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The Living Stream

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Warwick Gould

Essays in Memory of A. Norman Jeffares 1920-2005

Lips and Ships, Peers and Tears

Lacrimae Rerum and Tragic Joy

Warwick Gould

Texte intégral

  • 1 It was revised and published as A Commentary on the Collected Poems of W. B. Yeats (first publishe (...)
  • 2 Ben Jonson’s words are from his ‘To My Beloved the Author, and what he hath left us’, a prefatory (...)

1Derry Jeffares’s Trinity doctorate was a commentary in the classical style upon the Collected Poems, and Derry thereafter compared its presence in his life to the constant repainting of the Forth Bridge.1 It was not merely that new facts, sources, analogues and allusions had to be incorporated, but that the requirements of readers continue to change. What may have been too obvious to a classicist such as Derry now needs to be explained. If Yeats had ‘small Latin and less Greek’ his reluctantly endured grammar-school education was probably superior to most comparable levels of modern training in the ancient texts.2

  • 3 T. S. Eliot, ‘The Poetry of W. B. Yeats’, the first Annual Yeats Lecture, delivered to the Friends (...)
  • 4 VP 441. Some famous lectures have been delivered on his strategies of allusion. I think of T. R. H (...)

2T. S. Eliot remarked shortly after Yeats’s death that the ‘larger historical importance’ of Yeats’s poetry lay in the fact that Yeats himself had been ‘one of those few whose history is the history of their own times, who are a part of the consciousness of an age which cannot be understood without them’.3 The presence of classical thought is central to the relation of life and work in Yeats and it awaited documentation, especially when the subject had roundly declared that a poet’s life (and so his reading) is ‘an experiment in living and those that come after have a right to know it’ (YT 74). Derry, then an ambitious young Irish scholar, had, as a school-boy, already commissioned Yeats to write ‘What Then?’ for The Erasmian, their school magazine, in 1936 (NC 378). Arguably, the stress on ‘knowledge’ and ‘power’ of Yeats’s poems and plays is ultimately derived from his reading of epic and prophetic poetry.4 His war poetry, in particular, is nourished by a classical frame of reference, however modern, local and intimate the details of its horror. Once one has listened to the scream of Juno’s peacock in ‘Meditations in Time of Civil War’, one can no longer read (say) ‘Last night they trundled down the road | That dead young soldier in his blood’ without the dragging of Hector around the walls of Troy entering, as I believe Yeats intended it to do, legitimately into one’s own meditation of the Irish Civil War (VP 422, 425).

3Commentary itself is challenged by Yeats’s self-allusive, even self-dependent poetic strategies, and by his constant revision. On the one hand, we have seen the self-denying ordinance which limits the annotation of the Collected Works to what their late co-editor, Richard Finneran, deemed to be discrete ‘specific allusions’ (CW1 [623]). This pub quiz approach may be contrasted to the copious and interpretative strategy behind the annotation of the Collected Letters. It is that latter strategy which informs the approach in this essay, principally because in annotating the text that lies in front of us, it is frequently necessary to bring to mind earlier texts which later revision has apparently trowelled over.

4I take my point of departure from a silence in the New Commentary, a single, lightly buried allusion in the second line of the second stanza of ‘The Sorrow of Love’.

A girl arose that had red mournful lips
And seemed the greatness of the world in tears,
Doomed like Odysseus and the labouring ships
And proud as Priam murdered with his peers (VP 120).

  • 5 Christine Finn, Past Poetic: Archaeology in the Poetry of Yeats and Heaney (London: Duckworth, 200 (...)
  • 6 Allen Grossman: Poetic Knowledge in the Early Yeats: A Study of The Wind Among the Reeds (Charlott (...)

5There is a balanced detachment here, from which the girl (whoever she is) takes on a fore-doomed tragedy from Greek and Trojan alike: no sides are taken. These lines are conventionally read as ‘early’ Yeats and while there is a curious story to tell on their dating, they were first published in Early Poems and Stories (1925). To exfoliate ‘the greatness of the world in tears’ requires some review of the Homeric and Virgilian hinterland of Yeats’s poetic thought. My subject is not his interest in classical archaeology, nor his broader engagement with Greek and Roman themes (as explored respectively by Christine Finn and Brian Arkins5). Instead, it lies between what Allen Grossman called ‘poetic knowledge’ and those poetic processes which Helen Vendler explores in her Poets Thinking.6

6Yeats’s constant revision of his early poems demonstrates (though not straighforwardly) how they remained ever-present for him as he embarked upon new writing. They remain part of his restless textual continuum, nourished by new situations, read and rewritten in the light of the subsequently written as well as the freshly experienced. Trojan themes remain a constant preoccupation—love as a paradoxical motive for war, and war’s inevitability of exile, the destinies of displaced peoples (such as Aeneas), or their return (as in the case of Ulysses)—but the lustre of later, familiar and fully annotated allusions deepens when their textual history reveals the continuities of his mind.

LACRIMAE RERUM

7Yeats almost certainly studied Book 1 of the Aeneid for the ‘intermediate’ examination for which he was, as he eventually told his wife, ‘damnably ill taught’ (CL InteLex 7093, 13 October, 1937) at the High School. In 1881-83, Yeats encountered Aeneas, newly arrived in Carthage after the sack of Troy. Aeneas meets the goddess Venus Aphrodite before meeting Queen Dido, with whom he is to fall profoundly in love. Revolving much that the goddess has told him of his destiny and awaiting the entrance of the queen, he meditates upon a painting of the sack of Troy in the Carthaginian temple, marvelling at the

artificumque manus inter se operumque laborem miratur, videt Iliacas ex ordine pugnas, bellaque iam fama totum volgata per orbem,
Atridas, Priamumque, et saevum ambobus Achillem.
Constitit, et lacrimans, ‘Quis iam locus’ inquit ‘Achate, quae regio in terris nostri non plena laboris?
En Priamus! Sunt hic etiam sua praemia laudi; sunt lacrimae rerum et mentem mortalia tangunt.
Solve metus; feret haec aliquam tibi fama salutem.’

Sic ait, atque animum pictura pascit inani, multa gemens, largoque umectat flumine voltum.

  • 7 Publius Vergilius Maro (70-19 BC), Aeneid, BK I, lines 455 et seq.

Namque videbat, uti bellantes Pergama circum hac fugerent Graii, premeret Troiana iuventus, hac Phryges, instaret curru cristatus Achilles.7

8As translated in the Bohn’s Classical Library Virgil which Yeats owned, Aeneas is found marvelling at

  • 8 The Works of Virgil, literally translated into English Prose, with Notes, by Davidson. A New Editi (...)

the skill of the artists and their elaborate works, he sees the Trojan battles [delineated] in order, and the war now known by fame over all the world; the sons of Atreus, Priam, and Achilles implacable to both. He stood still; and, with tears in his eyes, What place, Achates, what country on the globe, is not full of our disaster? See Priam! even here praiseworthy deeds meet with due reward: here are tears for misfortunes, and the breasts are touched with human woes. Dismiss your fears: this fame of ours will bring thee some relief. Thus he speaks, and feeds his mind with the empty representations, heaving many a sigh, and bathes his visage in floods of tears. For he beheld how, on one hand, the warrior Greeks were flying round the walls of Troy, while the Trojan youth closely pursued; on the other hand, the Trojans [were flying], while plumed Achilles, in his chariot, pressed on their rear.8

  • 9 ‘...To die: to sleep
    No more; and by a sleep to say we end
    The heart-ache and the thousand natural s (...)

9Virgil’s words, in the Christian era, have long seemed vaguely redemptive, even proto-Christian, with the ‘mortalia’ of ‘sunt lacrimae rerum et mentem mortalia tangunt’: (‘[here too] there are the tears of things and mortal destinies touch the mind’) being roughly equivalent to Hamlet’s ‘heartache and the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to’.9

10Davidson’s translation may not have been used as a crib by Yeats the schoolboy, but I’m not here looking for close verbal parallels as such because Yeats encountered Virgil in Latin. Reveries such as this spoke to Victorian schoolboys trained in Irish and English schools (one has only to think of how Virgil’s present tense heroic descriptions penetrate Wilde’s dialogues such as ‘The Critic as Artist’). Virgil’s passage fired Yeats’s mind in all sorts of ways. To demonstrate this, one must get underneath the Early Poems and Stories text and look at the relationship of that wording to earlier versions. In 1899 the lines had read:

And then you came with those red mournful lips,
And with you came the whole of the world’s tears,
And all the trouble of her labouring ships,
And all the trouble of her myriad years (VP 120).

  • 10 Kerry McSweeney, Tennyson and Swinburne as Romantic Naturalists (Toronto: University of Toronto Pr (...)

11Here the Trojan references (clarified in the 1925 version above) are as yet implied, and must be unpacked by recognition of the source of ‘the whole of the world’s tears’, viz., Virgil’s lacrimae rerum, and that to which it refers, Aeneas’s response to the representation of the sack of Troy. Aeneas is not thinking of the fate of the Trojans alone. The Greeks had fallen out among themselves. One of the sons of Atreus, Agamemnon, has taken away Achilles’ captive Briseis, leaving Achilles, the Incredible Sulk, in his tent. Virgil’s allusion in describing the painting is explicitly to Homer’s opening theme in The Iliad, the wrath of Achilles. Above all, of course, ‘En Priamus!’ It is King Priam whose fate moves Aeneas to envisage the world’s tears, and in the later version Yeats underscores that emphasis himself. But in the 1899 version, Yeats makes ‘you’, the beloved with her red mournful lips, bear all exile, wandering, human trouble, that of Aeneas and the Trojans as well as that of Odysseus and his returning Greeks, the whole of the world’s tears. His consciously deployed Virgilian echo would have been instantly recognised by most of his early readers. It would have had a particular resonance at the time of composition and publication because of the fame of Tennyson, who had saluted Virgil as ‘Wielder of the stateliest measure | Ever moulded by the lips of man’ in ‘To Virgil’. Many critics, incidentally, have noticed Virgilian parallels and sentiment in Tennyson’s work, and one commentator even describes ‘Tears, Idle Tears’ as ‘the century’s most intense lyric distillation of the Virgilian “tears of things”’.10

  • 11 How different a work from Poe’s ‘To Helen’, with its phrase-making sentimentality:—
    HELEN, thy beau (...)

12So, an unmistakeable if unremarkable allusion to lacrimae rerum, explicit only in an abandoned text: obvious enough when you get to it. Derry Jeffares didn’t consider it worthy of a gloss in his New Commentary, largely because Yeats had obscured the source as he has mastered it, transforming lacrimae rerum into a far more personal if presently somewhat opaque concept ‘the greatness of the world in tears’.11 There is, however, something else which is noteworthy about the 1899 text: its experiment with repetition, and the ‘trouble’ of the ships and the ‘trouble’ of the years satisfied him until 1925.

13Peeling another layer; we get back to the text in 1893.

And then you came with those red mournful lips,
And with you came the whole of the world's tears,
And all the sorrows of her labouring ships,
And all [the] burden of her myriad years (VP 120).

  • 12 Letter to Harold Macmillan (CL InteLex 5731, 8 September, 1932).

14The omission of ‘the’ (metrically significant) in the last line is probably accidental. This version is closer to Yeats’s original intentions, and to his youthful riff on the wandering ‘sorrows’ of exile, the ‘burden’ of the years. It is also a fairly early but unmistakeable example of his ‘music’, or lyric signature. Think of ‘labouring’, ‘myriad’—even the compound ‘red mournful’—disturbing trisyllabic formulations in penultimate locations. This is what Yeats would later call one of his ‘metrical tricks’,12 and he discovered the device early and deployed it often amid lines characterized by polysyndeton (conjunctive repetition and parallelism) as in the spectacular double example

For Fergus rules the brazen cars,
And rules the shadows of the wood,
And the white breast of the dim sea
And all dishevelled wandering stars (VP 126, emphasis added).

15The calculated repetition of ‘trouble’ in the 1899 text is yet another fingerprint. Verb or noun, ‘trouble’ is a wonderful word in Yeats, ‘Troubling the endless reverie’, ‘Troubled his animal blood’, ‘To trouble the living stream’, ‘troubles my sight’, even, very early on, in another Virgilian echo, ‘And then the whole world’s trouble weeps with you’ (VP 65, 378, 393, 442, 738). Yeats’s pastoral elegy for Robert Gregory, ‘Shepherd and Goatherd’ (itself, Yeats thought, modelled on Virgil’s fifth Eclogue, his ‘Menalcas/Mopsus lament for Daphnis’, as well as on Spenser’s Astrophel) reminds us that ‘Rhyme can beat a measure out of trouble’ (VP 339). It is the rhymes I want to think about just here.

16Lips bring ships: love implies war, armadas, wandering, exile. ‘For love is war, and there is hatred in it’ as Yeats tells us in his greatest poem about lips and ships, The Shadowy Waters (VP 244). ‘Tears’ turn into myriad ‘years’ of tears, projecting lacrimae rerum into historical shapes. There is no escape, this is the human condition. This rhyme, rather than the later rhyme of ‘tears’ with ‘peers’, is thematically dominant; but what Yeats later sacrificed in terms of rhyme he gains in rhythmical precision and human agency: ‘And proud as Priam, murdered with his peers’. Let us trace the path of these developments.

17First, iconography. The key line had been personal— ‘And then you came with those red mournful lips, | And with you came the whole of the world's tears’. Maud Gonne is the ‘you’ addressed here. It is not until those ships lumber into view that one sees that she has also taken on some classical dimensions. But whose?

  • 13 Odyssey iv. 180-55. See The Odyssey translated by E. V. Rieu rev. D. C. H. Rieu in consulation wit (...)

18Helen of Troy is not by nature mournful: when she recognises Telemachus in Lacedaemon as he comes searching for news of Odysseus, she is skittish in front of her husband, Menelaus, recalling that the ‘Achaeans came to Troy with war in your hearts for my sake, shameless creature that I was!’ When she does weep, it is briefly over Odysseus’ fate: ‘a jealous god must have... ensured that he unhappy man was the only one who never reached his home’ says Menelaus, words which ‘stirred in them all a longing for tears. Helen of Argos, child of Zeus, broke down and wept. Telemachus and Menelaus, son of Atreus, did the same. Nor could Nestor’s son keep his eyes dry’.13 Of course they quickly forget their ‘tearful mood’ and ‘turn their thoughts once more to supper’. Helen hits the entire company with a drug that once dissolved in wine, will ensure that no one who swallows it will shed ‘a single tear that day’ (Odyssey iv. 210-15, 220-25). She then tells her story of how the disguised Odysseus makes a reconnaissance of Troy, is found and bathed by Helen, kills a number of Trojans, causes the loud lamentation of the Trojan women and yet causes her to rejoice because of her change of heart and new-found wish to repent of forsaking her daughter, her bridal chamber and her husband Menelaus. After all, poor fellow, he ‘lacked nothing in intelligence and good looks’. Now she wants to return (Odyssey iv. 260-65).

  • 14 ‘Pallas Athena in that straight back and arrogant head’ (VP 578). When they first met in 1889 she (...)

19Still less is ‘you’ Pallas Athene, Odysseus’s divine protector (who is rarely mournful, but always young, and bright-eyed), and into whose guise Maud Gonne really does step at Howth station in the late ‘Beautiful Lofty Things’.14 Nor is she wise Penelope, weepings over the lost Odysseus in Book 1 of the Odyssey, when Athene of the flashing eyes visits Telemachus in Ithaca; nor exactly Niobe, icon of tears over murdered progeny, who perhaps comes to Yeats from Homer via Hamlet, Act II, ‘all tears’, and who is invoked in A Vision.

A civilisation is a struggle to keep self-control, and in this it is like some great tragic person, some Niobe who must display an almost superhuman will or the cry will not touch our sympathy. The loss of control over thought comes towards the end; first a sinking in upon the moral being, then the last surrender, the irrational cry, revelation—the scream of Juno's peacock (AVB 181).

20Niobe is invoked by Achilles in the ceasefire which marks the end of the Iliad when he is about to deliver the corpse of Hector to Priam. Priam, bringing his ransom, asks Achilles to

  • 15 The Iliad trans. E. V. Rieu (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1950), 450-51. Michael Longley’s ‘Ceasefire’ (...)

fear the gods, and be merciful to me, remembering your own father, though I am even more entitled to compassion, since I have brought mysef to do a thing that no one else on earth has done—I have raised to my lips the hand of the man who killed my son.’ Priam had set Achilles thinking of his own father and brought him to the verge of tears. Taking the old man’s hand, he gently put him from him; and overcome by their memories they both broke down. Priam, crouching at Achilles’ feet, wept bitterly for man-slaying Hector, and Achilles wept for his father, and then again for Patroclus. The house was filled with the sound of their lamentation.15

21Achilles invokes the story of Niobe who has seen a dozen of her children done to death and who is transformed into a statue of tears:

  • 16 The Iliad trans. E. V. Rieu, 453-54.

‘There Niobe, in marble, broods on the desolation that the gods dealt out to her. So now, my royal lord, let us two also think of food. Later, you can weep some more for your son, when you take him in to Ilium. He will indeed be much bewept.’16

22As he is, by the Trojan women, including Helen, who sheds tears

  • 17 Ibid., 458.

‘of sorrow both for you [Hector] and for my miserable self. No one else is left in the wide realm of Troy to treat me gently and to befriend me. They shudder at me as I pass.’ Thus Helen through her tears.17

23The phantasmagoria which has interposed itself in Yeats’s mind between the actual Maud Gonne and the allusory range of relevant classical types to which I gesture effects a conceptual leap from lacrimae rerum, the world’s plenum of tears, to its personified ‘greatness in tears’. This difference between lacrimae rerum and the noblest tragic human awareness of it is Yeats’s invention, objectified in Yeats’s final version: ‘A girl arose that had red mournful lips’: the ‘girl’ Yeats returns to in ‘Long-legged Fly’ ‘part woman, three parts a child (VP 617). ‘Arose’? From where? In the poet’s mind’s eye, a dream, a vision, or a memory of a ‘stammering’ schoolboy’s texts, now an ever-present part of a poet’s thinking?

24Let me return to Yeats’s authentic signature music in the last two lines, where emphasis and troubling polysyllables give us

Doomed.... labouring ships
and
Proud.... murdered....

  • 18 I am indebted to Ron Schuchard and his tireless librarians for these images.

25This achievement of a new iconography and the achievement of style makes one hungry for datable manuscript evidence. There are only two manuscripts in the history of this change, both at Emory University, both tucked into books formerly in Lady Gregory’s library.18 Plate 1 shows the first of these, tipped into Lady Gregory’s copy of Poems (1895).

A girl swept by with her red mournful lips
And seemed
Like all the great ness of the world in tears, mourning Odyseus & his scatterd ships or mourning Priam dead among his peers.
Doomed like Odysseus & his scatterd ship
And proud as Priam murdered with his peers.
altered at Coole—Autumn 1894 [pencil]

  • 19 George Bornstein is not detained by the incorrect date in W. B. Yeats, The Early Poetry: vol. II: (...)

26‘Swept by’ certainly suggests a goddess; ‘scatterd’ performs much the same rhythmic function as the earlier ‘labouring’, but while it suggests the implacable hand of the Gods, it doesn’t give us the human toil in response to the Gods. The statement, ‘altered at Coole— Autumn 1894’ is simply wrong. Yeats had never been to Coole in 1894, he was in Sligo in the autumn of 1894 wondering if he should propose to Eva Gore-Booth. He first met Lady Gregory in London in 1894 but did not go to Coole until 1896, (and then only for lunch with Arthur Symons whilst staying with Edward Martyn at Tulira). His regular sojourns at Coole for writing purposes did not begin until the following year, 1897.19

27This revision brings the stanza very close to a second puzzle, another attempt to revise, tipped into Lady Gregory’s copy of Poems (1904), also now at Emory (Plate 2).

A girl swept by with her red mournful lips lips,
And seemed the great ness of the world in tears, tears,
Doomed like Odysseus’ huricane driven ships
And proud as Priam murdered with his pears peers.
altered in 1924 [pencil]

  • 20 The lineation shows it is not from any published edition.

28This slip tipped in to the 1904 edition is itself pasted onto a torn-off printed slip bearing a part of line 10 (‘stars in the’) as it stood in all editions from 1895-1924, but almost certainly from uncorrected proof of Early Poems and Stories (1925).20 Here there is corroborating evidence to verify the date: Yeats wrote to his wife from Coole about this change, likely to have been made on 12 November 1924, telling her that he had revised this ‘absurd old’ poem into a ‘finer’ thing (CL InteLex 4675, 13 November, 1924). There is one conclusion to be drawn: in reworking the poem in 1924 Yeats drew upon the redrafting wrongly dated 1894.

29There are several questions to be asked about these pentimenti, with tentative conclusions as follows:-

(i) Are the first inked change and its pencilled annotation made at the same time? No. The annotation is wrong.
(ii) Whose hand is that of the annotator on the revision dated ‘1894’? I believe it to be Lady Gregory’s, and Colin Smythe, James Pethica and Ron Schuchard support this view. The hand and other circumstances including the inaccuracy of the dating suggest ‘much later’, probably in the 1920s.
(iii) When was the change filed in the 1895 copy of Poems? Unknown, but the book has been used to file a number of such scraps. It is possible that this happened before the spring of 1899 when the next edition was published. If so, the filing is explained, because the 1895 edition was the latest printing . The stanza is struck out in pencil in the copy.
(iv) Was the annotation added then, or later? Not known.
(v) Why did Lady Gregory misremember when Yeats first went to Coole? Probably simple inaccuracy, just as in Seventy Years she remembered that Yeats had first come to that lunch from Tulira in 1895 instead of 1896.
(vi) Why is the 1924 revision filed in a copy of Poems (1904) instead of Poems (1924)? Probably because the 1904 copy was a trophy copy, bound in white parchment, one of only a handful ever bound thus (Plate 3).
(vii) Did the same hand make both annotations? Here the doctors disagree. While everyone agrees that the first annotation is Lady Gregory’s, of the second some experts allow that it could be Yeats’s, largely on basis of similarities between letter forms in both the pencilled and inked inscriptions (Plate 4, closeup). There are manifest differences between the two instances of ‘a’ and ‘d in altered (cf., ‘d’ in murdered’), and the ‘4’ in each. Of course, it also seems less likely that Yeats would pencil annotations to his own changes, and the space and samples are too limited to admit of certainty. If both were done by Lady Gregory, then clearly they were done with different pencils and so probably at different times.

Plate 1. Yeats’s holograph revision to ‘The Sorrow of Love’ tipped in to Lady Gregory’s copy of Poems (1895) and misdated, probably by her, in the Robert W. Woodruff Collection, Emory University, Atlanta, GA.

Plate 2. Yeats’s holograph revision in another of Lady Gregory’s copies of Poems, that of 1904, also now in the Woodruff Collection at Emory and altered in 1924 as marked in pencil. This slip is pasted onto a torn-off printed slip bearing a part of line 10, almost certainly from an uncorrected proof of Early Poems and Stories (1925).

Plate 3. Top board of Lady Gregory’s white and gold copy of Poems (1904) now in the Robert W. Woodruff Collection, Emory.

Plate 4. Close-up comparison of the two tipped in revisions as in Plates 1 and 2.

30In 1924 Yeats unquestionably took up the earlier revision, dated only tentatively to 1895-99, a date corroborated on the basis of handwriting. I cannot explain why it had not been incorporated into the 1899 edition, except to suggest that Yeats was as yet unsatisfied with it. Marooned in a copy of Poems 1895, it remained out of the line of textual descent until 1924: but, fundamentally the 1924 version is directly reworked from the nineties versions.

31It is now possible to distinguish more clearly the implications of these various textual layers. The objectification of the ‘girl’, the move from an allegory of lacrimae rerum into the embodiment of human agency in response to that aspect of the human condition, is early. The use of repetition (mourning, mourning) was also early, and probably preceded ‘trouble, trouble’; the unresolved problem might be the triplet ‘mournful, mourning, mourning’. Various alternatives to the original ‘labouring ships’ proved rhythmically satisfactory according to the template of Yeats’s music but lacked the human agency against the gods’ implacability of the original ‘labouring ships’, and he clung to that key word, leaving the more ‘fate-driven’ qualifiers, ‘scatterd’ and ‘huricane-driven’ in MS drafts only.

32This brings us to the greatest triumph of the revision: ‘murdered’, in which we hear the bell-note of Yeats, the troubling polysyllable in a rhythmically emphatic position, If Yeats had actually arrived at ‘murdered’ in the late 1890s, this rejected revision suddenly became urgent in early November 1924 when the ‘growing murderousness of the world’ was much on his mind (Au 192). The cruelty of the Black and Tans, and the later intimate viciousness of the Irish Civil War as witnessed by Yeats himself leave their mark on many of the poems revised in 1924 for Early Poems and Stories, e.g., the rewritten ‘The Dedication of a Book of Stories from the Irish Novelists’ or ‘The Lamentation of the Old Pensioner’, where sentimentality yields to passionate sentiment.

  • 21 CL InteLex 4672 [12 November, 1924], 4675 13 November [1924].
  • 22 See Aeneid, II, 505-60.

33Thus far, then, biography serves its turn: Senator Yeats, the poet of ‘Meditations in Time of Civil War’ whose bridge at Ballylee has been blown up in 1922 and whose Merrion Square house has been shot up (George Yeats was slightly injured), wishes to extirpate sentimentality. ‘...I am exceedingly lively.... To rewrite an old poem is like dressing up for a fancy dress ball... I have just turned an absurd old poem of mine called “The Sorrow of Love” into a finer thing’.21 His turn from the vague and stately 1899 ‘troubled’ version to the explicit (‘doomed’, ‘murdered’) may be a return, but, whenever Yeats hit on that word ‘murder’, the murder of Priam in Book 2 of the Aeneid was in his mind. Priam is murdered with his family, not, in any strict sense, his peers.22 How did Yeats get to peers (via ‘pears’) and ‘years’? The answer lies, I think, in that phantasmagoria (for that is his word), into which recollection of classical texts faded for the poet: creative forgetting rather than the anxiety of influence. The rhyme is found in George Chapman’s translation of BK III of the Iliad, where Homer describes the entrance of Helen onto the battlements of Troy. Priam and the other Trojans too old for battle have taken their seats for the single combat proposed between Paris and Menelaus as a way of resolving the entire dispute. ‘Shadow[ing] her graces with white veils’, in George Chapman’s 1598 translation, she accompanies her women folk to the towers of Troy where Priam and his grave counsellors have a ring-side seat for the single combat of Paris and Menelaus in the famous ‘teichoskopia’ scene.

  • 23 Homer’s Iliad translated by George Chapman, with an introduction by Henry Morley (London: George R (...)

Thus went she forth, and took with her her women most of name,
Æthra, Pitthëus’ lovely birth, and Clymene, whom fame
Hath for her fair eyes memorised. They reached the Scaean towers,
Where Priam sat, to see the fight, with all his counsellors;
Panthous, Lampus, Clytius, and stout Hicetaon,
Thymœtes, wise Antenor, and profound Ucalegon:
All grave men; and soldiers they had been, but for age
Now left the wars; yet counsellers they were exceeding sage.
And as in well-grown woods, on trees, cold spiny grasshoppers
Sit chirping, and send voices out that scarce can pierce our ears
For softness, and their weak faint sounds; so, talking on the tower,
These seniors of the people sat; who when they saw the power
Of beauty, in the queen, ascend, even those cold-spirited peers,
Those wise and almost withered men, found this heat in their years
That they were forced (though whispering) to say: ‘What man can blame
The Greeks and Trojans to endure, for so admired a dame ,
So many miseries, and so long? In her sweet countenance shine
Looks like the Goddesses. And yet (though never so divine)
Before we boast, unjustly still, of her enforced prise,
And justly suffer for her sake, with all our progenies,
Labour and ruin, let her go; the profit of our land, Must pass the beauty.23

34I think it a memory of Priam’s elderly peers with their piping voices and faint stirrings of passion inappropriate for their years which comes into Yeats’s mind as he finds ‘tears’ and ‘peers’ to replace ‘tears’ and ‘years’. The new rhyme takes us beyond lacrimae rerum (years of tears), and into a conjunction which imbricates a little further the meanings of the text it supplants. The lesson for commentators working in the Jeffares tradition is that accounting as minutely as possible for the poet’s reading can be reconciled with surviving manuscript evidence for his development of texts.

CELTIC TITANISM

  • 24 The Tragical History of Dr Faustus V, i, 94-95. Perhaps from A. H. Bullen’s edition, The Works of (...)
  • 25 It seems that two shepherds’ rivalry for Naschina must be settled by force of arms. Meanwhile her (...)

35The ‘lips | ships’ rhyme stands in all versions of the poem. Yeats was wedded to it. He clearly took his ships from Marlowe’s ‘face that launched a thousand ships | And burnt the topless towers of Ilium?’.24 The root-tip of the rhyme is in The Island of Statues of 1885, an Arcadian play strewn with numerous indulgent Trojan references.25 One statue wakes, having been asleep since Aeneas roved ‘with hungry heart’

...with all his ships
I saw him from sad Dido’s shores depart,
Enamoured of the waves’ impetuous lips (VP 677).

36The ‘lips of the sea’ are Yeats’s image, not Virgil’s, More enamoured of the sea as a conquest intermediary between himself and that of his destiny than he is of the Carthaginian Queen, ‘pius’ Aeneas must leave Africa in order that Rome be founded. The sea’s lips show an interest aspirational rather than real on Yeats’s part. Rhyme itself is formative: ‘Lips’ and ships’ becomes something of a poetic idea, or foreconceit, for lyric situations. This rhyme is reused in another early poem, ‘The Rose of Battle’ of 1892, where The sad, the lonely, the insatiable are enjoined by the Rose of the World to‘Turn if you may from battles never done’, And these include those who come

in laughter from the sea’s sad lips,
And wage god's battles in the long grey ships (VP 114).

37The ‘Rose of Battle’ is the ‘Rosa Mundi’, all roses are the Rose, which is envisaged as ‘suffering with man and not as something pursued and seen from afar’ (VP 842). ‘Beauty grown sad with its eternity’ thus actually embodies these ships (as in ‘The Sorrow of Love’, which was originally entitled ‘They went forth to the Battle, but they always fell’ (a quote from Macpherson’s Ossian). Here, I suggest, Yeats is turning a private frame of reference to the Trojan war to Celtic account as he moves from the sprinkling of fanciful classical allusions in unsatisfactory early works, towards the discovery of an individual voice.

38The spur is Celtic, and titanic. Many would assume that it took Maud Gonne, Yeats’s Helen or Dido, to turn his attention from the metaphorical lips of the sea to human lips, however red and mournful. But no, the first female lips associated with warlike ships in Yeats are in fact those of an ‘amorous demon thing’ in The Wanderings of Oisin. Here are the lines Yeats intended should open editions of his collected poems.

S. Patrick You who are bent, and bald, and blind,
With a heavy heart and a wandering mind,
Have known three centuries, poets sing,
Of dalliance with a demon thing.

39By line 19, Oisin is describing how he

...found on the dove-grey edge of the sea
A pearl-pale, high-born lady, who rode
On a horse with bridle of findrinny;
And like a sunset were her lips,
A stormy sunset on doomed ships; .
A citron colour gloomed in her hair,
But down to her feet white vesture flowed,
And with the glimmering crimson glowed
Of many a figured embroidery;
And it was bound with a pearl-pale shell
That wavered like the summer streams,
As her soft bosom rose and fell.
S. Patrick You are still wrecked among heathen dreams
(VP 2-4).

40Oisin is indeed immersed in his own story, just as Aeneas always sees himself sub specie aeternitatis, from a perspective both within and yet above his own circumstances. When Aeneas in the Carthaginian temple looks at the painting of the wreck of Troy, he is already a character in a legend, just as. S. Patrick knows Oisin from a three hundred year old legend. Pius Aeneas dismisses his lacrimae rerum because ‘this fame of ours will bring thee some relief ’: his fame has travelled before him, and is for him to contemplate. The same is true of Oisin but he takes a simpler attitude:

But the tale, though words be lighter than air,
Must live to be old like the wandering moon (VP 3).

41Now let us peel back the text to 10 January 1889, when the poem is first published. There the enchantress’s

...eyes were soft as dewdrops hanging
Upon the grass-blades' bending tips,
And like a sunset were her lips,
A stormy sunset o’er doomed ships;
Her hair was of a citron tincture,
And gathered in a silver cincture (VP 3).

  • 26 III, 1859, 237.

42Yeats’s triple rhyme marks a major conjunction—there are very few in Yeats’s poems—of Trojan and Celtic doom-eagerness (‘doomed ships’, ‘stormy sunset’, ‘gloomed in her hair etc’). These particular ‘doomed ships’ appear to have been blown off course coming home from Troy, but Yeats’s source is in fact The Land of Youth by Michael Comyn, a very late Ossianic poem from the middle of the 18th century, edited by Bryan O’Looney and printed in the Transactions of the Ossianic Society. O’Looney’s translation of Comyn’s Irish, presented in the Transactions in facing-page layout, the hanging indents of the English quatrains faithfully following the Irish, runs as follows.26

A royal crown was on her head;
And a brown mantle of precious silk,
Spangled with stars of red gold,
Covering her shoes down to the grass.

A gold ring was hanging down
From each yellow curl of her golden hair;
Her eyes blue, clear, and cloudless,
Like a dew drop on the top of the grass.

Redder were her cheeks than the rose
Fairer was her visage than the swan upon the wave
And more sweet was the taste of her balsam lips
Than honey mingled thro’ red wine

A garment wide, long, and smooth,
Covered the white steed;
There was a comely saddle of red gold,
And her right hand held a bridle with a golden bit.

43Here in one page of Michael Comyn are Niamh’s horse, findrinny (red gold) and those ‘balsam’ lips. Compare, too, ‘Her eyes blue, clear, and cloudless, | Like a dew drop on the top of the grass’ with Yeats’s 1889 ‘soft as dewdrops hanging | Upon the grass-blades' bending tips’. Yeats deleted the triplet rhyme in 1895, but he never forgot the image, as ‘Gratitude to the Unknown Instructors’ first published in Words for Music Perhaps (1932) reveals.

What they undertook to do
They brought to pass;
All things hang like a drop of dew
Upon a blade of grass (VP 505).

44Separate elements of the lips/ships rhyme and the ‘labouring’ rhetoric turn up in other early poems.

Who dreamed that beauty passes like a dream?
For these red lips, with all their mournful pride,
Mournful that no new wonder may betide,
Troy passed away in one high funeral gleam,
And Usna's children died.

We and the labouring world are passing by:
Amid men's souls, that waver and give place
Like the pale waters in their wintry race,
Under the passing stars, foam of the sky,
Lives on this lonely face (VP 111-12).

45Here the Greek Helen-and-Paris story, which brings the ‘funeral gleam’ to Troy on the one hand, and the Irish Deirdre-and-Naoise story, which brings great suffering to Ulster in the Red Branch cycle on the other, are yoked together with more violence than syncretism. This brilliant stroke is dissipated, however, by the third stanza.

Bow down, archangels, in your dim abode:
Before you were, or any hearts to beat,
Weary and kind one lingered by His seat;
He made the world to be a grassy road
Before her wandering feet (VP 112).

  • 27 The episode must be of October 1891, when Yeats and Russell were living in a Theosophical commune (...)

46Yeats had recited a two stanza version to George Russell after he and Maud Gonne had returned from a walk in the Dublin mountains in October 1891 when she was in Dublin, for Parnell’s funeral and mourning the death of her son, Georges, and when ‘The Sorrow of Love’ was first drafted.27 Yeats was worried because she had been exhausted by walking on the rough mountain roads, and added this stanza, which Russell thought meaningless and sentimental. He would tell the story to illustrate how fine poetry ‘can be ruined by the intrusion of the transient and incidental’, or so E. R. Dodds told the story to Derry Jeffares (NC 27).

  • 28 The Catholic Cathedral in Sligo city was consecrated in 1874 and dedicated to the Immaculate Conce (...)

47The sentimentality comes as Yeats implicitly identifies Maud Gonne with the Virgin Mary, born without original sin because God overleaps history and takes the benefits of the Crucifixion before it has happened (as it were) to construct the world for the weary and kind woman with wandering feet, drawing on the Immaculate Conception, a late antique doctrine which became papal dogma only in 1854 (ll. 11-14).28 The Classical/Celtic reading of one myth by another is weakened by this third, Christian belief structure. (One of those wandering feet has some miles to go before it ends up in ‘The Grey Rock’.)

48Poor Maud Gonne. As she stepped out of that hansom cab in Bedford Park on 30 January 1889, did she know what pre-existent phantasmagoria she was stepping into? The Wanderings of Oisin where Virgilian lips and Homeric ships had been brought to bear on Yeats’s Ossianic sources had itself been published on 10 January 1889, just three weeks before Yeats’s Pallas Athene, his Venus, his Dido, his Niamh arrived. Yet, these are her ‘red mournful lips’ in all versions of ‘The Sorrow of Love’. It is she who turns the ‘famous harmony’ of nature to the ‘lamentation’ whereby ‘man’s image and his cry’—lacrimae rerum—are composed by nature instead of blotted out by it.

49Clearly, well before Yeats consciously or deliberately associated Troy with Maud Gonne, or his own emotional life, the fascination with the type had obsessed him:-

  • 29 ‘I felt in the presence of a great generosity and courage, and of a mind without peace, and when s (...)

I was twenty-three years old when the troubling of my life began... Presently she drove up to our house in Bedford Park.... I had never thought to see in a living woman so great beauty. It belonged to famous pictures, to poetry, to some legendary past. A complexion like the blossom of apples, and yet face and body had the beauty of lineaments which Blake calls the highest beauty because it changes least from youth to age, and a stature so great that she seemed of a divine race. Her movements were worthy of her form, and I understood at last why the poet of antiquity, where we would but speak of face and form, sings, loving some lady, that she paces like a goddess. I remember nothing of her speech that day except that she vexed my father by praise of war, for she too was of the Romantic movement and found those uncontrovertible Victorian reasons, that seemed to announce so prosperous a future, a little grey. As I look backward, it seems to me that she brought into my life in those days—for as yet I saw only what lay upon the surface—the middle of the tint, a sound as of a Burmese gong, an overpowering tumult that had yet many pleasant secondary notes.29

50By the time this is rehandled in Autobiographies, Maud Gonne ‘seemed a classical impersonation of the Spring, the Virgilian commendation “She walks like a goddess” made for her alone’.

She vexed my father by praise of war, war for its own sake, not as the creator of certain virtues but as if there were some virtue in excitement itself. I supported her against my father... man young as I could not have differed from a woman so beautiful and so young. To-day, with her great height and the unchangeable lineaments of her form, she looks the Sibyl I would have had played by Florence Farr, but in that day she seemed a classical impersonation of the Spring, the Virgilian commendation ‘She walks like a goddess’ made for her alone. Her complexion was luminous, like that of appleblossom through which the light falls, and I remember her standing that first day by a great heap of such blossoms in the window’ (Au 123).

51Now let us go back to Aeneas’s meeting with Venus Aphrodite, shortly after he has arrived on the African coast.

  • 30 Aeneid, l. 402-05, Davidson edition, 116-17 (YL 2203).

She said, and turning away, shone radiant with her rosy neck, and from her head ambrosial locks breathed divine fragrance: her robe hung flowing to the ground, and by her gait the goddess stood confessed. The hero, soon as he knew her for his mother... pursued her as she fled...30

52The ‘red mournful’ pre-Raphaelite lips may draw their hue from this rosy memory: Aeneas’s mother, is consistently described as a virgin huntress. Here (in Dryden’s translation) she flaunts her

  • 31 Virgil’s Æneid translated by John Dryden, with an introduction by Henry Morley (London: George Rou (...)

...neck refulgent, and dishevelled hair,
Which, flowing from her shoulders, reached the ground,
And widely spread ambrosial scents around:
In length of train descends her sweeping gown, And by her walk the Queen of Love is known.31

  • 32 See Life 1, 88.

53Yeats always remembered Maud Gonne coming into his life with the walk of Virgil’s goddess, against a background of apple blossom that must, given the time of the year, have actually been almond blossom.32 It is not merely that he sees her through the Virgil which, as a schoolboy he had translated. She had arrived to fulfill a role he had created for her in his work, walking into his script as a goddess walks, with her shape-changing ability to recall associated types. Venus is soon supplanted by Dido who walks into Aeneas’s life as he broods on Venus Aphrodite and the depiction of Penthesilea, the warrior queen, in the Troy painting (Æneid 1, ll 491-95).

  • 33 The Works of Virgil (Davidson translation), 120.

These wondrous scenes while the Trojan prince surveys, while he is lost in thought, and in one gaze stands unmoved; Queen Dido, of surpassing beauty, advanced to the temple, attended by a numerous retinue of youth. As on the banks of Eurotas, or on Mount Cynthus’ top, Diana leads the circular dances, round whom a numerous train of mountain nymphs play in rings; she bears her quiver on her shoulder, and moving majestic, she towers above the other goddesses, while silent rapture thrills Latona’s bosom; such Dido was, and such, with cheerful grace, she passed amid her train, urging forward the labour and her future kingdom.33

54Yeats redeploys ‘Eurotas’ grassy banks’ in Sparta for his ‘Lullaby’ which decorously recalls not the rape, but the bridal sleep of Leda and the ‘holy bird’ and compares it to that of Paris and Helen (VP 522). ‘Lips’ and ‘Ships’: Yeats’s mind set was ready for Maud Gonne, he had got his formative rhyme four years before, he had redeployed it with reference to Niamh, well before he had linked either the mythical or the real figure with his own project. Doom-eager then, he remembered nearly fifty years later the ‘old themes’ of Oisin:

  • 34 VP 629. The Countess Kathleen predates Cathleen ni Houlihan, the play he wrote with Lady Gregory.
    A (...)

But what cared I that set him on to ride,
I, starved for the bosom of his faery bride?34

55Starved? well, yes, he had been, until Maud Gonne appeared with the walk of a queen, Venus Aphrodite, Pallas Athene, Penthesilea the warrior-queen, Dido, Niobe, Helen, Diana of the Archer Vision, Niamh she is all of them and none: his syncretism is extraordinary: he had never expected to see ‘in a living woman so great beauty. It belonged to famous pictures, to poetry, to some legendary past’ he wrote. Maud Gonne is that ‘living beauty’ (VP 333-34). Her quasisupernatural grandeur finds its way into the closing lines of Cathleen ni Houlihan, the play in which she took the title role in 1902.

  • 35 VPl 231. Maud Gonne played the title role in Yeats and Lady Gregory’s play Cathleen ni Houlihan (1 (...)

Peter [to Patrick, laying a hand on his arm]. Did you see an old woman going down the path?
Patrick. I did not, but I saw a young girl, and she had the walk of a queen.35

  • 36 Stephen Gwynn, Experiences of a Literary Man (London: Thornton Butterworth, 1926), 204-05.

56Lips come before ships, Love before War. When the Shan van Vocht transformed herself into Cathleen ni Houlihan, an Irish Venus Aphrodite, Stephen Gwynn in the audience foresaw the Easter Rising.36

  • 37 [Henry Woodd Nevinson], ‘By the Waters of Babylon’, Nation, 17 October, 1908, p. 122.

57Moreover, ‘lips’ and ‘ships’ prefigure exile. Yeats’s self-confessed ‘attendant lord’, the London journalist Henry Nevinson, believed that Yeats, in inner ‘perpetual banishment’ moved ‘about the common world as [a] native[]s of a land which [he had]... never seen with bodily eyes’, feeling for it ‘the same desire as Ulysses felt when, in the midst of kings’ palaces or the enchantments of a lovely witch, he longed always to see the smoke leaping up from Ithaca.’ This is the Irish ‘ancestral country of the soul’, ‘in the West, under the sunset, like all things of longing... Tirnanog... Hi Brazil—islands like the Greek islands of the Blessed’, ‘that Land of Heart's Desire, the Danaan land to which Niamh on a fairy horse bore the last of the Fenian Knights, the Innisfree of the soul, the Happy Townland which is the world's bane’. To Nevinson, the Irish ‘know that their native country is still in existence, if only they could reach it... Mr Yeats himself is far happier than others in having an earthly home as well, to which he can turn the longings of an exile.’ So Nevinson reviews the 1908 Collected Works, remembering the psalm ‘By the Waters of Babylon I sat down and wept’ for its ‘wrath and longing of exiles. For there is a spirit of exile with which some men are born, and even in their own native country they do not escape the torment of its savage indignation.’37

HOMER IS MY EXAMPLE

  • 38 Eva French’s copy, now in the Woodruff Library, Emory University.

58What, then, of Homer? Plate 5 is blown up from a tiny thumbnail sketch by Jack B. Yeats, and pasted into a copy of The Wind Among the Reeds (1900).38

Since I was a boy I have always longed to hear poems spoken to a harp, as I imagined Homer to have spoken his, for it is not natural to enjoy an art only when one is by oneself. Whenever one finds a fine verse one wants to read it to somebody, and it would be much less trouble and much pleasanter if we could all listen, friend by friend, lover by beloved (E&I 14).

59When was the sketch done? Who was reading? And which version? Who else was present? Was there music?

  • 39 John Eglinton, in Erasmian (Dublin) xxx (June 1939), 11-12, reprinted in I&R 1, 3-4.

60Yeats lacked, said John Eglinton loyally, ‘the patience and docility required in the early stages of the study of Greek and Latin’.39 Charles Johnston was more forthright: ‘he was no good at all at languages, whether ancient or modern.’ Borrowing from Ben Jonson on Shakespeare, his school friend Johnston observed that Yeats left the High School in Dublin with ‘small Latin and less Greek’. Yeats would cheat when asked to translate Greek from sight by laying his crib inside his book.

  • 40 Charles Johnston, in Poet Lore 2 ( June 1906), 102-12, rptd. in I&R 6.

He just about managed to stumble through his Homer, partly with his father’s scholarly help, partly by the aid of a bad translation. Here, in the tale of Odysseus and the Cyclops, he found the wonderful word ‘yeanling’ for a young lamb, and presently brought it out triumphantly in class, rendering a famous passage: ‘And he placed a yeanling under each!’ This won him the title of Yeatling, which stuck for a while, but for most of the time he was simply Willie Yeats.’40

Plate 5. ‘W. B. Y. listening to Homer’, undated (c. 1887), by Jack B. Yeats, pasted into a copy of The Wind Among the Reeds (1900), Woodruff Collection, Emory.

  • 41 Matthew Arnold: ‘Between Cowper and Homer is interposed the mist of Cowper’s elaborate Miltonic ma (...)

61Johnston’s memory for the rarest word in Yeats is wonderfully useful: so rare is the word ‘yeanling’ that a brief glance at the OED proves that it was William Cowper’s ‘elaborate Miltonic’ translation from which Yeats stole.41 Cowper had translated what is now numbered IX.245 as ‘As he milked his ewes... all in their turns, her yeanling he gave to each’ instead of ‘all in their proper order, putting her young to each’. In the same situation, many of us have been at the mercy of some literal translation interlineated in our schoolbooks by a previous owner. Yeats turned to a poet for help.

62Even such words as ‘yeanling’, then, are certain good. Yeats’s cheating offered ‘unfailing delight’ to the classics master, George Wilkins, ‘a cruel man to the rest of us’, says Eglinton, ‘who sat quivering in all his fat while Yeats did his turn’, translating ‘with the crib laid inside his book for all to see’... ‘I can still see the doubtful look which would come over Yeats’s face when he became aware of how his efforts were being received’ (I&R 5).

63When reading aloud as a young man of twenty, Yeats read Chapman with his fourteeners. The heptameter line, familiar in classical Greek and Latin verse (where it is comic) always seems about to break at the end of the first four feet into a ballad meter, the common measure of hymn books, the basis of Yeats’s obsession with ballad form. It can still sound inherently comic today, especially in trochees, and Shakespeare parodied it in the play within A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

  • 42 Both in The Bookman (Oct 1893, 13-14) and in her Twenty-Five Years: Reminiscences (1913), rptd. CH (...)

64Katharine Tynan had her portrait painted by JBY in 1885 and recalls how ‘sometimes after lunch, in a quiet hour, Willie would read poetry for us. I heard Chapman’s ‘Homer’ in that way. Once I nodded, and would have dropped asleep if I had not laughed. After that I had my early afternoon cup of tea to keep me wakeful’.42 Clearly they listened as ‘friend by friend’ rather than as ‘lover by lover’ (Ex 221, 313; E&I 14, 199; VP 323). Two years later, William Morris’s translation into fourteeners appeared. Yeats’s sister who worked with May Morris recalled that a ‘parrot... when he was translating Homer, speaking the lines aloud, would follow him up and down the stairs imitating the murmur of the verses. “He is always afraid”, she said once, “that he is doing something wrong, and he generally is”’ (Mem 20). The fourteeners in BK II of The Wanderings of Oisin show how Yeats was drawn to this measure, though their rhythmical intricacy suggests that Morris had displaced Chapman.

  • 43 For an early interview Yeats sits with ‘a volume of Homer before him’ (UP1 298). In an early revie (...)

65Fourteeners persist in the heroic farce, The Green Helmet, and in the last stanza of ‘Vacillation’, with irregular alexandrines. The Odyssey was Iseult Gonne’s favourite reading in 1908 and there are scores of references to Homer throughout Yeats’s letters and prose.43 These include numerous encounters with modern efforts to dramatize Homer, such as John Todhunter’s Helena in Troias, in which Maud Gonne had wished to play, before Todhunter refused permission (Mem 41), or Robert Bridges’ The Return of Ulysses which made Yeats ‘tremble with excitement’: the ‘gathering passion overwhelms me, as it did when Homer himself was the singer’ (E&I 199).

66Like Matthew Arnold, Yeats admired the rapidity of Homer, and his aptness for oral delivery. He chose a passage from Morris’s translation for Florence Farr to chant in the psaltery experiments.

And he caught up a swift arrow that lay bare upon the board,
He laid it on the bow-bridge and the nock, and the string he drew;
And thence, from his seat on the settle, he shot a shaft that flew
Straight aimed—and of all the axes missed not a single head!
From the first ring through and through them and out at the last it sped!

  • 44 ‘Mr. W. B. Yeats in Aberdeen’, The Aberdeen Dauily Journal, 13 January, 1906, 3.
  • 45 Warning Yeats of his ‘treacherous gift of adaptability’ James Joyce remarked that The Adoration of (...)

67At the back of these experiments was a communal sense of audience that Yeats developed from the last line of Lionel Johnson’s ‘Trentals’ in his Poems (1895), ‘Lover by lover, friend by friend’. Yeats’s ‘friend by friend, lover by lover’ comes to stand for his new, reformulated ‘spiritual democracy’.44 In The Adoration of the Magi, which James Joyce knew off by heart and said was a story that one of the great Russians might have written’, the unnamed narrator of Rosa Alchemica and The Tables of the Law is visited by three old men from the western islands.45 The three old brothers

had lived in one of the western islands from their early manhood, and had cared all their lives for nothing except for those classical writers and old Gaelic writers who expounded an heroic and simple life. Night after night in winter, Gaelic story-tellers would chant old poems to them over the poteen; and night after night in summer, when the Gaelic story-tellers were at work in the fields or away at the fishing, they would read to one another Virgil and Homer, for they would not enjoy in solitude, but as the ancients enjoyed (Myth 2005, 202).

68When the ‘oldest of the old men’ looks ‘out on the grey waters, on which the people see the dim outline of the Islands of the Young’ he sees them as ‘the Happy Islands where the Gaelic heroes live the lives of Homer’s Phaeacians’ (ibid.). Such Homeric allusions were not a matter merely of interest to scholars such as D’Arbois de Jubainville. Yeats’s interest in Celtic Immrama, voyage or sea tales (such as those of Maeldun, Oisin, etc.) involving excursions to the other world is obviously excited by his schoolboy exposure to Homer and Virgil. Poems from The Wanderings of Oisin to The Shadowy Waters, even to ‘Cuchulain Comforted’ with its echoes of Aeneas in the Underworld, come to mind. Yeats tells us in The Death of Cuchulain (1939) that ‘the music of the beggarman’ is Homer’s music’ (VPl 1052), and, sure enough, he makes much of Irish popular poets’ quests for a Trojan frame for Irish troubles in aisling poetry.

69Yeats thinks about these poetic quests in ‘Dust hath Closed Helen’s Eye’ (its title from Thomas Nashe’s 1592 poem about the plague, ‘Brightness falls from the air | Queens have died young and fair | Dust hath clos’d Helen’s eye’), the most beautiful of the additions to The Celtic Twilight, and first published in 1900. Mary Hynes of Ballylee is celebrated, a peasant woman of legendary beauty, of whom Yeats and Douglas Hyde gathered oral records, as is the love of her blind poet, Antony Raftery (1779-1835) a local Homer in Yeats’s estimation. Yeats notes that the ‘poor countrymen and countrywomen in their beliefs, and in their emotions, are so many years nearer to that old Greek world, that set beauty beside the fountain of things, than are our men of learning’ (Myth 2005, 14). Homer and Virgil were taught in Irish hedge schools. Right from the earliest of Lady Gregory’s versions of the Hanrahan stories, the hedge school-master carries his ‘big Virgil and his primer in the skirt of his coat’ (VSR 85, 93-94). Such learning paid off: the blind Raftery’s ‘Mary Hynes or the Posy Bright’ which Yeats quotes in the essay was collected and translated for him by Lady Gregory who had traced a manuscript book containing versions of seventeen of Raftery’s songs (Diaries 201). Some of the poem was not to Lady Gregory’s taste, and she cut classical allusions where Raftery seemed to her

  • 46 Poets and Dreamers: Studies and Translations from the Irish by Lady Gregory including Nine Plays b (...)

caught in the formulas imported from Greece and Rome; and any formula must make a veil between the prophet who has been on the mountain top, and the people who are waiting at its foot for his message. The dreams of beauty that formed themselves in the mind of the blind poet become flat and vapid when he embodies them in the well-known names of Helen and Venus.46

70Thus the well known verses

Going to Mass by the will of God,
The day came wet and the wind rose;
I met Mary Hynes at the cross of Kiltartan,
And I fell in love with her then and there.
I spoke to her kind and mannerly,
As by report was her own way;
And she said, ‘Raftery, my mind is easy,
You may come to-day to Ballylee.

71have had excerpted from them a stanza (now found only in Douglas Hyde’s 1903 Songs Ascribed to Raftery) wherein this ‘Posy Bright’ of Ballylee surpasses Deirdre, Venus and ‘Helen by whom Troy was destroyed.’ (p. 333).

72Yeats chooses to recover all this material andto thrust it back into ‘The Tower’, returning to these stories of a village beauty and her ‘blind, rambling celebrant. In particular, he restores Raftery’s comparison between Mary Hynes and Helen of Troy;

Strange, but the man who made the song was blind;
Yet, now I have considered it, I find
That nothing strange; the tragedy began
With Homer that was a blind man,
And Helen has all living hearts betrayed (VP 410-11).

73Thinking about Raftery’s blindness had led Yeats to the ‘Discoveries’ essay, ‘Why the Blind Man in Ancient Times was made a Poet’, where in ‘primitive times the blind man became a poet, as he became a fiddler in our villages, because he had to be driven out of activities all his nature cried for, before he could be contented with the praise of life’ (E&I 277-78). ‘Dust hath clos’d Helen’s Eye’ itself explains that ‘that old Greek world’ set ‘beauty beside the fountain of things’. Mary Hynes had, in the view of the poor countryfolk, clearly ‘“seen too much of the world”’, but, ‘when they tell of her’ they

blame another and not her, and though they can be hard, they grow gentle as the old men of Troy grew gentle when Helen passed by on the walls (Myth 2005, 18).

74Yeats refers to the moment we have already looked at in BK III of the Iliad, when Helen walks on the walls of Troy, and he took the matter up, too, in ‘The Bounty of Sweden’ (Au 561-62). In contrast to Chapman’s, here is Pope’s translation as those old grasshoppers '[l]ean’d on the walls and bask’d before the sun’:

  • 47 The Iliad of Homer, trans. Alexander Pope, ed. T. Buckley (London: Warne, 1874); 55-6; YL 905. And (...)

These, when the Spartan queen approach’d the tower,
In secret owned beauty’s power:
They cried...
‘She moves a goddess, and she looks a queen!’47

75From here to ll. 11-20 of ‘Long-legged Fly’, is only a short step.

That the topless towers be burnt
And men recall that face,
Move most gently if move you must
In this lonely place.
She thinks, part woman, three parts a child,
That nobody looks; her feet
Practice a tinker shuffle
Picked up on a street.
Like a long-legged fly upon the stream
Her mind moves upon silence (VP 617).

76Or to ‘Quarrel in Old Age’

All lives that has lived;
So much is certain;
Old sages were not deceived:
Somewhere beyond the curtain
Of distorting days
Lives that lonely thing
That shone before these eyes
Targeted, trod like spring (VP 503-04).

VIRGIL AGAIN

77I began by looking at the refurbishment of an ‘absurd old poem’ into a ‘finer thing’ and the recovery of a perhaps ancient intention for Early Poems and Stories (1925). A key passage in the setting copy for the republication of The Adoration of the Magi (1896) in the same book (the first time that the poems and the prose had appeared together) is found in Plate 6.

Plate 6. Yeats’s holograph revisions in the setting copy of ‘The Adoration of the Magi’ for Early Poems and Stories (1925). Berg Collection, New York Public Library.

78The old men are bidden by a mysterious voice to travel to Paris to attend the deathbed of an Irish prostitute. In that early version, first published in 1897, she whispers to them the secret names of the immortal Irish gods just before she expires. This rather vigorously cross-hatched revision of the 1904 text shows Yeats deleting that passage, and offering instead:

a dying woman would give them secret names & thereby so transform the world that another Leda would open her knees to the swan, another Achilles beleaguer Troy (Myth 2005, 202; VSR 166-67; 269).

79The return of the Celtic gods belonged to the era of Yeats’s Celtic Mystical Order. The change is one of iconography: now instead of divulging the secret names of Celtic gods the prostitute gives birth to a unicorn and offers only paradoxical names ‘“Dear bitterness’, O solitude, O terror”’ (VSR 171). Virgil’s prophecy is hardened, and its compass in time lengthened: the rape of Leda replaces the 1897 version’s ‘another Argo shall carry heroes over the deep, and another Achilles beleaguer another Troy’ (VSR 169 v.) which loosely translates ll. 31-6 of Virgil’s Eclogue IV.

Pauca tamen suberunt priscae vestigia fraudis,
quae temptare Thetin ratibus, quae cingere muris
oppida, quae iubeant telluri infindere sulcos.
alter erit tum Tiphys et altera quae vehat Argo
delectos heroas; erunt etiam altera bella 35
atque iterum ad Troiam magnus mittetur Achilles.

  • 48 As translated in Yeats’s copy of The Works of Virgil, literally translated into English Prose, wit (...)

‘There will then be another Tiphys, and another Argo to waft chosen heroes: there shall be likewise other wars: and great Achilles shall once more be sent to Troy’.48

  • 49 CVA 181, 214. The quoted passages compress somewhat drastically Yeats’s larger historical argument (...)

80New writing impinges on old. ‘Leda and the Swan’ had been first drafted on 16 Sept 1923, with Yeats staying up until 3 am to get a version of it done, and it had been first published in the Dial of June 1924 and again in that short-lived adventure of Francis Stuart and others, To-morrow, in August 1924. As Yeats laboured over the proofs of Early Poems and Stories, he was also desperately finishing the first version of A Vision for which ‘Leda’ functions as the proem to Book III, ‘Dove or Swan’. The ‘annunciation that founded Greece’ is imagined by Yeats as having been ‘made to Leda... from one of her eggs came Love and from the other War’, ‘Leda, War and Love; history grown symbolic, the biography changed into a myth’.49

A shudder in the loins engenders there
The broken wall, the burning roof and tower
And Agamemnon dead (VP 441).

81So obsessed was Yeats with this topos that the rape of Leda is now introjected back into Virgil’s Eclogue IV. This Ledaean obsession perhaps springs from the sprightly preface to Oliver Gogarty’s An Offering of Swans and Other Poems (August 1923), and it might be followed through through the ‘Two Songs from a Play’ drafted in May 1925 to 1931 when The Resurrection is revised for Stories of Michael Robartes and his Friends.

I saw a staring virgin stand
Where holy Dionysus died,
And tear the heart out of his side,
And lay the heart upon her hand
And bear that beating heart away;
And then did all the muses sing
Of Magnus Annus at the spring,
As though God's death were but a play.

  • 50 VP 437-8. The three stanza, two part version had appeared in October Blast (1927) and The Tower (1 (...)

Another Troy must rise and set,
Another lineage feed the crow
Another Argo’s painted prow
Drive to a flashier bauble yet.
The Roman Empire stood appalled:
It dropped the reins of peace and war
When that fierce virgin and her Star
Out of the fabulous darkness called50

  • 51 Yeats might be getting his own back on Virgil here because one of the old men falls asleep while r (...)
  • 52 VP 441. In rather happier vein, the closing chorus of Shelley’s Hellas (‘The world’s great age beg (...)
  • 53 This was Yeats’s and Macmillan’s stratagem for defeating T. Fisher Unwin’s claim on all editions o (...)
  • 54 Letter from Yeats to A. P. Watt quoted in a letter from Watt to Messrs. Macmillan, 19 August, 1924 (...)
  • 55 Quoted in a letter from Yeats to A. P. Watt, in a letter from Watt to Sir Frederick Macmillan, 20 (...)

82The vital point is that Yeats’s obsession with a cyclical theory of history implicit in the Cumaean prophecy had been with him since 1896. The top line of the page in Plate 6 has one of the old men falling sleep while ‘reading out the ‘Fifth Eclogue of Virgil’ (a schoolboy howler, of course Yeats means Eclogue IV the Pollio Eclogue.51 After the reverence of the old men by the bedside of the dying ‘priestess’ of the old gods we hear that the ‘old things shall be again, and another Argo shall carry heroes over the deep, and another Achilles beleaguer another Troy’ (VSR 169 v.) which loosely translates ll. 31-6 of Virgil.52 In short, Yeats renewed himself by rereading himself. The old inflects the new as the new inflects the rewriting of the old: rereading shows him writing while discovering his intentions for what to write. Early Poems and Stories compelled such self-imbrication, and not merely because of the co-presence in that volume of the early verse and prose.53 It was for Yeats (as he said), ‘difficult to get back into the atmosphere of things written so long ago’.54 But, finishing A Vision, he needed to refurbish himself, which ‘ma[de] as much as I can of this new wave of interest in my work’ (i.e., that new interest consequent on the award of the Nobel Prize (1923).55

TRAGIC JOY: HOMER AND VIRGIL

  • 56 ‘I have had a fortnight of gloom over my work—I felt something wrong with it. However on Monday ni (...)

83When one follows the ‘revisionary ratios’ of certain poems one discovers ‘hidden roads’ that lead from poem to poem in ways unaccounted for in. and unfathomable by means of, Harold Bloom’s Influence Theory. By looking at the hinterland of Yeats’s thought rather than at (say) ‘No Second Troy’ or ‘A Woman Homer Sung’, I have turned this tribute to Derry Jeffares, rather against my will, into something of a Virgilian occasion. Having encapsulated lacrimae rerum in a simple but mysterious rhyme of ‘lips’ and ‘ships’, Yeats had to work out how, in a long writing life, to respond to Virgil’s concept. I believe there are two defining moments, the first a matter of seeing clearly his own emerging poetic strength, the second a conceptual refinement of that aesthetic into an ethic, largely because he himself became interested, just as Virgil had been, in the larger rhythms of human destiny. The first such moment came when Ezra Pound, who, with Sturge Moore, had worked over the manuscripts of ‘The Two Kings’,56 decided to disparage that poem in a review (whilst praising ‘The Grey Rock’, the other half of the opening narrative diptych of Responsibilities for its ‘curious nobility’ despite its ‘obscur[ity]’).

...it is impossible to take any interest in a poem like The Two Kings—one might as well read the Idyls [sic]of another

  • 57 Poetry IX, Dec. 1916, 150-51. Pound had his own fish to fry in the review, wondering aloud whether (...)

84Pound remarked, displaying an extraordinarily deaf ear to Tennyson as well as to Yeats.57 John Butler Yeats was livid:

  • 58 LTWBY 1. 289. John Butler Yeats returned to the attack in a further letter of 14 August, 1914, cha (...)

...what the devil does Ezra Pound mean by comparing ‘The Two Kings’ with Tennyson’s Idylls? The Two Kings is immortal, and immortal because of its intensity and concentration. It is so full of the ‘tears of things’ that I could not read it aloud... In The Two Kings there is another quality often sought for by Tennyson, but never attained, and that is splendor of imagination, a liberating splendor, cold as sunrise. I don’t agree with Ezra Pound.58

85As Yeats ever after remembered, the phrase gave him the donnée for ‘The Fisherman’ (E&I 523):

Maybe a twelvemonth since
Suddenly I began,
In scorn of this audience,
Imagining a man,
And his sun-freckled face,
And grey Connemara cloth,
Climbing up to a place
Where stone is dark under froth,
And the down-turn of his wrist
When the flies drop in the stream;
A man who does not exist,
A man who is but a dream;
And cried, ‘Before I am old
I shall have written him one
Poem maybe as cold
And passionate as the dawn’ (VP 348).

86In 1930, taking intimate revenge on Virgil, he drafted a letter to his son’s schoolmaster, telling him that Michael Yeats, then ‘aged between nine and ten’.

should begin Greek at once and be taught by the Berlitz method that he may read as soon as possible that most exciting of all stories, the Odyssey, from that landing in Ithaca to the end. Grammar should come when the need comes. As he grows older he will read to me the great lyric poets and I will talk to him about Plato. Do not teach him one word of Latin. The Roman people were the classic decadence, their literature form without matter. They destroyed Milton, the French seventeenth and our own eighteenth century, and our schoolmasters even to-day read Greek with Latin eyes. Greece, could we but approach it with eyes as young as its own, might renew our youth.... If he wants to learn Irish after he is well founded in Greek, let him — it will clear his eyes of the Latin miasma. If you will not do what I say, whether the curriculum or your own will restrain, and my son comes from school a smatterer like his father, may your soul lie chained on the Red Sea bottom (Ex 230-31).

87I turn now to just one late poem, ‘The Gyres’.

...............................
Things thought too long can be no longer thought,
For beauty dies of beauty, worth of worth,
And ancient lineaments are blotted out.
Irrational streams of blood are staining earth;
Empedocles has thrown all things about;
Hector is dead and there's a light in Troy;
We that look on but laugh in tragic joy.

.................................
What matter? heave no sigh, let no tear drop,
A greater, a more gracious time has gone;

...............................
What matter? out of cavern comes a voice,
And all it knows is that one word “Rejoice!” (VP 564-65)

  • 59 Yeats may have been vestigially aware of this sonic accident. See for instance the strange resonan (...)

88Think about the rhyme of ‘Troy’ and ‘joy’. Troy, synonymous with destruction, is even enclosed within the word ‘Destroy’.59 ‘Destruction is the life-giver!’ says Martin Hearne in The Unicorn from the Stars (1908), and that play’s ‘brazen winged beast’ ‘[a]fter-wards described in my poem “The Second Coming”’ was ‘associated with laughing, ecstatic destruction’ (VPl 669, 932). The development of an ethic (which is also an aesthetic) with which to confront the idea that things ‘live each others death, die each other’s life’ (AVB 197) is a relatively late articulation of a matter long latent in Yeats’s thinking. Tragic joy is there in ‘Man is in love, and loves what vanishes, what more is there to say?, in ‘Let all things pass away’, in ‘Their eyes mid many wrinkles, their eyes, | Their ancient glittering eyes are gay’ (VP 429-30; 567).

89The Chinamen carved in Yeats’s little mountain of lapis lazuli are like the old men on the walls of Troy, whose joy inheres in the contemplation of unmanageable events. Yeats’s ‘tragic joy’ in the contemplation of ‘irrational streams of blood’ staining the earth, numb nightmare riding like Fuseli’s dream, ‘blood and mire’ further staining the sensitive body is congruent with Aeneas’s finding of lacrimae rerum in a painting of the sack of Troy in a Carthaginian temple, when Hector really is dead, there has been a light in Troy, Priam has been murdered, and Penthesilea charges. Yeats’s mastery of his forebears informs his self-delineation against that Virgilian and Homeric hinterland, his idea develops out of Virgil’s, and it privileges Homer.

90In ‘Vacillation’ VIII Heart asks ‘What theme had Homer but original sin?’ and the full voice of the last stanza responds (in loose fourteeners), ‘Homer is my example, and his unchristened heart’ (VP 503). The initiative of Priam in forcing ritual onto Achilles to ransom the body of Hector, Odysseus’s wily cunning and resourcefulness, these Homeric human virtues are exalted over the wooden duty of ‘pius’ Aeneas. Aeneas weeps ready tears at the inevitability of tragedy and longs for salvation, Yeats unflinchingly transumes tears. Tragedy must be ‘a joy to the man who dies’ (E&I 523). Homer’s unchristened heart is preferred to Virgil’s proto-Christian heart, original sin notwithstanding. Yeats commented to Olivia Shakespear, sending her the first draft of the penultimate stanza of ‘Vacillation’, ‘heroic choice... Live tragically but be not deceived... I shall be a sinful man to the end, & think upon my death bed of all the nights wasted in my youth.’ (CL Intelex 3 January, 1932).

91Yeats’s greatest theme is human embodiment, agency (in the sense of Choice) in the wider destinies imposed upon us by Chance. His last letter to Lady Elizabeth Pelham

‘I know for certain that my time will not be long... I am happy, and I think full of an energy, of an energy I had despaired of. It seems to me that I have found what I wanted. When I try to put all into a phrase I say, ‘Man can embody truth but he cannot know it.’ I must embody it in the completion of my life. The abstract is not life and everywhere draws out its contradictions. You can refute Hegel but not the Saint or the Song of Sixpence... (CL InteLex 7632).

92may be contrasted with Virgil’s two shapes for history. The Aeneid is a backformation of Rome: from its opening lines, Rome is foretold and is to be fulfilled from tragedy, and the poem justifies the ways of the gods to Romans in a culminative shape.

93But according to the Pollio Eclogue, in a larger view, history is cyclical: in the last age of the Cumaean sybil’s prophecy, the ‘great cycle of periods begins anew’. Though that Eclogue has been read as promising the coming of a Messiah and a period of peace, that culmination must be seen within the larger, replicative pattern of the precession of the equinoxes, or at least as Yeats reads the passage.

94According to Homer’s paradigm, however, human battle is endless (and its rehearsal is self-delighting). The Iliad ends only with an 11 day ceasefire to allow the funeral of Hector. It is rather like the endless series of perfect fights in The Herne’s Egg. Love, too, is a ‘brief peace between opposites’. Many believe that the real ending of the Odyssey is BK 23.296, with Odysseus and Penelope ‘blissfully [lying] down on their own familiar bed’, another brief peace. If you think it ends when ‘The Feud is Ended’ at the end of Bk 24, then ‘Pallas Athene, daughter of aegis-bearing Zeus, still using Mentor’s form and voice for her disguise, establishes peace between the two sides (Odysseus and the suitors). There is no reason to assume it will last. (Yeats, incidentally, liked this last book, taking the squeaking of the bats for ‘The Phases of the Moon’ from its opening words, (which he would also have found in The Republic BK 2.)

95How does Yeats square the circle between destiny and unchristened endless battle, chance and choice, and the human joy in ‘lasting, tireless strength’ (VPl 660)? The answer, I think, is dictated for him by the vast cyclical pattern of history imagined for A Vision. He thus votes for the larger Virgilian paradigm, the cyclical shape of the Pollio Eclogue. In the last age of the Cumaean sybil’s prophecy, the ‘great cycle of periods begins anew’, all things will ‘run | On that unfashionable gyre again’. Apparent culminations must be seen within the larger, replicative pattern of the precession of the equinoxes.

96‘No Second Troy’ of December 1908 is Yeats’s least revised poem: with four rhetorical questions there is no ‘singing amid uncertainty’ here. Had there been a second Troy, he implies, Maud Gonne would have filled as many roles in the drama as possible: Pallas Athene, Venus, Dido, Helen. But the poem is refuted by ‘Two Songs from a Play: ‘another Troy must rise and set | Another lineage feed the crow’: the Roman Empire will stand appalled by the forces marshalled by the odour of Christ’s blood, and his introduction to The Resurrection (1931) insists that civilisation is ‘about to reverse itself ’ and the certainty afforded by symbolic patterns in history (VPl 931). Victorian christianised lacrimae rerum is abandoned for tragic joy, the ultimate assertion that we must try to embody truth, even when we cannot know it. Even when the Homeric high horse is riderless, Homeric ‘self-delight’ commands some such self-mastery for an Irish poet in the twentieth century.

POSTSCRIPT

The ‘Lips and Ships’ rhyme provokes the question: when did Yeats first read Sheridan Le Fanu’s ‘The Legend of the Glaive’? In The Poems of J. S. Le Fanu, ed. Alfred Perceval Graves (London: Downey, 1896), 108, one finds

Fionula the Cruel, the brightest, the worst,
With a terrible beauty the vision accurst
Gold filleted, sandalled, of times dead and gone—
Far looking, and harking, pursuing, goes on;
Her white hand from her ear lifts her shadowy hair.
From the lamp of her eye floats the sheen of despair;
Her cold lips are apart, and her teeth in her smile
Glimmer death on her face with a horrible wile.
Three throbs at his heart—not a breath at his lip,
As the figure skims by like the swoop of a ship...

Yeats’s copy is stamped ‘With Downey and Co’s Compliments’ (YL 1098). An excerpt containing this passage is to be found in Stopford A. Brooke and T. W. Rolleston (eds.), A Treasury of Irish Poetry (London: Smith, Elder, & Co., 1900), 190, a volume to which Yeats himself was a contributor. ‘The Legend of the Glaive’ had been first published over the name ‘Hyacinth Con Carolan’ in the Dublin University Magazine (of which Le Fanu was proprietor and editor) in February, 1863 (210-16). Ignoring for the moment the famous resonance of the Irish Gothic ‘terrible beauty’ in Yeats’s mind (VP 392-44; Au 287), ‘shadowy hair’ argues for an early acquaintance with Le Fanu’s poem. The Shadowy Waters may have been started in 1883, and by 1885 ‘long... hair’ ‘blown | In shadowy dimness’ had appeared in the Dublin University Review text of The Island of Statues (VP 670). ‘The shadowy blossom of my hair’ in the verses from ‘The Rose of Shadow’ (first published in The Speaker, 21 July, 1894; VSR 230) and ‘ your dim shadowy hair’ in ‘The Twilight of Forgiveness’ in The Saturday Review (2 November 1895) text of what became ‘The Lover asks Forgiveness because of his Many Moods’ (VP 163v.) also predate the 1896 issue of Le Fanu’s Poems, while 'lips are apart' finds an echo in 'The Faery Host’ in The National Observer 7 October, 1893), later ‘The Hosting of the Sidhe' (VP 140 & v.)

Notes

1 It was revised and published as A Commentary on the Collected Poems of W. B. Yeats (first published in 1968, and reprinted four times before in 1984 becoming A New Commentary on the Poems of W. B. Yeats. Before his death Deirdre Toomey and I commenced working with Derry Jeffares on its revision, a huge task, which continues in progress.

2 Ben Jonson’s words are from his ‘To My Beloved the Author, and what he hath left us’, a prefatory poem to the 1623 folio. As Jonathan Bate has shown in the case of Shakespeare, a good foundation in Latin reading and writing in a traditional grammar school education (however much his own was despised by Yeats) was in itself an impressive achievement by the standards of modern Latin teaching and learning. See his Soul of the Age: the Life, Mind and Work of William Shakespeare (London: Penguin, 2008), 79-101.

3 T. S. Eliot, ‘The Poetry of W. B. Yeats’, the first Annual Yeats Lecture, delivered to the Friends of the Irish Academy at the Abbey Theatre, June, 1940, and published in Purpose XII, No.s 3 & 4, July-December 1940, 115-27 at p. 127.

4 VP 441. Some famous lectures have been delivered on his strategies of allusion. I think of T. R. Henn’s British Academy lecture on ‘Yeats and the Poetry of War’ printed in Proceedings of the British Academy 51 (1965), 301-19 and republished with revisions in Henn’s Last Essays (Gerrards Cross: Colin Smythe Ltd, 1976), 81-97, and of A. Norman Jeffares’s ‘Pallas Athene Gonne”, in Tributes in Prose and Verse to Shotaro Oshima, President of the Yeats Society of Japan, on the Occasion of His Seventieth Birthday, September 29th 1969 (Tokyo: Hokuseido Press, 1970), 4-7.

5 Christine Finn, Past Poetic: Archaeology in the Poetry of Yeats and Heaney (London: Duckworth, 2003); Brian Arkins, Builders of My Soul: Greek and Roman Themes in Yeats (Gerrards Cross: Colin Smythe, 1990).

6 Allen Grossman: Poetic Knowledge in the Early Yeats: A Study of The Wind Among the Reeds (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 1969). Helen Vendler, Poets Thinking: Pope, Whitman, Dickinson, Yeats (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2004). This essay was written before the publication of Professor Vendler’s Our Secret Discipline: Yeats and Lyric Form (Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2007), from which I have learned copiously.

7 Publius Vergilius Maro (70-19 BC), Aeneid, BK I, lines 455 et seq.

8 The Works of Virgil, literally translated into English Prose, with Notes, by Davidson. A New Edition, revised, with additional notes, by Theodore Alois Buckley of Christ Church (London: George Bell, Bohn’s Classical Library 1875), 118-19 (YL 2203). Hereafter, Davidson edition.

9 ‘...To die: to sleep
No more; and by a sleep to say we end
The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to, 'tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wish’d.’ Hamlet 3:1.

10 Kerry McSweeney, Tennyson and Swinburne as Romantic Naturalists (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1981), 70. See also The Poems of Tennyson ed. Christoper Ricks (London: Longman, 1987), II 232 and III 102. Dido’s tears leave Aeneas unmoved as he is leaving Carthage: ‘Mens immota manet; lacrimae volvuntur inanes (Aeneid 4. 449).

11 How different a work from Poe’s ‘To Helen’, with its phrase-making sentimentality:—
HELEN, thy beauty is to me
Like those Nicean barks of yore
That gently, o'er a perfumed sea,
The weary way-worn wanderer bore
To his own native shore.
On desperate seas long wont to roam,
Thy hyacinth hair, thy classic face,
Thy Naiad airs have brought me home
To the glory that was Greece,
And the grandeur that was Rome.
Lo, in yon brilliant window-niche
How statue-like I see thee stand,
The agate lamp within thy hand,
Ah! Psyche, from the regions which
Are holy land!

12 Letter to Harold Macmillan (CL InteLex 5731, 8 September, 1932).

13 Odyssey iv. 180-55. See The Odyssey translated by E. V. Rieu rev. D. C. H. Rieu in consulation with Dr Peter V. Jones (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1991), 50.

14 ‘Pallas Athena in that straight back and arrogant head’ (VP 578). When they first met in 1889 she seemed a classical impersonation of the spring, ‘the Virgilian commendation “She walks like a goddess” made for her alone.’ (Au 123). Pallas Athene in Greek mythology was a virgin goddess of wisdom, of practical skills, the arts of peace and of prudent warfare. See Jeffares, ‘Pallas Athene Gonne’, Tributes in Prose and Verse to Shotaro Oshima (1970), 4-7.

15 The Iliad trans. E. V. Rieu (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1950), 450-51. Michael Longley’s ‘Ceasefire’ confers an Irish context on the reconciliation of Priam and Achilles and the return of Hector’s body at the end of the Iliad, Irish context for this moment: ‘I get down on my knees and do what must be done | And kiss Achilles’ hand, the killer of my son’ (Collected Poems [London: Cape, 2006], 225).

16 The Iliad trans. E. V. Rieu, 453-54.

17 Ibid., 458.

18 I am indebted to Ron Schuchard and his tireless librarians for these images.

19 George Bornstein is not detained by the incorrect date in W. B. Yeats, The Early Poetry: vol. II: ‘The Wanderings of Oisin’ and Other Early Poems to 1895: Manuscript Materials (Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1994), 288.

20 The lineation shows it is not from any published edition.

21 CL InteLex 4672 [12 November, 1924], 4675 13 November [1924].

22 See Aeneid, II, 505-60.

23 Homer’s Iliad translated by George Chapman, with an introduction by Henry Morley (London: George Routledge and Sons, 1884), BK III, 141-60, 42-43. Emphases added.

24 The Tragical History of Dr Faustus V, i, 94-95. Perhaps from A. H. Bullen’s edition, The Works of Christopher Marlowe (London: John Nimmo, 1885), I, 275. But for the fact that Tennyson’s ‘lips’ are not those of the sea, there is a possible echo of ‘Locksley Hall’ (but see also POSTSCRIPT, below, 55).
Many an evening by the waters did we watch the stately ships,
And our spirits rush`d together at the touching of the lips.

25 It seems that two shepherds’ rivalry for Naschina must be settled by force of arms. Meanwhile her true lover, Almintor, seeks an enchanted flower and is himself enchanted to a stone, joining numerous other questers who ‘chose the wrong flower’ in centuries-long sleep. Naschina disguised as a shepherd reaches the island, the flower is found, the enchantress vanquished, the sleepers awake. One has been asleep since Aeneas roved ‘with hungry heart’
Come forth: the morn is fair; as from the pyre
Of sad Queen Dido shone the lapping fire
Unto the wanderer's ships, or as day fills
The brazen sky, so blaze the daffodills;
As Argive Clytemnestra saw out-burn
The flagrant signal of her lord's return,
Afar, clear-shining on the herald hills,
In vale and dell so blaze the daffodills;
As when upon her cloud-o'er-muffled steep
Oenone saw the fires of Troia leap,
And laugh'd, so, so along the bubbling rills
In lemon-tinted lines, so blaze the daffodills (VP 645).
And:
Ah! while I slumbered,
How have the years in Troia flown away?
Are still the Achaians' tented chiefs at bay?
Where rise the walls majestical above
The plain, a little fair-haired maid I love (VP 679).

26 III, 1859, 237.

27 The episode must be of October 1891, when Yeats and Russell were living in a Theosophical commune at 3 Upper Ely Place, Dublin. On the highly charged meeting of Yeats and Maud Gonne at Kingstown Pier on 10 October, 1891, see Mem 47-8 and Life 1, 115-17.

28 The Catholic Cathedral in Sligo city was consecrated in 1874 and dedicated to the Immaculate Conception.

29 ‘I felt in the presence of a great generosity and courage, and of a mind without peace, and when she and all her singing birds had gone my melancholy was not the mere melancholy of love. I had what I thought was a “clairvoyant” perception but was, I can see now, but an obvious deduction of an awaiting immediate disaster’ (Mem 40-42).

30 Aeneid, l. 402-05, Davidson edition, 116-17 (YL 2203).

31 Virgil’s Æneid translated by John Dryden, with an introduction by Henry Morley (London: George Routledge and Sons, Limited, 1891), 21.

32 See Life 1, 88.

33 The Works of Virgil (Davidson translation), 120.

34 VP 629. The Countess Kathleen predates Cathleen ni Houlihan, the play he wrote with Lady Gregory.
And then a counter-truth filled out its play,
The Countess Cathleen was the name I gave it;
She, pity-crazed, had given her soul away,
But masterful Heaven had intervened to save it.
I thought my dear must her own soul destroy,
So did fanaticism and hate enslave it,
And this brought forth a dream and soon enough
This dream itself had all my thought and love (VP 629-30).

35 VPl 231. Maud Gonne played the title role in Yeats and Lady Gregory’s play Cathleen ni Houlihan (1902). Yeats described her playing the part ‘very finely, and her great height made Cathleen seem a divine being fallen into our mortal infirmity’ (VPl 233).

36 Stephen Gwynn, Experiences of a Literary Man (London: Thornton Butterworth, 1926), 204-05.

37 [Henry Woodd Nevinson], ‘By the Waters of Babylon’, Nation, 17 October, 1908, p. 122.

38 Eva French’s copy, now in the Woodruff Library, Emory University.

39 John Eglinton, in Erasmian (Dublin) xxx (June 1939), 11-12, reprinted in I&R 1, 3-4.

40 Charles Johnston, in Poet Lore 2 ( June 1906), 102-12, rptd. in I&R 6.

41 Matthew Arnold: ‘Between Cowper and Homer is interposed the mist of Cowper’s elaborate Miltonic manner, entirely alien to the flowing rapidity of Homer’ (Essays Literary and Critical [London, J. M. Dent, 1906], 216).

42 Both in The Bookman (Oct 1893, 13-14) and in her Twenty-Five Years: Reminiscences (1913), rptd. CH 179.

43 For an early interview Yeats sits with ‘a volume of Homer before him’ (UP1 298). In an early review Yeats refers to the Butcher, Lang and Leaf translation of the Odyssey (UP1 410). Yeats’s first reference in letters comes in Feb 1894 when he had borrowed Charles Weekes’s copy of an unknown edition and had left it at 56 North Circular Road, Dublin: thus while he is in Paris with Maud Gonne seeing Axel for the first and only time, he asked Jos. Quinn to sent it on to Charles Weekes, who was inquiring ‘in an almost heart broken fashion about his Homer’ (CL1 379).

44 ‘Mr. W. B. Yeats in Aberdeen’, The Aberdeen Dauily Journal, 13 January, 1906, 3.

45 Warning Yeats of his ‘treacherous gift of adaptability’ James Joyce remarked that The Adoration of the Magi ‘ shows what Mr. Yeats can do when he breaks with the half-gods’. See Two Essays. ‘A Forgotten Aspect of the Irish University Question’ by F. J. C. Skeffington and ‘The Day of the Rabblement’ by James A. Joyce (Dublin:Gerrard Bros., [1901]). Joyce is probably recalling Tolstoi’s ‘The Three Mendicants’ of 1886): see Myth 2005, 420 n. 5.

46 Poets and Dreamers: Studies and Translations from the Irish by Lady Gregory including Nine Plays by Douglas Hyde, with a foreword by T. R. Henn (Gerrards Cross: Colin Smythe, 1974), 27. See Myth 2005 15, 227 n. 11.

47 The Iliad of Homer, trans. Alexander Pope, ed. T. Buckley (London: Warne, 1874); 55-6; YL 905. Andrew Lang bases ‘Helen on the Walls’ on this episode: see Rhymes à la Mode (London: Kegan Paul, 1885) 118, also Au 561; CW3 411.

48 As translated in Yeats’s copy of The Works of Virgil, literally translated into English Prose, with notes by C. Davidson: a new edition, rev., with additional notes by Theodore Alois Buckley (London: George Bell & Sons, 1875; YL 2203, p. 12).

49 CVA 181, 214. The quoted passages compress somewhat drastically Yeats’s larger historical argument. For the dating of the draft to 24 May 1925, see The Resurrcction: Manuscript Materials edited by Jared Curtis and Selina Guinness (Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 2011), xxvi-xxvii.

50 VP 437-8. The three stanza, two part version had appeared in October Blast (1927) and The Tower (1928).

51 Yeats might be getting his own back on Virgil here because one of the old men falls asleep while reading it.

52 VP 441. In rather happier vein, the closing chorus of Shelley’s Hellas (‘The world’s great age beginsanew’. etc.) offers a parallel to ‘Two Songs from a Play’.

53 This was Yeats’s and Macmillan’s stratagem for defeating T. Fisher Unwin’s claim on all editions of the early verse except those in ‘collected editions’ of the works. See letters from Yeats to his agent, A. P. Watt, and to Ernest Benn, 31 January and 2 February, 1923 (CL InteLex, 4277, 4280).

54 Letter from Yeats to A. P. Watt quoted in a letter from Watt to Messrs. Macmillan, 19 August, 1924 (CL InteLex 4628).

55 Quoted in a letter from Yeats to A. P. Watt, in a letter from Watt to Sir Frederick Macmillan, 20 November 1923 (CL InteLex 4405).

56 ‘I have had a fortnight of gloom over my work—I felt something wrong with it. However on Monday night I got Sturge Moore in and last night Ezra Pound and we went at it line by line and now I know what is wrong and am in good spirits again. I am starting the poem about the King of Tara and his wife again, to get rid of Miltonic generalization.’ ‘I am doing nothing but write poetry for the new book for you but it is slow work always. I finished a longish story in verse as I thought last week & yesterday decided to begin it all over again. One cannot help this but the more time I have the better the book will be. I have plenty of unwritten poems arranged in my head & waiting their turn to be written... Just as I have started seeing people again having been bored by sitting here so often, unable to work because of my sight in the evenings, my digestion has got rather queer again— a result I think of sitting up late with Ezra & Sturge Moore & some light wine while the talk ran. However the criticism I have got from them has given me new life & I have made that Tara poem a new thing & am writing with a new confidence having got Milton off my back. Ezra is the best critic of the two. He is full of the middle ages & helps me to get back to the definite & the concrete away from modern abstractions. To talk over a poem with him is like getting you to put a sentence into dialect. All becomes clear & natural. Yet in his own work he is very uncertain, often very bad though very interesting sometimes. He spoils himself by too many experiments & has more sound principles than taste. (Yeats’s letters to Lady Gregory, 1 and 3 January, 1913, and to Lily Yeats, 1 January, 1913 (CL InteLex 2051-3).

57 Poetry IX, Dec. 1916, 150-51. Pound had his own fish to fry in the review, wondering aloud whether Yeats could qualify as an Imagist, but had been present when Yeats had been working on an early draft of ‘The Two Kings’ when Yeats had summoned both Pound and Sturge Moore to help him get rid of ‘Miltonic generalization’. See Donald T. Torchiana and Glenn O’Malley (eds.) ‘Some New Letters from W. B. Yeats to Lady Gregory’ (loc. cit.), p. 14. The same problem of Miltonic influence had beset Keats in his attempts at epic poetry: see Robert Gittings (ed.) The Letters of John Keats A Selection (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1972) p. 292.

58 LTWBY 1. 289. John Butler Yeats returned to the attack in a further letter of 14 August, 1914, characterising Pound as sharing with most Americans, but especially American women, a desire to live a ‘surface life’ which ‘shuts them out of the world of dream and desire’. Not for them the shaping power of imagination. They are exiles consoling themselves as they can, by saying things which are to convince themselves and others that they are superior beings... So you see why I prefer your Two Kings, which I cannot read without tears, the intensity instantly assuaged by the rhythms of art, and the tears of sorrow mingling with the tears of beauty’ (ibid., p. 301). Denis Donoghue finds these conversations in late 1914 formative of Per Amica Silentia Lunae. See ‘The Myth of W. B. Yeats’, New York Review of Books, 19 February, 1998, 17-19.

59 Yeats may have been vestigially aware of this sonic accident. See for instance the strange resonance in ‘The Circus Animals’ Desertion’, where not the least of the ‘countertruths’ discerned about Maud Gonne is the notion that ‘fanaticism and hate’ could ‘destroy’ the soul of the woman frequently envisaged as Helen of Troy.
She, pity-crazed, had given her soul away,
But masterful Heaven had intervened to save it.
I thought my dear must her own soul destroy,
So did fanaticism and hate enslave it (VP 629-30).

Table des illustrations

Légende Plate 1. Yeats’s holograph revision to ‘The Sorrow of Love’ tipped in to Lady Gregory’s copy of Poems (1895) and misdated, probably by her, in the Robert W. Woodruff Collection, Emory University, Atlanta, GA.
URL http://books.openedition.org/obp/docannexe/image/1712/img-1.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 45k
Légende Plate 2. Yeats’s holograph revision in another of Lady Gregory’s copies of Poems, that of 1904, also now in the Woodruff Collection at Emory and altered in 1924 as marked in pencil. This slip is pasted onto a torn-off printed slip bearing a part of line 10, almost certainly from an uncorrected proof of Early Poems and Stories (1925).
URL http://books.openedition.org/obp/docannexe/image/1712/img-2.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 43k
Légende Plate 3. Top board of Lady Gregory’s white and gold copy of Poems (1904) now in the Robert W. Woodruff Collection, Emory.
URL http://books.openedition.org/obp/docannexe/image/1712/img-3.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 94k
Légende Plate 4. Close-up comparison of the two tipped in revisions as in Plates 1 and 2.
URL http://books.openedition.org/obp/docannexe/image/1712/img-4.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 10k
Légende Plate 5. ‘W. B. Y. listening to Homer’, undated (c. 1887), by Jack B. Yeats, pasted into a copy of The Wind Among the Reeds (1900), Woodruff Collection, Emory.
URL http://books.openedition.org/obp/docannexe/image/1712/img-5.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 44k
Légende Plate 6. Yeats’s holograph revisions in the setting copy of ‘The Adoration of the Magi’ for Early Poems and Stories (1925). Berg Collection, New York Public Library.
URL http://books.openedition.org/obp/docannexe/image/1712/img-6.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 50k

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