William Butler Yeats



A Literary Causerie.
The Message of the Folk-lorist.



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IN one of his unpublished watercolour illustrations to Young's "Night Thoughts," William Blake has drawn a numberless host of spirits and fairies affirming the existence of God. Out of every flower and every grass-blade comes a little creature lifting its right hand above its head. It is possible that the books of folk-lore, coming in these later days from almost every country in the world, are bringing the fairies and the spirits to our study tables that we may witness a like affirmation, and see innumerable hands lifted testifying to the ancient supremacy of imagination. Imagination is God in the world of art, and may well desire to have us come to an issue with the atheists who would make us "realists," "naturalists," or the like.

Folk-lore is once the Bible, the Thirty-nine Articles, and the Book of Common Prayer, and well-nigh all the great poets have lived by its light. Homer, Æschylus, Sophocles, Shakespeare, and even Dante, Goethe, and Keats were little more than folk-lorists, with musical tongue. The root-stories of the Greek poets are told to-day at the cabla fires of Donegal; the Slavonian peasants tell their children now, as they did a thousand years before Shakespeare was born, of the spirit prisoned in the cloven pine; the Swedes had need neither of Dante nor Spenser to tell them of the living trees that cry or bleed if you break off a bough; and through all the long backward and abysm of time, Faust, under many names, has signed the infernal compact, and girls at St. Agnes' Eve have waited for visions of their lovers to come to them "upon the honeyed middle of the night." It is only in these latter decades that we have refused to learn of the poor and the simple, and turned atheists in our pride. The folk-lore of Greece and Rome lasted us a long time, but heaving ceased to be a living tradition, it became both worn out and unmanageable, like an old servant. We can now no more get interest in the gods of Olympus than we can in the stories told by the showman of a travelling waxwork company. For lack of those great typical personages who flung the thunderbolts or had serpents in their hair, we have betaken ourselves in a hurry to the poetry of cigarettes and black coffee, of absinthe, and the skirt dance, or are trying to persuade the lecture and the scientific book to look, at least to the eye, like the old poems and dramas and stories that were in the ages of faith long ago. But the countless little hands are lifted and the affirmation has begun.

There is no passion, no vague desire, no tender longing that cannot find fit type or symbol in the legends of the peasantry or in the traditions of the scalds and the gleemen. And these traditions are now being gathered up or translated by a whole army of writers. The most recent of books upon the subject "The Ghost World" (Ward & Downey) – is neither a translation nor a collection of tales gathered among the people by its author, but one of those classifications and reviews of already collected facts of which we stand in great need. Its author Mr. T. F. Thiselton Dyer, treats as exhaustively as his four hundred odd pages permit him with the beliefs about ghosts held in every part of the world. The outside of the book is far from comely to look at, and the inside is that mixture of ancient beauty and modern commonplace one has got used to in books by scientific folk-lorists. Mr. Dyer collects numbers of the most entirely lovely and sacred, or tragic and terrible, beliefs in the world, and sets them side by side, transfixed with diverse irrelevancies – in much the same fashion that boys stick moths and butterflies side by side upon a door, with long pins in their bodies. At other times he irritates by being hopelessly inadequate, as when he follows a story of priceless beauty with the remark that "these folktales are interesting as embodying the superstitions of the people among whom they are current." But then no one expects the scientific folk-lorist to have a tongue of music, and this one gives us a great deal less of himself than the bulk of his tribe, and has the good taste to gird at no man – not even the pure spiritualist.

He deals in thirty-one chapters with such subjects as "The Soul's Exit," "The Temporary Exit of the Soul," "The Nature of the Soul," "Why Ghosts Wander," "Phantom Birds," "Animal Ghosts," "Phantom Music," and the like. The pages upon the state of the soul after death are particularly interesting [189] and have as much of the heart's blood of poetry as had ever Dis or Hades. Jacob Boehme held that every man was represented by a symbolic beast or bird, and that these beasts and birds varied with the characters of men, and in the folk-lore of almost every country, the ghosts revisit the earth as horses or butterflies, as doves or ravens, or in some other representative shape. Sometimes only voices are heard. The Zulu sorcerer, Mr. Dyer says, "hears the spirits, who speak by whistlings, speaking to him," while the Algonquin Indians of North America "could hear the shadow souls of the dead chirp like crickets." In Denmark, he adds, the night ravens are held to be exorcised evil spirits who are for ever flying towards the East, for if they can reach the Holy Sepulchre they will be at rest; and "In the Saemund Edda it is said that in the nether world singed souls fly about like swarms of flies." He might have quoted here the account in the old Irish romance called "The Voyage of Maclunds" of this great saint who dwelt upon the wooded island among the flocks of holy birds who were the souls of his relations, awaiting the blare of the last trumpet. Folk-lore makes the souls of the blessed take upon themselves every evening the shape of white birds, and whether it put them into such charming shape or not, is ever anxious to keep us from troubling their happiness with our grief. Mr. Dyer tells, for instance, the story of a girl who heard a voice speaking from the grass-plot of her lover, and saying, "Every time a tear falls from thine eyes, my shroud is full of blood. Every time thy heart is gay, my shroud is full of rose leaves."

All these stories are such as to unite man more closely to the woods and hills and waters about him, and to the birds and animals that live in them, and to give him types and symbols for those feelings and passions which find no adequate expression in common life. Could there be any expression of Nature-worship more tender and lovely than that tale of the Indians who lived once by the river Pascajoula, which Mr. Dyer tells in his chapter on "Phantom Music"? Strange musical sounds were said to come out of the river at one place, and close to this place the Indians had set up an idol representing the water spirit who made the music. Every night they gathered about the image and played to it sweet tunes upon many stringed instruments, for they held it to love all music. One day a priest came and tried to convert them from the worship of this spirit, and might have succeeded; but one night the water was convulsed, and the convulsion drew the whole tribe to the edge of the river to hear music more lovely than the spirit ever sang before. They listened until one plunged into the river in his ecstasy and sank for ever, and then men, women and children the whole tribe plunged after him, and left a world that had begun to turn from the ancient ways.

The greatest poets of every nation have drawn from stories like this, symbols and events to express the most lyrical, the most subjective moods. In modern days there has been one great poet who tried to express such moods without adequate knowledge of folk-lore. Most of us feel, I think, no matter how greatly we admire him, that there is something of over-much cloud and rainbow in the poetry of Shelley, and is not this simply because he lacked the true symbols and types and stories to express his intense subjective inspiration? Could he have been as full of folk-lore as was Shakespeare, or even Keats, he might have delivered his message and yet kept as close to our hearthstone as did the one in "The Tempest" and "Midsummer Night's Dream," or as did the others in "The Eve of St. Agnes;" but as it is, there is a world of difference between Puck and Peasblossom and the lady who waited for "The honeyed middle of the night" upon the one hand and the spirits of the hour and the evil voices of Prometheus upon the other. Shakespeare and Keats had the folk-lore of their own day, while Shelley had but mythology; and a mythology which has been passing for long through literary minds without any new influx from living tradition loses all the incalculable instructive and convincing quality of the popular traditions. No conscious invention can take the place of tradition, for he who would write a folk tale, and thereby bring a new life into literature, must have the fatigue of the spade in his hands and the stupors of the fields in his heart. Let us listen humbly to the old people telling their stories, and perhaps God will send the primitive excellent imagination into the midst of us again. Why should we be either "naturalists" or "realists?" Are not those little right hands lifted everywhere in affirmation?





Erstdruck und Druckvorlage

The Speaker.
Bd. 8, 1893, 19. August, S. 188-189.

Gezeichnet: W. B. YEATS.

Die Textwiedergabe erfolgt nach dem ersten Druck (Editionsrichtlinien).

The Speaker   online
URL: https://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/008900379
URL: https://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/100542471



Kommentierte Ausgabe






Wade, Allan: A Bibliography of the Writings of W. B. Yeats.
3. Aufl. London: Hart-Davis 1968.

Yeats, William Butler:The Death of Oenone.
In: The Bookman (London).
Bd. 3, 1892, Nr. 15, Dezember, S. 84.

Yeats, William Butler: The Message of the Folk-lorist.
In: The Speaker.
Bd. 8, 1893, 19. August, S. 188-189.

Yeats, William Butler: A Symbolical Drama in Paris.
In: The Bookman (London).
Bd. 6, 1894, Nr. 31, April, S. 14-16.

Yeats, William Butler: Irish National Literature. Contemporary Prose Writers.
In: The Bookman (London).
Bd. 8, 1895, Nr. 47, August, S. 138-140.

Yeats, William Butler: Irish National Literature. III. Contemporary Irish Poets.
In: The Bookman (London).
Bd. 8, 1895, Nr. 48, September, S. 167-170.

Yeats, William Butler: Verlaine in 1894.
In: The Savoy. An Illustrated Quarterly.
1896, Nr. 2, April, S. 117-118.
URL: https://archive.org/details/savoy01symo

Yeats, William Butler: William Blake.
In: The Bookman (London).
Bd. 10, 1896, Nr. 55, April, S. 21.

Yeats, William Butler: William Blake and His Illustrations to the Divine Comedy.
In: The Savoy. An Illustrated Monthly.
Nr. 3, Juli, S. 41-57.
Nr. 4, August, S. 25-41.
Nr. 5, September, S. 31-36.
URL: https://archive.org/details/savoy02symo
W. B. Yeats: Ideas of Good and Evil. London: Bullen 1903, S. 176-225.
URL: http://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/001189128

Yeats, William Butler: Mr. Arthur Symons' New Book.
In: The Bookman (London).
Bd. 12, 1897, Nr. 67, April, S. 15-16.

Yeats, William Butler: Academy Portraits. XXXII. – William Blake.
In: The Academy. A Weekly Review of Literature, Science, and Art.
1897, 19. Juni, S. 634-635. [PDF]
W. B. Yeats: Ideas of Good and Evil. London: Bullen 1903,
S. 168-175 (u.d.T. "William Blake and the Imagination").
URL: http://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/001189128

Yeats, William Butler: Introduction.
In: A Book of Images, Drawn by W.T. Horton & Introduced by W.B. Yeats.
London: Unicorn Press 1898, S. 7-16.
URL: https://archive.org/details/bookofimagesdraw00hortuoft
Aufgenommen in:
W. B. Yeats: Ideas of Good and Evil. London: Bullen 1903,
S. 226-236 (u.d.T. "Symbolism in Painting").
URL: http://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/001189128

Yeats, William Butler: John Eglinton and Spiritual Art.
In: Daily Express (Dublin).
1898, 29. Oktober, Second Edition, S. 3.

Yeats, William Butler: The Autumn of the Flesh.
In: Daily Express (Dublin).
1898, 3. Dezember, Second Edition, S. 3.

Yeats, William Butler: The Wind Among the Reeds.
London: Mathews 1899.
URL: https://archive.org/details/windamongreeds00yeatrich

Yeats, William Butler: The Literary Movement in Ireland.
In: North American Review.
Bd. 169, 1899, Nr. 517, Dezember, S. 855-867.

Yeats, William Butler: The Symbolism of Poetry.
In: The Dome.
An Illustrated Magazine and Review of Literature, Music, Architecture, and the Graphic Arts.
N.S., Jg. 6, 1900, April, S. 249-257.

Yeats, William Butler: Ideas of Good and Evil.
London: Bullen 1903.
URL: http://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/001189128
URL: https://archive.org/details/ideasofgoodevil00yeatrich  [Second Edition 1903]

Yeats, William Butler: The Philosophy of Shelley's Poetry.
In: William Butler Yeats: Ideas of Good and Evil.
London: Bullen 1903, S. 90-141.

Yeats, William Butler: Poems, 1899-1905.
London: Bullen; Dublin: Maunsel 1906.
URL: https://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/001776370
URL: https://archive.org/details/poems01yeatgoog

Yeats, William Butler: Poems.
London: T. Fisher Unwin 1912.
URL: https://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/009025212
URL: https://archive.org/details/yeatspoems00yeatrich

Yeats, William Butler: The Cutting of an Agate.
New York: The Macmillan company 1912.
URL: https://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/001195035
URL: https://archive.org/details/cuttingofagate00yeat

Yeats, William Butler: Essays and Introductions.
London: Macmillan and C. 1961.

Yeats, William Butler: The Collected Letters of W. B. Yeats.
Edited by John Kelly u.a.
Oxford: Clarendon Press; New York: Oxford University Press.
Bd. 1ff. 1986ff.

Yeats, William Butler: Die Gedichte.
Hrsg. von Norbert Hummelt.
Übers. von Marcel Beyer u.a.
München: Luchterhand 2005.

Larrissy, Edward (Hrsg.): The First Yeats.
Poems by W.B. Yeats, 1889 – 1899.
Manchester: FyfieldBooks 2010.





Brandmeyer, Rudolf: Poetiken der Lyrik: Von der Normpoetik zur Autorenpoetik. In: Handbuch Lyrik. Theorie, Analyse, Geschichte. Hrsg. von Dieter Lamping. 2. Aufl. Stuttgart 2016, S. 2-15.

Fogarty, Anne: Yeats, Ireland and modernism. In: The Cambridge Companion to Modernist Poetry. Hrsg. von Alex Davis. Cambridge u.a. 2007, S. 126-146.

Foster, R. F.: Words Alone: Yeats & his Inheritances. Oxford u.a. 2011.

Haughton, Hugh: The Irish Poet as Critic. In: The Oxford Handbook of Modern Irish Poetry. Hrsg. von Fran Brearton u. Alan Gillis. Oxford 2012, S. 513-533.

Howes, Marjorie u.a. (Hrsg.): The Cambridge Companion to W. B. Yeats. Cambridge u.a. 2006.

Jeffares, A. Norman (Hrsg.): Yeats the European. Savage, Md. 1989.

Lipking, Lawrence: Poet-critics. In: The Cambridge History of Literary Criticism. Bd. 7: Modernism and the New Criticism. Hrsg. von A. Walton Litz. Cambridge u.a. 2000, S. 439-467.

Longley, Edna: Yeats and Modern Poetry. New York 2013.

Marcus, Laura u.a. (Hrsg.): Late Victorian into Modern. Oxford 2016.

McCready, Sam: A William Butler Yeats Encyclopedia. Westport, Conn. 1997.

Putzel, Steven D.: Towards an Aesthetic of Folklore and Mythology. W. B. Yeats, 1888-1895. In: Southern Folklore Quarterly 44 (1980), S. 105-130.

Quinn, Justin: The Cambridge Introduction to Modern Irish Poetry, 1800 – 2000. Cambridge u.a. 2008.

Thuente, Mary Helen: W. B. Yeats and Irish Folklore. Dublin 1980.



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