Death of Yeats end of Irish literary revival, says Pound, Noh enthusiast

Death of Yeats end of Irish literary revival, says Pound, Noh enthusiast

Special to The Japan Times
June 5, 1939

The death of William Butler Yeats [who died Jan. 28, 1939] closes the great era of the Irish literary revival. That death will doubtless have been duly recorded in Japan. Someone in Tokyo may also know of Yeats’ Japanese interlude or flirtation. He, at one time, thought he would be called to a Japanese professorship and did, I think, receive some sort of invitation. You have a “link” with Dublin in those plays of Yeats which were directly stimulated by Fenollosa’s reports and translations of Noh. Having worked with Yeats during the three or four years of his intensest interest in the Noh, I know how much it meant to him.

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“The form I have been searching for all my life” was one of his comments. (That would have been about 1917.)

* * * * *

A determination for a new poetic drama in Europe, not merely a Celtic twilight or a side show, but a poetic drama that will enter the main stream of our life is manifested both by Jean Cocteau (recent play “Parents Terribles”) and by T. S. Eliot (“Family Reunion”).

The present chronicler is Confucian and totalitarian. To him both plays seem to be ends of a movement. So far as I am concerned they belong to the age of [Henrik] Ibsen wherein people’s inner wobblings and fusses were important. I believe in, and I believe there exists, a growing consciousness of the individual in the state. “The divine science of politics” (thought as to how people can live together in an organized or organic social system), interests me more than all the Freuds that ever existed.

At any rate I think the great novelists and dramatists must henceforth sort out the problems dependent on economic pressure from those which remain after this pressure is removed.

A few years ago P. Bottome [British novelist, Phyllis Bottome] wrote a novel about an insane asylum. On analysis one found a common denominator, nowhere stated by the authoress and not I think present in her consciousness. All the patients were there because of economic pressure. All the doctors and nurses were moved by monetary pressures.

Of the poets included in my “Active Anthology” [a 1933 anthology of poetry from the first 25 years of the 20th century] the best are all aware of monetary pressure, as something more clear and incisive than the vague “social” urges to be found in last century’s literature. This is not to say that Trollope and, in his last years, Henry James hadn’t come to such perception. They were above and beyond their time. The keenest minds today can be grouped. They can be grouped along this axis. The best writers are aware of problems that have lain unobserved in Dante and Shakespeare, problems of usury, of the just price, of the nature of money and its mode of issue.

It may interest you to know that the clarity of some paragraphs in The Japan Times on these subjects is, outside Italy, rather restricted to weekly papers and papers of special movements in England and America and in the rest of the Occident.

Lucid and incisive remarks of Hitler, Schacht [Hjalmar Schacht, German minister of economics 1934-1937] and Funk [Walther Funk, then president of the Reichsbank] do not get the wide and immediate publicity they deserve. They are however understood by writers of such divergent temperament as Wyndham Lewis and [British Army] General J. F. C. Fuller.

* * * * *

As job lot items and notes on books worth reading: A current [issue of] Picture Post acknowledges Wyndham Lewis to be the greatest portraitist of our time (even quotes [German-born English Impressionist painter Walter] Sickert as saying, “and of any time” — which is the generous exaggeration of an older painter for a younger one who has been too long denied his just place).

The best news from America is the edition of E. E. Cummings’ collected poems, plus the publication of W. C. [William Carlos] Williams’ “Life Along the Passaic River” (prose sketches).

Both the Criterion [British literary magazine, 1922-1939] and Broletto have ceased publication, leaving my personal interest in current periodicals narrowed to The British Union Quarterly, for discussions of state organization, and to Townsman for very brief notices of books and the arts. The Examiner, published in Bethlehem, Connecticut, U.S.A., contains some very well written and carefully thought articles.

There are valuable notes in several dozens of sectarian or group weeklies and quarterlies in which publications, however, the dross and one-sidedness often out-weighs the sound matter, at least to such a degree that one cannot recommend them to Orientals wanting a clear view of the west.

Excerpts, edited for space but retaining the language of the time, from four of the articles Ezra Pound contributed to The Japan Times between May 1939 and September 1940 are used with permission from New Directions Publishing Corporation. © 1991 The Trustees of the Ezra Pound Literary Property Trus.

Related links

Our man, Mr. Pound


Letter from Rapallo


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