Curing Oneself of the Work of Time: W. B. Yeats's Purgatory


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

In a world overcome with realism and the logic of science Yeats wrote religious drama. He wrote for people who had no communal mythology and for those for whom mythology had lost its religious significance. Christianity, Yeats believed, had become a doctrine of the church, not an affirmation of religiousness. Yeats's history as a playwright is one of tireless confrontation with the fact that there were no terms given to him in which he might convincingly write dramas conveying the religious experience. His continuing effort was to invent them and to try to infuse conventional dramatic forms with the dynamism of re- . ligious experience. This was no easy task; to accomplish it Yeats had to overcome the logical reasoning processes of his audience. Yeats wrote a dance play about a swineherd. who, after being beheaded, sang-and reason leads us to assume that Yeats did not believe that beheaded men can sing and that the story is purely fanciful, at best emblematic.1 Yeats wrote a more realistic prose play about Christ's resurrection-and reason provokes us to ask whether Yeats did or did not accept the Resurrection as fact.2 In both instances Yeats was trying to give account of and to provide his audience with a religious experience; to assume that he intended the one story as merely symbolic and to ask whether he believed the other to be objectively true is to misunderstand both stories in equal but opposite ways.

Comparative Drama is carried by JSTOR and Project MUSE.