Yeats, Intermediality, and Myth: A Panel in Honour of the Late Daniel Albright
Yeatsians all over the world were saddened by the sudden passing away of Daniel Albright, professor of poetry at Harvard University, early this year. Professor Albright’s impressively learned and exploratory work has made its mark in many fields—including Yeats studies. For many, his edition of Yeats’s collected poems has proven not only an early inspiration but also an enduringly rewarding companion. In this panel, three scholars would like to pay their respects to Albright by engaging with, and continuing, the remarkable intellectual adventures of such studies as Panaesthetics: On the Unity and Diversity of the Arts (2014), Untwisting the Serpent: Modernism in Music, Literature and Other Arts (2000), Quantum Poetics: Yeats, Pound, Eliot, and the Science of Modernism (1997), and The Myth Against Myth: A Study of Yeats’s Imagination in Old Age (1972).
“a black parallelogram”: Yeats’s Late Panaesthetics
Tom Walker (Trinity College Dublin)
This paper will draw on both Daniel Albright’s early research on Yeats’s late work and his more recent comparative mapping of modernism across the arts. In The Myth Against Myth: A Study of Yeats’s Imagination in Old Age (1972), Albright wrestles with the manner in which Yeats’s final poems complexly traffic between the ideal and the concrete. In framing his earlier myths within a further myth of selfhood, Albright views Yeats as seeking to create a pattern that is simultaneously one of ‘disintegration and inclusion’. In Untwisting the Serpent: Modernism in Music, Literature and Other Arts (2000), Albright suggestively observed that the final dance before a severed-head-as-abstract-shape in The Death of Cuchulain (1939) represents the supernatural through the ‘hard-edged domain of Modernist graphics’. Aligning such readings, the paper will explore how the (to draw on Albright’s terms) ‘intermedial’ and ‘multimedial’ evocation of the visually abstract in Yeats’s late work – across his poetry, drama, prose and in further collaborative inter-arts projects such the Broadsides series – might be viewed as being as much an exercise in the ‘inclusion’ of audience as the charting of modernity’s ‘disintegration’, to sometimes no-less troubling ends.
Measures of intimacy: Yeats and Gustav Holst
Adrian Paterson (National University of Ireland, Galway)
As a scholar of modernism, Daniel Albright is perhaps best known for reuniting the arts, or Untwisting the Serpent, as his book on the subject, with a nod to Lessing’s defiant separation of them in the Lacoön, expresses it. Most of all he is known for his bringing an appreciation of music alongside that of literature. His work on Yeats in prose and as an editor is at once scrupulous and inventive. On the other hand, despite his powerful treatments of Yeats in the recent Panaesthetics, or Untwisting the Serpent, Albright never quite came to a settled conclusion about Yeats’s musicality. Citing his alleged ‘tone-deafness’, and noting that ‘Yeats had little of the musical knowledge or sensitivity of the French symbolist playwrights’, his always thoughtful comparisons of music and literature seem to stop at Yeats’s door, although admitting the poet’s interest in dance, image, and sound, and scrutinizing closely his collaborations with Ezra Pound and others. This paper attempts to cross the threshold where Albright halted by trying to plumb more deeply Yeats’s sense of music. Taking inspiration from Albright’s studies in Noh theatre it therefore pursues a comparison between Yeats and the composer Gustav Holst. The study not only finds striking similarities in aesthetic development, as both learn socialism at the table of William Morris in Kelmscott House Hammersmith, and both pursue interests in magic and astrology that form the basis for works such as Yeats’s Per Amica Silentia Lunae and Holst’s orchestral suite, The Planets, it finds also unacknowledged overlaps in their practical engagement with music, dance, and technology. The (modernist) Japanese dancer Michio Ito impressed both Holst and Yeats when he performed with Henry Wood in smart London houses like that of Ottoline Morrell. Holst’s Japanese Dances (1915) were written for the dancer and performed in London’s Coliseum, producing a deep impression on Yeats and Pound who took further inspiration for the creation of Noh plays such as At The Hawk’s Well (1916). While Holst and Yeats differed on the importance of nationalism to the artist, they found common cause in repudiating British wartime jingoism and promoting the voices of women. With this in mind both Yeats and Holst would later turn to the radio, composing works for the BBC which reflected the intimacy of the arts and the intimacy of performer and audience. These functioned also as memorials to Morris, whose sense of the importance of all the arts in combination stayed with both, in turn inspiring the concerns of Albright’s scholarship.
From the Beginning: Yeats, Daniel Albright and Originary Myth
Charles I. Armstrong (University of Agder)
In Panaesthetics: On the Unity and Diversity of the Arts, Daniel Albright writes that in “every artistic medium, the artwork keeps reaching back to its coming-into-being, so that originary myth is always an overt or occult aspect.” In this paper, I want to look at how W. B. Yeats’s use of mythology involves an approach to beginnings, either conceived of in a subjective manner (as a means of gaining access to personal origins or a fresh, new start) or in terms of a constitutive manner that founds a society, nation or civilization. Particular attention will be given to how such beginnings for Yeats frequently involve a form of self-consciousness or lack of faith that might be said to be distinctively modern. The reading will draw on selected examples of both Yeats’s early work (such as in The Wanderings of Oisin), and his later, highly self-conscious treatments of mythology (such as in “The Tower” and “The Circus Animals’ Desertion”). It will enter into a dialogue with both Daniel Albright’s early monograph The Myth Against Myth and his critical notes in the Everyman edition of Yeats’s poetry.