Nineteenth-Century Reflections

Nineteenth-Century Reflections


Meeting Without Knowing It: The Intertwined Careers of Yeats and Kipling

Alex Bubb (King’s College, London)

2015 marks not only the 150th anniversary of W.B. Yeats’s birth, but also Rudyard Kipling’s – another outsider who came to London at the same time, shared a mutual patron in W.E. Henley, and published alongside Yeats in the National Observer. This paper will aim to bring the two poets back into literary dialogue. My study of their oblique influence on one another, Meeting Without Knowing It: Kipling and Yeats at the Fin de Siècle, is due out in November.

In a 1903, interview Yeats denounced Kipling as a ‘journalist’ who had ‘sold his soul’. Working back from this strangely personal attack, my aim has been to discover what lay behind it, seeking out the two poets’ prior associations and re-establishing them as contemporaries. This paper will summarize the two main strands of my argument. The first strand yields, through parallel readings, a variety of mutual echoes in their poetry, short fiction and political rhetoric. Both men were similarly preoccupied with the visual arts, with folklore, balladry and the demotic voice. Both struck vatic postures, and made bids for public authority premised on an appeal to the ‘mythopoeic’ or myth-loving impulse in fin-de-siècle culture. The second strand traces these echoes biographically, citing their late nineteenth-century artistic upbringing, and their interlinked social circles in fin-de-siècle London. It is, in fact, their very mutuality during the 1890s which lent rancour to Yeats’s post-Boer War rhetoric. His criticisms ultimately reveal a discursive kinship with a man whose path he often crossed but never actually met.


Defining Beauty: The Paterian Yeats

Elizabeth Muller (Institut Catholique de Paris)

Yeats’s aesthetic theory rests upon a quest for beauty which he very early referred to as “labour” or “secret discipline.” This seemingly vague concept of ‘beauty’ actually rests upon the classical apprehension of harmony as a perfectly proportioned human body inherited from Dante, a pivotal notion Yeats also shared with Walter Pater.

Like Pater, Yeats rejected the utilitarian ugliness of late Victorian times, deplored the gross materialism of the “half-educated,” was deeply attracted to Platonism but, in the end, seemingly upheld passion above intellect. The elusiveness of Beauty probably caused both Yeats and Pater to turn towards Greek art and the Italian Renaissance as illustrious paradigms which might help them to complete their theory on the subject of art. Indeed, a close study of Pater’s essays on art and mythology, Greek Studies as well as the seminal The Renaissance shows that Yeats was far more indebted to Pater than is generally acknowledged. Pater’s aesthetic theories are based upon two major contrary trends, the Ionian and the Dorian (the former a centrifugal force, the latter a centripetal one) which Yeats clearly appropriated. Indeed, the esoteric system set out in A Vision is largely drawn from Pater’s distinction and also echoes Pater’s style (despite the humorous assertion to the contrary in the Prologue). Because of the metaphor of the human body to define perfection, Yeats like Pater came to ascribe a special place to the visual arts, in particular sculpture (equated with the art of poetry for Yeats), and this accounts for many ekphrastic poems in Yeats’s later poetry.

It seems therefore reductive to dismiss Yeats’s preoccupation with beauty as a youthful phase and to restrict his tendency to aestheticism to the early pre-Raphaelite period. In many of Yeats’s later works, the influence of Pater, although sometimes decried with tongue-in-cheek humour by the author himself, can genuinely be felt. Yeats’s manner may have changed at the turn of the century, but his apprehension of what he called “great art” never varied, nor did his fundamental aesthetic tenets. In this—as in so much else—Yeats’s pronouncements often resound with uncanny topicality.


The Remaking of the Romantic Epiphany in the Early and Later Poetry of W.B. Yeats

Eliene Mąka-Poulain (University of Silesia, Poland)

In this presentation I would like to explore and contrast the strategies of representing the moment of recognition/the moment of vivid perception in the early and mature poetry of W.B. Yeats. First, I focus on the “early Yeats” and the “middle Yeats” of the volumes The Rose and Responsibilities, tracing Yeats’s Romantic inspirations and looking for certain elements of the Romantic models of the moment of consciousness in the poems “When You Are Old,” “The Lake Isle of Innisfree” and “A Memory of Youth.” Then, I compare these representations to the less conventional (but certainly no less personal in their tone) literary moments of The Winding Stair and Other Poems -- one of Yeats’s last volumes of poetry. The examination of those different strategies makes it possible to conclude that in his early work the Irish poet was particularly interested in employing the literary moment as a coda whose function was both to close the poem and to sustain or intensify a particular mood or emotion evoked in the poem, and that he frequently relied on the Romantic conventions. In contrast, in many of the later poems, including “Vacillation,” “In Memory of Eva Gore-Booth and Con Markiewicz” and “Stream and Sun in Glendalough,” the function of the moment of intense perception is more complex: the “Moment” itself, though it retains much of its Romantic character, often becomes a crucial part of a heterogeneous collage that usually involves the juxtaposition of reminiscing about past events with the perception of the “here and now.” This relation between the present and the past will also be briefly analysed with reference to the poetry written by “the younger Yeats” and “the older Yeats.”