William Butler Yeats



John Eglinton and Spiritual Art.



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"John Eglinton" wrote recently that though "the ancient legends of Ireland undoubtedly contains situations and characters as well suited for drama as most of those used in Greek tragedies," yet "these subjects," meaning old legends in general, "refuse to be taken up out of their old environment, and be transplanted into the world of modern sympathies. The proper mode of treating them is a secret lost with the subjects themselves." I might have replied by naming a good part of modern literature; but as he spoke particularly of drama I named Ibsen's "Peer Gynt," which is admittedly the chief among the national poems of modern Norway; and Wagner's musical dramas, which I compared to the Greek tragedies, not merely because of the mythological substance of "The Ring" and of "Parsifal," but because of the influence both words and music are beginning to have upon the intellect of Germany and of Europe, which begins to see in them the soul of Germany.

He replied by saying that he preferred Ibsens's Dramas, which are "not ideal," which is nothing to the point, and that "the crowd of elect persons seated in curiously devised seats at Bayreuth does not seem very like the whole Athenian democracy thronging into their places for a couple of obols supplied by the State, and witnessing in good faith the deeds of their ancestors." He is in error about the facts, for Wagner's musical dramas are not acted only or principally at Bayreuth, but before large crowds of not particularly elect persons at Vienna and at Munich and in many places in Germany and other countries. I do not think the point important, however, for when I spoke of their influence I thought less of the crowds at Vienna or at Munich than of the best intellects of our time, of men like Count Villiers de L'Isle Adam, the principal founder of the symbolist movement, of whom M. Remy de Gourmont has written, "He opened the doors of the unknown with a crash, and a generation has gone through them to the infinite." The crowds may applaud good art for a time, but they will forget it when vulgarity invents some new thing, for the only permanent influence of any art is a gradual and imperceptibly flowing down, as if through orders and hierarchies.

His second article abandons the opinion — an opinion that I thought from the beginning a petulance of rapid writing — that ancient legends "cannot be transplanted into the world of modern sympathies" and thinks that a poet "may be inspired by the legends of his country," but goes on to distinguish between "two conceptions of poetry mutually antagonistic," two ways of treating legends and other things." I am glad to discuss these distinctions with him, for I think it a misfortune that "John Eglinton," whose influence on Irish opinion may yet be great, should believe, as I understand him to believe, in popular music, popular painting, and popular literature. He describes the "conception" of poetry, he believes me to prefer, as preferred "by those who are rather in sympathy with art than with philosophy," as regarding the poet as "an aristocratic craftsman," as looking for "the source of inspiration" to "the forms and images, in which old conceptions have been embodied – old faiths, myths, dreams," and as seeking "in poetry an escape from the facts of life;" and he describes the "conception" he himself prefers and calls Wordsworthian as looking "to man himself as the source of inspiration," and as desiring a poetry that expresses "its ages" and "the facts of life," and is yet, strange to say, "a spiritual force" and the work of "a seer."

I will restate these distinctions in the words of the younger Hallam, in his essay on Tennyson – one of the most profound criticisms in the English language. Arthur Hallam described Tennyson, who had then written his earlier and greater, but less popular, poems, as belonging to "the aesthetic school," founded by Keats and Shelley — "A poetry of sensation rather than of reflection," "a sort of magic producing a number of impressions too multiplied, too minute, and too diversified to allow of our tracing them to their causes, because just such was the effect, even so boundless and so bewildering, produced" on the imagination of the poet "by the real appearance of nature." This poetry, the work of men whose "fine organs" "have trembled with emotion at colours and sounds and movements unperceived by duller temperaments," must always, he thinks, be unpopular because dull temperaments shrink from, or are incapable of the patient sympathy and exaltation of feeling needful for its understanding. He contrasts it with the popular school, the school he thinks Wordsworth belonged to, in all but his highest moments, which "mixes up" anecdotes and opinions and moral maxims for their own sake – the things dull temperaments can understand — with what is sometimes the poetry of a fine temperament, but is more often an imitation.

This poetry of the popular school is the poetry of those "who are rather in sympathy" with philosophy than with art, and resembles those paintings one finds in every Royal Academy surrounded by crowds, which "are rather in sympathy" with anecdotes or pretty faces or babies than with good painting. It is the poetry of the utilitarian and the rhetorician and the sentimentalist and the popular journalist and the popular preacher, but it is not the poetry of "the seer," the most "aristocratic" of men, who tells what he alone has tasted and touched and seen amid the exaltation of his senses; and it is not a "spiritual force," though it may talk of nothing but spiritual forces, for a spiritual force is as immaterial and as imperceptible as the falling of dew or as the first greyness of dawn. Why, too, should "John Eglinton", who is profound transcendentalist, prefer a poetry which is, like all the lusts of the market place, "an expression of its age" and of "the facts of life" the very phrases of the utilitarian criticism of the middle century — to a poetry which seeks to express great passions that are not in nature, though "the real appearance of nature" awakens them – "ideas" that "lie burningly on the divine hand," as Browning calls them, "the beauty that is beyond the grave," as Poe calls them?

The Belgian poet, M. Verhaeren, has also discussed these "two conceptions of poetry," and has described the one as founded on physical science and the other as founded upon transcendental science, and has shown that "the bias of belles lettres at present," of which John Eglinton complains, has accompanied a renewed interest in transcendental science, and it may well be that men are only able to fashion into beautiful speech the most delicate emotions of the soul, spending their days with a patience like the patience of the middle ages in the perfect rounding of a verse, or in the perfect carving of a flower, when they are certain that the soul will not die with the body and that the gates of peace are wide, and that the watchers are at their places upon the wall.

I believe that the renewal of belief – which is the great movement of our time – will more and more liberate the arts from "their age" and from life, and leave them more and more free to lose themselves in beauty, and to busy themselves, like all the great poetry of the past and like religion of all times, with "old faiths, myths, dreams" – the accumulated beauty of the ages. I believe that all men will more and more reject the opinion that poetry is "criticism of life," and be more and more convinced that it is a revelation of a hidden life, and that they may even come to think "painting, poetry and music" "the only means of conversing with eternity left to man on earth." I believe, too, that, though a Homer or a Dante or a Shakespeare may have used all knowledge – whether of life or of philosophy, or of mythology or of history – he did so, not for the sake of the knowledge, but to shape to a familiar and intelligible body something he had seen or experienced in the exaltation of his senses. I believe, too, that the difference between good and bad poetry is not in its preference for legendary, or for unlegendary subjects, or for a modern or for an archaic treatment, but in the volume and intensity of its passion for beauty and in the perfection of its workmanship; and that all criticism that forgets these things is mischievous, and doubly mischievous in a country of unsettled opinion.





Erstdruck und Druckvorlage

Daily Express [Dublin].
1898, 29. Oktober, Second Edition, S. 3.

Gezeichnet: W. B. YEATS.

Die Textwiedergabe erfolgt nach dem ersten Druck (Editionsrichtlinien).

The British Newspaper Archive
URL: https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/



Aufgenommen in


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.





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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.

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

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Warner, Eric / Hough, Graham (Hrsg.): Strangeness and Beauty. An Anthology of Aesthetic Criticism 1840–1910. 2 Bde. Cambridge u.a. 2009.

Query, Patrick: "The shoulders of priests": Yeats and the Irish Limits of Symbolism. In: Yeats Eliot Review 20,2 (2003), S. 18-28.



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