Cross-Cultural Connections Panel

Cross-Cultural Connections Panel

W.B. Yeats’s on Karma and Moksha: An Indian Reading of the Ideas of Body, Self, and Soul in Select Plays of Yeats

Pawan Kumar (Jawajarlal Nehru University)

The proposed paper aims to engage critically with the idea of the body, self and soul in W.B. Yeats’s  plays  Cathleen  ni  Houlihan and  Purgatory from  Indian  perspectives.  In  Indian philosophy, the body is not just considered as having a material existence, but is also seen as the inhabitant of an immortal soul in motion. In the Bhagavatagita, the body is conceived as a medium for performing karma and also as a means to achieve moksa. Since Yeats was notably influenced by Indian philosophy, and was well-versed in Indian texts like the Bhagavatagita, the Upanishads and the Vedas, a comparative study of the aforementioned plays and ancient Indian texts will provide new insights into his creative mind and the process of his artistic creation. In Yeats’s oeuvre, one comes across subtle and poignant images which are loaded with profound messages, and this paper aims to interpret and analyze such symbols from the two plays which make far-reaching suggestions about the relationship between the body, material existence and salvation, between physicality and spirituality. A critical and comparative study of the two plays mentioned above, which reverberate with political, artistic and spiritual undertones, in the light of the ancient Indian wisdom on the dynamics of the body and the soul will shed new light on Yeats’s work, his sources of inspiration and the trajectory of his mind and artistic self.

The paper will engage with the different images and symbols used in these two plays like the ruined house, the tree, and the ghost in the play Purgatory, to name a few, and focus especially on the eponymous character, Cathleen ni Houlihan, an embodiment of the Irish revolutionary spirit, from the play of the same title, and read the above in the light of the theory of karma and moksa, thereby trying to establish an intricate pattern between Indian philosophical concept of the body and Yeats’s creative take on the same.


W.B. Yeats in the Russian Culture of the 20th Century

Andrey Mashinyan (Irish Cultural Centre, St.Petersburg State University)

The presentation will be focused on a perception of W.B. Yeats’ prolific heritage by the Russian cultural public and on various translations of his poems and plays into Russian through the first quarter of the 20th century. It will define a significant influence of W.B. Yeats as a leader of “Celtic Revival”, his artistic method and philosophy on leading poets and writers of the Russian “Silver Age” in the periods before and after the revolution.

Embracing, in its main part, twenty five years of the new age the talk will research the appearance of various translations of W.B. Yeats’ poetry and drama made by Zinaida Vengerova, Russian poet-symbolist, colleague of Alexandre Blok and Zinaida Gippius in their artistic studies in St. Petersburg. These will be followed by first stage performances of W.B. Yeats’ famous plays in St. Petersburg and Moscow right before and after the revolution. It will pay a significant attention to the fact of W.B. Yeats’ meeting Nikolay Gumilev, one of the leaders of Russian “Silver Age”, in London, 1916. It will be focused on the influence this meeting asserted over Gumilev’s latest poems and plays and over his mythological approach to the role of an artist in the existential moments of the new century.

The talk will be completed by distinguishing W.B. Yeats’ phenomenal second coming to the Russian culture: in books of translations, theatre and studies of the Celtic mythology in the last decades of the 20th century.


‘Put into English’: W.B. Yeats, Monoglot Translation, and World Literature

Barry Sheils (University College Dublin)

The task of translation haunts W.B. Yeats, not only as a self-professed Anglo-Irish writer, but also as a writer cast upon the swelling tide of world English in the early twentieth century. This paper argues that in Yeats’s Irish brand of English, conspicuously intended for international consumption, we can hear a strange echo of Goethe’s formative ambition for a Weltliteratur. Goethe famously wrote of translators that they were engaged in a ‘universal spiritual commerce’; for him the address from one linguistic culture to another, though liable to distortion, expressed a conventionally Kantian version of cosmopolitan sociability between subject nations. For Yeats, however, the perils of translation did not lie between different national languages, but largely within one global language, containing multiple and mutually interfering cultural registers.

Recognising that the systematic privileging of the English language in the modernist era was inextricable from global economics, this paper finds Goethe’s equitable exchange model of translation to have been rendered fatally idealistic. With this paradigm shift in mind, it is necessary to reengage with the global network of Yeats’s literary relations. Focusing on his revisions of Rabindranath Tagore’s translation of Gitanjali (1912)—but also touching on his guiding influence on Pound’s Certain Noble Plays of Japan (1916), and the new abridged version of the Upanishads which he ‘put into English’ with Shri Purohit Swãmi (1937)—I consider Yeats’s contribution to the development of a global literary market, and, conversely, this market’s formative, though still largely unacknowledged, influence on his poetics.