March 20, 2016

W.B. Yeats describes the Easter Rising

Yeats by Tom Lalor

W.B. Yeats was in Gloucestershire when he first heard about the Dublin rebellion. He wrote a letter to Lady Gregory, May 11 1916:
"If the English conservative party had made a declaration that they did not intend to rescind the Home Rule Bill there would have been no rebellion. I had no idea that any public event could so deeply move me—and I am very despondent about the future. At this moment I feel that all the work of years has been overturned, all the bringing together of classes, all the freeing of Irish literature and criticism from politics… I do not yet know what [Maud Gonne] feels about her husband’s death. Her letter was written before she heard of it. Her main thought seems to be ‘tragic dignity has returned to Ireland’. She had been told by two members of he Irish Party that ‘Home Rule was betrayed’. She thinks now that the sacrifice has made it safe… ‘I am trying to write a poem on the men executed—‘‘terrible beauty has been born’’."
And Maud Gonne here describes listening to Yeats read 'Easter, 1916', writing:
"Standing by the seashore in Normandy in September 1916 [Yeats] read me that poem [‘Easter, 1916’]; he had worked on it all the night before, and he implored me to forget the stone and its inner fire for the flashing, changing joy of life; but when he found my mind dull with the stone of the fixed idea of getting back to Ireland, kind and helpful as ever, he helped me to overcome political and passport difficulties and we travelled as far as London together."
Maud Gonne did not like it. She wrote, November 8 1916:
"My dear Willie, No, I don’t like your poem, it isn’t worthy of you and above all it isn’t worthy of the subject… you who have studied philosophy and know something of history know quite well that sacrifice has never yet turned a heart to stone though it has immortalized many and through it alone mankind can rise to God.”
She went on to praise MacDonagh and Pearse as ‘men of genius’ and insisted that even ‘my husband’ (MacBride) ‘has entered Eternity by the great door of sacrifice which Christ opened and has therefore atoned for all’.

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