The Poet Speaks #6: Yeats & Blake

Some great quotes from W. B. Yeats and William Blake, chosen almost at random from two good biographies of them; there are no doubt thousands more, & should you have other favorites, do add them in the comments:

From a young W. B. Yeats:

…my ever multiplying boxes of unsaleable MSS – work too strange at one moment and too incoherent the next for any first class Magazine and too ambitious for local papers.

I am not very hopeful about the book [The Wanderings of Oisin and Other Poems]. Somewhat inarticulate have I been I fear. Some thing I had to say. Dont know that I have said it. All seems confused incoherent inarticulate. Yet I know I am no idle poetaster. My life has been in my poems. To make them I have broken my life in a morter as it were. I have brayed in it youth and fellowship peace and worldly hopes. I have seen others enjoying while I stood alone with myself – commenting, commenting – a mere dead mirror on which things reflect themselves. I have buried my youth and raised over it a cairn – of clouds. Some day I shall be articulate perhaps. But this book I have no great hopes of – it is all sluggish incoherent. It may make a few friends perhaps among people of my own sort – that is the most.

Defending his interested in the occult and magic as central to his life: It is surely absurd to hold me “week” or otherwise because I chose to persist in a study which I decided deliberately four or five years ago to make next to my poetry the most important pursuit of my life. Whether it be, or be not, bad for my health can only be decided by one who knows what magic is & not at all by any amateur. The probable explanation however of your somewhat testy post card is that you were out at Bedford Park & heard my father discoursing about my magical pursuits out of the immense depths of his ignorance as to everything that I am doing & thinking. If I had not made magic my constant study I could not have written my Blake book nor would “The Countess Kathleen” have ever come to exist. The mystical life is the centre of all that I do & all that I think & all that I write.

But we – we live in a world of whirling change, where nothing becomes old and sacred, and our powerful emotions, unless we be highly-trained artists, express themselves in vulgar types and symbols. The soul then had but to stretch out its arms to fill them with beauty, but now all manner of heterogeneous ugliness has beset us. A peasant had then but to stand in his own door and think of his sweetheart and of his sorrow, and take from the scene about him and from the common events of his life types and symbols, and behold, if chance was a little kind, he had made a poem to humble generations of the proud. And we – we labour and labour, and spend days over a stanza or a paragraph, and at the end of it have made, likely as not, a mere bundle of phrases.


William Blake:

I should be sorry if I had any earthly fame for whatever natural glory a man has is so much detracted from his spiritual glory. I wish to do nothing for profit. I wish to live for art. I want nothing whatever. I am quite happy.

I know of no other Christianity and of no other Gospel, than the liberty both of body & mind to exercise the Divine Arts of the Imagination.

I am really sorry to see my Countrymen trouble themselves about Politics. If Men were Wise the Most arbitrary Princes could not hurt them If they were not Wise the Freest Government is compelld to be a Tyrrany. Princes appear to be to be Fools Houses of Commons & Houses of Lords appear to me to be fools they seem to be something Else besides Human Life.

Nature has no Outline: but Imagination has. Nature has no Tune: But Imagination has! Nature has no Supernatural & dissolves: Imagination is Eternity.

Commerce Cannot endure Individual Merit its insatiable Maw must be fed by What all can do Equally well.

And all this Vegetable World appeard on my left Foot,
As a bright sandal formd immortal of precious stones & gold:
I stooped down & bound it on to walk forward thro’ Eternity.


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