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The Living Stream

Warwick Gould


‘A Law Indifferent to Blame or Praise’: W. B. Yeats, The Tower (1928): Manuscript Materials, ed. Richard J. Finneran, with Jared Curtis and Ann Saddlemyer (Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 2007), liv + 670 pp.

Wayne K. Chapman

Texte intégral

1Sadly, the blush is off the rose. This book has taken so long in the making that delay itself seems much of the reason it is hard to celebrate the work as the brilliant, anticipated conclusion of ‘the projected editions of poetic manuscripts in the Cornell Yeats’ that one had hoped it would be. In acknowledging sympathy for Richard Finneran and his family in the multiple tragedies of the last years of his prolific career as an editor, I must also confess that unbiased reviewing is not made easier because of the role I played, at one point, to help spur completion of the volume. Finneran cites the joyful moment, in 1977, when the ‘long journey’ began with a gathering of scholars in the home of William M. Murphy (xii). While a doctoral candidate in the mid-1980s, I wrote to introduce myself to Finneran, who was extremely helpful and interested in a discovery I had made concerning ‘The New Faces’, a poem composed in 1912 but not published until 1922 (in the Cuala Press booklet Seven Poems and a Fragment, although considered for interpolation in Responsibilities 1917) and introduced to its canonical place in The Tower (Macmillan, 1928; see YA 6 [1988]: 108-33). The assignment of The Tower in the Cornell manuscript series belonged to Finneran, and I gave him all the assistance I could muster at the time. Relations between us were cordial for a long time after that, and so, when my second volume for the Cornell Yeats went to press, Stephen Parrish, the general editor who also functioned as series major-domo, suggested that I attempt to persuade Finneran to take me on as co-editor. I did eventually offer to take over the volume a short time before co-ordinating editor Jared Curtis began receiving draft material for The Tower edition in July 2003. Having lost grant support from the National Endowment for the Humanities and Atlantic Philanthropies, the series could soldier on, Finneran reasoned, to the end of the poetry series with The Tower, if need be, drawing funds from his professorship at the University of Tennessee. Politely declining my offer, he delivered ‘a solid foundation for the book,’ approving in January 2005 ‘preliminary copy’ prepared by Curtis and Saddlemyer, who ‘are grateful for the groundwork he laid so well’ (xii).

2This edition of poetic manuscripts is the second I have reviewed under similarly wretched circumstances. The first one was the late Thomas Parkinson’s relatively slender edition of the manuscripts of Michael Robartes and the Dancer (see YA 12 [1996]: 259-62), a volume finished by Anne Brannen, with help from Stephen Parrish, as I recall, and approval by Richard Finneran. (In fact, Finneran has been the only designated ‘Series Editor’ to exercise oversight according to the organization advertised on the masthead. Hence, Yeats’s poetry received priority whereas his prose dropped from the prospectus, and volume editors for the plays were made to compromise principles to cut costs for the press.)

3Inconsistencies and minor omissions in Parkinson’s edition were noted in my review, since which I have found that two entire folios of a bound manuscript notebook (NLI 30,361, ff. 30v and 31v) are not accounted for in the book, or half the first-draft version of ‘Solomon and the Witch.’ Parkinson and Brannen take it from line 18 with the loose leaves of NLI 13,588(4), 1v. When I noted the omission to Finneran in an e-mail, he responded as anyone might: ‘Poor Tom.’ He put the blame on cataloguing, for it is true that the instruments we use to find manuscripts are notoriously imprecise, sometimes wrong. Who has not grumbled about this problem? Nevertheless, at the National Library of Ireland, major portions of the W. B. Yeats conspectus were originally the work of scholars who got to the library about the same time the manuscripts did: Parkinson almost fifty years ago and Finneran, with hand-picked associates, prior to Michael Yeats’s transference of more than a thousand additional items in 1985.

4In the latter case, a scratch inventory was produced in a short interval— the so-called ‘MBY List’—and items bestowed to the library were maintained in that order, with ‘30,001’ assigned to MBY 1 as a shelf number, ‘30,361’ to MBY 361, and so forth. Hence, Parkinson took it for granted that an entry referred to as ‘Maroon Notebook’ containing revisions for The Player Queen and drafts of Calvary scenes, A Vision notes, and a let-ter to Lady Gregory would not be something he needed to investigate. Turning the notebook upside down and sideways to inscribe the first seventeen lines of ‘Solomon and the Witch’ on two, until then, blank pages in the midst of the revisions, Yeats befuddled such assumptions. (Also, an horary stands at one end of the notebook—no notes for A Vision, as reported in the MBY List; and the supposed draft correspondence is actually the essay ‘A People’s Theatre: A Letter to Lady Gregory,’ first published in The Irish Statesman in December 1919.)

5Finneran committed the same error by failing to consult the folders in which are filed the unfinished play that Yeats based on material ‘associated by legend, story and tradition with the neighborhood of Thoor Ballylee or Ballylee Castle,’ to quote Yeats’s note to part II of the title poem of The Tower (100)—a note omitted in the Cornell volume (alomg with Yeats’s notes, generally, for some reason)—but amplified by Finneran in his misnamed The Tower: A Facsimile Edition’ (New York: Scribners, 2004). The cost to the Cornell series is that the oldest extant fragment of ‘The Gift of Harun Al-Rashid’ is missing there, for the poem demonstrably traces its origin from the conceits of dreaming and letter-writing in the play. The fragment (folio 1a) is accordingly filed with the manuscripts of a prose scenario labelled by Mrs. Yeats ‘MS of “A Play Begun and Never Finished’’’. Like Yeats’s daunting schema of ‘The Geometrical Foundation of the Wheel,’ to which the poem relates in AVA, the ‘complicated mathematical imagery’ is for the Caliph but a ‘crabbed thing not to be understood’. My account of the play and its making from 1918 to 1923, when the writing of the poem and a telegram from Stockholm terminally distracted Yeats from finishing his fifth Noh adaptation, is found in YA 17 (2007): 95-179. Both a transcription and photographic reproduction of folio 1a are presented there, as well as a collation of imagery against that of the fair copy (NLI 30,540) displayed in The Tower manuscripts edition, making it unnecessary to repeat the exhibit and commentary here. My guess is that the reason Yeats’s manuscript notes, NLI 13,589(1), were excluded from the company of appendices I-III, although acknowledged in the Census of Manuscripts, is that this ‘prose commentary’ does not agree with the ‘Preliminary Arrangements’ of The Tower poems in Appendix III (668-69) but with some unknown conception of the book, going a little beyond notes in the Facsimile Edition (105-10), excluding commentary on ‘The Dying Swan’ by Sturge Moore and discussing, instead, the Byzantine setting of ‘Prelude to the Old Age of Queen Maeve,’ ‘Songs from a Play,’ and ‘From “Oedipus at Colonus”’.

6Fatigue can be a consequence of delay and vice versa, whether mortality is to blame or not. The Tower manuscripts, including a few rejected poems, deserved more unrelieved attention from its principal editor than it received until late. Withholding The Tower poems from Cornell to save them for the prototype of an ambitious ‘Hypermedia Yeats’ proved a vain distraction from both the project of thirty years and the Macmillan/Scribner critical edition of the Yeats oeuvre, beginning with Finneran’s divisively received volume one, The Poems (1983), and followed by numerous others edited, co-edited, or coordinated by him with the publisher until his death on 17 November 2005. See, for example, Warwick Gould’s ‘Yeats Digitally Remastered,’ a review of The W. B. Yeats Collection, ed. Richard J. Finneran (Cambridge: Chadwyck-Healey, 1998) in YA 14: 334-49. There is something to be said for Herculean tasks performed by mortals, but there is also ‘a law indifferent to blame or praise,’ Yeats observed, in which overweening may exact a toll. Once, after laying out a problem concerning an alleged ‘misdescription’ by Roy Foster (on Yeats as opposed to the heroine of The Countess Cathleen), Finneran, who was finishing work his wife started for The Collected Works, vol. 3: The Irish Dramatic Movement (2003), complained to me: ‘Every time I try to edit something I end up saying “doesn’t anyone get anything right?”, but then I recall my own mistakes. …’ (his ellipsis). I liked him a great deal for saying that, in spite of reservations in other respects. He never shirked hard work, and I knew he was working desperately hard at the time. (My appraisal of the effort was published in Irish Studies Review 12.3 (2004), 360-61).

7I was disappointed by the short introduction of the Cornell Tower volume, though, in part because of its shortness and because, comparatively speaking, it shows greater interest in issues of small consequence pertaining to the marked proofs of the Edition de Luxe than in much more consequential handwritten drafts and revisions prior to 1928, or even prior to the 1933 Collected Poems—as in the case of stanza 2 of part ‘II’ of ‘Two Songs from a Play,’ which appeared first in the play The Resurrection in Stories of Michael Robartes and His Friends (1931) before joining The Tower poem in Collected Poems. So much credence is placed on proof copies NLI 30,241, NLI 30,262, and NLI 30,007 that they are unnecessarily given abbreviations EdL(1), EdL(2), and EdL(3) in the Census. When he mistakenly believed that I was to follow my edition of ‘The Dreaming of the Bones’ and ‘Calvary’: Manuscript Materials (2003), with an edition of the manuscripts of The Resurrection, Finneran wrote to me about whether two holograph pages (157 and 230) from the White Vellum Notebook, or indeed ‘only those in 13,589 and Later Poems’ should go into his volume as my supposed ‘edition w[ould] obviously be published first.’ I advised him by all means to use the songs as they appear in the play manuscripts because I thought it fitting and because The Tower had priority over The Resurrection unless Serena Guinness had made more progress than generally reported. As The Resurrection is still a pending volume in the series, I am pleased to see that my advice was followed, including all matter related to the ‘unfolding and folding of the curtain’ (see pp. 286-313) graphically set, and commendably, by Jared Curtis. The only quibble I have there is a general one, which has to do with the renumbering of folios. For instance, NLI 13,589(7), 1r and 2r have been dubbed NLI 13,589(7)(a), 27r and 28r in an effort to coordinate different states of the poem (a versus b) and to reflect the fact that Yeats numbered two of these folios ‘27’ and ‘28’ in relation to some unspecified arrangement of texts.

8As I vouch for the vetting and coordination process between volumes, let it be said, too, that The Tower (1928): Manuscript Materials was especially made to fit with two other volumes in the poetic manuscripts side of the Cornell series, both edited by David R. Clark: The Winding Stair (1929): Manuscript Materials (1995) and Words for Music Perhaps and Other Poems: Manuscript Materials (1999). The reason for this is that the manuscripts imprecisely catalogued as NLI 13,589—’drafts, revisions etc. of poems published in The Tower, with some rejected poems’ in thirty-two folders—are not at all sorted as a discrete body but complexly related by date. In the Census, NLI 13,589(25) a-e is only a partial inventory as such:

Materials for ‘A Man Young and Old,’ all on paper type A: (a) ink drafts of ‘First Love,’ (b) ‘Human Dignity,’ (c) ‘The Mermaid,’ and (d) ‘The Empty Cup.’ In the same folder is (e) four-page pencil and ink draft of ‘From “Oedipus at Colonus”’(added to “A Man Young and Old” no later than EdL[2], probably included in EdL[1], but the proofs of this material have not survived).

9Also included in NLI 13,589(25), at 19r, is the one-page prose subject of ‘Blood and the Moon,’ part I, as reproduced and transcribed by Clark in The Winding Stair (1929). This goes without mention in The Tower (1928) because it has been the systematic practice of the poetry side of the Cornell Yeats to ignore details except as they apply to the poems of the subject collection. Most of the materials in the White Vellum Notebook, already mentioned, post-date The Tower poems, but we are not told that the new stanza for ‘Two Songs from a Play’ falls between the draft of a song for The Resurrection and that of ‘Crazy Jane on God’ dated 8 July 1931. NLI 13,589(29) relates to ‘First Confession’ and ‘Her Triumph,’ III and IV, respectively in ‘A Woman Young and Old’; and NLI 13,589(31) is supposed to contain, as misleadingly phrased in both catalogue and Census, ‘various versions of love poems (rejected) also ‘Wisdom’ and first drafts of Oedipus choruses,’ when in fact the ‘love poems’ were not rejected but constitute one poem in parts that eventually became two poems, ‘Chosen’ and ‘Parting,’ in ‘A Woman Young and Old.’ Thank goodness for Clark’s Words for Music Perhaps and Other Poems: Manuscript Materials to help make sense of the whole. The Tower volume seems generally a good fit with those companions and profits by them as precursors.

10However, Finneran’s introduction—the longer part I of which is acknowledged to be a recasting of the introduction to his so-called Facsimile Edition (see editor’s footnote on p. xxxix), itself the retread of an earlier essay in the South Atlantic Review 63.1 (Winter 1998), 35-55—makes little account of Yeats’s complicated maneuverings of poems between the 1925 and 1937 editions of A Vision, when all but one of his poems featured in AVA appeared in The Tower. The exception is ‘The Phases of the Moon,’ which originated from The Wild Swans at Coole (1919). He had also quoted the first stanza of ‘Towards Break of Day,’ a poem from the collection Michael Robartes and the Dancer (1921) that did not carry forward into AVB just as ‘The Fool by the Roadside’ had failed to do as the epigraph to ‘The Gates of Pluto’ when Book IV of AVA was deleted. (See my ‘Guardians of the Tower and Stream: Yeats’s Unfinished Fifth Play for Dancers, 1918-1923’ in YA 17, 124-30, on placement of ‘The Gift of Harun Al-Rashid’ in The Cat and the Moon and Certain Poems, AVA, and The Tower.) Finneran finds it ‘important to note . . . that Macmillan had not included ‘The Gift of Harun Al-Rashid’ on their list of long poems; indeed, on the Edition de Luxe proofs it is treated as an integral part of The Tower, not even beginning on a new page’ (xxxv). Yet when the poem appeared in the ‘Narrative and Dramatic’ section of Collected Poems, he takes that to be significant evidence that Yeats was no longer ‘wrapped up in the world of automatic writing and of spiritual visitations’ (xxxvi) as if the Collected Poems arrangement were the very last word, presumably because EdL(1), (2), and (3) range in Macmillan stamped dates from ‘18 SEP 1931’ to ‘7 OCT 1932.’

11When so much might have been said about the quandary of manuscript materials for ‘A Man Young and Old’ because of their relation to Clark’s work, the extent of Finneran’s remarks about the sequence is as follows:

It is interesting to note that what Yeats did with ‘Two Songs from a Play’ for the Collected Poems is the precise opposite of what he did with ‘A Man Young and Old’ for the Edition de Luxe proofs. There, the addition of the Sophoclean ode provides a mythic analogue for the very human persona of the sequence; here, the mythic figures themselves provide an analogue for all individuals (xxxiv).

12True, but the observation says nothing about why Yeats promoted ‘From “Oedipus at Colonus”’ into the sequence after The Tower’s first publication. In Collected Poems the poetic arrangement amounts to a complex medley of voices that balance out, in number and sense, its female complement in The Winding Stair. The ten songs of ‘A Man Young and Old’ in The Tower version of 1928 were the aggregate of poems first published in April 1926 and May 1927 in The London Mercury and then assembled into two numbered units in October Blast (1927). The units were called ‘The Young Countryman’ (numbered I-IV) and ‘The Old Countryman’ (I-VI), assigning a rough identity to speakers in the order maintained in The Tower. But in having made a single sequence of the two, Yeats gave the ensemble a title paired with a single, universalized speaker, a ‘Man’ young and old. The first four poems (‘First Love,’ ‘Human Dignity,’ ‘The Mermaid,’ and ‘The Death of the Hare’) are a young man’s story. The pivotal fifth poem (‘The Empty Cup’) is an old man’s reflection on ‘one’s youth as [a] cup that a mad man dying of thirst left half tasted,’ as Yeats observed in a letter to Olivia Shakespear (CL InteLex 4972). However, the pivotal poem of the sequence was not the central poem, nor could there be a numerically central one until the sequence was altered slightly in Collected Poems. Whereas in The Winding Stair (1929) an eleven-poem arrangement had been devised for ‘A Woman Young and Old,’ concluding with the choral translation ‘From “The Antigone”’, Yeats made an ingenious decision to transpose two external poems that had followed the male sequence in 1928: ‘The Three Monuments’ and ‘From “Oedipus at Colonus”’. Hence the latter became poem XI of ‘A Man Young and Old,’ complementing ‘From “The Antigone”’ and making a middle lyric of ‘His Memories’ (VI), a poem since associated with a carnal union between Yeats (Paris) and Maud Gonne (Helen of Troy) in 1907. This remembered moment of rapture by the old male speaker of the poem has its complement (or Blakean ‘contrary’) in the plight of love in ‘Chosen’ (‘A Woman Young and Old,’ VI). Living the moment and accepting her fate as chosen, the female speaker offers a contrasting view to that of the embittered ‘young man old’ in the contrary sequence.

13So one must conclude that a thin introduction, written originally for different purposes (but for the four pages of part II), is a weakness of The Tower (1928): Manuscript Materials. I have no reservations about the book’s quite exemplary Chronology of Manuscripts (xli-xlviii) and its two summary tables (xlviii-l). I regret not being acknowledged for the transcriptions I contributed and for the omission of photographic materials Richard Finneran inquired of me in September 1985 and again in January 2004 (see blank space on p. 272 facing ‘CW’ and ‘WSU’ transcripts) when he felt pressure keenly to pro-vide the press with images he assumed I owned from a microfilm or ‘some kind of copy . . . from which to produce the photographs.’ He was right that I possessed microfilm copies (but only for certain plays) as well as photocopies made by Anne Yeats on her photocopy machine. Evidently, Richard Finneran had still a surprisingly long way to go then. The balance of archival queries, cross-checking, and arrangements for copies after January 2005 are credited to Jared Curtis and Ann Saddlemyer, with the help of the series assistant editor, Declan Kiely. There are plenty of instances of indulgences in the reproduction of marked proof copies and typescripts that are transcribed on facing pages (e.g., in ‘Owen Aherne and his Dancers’) to confirm trends seen in earlier volumes of poetry. But this goes without saying, as well as graphic textual designs that optimize the amount of wasteful white space (see pp. 266-77 and 306-07). The number of pages in which duplicate holographs occur might have been reduced as the practice has been ingeniously avoided by volume editors outside the poetry series. While errors exist in the transcriptions, I find the latter to be generally quite good. I might have argued for placement of NLI 13,583, 1r and 2v, in an appendix as an unfinished poem rather than placed as an antecedent draft of ‘The Road at My Door’ in the poem ‘Meditations in Time of Civil War’ (154-55). But, all things considered, I congratulate the volume’s three editors for doing a good job under extremely unfortunate circumstances. In my judgment, the book is less than one could hope for but about what one might expect as the fulfillment of a commitment made long ago. It is the last of its kind. With only two volumes remaining on the plays, soon the great project will be finished.


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