be the same word but this is variously transcribed as ‘horrible’ (l.1); ‘terrible’ (l.8); and ‘horrible’ (l.14) but a close study of the manuscript makes one question why the variety of interpretations is necessary. (Would the alternative presentation discussed above not have been preferable to a categorical reading where the editor is in some doubt?). There are further instances of readings that one might challenge on the grounds of similarly or identically formed words to be found in close proximity upon the same page. Most of the materials that are reproduced for comparative transcription in this volume are typescripts or printed proofs (almost entirely so for The Cat and the Moon) and so the problems presented by Yeats’s orthography during composition relate to a relatively small range of pages. This last point is more a cavil than a serious criticism and does not undermine one’s trust overall in Parkin as an editor with great sensitivity to the demands posed for him by two rich and diverse plays for dancers.


Rechercher dans OpenEdition Search

Vous allez être redirigé vers OpenEdition Search