Old and New Masters eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 226 pages of information about Old and New Masters.

    Although you hide in the ebb and flow
    Of the pale tide when the moon has set,
    The people of coming days will know
    About the casting out of my net,
    And how you have leaped times out of mind
    Over the little silver cords. 
    And think that you were hard and unkind,
    And blame you with many bitter words.

There, in music as simple as a fable of Aesop, Mr. Yeats has figured the pride of genius and the passion of defeated love in words that are beautiful in themselves, but trebly beautiful in their significances.

Beautifully new, again, is the poem beginning, “I wander by the edge,” which expresses the desolation of love as it is expressed in few modern poems: 

I wander by the edge Of this desolate lake Where wind cries in the sedge:  Until the axle break That keeps the stars in their round And hands hurl in the deep The banners of East and West And the girdle of light is unbound, Your breast will not lie by the breast Of your beloved in sleep.

Rhythms like these did not exist in the English language until Mr. Yeats invented them, and their very novelty concealed for a time the passion that is immortal in them.  It is by now a threadbare saying of Wordsworth that every great artist has himself to create the taste by which he is enjoyed, but it is worth quoting once more because it is especially relevant to a discussion of the genius of Mr. Yeats.  What previous artist, for example, had created the taste which would be prepared to respond imaginatively to such a revelation of a lover’s triumph in the nonpareil beauty of his mistress as we have in the poem that ends:—­

    I cried in my dream, “O women bid the young men lay
    Their heads on your knees, and drown their eyes with your hair,
    Or remembering hers they will find no other face fair
    Till all the valleys of the world have been withered away
,”

One may doubt at times whether Mr. Yeats does not too consciously show himself an artist of the aesthetic school in some of his epithets, such as “cloud-pale” and “dream-dimmed.”  His too frequent repetition of similar epithets makes woman stand out of his poems at times like a decoration, as in the pictures of Rossetti and Burne-Jones, rather than in the vehement beauty of life.  It is as if the passion in his verse were again and again entangled in the devices of art.  If we take his love-poems as a whole, however, the passion in them is at once vehement and beautiful.

The world has not yet sufficiently realized how deep is the passion that has given shape to Mr. Yeats’s verse. The Wind Among the Reeds is a book of love-poetry quite unlike all other books of love-poetry.  It utters the same moods of triumph in the beloved’s beauty, of despair, of desire, of boastfulness of the poet’s immortality, that we find in the love-poetry of other ages.  But here are new images, almost a new language.  Sometimes we have an image which fills the mind like the image in some little Chinese lyric, as in the poem He Reproves the Curlew:—­

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Old and New Masters from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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