At the Hawk's Well: Yeats's Unresolved Conflict Between Language and Silence


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

"O body swayed to music, O brightening glance,

How can we know the dancer from the dance?"1

From earliest times, wielders of words have been painfully conscious of the inadequacy of their medium. Man's innermost thoughts and most subtle emotions elude the grasp of even the craftiest master of language, so that workers in one literary form have always sought the richer resources of another in hopes of finding a tool to convey the fullness of their meaning. Poets and prose-writers alike have repeatedly turned to the drama as the magic means of transcending the limitations of language. Thus, when Yeats discovered Ezra Pound's rendering of the Japanese Noh drama in 1916, he seized upon it as the perfect solution to his own search for a dramatic form. Aristocratic, symbolic, blending verse, music, dance, mask, and folk ritual into a perfect harmony of being, these plays seemed to the Irish playwright the ideal means for conveying an intensity of emotion that would enable him to transcend, if only for a fleeting moment, the bounds of time and space, to pass "into a deep of the mind that had hitherto been too subtle for our habitation."2

Comparative Drama is carried by JSTOR and Project MUSE.