Article Title

Paterian Aesthetics in Yeats' Drama


In lieu of an abstract, the first paragraph of the essay follows:

The pervasiveness of Walter Pater's influence on English letters in the 1890's is canonical fact. Yeats and his friends in the Rhymers' Club had looked to Pater as the greatest contemporary prose stylist, and they had been infatuated with his philosophy of the flux. Like many literary styles in the nineties, Years' early experiments, such as "Rosa Alchemica" and The Shadowy Waters, were imitations of Pater's florid, languorous cadences. Partly as a result of his early stylistic failures, Yeats, with the help of the rigorous demands imposed by writing for the stage, began during the next decade to forge a new style that led to the lean, sinewy power of his mature verse. Writing plays gave Yeats' verse vigor, concreteness, and a sense of structure, and consequently brought it out of the "cloud and foam" of the Celtic Twilight and his l 890's aestheticism. It has long been a critical commonplace that Yeats' experience as a dramatist had a substantial impact on his later poetry, but what has not been recognized is that Pater played an even greater role in shaping the dramatic ideals that informed Yeats' new style than he had in influencing his earlier style. When Yeats went to Stratfordon- Avon in April of 1901 to study Shakespeare as part of his preparation to become a serious dramatist, he again turned to Pater for philosophy; only this time he was assessing not the philosophy of the flux but Pater's philosophy of aesthetic form, and not the accidentals of his style but the essence of his thought As the revisions to On Baile's Strand and the development of Yeats' dramatic theory after 1901 indicate, Yeats' new style resulted not merely from a fusion of his early Paterian lyricism with a new interest in dramatic action and simplicity;1 rather his new dramatic aesthetic was an expansion and refinement of. a somewhat vague notion of lyricism into a more precise and profoundly Paterian concept of lyric unity. Moreover, the direction of Yeats' subsequent refinements in his drama continue inexorably toward perfecting Pater's lyric ideal. Far from leaving Pater behind in the nineties, Yeats was not so much transcending his aesthetic philosophy as arriving at a deeper understanding of it and discovering its true meaning for himself.

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