Thursday, May 25, 2023

Patterns of People in the Phases III

Poets, dramatists, and novelists

 (This follows from Patterns of People in the Phases Part I and Part II.)

Yeats's list of people in the phases is heavily biased towards European male writers and artists, partly because of the bias of his times but also because he is seeking to locate himself within the framework of tradition as a European poet writing in English. 

If we focus on the poets, most of them also write in English, apart from a few figures such as Homer, Virgil, Horace, Villon, the great landmarks of past European literature, as well as more recent figures and influences such as Baudelaire and Verlaine. And apart from Walt Whitman and Ezra Pound, most of the poets are British or Irish.  

Those in red and orange here write in English—those in red are English, and the bright red ones are the leading Romantics. There is a strong group of aesthetes in the two or three phases before the Full Moon, including the poets of the Tragic Generation. By placing Dowson and Beardsley at 13 along with Baudelaire and Verlaine, the arrangement underlines the French influence; with Lionel Johnson at 14, WBY is placed on the other side of the Full Moon from almost all the poets of the Rhymers’ Club. (Arthur Symons was uncertainly placed at 18 or later, more like Yeats and Wilde, perhaps.) Interestingly, WBY is more aligned with the Pre-Raphaelites and the Romantics. I include Rossetti here as a poet, and he was moved from 14 to 17, along with Burne-Jones, and William Morris who is indicated to be from Phase 17 or 18. (Michelangelo is also included here for his poetry, as is Walter Raleigh, despite winning fame for other achievements.) 

Of the Romantics, Keats and Wordsworth make slightly strange bedfellows in Phase 14, but their placement before the Full Moon in the second quarter suggests that, for them, emotion and aesthetic experience are more important than intellect and scheme in their work. After the Full Moon the imagination becomes more intellectual and in the later part of the third quarter it is increasingly more dramatic in its expression. At Phase 16, Blake the myth-maker creates a world that has an independent existence, while at Phase 17, Shelley’s myths are less all-encompassing and more dramatically expressed, including works such as The Cenci and Prometheus Unbound. At Phase 19 comes Byron, who is the most theatrical in his projections of persona and thought of all the Romantics from Childe Harold to Manfred and Cain. Byron is made the kin of Browning, the poet of dramatic monologues, and Wilde, a successful playwright, while the myriad-minded creators Shakespeare and Chaucer are placed at Phase 20, a peak of dramatic power—as is Balzac—before the more didactic voices of poets such as Milton at Phase 21. 

The surprising absence is Coleridge. If Shelley and Blake dominated Yeats's youthful imagination, by the 1920s Yeats probably makes more frequent reference to Coleridge's works in poetry and prose, including his collected "Table Talk." If I feel tempted to hazard putting Coleridge at Phase 18, it is not just to fill the empty phase, but for the importance of philosophical thought in Coleridge's later work and what could be seen as a form of the "emotional philosophy" of this phase.

Moving to the novelists and dramatists, there is some overlap, but the dramatists are almost entirely confined to an arc of phases between 18 and 24, and it is perhaps doubtful that Goethe would be counted a dramatist foremost. Shelley and Yeats (Phase 17) wrote plays too, and it is implied that Maeterlinck would be Phase 17 or close, because of his heroines at Phase 3.

The novelists are rather more widely spread, thoug the main group occurs close to Phase 22, where antithetical creativity is still strong enough, but primary recognition of human realities channels this creativity towards the more realistic forms of the novel. The proto-novelists who are perhaps closer to romance, such as Rabelais and Cervantes, are placed at the mythopoeic Phase 16, along with James Stephens, tellers of tales and creators of worlds, and WBY’s tales may well fall under a similar influence. The other novelists in the earlier phases of the wheel are difficult to classify—does the placement of Defoe at Phase 3 portray him more as a reporter of the Plague Year and, perhaps by extension Robinson Crusoe and Moll Flanders? Alexandre Dumas is seen as delighting in history, adventure, and action, themes of the wheel's first quarter. But Tolstoy seems out of place, even if one takes into account that he is elsewhere seen as being one of the most "advanced" souls considered, in his ninth cycle of incarnations (only Montaigne and Socrates are more advanced). The polemic of Wyndham Lewis's fiction is possibly less important than his painting, as Yeats placed Cubists at Phase 9.

In the panoply of worthies he assembles, Yeats is effectively reckoning his own position in terms of both his predecessors in the traditions of English literature and of the universal poets of European culture. He sought to define himself with and against his fellow inmates at Phase 17, particularly Shelley and Dante, but also Landor, Blake at 16, Keats at 14, and Villon at 18. As fellow a Daimonic man, Shelley is treasured for his visionary poetry and criticized for his propagandizing—Yeats seems to see him both as a model and a warning about political involvement. In contrast, Dante is the paragon of the poet, tragic and creating a new world out of his tragedy, and in his case, his partisanship is seen as a necessary spur to exile and loss, but Dante comes from an age which had some Unity of Culture, when such things were clearer and, implicitly, a life and genius such as his were no longer attainable in the twentieth century. Neither Landor nor Shelley was unable to attain true Unity of Being, because they lived in a broken age, according to Yeats, which implies that he did not think it truly possible for himself either.