Auden on Yeats

Nov 26, 2013

WH on WB

“I shall only ask you to apply to the work of [Yeats] a very simple test. How many of his lines can you remember?”

“Yeats spent the first part of his life as a minor poet, and the second part writing major poems about what it had been like to be a minor poet.”

“I have only once encountered pure evil in a person, and that was when I met Yeats.”

“[Yeats is] the saviour of English lyric poetry… he accepted the modern necessity of having to make a lonely and deliberate choice of the principles and presuppositions in terms of which [he made] sense of his experience… [he has] written some of the most beautiful poetry of modern times... A poem such as 'In Memory of Major Robert Gregory' is something new and important in the history of English poetry...”.

“I am incapable of saying a word about W.B. Yeats because, through no fault of his, he has become for me a symbol of my own devil of inauthenticity, of everything I must try to eliminate from my own poetry.”

“You were silly like us; your gift survived it all:

The parish of rich women, physical decay,

Yourself. Mad Ireland hurt you into poetry.

Now Ireland has her madness and her weather still,

For poetry makes nothing happen…”

“I challenge anyone in this court to deny that it [The Oxford Book of Modern Verse edited by WB] is the most deplorable volume ever issued under the imprint of that highly respected firm which has done so much for the cause of poetry in this country, the Clarendon Press.”

“What are we to say of a man whose earliest writings attempted to revive a belief in fairies and whose favourite themes were legends of barbaric heroes with unpronounceable names, work which has been aptly and wittily described as Chaff about Bran?”

“In 1900 he believed in fairies; that was bad enough; but in 1930 we are confronted with the pitiful, the deplorable spectacle of a grown man occupied with the mumbo-jumbo of magic and the nonsense of India.”

“But there is one field in which the poet [Yeats] is a man of action, the field of language, and it is precisely in this that the greatness of the deceased is most obviously shown. However false or undemocratic his ideas, his diction shows a continuous evolution towards what one might call the true democratic style. The diction of The Winding Stair is the diction of a just man, and it is for this reason that just men will always recognize its author as a master.”

“Earth, receive an honoured guest:
William Yeats is laid to rest.
Let the Irish vessel lie
Emptied of its poetry.”