Monday 20 November 2017

Yeats and the flip side of a national icon

The singular poet had feet of clay, and it's foolish to pretend otherwise, but that does not diminish his literary genius

OUR NATIONAL POET: WB Yeats. Photo: NPA Collection
OUR NATIONAL POET: WB Yeats. Photo: NPA Collection

Anthony J Jordan

At a recent meeting organised by UCD at Newman House, Senator Susan O'Keeffe, chair of Yeats150, said that during this year of the celebrating of WB Yeats, the poet should also be challenged. Yeats is open to challenge in many areas. So here goes.

Yeats saw himself as a dramatic artist who was not bound by the normal social mores. He demonstrated this in several ways in his long collaboration with Lady Gregory. He claimed authorship of Cathleen Ni Houlihan in 1902 and later, in 1910, betrayed Gregory by allowing unfair criticism from Edmund Gosse to go unchallenged, lest he jeopardise his chance of getting a Civil List pension.

He told his sisters that education was wasted on women as it made them into "loud chatterers." He refused to ever acknowledge his sister Lolly's artistic endeavours. She described an encounter between Willie and Maire Ni Shuiblaigh, the Abbey actress, writing: "His manner was sneery & offensive and Maire would discuss nothing. Willie kept on telling her that she was a 'beginner' & had much to learn & so on, & at the same time spoke the whole time of Mr Fay & Miss Algood & the others as if they were finished actors & actresses . . . I know what harm he would have done here if he could have baulked us in our work.

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