Yeats's worlds : Ireland, England and the poetic imagination /
David Pierce ; with contemporary photographs by Dan Harper.
New Haven : Yale University Press, 1995.
xiv, 346 p. : ill. (some col.)
More Details
New Haven : Yale University Press, 1995.
catalogue key
Includes bibliographical references and index.
A Look Inside
First Chapter

Chapter One

Yeats and Sligo


William Butler Yeats, `Willie' or `WB' as he was known to family and friends, was born in Dublin on 13 June 1865.(1) It would be hard to imagine a more fitting sign of the zodiac for `Doubbllinnbbayyates', the label he wears in Finnegans Wake (1939), than Gemini, the twins. As he was later to confess to Dorothy Wellesley(*) in 1937: `I begin to see things double - doubled in history, world history, personal history' (DWL 135). In his Almanack for June 1865, Partridge might have had Yeats in his sights: `Another opposition! aye, and an unusually inauspicious one, because of the agents in the zodiacal misunderstanding. Jupiter and the Sun, the two great benign influences, pulling in opposite directions.'(2) Man and Mask, Dove or Swan, Self and Anti-Self - these are some of the dialectical terms used by critics when discussing Yeats. He comes down to us from the Golden Age of Modernism, in the robes of a Nobel Prize Winner, as someone who `swerved in naught,/Something to perfection brought' (VP 577). But, in reality, Yeats, with his `habit of vacillation',(3) is the troubled and troubling artist who spent a long time seeing, or hoping to see, things double.

Between extremities Man runs his course; A brand, or flaming breath, Comes to destroy All those antinomies Of day and night; The body calls it death, The heart remorse. But if these be right What is joy?

(VP 499-500)

As is apparent from these opening lines of `Vacillation', Yeats touches a vein of rich suggestiveness by means that are both direct and elusive. Life is summed up in terms invented by the ancient Greeks and sanctioned by the Church: between day and night, good and evil, knowledge and ignorance, the intellect and the heart. Contrary to expectation, the use of the general Latinate word antinomies, carefully positioned to reverberate against the equally abstract word extremities, prompts all sorts of association. In converting borders into opposites, Yeats brings into dialectical play co-ordinates which are spatially separate and distinct. Given that he knew no Latin or Greek, his choice of vocabulary is, on reflection, invariably precise. It is not `oppositions' or `contrasts' or `antitheses', but a word associated with philosophy and the law: antinomia; against the law; or, following Kant, a `contradiction between conclusions that seem equally logical, reasonable, or necessary' (OED). As if this were not complicated enough, Yeats introduces the dynamic image of the brand or flaming breath, an image that initially draws on and then detaches itself from the Pentecostal flame and the sexually charged Blakean heritage of `crimson joy'. If death and remorse constitute life's horizons, the question Yeats asks is not Where can joy be found? but the more fundamental, arresting thought: What is joy? There seems little room here for the power of love to triumph - if, that is, we ignore the title, `Vacillation'.

Throughout his life Yeats's own horoscope was often cast, but perhaps none was more apposite for beginning this book than the one outlined in the 1890s by a collaborator of his uncle George Pollexfen,* who was `unacquainted with the subject':

Saturn is most in the ascendant, Mercury is trine to ascendant, Saturn and Herschel are both trine to the moon, and Jupiter sextile to the moon. The personal appearance of the native is thus described: `Dry and cold, a dark swarthy complexion, black hair and dark eyes . . . thin nose inclined to bend down over the lips, nostrils closed, chin long and rather large . . . head held slightly forward in stooping.' In matters of the mind the native is 'profound in imagination, reserved, patient, melancholy, in arguing and disputing grave and austere in manner . . . a lover of all honest sciences, and a searcher into, and delighter in, strange studies and novelties. . . very imaginative, subject to see visions, and dream dreams'.(4)

The accuracy of this is uncanny. `No one could say', recalls `John Eglinton',* `he was without humour, but it was a saturnine humour, and he was certainly not one who suffered gladly the numerous people he considered fools.'(5) `Yeats looks just what I expected,' declared Martin Ross when she met him at Coole Park. `A cross between a Dominie Sampson and a starved R.C. curate - in seedy black clothes - with a large black bow at the root of his long naked throat.'(6)

As to Yeats's swarthy looks, these too were often commented on by contemporaries. According to Stephen MacKenna, his face was `dark, very dark: Spanish looking . . . weird . . . something uncanny in that thin dark face crowned with a downfalling mane of dark hair and lit with the lambent light of those dark dreaming eyes'.(7) George Moore's* portrait of him in Evelyn Innes (1898) as Ulick Dean suggests that it `was his eyes that gave its sombre ecstatic character to his face'.(8) In 1899 another commentator noted his `rather narrow face, with eyes rather close, and the left eye looking a little outwards; clean-shaved, showing blue-black to match his suit; very much the poet all through his nature'.(9)

The first meeting Yeats attended of the Southwark Irish Literary Club in March 1888 made a similar impression on the first historian of the Irish Literary Revival, W. P. Ryan: `In appearance he was tall, slight, and mystic of the mystical. His face was not so much dreamy as haunting: a little weird even - so that really if one were to meet him on an Irish mountain in the moonlight he would assuredly hasten away to the nearest fireside with a story of a new and genial ghost which had crossed his path. He spoke in a hushed, musical eerie tone: a tone which had constant suggestions of the faery world, of somebody "in them" , as we say in Ireland.'(10) When Oliver St John Gogarty* spoke at Wellesley College, Massachusetts, in October 1939, he confessed that Yeats's personal appearance was `something almost eerie': `He wa3 dark, with hawklike features, and very beautiful hands; he seemed to be between the human and the superhuman. "Sometimes I really believed he was a fairy king," Dr Gogarty said. The great poet was modest, aloof, sensitive, often disillusioned; one was conscious of the mystical strain in the man.'(11)

Wilfrid Gibson recalled his first meeting with Yeats in a Holborn teashop and listening to him `pouring/A stream of scintillating eloquence/In his broad-vowelled brogue'.(12) At a reception held for him in the rooms of the Irish Literary Society in New York in March 1904, comment was passed on his `attractive naively in his unsual somewhat stiff gestures, in kits disconcerting lapses into mood, in his ingeniously disarranged clothes'.(13) According to Maurice Bowra, `Yeats was not in the least "cosy". His genius for words was an obstacle between you and easy intimacy.'(14) He spoke with a marked Irish brogue, and his choice of words was as striking as his sentences were well fashioned. For Max Beerbohm, whom he first met in the winter of 1893, Yeats was `une ame auguste': `His benign aloofness from whatever company I saw him in, whether he were inspired with language or silence, made everyone else seem rather cheap.'(15) As for comment on changes in Yeats's appearance, no-one was more discerning than Beerbohm, who in 1914 remarked:

As years went by, the visual aspect of Yeats changed a little. His face grew gradually fuller in outline, and the sharp angles of his figure were smoothed away; and his hands - those hands which in his silences lay folded downward across his breast, but left each other and came forth and, as it were, stroked the air to and fro while he talked - those very long, fine hands did seem to have lost something of their insubstantiality. His dignity and his charm were as they always had been. But I found it less easy to draw caricatures of him. He seemed to have become subtly less like himself.(16)

In keeping with Gaelic verse, there was a tendency in Yeats `to slur the stress and to avoid emphatic rhythms'.(17) Indeed, the experience of reading his verse is not unlike consuming heady wine, for, as Robert Lynd remarked in 1909, Yeats is `the poet of intoxication'.(18) Yeats followed Blake in recognising that `The Man who never in his Mind & Thoughts travel'd to Heaven Is No Artist.'(19) He lacks the integrity of Hardy, the intellectual certainty of Shaw, or the peculiarly compelling voice of Kipling, but for anyone interested in understanding or tracing the often bumpy transition from the nineteenth to the twentieth century, whether in thought or literature, there are few better models than the `strong enchanter',(20) the Nietzschean poet who never stopped remaking himself. His work constitutes at once a form of intellectual wrestling and an engagement of the heart. In his best poetry there is a holding down of emotion, a pressure below the surface of words, the achievement of a `powerful and passionate syntax' (E & I 522).(21) As John Masefield(*) claimed for his friend of forty years:

No man in all this time has given more hope Or set alight such energy in souls. There was no rush-wick in an earthen saucer Half-filled with tallow, but he made it burn With something of a light for somebody.(22)

The course of Yeats's eventful life, which ran from 1865 to 1939, coincided with momentous events in the public arena: the beginning of the end of the British Empire, the fall of feudalism in Ireland, the renewed struggle for mastery in Europe, the widespread collapse of cultural optimism, and the difficult birch of modernity. Yeats began as a dream-led Victorian and ended as a scornful modern. As one acerbic Irish journalist observed in 1902, Yeats `dreams dreams and gets things on his nerves'.(23) From the outset we need, therefore, a method of inquiry sufficiently agile both to appreciate and to contextualise his work, for he was, as George Bornstein suggests, `perhaps the most complex mind of our century, and one cannot fully come to grips with him through any single approach'.(24)

When Clifton Fadiman reviewed Joseph Hone's biography of Yeats in the New Yorker in February 1943 he drew attention to the frame of two wars, the American Civil War and the Second World War: `Yeats was born in the year of Appomatox and died January 28, 1939, in the first year of Germany's First War Against Mankind.'(25) In March 1904, in an interview with a reporter on the Daily Chronicle after his American tour, Yeats provocatively `insisted all along on the idea of Ireland as being a "mother country"'.(26) In retrospect, the year of Yeats's birth can be read in terms either of coincidence or of doubles. In April 1865, within weeks of Lincoln's assassination, the American Civil War ended, at the close of which `the Irish in America had wakened to a sense of power and a hope of vengeance'.(27) In September of the same year in Dublin, Yeats's later mentor John O'Leary* and Jeremiah O'Donovan Rossa were arrested for being members of an illegal secret society, the American-financed Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB), an organisation that Yeats was to join, probably in 1886.(28) In London the hit play that summer, replete with the seditious song `The Wearing of the Green', was Dion Boucicault's Arrah-na-Pogue, with Boucicault himself in the title role of Shaun the Post.(29)

Irishman Yeats was born the same year as India-born Kipling, one a severe critic, the other a tormented apologist of empire. With the publication of John Henry Newman's The Dream of Gerontius, Algernon Swinburne's Atalanta in Calydon, and Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland, the mid-Victorian imagination was in full flight. Yeats, meanwhile, the `backward-looking' philosopher who found some of his deepest inspiration in thinking about the body, was betrayed into life by the Porphyrean `honey of generation', uncertain, as he later imagines it in `among School Children', of his `setting forth':

What youthful mother, a shape upon her lap Honey of generation had betrayed, And that must sleep, shriek, struggle to escape As recollection or the drug decide, Would think her son, did she but see that shape With sixty or more winters on its head, A compensation for the pang of his birth, Or the uncertainty of his setting forth.

(VT 444)

In the 1930s when Eglinton, who sat next to Yeats at high school in Dublin, embarked on his recollections of the poet, he immediately pitched into a discussion of his Anglo-Irishness:

Yeats's boyhood was passed in the great peace of Queen Victoria and amid all the social and spiritual conditions prevailing throughout her realms, especially perhaps among the Anglo-Irish, who in addition to the universal feeling of stability, enjoyed a special sense of `possessing the earth', a sublimation of the old Ascendancy feeling - a sense in the retrospect almost one of blessedness, but soon, alas! to engender in the spirit of the youth a vague restlessness. I have read what there was something like it in the Southern States of North America before the abolition of slavery, when families, even without actual wealth, passed on from one generation to another the inheritance of privileged leisure. The Yeats family, members of a little patriarchal community of traders in the enchanting county of Sligo, were likewise born into a natural sense of aristocracy, and the poet, though his father was an impoverished artist, acquired a strong feeling of superiority-- which has not been altogether serviceable to him as a rational poet--to all phases of human activity except `the arts'.(30)

Though not strictly speaking one of their number, Yeats identified with the Anglo-Irish and in effect - though they would not have recognised this-sang their swan-song as a social class. In this he was alone among members of his immediate family. His father John Butler Yeats* spoke of `a plebian pride';(31) his brother Jack* identified with the common people; Yeats's sister Lollie* came to regret the Yeatsian inheritance and her involvement in the Cuala Press. `No Yeats has ever made money as far as I can find out,' she laments in a letter of April 1934. `If I was to begin all over again - never never would I touch anything even touching art or literature - here am I having worked hard since I was 19 - & I do not make an income as big as a worker in a laundry gets.'(32)

The contexts for Yeats's work stem from but are not confined or reducible to the colonial encounter between Britain and Ireland. In the context of Anglo-Ireland, Yeats's general stance often looks highly political, but against the background of Irish Ireland it can often seem depoliticised or even anti-political. In his Introduction to A Book of Irish Verse (1895), Yeats caustically remarks that Trinity College, Dublin, `desires to be English, has been the mother of many verse-writers and of few poets; and this can only be because she has set herself against the national genius, and taught her children to imitate alien styles and choose out alien themes, for it is not possible to believe that the educated Irishman is alone prosaic and uninventive'.(33) But his disparagement of English influence in Ireland is not always particularly enlightened. In a lecture delivered at Wellesley College in November 1903, he spoke in terms markedly different, for example, from Joyce:* `Deprecating mention was made of the kind of literature sent to Ireland by England - everything with the Union jack tied round its neck - the cheap story, the music hall song, never the Milton and Shakespeare.'(34)

As for Yeats's feelings towards England itself, these were suitably double-edged, but one attitude stood out. Like his fellow-Irishman Shaw, he never felt any sense of inferiority towards England and never assumed he was the colonialist or she the mother country. After all, the English ate dogfish, put marmalade in their porridge, kissed at railway stations, and disclosed their affairs to strangers (R 60-62). `Every one I knew well in Sligo despised Nationalists and Catholics, but all disliked England with a prejudice that had come down perhaps from the days of the Irish Parliament' (R 59). Again, it is Eglinton who fine-tunes the distinction: `A dislike of England, curiously combined with a preference for the society of English people, was fostered among the Anglo-Irish during the great Victorian peace.'(35) Although (or perhaps it is because) he occupied a hyphenated position, Yeats betrayed no insecurity in such matters. As Arland Ussher suggests, Yeats `enjoys his "antinomies" too much to wish to "transcend" them'.(36) When the Gaelic Society of TCD proposed in the autumn of 1914 to celebrate the birth of Thomas Davis, they invited to speak, as representing the various currents of Irish intellectual life, Yeats, Pearse, and Thomas Kettle. J. P. Mahaffy the Provost took exception to Pearse being invited, and the meeting was moved to the Antient Concert Rooms. Yeats defended Pearse's right to speak but made his position clear: `He knew only vaguely what Mr Pearse had written about politics, but if it was some sort of anti-Englishism he was as vehemently opposed to the politics of Mr Pearse as he was to the Unionism of Dr Mahaffy.'(37)

Yeats's view of Englishness is bound up with his sense of Irishness; his sense of Irishness is bound up with his view of Englishness, and in this he was no different from his contemporaries. His one-time confidante Katharine Tynan* once declared: 'We are an eternally contradictory people, and none of us can prognosticate exactly what we shall feel, what do, under given circumstances; whereas the Englishman-is simple. He has no mysteries. Once you know him, you can pretty well tell what he will say, what feel, and do under given circumstances. You have a formula for him: you have no formula for the Irish.'(38) Susan Mitchell, who came from an Ascendancy background and who stayed with the Yeats family in Bedford Park, pointed out that Irish Protestants have two inheritances: `ne is Foxe's "Book of Martyrs", the other is the history of their country. One tells of martyrdoms to Rome, the other of martyrdoms to England.'(39)

Such attitudes caution us against being too free in our characterisation of Anglo-Irish relations in terms of sister countries or of colonial relations; they also remind us of the dangers of uncritically accepting stereotypes. In a different but related context, John Wilson Foster has pointed out that `London if truth be told is not for Ulster Protestants their capital, as it wasn't for Joyce's Dubliners.'(40) According to Gogarty, `Yeats always regarded England as a foreign country though he resided there frequently and had many friends there. . . . He was impatient of England, a country so largely composed of bourgeois. To him the bourgeois mind was a "middle-class" mind. . . . When Yeats heard that in Russia Lenin had declared religion to be the "opium of the masses", Yeats remarked, "In England H. G. Wells is the opium of the middle classes."'(41) Like Kipling, Yeats saw England as a political nation and almost never distinguished `England' or `English' from `Britain' or `British'.(42) It was English, not British, commercialism that he attacked. Perhaps Scottish friends and admirers such as `Fiona Macleod' (William Sharp), Cornish friends like Arthur Symons,* and Welsh friends like Lionel Johnson* (before his mystical transformation into an Irishman), found common cause in Yeats's anti-English, pro-Celtic stance. And he impressed his closest American friend, Ezra Pound,* with memorable attacks on the host country: `England is the only country where a man will lie without being paid for it.'(43)

Of course, from today's perspective, Yeats's version of Englishness looks both familiar and dated, but there is more to it than this. Yeats went to school in Hammersmith, lived for more than half his life in London, and travelled throughout the country both on lecture tours and with the Abbey Theatre, but his understanding of Britain is almost entirely confined to stereotypes learnt in childhood and to images derived from his reading of English literature. He shows little appreciation of English landscape, little interest in regional differences, and no concern with the Yeatses' possible Yorkshire origins or the Pollexfens' origins in Devon.(44) In his construction of an earthly paradise, he insisted on a wedge not a tension between the country and the city, and made no room in his mind for imagining England an adopted country. The power of the metropolis was also stronger than he supposed: in one of his early letters to Tynan from London he refers to Sligo as `down at' not `across' or `over in': `Down at Sligo one sees the whole world in a days walk' (L [K] 153).(45)


Unlike Jack, Yeats spent most of his childhood away from Sligo. However, the two years he was there, between the ages of seven and nine, were, according to his father's biographer, `among the most impressionable of his life',(46) and ensured that Sligo became for ever associated in his mind as a place of return, of nostalgia, of contrast. In the words of one of his Pollexfen cousins, `Sligo was our paradise',(47) or, as his down-to-earth brother once boasted, Sligo was a `fine deep broad country', `where all the rogues come from'.(48) Sligo provided a break from the demands of living, whether economic or social, as in November 1894: `I had not solved the difficulty of living. I went to Sligo and spent six months there with my uncle at Thornhill' (Mem 75). While he was a child and young man growing up in London, Sligo was rarely out of Yeats's head: `I remember when I was nine or ten years old walking along Kensington High Street so full of love for the fields and roads of Sligo that I longed - a strange sentiment for a child-for earth from a road there that I might kiss it' (A 472). In a letter to Tynan written from Rosses Point in August 1887, again it is the earth - not the people - that is uppermost in his mind: 'It is a wonderfully beautiful day the air is full of trembling light. The very feel of the familiar Sligo earth puts me in good spirits. I should like to live here always not out of liking for the people so much as for the earth and the sky here, though I like the people too' (L [K] 33).

Interestingly, his most celebrated poem, `The Lake Isle of Innisfree', owes its inspiration to `homesick' thoughts of Sligo from abroad in `hateful' London - but again the thought is `unpeopled': `I had still the ambition,formed in Sligo in my teens, of living in imitation of Thoreau on Innisfree, a little island in Lough Gill, and when walking through Fleet Street very homesick I heard a little tinkle of water and saw a fountain in a shop-window which balanced a little ball upon its jet, and began to remember lake water. From the sudden remembrance came my poem Innispree, my first lyric with anything inn's rhythm of my own music' (A 153).(49) In his semi-autobiographical novel John Sherman (1891), Yeats explores at some length his acute feelings for Sligo, at once `the place-that has really influenced my life most' (L [K] 195) and `the lonliest place in the world' (L [K] 41), as he describes it in letters to Tynan in his early twenties. The protagonist Sherman is confronted with a choice: remain in Sligo and marry homely Mary Carton (modelled on Tynan) or depart for London and court disaster with the capricious Margaret Leland (modelled on Laura Armstrong). His clerical friend Howard taunts him to go: `Sherman, how do you stand this place - you who have thoughts above mere eating and sleeping and are not always grinding at the stubble mill? Here everybody lives in the eighteenth century - the squalid century.'(50) The alternative case is put by an old woman on board the cattle-boat for Liverpool: `Whey are ye goin' among them savages in London, Misther John? Why don't ye stay among your own people -for whet have we in this life but a mouthful of air?'(51) The plot, which turns on this tension inside Sherman, permits us glimpses of what Sligo meant to Yeats, perhaps best summarised as a mixture of personal recognition by the people, a rich use of language, an essentially folkloric way of looking et the world, and a bulwark against the levelling tide of an English way of life.

On one of Sherman's returns to Sligo from London, the emigration theme is again arrayed in Yeatsian colours:

As he went through the streets his heart went out to every familiar place and sight: the rows of tumble-down thatched cottages; the slated roofs of the shops; the women selling gooseberries; the river bridge; the high walls of the garden where it was said the gardener used to see the ghost of a former owner in the shape of a rabbit; the street corner no child would pass at nightfall for fear of the headless soldier; the deserted flour-store; the wharves covered with grass. All these he watched with Celtic devotion, that devotion carried to the ends of the world by the Celtic exiles, and since old time surrounding their journeyings with rumour of plaintive songs.(52)

In spite of the conventional description, a genuine note is being attempted here. On returning to Sligo (Ballah in the novel), Sherman/Yeats's mixed feelings of emptiness and longing for his native area resurface. On the one hand, Sligo unites people through memory, captured by the recorder-narrator through the use of such formulaic expressions as `it was said' and `no child would pass'. On the other hand, the homely image of thatched cottages is offset by the adjective `tumble-down'; the flour-store is deserted; the wharves unused. Sligo is empty, but it is peopled with ghosts, in this case the ghost of a former owner in the shape of a rabbit and that of the headless soldier. To Yeats, the fears of the unknown in childhood become the ground of belief in adulthood; in this way nothing is ever quite forsaken. Sherman's thoughts take a different course at this point as he sentimentalises in 1890s fashion about the `Celtic exiles'. But the direction of such a passage is towards the occult-inspired, literal idea of absence as presence.

The journey from Sligo to Liverpool was conducted on board a ship of his grandfather's Sligo Steam Navigation Company. When Yeats arrived at the Clarence Basin in Liverpool from the Godolphin School in Hammersmith, he felt immediately at home among Sligo people. `I waited for this voyage always with excitement and boasted to other boys about it, and when I was a little boy had walked with my feet apart as I had seen sailors walk' (R 91). In Sligo, as his aunt in time-honoured colonial fashion declared (with Yeats's father in mind): `Here you are somebody. There (in London) you will be nobody at all' (R 46). Yeats's father believed otherwise: `The Irishman is, boy and man, a detached personality.'(53) When Sherman returned again to Sligo, `e was occasionally recognised and greeted, and, as before, went on without knowing, his eyes full of unintelligent sadness because the mind was making merry afar.'(54) The three symbols of Sherman's life betray Yeats's incurable sense of isolation: `the garden, the book, and the letter'(55) - in other words, his love of outdoor things, his meditative frame of mind, and his anxieties. In his 1915 study of the poet, Hone, who was himself a Southern Unionist, fastens onto this aspect of Yeats's personality, and he links it with the poet's Anglo-Irishness: `Anglo-Irish writers have owed much to the fact that they are of a race without a myth, a people, therefore, that is easily capable of an exc-essive mental detachment.'(56)

William Pollexfen (1811-92)

The frame which surrounds the first volume of Yeats's autobiography, Reveries over Childhood and Youth, is supplied by the figure of his grandfather William Pollexfen. On the opening page the poet confesses that he confused his grandfather with God, and associated him with feelings of misery and loneliness:

Some of my misery was loneliness and some of it fear of old William Pollexfen my grandfather. He was never unkind, and I cannot remember that he ever spoke harshly to me, but it was the custom to fear and admire him. . . . He had a violent temper and kept a hatchet at his bedside for burglars end would knock a man down instead of going to law, and I once saw him hunt a group of men with a horsewhip. He had no relation for he was an only child and, being solitary and silent, he had few friends.

At the end of the volume - the year ù;s 1892 - Yeats returns to Sligo for his grandmother's funeral and watches his grandfather dying. Ironically for a first-person narrative, Reveries casts Years as the shadowy outsider, passively observing events from a distance. But one image, which reappears four decades later in Purgatory ( l 938) to give that play a more particular historical underpinning, suggests that powerful forces were at work both inside Yeats himself and in the wider world: `Before he was dead, old servants of that house where there had never been noise or disorder began their small pilferings, and after his death there was a quarrel over the disposition of certain mantel-piece ornaments of no value' (R 212).

Purgatory is concerned with `dreaming back', with what for Yeats was the ethical issue of how one generation relives, and thereby relieves, the transgressions of another.(57) The stage setting, which consists of a bare tree and a ruined house, creates an atmosphere supernaturally charged and threatening. When the-old man commands the young boy to `study that house', Yeats seems to have in mind his grandfather's Merville and Lady Gregory's* Coole Park:

I saw it fifty years ago Before the thunder bolt had riven it, Green leaves, ripe leaves, leaves thick as butter, Fat, greasy life. Stand there and look Because there is somebody in that house.

(VPl 1042)

At the end of his life, Yeats's childhood memories form the basis for an impassioned outcry against the collapse in modern Ireland of the Big House and eighteenth-century landed values. With the transfer of land under the Wyndham Acts to tenant farmers in the last two decades of-the nineteenth century, a thunderbolt, long associated perhaps in Yeats's mind with the death of his grandfather and the image of pilfering servants, had indeed riven the Old Order. But even when the stakes are high, as they are in this play, not everything points in a single direction. The image of life as fat and greasy sug-gests two separate counter-thoughts. Firstly, perhaps the landed interests in Ireland were ripe for a fall and incapable of reformation; secondly, such an exaggerated image seems designed to offer those in purgatory a way of suppressing their envy of the living.

Romance, which is more often than not associated in Yeats with aristocratic versus bourgeois values, was the quality above all others that Yeats as a child admired in kits grandfather:

He had great physical strength and had the reputation of never ordering a man to do anything he would not do himself. He owned many sailing ships and once, w=hen a captain just come to anchor at Rosses Point reported something wrong with the rudder,had sent a messenger to say `Send a man down to find out what's wrong.' `The crew all refuse' was the answer. `Go down yourself' was my grandfather's order, and when that was not obeyed, he dived from the main deck, all the neighbourhood lined along the pebbles of the shore. He came up with his skin torn but well informed about the rudder.

(R 5-6)

Tynan recognised the importance of the Pollexfen romance for all the Yeats children: `I am sure that Sligo and the Pollexfens' ships, and the wharves and quays and tarry ropes and warehouses, all contributed largely to the shaping of W. B. Yeats. The Pollexfens and romances were synonymous to the minds of the Yeats boys end girls as they grew.'(58)

William Pollexfen came from a landed family which owned Kitley Manor, Yealmpton, in Devon. For whatever reason, at the age of twelve he ran away to sea. In his twenties he found himself in Sligo married to the daughter of his cousin Elizabeth Pollexfen Middleton and joint owner with William Middleton of a shipping firm, the Sligo Steam Navigation Company, and a milling firm `Middleton and Pollexfen', which traded in coal, maize, and other goods between Sligo, Liverpool, Spain, Portugal, and America. The business prospered, and in 1867 William regained a little of his landed status by purchasing Merville, a big house on*he edge of Sligo complete with sixty acres and fine views of Ben Bulben. Whatever he privately felt or aspired to, or whatever his grandson fondly imagined about having blood that `has not passed through any huckster's loins' (VP 269), Pollexfen was a small-town merchant whose legacy extended into the 1920s. Indeed, in Kilgannon's 1926 survey of Sligo, a whole section is devoted to `Messrs. Pollexfen and Co., Limited'.(59)

Pollexfen's past may have contained romance, but any lingering gestures towards aristocratic recklessness were overturned by the market place, replaced by a depressive melancholia and, after 1880, by declining economic fortunes. The Pollexfens looked down on their Middleton relatives, who were comfortably established in Ireland, had business acumen, and mixed well with the locals. But they would never attain tire landed-gentry status of, say, the Core-Booths, who owned the estate at Lissadell nearby. Nevertheless, perched on top of his warehouse on the corner of Wine Street and Adelaide Street, the uncommunicative William Pollexfen must have been extremely satisfied to observe his ships on the river Garrogue bearing goads to and from his several warehouses in Sligo Town.(60) His commercial empire was short-lived, and when his last son died in 1929, there were no more Pollexfens to continue the association with Sligo.

However, by the 1920s, Arthur Jackson, who married Alice Pollexfen and joined the firm in the 1830s, was a noted Sligo entrepreneur. According to Kilgannon, `ere it not for the enterprise of such men as Senator Arthur Jackson and a few others who believe in investing their capital in Irish industries instead of British securities, industrial employment in Sligo would be practically nil.'(61) In 1909 Jackson established basic slag mills at the Quayside in Sligo, which produced an excellent fertiliser known as `The Anchor Brand' Yeats the poet complained bitterly against English commercialism, but he seemed not to connect this with the Pollexfen side of his family. Indeed, the valuing of nature in his verse stands in marked contrast with his family's efforts to control nature. Ironically, in the 1970s, both he and an in-law were appointed to the Irish Senate, one on account of his artistic, the other on account of his commercial success.

Full Text Reviews
Appeared in Publishers Weekly on 1995-11-13:
In this lavishly illustrated scholarly analysis of Nobel Prize-winning poet and dramatist William Butler Yeats (1865- 1939), Pierce (James Joyce's Ireland), a lecturer in English at the Univ. College of Ripon and York St. John, places a greater emphasis on his subject's connection to England than earlier studies have. Although Yeats was born in Ireland and was a leader of the 1890s' Irish Literary Revival, he spent a large part of his life in England, mingled easily in upper-class English social and cultural circles and married an English wife, Georgina (George) Hyde-Lees. Drawing on unpublished letters, old newspaper reports and other primary sources, the author provides a cultural context for his subject's Anglo-Irish identity. Although Pierce covers Yeats's love affair with Irish nationalist Maud Gonne, he focuses more on the previously unacknowledged influence of George on her husband's writings and on his career as an Irish senator. Pierce also examines the fascist sympathies Yeats displayed during his last years. (Jan.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Appeared in Choice on 1996-04:
Pierce (University College of Ripon and York St. John), author of James Joyce's Ireland (1992), has written another volume that will be an excellent choice for all college, university, and public libraries. Pierce combines biography, criticism, history, illustration, photography, and art to create a fresh, well-balanced, scholarly yet enormously entertaining book. He successfully shows Yeats in English and Irish contexts, following the poet from his birth in Dublin in 1865 to his death in France in 1939. In the words of T.S. Eliot, Yeats is "one of those few whose history is the history of their own time, who are a part of the consciousness of an age which cannot be understood without them." Pierce attends to all Yeats's quirks and varied interests--oral tradition, occult and automatic writing, Irish literature and history, drama, nationalism, and politics--yet the book is deeply sympathetic and honors the great influence Yeats still exerts in so many humanistic fields. Pierce notes Yeats's criticism of British attitudes toward Ireland but shows how Yeats was much influenced by English life: the camaraderie of the Rhymers Club, the Savile Club, friendly parlor gatherings at English country houses. J. L. Thorndike; Lakeland College
This item was reviewed in:
Kirkus Reviews, November 1995
Publishers Weekly, November 1995
Choice, April 1996
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Bowker Data Service Summary
Interweaving biography, criticism and history, David Pierce follows the life of W. B. Yeats. He describes Yeats' family and home, his interest in the oral tradition, the occult and automatic writing.
Unpaid Annotation
William Butler Yeats was Ireland's leading poet, chief architect of the Irish Literary Revival, and, according to T. S. Eliot, 'one of those few whose history is the history of their own time, who are part of the consciousness of an age which cannot be understood without them'. In this absorbing new study, David Pierce provides a fresh perspective, one that attends as much to Yeats's English contexts as his Irish ones and to the preoccupations of his art. If he was critical of British attitudes towards Ireland, Yeats was also much taken with English life, with the coterie atmosphere of the Rhymers' Club in the 1890s, with membership of the Savile Club in London, with gatherings at English country houses. For this intimate portrait of Yeats, Pierce pays particular attention to the hitherto unappreciated role of the poet's English wife, George Yeats, whose presence, influence, and humour can be felt throughout the book. Interweaving biography, criticism and history, Pierce follows Yeats's life fromhis birth in Dublin in 1865 to his death in the South of France in 1939. He describes Yeats's family and home; his interest in the oral tradition, the occult and automatic writing; his literary activities in London and Dublin; his work with the Abbey Theatre and his life during the First World War; his response to the Irish War of Independence and the Civil War; his friendship wide fellow-modernist Ezra Pound; his sympathy with fascism; and his rage against old age. Enriched with a wide range of illustrative material, including specially commissioned photographs, the book affords a timely reassessment of Yeats's worlds.
Table of Contents
Yeats and Sligop. 1
Between Extremitiesp. 1
Yeats's Family in Sligop. 7
John Butler Yeatsp. 20
Sligo and Landscapep. 24
Yeats's Female Daimonp. 31
Early Interest in the Occultp. 31
The Speckled Birdp. 42
The Automatic Writing Sessionsp. 53
Yeats and Cultural Nationalismp. 63
The Ballad Poetry of Irelandp. 66
The Case of William Allingham Re-Examinedp. 75
Standish James O'Grady, the Fenian Unionistp. 80
John O'Leary and the Fenian Traditionp. 85
Yeats and 1890s Londonp. 95
William Morrisp. 95
London Clublandp. 101
Journals and Journalismp. 112
The Celt in Londonp. 122
Yeats and the Abbey Theatrep. 133
In the Makingp. 133
Early Years in the Abbeyp. 143
An Unpopular Theatrep. 158
Yeats during the First World Warp. 166
September 1913p. 166
August 1914p. 175
Easter 1916p. 183
October 1917p. 194
Yeats in the 1920sp. 201
Family Manp. 201
The Widening Gyrep. 210
The Irish Senatorp. 217
A Visionp. 223
Yeats in the 1930sp. 231
Rapallop. 231
Lady Gregory and Coolep. 235
The Fascist Chargep. 242
Memory and Imaginationp. 249
Last Affair in Sussex and Death in Francep. 260
Notesp. 270
Appendix 1 Chronology of the Life and Times of W. B. Yeatsp. 310
Appendix 2 Dramatics Personae in Yeats's Life and Workp. 317
Further Readingp. 337
Indexp. 343
Table of Contents provided by Blackwell. All Rights Reserved.

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