Tuesday, August 23, 2016


First posted on June 27, 2014: BLAKE & YEATS

British Museum
Plate 100, Copy A

In 1893 William Butler Yeats published along with Edwin John Ellis The works of William Blake; poetic, symbolic, and critical. They included in their book 'the illustrated Prophetic books, and a memoir and interpretation.' Kathleen Raine wrote in Defending Ancient Springs, published in 1967, a chapter named Yeats's Debt to William Blake. Raine states that Blake 'remained an inexhaustible source' to Yeats 'into his poetic maturity.' On Page 74, Raine tells us of challenges poets face in creating the myths on which their work depends.

"In antiquity no poet invented his own myths; Yates, living, as Blake had already lived, in a society which has, as a whole, broken with tradition, knew how impossible it is to build up, from a series of intuitive flashes, that wholeness of context which great poetry requires. Is not the peculiar relevance of Blake to our own situation the way in which he set about the resolution of this problem? In his early studies of Blake Yeats had already realized that 'even the "Little Black Boy" cannot be understood unless it is taken as part of the general mystical manifesto that run through all the work'. Later we find in his own poetry, as we do in any poem of Blake's, or in any single episode of Dante's Commedia, the whole order of the cosmos implicit. Neither Yeats, Blake, Shelly, nor any other poet of like stature, is at one time writing in symbolic terms and at another descriptive; for as Yeats wrote in another essay, 'True art is expressive and symbolic, and make every form, every sound, a signature of some unanalysable imaginative essence.' Blake too wrote that 'to the Eyes of the Man of Imagination, Nature is Imagination itself'.


"At this point it may be of interest to notice what Yeats might well have borrowed from Blake but did not. To most readers Blake's pantheon is more striking than the formal structure of his myth. If myth be dynamic symbol, symbol in transformation, myths must be considered as wholes of which the symbolic and elements are parts. A myth is no more constructed from the elements than a living body from its component organs. Mythological thought is therefore the highest and most complete form of symbolic imagination; as it is also the rarest. Neither Milton, Spencer, Shelley, nor Coleridge equal Blake in the completeness, complexity, and energy of his mythological figures and configurations. Yeats, though he attempted the evocation, by magic and ritual, of such living symbols, is not the equal, in this respect of any of the poets named; he handles single symbols of single figures rather than those complex embodiments of uncurbed energy in which Blake's writings and paintings abound. Whereas Blake's mind was essentially dynamic, and all his myth alive with energy, action, transformation, Yeats tends toward Platonic ideal forms, a sculptural stillness, 'a marble or bronze repose. Yet in his search for a pantheon he did at one time seek to evoke the Zoas, whose life seems independent of their creator, as both poets believed; he tells of Orc appearing as 'a wolf in armour', or his face black instead of burning. Yet he never introduced these figures into his own poetry, feeling perhaps a temperamental difference between himself and his volcanic master; or perhaps simply discovering that he did not possess the gift of visionary imagination to the same degree. For of Blake's myth he wrote (in the essay 'On the Necessity of Symbolism' already quoted),
'The surface is perpetually as it were giving way before me, and revealing another surface below it, and that again dissolves when we try to study it. The making of religions melts into the making of the earth, and that fades away into some allegory of the rising and setting of the sun. It is like a great cloud full of stars and shapes through which the eye seeks a boundary in vain. When we seem to have explored the remotest division some new spirit floats by muttering wisdom.'"

William Butler Yeats, The Statues
"Empty eyeballs knew
That knowledge increases unreality, that
Mirror on mirror mirrored is all the show."

Letters, (E 702)
[To] Revd Dr Trusler, Englefield Green, Egham, Surrey

13 Hercules Buildings,.Lambeth, August 23, 1799
[Postmark: 28 August]
"Some See
Nature all Ridicule & Deformity & by these I shall not regulate
my proportions, & Some Scarce see Nature at all But to the Eyes
of the Man of Imagination Nature is Imagination itself.  As a man
is So he Sees.  As the Eye is formed such are its Powers You
certainly Mistake when you say that the Visions of Fancy are not
be found in This World."

No comments: