MEMOIRS: Autobiography -- First Draft by W. B. Yeats

MEMOIRS: Autobiography -- First Draft

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Yeats was always haunted by the idea of tragedy. ""The poet finds his mask in disappointment, the hero in defeat."" Yeats spent his youth and most of his middle years hopelessly courting the coldest, cruelest, most dispassionate bitch-goddess that ever came out of Ireland, Maud Gonne, becoming, by his own admission, a masturbating celibate, until ""Diana Vernon"" (Olivia Shakespear) took him to bed. But the affair didn't work. ""You've somebody else in your heart,"" she told him. Yes, but, most likely, it was W. B. himself who was there, not M. G. The image he had of himself, the knight-errant in quest of the Unattainable -- that's what was there. In other words, the poet and his poetry. Perhaps the ineffable Maud suspected as much, thought that this indeed was what he wanted all along -- in any case, she gave it to him. And yet who would remember her if not for him? La belle dame sans merci -- and thus a certain type of woman achieves immortality. The long-suppressed memoirs, the first draft of the Autobiographies, are not (with the exception of the never-before-revealed material concerning Maud and Yeats' own sorrowing sexuality) as interesting as the later work. The passages on Wilde, on Dowson, on Synge, on politics, on the theater -- these are immediate, sincere, intimate, but a bit meandering, not yet burnished to a fine edge, a fine glow, not yet the perfectly honed offerings which Yeats, true to his mask, would present to the world. The more we read of Yeats, the more we learn of him, the more we understand he was one of those superhuman figures who really cannot be said to have ""lived"" at all, who suffer suffer suffer so that the ""singing-masters"" of their souls may consume their hearts away, and ""sick with desire/ And fastened to a dying animal,"" they are gathered, finally and conclusively, ""into the artifice of eternity."" In such instances, behind every tragedy glory is always waiting to raise its golden head.

Pub Date: April 23rd, 1973
Publisher: Macmillan