yeats’ prose


Editing and rearranging the large mass of his early prose, Yeats tried to bring into coherence a diffuse body of writing. The pieces which were first collected in The Celtic Twilight were largely concerned with Irish folklore. These detailed, and occasionally meandering, reports from what Yeats considered the front line of racial memory and pagan religious instinct were deliberately distinct both in tone and procedure from the already established methods of the folklorist. The young Yeats’s prose is highly wrought, and yet this style is at the service of no real argument. It is important to the effect of The Celtic Twilight that its first-person voice should be identified as that of a young modern poet, importing much un-Victorian primitivism and mystery into contemporary writing; beyond that, larger patterns of coherence (and even smaller ones) are neglected. Ghosts abound, but not as the agents of philosophical instruction or religious apocalypse. “Drumcliff and Rosses”, Yeats writes of his own home ground, “are choke-full of ghosts”, adding a catalogue which seems to tire of its own effects: “By bog, road, rath, hillside, sea-border they gather in all shapes: headless women, men in armour, shadow hares, fire-tongued hounds, whistling seals, and so on”. Just in case his readers might baulk at the last item (having taken the others in their stride), Yeats tops this off with “A whistling seal sank a ship the other day”. The supernatural is everywhere, but its meaning and intentions (if any) are generally inscrutable. One anecdote tells of how the Devil approaches two women as a lover: he offers a lift to one; she refuses, and he vanishes.

more from the TLS here.