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By NEVILLE BRAYBROOKE
AUTOBIOGRAPHIES. by W. B. Yeats (Macmillan, ha.)
POETS are odd birds. the very phrase even suggesting plumage -a plumage sometimes pelted with strange moonmarks, at others fanned with crescents whose purple shades carry with them a royal ancestry of stormy song.
Poets, too, are lonely birds
and again the phrase carries with it the sense of isolation which is the destiny of those whose lives are dedicated to recording their vision. At the best the criticisms that follow after are superfluous, for what counts is the remaking:
Grant rnc an old man's frenzy, Myself must I remake Til I am ... William Blake Who beat upon the wall Til Truth obeyed his call.
That is perhaps the aim, although whereas one would suppose that the ancestry of the enchanter, Yeats, would seem a bird, that of the prophet, Blake, would seem some form of demi-angel. There was always in Yeats just a little of the poseur, of " the smiling public man"; the desire to live long enough " to enjoy that communion with idle, charming and cultivated women which Balzac in one of his dedications calls the chief consolation of genius! ' " "AUTOBIOGRAPHIES" 4-3includes " Reveries over Childhood and Youth " and " The Trembling of the Veil" (both 1926) as well as " Dramatis Personae," " Estrangement," " The Death of Synge " and " The Bounty of Sweden "-all subsequent pieces. but all at least checked in proof by the poet before his death. The result is a sort of massive journal, covering some 70 years, none of it particularly intimate-but the record of a period in whose notes one can see the germination of several of the later poems.
Here, for instance, is the first draft-rough and prosaic: " An idle man has no thought, a man's work thinks through him. On the other hand a woman gets her thought through the influence (if a man. A man is to her what work is to a man. Man is a woman to his work and it begets his thought." Now, the transformation in the poem called " Adam's Curse'. Better go down upon your marrow hones
And scrub a kitchen pavement, or break stones
Like an old pauper, in all' kinds of weather; For to articulate sweet sounds together
Is to work harder than all these, and yet
Be thought an idler by the noisy set Of bankers. schoolmasters. and clergymen
The martyrs call the world.
So green and easy, there was always necessary a tremendous gestation and sweat of blood to let the words flower with the seeming simplicity of Celtic conversation. "Think like a wise man, yet express 1yourselle like the common people." That was the dedicated role-" a modern vocabulary" with "natural words in their natural order " and yet, in its " speech carrying to the highest intensity of sound and meaning," all the old " traditional richness."
" A CHURCHLESS mystic" Yeats once described himself in a letter, but there is a certain vagueness in it, for a mystic is a man who in his search for the Absolute must peradventure avoid vagueness at all costs. Heaven's reflection may he found in this world by the poet, but a mystic-much as he may enjoy this earth-must always distinguish clearly between this kingdom and the next.
Blake and Yeats were visionaries, though being a visionary alone never made any man a prophet or mystic as well. Therein lay the difference between the two poets, and much as Yeats might try to remake himself in the image of Blake. his visions were no more than parables of light. This is not said to belittle a great poet's memory, but to " place" him--a task made easier by these " Autobiographies."