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mercredi, 31 janvier 2018

W.B. Yeats: Irish Revolutionary Conservative

“I do not appeal to the professional classes, who, in Ireland, at leastappear at no time to have thought of the affairs of their country till they first feared for their emoluments – nor do I appeal to the shoddy society of ‘West Britonism‘ – but to those young men clustered here and there throughout our landwhom the emotion of patriotism has lifted into that world of selfless passion in which heroic deeds are possible and heroic poetry credible.” – Ireland and the Arts. W.B. Yeats.

The political and cultural figures present in the early foundation of the Irish State present Irish liberals with some quandaries. Beneath the narrative of Irish independence being an inherently progressive movement betrayed by a post-Treaty “carnival of reaction”, lies an irreconcilable fact that the many of the figures driving separation from Britain belonged to a stridently conservative brand of thinking. Any budding conservative movement in Ireland should embrace these figures and cultivate a counter-narrative in response to the simplistic mistruths presented in works such as Ken Loach’s “Wind that Shakes the Barley”. Here, the Irish struggle is distilled down to a failed left wing revolt and those of a conservative inclination are portrayed as flagrantly unpatriotic and sometimes even at odds with Irish language revivalism.

The character of W.B. Yeats ranks perhaps first and foremost amongst those figures. Despite his Anglo-Irish background, he threw himself wholeheartedly behind not merely the political separation of his country from Britain, but the equally important task of forming a distinct Irish consciousness. First a political Tory committed to the cause of Irish freedom, he later became a reform-minded senator campaigning against the myopia of the Church-dominated Free State whilst simultaneously advocating for a more conservative state. Yeats, from the onset, strikes the modern reader as an enigma with his distinct brand of politics.

Yeats formed a central plank in what is now termed the Gaelic Revival, a cultural movement that emerged to fill the vacuum in Irish life after the fall of Parnell in 1891 with a yearning to revive the traditions and customs of Ireland in an increasingly anglicised world. In the minds of Yeats and fellow revivalists, Ireland was besieged under the weight of Anglo-American modernity. He recognised a state of affairs that could only be reversed by committed cultural nationalism in the fields of arts and education. Whilst officially apolitical, the Gaelic Revival would act as an incubator for most of the future revolutionaries who would eventually sever formal British rule in Ireland and nurture the early Free State.

ladygregory.jpgDespite cultural nativism being at its centre, Yeats’s Protestant background was shared by most of the leading figures of the movement. Among these were the Galway based aristocrat and folklorist Lady Gregory, whose Coole Park home formed the nerve centre of the movement, and the Rathfarnham born poet and playwright J.M. Synge, who later found solace in Irish peasant culture on the western seaboard as being a vestige of authentic Irish life amid a society of anglicisation. The poet’s identification with both the people and the very landscape of Ireland over the materialist England arose from his early childhood and formative experiences in Sligo, a period that would define him both as an artist as well as a man.

Yeats’s formal conversion to the cause of Irish separation came primarily through his relationship with the veteran Fenian John O’Leary, a minor member of the Young Irelanders. These were a group of mainly Trinity College based nationalists who split off from O’Connell’s Repeal movement. O’Leary had spent large tracts of his life in exile following the botched 1848 rebellion. Whilst abroad, he cultivated a distinctly cultured brand of Irish nationalism drawing not only on the recent traditions of the Young Irelanders but which also encompassed a wide range of influences stretching all the way back to classical antiquity. This form of nationalistic expression appealed very much to the twenty year old Yeats with its patriotic elements and emphasis on the individual in the shaping of history. Soon after his acquaintance with O’Leary, Yeats became a member of the fraternal organisation the Irish Republican Brotherhood, a secret oath bound group organised along semi-masonic lines counting the likes of Michael Collins and the leadership of the Easter Rising among their number and which played an often overlooked role in the securing of Irish freedom.

Whist being traditionally associated as a man of the right, Yeats did in fact rub shoulders with a group of left wing radicals in the form of the Socialist League, a bohemian group sympathetic to Irish nationalism and lead by the artist William Morris. The League attracted many Victorian artists to it’s ranks, including Oscar Wilde and Bernard Shaw. Though Yeats was sympathetic for a time to a form of socialism that would best promote the welfare of artists, he parted ways due to his disagreement with the “atheistic premises of Marxism” that the League embraced. Regardless of that, the League nurtured in Yeats a brand of politics that harboured respect for the individual within society, as well as furthering his disdain for the system of values of a decadent and increasingly mechanised England and the ascendant Catholic bourgeois in Ireland.

KOH.jpgDespite some apprehension about the nature of the Easter Rising, as well as a latent sense of guilt that his work had inspired a good deal of the violence, Yeats took a dignified place within the Irish Seanad. He immediately began to orientate the Free State towards his ideals with efforts made to craft a unique form of symbolism for the new State in the form of currency, the short lived Tailteann Games and provisions made to the arts. Despite his objection to anti-divorce legislation passed by the Free State and his defence of Republican prisoners, the writer Grattan Freyer details how the poet’s primary gripe with the new state was a failure to be sufficiently conservative, to cast off any trappings of liberalism inherited from England, and embrace some sort of aristocratic order (with Yeats no doubt playing a major role). In cabinet, he found minister Kevin O’Higgins (photo) as a potential ally and was so aghast at the young minister’s death at the hands of Republican gunmen that he penned his poem “Blood And The Moon” a defence not only of the ailing world of the Anglo-Irish aristocracy to which he belonged, but also to the poet’s brand of conservative politics.

Yeats very famously had a bumbling relationship with the Blueshirts Ireland’s proto-fascist movement, which was born out of Treatyite politics and disgruntled farmers’ anger at De Valera’s trade war with the UK. There appears even to have been a ham-fisted attempt by Yeats to fashion the Blueshirts in his image with what one would imagine to be humorous attempts made to lecture Blueshirt leader Eoin O’Duffy on finer points about Hegel by the Nobel laureate, who did still script several marching tunes for the movement. Yeats’ anti-communism fitted naturally with an already conservative outlook of life and with his Burkean understanding that any utopian vision regarding the perfection of man and the trampling down of supposedly oppressive hierarchies, rested not merely on flimsy axioms but on an inevitable mound of corpses. Regardless to the extent of his involvement with Irish fascism this was to be Yeats’ final venture into the world of politics, with the poet largely withdrawing into artistic solitude in his final years. He had left a considerable mark on the Irish state and Irish people as a whole, even if today, their primary understanding doesn’t go beyond the handful of traditionally learnt poems of the Leaving Cert.

In an era when the Irish appear to be jettisoning any form of national distinctness retained after 700 years of colonisation in favour of the bum deal of cosmopolitanism, and with conservatives driftless in the shadow of a fallen Church, the potential use of Yeats as a cultural icon is attractive. Within this dynamic figure we see a man motivated by a sheer love of one’s own country as well as a desire to see a newly independent Ireland fashioning an identity from the richness of her traditions. There is not an iota of doubt that the poet would find himself at home in the embryonic conservative movement embodied in a journal such as this, and in similar movements across the western world which are at odds with the current order of affairs.

We Irish, born into that ancient sect
But thrown upon this filthy modern tide
And by its formless spawning fury wrecked,
Climb to our proper dark, that we may trace
The lineaments of a plummet-measured face.”  -The Statues by W.B. Yeats

mercredi, 10 janvier 2018

Contextualizing Yeats “Easter, 1916”


Contextualizing Yeats

“Easter, 1916”

By J. Garcia

Ex: https://medium.com

William Butler Yeats is one of the poets that lived through the great social and geopolitical changes of the first World War. World War I was a major turning point in history for the United Kingdom as well as the world in general. During the war, Irish separatist saw an opportunity to rebel against Britain and gain independence. The uprising, termed the Easter Rising, occurred in 1916. Yeats, at this point in his life, was a well-known writer and playwright who supported the nationalist. However, to understand Yeats’ “Easter, 1916” a poem about the uprising we need to contextualize the author and the poem. The poem centers around the author’s conflicting emotions about the uprising. It identifies the events of everyday life against the sacrifice of everyday people for a broader national goal. Ultimately the poem dabbles in the identity politics of its day. Identity politics are important to the understanding of his poem “Easter, 1916” because they play an important part in how Yeats sees himself and the world around him.

The research includes analyses of Yeats life and his work. The unifying thread among the different essays is the importance of “Easter, 1916” and this epoch of the writer’s life. They also relate in hashing out how his earlier experiences led to his involvement and his perspective on the historical event of the Easter Rising. In works such as Katherine Kodani and Neville F. Newman we see how his early life and experiences shaped his later poetry, including “Easter, 1916.” In Marjorie Perloff and Seongho Yoon’s works, we narrow the focus down into how Yeats goes about to establishing the events of the poem in the context of his personal feelings towards the uprising. The encyclopedic and research for the National Library of Ireland give us the necessary historical context to understand the author and the poem’s place in history.

Maude_Gonne_McBride_nd.jpgAt an early age Yeats became involved in mysticism which would prove controversial his whole life. Kodani explains, “The early poetry of William Butler Yeats was very much bound up with the forces and interests of his early years. Many of these influences — such as that of Maud Gonne, his father, and his own mystic studies — have been elucidated by some careful scholarship.” Yeats’ writing was influenced by his study of mysticism. He joined the Theosophical Society as his immediate family’s tradition was not very religious. Later he “became interested in esoteric philosophy, and in 1890 was initiated into the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn” (Seymour-Smith). He would pursue mystical philosophy the rest of his life to a greater or lesser degree.

Generally speaking, scholars have divided his professional life into three distinct periods. The first period consists of his time in London from1887 to around 1896. During this period Yeats worked and lived with other poets of his time. By 1896 he moved back to Ireland and worked as a playwright. This period is referred to as his more mature professional period. This would be the second period of his career. During the second period, he also became involved with Irish Nationalist. “He became established as one of the leaders of the Irish renaissance” (Seymour-Smith). This period of his professional life ended around the year 1909.

The final period of Yeats professional life starts in 1910 with his poem “The Green Helmet.” During the final stage of his career Yeats writes some of the poetry he terms occasional poems. Perloff states, “the occasional poems such as ‘Easter 1916,’ ‘A Prayer for my Daughter,’ ‘Coole Park, 1929,’ and ‘Parnell’s Funeral,’ that, rather than the more overly philosophical poems, constitute Yeats’s central achievement and are the cause o f his continuing popularity” (327). The onset of this period was a time of political turmoil in Ireland were Irish nationalist rose against the British. The National Library of Ireland explains on its website, “following the outbreak of the First World War in August 1914, the Irish Republican Brotherhood decided to stage an insurrection at the next opportune moment, bearing in mind the maxim of England’s difficulty being Ireland’s opportunity.”

The murder of James MacBride during the Easter Rising by the British was very troubling to him. This was the man who married Maude Gonne the woman Yeats had proposed marriage to in 1899. The events of the uprising clearly left a mark on Yeats as his later poetry and work would reflect. In fact, Perloff explains, “it is the interaction of public event and private experience, rather than its symbolic dimension or its political philosophy, that distinguishes a poem like “Easter 1916.” The fusion is, moreover, one that Yeats very nearly invented” (328).


As Perloff explains Yeats mixes the political with the personal. He intertwines public events with his own personal grieve. In this style, the poems reference not only his pain but also the pain of others around him.

Now that we have contextualized Yeats’ life, let us enter the arena of the poem “Easter, 1916.” As we noticed Yeats considered himself Irish and was involved in Irish politics. His experienced shaped his view of the greater United Kingdom and its policies towards its subjugated areas. In Yeats’ poem “Easter, 1916” we repeatedly find the theme of identity. The poem’s first line immediately establishes otherness. It states, “I have met them at close of day” (Yeats 1). He separates his identity from the identity of the people he meets and interacts with on a daily basis. He is aware that there must be interaction and communication but he feels above it. “I have passed with a nod of the head / Or polite meaningless words” (6,7). The small-talk of acquaintances or passerby does not interest him much.

The difference between them and the speaker is demarcated by the separation or removal of the place. The speaker does not place importance on the affairs of the others. Marjorie E. Howes states, “Yeats was a nationalist who longed for community but hated crowds” (66). This tongue-in-cheek compliment scratches the surface of the poetic image that “Easter, 1916” presents. The speaker acknowledges what is happening in his world and to some degree wants to be a part of it but at the same time feels he is above the people he encounters on a daily basis. He interacts with them, jokes with them, and nods at them “to please a companion” (Yeats 11). The poem establishes the general in order to establish the personal perspective of the speaker.

This memorable poem succeeds because it reaches the reader in an intimate way. Although, the poem was written in the midst of World War I and, in effect, is a poem about the side-effects of said war on the United Kingdom’s political system, Marjorie Perloff makes an interesting observation, “it does celebrate a particular event of a public character — in this case, a political crisis — but its tone is not that of the forum but, on the contrary, that of private meditation” (328). The poem focuses on the intimate and the personal. The observation of one speaker against the backdrop of a political rebellion. The events of the political crises fade to the background to allow the individual to share his own moral and personal growth.

The focus broadens after the first stanza to encompass the people in the speaker’s life. He touches upon the lives of women but mostly focuses on men and their sacrifices and the daily struggle that makes up life. He touches upon the intimate and the personal such as the arguments of marriage and the lust of days gone by, “what voice more sweet than hers / When, young and beautiful” (Yeats 21,22). He laments for the sacrifices and the loss of people he had dismissed in the first stanza. It is an interesting capitulation to the political will of the multitude. Neville F. Newman states, “the fundamental political changes represented by the Easter rebellion contain the potential for a political and moral petrification” (146, 147). Identity politics is a complex issue. By identifying and defining the otherness of people, in this case, the Irish who wanted liberty at the cost of human sacrifice, there is a clear pattern and path to follow. The poem wonders if that path is worth the undertaking and sacrifice.

The third stanza is the only one that does not end with the line “a terrible beauty is born” (Yeats 16, 31, 71). In this way and in others, it is different from the other stanzas in the poem. It focuses on the changing nature of the situation. It veers, fast-paced, into the moment of the confrontation. The speaker is forced into the action. Newman explains:


The ‘living stream’ that is troubled by the stone clearly is life itself. In a constant state of progression, the stream contains a force and purpose that drive without comprehension past everything it passes over, or which passes through it — unless, that is, the stream acknowledges the permanent reminder located ‘in the midst of all’ (145).

The speaker is forced to partake in the events around him. The events drive the speaker’s world forcefully forward and all he can do is observe live unfolding before him.

The final stanza again focuses on the personal. It is as if the speaker understands through the force of the preceding events the sacrifice of the people around him. He begs the question, “was it needless death after all? (Yeats 57). The crises the inspired this poem shook Yeats profoundly. He lost people he had for better or worse known and associated with intimately. The struggles and the sacrifices added up. Thus Yeats’ work “is a poem of experience, a dramatic lyric in which actual persons and places from the poet’s own life and from the public life of the Ireland that he knew become constituent parts of his drama” (Perloff 334). Therefore, “a terrible beauty is born” (Yeats 71). The sacrifices are terrible and the deaths tragic, but from the events of the 1916 uprising something is accomplished. The march towards Irish independence had not come to a conclusion but, as Yeats suggests with the last poignant line, the sacrifices will be remembered.

The uprising was a public and private event for Yeats. “Easter, 1916” reflects this duality. “At the heart of “Easter 1916” are the mixed feelings of respect and annoyance, grief and horror. Whereas it was hard for Yeats to deny the deep impact of the rising on his outlook, he could not help feeling perturbed by both the outbreak and aftermath of the Rising” (Yoon). From this conflict arises crises of identity politics throughout the poem. The public and personal impress upon each other and Yeats demonstrates how he cannot extricate himself from the events that are affecting his loved ones, friends, and acquaintances. The overarching themes of the poem are the normalcy of life under the British system and the price of change. The death and sacrifice that can bring about the end to the perceived injustice from British control is a heavy one. The author seems to be weighing the costs of the sacrifices and ultimately glorifying those sacrifices.

Works Cited

“1916 Exhibition: The Preparations for the Rising.” National Library of Ireland — 1916 Exhibition. 2016. Web. 19 July 2016.

Howes, Marjorie Elizabeth. Yeats’s Nations : Gender, Class, And Irishness. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996.eBook Collection (EBSCOhost). Web. 19 July 2016Perloff, Marjorie. “Yeats and The Occasional Poem: ‘Easter 1916’.” Papers On Language & Literature 3–4 (2014): Literature Resource Center. Web. 19 July 2016.

Newman, Neville F. “Yeats’s Easter 1916.” The Explicator 3 (2002): 145. Literature Resource Center. Web. 19 July 2016.

Perloff, Marjorie. “Yeats And The Occasional Poem: ‘Easter 1916’.” Papers On Language & Literature 3–4 (2014): Literature Resource Center. Web. 1 Aug. 2016.

Yeats, William Butler. “Easter, 1916.” Poetry Foundation. Poetry Foundation. Web. 19 July 2016.

“Yeats, William Butler.” World Authors 1900–1950 (1996): Biography Reference Bank (H.W. Wilson). Ed. Seymour-Smith, Andrew C. Kimmens. Web. 19 July 2016.

Yoon, Seongho. “’Of What Is Past, Or Passing, Or To Come’: Engaging Yeatsian Temporality In ‘Easter 1916’.” Forum For World Literature Studies 3 (2015): 461. Literature Resource Center. Web. 1 Aug. 2016.

vendredi, 19 février 2016

W. B. Yeats : un poète irlandais en politique


W. B. Yeats : un poète irlandais en politique


Bruno de Cessole


Ex: http://www.valeursactuelles.com (archives: 2011)

La poétique et le politique peuvent nouer une liaison, rarement conclure un mariage. Tôt ou tard cet engagement du poète dans les affaires de la Cité se délie, et l’« homme des Muses », comme aimait à dire Jünger, se retranche du temporel pour regagner sa solitude élective.

Chateaubriand, Lamartine, D’Annunzio, Thomas Mann, Tommaso Marinetti, Ezra Pound, Louis Aragon, André Malraux, Mario Varga Llosa et quelques autres en témoignent, dont l’engagement se solda par la désillusion. Du moins ont-ils, quelque temps, insufflé un peu de hauteur à la trivialité de la politique au jour le jour, et élargi l’horizon de la “gouvernance”.

Parmi ces artistes engagés ou fourvoyés, le cas de William Butler Yeats, étudié avec finesse et pénétration par cet éminent connaisseur de l’Irlande qu’est Pierre Joannon, se révèle exemplaire. Quand, en 1923, l’académie suédoise décerna à Yeats le prix Nobel de littérature, les jurés étaient conscients que leur choix était autant politique que littéraire. En couronnant le poète, ils entendaient célé­brer l’hom­me qui avait tenu la gageure de conserver son contact avec le peuple tout en pratiquant l’art le plus aristocratique qui soit, et d’avoir été l’interprète d’un pays qui « attendait, depuis longtemps en silence quelqu’un pour lui prêter une voix ». L’éveilleur d’une nation. Comme le reconnut un homme politique irlandais : « Sans Yeats, il n’y aurait pas eu d’État libre d’Irlande. »

Pourtant, W. B. Yeats ne fut ni un doctrinaire, ni un homme d’action – en dépit des huit années qu’il consacra aux affaires comme sénateur – mais avant tout un poète, et le fondateur de la renaissance littéraire irlandaise. Pierre Joannon le souligne avec force : il est impossible de figer en système de pensée cohérent les idées fluctuantes de l’écrivain, dont le principe de contradiction était au cœur de l’œuvre : « Je crois, écrivait-il, que tout bonheur dépend de l’énergie qu’il faut pour prendre le masque de quelque autre moi, que toute vie joyeuse et créatrice implique qu’on renaisse comme quelque chose qui n’est pas soi, quelque chose qui n’a pas de mémoire et qui est créé en un instant pour être perpétuellement renouvelé. » Au vrai, que de masques contradictoires il porta tour à tour ou simultanément : « Conservateur révolutionnaire, Anglo-Irlandais converti au celtisme, adorateur des dieux et des héros de l’antique Hibernie et sectateur de l’Irlande coloniale du XVIIIe siècle, anglophobe pétri d’influence anglaise, sénateur de l’État libre titulaire d’une pension du gouvernement britannique, libéral antidémocrate séduit par l’autoritarisme. Autant de professions de foi en forme d’oxymores. »

Avec pertinence, Pierre Joannon balaie l’accusation de fascisme au nom de laquelle quelques détracteurs tentèrent de le discréditer, en raison de la sympathie momentanée qu’il eut pour le mouvement des “chemises bleues” du général O’Duffy. Nourri de Berkeley, de Swift et de Burke autant que de Vico, de Nietzsche et de Spengler, Yeats, certes antidémocrate et antiégalitaire, était d’abord un individualiste irréductible, tenant d’un libéralisme aristocratique que professèrent également ses contemporains comme Paul Valéry et Fernando Pessoa. Et qui revendiqua haut et fort : « L’orgueil de ceux qui ne se lièrent/Jamais à nulle cause, à nul État/Ni aux esclaves méprisés,/Ni aux tyrans méprisants. »   Bruno de Cessole           

Un poète dans la tourmente, de Pierre Joannon, Terre de Brume, 134 pages, 14,50 euros.

william butler yeats,irlande,littérature,lettres,lettres irlandaises,lettres anglaises,littérature irlandaise,littérature anglaise,poésie,livre,pierre joannon


jeudi, 25 juin 2015

Yeats’ heidnisches „Second Coming“


Yeats’ heidnisches „Second Coming“

English original here [2]

Übersetzung: Lichtschwert

(Auf AdS nachveröffentlicht anläßlich des heutigen 150. Geburtstages von William Butler Yeats.)

William Butler Yeats verfaßte sein berühmtestes Gedicht, „The Second Coming“, im Jahr 1919, in der Zeit des Großen Krieges und der bolschewistischen Revolution, als die Dinge wahrlich „auseinanderfielen“, darunter hauptsächlich die europäische Zivilisation. Der Titel bezieht sich natürlich auf die Wiederkunft Christi. Aber so wie ich es lese, lehnt das Gedicht die Vorstellung ab, daß die buchstäbliche Wiederkunft Christi bevorsteht. Stattdessen bekräftigt es zwei nichtchristliche Bedeutungen von Wiederkunft. Erstens gibt es die metaphorische Bedeutung des Endes der gegenwärtigen Welt und der Enthüllung von etwas radikal Neuem. Zweitens gibt es die Bedeutung der Wiederkunft nicht von Christus, sondern des vom Christentum verdrängten Heidentums. Yeats verkündet eine heidnische Wiederkunft.

Das Gedicht lautet:

Turning and turning in the widening gyre,
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the center cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in the sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
A darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

Wenn man dieses Gedicht als eine Allegorie auf den modernen Nihilismus liest, wird eine Menge klar. „Turning and turning in the widening gyre“ – Kreisend und kreisend im sich erweiternden Wirbel. Man stelle sich hier einen Falken vor, vielleicht mit einer an einem seiner Beine befestigten langen Leine, der auf einer immer weiter werdenden Spiralbahn fliegt, während immer mehr von der Leine ausgerollt wird. Im Zentrum des Wirbels steht, die Leine haltend, der Falkner, der Herr des Falken. Während die Leine ausrollt und der Wirbel weiter wird, kommt ein Punkt, an dem „der Falke den Falkner nicht hören kann.“

Vermutlich ist das, was der Falke nicht hören kann, der Falkner, der den Vogel zurück auf seinen Arm ruft. Nicht länger in der Lage, die Stimme des Falkners zu hören, zieht der Falke weiter nach außen. An irgendeinem Punkt jedoch wird seine Leine zu Ende sein, an welchem Punkt sein Flug entweder mit einem heftigen Ruck enden und er erdwärts stürzen wird – oder der Falkner die Leine loslassen und der Falke seinen Flug nach außen fortsetzen wird.

Aber ohne die Leine zum Zentrum – eine buchstäbliche Leine, oder nur die Stimme seines Herrn – wird der Weg des Falken seine Spiralform verlieren, die durch die Leine zwischen dem Falken und dem Falkner festgelegt wird, und der Falke wird seine Flugbahn selbst bestimmen müssen, eine Flugbahn, die zweifellos im Zickzack mit den Luftströmungen und den vorübergehenden Wünschen des Falken verlaufen wird, aber keine erkennbare Struktur aufweisen wird – außer vielleicht irgendwelche restlichen Echos ihrer ursprünglichen Spirale.

Der Falke ist der moderne Mensch. Die motivierende Kraft des Fluges des Falken ist das menschliche Verlangen, sein Stolz, seine Lebendigkeit und sein faustisches Streben. Die Spiralstruktur des Fluges ist das allgemein verständliche Maß – die Mäßigung und Moralisierung des menschlichen Verlangens und Handelns -, das durch das moralische Zentrum unserer Zivilisation auferlegt wird, verkörpert durch den Falkner, den Herrn des Falken, unseren Herrn, den ich in nietzscheanischen Begriffen als die höchsten Werte unserer Kultur interpretiere. Die Leine, die uns vom Zentrum aus hält und ihm ermöglicht, unserem Flug ein Maß aufzuzwingen, ist die „Stimme Gottes“, d. h. der Anspruch der Werte unserer Zivilisation an uns; die Fähigkeit der Werte unserer Zivilisation, uns zu bewegen.

Wir, der Falke, sind jedoch spiralförmig zu weit hinausgeflogen, um die Stimme unseres Herrn zu hören, die uns zurück zum Zentrum ruft, daher fliegen wir spiralförmig nach außen, während unsere Bewegung zunehmend exzentrischer (ohne Zentrum) wird, unsere Wünsche und Handlungen zunehmend weniger maßvoll werden…

Daher: „Die Dinge fallen auseinander. Das Zentrum kann nicht halten.“ Wenn das moralische Zentrum der Zivilisation sie nicht mehr in der Hand hat, fallen die Dinge auseinander. Daß die Dinge auseinanderfallen, hat mindestens zwei Bedeutungen. Es bezieht sich auf Auflösung, aber auch darauf, daß die Dinge voneinander weg fallen, weil sie auch von ihrer gemeinsamen Mitte wegfallen. Es bezieht sich auf den Zusammenbruch von Gemeinschaft und Zivilisation, den Zusammenbruch der Beherrschung menschlichen Verlangens durch Moral und Gesetz, daher…

„Bloße Anarchie wird auf die Welt losgelassen.“ Anarchie, das heißt, das Fehlen von arche, griechisch für Ursprung, Prinzip und Ursache; metaphorisch das Fehlen einer Mitte. Aber was ist „bloß“ an Anarchie? Es heißt nicht „bloße“ Anarchie, weil sie harmlos und unbedrohlich sei. In diesem Zusammenhang bedeutet „bloße Anarchie“ Anarchie in uneingeschränktem Sinne, schlicht und einfach Anarchie. Daher:

The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Warum sollte Nihilismus dazu führen, daß den Besten jegliche Überzeugung fehlt, und die Schlechtesten mit leidenschaftlicher Intensität füllen? Ich denke, daß Yeats uns hier seine Version von Nietzsches Unterscheidung zwischen aktivem und passivem Nihilismus darbietet. Der passive Nihilist erlebt – weil er sich in gewissem Maß mit den zentralen Werten seiner Kultur identifiziert – die Abwertung dieser Werte als enervierenden Verlust von Bedeutung, als die Niederlage des Lebens, als den Verlust aller Überzeugungen. Im Gegensatz dazu erlebt der aktive Nihilist – weil er die zentralen Werte seiner Kultur als Einschränkungen und Hindernisse für das freie Spiel seiner Fantasie und seiner Wünsche erlebt – die Abwertung dieser Werte als Befreiung, als die Freiheit, seine eigenen Werte festzusetzen, daher erfüllt der Nihilismus ihn mit einer leidenschaftlichen kreativen – oder destruktiven – Intensität.

Diese Charakterisierung von aktivem und passivem Nihilismus hält den Kampf zwischen den Konservativen und der Linken fest. Konservative sind die „Besten“, denen jede Überzeugung fehlt. Sie sind die Besten, weil sie an den zentralen Werten des Westens hängen. Ihnen fehlt jede Überzeugung, weil sie nicht länger an sie glauben. Daher verlieren sie jedesmal, wenn sie der leidenschaftlichen Intensität der Linken gegenüberstehen, die den Nihilismus als erfrischend erleben.

Die zweite Strophe von Yeats’ Gedicht zeigt genau, welche zentralen Werte abgewertet worden sind. Die apokalyptische Beklemmung der ersten Strophe läßt einen glauben, daß vielleicht die Apokalypse, die Wiederkunft Christi, bevorsteht:

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.

Aber dem folgt der Ausruf: „The Second Coming!“, den ich als Äquivalent zu „Die Wiederkunft Christi? Ha! Ganz im Gegenteil“ interpretiere. Und das Gegenteil wird dann enthüllt, nicht durch den christlichen Gott, sondern durch den heidnischen Spiritus Mundi (Weltgeist):

Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in the sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
A darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle
And what rough beast, it hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

Zwei Bilder werden hier miteinander verbunden. Erstens ist die Gestalt mit dem Körper eines Löwen, dem Kopf eines Menschen und einem ausdruckslosen Starren eine ägyptische Sphinx – vielleicht die Große Sphinx von Gizeh, vielleicht eine der vielen kleinen Sphinxe, die über Ägypten verstreut sind. Zweitens gibt es da die Geburtsszene, die Geburt Christi in Bethlehem. Die Verbindung zwischen Bethlehem und Ägypten ist die sogenannte „Flucht nach Ägypten“. Nach der Geburt Jesu floh die Heilige Familie nach Ägypten, um König Herodes’ Massaker an den neugeborenen Knaben zu entkommen.

Yeats ist nicht der erste Künstler, der die Bilder der Sphinx und der Geburt Christi miteinander verband. Zum Beispiel gibt es ein Gemälde eines französischen Künstlers aus dem 19. Jahrhundert, Luc Olivier Merson, mit dem Titel „Rast auf der Flucht nach Ägypten“, das eine Nacht „vor zwanzig Jahrhunderten“ darstellt, in der Maria und der kleine Jesus zwischen den Pranken einer kleinen Sphinx schlafen.

Dieses Gemälde war zu seiner Zeit so beliebt, daß der Künstler drei Versionen davon schuf, und eine davon, die sich im Boston Museum of Fine Arts befindet, ist so populär, daß es Reproduktionen davon als gerahmte Drucke, Puzzlespiele und Weihnachtskarten noch heute zu kaufen gibt.

Ich weiß nicht, ob Yeats an dieses bestimmte Gemälde dachte. Aber er dachte an die Flucht nach Ägypten. Und das Gedicht scheint auf eine Umkehrung dieser Flucht hinzudeuten, und auf eine Umkehrung der Geburt Christi. Könnte Maria während der Rast auf der Flucht nach Ägypten, Jesus zwischen den Pranken einer Sphinx wiegend, die steinerne Bestie in einen Alptraum geärgert haben? Könnte sie sich endlich in ihrem unruhigen Schlaf geregt haben, den Propheten eines neuen Zeitalters schwer in ihrem Schoß, und die Suche nach einem geeigneten Platz zum Gebären begonnen haben? „Und welche rauhe Bestie, deren Stunde endlich gekommen ist, latscht nach Bethlehem hinein, um geboren zu werden?“ Und was gäbe es für einen besseren Platz als Bethlehem, nicht um die Geburt Christi zu wiederholen, sondern um sie umzukehren und ein post-christliches Zeitalter einzuleiten.

Man kann sich jedoch fragen, ob das Gedicht im Sinne des Schreckens oder der Hoffnung endet. So wie ich es lese, gibt es in Yeats’ Narrativ drei Stadien. Das erste ist das Zeitalter, als die christlichen Werte der unangefochtene Kern der westlichen Zivilisation waren. Dies war eine vitale, blühende Zivilisation, aber nun ist sie vorbei. Das zweite Stadium ist der Nihilismus, sowohl der aktive als auch der passive, der durch den Verlust dieser zentralen Werte bewirkt wird. Dies ist die Gegenwart für Yeats und für uns.

Das dritte Stadium, das erst noch kommt, wird auf die Geburt der „rauhen Bestie“ folgen. Genauso wie die Geburt Jesu die christliche Zivilisation einleitete, wird die rauhe Bestie eine neue heidnische Zivilisation einleiten. Deren zentrale Werte werden sich von den christlichen Werten unterscheiden, was natürlich Christen entsetzt, die ihre Religion wiederzubeleben hoffen. Aber an die neuen heidnischen Werte wird, anders als an die christlichen, tatsächlich geglaubt werden, was der Herrschaft des Nihilismus ein Ende setzen und eine neue, vitale Zivilisation schaffen wird. Für Heiden ist dies eine Botschaft der Hoffnung.

Source: https://schwertasblog.wordpress.com/2015/06/13/yeats-heidnisches-second-coming/ [3]

Article printed from Counter-Currents Publishing: http://www.counter-currents.com

URL to article: http://www.counter-currents.com/2015/06/yeats-heidnisches-second-coming/

URLs in this post:

[1] Image: http://www.counter-currents.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/Merson_Rest_on_the_Flight_into_Egypt.jpg

[2] here: http://www.counter-currents.com/2015/02/yeats-pagan-second-coming/

[3] https://schwertasblog.wordpress.com/2015/06/13/yeats-heidnisches-second-coming/: https://schwertasblog.wordpress.com/2015/06/13/yeats-heidnisches-second-coming/


mercredi, 18 février 2015

Yeats’ Pagan Second Coming


Yeats’ Pagan Second Coming

By Greg Johnson 

Spanish translation here [2]

William Butler Yeats penned his most famous poem, “The Second Coming,” in 1919, in the days of the Great War and the Bolshevik Revolution, when things truly were “falling apart,” European civilization chief among them. The title refers, of course, to the Second Coming of Christ. But as I read it, the poem rejects the idea that the literal Second Coming of Christ is at hand. Instead, it affirms two non-Christian senses of Second Coming. First, there is the metaphorical sense of the end of the present world and the revelation of something radically new. Second, there is the sense of the Second Coming not of Christ, but of the paganism displaced by Christianity. Yeats heralds a pagan Second Coming.

The poem reads:

Turning and turning in the widening gyre,
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the center cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in the sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
A darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

If one reads this poem as an allegory of modern nihilism, quite a lot falls into place. “Turning and turning in the widening gyre.” Picture here a falcon, perhaps with a long tether attached to one of its legs, flying in an ever-widening spiral trajectory as more and more of the tether is played out. At the center of the gyre, holding the tether, is the falconer, the falcon’s master. As the tether plays out and the gyre widens, there comes a point at which “the falcon cannot hear the falconer.”

Presumably, what the falcon cannot hear is the falconer calling the bird back to his arm. No longer able to hear the falconer’s voice, the falcon continues to push outwards. At some point, though, his tether will run out, at which point his flight will either end with a violent jerk, and he will plummet earthward–or the falconer will release the tether and the falcon will continue his flight outward.

But without the tether to the center — a literal tether, or just his master’s voice — the falcon’s flight path will lose its spiral structure, which is constituted by the tether between the falcon and the falconer, and the falcon will have to determine his flight path on his own, a path that will no doubt zig and zag with the currents of the air and the falcon’s passing desires, but will not display any intelligible structure–except, maybe, some decayed echoes of its original spiral.

william-butler-yeats-by-reemerv[162091].jpgThe falcon is modern man. The motive force of the falcon’s flight is human desire, pride, spiritedness, and Faustian striving. The spiral structure of the flight is the intelligible measure–the moderation and moralization of human desire and action–imposed by the moral center of our civilization, represented by the falconer, the falcon’s master, our master, which I interpret in Nietzschean terms as the highest values of our culture. The tether that holds us to the center and allows it to impose measure on our flight is the “voice of God,” i.e., the claim of the values of our civilization upon us; the ability of our civilization’s values to move us.

We, the falcon, have, however, spiraled out too far to hear our master’s voice calling us back to the center, so we spiral onward, our motion growing progressively more eccentric (un-centered), our desires and actions progressively less measured . . .

Thus, “Things fall apart. The center cannot hold.” When the moral center of civilization no longer has a hold, things fall apart. This falling apart has at least two senses. It refers to disintegration but also to things falling away from one another because they are also falling away from their common center. It refers to the breakdown of community and civilization, the breakdown of the government of human desire by morality and law, hence . . .

“Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.” Anarchy, meaning the lack of arche: the Greek for origin, principle, and cause; metaphorically, the lack of center. But what is “mere” about anarchy? Anarchy is not “mere” because it is innocuous and unthreatening. In this context, “mere anarchy” means anarchy in an unqualified sense, anarchy plain and simple. Thus:

The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Why would nihilism make the best lack all conviction and fill the worst with passionate intensity? I think that here Yeats is offering us his version of Nietzsche’s distinction between active and passive nihilism. The passive nihilist–because he identifies on some level with the core values of his culture–experiences the devaluation of these values as an enervating loss of meaning, as the defeat of life, as the loss of all convictions. By contrast, the active nihilist–because he experiences the core values of his culture as constraints and impediments to the free play of his imagination and desires–experiences the devaluation of these values as liberating, as the freedom to posit values of his own, thus nihilism fills him with a passionate creative–or destructive–intensity.

This characterization of active and passive nihilism captures the struggle between conservatives and the Left. Conservatives are the “best” who lack all conviction. They are the best, because they are attached to the core values of the West. They lack all conviction, because they no longer believe in them. Thus they lose every time when faced by the passionate intensity of the Left, who experience nihilism as invigorating.

The second stanza of Yeats’s poem indicates precisely which core values have been devalued. The apocalyptic anxiety of the first stanza leads one to think that perhaps the Apocalypse, the Second Coming, is at hand:

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.

But this is followed by the exclamation, “The Second Coming!” which I interpret as equivalent to “The Second Coming? Ha! Quite the opposite.” And the opposite is then revealed, not by the Christian God, but by the pagan Spiritus Mundi (world spirit):

Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in the sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
A darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle
And what rough beast, it hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

Two images are conjoined here. First, the shape with the body of a lion, the head of a man, and a blank, pitiless stare is an Egyptian sphinx–perhaps the Great Sphinx at Giza, perhaps one of the many small sphinxes scattered over Egypt. Second, there is the nativity, the birth of Christ in Bethlehem. The connection between Bethlehem and Egypt is the so-called “flight into Egypt [3].” After the birth of Jesus, the holy family fled to Egypt to escape King Herod’s massacre of newborn boys.

Yeats is not the first artist to conjoin the images of the sphinx and the nativity. For instance, there is a painting by a 19th-century French artist, Luc Olivier Merson, entitled “Rest on the Flight into Eqypt,” which portrays a night “twenty centuries” ago in which Mary and the infant Jesus are asleep, cradled between the paws of a small sphinx.

This painting was so popular in its time that the artist made three versions of it, and one of them, in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, is so popular that reproductions of it as framed prints, jigsaw puzzles, and Christmas cards can be purchased today.

I do not know if Yeats was thinking about this specific painting. But he was thinking about the flight into Egypt. And the poem seems to indicate a reversal of that flight, and a reversal of the birth of Christ. Could Mary, resting on the flight into Egypt, rocking Jesus cradled between the paws of a sphinx, have vexed the stony beast to nightmare? Could it have finally stirred from its troubled sleep, its womb heavy with the prophet of a new age, and begun the search for an appropriate place to give birth? “And what rough beast, its hour come round at last, slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?” And what better place than Bethlehem, not to repeat but to reverse the birth of Christ and inaugurate a post-Christian age.

One can ask, however, if the poem ends on a note of horror or of hope. As I read it, there are three distinct stages to Yeats’ narrative. The first is the age when Christian values were the unchallenged core of Western civilization. This was a vital, flourishing civilization, but now it is over. The second stage is nihilism, both active and passive, occasioned by the loss of these core values. This is the present-day for Yeats and ourselves.

The third stage, which is yet to come, will follow the birth of the “rough beast.” Just as the birth of Jesus inaugurated Christian civilization, the rough beast will inaugurate a new pagan civilization. Its core values will be different than Christian values, which, of course, horrifies Christians, who hope to revive their religion. But the new pagan values, unlike Christian ones, will actually be believed, bringing the reign of nihilism to its end and creating a new, vital civilization. For pagans, this is a message of hope.


Article printed from Counter-Currents Publishing: http://www.counter-currents.com

URL to article: http://www.counter-currents.com/2015/02/yeats-pagan-second-coming/

URLs in this post:

[1] Image: http://www.counter-currents.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/Merson_Rest_on_the_Flight_into_Egypt.jpg

[2] here: http://www.counter-currents.com/2015/02/la-segunda-venida-pagana-de-yeats/

[3] flight into Egypt: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flight_into_Egypt

mercredi, 29 octobre 2014

Yeats tra fascismo e aristocrazia


Yeats tra fascismo e aristocrazia

Lambert O'Manwel

Ex: http://nemicidelsistema.blogspot.com

« Che importa se le più grandi cose che gli uomini pensano di consacrare o esaltare, accolgono la nostra grandezza solo se unita alla nostra amarezza?». Così parlò William Butler Yeats nei suoi versi dedicati alle Case degli avi, nelle meditazioni in tempo di guerra civile. Alla sua amarezza composta, anzi alla sua «virile malinconia» dedicò un saggio giovanile Tomasi di Lampedusa, che anche nel suo Gattopardo subì il fascino di Yeats, quel gran cantore del Mitico Passato.

Sessant’anni fa, il ventotto gennaio del 1939, alla vigilia della seconda guerra mondiale, il poeta irlandese si spegneva all’età di 73 anni. Era nato in un decoroso sobborgo di Dublino da una rispettabile famiglia protestante anglo-irlandese, con le estati dell’infanzia trascorse all’ombra di croci celtiche e rovine di torri nel piccolo porto di Siligo, nella costa occidentale irlandese. Suo padre alternava le sue preoccupazioni «terrene» (era un agrario benestante) con i suoi sogni celesti di pittura. E il giovane Yeats, che a vent’anni aveva già acquisito una buona notorietà per le prime composizioni poetiche pubblicate sulla Dublin University Review, aveva ben presto rigettato lo spirito vittoriano del suo tempo per sposare la tradizione dell’antica Irlanda gaelica, cattolica e romantica.

Yeats può dirsi un tradizionalista lirico, un romantico che amava il mondo antico, un cultore della bellezza cresciuto sulle orme del neoplatonismo e della magia. Da giovane si dedicò in particolare all’occultismo. Fondò la Società Ermetica di Dublino, poi aderì alla società teosofica di Madame Blavatsky e infine fu ammesso all’Ordine del Golden Dawn. Due donne ebbero grande influenza su di lui: Maud Gonne e Lady Augusta Gregory. Ma dello Yeats poeta si conoscono già molte cose; decisamente meno si sa dell’impegno civile e culturale di Yeats in chiave nazionalista, protofascista e rivoluzionario-conservatrice. Un capitolo in ombra, che destò grande imbarazzo, anche perché Yeats era stato insignito del Premio Nobel per la letteratura. Era dunque sconveniente richiamare questa sua passione politica non-conformista.

Yeats sognava un’Irlanda affrancata dalla tutela britannica ed era diventato esponente del movimento radicale feniano della Irish Republican Brotherhood; sono gli anni della sua collaborazione a giornali cattolico-nazionalisti come The Irish Monthly e The Irish Fireside. Nel 1898, Yeats fu nominato presidente dell’associazione nata per celebrare il centesimo anniversario dell’insurrezione di Wolfe Tone. Successivamente Yeats noterà con preoccupazione l’ombra sempre più lunga del radicalismo religioso che si univa ad un nascente spirito cristiano-borghese. A quest’universo, Yeats opporrà una visione eroica, pagana e mitologica dell’Irlanda, un «delirio di valorosi».

La delusione per gli sviluppi del nazionalismo in Irlanda lo porterà a viaggiare, soprattutto in Italia. Fu un amore a prima vista per la civiltà rinascimentale, per Ferrara ed Urbino (due città che fecero innamorare anche Ezra Pound, che egli incontrò più volte in Italia). Da quel confronto con le città italiane, l’accusa agli inglesi e al mondo politico irlandese che aveva lasciato distruggere le grandi residenze di Aran e Galway, «simili ad ogni antica ed ammirata città italiana». Agli inglesi attribuiva la responsabilità di aver distrutto i tratti aristocratici del paesaggio di Connaught.

Yeats divenne successivamente senatore e sostenitore del governo legittimo dello Stato libero sud-irlandese, in seguito al trattato anglo-irlandese del 1921. In quegli anni Yeats teme una propagazione del comunismo in Irlanda, che egli vede come una conseguenza diretta della rivoluzione francese. E si avvicina alla lettura di un conservatore illuminato come Edmund Burke, un controrivoluzionario che era riuscito secondo Yeats a coniugare l’ordine con la libertà. Scrisse Yeats: «Il moto centrifugo che cominciò con gli enciclopedisti e che produsse la Rivoluzione francese e le vedute democratiche di uomini come Stuart Mill, è giunto alla fine... I movimenti che avevano come scopo la liberazione dell’individuo sono risultati alla fine produttori d’anarchia». Al timore di un’epoca di brutalità, massacri e regicidi nel segno della rivoluzione marxista, Yeats dedicò un breve poema, The Second Coming.

L’amore per la tradizione nazionale, la richiesta di ordine, comunità e anticomunismo, spinsero così Yeats sulle tracce del fascismo. Un secondo viaggio in Italia con un lungo soggiorno in Sicilia, lo rafforzò in questa convinzione. Era il 1925. Yeats, che aveva già avuto il premio Nobel, si avvicinò a Roma al pensiero di Giovanni Gentile, a cui si ispirarono molti suoi interventi nel Senato irlandese dedicati alla scuola e all’educazione nazionale. Tornò in Italia altre volte: a Rapallo nel 1928 (luogo nietzscheano e poundiano), a Roma nel 1928 e ancora a Rapallo e Roma nel ‘34.

Nel luglio del 1927 l’assassinio da parte dell’Ira di Kevin O’Higgins, ministro dell’Interno del governo conservatore di Cosgrave, rafforzerà Yeats nella convinzione di fronteggiare con ogni mezzo il bolscevismo e la sovversione. L’anno successivo Yeats lasciò il Senato, esprimendo disprezzo per la democrazia parlamentare. Successivamente espresse sostegno e simpatia per le Camicie azzurre del generale O’Duffy, nate per contrastare i repubblicani dell’Ira dopo la caduta del governo conservatore.

In particolare, Yeats sostenne la necessità di formulare una teoria sociale «da contrapporre al comunismo in Irlanda». Ma il movimento aveva un‘impronta impiegatizia, cattolica e piccolo borghese; mentre il poeta sognava un movimento aristocratico, antimoderno. L’unica vera riserva che Yeats avanzava verso Mussolini era del resto proprio quella: mancava al duce del fascismo un’ascendenza aristocratica. Troppo «popolano». Il suo ideale restava una specie di Repubblica di Venezia, con il governo del Doge e il consiglio dei Dieci.

Nell’ultima opera pubblicata tre mesi prima di morire, On the boiler, Yeats lancia un messaggio alla gioventù d’Irlanda all’insegna del libro e moschetto: educatevi con armi e lettere, esortava Yeats per «respingere dai nostri lidi le prone e ignoranti masse delle nazioni commerciali» (le «plutocrazie», avrebbero detto i fascisti). Poco prima, nella Introduzione generale alla sua opera, Yeats aveva scritto parole terribili di apologia dell’odio che a suo dire avrebbe prima o poi conquistato le menti più forti: «Un’odio indefinito che cova in Europa e che tra alcune generazioni spazzerà via il dominio attuale».

«Odiava la democrazia e amava l’aristocrazia. Per aristocrazia - scrisse di lui Lady Wellesley - egli intendeva la mente orgogliosa ed eroica. Ciò voleva dire anche una furiosa ostilità verso la meschinità, l’approssimazione e l’abbassamento dei valori. Egli si ribellava alla progressiva eliminazione della gente ben nata». Nelle sue idee si ravvisano tracce di Maurras ma anche suggestioni che sembrano appartenere ad Evola. Scriverà: «Io rimango attaccato alla tradizione irlandese... Le mie convinzioni hanno radici profonde e non si adeguano alle consuetudini». La crisi delle forme cerimoniali è per Yeats un segno dell’imminente distruzione del mondo. In questa sua concezione apocalittica prende corpo la sua visione eroica e bellica: «Amate la guerra per il suo orrore - scrive un personaggio delle Storie di Micbael Robartes - così che la fede possa mutarsi, la civiltà possa rinnovarsi». Qui il richiamo alla tradizione celtica, o a volte, sulla scorta di Renan, alla «razza celtica».

Nel cimitero degli antenati dove egli è sepolto, a Drumcliff, è riportata come epigrafe un celebre verso della sua ultima poesia: «Getta uno sguardo freddo su vita e morte. Cavaliere prosegui oltre!».

Alla sua morte, Auden gli intentò un processo sulla Partizan Review, per il suo filo-fascismo. Prese le sue difese George Orwell, nel 1943, che argomenta: «Yeats è sì tendenzialmente fascista ma in buona fede, perché non si rende conto degli esiti ultimi del totalitarismo». Più recentemente Connor Criuse O’Brian ha contestato la presunta ingenuità di Yeats, sostenendo che vi fosse una vera ispirazione fascista in Yeats, una consapevole adesione.

Yeats fu in realtà un viaggiatore onirico del nostro secolo. «Quanto a vivere, i nostri servi lo faranno per noi»

samedi, 20 avril 2013

W. B. Yeats, Ireland and the Modern World

W. B. Yeats, Ireland and the Modern World

Professor Ronan McDonald

W. B. Yeats: poems

"The Second Coming" by W B Yeats (poetry reading)


William Butler Yeats (1865-1939)

Poem: 'The Lake Isle of Innisfree'

vendredi, 17 septembre 2010

William Butler Yeats: A Poet for the West

William Butler Yeats: A Poet for the West


william_butler_yeat_by_george_charles_beresford4.jpgIn saner times our great poets, writers, and philosophers expressed the feelings and ideas which came naturally from the race-soul. In these times those feelings and ideas are too “controversial” to be expressed freely, so where they cannot be suppressed outright, they are reinterpreted, obscured, and selectively anthologized by the alien arbiters of our culture. For no poet of our race has this been more true than for William Butler Yeats.

William Butler Yeats was probably the greatest poet of the modern age; T. S. Eliot acknowledged as much. His roots were deep in Ireland, but, withal, he embodied the questing spirit of the whole of Western culture.

It is impossible without writing a volume (or two) to render even a partial appreciation of his many-faceted life and work. He was born into the Irish Protestant tradition, of that line which included Swift, Burke, Grattan, Parnell. He was poet, playwright, guiding spirit of the famed Abbey Theatre, essayist, philoso­pher, statesman, mystic. But, as he once wrote, “The intellect of man is forced to choosePerfection of the life, or of the work” ["The Choice"], and it is primarily in his poetry that most people seek an understanding of his genius.

Some of his views confounded the mediocre, left-wing poets and intellectuals who sought him out in his later years. Unable, of course, to ignore him, they attempted to appropriate him as their own, much as Walter Kaufmann, a Jew, attempted to do with Friedrich Nietzsche some years later. Thus, many writings about Yeats totally ignore his more “controver­sial” ideas, or at best refer to them only obliquely.

For example, Yeats believed in reincarnation, not only in a poet’s way, as a dramatic symbol. but quite literally: the individual human spirit remained a part of the collective race-soul even after the body died, and as long as the race endured the individual spirit might re-emerge later in another body. In an early poem, written when he was about 24, we have:

“Ah, do not mourn,” he said,
‘That we are tired, for other loves await us;
Hate on and love through unrepining hours.
Before us lies eternity; our souls
Are love, and a continual farewell.

– “Ephemera”

And just a few months before his death in 1939 at age 73, with matured powers of creative expression:

Many times man lives and dies Between his two eternities,
That of race and that of soul,
And ancient Ireland knew it all.
Whether man die in his bed
Or the rifle knock him dead,
A brief parting from those dear
Is the worst man has to fear.
Though grave-diggers’ toil is long,
Sharp their spades, their muscles strong,
They but thrust their buried men
Back in the human mind again.

– “Under Ben Bulben”

Modern liberalism and democracy were anathema to Yeats’s aristocratic spirit. He was a good friend of Ezra Pound. He was associated for a time with the Irish Blueshirts, led by General O’Duffy, and he wrote some marching songs for them. He spoke of “Mussolini’s incomparable Fascisti” (although being the kind of man he was he recoiled somewhat from the demagogic elements of fascist movements).

He read widely and avidly on race, eugenics, Italian Fascism, and German National Socialism. On eugenics, according to his biographer, Yeats “spoke much of the necessity of the unification of the State under a small aristocratic order which would prevent the materially and spiritually uncreative families and individuals from prevailing over the creative.”[1] Eugenics, to Yeats, had both physical and spiritual aspects, It is touched upon in some of the poems. In “Under Ben Bulben” he wrote:

Poet and sculptor, do the work
Nor let the modish painter shirk
What his great forefathers did,
Bring the soul of man to God,
Make him fill the cradles right.

Irish poets, learn your trade,
Sing whatever is well made
Scorn the sort now growing up
All out of shape from toe to top,
Their unremembering hearts and heads
Base-born products of base beds.

A much earlier poem reads:

All things uncomely and broken, all things worn out and old,
The cry of a child by the roadway, the creak of a lumbering cart,
The heavy steps of the ploughman, splashing the wintry mould,
Are wronging your image that blossoms a rose in the deeps of my heart.

The wrong of unshapely things is a wrong too great to be told;
I hunger to build them anew and sit on a green knoll apart,
With the earth and the sky and the water, re-made, like a casket of gold.
For my dreams of your image that blossoms a rose in the deeps of my heart.

– “The Lover Tells of the Rose in His Heart”

Yeats did not write for scholars, but for the people, and schoolchildren throughout the English-speaking world are familiar with at least a few of his works–or, perhaps, just a line or a phrase from them. Many youngsters have recited in school this verse by the young Yeats:

Down by the salley gardens my love and I did meet;
She passed the salley gardens with little snow-white feet.
She bid me take love easy, as the leaves grow on the tree;
But I, being young and foolish, with her would not agree.

– “Down by the Salley Gardens”

Another favorite is ”The Lake Isle of Innisfree.” During his many tours of the United States, every American audience insisted he recite it for them:

I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattle made:
Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honeybee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.

Nearly as familiar is the stark vision of “The Second Coming”:

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in the sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches toward Bethlehem to be born?

People with a liberal mind set have often quoted this last poem, but some do so with a certain amount of unease, and rightly. Accepting historical necessity, Yeats is not, as the American Jewish critic Harold Bloom pointed out, necessarily averse to this “rough beast.”[2]

Thus, liberal critics are never completely comfortable in the company of Yeats. In “Under Ben Bulben,” one of Yeats’s last poems and a general summary of his ideas, he writes:

You that Mitchel’s prayer have heard
“Send war in our time, O Lord!”
Know that when all words are said
And a man is fighting mad,
Something drops from eyes long blind,
He completes his partial mind,
For an instant stands at ease,
Laughs aloud, his heart at peace.
Even the wisest man grows tense
With some sort of violence
Before he can accomplish fate,
Know his work or choose his mate.

Bloom charged that Yeats “abused the Romantic tradition” in these lines. But Yeats would have shown Bloom the contempt he deserves; in one of Yeats’s letters we can read: “I am full of life and not too disturbed by the enemies I must make. This is the proposition on which I write: There is now overwhelming evidence that man stands between eternities, that of his family and that of his soul. I apply those beliefs to literature and politics and show the change they must make. . . . My belief must go into what I write, even if I estrange friends; some when they see my meaning set out in plain print will hate me for poems which they have thought meant nothing.”

Earlier Yeats had written of war, politics, and pleasant but self-defeating illusions. In “Nineteen Hundred and Nineteen” he surveyed both the halcyon pre-World War I years and the grim aftermath of war, civil war, and revolution:

We too had many pretty toys when young:
A law indifferent to blame or praise,
To bribe or threat; habits that made old wrong
Melt down, as it were wax in the sun’s rays;
Public opinion ripening for so long
We thought it would outlive all future days.
O what fine thoughts we had because we thought
That the worst rogues and rascals had died out. . . .

Now days are dragon-ridden, the nightmare
Rides upon sleep: a drunken soldiery
Can leave the mother, murdered at her door,
To crawl in her own blood, and go scot-free;
The night can sweat with terror as before
We pieced our thoughts into philosophy,
And planned to bring the world under a rule,
Who are but weasels fighting in a hole.

Yeats himself did not take an active part in the Irish civil war, and he may have felt a certain uneasiness about the physical side of the struggle:

An affable Irregular,
A heavily-built Falstaffian man,
Comes cracking jokes of civil war
As though to die by gunshot were
The finest play under the sun.

– “Meditations in Time of Civil War”

Yeats, it is true, spent much time contemplating and expressing himself on the great problems of the age and of the individual living in this age, but he never strayed far from whimsy. As typical of his poetry as anything he wrote is the neatly lyrical “To Anne Gregory,” addressed to the granddaughter of his friend and fellow playwright Lady Augusta Gregory:

“Never shall a young man,
Thrown into despair
By those great honey-colored
Ramparts at your ear,
Love you for yourself alone
And not your yellow hair:

“But I can get a hair-dye
And set such color there,
Brown, or black, or carrot,
That young men in despair
May love me for myself alone
And not my yellow hair.’

“I heard an old religious man
But yestemight declare
That he had found a text to prove
That only God, my dear,
Could love you for yourself alone
And not your yellow hair.”

I know of no English or American poet writing today who can approach even remotely Yeats’s lyrical power or his poetic shaping of strong and startling ideas. Most of today’s poets are professors of English or fine arts who grind out pedestrian or pretentious drivel, presumably for prestige within the academic commu­nity. And it is hardly conceivable that there are any campus publications, literary or otherwise, that would publish all of Yeats’s material were he writing today. What, for instance, would they do with these lines from “John Kinsella’s Lament For Mrs. Mary Moore”?:

Though stiff to strike a bargain,
Like an old Jew man,
Her bargain struck we laughed and talked
And emptied many a can . . . .

Perhaps Yeats was the culmination of that great, surging Romantic wave, now in recession.

Though the great song return no more
There’s keen delight in what we have:
The rattle of pebbles on the shore
Under the receding wave.

– “The Nineteenth Century and After”

Perhaps. And perhaps a revitalized and resurgent West can at least produce poets in the great tradition, who refuse to wallow in mud and make a career of destroying our language.

Sing the peasantry, and then
Hard-riding country gentlemen,
The holiness of monks, and after
Porter-drinkers randy laughter;
Sing the lords and ladies gay
That were beaten into the clay
Through seven heroic centuries;
Cast your mind on other days
That we in coming days may be
Still the indomitable Irishry.

– “Under Ben Bulben”

These lines also proved upsetting to Bloom, and understandably. Yeats here issues a clear tribal call for cultural unity by appealing to racial instinct and historical experience: blood and soil. A Jewish critic, who had never shared in the experience, but rather was steeped in another totally alien, and thus had no real comprehension of the soul-state from which the poet spoke, would, as a matter of course, feel hostile to such verse. Too bad for Bloom and his fellows that Yeats’s reputation is already established; they have now little other to do but to wring their hands and rend their garments in their studies.

William Butler Yeats: rooted in Ireland, a seeker in the Western tradition, a giant of our race and culture; like Nietzsche, a “conqueror of Time”; and, perchance, one of the heralds of the times to come:

O silver trumpets, be you lifted up
And cry to the great race that is to come.
Long-throated swans upon the waves of time,
Sing loudly, for beyond the wall of the world
That race may hear our music and awake.

– “The King’s Threshold”


[1] Joseph M. Hone, W. B. Yeats, 1865–1939 (1943).

[2] Harold Bloom, Yeats (1972).

vendredi, 18 juin 2010

Cù Chulainn in the GPO: The Mythic Imagination of Patrick Pearse

cuchulainn.jpgCù Chulainn in the GPO:
The Mythic Imagination of Patrick Pearse

Michael O'MEARA

Ex: http://www.counter-currents.com/

padraic_pearse.jpgOn Easter Monday, April 24, 1916, while all Europe was mobilized for the first of its terrible civil wars, Patrick Pearse, James Connolly, and several hundred “militia men” from the Irish Citizen Army and the Nationalist Volunteers commandeered the General Post Office on Dublin’s O’Connell (then Sackville) Street.

Once a defensive parameter was established around the stately, neo-classical symbol of British rule, the tall, lanky 37-year-old Pearse, titular head of the self-proclaimed “provisional government of the Irish Republic,” appeared on the GPO’s steps to read out to a small crowd of bewildered and skeptical by-standers a proclamation.

“Irishmen and Irishwomen: In the name of God and the dead generations from which she receives her old tradition of nationhood, Ireland, through us, summons her children to her flag and strikes for her freedom.”

This line — the entire proclamation, even — is a work of art.

Some say the Uprising itself was a work of art.


As the GPO was being fortified on the 24th, 700 or 800 lightly-armed rebels, most with shotguns and home-made bombs, some with rifles secretly obtained from Germany — (the same “gallant ally in Europe” who allied with the IRA in the next European civil war) — spread out across Dublin, occupying other public buildings and sites associated with the Crown.

The Uprising was not a direct military assault on British authority per se (the rebels lacked the fire power).  It was nevertheless an armed assertion of Irish authority — an authority however poorly armed that was nevertheless imbued with a powerful idea — the idea that does not tire or break and that imparts “its mantle of strength upon those in its service” — the idea of destiny (Francis Parker Yockey).


The English garrison in Ireland, larger than the garrison that held India, was caught entirely off-guard by the insurrection.

There was good reason for this.

In 1914 the Irish Parliamentary Party had not only pledged to support the British government, as Germany challenged its supremacy on the killing fields of Flanders and Northern France, the party called on its paramilitary wing, the 170,000 strong Irish Volunteers, to enlist in the British army.  (The ten to twenty thousand Volunteers who refused to follow the IPP’s lead, those rechristened “the Nationalist Volunteers,” were to be the Uprising’s principal military arm, though their mobilization, for reasons too complicated to explain here, was countermanded at the last moment).

The Irish people, one of the most dispossessed and economically distressful of Europe’s peoples, were enjoying a brief spell of good times, as employment and agriculture flourished in the wake of the British war effort.

Westminster had also promised to implement Home Rule, once the war ended.

Ireland never seemed more securely in English hands.


The rebellion was greeted with surprise and rage — by both the British government and the Irish population.

This would change, as the government turned the rebels into martyrs, “snatching political defeat from the jaws of military victory.”

In the view of much of the world, especially among the popular classes of nationalist-minded Irish-America, the forces of the crown were seen as reacting with characteristic English brutality, as their powerful naval guns pounded Britain’s second most important city, destroying the GPO and much of the city’s heart, as well as wounding or killing a thousand civilians

James Connolly, that most Aryan of Marxists, had thought the British forces, beholden to English capital, would never turn their guns on their own commercial property: Little did he know — and little did he realize that his sophisticated understanding of urban warfare would crumble before this fact.

Ground troops, supported by field artillery, then suppressed the lingering rebellion on the streets — though not before Pearse ordered a general surrender, once it was clear civilians were the main victim of Britain’s crushing counter-attack.


Like most of the six armed rebellions the Irish had raised in the previous 200 years, there was a good deal of futility and desperation in the Easter Uprising — begun on Monday and extinguished, at least so everyone thought, by the following Saturday.

Pearse, Connolly, and much of the Irish Republican Brotherhood responsible for the insurrection had, in fact, no illusion that they would succeed or even survive the Uprising.

Once rounded up, the fifteen nationalist leaders of the revolt were court martialed and shot.

“Dear, dirty Dublin” came, then, to resemble the war-ravaged towns and cities along the Franco-German front, as the cause of Irish freedom seemed to suffer another damning setback.

Yet five years later, Ireland was a nation once again.


Like much of the Uprising’s revolutionary nationalist leadership, Pearse sought a path that led away not just from British rule, but from British modernity — which, like its larger civilizational expression, seemed to suffocate everything heroic and great in life.

Against the empire’s cold mechanical forces, he arrayed the powerful mythic pulse of the ancient Gaels.

As Carl Schmitt might have described it: “Against the mercantilist image of balance there appears another vision, the warlike image of a bloody, definitive, destructive, decisive battle.”

Pearse was not alone in thinking myth superior to matter.

Indeed, his Ireland was Europe in microcosm — the Europe struggling against the forces of the coming anti-Europe.

In Germany, no less than in Ireland, powerful cultural movements based on “peasant” mythology and traditional culture had arisen to repulse the modern world — movements which did much to revive the spirit of Western Civilization (before it was again struck down by the ethnocidal Pax Americana).

In Germany this movement frontally challenged the continental status quo, in Ireland it challenged the British Empire.

Lacking a political alternative, the frustrated national unity of 19th-century “Germany” had looked to increase its cultural cohesion and self-consciousness.

Like its German counterpart, Ireland’s Celtic Twilight was part of a larger European movement — of a romantic and romanticizing nationalism — to revive the ancient Volk culture in its struggle against the anti-national forces of money and modernity.

Though the Famine had delayed the movement’s advent in Ireland, it came.

The cultural phase of Irish nationalism formally began with Parnell’s fall in 1889.  Turning away from the personal and political tragedy of their uncrowned king, nationalists started re-thinking their destiny in other than political terms.

If the Germans, in the cultural assertion of their nationalism, had to free themselves from the overwhelming hegemony of French culture, the Irish had to turn away from the English, who considered them barbarians.

In rejected liberal modernity, these barbarians sought to recapture something of the archaic, Aryan spirit still evident in the Táin Bó Cuailnge and in Wagner’s Ring des Nibelingen — the spirit distilled today in Guillaume Faye’s “archeofuturism.”


Before Parnell, Irish resistance to English subjugation (with the exception of O’Connell’s movement) had taken the form of numerous, rather badly planned military defeats.

But the Irish had little recourse, especially in law.  (Indeed, the only justice for the Irishman in Ireland came from his shillelagh, whenever it took precedent over the judge’s gravel).

Centuries of Irish violence and resistance had convinced the English of Irish lawlessness and of their incapacity for self-rule.

Savage English repression begot savage Irish resistance, which, in turn, begot savage repression and so on: The long, unfortunate, blood-soaked dialectic of Anglo-Irish relations.

The empire’s violence was legitimated in the name of cultural superiority.  Throughout British society, which thought itself the height of Western civilization, it was held that Ireland before the Norman Conquest had lacked any form of civilization or High Culture — even the learned David Hume held this view.  Indeed, the Irish were seen as yet fully civilized.

In British eyes this “race” was a lesser breed, somewhat like a nonwhite one, like wild Indians, and imperial conflict with it was something like conflict with a savage tribe — it was not the relationship Paris had to her provinces, it was not even what the German Hapsburgs had to their Slavic nations.

The Catholic Irish are famous in 19th-century English periodicals for their simian features.

The lawless Celts (the very word comes from the Greek for “fighter”), so obviously inferior to the civilized “Saxons,” brought upon themselves thus the rent racking, the enclosures, and the garrison state that came with the English occupation (the so-called “Union”).


William Butler Yeats, Lady Gregory, John Millington Synge, and other gifted members of the Anglo-Irish Ascendancy had no love for the world’s workshop, longing, as they did, for “the integral community of the old manorial days.”

The Irish Literary Renaissance was launched, following Parnell’s fall, with “The Wanderings of Oisin,” in which Yeats called for “a new literature, a new philosophy, and a new nationalism.”

Irish folklore for Yeats was not simply Irish, but the conservator of “an ancient, sacred worldview overwhelmed by the abstract, highly differentiated,” and generally ignoble forms of modern bourgeois life (forms, as we Americans have learned, that have, among other negative things, imbued money-changing aliens with great power over us).

For Ireland’s cultural nationalists, the past was a realm of meaning — prefiguring a future to rebuke the present.  And a great past, which the culturalist nationalists soon enough discovered, beckoned, as William Irwin Thompson surmised, “a future fit for an exalted heritage.”

The romanticized “peasant,” along with the medieval knight and the gentleman cavalier, were celebrated in Yeats’ poetic rebellion against the modern world.

This “nationalization” of the people’s heritage appealed to nationalists disgusted with things English; its moralistic rejection of decadence and empire also appealed to the emerging Irish Catholic lower-middle class; at the highest, most important, level, its mythic vision organically merged with “a culture that renews itself by reference to its mythology.”

By the early 20th century, a new ideology gripped Ireland, Germany, and many European nations, an ideology which defined the nation in racialist, romantic, and anti-modernist terms centered on certain cultural polarities: viz., anti-liberal versus liberal, past v. present, agricultural community v. industrial society, small moral nation v. decadent world empire, myth v. reason, quality v. quantity, Gaelic v. English, German v. French, Ireland v. England, Europeans v. Anglo-Americans, etc.


The hard men of the Irish Republican Brotherhood — (the Fenians, the progenitors of the many factions making up today’s IRA, were very unlike the genteel Anglo-Irish artists who made Dublin a cultural capital of the Anglophone world) — but they too were part of the general revolt against liberal civilization — against the devirilizing tenets of positivist thought, against the primacy of monetary values, against the spirit-killing effects of mechanization, massification, and deracination, and, above all, against the empire’s imposition on everything native to Irish identity.

In France, Italy, and Spain rebels opposing liberalism’s realm of “consummate meaninglessness” threw bombs, in Ireland, where the cult of violence was ancient, they made up an army of bomb-throwers — for it was the nation seeking to be born, “ourselves alone,” not the solitary resister, who filled the rebel ranks.

Violence and self-sacrifice, as such, needed no justification in Catholic Ireland (though they seemed totally alien and barbaric to England’s liberal Protestants).


Ireland’s brave rebels are best seen against a European backdrop.

At its center was the Sorelian myth of violence, imagining the overthrow of Cromwell’s cursed regime.

This myth of violence was no ideology, but a Nietzschean assertion of will.

Its dreamscape was the apocalyptic catastrophe in which all things became possible.

Its promised violence wasn’t aimless or nihilistic, like that of a Negro hoodlum, but soteriological, seeking the salvation of man’s soul in a world made especially evil by the efficacy of science and reason.


Violence here — in the mythic context of Pearse’s imagination and in the social-political world of late 19th-century, early 20th-century Europe — became “a path to a new faith” — a path that ran over the ruins of modernity, as it endeavored to redeem it.

The Irish cosmological view, in Patrick O’Farrell’s study, perceived England as a secular, unethical, money-grubbing power that had “violated” Caithlin Ni Houlihan — the Old Woman of Beare, Roisin Dubb, Shan Van Vocht, Deidre of the Sorrows, Queen Sive, and all the feminine symbols personifying Ireland’s perennial spirit.

In such a cosmology, national liberation was eschatological, millennarian, and, above all, mythic.

For here myth seizes the mind of the faithful as it prepares them to act.  Its idea is “apocalyptic, looking toward a future that can come about only through a violent destruction of what already exists.”

Pearse’s myth was of a noble Ireland won by violent, resolute, virile action — nothing less would merit his blood sacrifice.

Fusing the unique synergy of millennarian Catholicism (with its martyrs), ancient pagan myth (with its heroes), and a spirit of redemptive violence (couched in every recess of Irish culture) — his myth has since become the ideological justification for the physical force tradition of Irish republicanism — a tradition which holds that no nation can gain its freedom except through force of arms — that is, by taking it — by forthrightly asserting it in the Heideggerian sense of realizing the truth of its being.

Pearse’s allegiance to armed struggle came with his disgust with parliamentary politics.  He thought Parnell’s party “had sat too long at the English table” — that it had come to regard Irish nationality “as a negotiable rather than a spiritual thing.”

All states, he considered, rested on force.  If Ireland should be “freed” through Home Rule, that is, under British auspices, it would make the Irish smug and loyal — and British.

With the advent of the Great War of 1914 and the Burgfrieden negotiated between the parliamentary nationalists of the IPP and the British government, the flame of Ireland’s national spirit began to dim.

The violent break with Britain, which Pearse and other revolutionary nationalists sought, was inspired by the conviction that every compromise weakened Ireland’s soul and strength — that the flame had always to burn heroically — that the spirit had to be pure — otherwise the sacramental lustre of the Republican cause would be lost.


The tradition of armed resistance of which Pearse became the leading Irish symbol was not unique to Ireland, but part the same European tradition that inspired the Slavic Communist storming of the Winter Palace, the same that guided the anti-liberal, fascist, and national socialist opposition to liberalism’s interwar regimes — the same that appears still on the hard streets of Northern Ireland and in the minds of a small number of exceptional Europeans.

For Pearse, the Uprising was more than a blow struck for Irish freedom, it was “a revolt against the materialistic, rationalistic, and all-too-modern world” of the British Empire.

Pearse was not unlike Charles Péguy, who too conceived of a national myth “to stand against the modernist tide.”

Péguy: “Nothing is as murderous as weakness and cowardice / Nothing is as humane as firmness.”

This was Pearse’s thought, exactly.


Such a mythic conviction came, though, at a high cost, for it required a willful self-immolation and the promise of death, however heroic.


Pearse’s conviction sprang from Ireland’s long history of resistance and the Aryo-European spirit it reflected, but it also came from the old sagas, from the stories and legends of the ancient Gaels, that celebrated the values and traditions of Ireland’s heroic age.

Prior to the modern age Ireland’s Gaelic vernacular literature was the largest of any European peoples, except that of the Greeks and Romans.

The Irish loved to tell stories, a great many of which their monks wrote down a thousand years ago.

Like other Gaelic-speaking nationalists, Pearse was especially affected by the Ulster Cycle of legends and myths associated with Cù Chulainn — the symbol of Ireland — the symbol of one powerful man standing alone against a terrible, overwhelming force — the Irish Achilles — whose heroic temper was a rebuke to the corruptions and weaknesses of the modern age.


In August 1915, a year into the European civil war, and three-quarters of a year before the Easter Uprising, the IRB staged a ceremonial burial for one of its own — in a country where ceremonial burials have often given birth to new forms of life.

In his funeral oration at the grave side of the dead Fenian, O’Donovan Rossa, the Cù Chulainn (who would soon fight his epic battle in the GPO) augured that: “Life springs from death and from the graves of patriot men and women spring nations. . . .  They [the English] think that they have pacified Ireland.  They think that they have pacified half of us and intimidated the other half.  They think that they have provided against everything: but the fools, the fools, the fools! — they have left us our Fenian dead, and while Ireland holds these graves, Ireland unfree shall never be at peace.”

Man, in Pearse’s mythic imagination, doesn’t act on the chance of being successful, but for the sake of doing what needs to be done.  The nationalist movement, united in hatred of the English ruling class, was full of such men.

Their doing, their sacrifice — like that of Jesus on the cross or the tragic Cù Chulainn burying his son in the indifferent sea tide — was of utmost importance.

For everything, the rebels knew, would follow from it — the slaughtered sheep brightening the sacramental flame of their spirit.


Some historians claim Pearse’s “suicidal” insurrection bequeathed “a sense of moral conviction to revolutionaries all over the world.”

From a military perspective, the Uprising, of course, was a categorical failure.  But morally, it became something of a world-changing force — which wasn’t surprising in a country like Ireland, whose mythology had long favored ennobling failures.

As Pearse told the military tribunal that condemned him to death: “We seem to have lost.  We have not lost.  To refuse to fight would have been to lose.  We have kept faith with the past, and handed down a tradition to the future.”


In the course of the extraordinary events following The Proclamation (as the rebels kept faith with their past), mind, imagination, and myth fused into a synergetic force of unprecedented brilliance and power — the terrible beauty being born.


Patrick Pearse fell before the English guns soon after Easter, but the ennobling image of him standing upright in the burning GPO lives on in the heritage he willed not just to Irishmen but to all white men.

For of the insurgents, at least fifty of them, including Pearse himself, were of mixed Irish-English parentage.

They fought the cruel empire not just for Ireland’s sake, but for the sake of redeeming, in themselves, something of the old Aryo-Gaelic ways.

April 24, 2010


Thomas M. Coffey, Agony at Easter: The 1916 Irish Uprising (Baltimore: Penguin, 1971).

Ruth Dudley Edwards, Patrick Pearse: The Triumph of Failure (New York: Taplinger, 1978).

Sean Farrell Moran, Patrick Pearse and the Politics of Redemption (Washington: Catholic University Press of America, 1994).

Joseph O’Brien, Dear, Dirty Dublin: 18991916 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1982).

Patrick O’Farrell, Ireland’s English Question (New York: Schocken, 1971).

Dáithí Ó hÓgáin, The Lore of Ireland (Cork: Boydell, 2006).

William Irwin Thompson, The Imagination of an Insurrection: Dublin, Easter 1916 (New York: Harper, 1967).