Monday, June 12, 2023

Patterns of People in the Phases V

 Artists' Work as their Soul's Essence

 (This follows from Patterns of People in the Phases Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV.) 


Central section of the southern side of the Frieze of Parnassus on the Albert Memorial, London (the poets and musicians),
by George Gilbert Scott (1864–72).


To return to the panoply of poets and thinkers, my observations about the preponderance of artists and the way that they are viewed are far from original. Helen Vendler, for instance, makes very similar comments in the book of her thesis, Yeats’s “Vision” and the Later Plays from 1963, explaining Yeats’s “scheme of literary history,” and noting how the different phases focus on the poets’ aesthetics. 

About two thirds of all the examples Yeats chooses to give are literary men; of these, about two thirds are poets. The twenty-eight phases become virtually, in the course of the book, a scheme of literary history, bizarre perhaps, but literary history all the same—and most especially, poetic literary history.

 Helen Vendler, Yeats’s “Vision” and the Later Plays, 29–30

Hazard Adams says much the same in The Book of Yeats’s Vision from 1995. He observes that Yeats “sees the writers in or as their work,” and this gives some an indication of what Yeats identifies in each person within the wheel. 

Of the forty-eight “examples” specifically cited, thirty-one are what we call imaginative writers and one is a painter; only four (Victoria, Parnell, Napoleon, and Socrates) are not writers of some kind. Yeats sees the writers in or as their work, and as metonyms they are absorbed into fiction much as he is absorbed into the fiction of A Vision.

Hazard Adams, The Book of Yeats’s Vision, 88

And it is not just professional self-regard that makes writers and poets predominate, nor is it laziness that equates artists with their work. Yeats regards artists—at their best, at least—as giving something of their soul's own essence in their work, thus making them clearer and more explicit exemplars of the soul's bias and ways of being. The lineaments of Will, Mask, Creative Mind, and Body of Fate can be traced more clearly because the artists have transferred them into what Yeats terms "phantasmagoria"—the eerie images cast by magic lanterns in a form of proto-cinema—implying that they project their own life in transmuted form artistically.

A poet writes always of his personal life, in his finest work out of its tragedies, whatever it be, remorse, lost love or mere loneliness; he never speaks directly as to someone at the breakfast table, there is always a phantasmagoria. Dante and Milton had mythologies, Shakespeare the characters of English history, of traditional romance; even when the poet seems most himself, when he is Raleigh and gives potentates the lie, or Shelley ‘a nerve o’er which do creep the else unfelt oppressions of mankind’, or Byron when ‘the heart wears out the breast as the sword wears out the sheath’, he is never the bundle of accident and incoherence that sits down to breakfast; he has been re-born as an idea, something intended, complete. A novelist might describe his accidence, his incoherence, he must not, he is more type than man, more passion than type. He is Lear, Romeo, Oedipus, Tiresias; he has stepped out of a play and even the woman he loves is Rosalind, Cleopatra, never The Dark Lady. He is part of his own phantasmagoria and we adore him because nature has grown intelligible, and by so doing a part of our creative power.

Essays & Introductions 509, cf. CW5 204

What the assigned phase of A Vision's pageant is intended to indicate is not the person we might meet in the street but a kind of essence, not “the bundle of accident and incoherence that sits down to breakfast” but the self “re-born as an idea, something intended, complete.” In their work, the poets are “more type than man, more passion than type,” and “nature has grown intelligible.” And this, in part, is the reason why the poets—“in or as their work”—dominate the pantheon of the phases—there is a clarity and intelligibility that is separate from the accidents of personality, opinion, and contingency.

The unique quality of the poet, even over other artists perhaps—the novelist, for instance, may “describe his accidence, his incoherence”—is this expression of something fundamental. As he explained to Olivia Shakespear: “You can define soul as ‘that which has value in itself’ or you can say of it ‘is that which we can only know through analogies’ ” (July [1934], CL InteLex 6074, cf. Letters (Wade) 825). And the soul’s “characteristic act” is being in time or “temporal existence”:

Even though we may think temporal existence illusionary it cannot be capricious; it is ... the characteristic act of the soul and must reflect the soul’s coherence.... We may come to think that nothing exists but a stream of souls, that all knowledge is biography, and . . . that every soul is unique.

Introduction to The Resurrection, Variorum Plays 934–35; Explorations 396–97

Poets may reveal this soul more effectively through their writing, but every person has a soul. 

A poet is by the very nature of things a man who lives with entire sincerity, or rather, the better his poetry, the more sincere his life. His life is an experiment in living.... it is no little thing to achieve anything in any art, to stand along perhaps for many years.... to give one’s own life as well as one’s words (which are so much nearer to one’s soul) to the criticism of the world.

“The Friends of My Youth” (lecture draft, 1910), Yeats and the Theatre, 74

This is part of what Yeats had told Moina Mathers he was looking for in his involvement with the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn in the dedicatory introductions to A Vision A in 1925:

I wished for a system of thought that would leave my imagination free to create as it chose and yet make all that it created, or could create, part of the one history, and that the soul's. . . . What I have found indeed is nothing new, for I will show presently that Swedenborg and Blake and many before them knew that all things had their gyres; but Swedenborg and Blake preferred to explain them figuratively, and so I am the first to substitute for Biblical or mythological figures, historical movements and actual men and women. 

(AVA xi–xii, CW13 liv–lv)

The other representatives of the phases may not have the opportunity to project so fully or clearly as the poets, but also in their own ways are regarded as expressing their essence in their work and life, not in every accident and detail, but in an overriding quality or mood that, for instance, Yeats considers to make a Shakespeare like a Napoleon like a Balzac. We have no work by which to judge a "mute inglorious Milton" and lack of deeds leaves a "village-Hampden" unknown, as well as a "Cromwell guiltless of his country's blood," as Thomas Gray saw in his "Elegy in a Country Churchyard." The selected names have something that expresses their essence clearly and brings them to prominence, and may therefore provide us with a mnemonic figure for their phase.

1: New Moon; 2: Bacchus; 3: a hamadryad; 4: Chiron; 5: Byron's Giaour; 6: Whitman; 7: Dumas; 8: Prince Myshkin; 9: Lewis; 10: Parnell;
11: Spinoza; 12: Nietzsche; 13: Beardsley; 14: Keats; 15: Full Moon; 16: Blake; 17: Shelley; 18: Goethe; 19: Byron; 20: Balzac;
21: Shaw; 22: Darwin; 23: Rembrandt; 24: Victoria; 25: Luther; 26: Il Gobbo (Hunchback/Hermit); 27: Pascal; 28: Il Matto (Fool).

Monday, June 5, 2023

Patterns of People in the Phases IV

 Creating through Opposition

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

Creating from opposition

The nature of artistic creation is, according to the Yeatses' system, affected by the operation of the Faculties, especially the Mask. In terms of the artists' lives more broadly, it is Daimons (or Gatekeepers as they are called in The Trembling of the Veil) that engineer the circumstances for creativity.

[The Daimons] contrived Dante’s banishment, and snatched away his Beatrice, and thrust Villon into the arms of harlots, and sent him to gather cronies at the foot of the gallows, that Dante and Villon might through passion become conjoint to their buried selves, turn all to Mask and Image, and so be phantoms in their own eyes. In great lesser writers like Landor and like Keats we are shown that Image and that Mask as something set apart; Andromeda and her Perseus—though not the sea-dragon—but in a few in whom we recognize supreme masters of tragedy, the whole contest is brought into the circle of their beauty. (Au 273, CW3 217)


"Andromeda and her Perseus," without and with sea-dragon...
Edward Burne-Jones, Perseus and Andromeda, 1876. Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide.

Yeats is expressing in semi-public terms for the autobiography the creation of internal Mask and its embodiment as Image in poetry: Andromeda represents the Image of desire, while Perseus is the Mask adopted by the poet. The dragon represents the dark side of life, the recognition of the negative poles, the Body of Fate in terms of the Faculties.

Thus we find Landor’s shepherds and Shelley’s wanderers at Phase 3 opposite the poets’ phase, Byron’s Don Juan and Giaour opposite his phase 19, and Browning’s old hunter talking with gods or king of long ago, almost opposite. For Yeats, the artists need the polar opposite represented by the Mask whether it is the Image, the object of love—Andromeda—or the projected self, the lover—Perseus: for Shelley, Epipsychidion or Venus Urania and Alastor or Athanase. For Yeats, the greatest artists manage to fuse them into something more complete, the circle of beauty. Furthermore they embrace the opposite impulse represented especially by the destructive Body of Fate, the sea-dragon, the recognition that conflict is inherent in the world, which he calls, idiosyncratically, the Vision of Evil. 

[Dante and Villon] The two halves of their nature are so completely joined that they seem to labour for their objects, and yet to desire whatever happens, being at the same instant predestinate and free, creation's very self.... Had not Dante and Villon understood that their fate wrecked what life could not rebuild, had they lacked their Vision of Evil, had they cherished any species of optimism, they could but have found a false beauty, or some momentary instinctive beauty, and suffered no change at all, or but changed as do the wild creatures, or from Devil well to Devil sick, and so round the clock. (Au 273, CW3 217)

Opposition in creation

Yeats also treats his fellow poets as representatives of different attitudes to life, including religion (something he would later do with his two children). There is a draft for the revised version of A Vision in Rapallo Notebook B, where Yeats struggles to express something of this. He talks of two approaches to Christianity, one of which is lyric and associated with Shelley and Keats, while the other is tragic and Dantean.  

I myself seek a symbol that can thrust Christianity back into the crises where it arose, and there display it not as an abstract ideal but united to its opposite, or thrust it forward into the crisis where the actors must change robes & the defeated Tincture triumph in its turn. An abstract ideal is lyrical.
An ideal separated from its opposite is lyrical acquires a is lyrical; has a phantastic imobility like that of the Greek figures in Keats Ode & palls upon us po, has a phantastic imobility like that of the gr figures Keats saw upon the Urn & therefore xxx palls upon us, the exceptional moment past; whereas but an idea united to its opposite is tragic & stays always like the poetry of Dante
and like the poetry of Dante needs no exceptional moment & always stays like the poetry of Dante. An ideal separated from its opposite is lyrical, & its phantastic imobility palls upon us, but an ideal united to its opposite is tragic & stays always like the poetry of Dante. I am tired of Shellean Christianity.

Rapallo Notebook B, NLI 13,579, [53r–54r]

He appears to reject the lyric form as abstract in favour of a more dramatic approach where the opposing pole brings in conflict. He associates the lyric form with “an ideal separated from its opposite,” something that A Vision deplores, as it is said to “consume itself away” (AVA 134, one of those phrases that Yeats left from the automatic script, partly our of respect for the form of words, and partly uncertain of the full meaning). 

He even goes so far as to compare the lyric mode to “a phantastic immobility like that of the Greek figures in Keats’s Ode” on a Grecian Urn, whereas “an ideal united to its opposite is tragic & stays always like the poetry of Dante.” He closes by saying that he is “tired of Shellean Christianity”—that is, not that Shelley was Christian but the Shelley of the "Hymn to Intellectual Beauty" represents an approach to Christianity as an abstract, unmixed ideal. 

Yeats is writing about religion, but in the aesthetic terms he knows, and there is some implicit belittling of the lyric mode. The later, more succinct redraft in Rapallo A appears to view Shelley’s work as a “song in the air” contrasted with the conflagration of the phoenix and its rebirth. 

An ideal separated from its opposite is lyrical & its fantastic immobility palls upon us but an ideal united to its opposite is tragic & stays always like the poetry of Dante. I am tired of Shellean Christianity—I prefer to any song in the air a Phoenix, that rises twelve times from a body twelve times consumed to ashes.*

Rapallo Notebook A, NLI 13,578, [8r], page numbered 5

Opposition within the creator

Though Shelley and Dante are both representatives of the same Phase 17 as himself, they here represent the two parts of Yeats's creative character, lyric and dramatic. This creation of opposites needs both the polar opposite represented by the Mask, which brings the lyric impulse and aesthetic beauty, but also the opposite impulse represented by Creative Mind, bringing the construction of conceit and universals, and especially Body of Fate, which rounds with the tragic aspect.

It seems all the stranger that Yeats says that the "phantastic imoblity" of the "Ode to a Grecian Urn" "palls upon us," because he opens that same notebook with a description of Rapallo and its bay, comparing the town precisely to the scenes depicted on Keats’s Urn with tender approval. Yet it indicates the tension that Yeats felt and the criticisms directed towards his own practice, that he would express in poems such as “Vacillation” and “The Circus Animals’ Desertion.” However complex it may be, a lyric poem of necessity focuses rather than drawing all in, but many critics have observed how Yeats's poetry resists immobility, often using questions to open the end of poem up, to invite the opposite and avoid any impression of neat conclusion. 



* Yeats complicates the image of the phoenix reborn in fire by bringing in another meaning that he was playing with at this time, where he referred to the twelve "incarnations of Buddha" or avatars of the divine as "twelve Phoenixes." These had been called "Masters" in the automatic script, "Fountains" in AVA, and are not really dealt with in AVB. For this and the material cited above, see my essay "Rapallo Notebooks A and B" in International Yeats Studies 6.