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W. B. Yeats & the Cultural Milieu of the 1890s

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1 W. B. Yeats & the Cultural Milieu of the 1890s
Presenter: 李登慧

2 William Butler Yeats, 1900 Portrait by his father John Butler Yeats

3 I. Early Yeats ( ) “William Butler Yeats ranks among the most widely admired and intensively studied writers of the twentieth century. He attracts such avid interest because, as T. S. Eliot famously suggested, his history is also the history of his time. Beginning as a late-Victorian aesthete and ending as an influential contemporary of Eliot and other modernists, Yeats set the pace for two generations of important writer.” (David Holdeman ix)

4 “Yeats was in a literal sense a Victorian
“Yeats was in a literal sense a Victorian. Born in 1865 in what may be called the high noon of the Victorian period, he lived 36 of his 74 years ‘in the great peace of Queen Victoria and amid all the social and spiritual conditions prevailing through her realms.’ One would not, however, find too many critics ready to characterize Yeats as a Victorian—indeed, that Yeats was irredeemably hostile to everything Victorian has been an article of critical faith.” (George Watson 36) The reign of Queen Victoria:

5 II. Yeats’s Interactions with the 1890s
Fin de siècle (世紀末現象) French: "end of the century" Generally refers to the years 1880 to 1914 in Europe Connotations: Decadence, typical for the last years of a culturally vibrant period Anticipation about or despair facing the impending change, generally expected when a century or time period draws to a close

6 Cultural Milieu of the fin de siècle
1. Influences of Pre-Raphaelitism (前拉斐爾主義) 2. Aesthetic / Decadent Movement (唯美/頹廢主義) 3. Apocalypse (啟示錄) 4. New Woman

7 II.1. Pre-Raphaelitism Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood (Pre-Raphaelites):
a group of English painters, poets, and critics, founded in 1848 by John Everett Millais, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, and William Holman Hunt. To reform art by rejecting the mechanistic approach adopted by the artists who succeeded Raphael and Michelangelo To return to the abundant detail, intense colours, and complex compositions of the late Middle Ages and the early Renaissance in the 15th-c Italy

8 II.1.1. Imaginary Landscape (幻想的地景)
1. Garden-Orchard-Bower // flowing hair 2. Shadowy Land II.1.2. Ideal Beloved (理想的摯愛) Femme Fatale (the fatal woman): Lilith, Salome, Helen 2. Dead Beloved: The tradition from Dante to Rossetti’s “The Blessed Damozel” 3. Madonna (Virgin Mary) II.1.3. Mysticism & Occult Tendencies (神秘主義)

9 Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-1882)

10 The Bower Meadow, 1872

11 Sibylla Palmifera (Soul's Beauty), 1866-70

12 Lilith, 1868,

13 Astarte Syriaca, 1877

14 The Blessed Damozel,  

15 William Morris ( )

16 La belle Iseult (Queen Guenevere), 1858

17 Snakeshead printed textile, 1876

18 Illustration from The Wood Beyond the World, 1894

19 Burne-Jones, Love among the Ruins

20 Burne-Jones and Morris, David's Charge to Solomon

21 II.2. Aesthetic / Decadent Movement
Took place in the late Victorian period from around 1868 to 1901, and is generally considered to have ended with the trial of Oscar Wilde Represents the same tendencies that Symbolism or Decadence stood for in France, and may be considered the British branch of the same movement It belongs to the anti-Victorian reaction and had post-Romantic roots, and as such anticipates Modernism.

22 Aestheticism had its forerunners in Keats and Shelley, and among the Pre-Raphaelites.
In Britain the best representatives were Oscar Wilde and Swinburne, both influenced by the French Symbolists and D.G. Rossetti. This movement was deeply influenced by Walter Pater and his essays published in , in which he stated that life had to be lived intensely, following an ideal of beauty. Decadent writers used the slogan “Art for Art’s Sake,” and asserted that there was no connection between art and morality. The main characteristics of the movement: suggestion rather than statement, sensuality, massive use of symbols, and synaesthetic effects(統整性美學效果) —correspondence between words, colors and music.

23 Vogue of Salome: Among Yeats’s contemporaries, Stephane Mallarme, Oscar Wilde, and Aubrey Beardsley helped resuscitate and reshape the biblical Salome into an in-vogue symbolist-decadent icon that profoundly influenced Yeats’s Sidhe-dancer imagery. Based on Wilde’s play, Beardsley’s drawing Salome with the Head of John the Baptist (1893) visually captures the climatic moment of Salome holding and staring menacingly at John’s severed head, which Yeats praised for its “visionary beauty.”

24 Aubrey Beardsley ( )

25 Title page, Salome, 1894

26 The Peacock Skirt, Salome

27 The Stomach Dance, Salome

28 The Dancer's Reward, Salome

29 The Climax, Salome

30 Maud Allan in her famous early role as Salome, 1906 - 1910

31 “Yeats was an expert cultural politician, and used the Aesthetic or Decadent movement to shape his Irish movement and present it in a flattering yet not wholly uncritical light before both English and Irish readers. Thus, he could pick up on that sense of sophisticated ennui and hyper-refined artificiality in the ethos of the Decadent movement and contrast it with the vigor and energy for the Irish Renaissance.” (Watson 54)

32 II.2.1. Rhymers’ Club Beginning in 1890 Yeats frequently sought escape from his private life and from Irish cultural politics in the company of a group of young London writers known as the Rhymers’ Club, which met in an upstairs room of the Cheshire Cheese inn. Regulars included Lionel Johnson, Arthur Symons, Ernest Dowson, and others; Oscar Wilde also looked in at times. These writers are often linked with the aesthetically refined and morally decadent atmosphere of the English fin-de-siecle.

33 II.3. Apocalypse Greek: the lifting of the veil
The disclosure to certain privileged persons of something hidden from the majority of humankind Apocalypse was one aspect of the fin de siecle that nurtured in Yeats one of the most fruitful strains in his sensibility. For Yeats, the apocalypse is always connected with genuine spiritual revelation, with vision, and is independent of a date in the calendar. The persistence of his apocalyptic vision beyond 1900 is proof, and it issues in some of his very greatest poems—“The Magi,” “The Second Coming,” “Nineteen Hundred and Nineteen,” “Leda and the Swan,” and “Two Songs from a Play” among them.

34 II.4. New Woman “New Woman” entered the vocabulary as a popular term in 1894. This cultural phenomenon was made possible by the burgeoning women’s movement of the late Victorian years. It was a reaction to the gender role, as characterized by the so-called cult of domesticity, ascribed to the Victorian women. Yeats moved in circles sympathetic to emancipation. Through his early involvement with the socialist group that gathered around William Morris and his friendship with actresses like Florence Farr, Yeats met and befriended many New Women.

35 III. Reading Yeats's Early Works in Light of the 1890s
The Rose (1893): collected poems The Celtic Twilight (1893): prose sketches The Land of Heart’s Desire (1894): play The Secret Rose (1897): collected stories The Wind Among the Reeds (1899): collected poems

36 The Rose (1893) Mysticism, Symbolism & Cultural Nationalism:
Like all initiates in the Golden Dawn, Yeats offered special devotions to the central symbol of the Rose. This emblem began to surface in his lyrics and eventually provided the title for this collection. The Rose summons an eternal power associated with beauty, love, and femininity, a power that the poet implores to infuse itself in Ireland, in his beloved, and in himself so that all three can be joined in completion. Writing about the Rose allows Yeats to be a spiritual poet, a love poet, and a (culturally nationalist) political poet at once.

37 Rosy Cross of the Golden Dawn
Golden Dawn was a magical order of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, practicing a form of spiritual development. It was possibly the single greatest influence on twentieth century western occultism.

38 “To the Rose upon the Rood of Time”
Come near, that no more blinded by man’s fate, I find under the boughs of love and hate, In all poor foolish things that live a day, Eternal beauty wandering on her way. Come near, come near, come near—Ah, leave me still A little space for the rose-breath to fill! Lest I no more hear common things that crave; But seek alone to hear the strange things said By God to the bright hearts of those long dead, And learn to chaunt a tongue men do not know. Come near; I would, before my time to go, Sing of old Eire and the ancient ways: Red Rose, proud Rose, sad Rose of all my days. (lines 9-12; 13-15; 19-24)

39 The first poem introduces the Rose as an agent from the divine otherworld that permits mortal beings a vision of “Eternal beauty” by sacrificing itself (like Christ) upon the rood or cross of time. Subsequent Rose poems supplement this basic implication by using the connotative links between roses, romance, and beautiful women to create hymns to Eternal Beauty. The Rose poems also function as tributes to Maud Gonne, or to the heroic-but-nurturing feminine ideal her young admirer wished her to fulfill.

40 “The Rose of the World” Who dreamed that beauty passes like a dream? For these red lips, with all their mournful pride, Mournful that no new wonder may betide, Troy passed away in one high funeral gleam, And Usna’s children died. Bow down, archangels, in your dim abode: Before you were, or any hearts to beat, Weary and kind one lingered by His seat; He made the world to be a grassy road Before her wandering feet. (lines 1-5; 11-15)

41 Pre-Raphaelite ideal beloved: femme fatale
The Rose once embodied itself in the legendary forms of ancient Greece’s Helen and ancient Ireland’s Deirdre (for whom, respectively, “Troy passed away” and “Usna’s children died”). It now resides in “this lonely face” (by implication, the face of Maud Gonne).

42 “The Lake Isle of Innisfree”
I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree, And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made: Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee, And live alone in the bee-loud glade. And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow, Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings; There midnight’s all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow, And evening full of the linnet’s wings. I will arise and go now, for always night and day I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore; While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey, I hear it in the deep heart’s core.

43 Writing the Irish locale with a touch of the Pre-Raphaelite imaginary landscape :
Aestheticism: synaesthetic effects Innisfree promises both spiritual and natural fulfillments: it creates a middle space in which abstractions like peace adopt physical forms and motions, and time passes in an ethereal flow that permits midnight to glimmer and noon to glow darkly. It sings an ode to nature in the Romantic fashion. Yet, because the landscape is distinctively Irish—Innisfree is a real islet, in Lough Gill near Sligo—it also sustains a culturally nationalist political challenge to prevailing British stereotypes about Ireland’s primitive hinterlands (Holdeman 21).

44 The Celtic Twilight (1893) Mysticism & Celtic Elements:
This collection blended descriptions of Yeats’s visionary experiences with reports of his encounters with Irish country folk, and retellings of their ghost and fairy stories. Its title became associated with the vogue for “Celtic” writing that developed (especially in London) as the 1890s progressed. Yeats connected the Celtic twilight not with the setting sun of a fading tradition but rather with the dawning of a new era of spiritually impassioned art.

45 The Land of Heart’s Desire (1894)
Constructing the Celtic fairyland (Tir na nOg) with a touch of the Pre-Raphaelite imaginary landscape: This one-act play illustrates the conceptions of the fairyland as a land of youth and joy, and dance as a celebration transcending time and fate. Its conflict centers on a married woman’s choice to go or not to go with the fairies. When composing this play, Yeats might have associated the maypole festival— “a practice actually institutionalized by a number of progressive fin-de-siecle schools for girls” to acknowledge their allegiance to Maia, goddess of spring and fertility—with Irish folklore about stolen brides on May eves.

46 The Faery Child: The wind blows over the lonely of heart, And the lonely of heart is withered away. While the faeries dance in a place apart, Shaking their milk-white feet in a ring, Tossing their milk-white arms in the air; For they hear the wind laugh and murmur and sing Of a land where even the old are fair, And even the wise are merry of tongue; (lines )

47 The Secret Rose (1897) Aestheticism, Occultism & Apocalyptic Vision:
Yeats’s own ornate stories in The Secret Rose, his absorption in the mysteries of the Golden Dawn, the labor he expended on trying to construct the Celtic Mystical Order with Maud Gonne—are all testimony to the centrality of ritual to his creative imagination. The energy and personal force Yeats brought to his art of apocalyptic vision in his great later poems is universally admired; yet their origins clearly lie in the 1890s. This is especially obvious in The Secret Rose. Its last three stories “Rosa Alchemica,” “The Tables of the Law,” and “The Adoration of the Magi” are particularly heavy with the fin-de-siecle sensibility.

48 The Wind Among the Reeds (1899)
“one of the most fascinating collections of poetry he ever assembled, a work of uncanny power that rivals the poetry of his latest, greatest phase” (Holdeman 23). The Wind received considerable public acclaim, especially in England, and won the Academy's Poetry Award for 1899. Arthur Symons praised its “extraordinarily intense inner life,” and found in it an “atmosphere in which the illusion of love, and the cruelty of pain, and the gross ecstasy of hope, become changed into beauty.”

49 One particular aspect of Pre-Raphaelitism is notably represented: the women of the poems are obviously derived from the paintings of Rossetti, especially his Sibylla Palmifera, his Lilith, and his Astarte Syriaca. The features of the Rossetti paintings: (1) The thick and flowing hair (2) the long throats (3) the heavy eyelids and the rapt eyes at once sensual and spiritual (4) the air of nobility and mysterious sadness

50 These same features are found in Yeats’s poems: (1) Hair is long and heavy and dim, and the lover will be hidden by it or drown in it (2) Eyes are “passion-dimmed” or “dream-dimmed” (3) Incantatory rhythms suggest the sense of mysterious ritual. Assimilation of Salome into the Sidhe imagery: Just as those men who fixate their gaze on Salome would forgo their reason and life, those who look too much at the Sidhe would lost “all interest in ordinary things” and yearn for immortal beauty and happiness.

51 “The Hosting of the Sidhe”
The winds awaken, the leaves whirl round, Our cheeks are pale, our hair is unbound, Our breasts are heaving, our eyes are agleam, Our arms are waving, our lips are apart; And if any gaze on our rushing band, We come between him and the deed of his hand, We come between him and the hope of his heart. The host is rushing ‘twixt night and day, And where is there hope or deed as fair? Caoilte tossing his buring hair, And Niamh calling Away, come away. (lines 6-16)

52 Yeats explained to one correspondent: the Gaelic term sidhe better reflects the fact that the “Irish peasant never thinks of the fairies as pretty [but rather] as terrible, or beautiful.” The poem’s sexy, dangerous, horse-riding host of male and female spirits is a far cry form the prancing troop that tempts “The Stolen Child.” Their pale cheeks, unbound hair, heaving breasts, and parted lips recall the iconography of Pre-Raphaelite painting and poetry, of traditions associated with Keats, Rosetti, and Morris.

53 “He Bids his Beloved Be at Peace”
O vanity of Sleep, Hope, Dream, endless Desire, The Horses of Disaster plunge in the heavy clay: Beloved, let your eyes half close, and your heart beat Over my heart, and your hair fall over my breast, Drowning love’s lonely hour in deep twilight of rest, And hiding their tossing manes and their tumultuous feet. (lines 7-12)

54 The particular combination of erotic and escapist elements characterizing the Pre-Raphaelite motif complex “garden-orchard-bower” is also essential to the depiction of the hair motif in the early Yeats. The lyric speaker hopes to find peace for himself and his beloved under the sheltering veil of her hair: the transcendence of time and suffering in the moment of love.

55 “He gives his Beloved certain Rhymes”
Fasten your hair with a golden pin, And bind up every wandering tress; I bade my heart build these poor rhymes: It worked at them, day out, day in, Building a sorrowful loveliness Out of the battles of old times. You need but lift a pearl-pale hand, And bind up your long hair and sign; And all men’s hearts must burn and beat; And candle-like foam on the dim sand, And stars climbing the dew-dropping sky, Live but to light your passing feet. (lines 7-12)

56 “The Travail of Passion”
When the flaming lute-thronged angelic door is wide; When an immortal passion breathes in mortal clay; Our hearts endure the scourge, the plaited thorns, the way Crowded with bitter faces, the wounds in palm and side, The vinegar-heavy sponge, the flowers by Kedron stream; We will bend down and loosen our hair over you, That it may drop faint perfume, and be heavy with dew, Lilies of death-pale hope, roses of passionate dream.

57 Despite years of struggling to reconcile poetic reverie with active participation in the real world, part of him still wanted to take comforting refuge in dreams. The woman is eternally alluring, but eternally unattainable; but the worship and pursuit of her is the visionary quest that alone makes life meaningful. Yeats devises an astonishing number of variations of the motif (hair as sheltering canopy) in his early poetry. During the ecstatic moment in “The Travail of Passion” the erotic aspect of protective love fuses with a mystic religiosity.

58 “He wishes his Beloved were Dead”
Were you but lying cold and dead, And lights were paling out of the West, You would come hither, and bend your head, And I would lay my head on your breast; And you would murmur tender words, Forgiving me, because you were dead: Nor would you rise and hasten away, Though you have the will of the wild birds, But know your hair was bound and wound About the stars and moon and sun: O would, beloved, that you lay Under the dock-leaves in the ground, While lights were paling one by one.

59 Pre-Raphaelite ideal beloved: dead beloved
The lover’s rather unusual wish arises from the symbolist desire for ideality. In death the imperfect traits of the beloved disappear and only her haloed icon remains. Yeats’s emphasis on the redeeming qualities of death shows that he is closely related to the tradition well known through Rossetti’s “The Blessed Damozel.”

60 IV. Conclusion “Yeats’s relation to the literature and critical theories of the nineties is, therefore, shifting and variable, a mix of attraction to the call of ‘high art’ and rejection of its esoteric remoteness from life, delight in its elaborate artificiality and a yearning for something more like ‘the book of the people.’” (Watson 56)

61 Major References Cullingford, Elizabeth. Gender and History in Yeats’s Love Poetry. Deane, Seamus. Celtic revivals: Essays in Modern Irish Literature Holdeman, David. The Cambridge Introduction to W. B. Yeats. Honnighausen, Lothar. The Symbolist Tradition in English Literature: A Study of Pre-Raphaelitism and Fin de Siecle.

62 Ledger, Sally, and Roger Luckhurst
Ledger, Sally, and Roger Luckhurst. The Fin de Siecle: A Reader in Cultural History c Loizeaux, Elizabeth Bergmann. Yeats and the Visual Arts. Watson, George. “Yeats, Victorianism, and the 1890s.” The Cambridge Companion to W. B. Yeats.

63 Website Links for Pictures

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