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AE and W.B.

ISSUE:  Winter 1939

When I look at the large book which constitutes Yeats’s effort to explain the nature of life and thought, “A Vision,” I want to think back into a certain corner of the latter half of the nineteenth century. That particular aspect of nineteenth century life is represented for me by a few fragments that persisted into my time. I see a laneway somewhere behind the National Gallery in London where, in a dark and poky shop, painted a hideous blue, I bought my first books about what used to be called The Occult. There is a familiar villa door —one of the hundreds such scattered all over London’s suburbia—with a tarnished brass plate, rubbed into holes at the corners, faintly announcing stances for given nights in the week. Its only counterpart in Dublin is the stable door near the old Huguenot Cemetery by the Shelbourne Hotel where the Hermetic Society still meets. Or I hear again a sibyl in Gordon Hall, Boston, answering the eager-timid questions of her audience about dead relatives, and I feel again the painful embarrassment of each palpitating questioner. There is one evening spent listening to Annie Besant. There is Yeats talking about a strange experience with a medium in Soho. These are all the personal scraps I have from that extraordinary period after 1850, when, as if in reaction from the despair of Darwinian materialism, there arose a fever of what I can only call pseudo-religiosity usually mingled with interest in the arcane. Buchmanism, in our day, is one such reaction from Marxist materialism and post-war pessimism, but there is no spookism worth talking about.

And one reads up the period: reads that spiritualism arose, in America, some time around 1848; it still flourishes. That Madame Blavatsky was working towards Theosophy; the Theosophical Society was founded in 1875; it had reached Dublin within ten years—Yeats gave the opening address to the Dublin Hermetic Society. The first paper dealt with spiritualism and the fourth dimension. Christian Science was founded by Mrs. Eddy in 1866; the First Church was established in Boston in 1879. I think it fair to say that the defining motto was, “All Is Infinite Mind.” There was at the same time a revival of interest in Swedenborg, Hinduism, Buddhism, the Hermetic Writings, Rosicrucianism, Egyptian religions, Jakob Boehme. One may check up on that by looking at any good library catalogue under these headings, just as one may, in the future, check on the modern revival of interest in Kierkegaard. There are, for instance, several English biographies of Swedenborg after 1854. The wide popularity of “The Light of Asia” would alone testify to the interest in Indian thought in the last quarter of the century if there were not, again, a striking increase in the number of books on Indian ideas from the same period. Not in the least pseudo, but indicative of the general interest in the unusual is the foundation of the Egyptian Exploration Fund in 1883. It happens to coincide with the first of the many exciting books since published by Flinders Petrie—a man as eagerly read by AE as Sankara or Patanjali. Scientific studies into the nature of the mind itself were further aerating the intellectual atmosphere. Hypnotism was taken out of the hands of experimenters and charlatans when it was favourably reported on by the British Medical Association in 1892. Charcot’s studies in pathology were published between 1886 and 1890. William James was simultaneously experimenting in psychology, in America. The Freudian subconscious was about to be laid bare. Poetry, responding, possibly, to the general fermentation was, with such as Rimbaud, Mallarme, Laforgue, subjective, symbolist, inhuman, non-realistic, twilit.

The young intellectuals of the time had thus, if their natures had any such disposition—and we know that it was so with young Yeats and M—an entry into an excitingly Eleusinian subworld, half hocus-pocus, half sincere, now soporific, now stimulating, where thought could be levitated into the stratosphere like a dream. They generally entered that hangar of the mind via the poky shop in the back lane; and in its back room they ballooned out of it. For Yeats and AE it could have been otherwise if they had grown up in London or Paris, in a certain cultivated milieu; for in such cities there are milieus where the intellect is rarefied without being fantastic, and one may sift the strangest ideas without having to mix with lunatics and cranks for the sake of heterodoxy. They need not have gone to Paris. Christiania, small as it was, would have done. But not Dublin. Dublin rotted on the stalk of the eighteenth century. In Dublin there was only orthodoxy or hysteria.


There are innumerable indications that both Yeats and AE attracted to themselves some of these floating ideas. Their interest in Theosophy, for instance, is a matter of history; but Theosophy was such a hotchpotch, and so hopelessly non-intellectual and disorderly — especially at the start — that it led them both down many bypaths. Yeats playing about with Rosicrucianism, with alchemy, with magic, even with table rapping, doing such fanciful things as putting out all the lights but a little roman lamp in—was it?—Edward Martyn’s castle and imagining himself taking part in some fantastic romance—all that kind of thing one knows about; and, in so far as one bothers with it at all, one dismisses it as the natural caparison of young and febrile genius. What really is important is the subjection of the mind to what these things symbolized. George Moore, on the contrary, had his python and his incense, but did he subject his mind to La Boheme?

This mental subjection is something more easily felt than defined. What synthesis Yeats managed to evolve out of his multifarious interests emerges, in so far as it ever emerges, in fits and starts, and was always subject to a kind of catalepsy. I once spent months trying to list these interests for the fun of seeing what he got from each. It was my invariable experience that by the time I had plodded one-tenth of the way down any particular avenue, such as Indian philosophy, he was away down the second-next one, plucking up the golden apples as fast as he could run. He never, I saw, had studied anything deeply. His amazingly sensitive and receptive mind—were it trained he would have made an excellent scholar—were it, rather, capable of being trained— rapidly elicited the interesting thing, or the essential thing, and the rest was ruthlessly abandoned. He had and has no interest in knowledge, fact, or objective truth, for its own sake. All one can do, therefore, is to observe the essential fact that his subjection was an act of will, of need—he rejected the intellectual approach.

He wished for the lightning flash. He dreamed, accordingly, of a Sacred Book. He found many such. Now it was Axel. Now Alastor. Now Manfred, Athanasius, or Ahasuerus. Now the work of some Cambridge Platonist of the seventeenth century. When he found that Blake revered the revelatory imagination he bowed down and adored. It is to be particularly noticed that all this is a private dream—revelation; the lonely thinker; it is separate; it is non-gregarious. So is his great idea of the unifying personality. Here he adored the man brought into unity by a mood—which is personality—as against static unity—which is character. That idea he may have taken—I believe he did so take it—from his father, the painter, and it has been one of his most important and formative ideas. His debt to his father has never been assessed; all his major ideas are better and more clearly expressed by John Yeats in “Evening Memories.” For from him, too, he took another equally important idea—that the world had been broken into fragmerits shortly before the birth of Shakespeare, and therefore an artist who would try for Unity of Being (John Yeats gave him the term, Unity of Being) must find some traditional subject, in working over which the disintegrating separateness of the modern over-intellectualized artist would be countered, and the old breadth and stability and harmony return again. That subject Ireland gave him, and as it, too, had its magic, its folklore, its ancient memory, its mystery, and its passionate love of life, and its non-intellectual simplicity, he was able to alight here, safe for a time, out of the esoteric balloon.

It was an extraordinary voyage and it had an unexpected conclusion; and naturally we can more easily observe the end than record the fluxive currents that had, before he alighted, blown him this way and that. We know, however, that having thus published three or four books with an Irish flavour, he floated off again into the symbolism of the Rose poems. Of these he says in the autobiography that “there was something compelling me to attempt creation of an art as separate . . . as some Herodiade of our theatre dancing seemingly alone in her narrow moving luminous circle.” So persistent was the attraction of the mysterious, the eclectic, the secret, the personal isolated communion.

But—and this is the interesting antipode and for him the vitalizing influence, since he lives, one might say, deliberately by conflict—he was aware of a tidal movement in his nature, in and out of his private self. “It is perhaps because nature made me a gregarious man that I love proud and lonely things. When I was a child . . . I found one poem that delighted me beyond all others: a fragment from Aristophanes wherein the birds sang scorn upon mankind.” Again: “In later years my mind gave itself to gregarious Shelley’s dream of a young man studying philosophy in some lonely tower, or of his old man hidden from human sight in some shell-strewn cavern on the Mediterranean shore.”

Later—far later, in the late 1920’s—he discovered Hegel and was there confirmed in this idea of life as an antinomy. For the formative period of his life he was simply groping about here and there, happy with any kind of imagery or crude expression of his innate feeling that the duality of a man’s nature is the germinating element in him. It was an unhelpful period, I cannot help feeling, and I think how in the ‘seventies, Ibsen, much better off in this respect, was reading Hegel, Schopenhauer, Hartmann; trying in “Emperor and Galilean” to resolve the conflict of the blind will of nature with the personal will of man; forcing his people to take part in a world struggle over ideas; inventing a Third Empire out of the conflict between opposing powers in life; posing Hegel against Comte; dissecting his own abilities and desires in terms of contemporary philosophy and religion. No—Dublin was not helpful, nor even London. It was inevitable that Yeats should have had to serpentine towards his final position, and it is another tribute to the inviolability of genius, and his genius in particular, that he managed to sidestep so many provincial temptations—even to use them—and guard himself, and keep himself intact. The Marxist critic will never be able to do anything with Yeats.


AE, meantime, was being much more obvious and direct about it all. He embraced Indian philosophy at the start, and as he kept close to it all his life it gave direction to all his reading and bottom to his thought. He did so because he was disposed to be much more simple of heart; and disposed, especially, to be intellectually persistent. He, also, believed in the lightning flash, but he chose a particular brand of lightning and “since then used no other.” He was not arrogant, nor egotistical—the philosophy he embraced involved self-subjugation to the point of self-suppression— and he had a gift of accepting and rapidly adapting. He had not a father who put things endlessly to the question, fraying them away and away while insisting, in a typically Yeatsian manner, that no artist should have any opinions; a man sociable with his equals, antisocial with the masses; mischievous of mind, complex, saved from being a talker pure and simple by the fact that he had a tactile itch—was, that is to say, a painter. AE was tolerant and unassuming, was so little sensuous that the imagery of his verse is as impalpable as a veil. He was mild and kind, was almost without sensuality, and could easily have been a priest. The main difference between him and his young friend was that he looked at life with the eyes of innocence and the other looked at life with the eyes of desire. The important element in him—the defining element—is his sweet toleration.

That tolerance was of the two main kinds that we meet in life. In the spirit of the first kind we say: “For an Atheist —or a Communist or a Fascist—he is a grand fellow”; and we view the world as a series of groups, and all activity emerges as compromise. In the spirit of the second kind of tolerance we say: “He is an Atheist, et cetera. But he is a grand fellow,” and that means that we hold to our own ethic more firmly, and all activity emerges as indoctrination, apologues, propaganda, sorrowful friendship, and the tolerant man is either restless and self-driven, or he is shy and timid and withdrawn. AE was now one, now the other. In his social work he was the propagandist. In his poetry he was both—integrated by what was virtually a form of religious verse. There is really no progression in that verse: it is the same note at the end and at the beginning; there is neither advance nor decline.


Obviously we have two dispositions that, though alike in a hundred ways, differ in some essential way; two men brought up in circumstances unusually similar, diverge at some crucial point.

Is it simply a conflicting conception of character and personality? Character which implies static morality, and morality which implies an order in nature, and an order in nature which, by implying co-operation, self-subjugation, rational control, brings us back to character once again? Personality, which (in the Yeatsian concept of what that term means) is fluid; which does not form the mechanical contrast to character of being amoral, or questioning an order in nature, but which is egocentric and therefore not so submissive to the order of nature ? If anything it tends to mould the order of nature to its fancy; for it does not easily co-operate, or subjugate itself, as character does. Is this the distinction between Yeats and AE ? I think it is, mainly, this which distinguishes them. But I also see that Yeats has, in the conflicting duality of his nature, a concept of personality which is largely a reflection of his own bi-valvular nature, and is therefore at odds with itself.

I see this when I turn to “A Vision” to see what is the natural object of the natural ego, or Will, in his philosophy, and find that its “idea of good” is defined as something made for man, out of his daemon’s “memory of the moments of exaltation in his past lives.” Here it is not necessary to discuss the question of reincarnation. The essential point is the phrase “moments of exaltation”; and its logical—I beg Yeats’s pardon for the use of a hateful word—its logical implication is that all such moments unite only in the isolated ego, never in any permanent synthesis of themselves outside the ego, never in any order capable of being considered apart from the ego which gives them their sole value, and which therefore deprives them of all value for any other man’s ego. What Kant calls the “reign of ends” is denied therein. It means that exaltation is not only transitory—which we all admit— but fragile; which I, at any rate, and everbody who with me admits an order in nature must deny. In short, the object of the Yeatsian Will is not capable of being regarded objectively. It has no extra-personal continuity. It is an object like the Stoic’s concept of virtue—pure form independent of realization. It is most natural, then, that AE should feel that a will which has no object is not a will, as without a target it is impossible to conceive of a gun.


A man with such a philosophy could never, it is evident, be anything but a disconnected man. There would be no evident continuity in his poetry, thought, feeling, color, what not. But no such man could exist and Yeats is not such a phantasm. He is too firmly founded in life, too passionate, gregarious, intensely sensitive, too arrogant to live in so dim a cavern. He has, indeed, as I have shown from his autobiography, liked to think of himself as a lonely sage in a lonely tower or a sea cavern, studying strange tomes; but he has outlived that. He thinks to find in a concept of personality, that does not bear examination, a symbol to unite his human gregariousness and his artistic loneliness. It is inadequate. It throws its weight on the loneliness far too heavily. It is a role, a self-dramatization not powerful enough for the life in the actor himself. It is appalling in its self-consciousness, in its power to deceive and mislead him —as it has done time and again—as all ideas must that are incubated in isolation.

Above all, it is so unnecessary, so falsely romantic. Yeats is not, by nature, either so romantic or so lonely as his role might suggest. He is a public figure, if a rather vague one. And when I think of the modern men who seem not to have lived by static character but by personality, the names that come to me are the names of other gregarious men—Johnson, Landor, Donne, Dick Steele, Sterne, Horace Walpole, Goldsmith; and to these, none romantics, the one romantic, Shelley. I think of men whose character was static, and think of lonely Arnold, Wordsworth, Gray, Tennyson, Rousseau, and possibly Browning—all romantics except Gray. And surely it is to the former company rather than the latter that Yeats belongs. His poetry strikes me as having, at its best and most representative — the later, final poetry—the metaphysical quality of Donne, and the virile clarity of Landor. It has none of the particularization of the romantic poetry of 1800-1850. How many concrete images could one collect from the whole corpus of it? It is wholly egocentric—man at the center of the world looking out at the universe—which is the characteristic of eighteenth-century art. It has the true Aristotelian attitude towards nature—it is not subservient to it, it selects its beauties, it perfects its charms, it is never imitative of nature but it is nature wrought to a finer pitch; and these are Dryden’s phrases. It does what the old classical dogma about the twin arts of painting and poetry always asked poetry to do—”presents us with images more perfect than the life in any individual and we have the pleasure to see all the scattered beauties of nature united in a happy chemistry without deformities or faults.” Again, Dryden. If that is to be called Romanticism, it is at most the orderly “Romanticism” of the Pre-Raphaelites which was, in actuality, a turning back of the clock to the times behind the disorder of the soul in the eighteenth century. If the essential Yeats has any literary affinities it is with gregarious men of the eighteenth century.

In the eighteenth century men could live by personality because their world was ordered. In the nineteenth century men more commonly lived by character because their world was disordered. Every Romantic of the nineteenth century was either a moralist or a radical—like Rousseau, or the Radical Blake and the Radical Shelley. But because a man cannot but reflect his time the art of the eighteenth century is a formal and orderly art, and the art of the nineteenth century is explorative art. You cannot live by fluid personality in a fluxive world—you have to hold order within you as a bulwark against the chaos outside. It is the chaos which creates the internal order; the outer order which releases the internal flux. Yeats was born out of time. He should have been from the beginning in conflict with it.

In all Yeats’s earlier verse that conflict was evaded. He found material to hand on which he expended a marvelous virtuosity, and gave us the shimmer of the tenuous but lovely poetry of his youth; all up to 1900. For another fifteen years he found a more practical object for his will in public affairs and private griefs. The volumes of 1919 (“The Wild Swans at Coole”) and 1921 (“Michael Robartes and the Dancer”) are turning points. He is facing up to the largest questions; thought is deepening as the conflict becomes intensified. By 1928 (“The Tower”), he is taut with fight. That volume and all after it to the two latest books (“The Heme’s Egg,” 1937, and “New Poems,” 1938) are poetry from a mind which has consolidated, as a result of conflict, a non-intellectual, imaginative conception of order in life. The veracity of that conception is not in question. His concept was as adequate—which is all that was required of it—as the imaginative conception of order which Shelley formed on the basis of his pseudo-scientific reading, his radical disposition, his subjection to Godwin. It is by these volumes since 1919 that Yeats will live. In them he was released—that is all one cares. They contain the man. His ideas no more concern us than the ideas of Shelley concern us. Did artists ever agree about anything?

I do not suppose, in the end, that it matters a penny what conflict engages a man’s will and extracts his highest possible voltage out of him. But if one dared to grumble, at all, at chance, I should curse that early subjection of Yeats’s mind to the Alastor complex, the Axel complex—the illusion of Faust that happiness and beauty and wisdom could be won in seclusion from life. Goethe could have told him the truth on that. Shelley could not have told him, but Shelley’s life would have—that angel whose reading and whose studies were like the reading and studies of some young radical out of Sheffield University or a Worker’s College in Manchester. I know what Yeats would say to that—that such things are fated. But are they? Is the brain a flea that can only jump, the will a louse that can only creep? The pride a wind not to be directed? Is art a slavery or is it not?

This poet of the eighteenth century, born by strange lot into that fantastically aerated, unsolid, feverish, dim, flib-bertigibbety period at the end of the nineteenth century— which, because it seemed to be economically solid, only remembered in the dark patches of the night or in the honest minds of a few of its poets, or in the troubled mindlessness of its would-be seers, that it was emotionally a shifting bog— was, not unnaturally, disintegrated; as we are after the European War, and in this time of wars that break out like boils. And he, not unnaturally, hoped for some kind of revelation that would replace the blankness of life, as we, hopeless of revelation, have made our compromise with pointless subjectivity or crude realism. In his very latest book he still asks for the lightning flash:

Grant me an old man’s frenzy. Myself I must remake Till I am Timon and Lear Or that William Blake Who beat upon the wall Till truth obeyed his call;

A mind Michael Angelo knew

That can pierce the clouds

Or inspired by frenzy

Shake the dead in their shrouds,

Forgotten else by mankind

An old man’s eagle mind.

An ironic folly, looked at in one way—for why should a man ask to write magnificently when he writes magnificently?


In a sense that nothing in a poet matters but his poetry, all this is folly unless it serves as a thread of Ariadne. I take up the “Collected Poems,” 1934, and as I turn the pages slowly, recalling the flavour and scent of each flower of rhyme, I feel the silken thread slipping helpfully through my fingers. I have asked certain questions about his will, and his mind, and pride, and the answers are here. Here are poems that smell of the smoky lamp of the back shop, and the faded bookmarks left in little called-for books out of the British Museum, bog myrtle smell from Sligo and Gort. From ‘eighty-five—interested in Theosophy and attracted by the picturesque Ireland. Blake and Symbolism from ‘ninety; for though he did not meet Verlaine until ‘ninety-four, and Symons not, probably, until ‘ninety-six, the general idea was abroad for years. Here is “The Rose,” in ‘ninety-three, and “The Wind among the Reeds” in ‘ninety-nine, with the last drops from the Symbolist flagon. Always, however, the Irish note sounds out like a dance to which this wine is but a drug. By 1903 we see the effect of the Theatre, of passionate fruity life from the heart of John Synge, controversy and fight, “the gutter”—”I am trying to put a less dream-burthened will into my work.” By 1906 he is driving out of the cocoon of mind, delighting in “the whole man, blood, intellect, and imagination running together.” But experience is costly and he is complaining in “The Green Helmet,” of 1910, about the poems he did not find time to write since his last previous volume—which was 1904. By 1916 he has written more than enough to establish him in his place, but he is far from the end of his long road, and it is a somewhat weary man who writes, in “The Wild Swans at Coole,” 1919:

I would be ignorant as the dawn

That has looked down

On that old queen measuring a town

With the pin of a brooch,

Or on the withered men that saw

From their pedantic Babylon

The careless planets in their courses,

The stars fade out where the moon comes,

And took their tablets and did sums;

I would be ignorant as the dawn That merely stood, rocking the glittering coach Above the cloudy shoulders of the horses; I would be—for no knowledge is worth a straw— Ignorant and wanton as the dawn.

There, surely, still are webs of dream clinging to the will? The studious, self-conscious deliberation to appear unstudi-ous—”the withered men,” “pedantic Babylon,” “took their tablets and did sums,” “the pin of a brooch.” And the old desire to escape, to be unchained like a hawk from the wrist. But take the whole volume of that year and there is a freshness of impulse and a purity of desire that, for not being what it had been, made the critics dislike the new note. What can one say of this, almost of the same time?

Never until this night have I been stirred.

The elaborate starlight throws a reflection

On the dark stream,

Till all the eddies gleam,

And thereupon there comes that scream

From terrified, invisible beast or bird:

Image of poignant recollection. . . .

Or, the same volume of 1921, “Michael Robartes”:

Turning and turning in the widening gyre

The falcon cannot hear the falconer;

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,

The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere

The ceremony of innocence is drowned;

The best lack all conviction, while the worst

Are full of passionate intensity.

There is power, control, internal vision of order to match the outer chaos, a tragic vigour that is not role, or pose, but will, and brain, and pride pushing with all their might against the falling dykes of the world. There is genuine conflict in which the whole man, not, not “in harmony with himself”— self by itself is nothing—but in harmony with both his original or naked nucleus of being and with outer life, has produced a work of rare beauty that is the symbol or expression of self and world. And it has been so with Yeats from that 1921 volume, his turning point, to the present day.

For I know no other art but this; the art of a man who writes out of his naked nucleus of self, his original, primal core of being, with and about those accretions of thought, habit, opinion, desire, that common or traditional life wraps about each one of us. These accretions are mostly alien, habits and sanctions that are merely habits and sanctions by chance of time and place and training; but a few are inherited wisdom; and all are bits of life as it is lived. We cannot go into a tower away from these things. They are our language with which we work on men’s minds, symbols to hate or symbols to admire, the stuff of argument, the stuff of poetry and prose—cancer or coitus; Communism or Catholicism; that love is divine or that love is the Devil; that all fathers are ” fools, like Lear or old Goriot; that Nature hears and sorrows for us; or that Nature is a stone. What is any literary movement but this opposition and alliance of naked self and caparisoned self? A current life perfectly expressed by a man who has the clear-sightedness to see it as it is reflected in himself—Narcissus finding himself his own pool. Every artist becomes, thus, the critic of his times, which, though merged into him, may as easily evoke hate as love. As for who becomes the critic of the artist, that can only be another artist whose eyesight we may compare with his fellow’s; so that Pope does not drop into his place until we have read Goldsmith, nor Goldsmith until we have read Defoe, nor Defoe until we read Sterne, nor Yeats until we read AE.

So, what is Balzac but the Monarchy of July loved and hated—loved with delight because it is life and Balzac, hated because it is not Balzac tout nu? What is Ibsen but Norway hated because it is not Ibsen, would not with Ibsen fight beside Denmark, would not with Ibsen form a Scandinavian hegemony, would not be what Ibsen thought God made Ibsen—and loved because it is Ibsen’s youth, wife, dreams, his mother who bore him naked into the world? What is Yeats but Ireland loved because it is life, and because it is what Yeats thinks he is—passionate, and proud, and gay, and noble; or hated because it is none of these things?

In all I have said about Yeats I have been thinking of him as a man who had factitious ideas about himself in his youth, in his maturity. He evaded life “early and often,” as we all do, and what in those moments or years he wrote will not last because they are neither self nor life but merely mechanical pose, or mechanical opposition, or mechanical temper—the product of self-consciousness; in crude words, fake personality. But what in his years he wrote came out of his real and naked self, and came out of conflict between that self and his caparisoned self which is the image of what life in Ireland is like as far as concerns him as observer. All the Rose poems are factitious personality— splendid virtuosity, indeed, but what is that but to say “mere words”? Time alone, comparison with his fellows, will sift the real from the fake.

As for AE, I loved him and we all loved him as a man. As for his poems, they are sweet and they are noble, but they are not AE and they are not life. Yeats was right enough about AE. He sought not himself but a way of life, and no man who does not find himself can find life. His best poems, like “We must pass like smoke or live within the spirit’s fire,” are the perfect expression of traditional wisdom as he adapts it, hardly altering it. In the volume before me, “The Living Torch,” we have some of his best work, and it is almost exclusively day-by-day journalism, though journalism without peer. There he is himself as the sage who sees all things, even the most commonplace, as part of the eternal procession. But his conception of order to which all things are related is a traditional conception, not, need it be said, the less admirable and satisfying for that reason, though the less interesting for being “found” rather than “self-won.”

When one places AE and W. B. in opposition to each other it is this that finally emerges—that the poetry of Yeats is the poetry of a personality; unsure, unequal, adventurous, most satisfying when it is most personal, dismaying when it is least personal—even tiresome then, of an egregious folly; while the poetry of AE, like the poetry of Crashaw, or Herbert, or Vaughan, is the poetry of character, satisfying when felicitous, its enemy triteness and mechanical sentiment. If I were to be wrecked with either on a desert island, or have the choice of either as a companion in death, I should not hesitate which to choose. For the desert island I should choose AE—and read Yeats. For the end—Yeats. Because we live as we can, but we die as we must. I should get no companionship from Yeats; he is wrapped up in his own world, like Joyce—another gregarious man who writes like a hermit—and he is full of ideas but he has no intellect, having no continuity but his lyric mood. But, as against AE’s kindness, tolerance, journalism, sociability, and wisdom, he has what is more to the point of a crisis—pride, and passion. If God could only have mingled the two of them. Or if youth had not lured them with the bauble of the esoteric. But . . . “all things can tempt us from this craft of verse”!


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