Arthur Symons



Mr. Yeats as a Lyric Poet


Literatur: Symons
Literatur: The Saturday Review

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Mr. Yeats is the only one among the younger English poets who has the whole poetical temperament, and nothing but the poetical temperament. He lives on one plane, and you will find in the whole of his work, with its varying degrees of artistic achievement, no unworthy or trivial mood, no occasional concession to the fatigue of high thinking. It is this continuously poetical quality of mind that seems to me to distinguish Mr. Yeats from the many men of talent, and to place him among the few men of genius. A man may indeed be a poet because he has written a single perfect lyric. He will not be a poet of high order, he will not be a poet in the full sense, unless his work, however unequal it may be in actual literary skill, presents this undeviating aspect, as of one to whom the act of writing is no more than the occasional flowering of a mood into speech. And that, certainly, is the impression which remains with one after a careful reading of the revised edition of Mr Yeats' collected poems and of his new volume of lyrics, "The Wind among the Reeds," which have appeared almost simultaneously. The big book, now reissued with a cover by a young artist of subtle and delicate talent, Miss Althea Gyles, contains work of many kinds. There is a play, "The Countess Cathleen," which is to be performed in Dublin next week; and a second play, "The Land of Heart's Desire," which was performed in London in 1894. "The Countess Cathleen" is certainly Mr. Yeats' masterpiece. I have but just come from seeing it rehearsed and the rehearsel has taught me, what I indeed suspected, that it is not only splendid poetry, but, in a very serious sense, a fine acting play. Its visionary ecstasy is firmly embodied in persons whose action is indeed largely a spiritual action, but action which has the lyrical movement of great drama. Here is poetry which is not only heard, but seen; forming a picture, not less than moving to music. And here it is the poetry which makes the drama, or I might say equally the drama which makes the poetry; for the finest writing is always part of the dramatic action, not a hindrance to it, as in almost all the poetical plays of this century. In the long narrative poem contained in the same volume, "The Wanderings of Oisin," an early work, much rewritten, a far less mature skill has squandered lyrical poetry with a romantic prodigality. Among the lyrics in other parts of the book there are a few which Mr. Yeats has never excelled in a felicity which seems almost a matter of mere luck; there is not a lyric which has not some personal quality of beauty; but we must turn to the later volume to find the full extent of his capacity as a lyric poet.

In the new volume, "The Wind among the Reeds," in which symbolism extends to the cover, where reeds are woven into a net to catch the wandering sounds, Mr. Yeats becomes completely master of himself and of his own resources. Technically the verse is far in advance of anything he has ever done, and if a certain youthful freshness, as of one to whom the woods were still the only talkers upon earth, has gone inevitably, its place has been taken by a deeper, more passionate, and wiser sense of the "everlasting voices" which he has come to apprehend, no longer quite joyously, in the crying of birds, the tongues of flame, and the silence of the heart. It is only gradually that Mr Yeats has learnt to become quite human. Life is the last thing he has learnt, and it is life, an extraordinarily intense inner life, that I find in this book of lyrics, which may seem also to be one long "hymn to intellectual beauty."

The poems which make up a volume apparently disconnected are subdivided dramatically among certain symbolical persons, familiar to the readers of "The Secret Rose," Aedh, Hanrahan, Robartes, each of whom, as indeed Mr. Yeats is at the trouble to explain in his notes, is but the pseudonym of a particular outlook of the consciousness, in its passionate, or dreaming, or intellectual moments. It is by means of these dramatic symbols, refining still further upon the large mythological symbolism which he has built up into almost a system, that Mr. Yeats weaves about the simplicity of moods that elaborate web of atmosphere in which the illusion of love, and the cruelty of pain, and the gross ecstasy of hope, became changed into beauty. Here is a poet who has realised, as no one else, just now, seems to realise, that the only excuse for writing a poem is the making of a beautiful thing. But he has come finally to realise that, among all kinds of beauty, the beauty which rises out of human passion is the one most proper to the lyric; and in this volume, so full of a remote beauty of atmosphere, of a strange beauty of figure and allusion, there is a "lyrical cry" which has never before, in his pages, made itself heard with so penetrating a monotony.

There are love-poems in this book which almost give a voice to that silence in which the lover forgets even the terrible egoism of love. Love, in its state of desire, can be expressed in verse very directly; but that "love which moves the sun and the other stars," love to which the imagination has given infinity, can but be suggested, as it is suggested in these poems, by some image, in which for a moment it is reflected, as a flame is reflected in trembling water. "Aedh hears the cry of the sedge," for instance; and this is how the sedge speaks to him: –

"I wander by the edge
 Of this desolate lake
 Where wind cries in the sedge
 Until the axle break
 That keeps the stars in their round
 And hands hurl in the deep
 The banners of East and West
 And the girdle of light is unbound,
 Your head will not lie on the breast
 Of your beloved in sleep

By such little, unheard voices the great secret is whispered, the secret, too, which the whole world is busy with.

"O sweet everlasting Voices be still;
 Go to the guards of the heavenly fold
 And bid them wander obeying your will
 Flame under flame, till Time be no more;
 Have you not heard that our hearts are old,
 That you call in birds, in wind on the hill,
 In shaken boughs, in tide on the shore?
 O sweet everlasting Voices be still."

To a poet who is also a mystic there is a great simplicity in things, beauty being really one of the foundations of the world, woman a symbol of beauty, and the visible moment, in which to love or to write love-songs is an identical act, really as long and short as eternity. Never, in these love-songs, concrete as they become through the precision of their imagery, does an earthly circumstance divorce ecstasy from the impersonality of vision. This poet cannot see love under the form of time, cannot see beauty except as the absolute beauty, cannot distinguish between the mortal person and the eternal idea. Every rapture hurries him beyond the edge of the world and beyond the end of time.

The conception of lyric poetry which Mr. Yeats has perfected in this volume, in which every poem is so nearly achieved to the full extent of its intention, may be clearly defined; for Mr. Yeats is not a poet who writes by caprice. A lyric, then, is an embodied ecstasy, and an ecstasy so profoundly personal that it loses the accidental qualities of personality, and becomes a part of the universal conciousness. Itself, in its first, merely personal stage, a symbol, it can be expressed only by symbol; and Mr. Yeats has chosen his symbolism out of Irish mythology, which gives him the advantage of an elaborated poetic background, new to modern poetry. I am not sure that he does not assume in his readers too ready an acquaintance with Irish tradition, and I am not sure that his notes, whose delightfully unscientific vagueness renders them by no means out of place in a book of poems, will do quite all that is needed in familiarising people's minds with that tradition. But after all, though Mr. Yeats will probably regret it, almost everything in his book can be perfectly understood by any poetically sensitive reader who has never heard of a single Irish legend, and who does not even glance at his notes. For he has made for himself a poetical style which is much more simple, as it is much more concise, than any prose style; and, in the final [554] perfecting of his form, he has made for himself a rhythm which is more natural, more precise in its slow and wandering cadence, than any prose rhythm. It is a common mistake to suppose that poetry should be ornate and prose simple. It is prose that may often allow itself the relief of ornament; poetry, if it is to be of the finest quality, is bound to be simple, a mere breathing, in which individual words almost disappear into music. Probably, to many people, accustomed to the artificiality which they mistake for poetical style, and to the sing-song which they mistake for poetical rhythm, Mr. Yeats' style, at its best, will seem a little bare, and his rhythm, at its best, a little uncertain. They will be astonished, perhaps not altogether pleased, at finding a poet who uses no inversions, who says in one line, as straightforward as prose, what most poets would dilute into a stanza, and who in his music, replaces the aria by the recitative. How few, it annoys me to think, as I read over this simple and learned poetry, will realise the extraordinary art which has worked these tiny poems, which seem as free as waves, into a form at once so monumental and so alive! Here, at least, is poetry which has found for itself a new form, a form really modern, in its rejection of every artifice, its return to the natural chant out of which verse was evolved; and it expresses, with a passionate quietude, the elemental desires of humanity, the desire of love, the desire of wisdom, the desire of beauty.





Erstdruck und Druckvorlage

The Saturday Review.
Bd. 87, 6. Mai 1899, S. 553-554.


Die Textwiedergabe erfolgt nach dem ersten Druck (Editionsrichtlinien).

The Saturday Review   online





Aufgenommen in






Beckson, Karl u.a.: Arthur Symons.
A Bibliography.
Greensboro, NC: ELT Press 1990.

Symons, Arthur: Days and Nights.
London: Macmillan and Co. and New York 1889.

Symons, Arthur: Silhouettes.
London: Matthews & Lane 1892.
S. 13: Pastel.

Symons, Arthur: Paul Verlaine.
In: The National Review.
Bd. 19, 1892, Nr. 112, Juni, S. 501-515.

Symons, Arthur: Mr. Henley's Poetry.
In: The Fortnightly Review.
1892, August, S. 182-192. [PDF]

Symons, Arthur: The Decadent Movement in Literature.
In: Harper's New Monthly Magazine.
Bd. 87, 1893, Nr. 522, November, S. 858-867.

Symons, Arthur: Paul Verlaine.
In: The New Review.
1893, Dezember, S. 609-617. [PDF]

Symons, Arthur: London Nights.
London: Smithers 1895.

Symons, Arthur: Silhouettes.
Second edition. Revised and enlarged.
London: Smithers; New York: Richmond 1896.

Symons, Arthur: Studies in Two Literatures.
London: Smithers 1897.

Symons, Arthur: Mallarmé's "Divagations".
In: The Saturday Review of Politics, Literature, Science, and Art.
Bd. 83, 1897, 30. Januar, S. 109-110.

Symons, Arthur: Le mysticisme de Maeterlinck.
In: La Revue des Revues.
Bd. 22, 1897, 15. September, S. 531-536.

Symons, Arthur: Stéphane Mallarmé
In: The Fortnightly Review.
1898, 1. November, S. 677-685. [PDF]

Symons, Arthur: The Symbolist Movement in Literature.
London: Heinemann 1899.

Symons, Arthur: Jules Laforgue.
In: Ders., The Symbolist Movement in Literature.
London: Heinemann 1899, S. 105-114.

Symons, Arthur: A Book of French Verse.
In: Literature. An International Gazette of Criticism.
1899, 10. November, S. 413-414.

Symons, Arthur: Ernest Dowson.
In: The Fortnightly Review.
1900, Juni, S. 947-957.

Symons, Arthur: What is Poetry?.
In: The Saturday Review.
Bd. 92, 31. August 1901, S. 271-272.

Symons, Arthur: Poems.
Bd. 1. New York: John Lane 1902.

Symons, Arthur: Poems.
Bd. 2. New York: John Lane 1902.
URL:   [London 1902]

Symons, Arthur: Lyrics.
Portland, Me.: Mosher 1903.

Symons, Arthur: Studies in Prose and Verse.
London: Dent; New York: Dutton o.J. [1904].

Symons, Arthur (Hrsg.): The Poems of Ernest Dowson.
With a Memoir by Arthur Symons, Four Illustrations by Aubrey Beardsley and a Portrait by William Rothenstein.
London u. New York: Lane 1905.

Symons, Arthur: Qu'est-ce que la Poésie?
In: Vers et prose.
Bd. 3, 1905, September-November, S. 29-33.

Symons, Arthur: Studies in Seven Arts.
London: Constable 1906.
URL:   [New York 1906]

Symons, Arthur: Aspects of Verlaine.
In: The Smart Set. A Magazine of Cleverness.
Bd. 18, 1906, Nr. 1, Januar, S. 79-83.

Symons, Arthur: London. A Book of Aspects.
London: Privately printed 1909.

Symons, Arthur: Plays, Acting and Music. A Book of Theory.
London: Dutton & Company 1909.

Symons, Arthur: Art. Goncourt, DE.
In: The Encyclopædia Britannica. Eleventh Edition.
Volume XII. Cambridge, England; New York 1911, S. 231.

Symons, Arthur: Art. Mallarmé, Stéphane.
In: The Encyclopædia Britannica. Eleventh Edition.
Volume XVII. Cambridge, England; New York 1911, S. 490.

Symons, Arthur: Art. Verlaine, Paul.
In: The Encyclopædia Britannica. Eleventh Edition.
Volume XXVII. Cambridge, England; New York 1911, S. 1023-1024.

Symons, Arthur: Figures of Several Centuries.
London: Constable and Company 1916.
URL:   [New York o.J. (1916)]

Symons, Arthur: Colour Studies in Paris.
New York: Dutton & Company 1918.

Symons, Arthur: Claude Debussy.
In: The Egoist.
Bd. 5, 1918: Nr. 6, Juni-Juli, S. 82-83; Nr. 7, August, S. 93-94.

Symons, Arthur: The Symbolist Movement in Literature.
Revised and enlarged edition. New York: Dutton & Company 1919.

Symons, Arthur: Letters to W. B. Yeats, 1892-1902.
Edited by Bruce Morris.
Edinburgh: The Tragara Press 1989.

Symons, Arthur: Selected Letters, 1880-1935.
Edited by Karl Beckson and John M. Munro.
Basingstoke: Macmillan 1989.

Symons, Arthur: Selected Writings.
Edited with an introduction by Roger Holdsworth.
Manchester: Fyfield Books 2003.

Symons, Arthur: The Symbolist Movement in Literature.
Edited by Matthew Creasy.
Manchester: Carcanet 2014.

Duclos, Michèle: Un regard anglais sur le symbolisme français.
Arthur Symons, Le mouvement symboliste en littérature (1899), généalogie, traduction, influence.
Paris: L'Harmattan 2016.

Symons, Arthur: Selected Early Poems.
Edited with an introduction and notes by Jane Desmarais and Chris Baldick.
Cambridge: Modern Humanities Research Association 2017.

Symons, Arthur: Spiritual Adventures.
Edited with an introduction and notes by Nicholas Freeman.
Cambridge: Modern Humanities Research Association 2017.




Literatur: Symons

Bizzotto, Elisa / Evangelista, Stefano-Maria (Hrsg.): Arthur Symons. Poet, Critic, Vagabond. Cambridge 2018.

Block, Haskell M.: Yeats, Symons and The Symbolist Movement in Literature. In: Yeats. An Annual of Critical and Textual Studies 8 (1990), S. 9-18.

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.

Bristow, Joseph (Hrsg.): The Fin-de-Siècle poem. English Literary Culture and the 1890s. Athens 2005.

Ducrey, Guy: Le passeur du symbolisme français, Arthur Symons. In: 'Curious about France'. Visions littéraires victoriennes. Hrsg. von Ignacio Ramos Gay. Bern u.a. 2015, S. 137-152.

Erle, Sibylle u.a. (Hrsg;): The Reception of William Blake in Europe. 2 Bde London 2019.

Fox, C. Jay / Stern, Carol S. / Means, Robert S.: Arthur Symons, Critic Among Critics: An Annotated Bibliography. Greensboro, NC 2007.

Jeffares, A. Norman: W. B. Yeats. The Critical Heritage. London 1977.

Jochum, Klaus P.: The Reception of W. B. Yeats in Europe. London u.a. 2006.

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

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



Literatur: The Saturday Review

Brake, Laurel / Demoor, Marysa (Hrsg.): Dictionary of Nineteenth-Century Journalism in Great Britain and Ireland. Gent u. London 2009.

Craig, Hugh / Antonia, Alexis: Six Authors and the Saturday Review: A Quantitative Approach to Style. In: Victorian Periodicals Review 48.1 (2015), S. 67-86.

Creasy, Matthew 'The Neglected, the Unutterable Verlaine': Arthur Symons, the Saturday Review, and French Literature in the 1890s. In: Victorian Periodicals Review 52.1 (2019), S. 103-123.

King, Andrew u.a. (Hrsg.): The Routledge Handbook to Nineteenth-Century British Periodicals and Newspapers. London u. New York 2019.



Lyriktheorie » R. Brandmeyer