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Eliot and Yeats

John Kelly

© John Kelly, CC BY 4.0 http://dx.doi.org/10.11647/OBP.0081.07

Yeats and Eliot are generally supposed to have had little in common, either in their thinking or in the manner and style of their work.1 Indeed, it is generally assumed that they were at best chary of each other and at worst antagonistic. This view has been powerfully put by a poet who knew them both as close friends: in a letter of 21 November 1957 Ezra Pound wrote to George Yeats, W. B. Yeats’s widow:

My benevolent speculation | not retrospective but as insemination was as to whether TSE and Uncle Wm | didn’t tend to bring out the worst of each other, or at least neglected to develop a mutual illumination.2

Since Yeats, ‘Uncle Wm’ had by this time been dead almost twenty years it might be thought that Pound’s speculation could not help but be retrospective, but his description of it as ‘insemination’ seems to suggest more fertile possibilities, even that he considers the relationship between two of the greatest poets writing in the twentieth century is still pregnant with possibilities. Later critics have almost uniformly agreed with Pound’s estimation that the two writers were suspicious or hostile towards each other’s work—although it is conceded that after Yeats was safely dead Eliot’s attitude towards him softened, and that he made amends with a noble commemorative lecture in Dublin in 1940, and with the inclusion of Yeats as a significant element in the ‘compound’ ghost in his last great poem Little Gidding.

Reading the newly available letters between both poets, as well as hitherto uncollected articles and prose, suggests that the relationship between Yeats and Eliot was more complex and less antipathetic than has been hitherto thought, and I want to argue that under an apparent indifference, or lack of ‘mutual illumination’, the two men were not only far more conscious of each other than is generally recognised, but that, ironically, they were more alike in their thinking, or at least in sharing common concerns in their thinking, than they were like Pound—although he impinged more obviously, and boisterously, on both their careers. And there is this implication in Pound’s very words. His regret is not that there was no ‘mutual illumination’ between Yeats and Eliot but that such a potential illumination regrettably lacked sufficient wattage, so that it did not refract and reflect as brightly as he thought it could and should have done. In this sense it is worth exploring just what was ‘mutual’ in the two poets’ ‘illumination’, and in what ways they might be said to have ‘neglected to develop’ it. And we might remark that, as in the case of matches and flint, illumination may be generated from friction as much as from recognition and assent.

The attitudes of both Yeats and Eliot to their age and their art was deeply inflected both in theme and practice by philosophical, religious and social anxieties that had incubated in the nineteenth century, and these anxieties pre-occupied them more agonizingly than they did Pound, Joyce or Wyndham Lewis, writers usually numbered with them as the major Modernists. If, as is now fashionable, we see the Modernist Movement as a reaction to Modernity, as a realisation that the secular ethics and clear thinking of the Enlightenment had not only failed to deliver the earthly paradise but had in fact begotten a world of fragmentation and entropy, then Yeats and Eliot can be said to have addressed this condition from the outset of their careers. In both cases, the perception led them to seek meaning in what Eliot was to call ‘the immense panorama of futility and anarchy which is contemporary history’ and Yeats, more succinctly, ‘the preposterous pig of the world’.3 In seeking to find meaning both were drawn, if from different directions and with different conclusions, towards what was for them a central mystery: a comprehension of the implications of Logos, which Eliot eventually understood as the Christian Incarnation and Yeats as a less orthodox process of sometimes violent incarnations—supernatural irruptions into the processes of human history.

Yeats was already an established poet of forty-nine in 1914, when Eliot arrived in England for what turned out to be a permanent residence. His radical change in style and theme, increasingly evident after he had ‘got down off his stilts’ at the turn of the century, was unmistakably registered in his book Responsibilities of that year, a fact that Pound understood but Eliot did not. Indeed, Pound, if not the catalytic influence some critics have claimed, certainly encouraged Yeats to be bolder in his poetic experiments. He also exerted an important influence on Eliot—but again, as in his dealings with Yeats, this was less in converting him to new forms and styles than in encouraging him to persevere and develop the poetry he was already writing. Pound at once understood the precocity and individuality of the twenty-six-year-old Eliot, recalling later that he was so poetically gifted as to have evolved his own modernist style apparently by himself. This very self-fashioning kept Eliot aloof from Yeats. Whereas Pound had arrived in London, five years before him, eager to become a disciple (Dorothy Shakespear recalled in her journal that in February 1909 he ‘talked of Yeats, as one of the Twenty of the world who have added to the World’s poetic matter’ and ‘read a short piece of Yeats, in a voice dropping with emotion, in a voice like Yeats’s own’4), Eliot needed no such addition to his poetic matter. Although, as he acknowledged in a lecture delivered shortly after Yeats’s death, ‘Yeats was already a considerable figure in the world of poetry’ when he began to write, he could not ‘remember that his poetry at this stage made any deep impression on me’, because, as he went on to explain, the poetry he needed to quicken his consciousness only existed in France; for this reason ‘the poetry of the young Yeats hardly existed for me until after my enthusiasm had been won by the poetry of the older Yeats; and by that time—I mean from 1919 on my own course of evolution was already determined’.5

If not influenced by Yeats, Eliot was, from early in his English career, keenly aware of him and within a few months of his arrival in Oxford engineered a meeting. In February 1915 he intimated to Pound that he hoped to make Yeats’s acquaintance, and Pound, who had recently acted as Yeats’s secretary, took the hint and brought him to one of Yeats’s famous ‘Monday Evening’ gatherings, probably on 8 March. Thus by 4 April 1915 Eliot could report that he had ‘had the pleasure of meeting Yeats’: ‘he is now in Ireland’, he went on, but ‘I am hoping for him to return—he is a very agreeable talker’.6 It is probable that the two bumped into each other reasonably often over the next few years, particularly given their shared friendship with Pound; there is evidence, for instance, that Eliot attended one of the exclusive performances of Yeats’s first Noh play, At the Hawk’s Well, in London in April 1916. On 2 March 1917 he was constrained to curtail the pleasure of Yeats’s ‘agreeable’ talk by the intervention of a popular novelist when, as he reported in a letter to Eleanor Hinkley, he found himself at ‘a gathering of a curious zoo of people known as the Omega Club, and was sitting on a mat (as is the custom in such circles) discussing psychical research with William Butler Yeats (the only thing he ever talks about, except Dublin gossip) when a red-faced, sprucely dressed man with an air of impertinent prosperity and the aspect of a successful wholesale grocer came up and interrupted us with a most disagreeable Cockney accent…. I was so irritated by the man that I left for another part of the room almost at once—later I found out it was Arnold Bennett’.7 Despite his striking, if uncarbuncular, resemblance to a small house agent’s clerk, Bennett was later to go out of his way to try to help Eliot, and, since he sometimes attended séances with Yeats, was probably genuinely engaged by the conversation on this occasion. It is also quite possible that Eliot was genuinely interested in it. In an interview after Yeats’s death he told Richard Ellmann about these discussions, and Ellmann assumed that he had been bored by them,8 although in the light of his warm response to Yeats in 1915, and the fact that he began a review of Per Amica Silentia Luna in 1917 with the observation that it was ‘always a pleasure to have Mr. Yeats talking’, it is far from certain that this was the case. But, if not wearied by Yeats’s fascination with psychical research, he was on philosophical grounds suspicious of it, and also of his recourse to folklore and myth in addressing metaphysical and theological questions.

Part of his disquiet was prompted by the perception that they were both troubled by the same questions. In his very first published essay, an article on the poetry of the Irish writer, Sir Samuel Ferguson, which appeared in October 1886, Yeats had extolled Ferguson’s heroic style, as offering an alternative to what he describes as ‘that leprosy of the modern—tepid emotions and many aims’ (UP1 104). Yeats from the very first opposed in his art and criticism what he saw as the psychological and social torpor induced by modernity and the consequent undermining of traditional social and religious beliefs. It is significant that shortly after moving to London in 1887 he articulated his increasing sense of alienation with the very allusion that Eliot was later to employ in The Waste Land. Writing to his Dublin correspondent, the poet Katharine Tynan, he complained that many of those he met reminded him of the lost souls in Dante’s Inferno, consigned there not because they had committed any great sin, but because they had made the gran refuso—they had failed to do anything virtuous (CL1 91). Thirty-five years later Eliot was to identify these souls as the quotidian denizens of his Waste Land—the crowd flowing over London bridge ‘so many, I had not thought death had undone so many, | Sighs short and infrequent, were exhaled | And each man fixed his eyes before his feet’.9 The allusions, as Eliot reminds us in his notes, are to the First Circle of the Inferno, and it is these crowds which set the moral tone of his poem: not great sinners (for great sins, as he argues in his essay on Baudelaire, require energy and audacity) but the trivial and the venial, represented elsewhere in his work by Prufrock and Gerontion and the Hollow Men. Yeats prescribed as the antidote to ‘the leprosy of the modern’ an heroic form of poetry based on myth and legend, and in the nineties he was fond of citing not (as Eliot misrepresented him) Matthew Arnold’s assertion that poetry was ‘a criticism of life’, but William Blake’s more robust and positive insistence that Art was a ‘celebration’ of life, and that all arts strove to bring about the Golden Age again (E&I 137, 167).

And here we strike on a fundamental difference between Yeats and Eliot: both were haunted by the prospect that the world may be ‘Absurd’, in so far as it has no purpose; that history is merely a process of endless repetition. But whereas Yeats defiantly sought to redeem the world through the Imagination, Eliot took it as the inevitable consequence of the human condition, a state which, following his conversion to Christianity, he would associate with original sin. In a thoughtful essay on Yeats and Eliot, George Fraser argues that the crucial difference between the two is that ‘Eliot is a Christian. Yeats was not’.10 There is much truth in this, but we need to remind ourselves that Eliot was not always a Christian and that his form of theology was based on attitudes and perplexities that preceded his conversion. These perplexities overlapped with those of Yeats, who was certainly not indifferent to Christianity, so that, while their search for answers that would satisfy them differed markedly, the origins and motives of their quest were markedly similar.

Yeats’s concern to counter the leprosy of the modern and its many aims was grounded before 1900 in his attempts to find what he called Unity of Being through Unity of Culture. In a poignant passage in Autobiographies, one to which, significantly, Eliot returned on a number of occasions, Yeats laments that, unlike others of his generation, he was deeply religious but, ‘deprived… of the simple-minded religion of my childhood’ by the post-Darwinians, he made a new religion out of poetic tradition, and that this tradition was steeped in the supernatural (Au 115–16). If Yeats’s predicament was not as untypical as he alleges of one born in the mid-nineteenth century, and thus inescapably the heir of Darwin and German Higher Criticism, his reaction to it was less usual. Eliot would later charge him with trying to promulgate what was essentially an individual and idiosyncratic religion, but this was far from the case. On the contrary, no matter how unorthodox the directions it may have taken, Yeats’s search for faith always included a search for authentication: in the Tibetan authorities Madame Blavatsky claimed for her form of theosophy, in the supposed Rosicrucian or Hermetic origins of the Golden Dawn, in medieval mysticism and Gnosticism, and, in later life, in the study of the Upanishads. Moreover, in his interest in theosophy and the religions of India, Yeats was anticipating, in a less rigorous and less scholarly fashion, Eliot’s purpose in taking academic courses on Eastern religions at Harvard. Like many of their generations both sought enlightenment from the East, and Eliot was propelled to take these courses because he was seeking what Yeats was seeking. Both in their youth found themselves cut off from the faith of their childhood. In Yeats’s case this was the orthodox Protestantism of the Church of Ireland; for Eliot it was the Unitarianism of his family, a creed which denied the Trinity, questioned the divinity of Christ, and tended to convert issues of good and evil into conflicts in rational ethics.

So, if Yeats was, as he supposed, unlike others in his generation in being very religious, he was not unlike at least one person in the next generation, that is to say Eliot. Both were deeply unsettled by the inroads science had made into religious belief in the nineteenth century. The Higher Criticism of the Bible had challenged the orthodox account of creation and the divinity of Christ, while natural selection seemed, at its most reductive, to deny life any purpose beyond mere survival. Yet, for all his denunciation of Huxley and Tyndall (‘whom I detested’ [Au 115]), Darwinism was not the major factor in this process for Yeats, who readily rejected social and political evolution for a historiography based on sudden revolutionary, or counter-revolutionary, change. Nor was it for Eliot, who was to dismiss post-Darwinian meliorism as ‘a partial fallacy Encouraged by superficial notions of evolution’ and override it with a view of History as ‘a pattern of timeless moments’.11 Rather, both men were anguished by the loss of the numinous, the reduction of life to drab secularism, by those scientific and intellectual movements that contributed to what is now often described as the ‘decentring’ of man from his hitherto sovereign position in the scheme of things: a decentring which involved psychology, social change and politics as well as religion. In psychology the destabilization was a product of the growing perception that the self is a plural, unstable entity, and yet the troublesome realization that this plural and unstable entity has become crucial in the authentication of certain kinds of essential knowledge.

In confronting these problems their philosophic goals were not dissimilar: to find and articulate significance, to bring individuals and society to a richer and larger view of themselves and their destiny. The relationship between Yeats’s quest for Unity of Being and Eliot’s nostalgia for an undissociated sensibility would repay a more detailed study than I have time for here, as indeed would the question of why and how both saw Puritanism as a key factor in undermining this condition. Both saw the necessity for authority—in both cases discipline without regimentation—and both argued that any authentic community must ultimately appeal to a religious sense. Both were aware that in the modernist age psychological intuition must be an important constituent of belief but both were worried by the danger of mere eccentricity and solipsism that this threatened. Their concerns are therefore similar, but their temperaments different. Deprived of the simple faith of his childhood Yeats plunged into Theosophy and the Golden Dawn. The problem for him, as for the Romantics (and, indeed, for Eliot), was to authenticate private moments of seeming insight by relating them to universal truths. Yeats, a self-styled ‘last Romantic’, placed his hopes in the passionately engaged Imagination, sanctioned and corroborated by those movements and ideas—Theosophy, the Golden Dawn, Spiritualism—which seemed to offer a sort of inside track to illumination. There was in all this, as Eliot noted, something willed. Yeats, as an avid reader of Blake and Shelley, believed in the value of passion and energy as paths to Understanding, and, like Blake, never doubted that the road of excess lead to the palace of wisdom. But Yeats was not, as he himself ruefully confessed, a natural visionary or mystic. His unpublished ‘Visions Notebooks’ (the first started, significantly, at the very time when Freud was embarking on his research for The Interpretation of Dreams) bear witness to his elaborate attempts not only to analyse but also direct his dreaming states. Yeats wanted to believe that individual consciousness is part of a universal power (which he variously designates as ‘anima mundi’, ‘primum mobile’, or ‘God’—concepts which in his theology derive from Platonic rather than Christian sources), and which he desperately wants to access. His poems of the 1890s, of ‘The Rose’ and The Wind Among the Reeds, are full of the desire for some revelation, a revelation that he seems perpetually on the brink of attaining: ‘The Everlasting Voices’ that cry of a remembered but unattained paradisiacal, Edenic State, ‘The Secret Rose’ which will bring with it the passionate ecstasy of spiritual Illumination, but which though urgently and eloquently invoked leaves the poet still waiting at the end of the poem, still wondering ‘When will my hour come round at last…’

Eliot’s approach was apparently much cooler. He, too, was haunted by revelation: but his revelations were not willed, or even at first desired. To the very end they remained ‘unattended moments’, and he was fastidiously cautious about questioning their origin or interpreting their meaning. And yet one might argue that there was far more of the genuine mystic in Eliot than in Yeats. In this respect he was (as he himself understood) closer to Tennyson but, unlike Tennyson, he subjected such experiences to rigorous intellectual monitoring and retained an abiding suspicion of what he calls ‘the inner voice’, unmediated by divine grace. His early poems, those now published in Inventions of the March Hare, are haunted by such bleak epiphanies—‘Silence’, ‘Oh Little Voices’ and ‘The First Debate Between Body and Soul’—and by the gulf between quotidian triviality and ultimate meaning as in ‘Afternoon’:

The ladies who are interested in Assyrian art

Gather in the hall of the British Museum.

The faint perfume of last year’s tailor suits

And the steam from drying rubber overshoes

And the green and purple feathers in their hats

Vanish in the sombre Sunday afternoon

As they fade beyond the Roman statuary

Like amateur comedians across a lawn

Towards the unconscious, the ineffable, the absolute.12

The details (even to the modish expression ‘tailor suits’) are exact and economical, and the tone Laforgian. But the final line owes less to Laforgue than to Francis Herbert Bradley, whose philosophy was the subject of Eliot’s doctoral dissertation. It is the apparently absolute gulf between the Absolute and the mundane that haunts and anguishes Eliot—and in his early poetry for all the apparent flippancy of the ironical or even clownish mode which he borrowed from Laforgue, for all his philosophic scepticism, there is a real torment—something far more disturbing, far more profound than Laforgue ever registered. The young Yeats had faced similar problems in attempting to articulate the ineffable, and found recourse in the iconography of the Rose and a symbolism based on Gaelic myth and esoteric and folkloric sources. But he does not share Eliot’s apparent resignation. In ‘Afternoon’ the juxtaposition of the banal and the sublime are an intentional and carefully worked effect: in the trite normality of the afternoon awesome cultural and religious artefacts of ancient civilizations are reduced to objects—mere objects—of disinterested contemplation rather than, as Yeats would have wanted them, recognized as the repositories of a still potential ancient wisdom. As in so many of Eliot’s early poems, neither thought nor language can bridge the gulf between appearance and reality.

Eliot bought F. H. Bradley’s Appearance and Reality in June 1913, and found that the philosopher, too, was concerned with the gulf between hints of the Absolute and everyday experience. Bradley debated in urbane prose the question that Eliot had agonised over in his recent poem ‘Oh little voices’ but, as Lyndall Gordon eloquently puts it, ‘admitted bafflement without Eliot’s sense of defeat’.13 Bradley’s attraction for Eliot was not intellectual daring but graceful intellectual poise with which he accepted failure to know final truth. It was, characteristically, just this detachment which appalled Yeats: in a footnote to A Vision he commented disapprovingly that Bradley ‘found it difficult to reconcile personal immortality with his form of Absolute idealism, and besides he hated the common heart; an arrogant, sapless man’ (AVB 219). This view, shorn of Yeats’s aggressive rhetoric, was not so very far from Eliot’s later estimation of Bradley. While he would never have thought of Bradley as ‘arrogant’, and although he continued to admire his ‘scrupulous respect’ for words and meanings, Eliot was from the beginning disturbed by Bradley’s insistence that the individual soul was lost in the undifferentiated entity of the Absolute and he came to regard Bradley’s Absolute as the Void, a state of Nothingness which horrified—and terrified—him. Thus his thesis strives beyond the bounds of enquiry Bradley thought appropriate, countering the assertion that ‘my experience is not the whole world’ by insisting that it is only in finite experiences that reality is to be apprehended, ‘experiences so mad and strange that they will be boiled away before you boil them down to one homogeneous mass’. In this sense he can claim that ‘[a]ll significant truths are private truths’.14 But the problem remained of how those private truths related to more objective ‘significant’ truths and much of Eliot’s dissertation, Knowledge and Experience in the Philosophy of F. H. Bradley, is concerned with exploring the extent to which distinctions between subjective and objective, mental and physical, external and internal, are tenuous, relative, and ambiguous.

As many commentators have pointed out, Knowledge and Experience is a painful and troubled work, in which Eliot turns Bradley’s sceptical procedures on Bradley himself and upon his own immediate experience and fragmentary mental visions. He was hesitantly but rigorously to explore the relationship between private insight and larger revelation through his readings of Dante, George Herbert and the Christian mystics, readings which enabled him to associate private vision to the concept of the Logos and a Christian Incarnation. The process was a slow one, and is charted in a number of his belief in the reviews for the International Journal of Ethics and the Monist from 1916 onwards—for instance in his review of Mens Creatia by William Temple, later Archbishop of Canterbury and a personal friend, and Religion and Philosophy by R. G. Collingwood15—and, more obliquely, in the poems he published from 1917 to 1922: in ‘Mr Eliot’s Sunday Morning Service’, ‘Gerontion’, and, masked in the mythological method, in ‘The Waste Land’.

During this period of anguished intellectual questioning Yeats lurked perplexingly, even irritatingly, within Eliot’s ken, and he attempted in two reviews to pluck the heart of his mystery: in the summer of 1918 he wrote a short notice of Per Amica Silentia Lunae for the Egoist and in July 1919 a more puzzled (and puzzling) review of The Cutting of an Agate, which appeared in the Athenaeum under the headline ‘A Foreign Mind’. Although ‘never weary’ of Yeats’s voice, in his attempts to grapple with Per Amica, Eliot finds its ‘accents’ strange and ‘cannot fathom his argument through all its mazes’.16 One has a certain sympathy with this. Relating his own spiritualistic experiences to Neo-Platonism, particularly that of the seventeenth-century thinker Henry More, Yeats expounds his burgeoning ideas on mask and anti-mask, on the role of the daemon in individual human destiny and on the nature of the soul and its progress after death. Eliot thinks he can understand the first part of the book, but ‘is quite lost’ in the second part, ‘Anima Mundi’.

Yeats, he confesses ‘is lost to me, in some delicious soft mist as that in which Venus enwrapt her son’, and yet ‘as there is no one else living whom one would endure on the subject of gnomes, hobgoblins, and astral bodies, we infer some very potent personal charm of Mr. Yeats’.17

He does, however, manage to quote three passages from the book with approbation. The first is one in which Yeats asserts that modern culture ‘with its doctrine of sincerity and self-realization’ has ‘made us gentle and passive’, whereas the Middle Ages and Renaissance were right to found their culture on ‘the imitation of Christ or some classical hero’. This chimed with Eliot’s own contempt for the rationalizing theology and sociology of the day, exemplified in his 1916 review of Hastings Rashdall’s Consciousness and Christ where he denounced liberal theological doctrines in which ‘[a]ll that is anarchic, or unsafe or disconcerting in what Jesus said and did is either denied or boiled away by “the principle of development”’. For Canon Rashdall, he goes on, ‘the following of Christ is “made easier” by thinking of him “as the being in whom that union of God and man after which all ethical religion aspires is most fully accomplished”’, and adds tartly that many ‘saints found the following of Christ very hard, but modern methods have facilitated everything’.18 In similar vein he was to condemn Sorel’s Reflections on Violence as typical of the scepticism of the present, ‘a torturing vacuity which has developed the craving for belief’, and dismisses the book as ‘representative of the present generation, sick with its own knowledge of history, with the dissolving outlines of liberal thought, with humanitarianism’.19

Eliot also commended Yeats’s dictum that it ‘is not permitted to a man, who takes up pen or chisel, to seek originality, for passion is his only business’. His increasing preoccupation with the question of tradition and individual talent, found this challenge to originality for originality’s sake appealing. In an essay on Stendhal and Flaubert of 1919 he stressed that the two novelists ‘were men of far more than the common intensity of feeling, of passion’, and that it was ‘this intensity, precisely, and consequent discontent with the inevitable inadequacy of actual living to the passionate capacity, which drove them to art and to analysis’.20 In a review of Yeats’s father’s letters the previous year he had applauded the old man’s observation that poetry is ‘truth seen in passion’, and was particularly struck by his comment that ‘the poet does not seek to be original, but the truth’, a reflection, says Eliot, that ‘strikes through the tangle of literature direct to the subsoil of the greatest… Ordinary writers of verse… deal in imagination or in “ideas”; they escape from one to the other, but neither one nor the other or both together is truth in the sense of poetic truth. Only old ideas “part and parcel of the personality” are of use to the poet’. This, he adds, ‘is worth repeating to our American contemporaries who study Freud’.21 It would also have been worth repeating, apparently, to Henry Adams, an uncontemporary American too old to have read Freud, but whose life-long attempt at self-education failed according to Eliot because ‘he was unaware that education—the education of an individual—is a by-product of being interested, passionately absorbed’.22

Eliot also found Yeats’s attack on Wordsworth and Wordsworth’s influence of value. In May 1918 he himself complained in the Egoist of the inability of English commentators to criticize Wordsworth: although a poet ‘of assured though modest merits’, he was, Eliot reflected ruefully, one of those poets who ‘punish us from their graves with the annual scourge of the Georgian Anthology’.23

In the two years between this article on Per Amica and Eliot’s review of The Cutting of an Agate, something soured. Yeats’s ‘potent personal charm’ seemed to have worn thin and his ‘accent’ (now identified unequivocally as Irish) sounded a good deal more grating. In ‘A Foreign Mind’ ‘mutual illumination’ is at its very dimmest. Eliot conveys his distaste for Yeats through a combination of knowingness, racial prejudice, and assumed urbanity. The book under review was a collection of essays and observations in which Yeats traced his literary development over the preceding fifteen years and discussed in particular the influence upon him of the Japanese Noh drama and the life and death of John Synge. In this sense it is palpably less ‘esoteric’ than Per Amica but nonetheless Eliot’s tone has moved from benign bafflement to malign mystification: ‘The difference between his world and ours is so complete as to seem almost a physiological variety, different nerves and senses’.24 The argument of the review is centred on the attempt to fathom the alien nature of Yeats’s mind and suggests that if ‘we’ could reach any conclusions about him that ought to ‘illuminate our understanding of Irish Literature’. However, Yeats’s mind is found to be ‘independent of experience’ and so ‘different from ours’ as to elude interpretation. So, it seems, are his dreams: the dreams of even Blake and Poe are ‘continuous with normal mentality’, but ‘Mr. Yeats’s dream is identical with Mr. Yeats’s reality’. Eliot concludes that this remoteness is the product of a mind ‘extreme in egoism’ and thus ‘a little crude’, and that there ‘is something of this crudity, and much of this egoism, about what is called Irish Literature’. It is, he claims, also a feature of the work of James Joyce, which is crude but has powerful feeling: ‘the fault of Mr. Yeats’s is that it is crude without being powerful’. This weakness of Yeats’s prose Eliot finds similar to that of his verse and puts it down to the fact that ‘the objects upon which it is directed are not fixed’. Then, in a final sentence, he makes what in the context of the article is the astounding concession that it ‘must always be granted that in verse at least Mr. Yeats’s feeling is not simply crudeness and egoism, but that it has a positive, individual and permanent quality’.

This exaggerated insistence on the difference between Yeats’s mind and the world as it exists is underscored by Eliot’s repetition of second person plural pronouns. In most of his reviews of this period Eliot adopted a sparing editorial ‘we’, which usually articulated a position of neutral scepticism. In this article, however, the pronoun takes on a stable and normalising authority against which Yeats’s aberrations are to be measured. Thus ‘we are confirmed in the conviction’ that Yeats ‘is not “of this world”—this world, of course, being our visible planet with whatever our theology or myth may conceive as below or above it’. The editorial tone also adopts a complicit Englishness: ‘When an Englishman explores the mysteries of the Cabala, one knows one’s opinion of him, but Mr. Yeats on any subject is a cause of bewilderment and distress’.

This apparently authoritative and stable ‘we’ was a mask, and a mask which slips at significant junctures in the course of the article. The fact is that the article reveals less about Yeats than it does about Eliot, who was under intense emotional and physical stress at this time. At the end of June 1919 he confided to his mother that he had varicose veins and dental problems, and that for ‘the first two days of this week I was too tired to be good for anything. Then I did another review, which took two days’.25 It is tempting to imagine that that the recalcitrant review was the article on Yeats, but in any case, as his wife confided to a friend on 16 July, he was ‘full of nerves’ and ‘really not well’.26 His lack of worldly success was worrying him not only on his own account but also that of his family. In early January 1919 he had sent John Quinn a manuscript to place in America, explaining it was ‘all I have to show for my claim—it would go toward making my parents contented with conditions—and towards satisfying them that I have not made a mess of my life, as they are inclined to believe’.27 The very day after these words were written, on 7 January 1919, his father died thinking his son a failure.

This injected further anguish into his troubled state. Apart from his physical ailments, he was also at a point of decision and change. His lately widowed mother, as well as his former teachers, were pressing him yet again to return to America and, in weighing his inclination not to go back, he was obliged to analyse the consequences of remaining in England. Ironically, much of Eliot’s anxiety was caused by his own alien status and thus the very title of his review of Yeats is tendentious. For who, we may ask, was the more foreign—the subject, Yeats, whose primary address had been London for forty-four of his fifty-four years, or the reviewer, Eliot, who had lived in England for just on five years. Eliot was, moreover, intensely aware of his position as an outsider. The letters he wrote in 1914 and 1915, shortly after his arrival in London and Oxford, are, understandably, full of observations on the otherness of England, but, despite (or perhaps because of) his marriage, these feelings became more rather than less acute. In March 1917 he told one of his Harvard professors that he intended to write a book on the English who ‘are in fact very different from ourselves’.28 On 2 July 1919, just two days before the publication of ‘A Foreign Mind’, he described to his brother what it was like to live in England in terms that verge upon paranoia: ‘Don’t think that I find it easy to live over here. It is damned hard work to live with a foreign nation and cope with them—one is always coming up against differences of feeling that makes one feel humiliated and lonely. One remains always a foreigner… It is like being on dress parade—one can never relax. It is a great strain…. People are more aware of you, more critical, and they have no pity for one’s mistakes or stupidities… They are always intriguing and caballing; one must be very alert. They are sensitive, and easily become enemies’.29

But if Eliot was uncomfortable with the English—he told his Mother that trying to get recognized in English letters was like ‘breaking open a safe’30 (outsider now as outlaw)—he was even more uncomfortable with America and Fellow-Americans. America, he assured his brother, had no ‘understanding or respect for the individual. The gregariousness of the life appals me’. Whereas in England, he found, one could be oneself. What struck him about the Americans he met was ‘their immaturity of feeling, childishness’,31 and he told Quinn that England was an environment more favourable to the production of literature. If, then, both Yeats and Eliot are foreigners in London, there is this significant difference: Yeats had powerful ties to Ireland, where he was not only acknowledged as a national poet, but as a director of a successful theatre and a public figure whose pronouncements made news. Eliot, on the contrary, was trying to escape from America, which at this time he despised for its plebeian democracy and lack of cultural maturity.

But, as we have seen, for Eliot Yeats was a particular kind of foreigner: an Irish foreigner. And he had always had trouble with the Irish. As late as August 1921 he told Richard Aldington that Desmond MacCarthy was ‘of course an Irishman, that is to say he belongs to a race which I cannot understand’.32 In reviewing Pound’s translations of Japanese Noh plays in 1915 he applauds his echoes of Anglo-Saxon and Provencal. These, he says, give ‘added charm’, while the Celtic echoes, which Pound also introduces, are condemned as ‘offensive’. Quite why they are offensive rather than charming he does deign to reveal, but adds with faux magnanimity that he has ‘no prejudice against the Irish drama, although I think that a large part of its popularity is due to tricks of idiom, just as I suspect that the reputation of Irish girls for beauty is due to their being called “Colleens”’.33 A Bostonian Brahmin disdain for things Irish runs intermittently through Eliot’s criticism and letters at this time and we might remind ourselves that he even dubs the unlovely hero of a number of his early poems with the Hibernian patronymic ‘Sweeney’.

Given all this, does Eliot think it ever possible to accommodate to a different culture? Of course, since he himself is seeking just such an accommodation, he does, and he suggests in another review that for Henry James the ‘fact of being everywhere a foreigner was probably an assistance to his native wit’.34 But it is not James who provides the supreme example of the successful literary expatriate, but Ivan Turgenev, whom Eliot describes in an article of December 1917 as ‘in fact, a perfect example of the benefits of transplantation; there was nothing lost by it; he understood at once how to take Paris, how to make use of it’.35 Turgenev ‘knew how to maintain the role of foreigner with integrity’, a position that was for him ‘a source of authority, in addressing either Russian or European; authority but also isolation. He has a position which he literally made for himself…. It is not a position of popular appeal, as he neither aped French writing nor exploited the Russian backwater. He used Russian material naturally, with the simplicity of genius turning to what its feelings know best; he recognized, in practice at least, that a writer’s art must be racial—which means, in plain words, that it must be based on the accumulated sensations of the first twenty-one years. But he combined in the same highest degree the insight into the universal sameness of men and women with appreciation of the importance of their superficial variations. He saw these variations—the Russian variations—as the artist and not the showman’. Eliot seems to be marking out a job-description for his own ‘transplantation’ here, but if anyone currently in London had achieved what Eliot says Turgenev achieved in Paris, it was surely Yeats. One questions the term ‘backwater’ in relation to either Russia or Ireland (although at this period Eliot would certainly have thought it a just description of the United States), but his account of what Turgenev did with his ‘Russia material’ chimes closely with what Yeats was doing with his Irish resources. Eliot would certainly have rejected such a comparison at this time, being convinced that Yeats had spent his childhood and youth in England so that Ireland was in the nature of an enchanting holiday destination for him. As such Yeats’s experience perhaps offered itself (although he never quite says this) for a showman’s rather than an artist’s exploitation. Eliot is in the curiously paradoxical position of denying Yeats the entitlement to Irish ‘race’ since he believes he did not have ‘the accumulated sensations of the first twenty-one years’, and yet also wants to suggest that in him if anywhere we can come at an understanding of the ‘Irish mind’.

Yet it is not just, or even mainly, Yeats’s Irishness that distresses Eliot: it is his philosophical and theological heterodoxy. Significantly, he associates him with the ‘Fantastics’, a fifth-century heretical sect who, he reminds us, ‘held that the visible Jesus, who grew to manhood and mixed with mankind, was a phantasm; at a certain moment the son of God assumed by the banks of Jordan full-grown the similitude of humanity. He was not really incarnate, but divinely deceived the world… Mr. Yeats might be such a fantastic avatar… [and]… controversy might rage… about the question whether Mr. Yeats really feels and thinks, or whether the deception, if it is the case, is derogatory to his divinity’. No matter how tongue-in-cheek, this analogy has resonance, not only because Yeats himself was to address such questions about the physicality of Jesus in his plays Calvary and particularly Resurrection, but also because the mystery and possibility of Incarnation was a recurrent theme in Eliot’s poetry throughout his life. The allusion to the Fantastics comes from Book Five of The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, in which Gibbon discusses the various fifth-century heresies which centred on the actuality and meaning of the Incarnation. What particularly annoys Eliot—who had been for many years grappling with the philosophic grounds of reality and belief—is that Yeats seemed ‘in his disembodied way, to happen on thoughts, thoughts of ‘wisdom’, and if we are not convinced, it is because we do not see by what right he comes by them’.36 This suggestion that Yeats is cheating in his theological and philosophic thinking by taking illicit short cuts is as hostile as Eliot ever became towards with him.

That said, he continued to snipe over the coming months. In the course of review in the Athenaeum on 3 October 1919, he consigned Yeats to the third of the four generations of poets currently writing in English. These were ‘the middle-aged’, a category which, he ambiguously remarked, included ‘Mr. Yeats and a small number of honoured names’.37 Does the conjunction ‘and’ register inclusion in or exclusion from the ‘honoured names’? That it might be the latter is implied in Eliot’s review of Ezra Pound’s Quia Pauper Amavi, in the Athenaeum of 24 October 1919, where he remarked that what was ‘not dependent upon the assimilation of medieval literature’ in Pound’s early work ‘seemed to be slightly distorted by the influence of Mr. Yeats, although a more powerful intelligence than that of Mr. Yeats was visible. There was, of course, the much more beneficent influence of Browning’.38

Given these dismissive gestures, it is perplexing that Eliot in his elegiac lecture on Yeats should specify 1919 as the year in which his ‘enthusiasm had been won by the poetry of the older Yeats’, and opens up the possibility that his impertinencies of this year were an attempt to resist an enigmatic presence which loomed large and unignorable in London literary life. The attempt to disengage or at least belittle the sway Yeats exerted over his close and admired friend Ezra Pound (evident in his review of Quia Pauper Amavi above) may also be in part a displacement of the anxiety he felt more generally about the influence of Yeats. As early as the death of Swinburne in 1909 Yeats had declared himself now ‘King of the Cats’ and, although never a likely candidate for inclusion in Old Possum’s Book, he was over the ensuing decade increasingly regarded thus by influential critics and the Establishment, with unanimous election to the Royal Literary Society’s Academy of Letters, the award of a Civil List pension, and the offer of a knighthood.

What changed in 1919 was that Eliot came in out of the cold. He suddenly, to recall his own metaphor, cracked open the safe of London literary life. A couple of months after writing ‘A Foreign Mind’ he informed his mother that he had been asked to contribute to the Times Literary Supplement, which he extravagantly described (but he was writing to his Mom) as ‘the highest honour possible in the critical world of literature’,39 and a little later he was asked to be the English representative of a promising new American periodical, the Dial, and to elicit contributions from, among others, Yeats. He was also, partly through his wife, an honoured guest at Lady Ottoline Morrell’s Thursday evening receptions, and, he explained to his mother, ‘there has been a great deal of jealousy and excitement aroused among all the people who were not invited’.40 The publication of his influential book of essays, The Sacred Wood, in November 1920 further consolidated his literary presence and André Gide was to ask him to become London correspondent for the Nouvelle Revue Francaise.41 Most important of all, and despite a nervous breakdown, he was working on a long poem, The Waste Land, which he knew to be good, and entering into negotiations with Lady Rothermere to become editor of the Criterion.

His attitude towards the Irish—or at least towards certain Irishmen—softened. He had already begun reading Ulysses in the Little Review with growing admiration and in August 1920 met Joyce in Paris, when at Pound’s behest he embarrassedly presented him with a parcel containing a second-hand pair of boots. Neither Joyce nor his writings seemed any longer ‘crude’. Shortly after the meeting he told Sydney Schiff that Joyce was ‘a quiet but rather dogmatic man, and has… a sense of his own importance’ (i.e. he had balked at being patronized with a pair of old shoes). ‘He has a sort of gravity’, Eliot went on with a tell-tale distinction, ‘which seems more Protestant than Catholic. He is obviously the man who wrote his books—that is, he impresses you as an important enough personage for that’.42 Eliot’s admiration for Yeats grew partly as a consequence of his admiration for Joyce and particularly his admiration for the way Joyce was using myth.

Ellmann suggests that Yeats’s pursuits were in Eliot’s mind when he wrote in his poem ‘A Cooking Egg’: ‘I shall not want Pipit in Heaven: | Madame Blavatsky will instruct me | In the Seven Sacred Trances’, although Yeats’s transient interest in Madame Blavatsky had long since run its course. We might at first reading detect a similarly satirical purpose in the portrayal of Madame Sosostris in The Waste Land, but the relationship here is more complex. Ellmann reminds us that Madame Sosostris is ‘not made entirely a charlatan’,43 and it is significant that Jessie Weston, whose From Ritual to Romance provides a number of the most significant motifs in The Waste Land, introduced into the poem by Madame Sosostris, consulted Yeats in establishing the place of the Tarot cards in the mystical tradition. Eliot’s realization that he and Yeats had more in common in their use of mythology than he had perhaps supposed is registered in his famous defence of Ulysses, a book which had a declared influence on The Waste Land. Here Eliot establishes an almost apostolic succession of influence in which Yeats is the precursor. In ‘A Foreign Mind’ he had included Joyce with Yeats in what was a general critique of Irish literature as egotistical and crude. His reading of Ulysses and his immediate recognition of its contemporary significance forced him to reassess his wilful impatience with both Yeats and Irish writing. Although well known, the passage in which he publicly acknowledges Yeats’s importance bears re-quoting:

In using the myth, in manipulating a continuous parallel between contemporaneity and antiquity, Mr. Joyce is pursuing a method which others must pursue after him…. It is simply a way of controlling, of ordering, of giving a shape and a significance to the immense panorama of futility and anarchy which is contemporary history. It is a method already adumbrated by Mr. Yeats, and of the need for which I believe Mr. Yeats to have been the first contemporary to be conscious…. Psychology… ethnology, and The Golden Bough have concurred to make possible what was impossible even a few years ago. Instead of narrative method, we may now use the mythical method. It is, I seriously believe, a step toward making the modern world possible for art.44

Eliot’s jibes about gnomes and hobgoblins in Yeats’s work were now a thing of the past, and indeed by the time he wrote the review of Ulysses he had re-established social and literary contact with him. His appointment as editor of the Criterion in 1922 led him to contrive a meeting which turned out to be of mutual benefit. Eliot’s editorial policy, as he explained to a German correspondent, was to combine ‘those of the older generation who have any vitality and enterprise, with the more serious of the younger generation, no matter how advanced’.45 On 22 October 1922 he wrote to Ezra Pound that he would ‘be delighted to have a few poems of Yeats, but so far I have had to go on the principle of asking people whom for one reason or another I felt pretty sure of getting, and as Yeats does not particularly like me, I believe, there appeared no reason why he should consent if I wrote to him direct. Could you do anything in the matter?’ And he added ‘I think it is particularly important to reserve the verse contributions to the really first-rate people. For that reason I should very much like to get Yeats…. I do not think that the Criterion can afford to print verse, for the present at least, except by people who really know their job. Hence my desire to get hold of Yeats’.46 It is unlikely that Pound, who by now had moved to Paris, and who had in any case an ambiguous attitude to Eliot’s new venture, took any action, and the intermediary was not to be him but the Eliots’ new hostess Lady Ottoline Morrell, with whom Yeats stayed in November 1922. During that visit she evidently gave him a copy of The Sacred Wood, and also set up what turned out to be a very successful meeting between the two men in London on 3 December 1922, for which Eliot wrote to thank her:

I wired Yeats after hearing from you and consequently lunched with him…. I enjoyed seeing him immensely; I had not seen him for six or seven years and this was really the first time that I have ever talked to him for any length of time alone. He is really one of a very small number of people with whom one can talk profitably about poetry, and I found him altogether stimulating.47

Yeats in his turn had written to his wife immediately after the meeting, telling her that ‘Eliot has just lunched with me, & we have talked Joyce, poetry & the parallel dream for three hours’ (Yeats’s conversation still centring on psychical research apparently), and he went on: ‘I am charmed with Eliot & find that I have a reasonable liking for his “Sacred Wood”’ (CL InteLex 4229). The poetry they discussed evidently included Eliot’s own, for soon after the meeting he defiantly informed his brother Henry Eliot that he considered his ‘Sweeney poems as serious as anything I have ever written, in fact much more serious as well as more mature than the early poems but I do not know anybody who agrees with me on this point except Vivien and William Butler Yeats who have both said much the same thing about them’.48 Eliot also presented Yeats with a copy of the opening number of the Criterion, which contained the first printing of The Waste Land, since a couple of weeks later Yeats told him that he found the poem ‘very beautiful’ but added cautiously (and forgivably) that ‘here & there are passages I do not understand—four or five lines’ (CL InteLex 4264). Eliot was touchingly and even humbly grateful for Yeats’s kind words, replying on 21 January 1923 that is was ‘a very great satisfaction to me to know that you like The Waste Land. When it is brought out in this country in a month or two as a book, with notes, I shall send you a copy and hope to have at some time, either in conversation or by letter, a detailed statement of your criticism. It is quite possible that the passages ought to be repaired’.49 And he was just as delighted by Yeats’s offer to send an article for the Criterion, promising that he would do his best to include it in the next number ‘which in that case’, he added expansively, ‘will be the best number of the year’.50 He did in fact inscribe a copy of the first English edition of The Waste Land on 26 April 1923 to Yeats ‘in admiration of his work’ (YL 90).51

The poem genuinely intrigued Yeats, and that for at least two reasons. In the first place, it seemed to suggest a return in contemporary literature to concerns and themes that had animated the earlier work of the Irish literary revival. In his preface to The Cat and the Moon of 1924 (Eliot published the play itself as one of the ‘two good things’ in the July Criterion52), he told Lady Gregory that in certain recent Irish plays, including his and hers but not those of the realists, he detected ‘an odour, a breath, that suggests to me Indian or Japanese poems and legends…. something in Irish life so old that one can no longer say this is Europe, that is Asia’. This led him to speculate whether younger writers would ‘take up our theme again, urged thereto by some change in the world’s thought too subtle to be attributed to any book?’, and finds evidence that they might in that ‘the other day when I read that strange ‘Waste Land’ by Mr. T. C. [sic] Eliot I thought of your work and of Synge’s; and he is American born, and Englishman bred, and writes but of his own mind’ (VPl 1308).

Since Eliot was calling in The Waste Land upon the work of comparative mythologists well-known to Yeats, the similarities he detects grow out of the ‘mythical method’ as described by Eliot and are less mysterious than he wants to believe; nevertheless, he is correct in perceiving an affinity between himself and the apparently dissimilar Eliot. Nor was that affinity merely a shared interest in The Golden Bough and From Ritual to Romance: the detection of ‘a breath’ that suggested India, a breath that had stimulated both of them in their earlier years, was to bring the two closer together in Yeats’s final decade, when Eliot would authorize the publication of a series of Indian texts sponsored and introduced by him.

Yeats was also intrigued by The Waste Land because he was aware that Eliot was becoming influential among the young. His friend and patron, the Irish-American lawyer John Quinn, had written in July 1922 to inform him that in America ‘Eliotism is the fashion. Amy Lowell and a dozen others here are now imitating Eliot, just as fifteen or twenty years ago they imitated your poetry’ (LJQ, 287–8). This is the sort of news that a writer greets with mixed feelings, but in 1931 Yeats gained an insight into how younger Irish writers regarded Eliot when he read Thomas MacGreevy’s Thomas Stearns Eliot: A Study. To a great extent the views that MacGreevy, a poet and art critic whom Yeats himself had introduced to Eliot, reinforced his own: that Eliot was ‘a poet of undoubted genius’, but that much of his early poetry (‘Prufrock’ and ‘Rhapsody on a Windy Night’ are counted as exceptions) is satirical and often too arch and knowing; that Eliot ‘scarcely ever… finds something to write gratefully about’; and that what gaiety he has is a perverse ‘scoring off of life’.53 For MacGreevy The Waste Land was the apogee of Eliot’s work, and he argued that Ash Wednesday and the subsequent poems showed a falling off.

In thanking MacGreevy for a presentation copy of the book, Yeats assured him that he was ‘entirely delighted’ with it, finding in its writing a ‘momentum’ the want of which in ‘even the fine passages of Eliot always chills me, his words remain separate, each well-chosen and rightly placed but groups of words do not run together until they are a new single word…. A master of English, he insists upon speaking every word with the same care as if it were a foreign tongue’. Although he concedes that there are ‘other things in Eliot’, and that perhaps if he had The Waste Land beside him he ‘might have nothing but praise of him’, he feels that Eliot is trying, but failing, to write like Shakespeare ‘and his very effort makes him unlike, he is dancing among eggs’ (CL InteLex 5458). Yet he could not ignore the revolution that Eliot had wrought in poetry in English and the following year warned his friend Joseph Hone that in translating Mario Rossi’s essay on Berkeley from the Italian

‘sea’ should never become ‘ocean’ or ‘main’ or its ‘blue’ become ‘azure’ or a ‘wave’ a ‘billow’. If you were a poet not a prose writer you would not use these words because you would feal very acutely that we are in a frenzy of reaction against all the old conventions. I should have warned you that Elliot, who is himself the most typical figure of that reaction, would refuse the essay on that account. Think of his bare poetry (CL InteLex 5606).

Not for nothing does Eliot in Four Quartets identify a shared concern when he has his compound ghost tell him that ‘our concern was speech, and speech impelled us | To purify the dialect of the tribe’.54

The concern with language is also an important aspect of Eliot’s reappraisal of Yeats. He reread Yeats’s canon in 1933 in preparation for a course on ‘Contemporary English Literature’ he was giving at Harvard. In his notes he asked ‘Why deal with Yeats?’ and answered his own question with the observation that from ‘the late ’90s to what I call the Anglo-American movement, everything can be dealt with in relation to Yeats. His variety of interest, his resourcefulness and development’. He divided Yeats’s career into three phases: first the nineties, then the Irish Movement, and finally what he described as the ‘Post-Pound Period’; the first two stages he found of little interest, and insisted that Yeats’s influence began with the third—and to such an extent that, although Yeats had been born in 1865, Eliot regarded him ‘as my contemporary’. He was particularly concerned with Yeats’s theory of symbolism and with his image-making power; while speculating as to whether he was too deliberate in cultivating certain of his metaphors, he emphatically concluded that ‘Yes the great progress is in clarity and simplicity, in finesses of metre’.55 He also praised Yeats’s labours in the Abbey Theatre, both as a dramatist and as an administrator: ‘Fought for tolerance, civilisation, throughout’, his notes read, ‘Yeats kept the real spirit of the theatre alive. Whatever is going is in his debt. (Myself and Auden) Vital importance of theatre for the future’.56 Eliot himself had already tried to assist Yeats’s fight for ‘tolerance’ and ‘civilization’ in the Criterion of December 1928 by trenchantly supporting his opposition to the Irish Censorship Bill, backing given impetus both by his admiration for Yeats’s campaign and by his fear of the threat of a more insidious censorship in Britain.57 Eliot’s interest in Yeats’s contribution to the theatre was no doubt inspired by his own ambitions to become a dramatist, but may have been given a more immediate spur by a lecture on the Irish Theatre that Yeats delivered at Wellesley College on 8 December 1932, a narrative strand of which was the fight for ‘tolerance, civilization’ exemplified by the Abbey Theatre’s refusal to surrender its artistic independence and integrity in the face of onslaughts from both government censorship and nationalist propaganda.58 It is probable, but not certain, that Eliot, who was spending the year as Norton Professor at nearby Harvard, attended this lecture.59 He himself had given a poetry reading at Wellesley on 17 October 1932 at the invitation of Elizabeth Manwaring, a Professor of English there and the author of a well-regarded book on the influence of Italian landscape on eighteenth-century English culture. She had been given an introduction to Eliot by his brother-in-law when she visited England the previous summer, and had struck up a friendship with him and, significantly, with his wife Vivien, at a time when the marriage was in a state of terminal disintegration.60 It was the strength of that friendship (and the fact that she chose the poems he was to recite) which seems to have persuaded a very reluctant Eliot to read his own work at all, but once that ordeal, scheduled for the late afternoon, was over they enjoyed a pleasantly sociable evening with other members of the faculty. It is probable that over the course if the evening she mentioned Yeats’s impending visit and invited Eliot to attend both it and the dinner which preceded it,61 although the only evidence for this is an unattributed reference in Richard Ellmann’s Eminent Domain, where it is the occasion of an (also unattributed) anecdote which has achieved some currency as an example of the continuing discordance between the two men. According to this story, Yeats was seated next to Eliot at the dinner ‘but oblivious of him, conversed with the guest on the other side until late in the meal. He then turned and said, “My friend here and I have been discussing the defects of T. S. Eliot’s poetry. What do you think of that poetry?” Eliot held up his place card to excuse himself from the jury’. John Haffenden shrewdly dismisses this story as ‘surely apocryphal’, on the grounds that (as Eliot himself attested) Yeats was unfailing gracious to younger writers. It is also barely conceivable that Elizabeth Manwaring would not have mentioned Eliot’s presence to Yeats, or that Yeats, despite his poor eyesight, would not have recognized him at the pre-dinner reception. It is suspicious, too, that so scrupulous a scholar as Ellmann does not on this occasion give any source for his information, and one suspects that the temptation to open his chapter on Yeats and Eliot with the dinner anecdote (Eminent Domain, 89) must have been irresistible, supporting as it amusingly appears to do his thesis of their ‘long, languid incompatibility’. In fact, not only is there no corroboration of the story, but no firm evidence that Eliot did in fact visit Wellesley at all on Thursday, 8 December 1932.62

If Eliot’s admiration for Yeats’s poetry and drama had been rising steadily since 1919, their philosophic views, though far from ‘languid’, were still incompatible, and after Eliot’s conversion to Anglicanism in 1927 (he was, as it happens, received into the Church by William Force Stead, also a friend and frequent correspondent of Yeats) took on a theological inflection.63 This is most clearly felt in a series of lectures he gave in Virginia in April 1933, five months after their supposed meeting at Wellesley and subsequently published as After Strange Gods, which represent a significant misreading of Yeats, even if it is almost the opposite of the misreading advanced in ‘A Foreign Mind’. Now, so far from maintaining that ‘a peculiar Irish genius’, if it exists, ‘ought to be discovered in him’, Eliot suggests that Yeats’s association with Ireland was, initially at least, adventitious, indeed little more than a romantic enthusiasm. Since, Eliot claims, Yeats was brought up in London, Ireland was for him ‘rather a holiday country, to which its sentiment attached itself’. We might remind ourselves that Yeats did not merely holiday in Ireland, but was born there, spent a good deal of his childhood in Sligo and lived in Dublin for six years during his adolescence. His espousal of Irish themes and traditions, although a conscious decision, was thus not the casual sentimental choice that Eliot suggests.

As in ‘A Foreign Mind’, it is not Yeats’s position as an Irishman that is the main preoccupation in After Strange Gods, but his position as a theologian. Eliot takes a crucial text, the passage in Autobiographies quoted above, in which Yeats laments the deprivation of ‘the simple-minded religion of my childhood’, and concludes that by the age of sixteen he was taking up the Arnoldian idea that Poetry can replace Religion, ‘and also the tendency to fabricate an individual religion’.64 This was inaccurate: in the 1890s Yeats constantly refuted Arnold’s views on literature and religion with those of Blake, and so far from fabricating a private religion he was desperate to find traditional, if unorthodox, authority for his ‘religious’ sentiments. Eliot bolsters his argument by citing I. A. Richards’ contention that Yeats had surrendered himself to trance, to dissociated phases of consciousness, and that the revelations vouchsafed by these states were ‘insufficiently connected with normal experience’. He carries Richards’ remarks further, arguing that Yeats’s supernatural world was the ‘wrong supernatural world’: it was ‘not a world of spiritual significance, of real Good and Evil… but a highly sophisticated lower mythology’.65 This is a charge which, on these terms, could presumably be leveled at much of Eliot’s own pre-Conversion poetry, and not least The Waste Land. It also overlooks the profound change in Yeats’s thinking which caused him, as he himself put it, to get down ‘off his stilts’ in 1900. If his early writings are concerned with an attempt to elude evil in the quest for an Edenic unity, shortly after the turn of the twentieth century a poem like ‘Adam’s Curse’ (as its title suggests), and aphorisms such as ‘we begin to live when we conceive life as a tragedy’ (Au 188; CW3 163) indicate a realization that the earthly paradise was unobtainable, that after such knowledge forgiveness does not come easily. Something of this Eliot concedes in his concluding sentences, where he adopts a more conciliatory, if inadequately concessionary, tone: ‘he has arrived at greatness against the greatest odds; if he has not arrived at a central and universal philosophy he has at least discarded, for the most part, the trifling and eccentric, the provincial in time and place’.66

For various reasons Eliot never allowed After Strange Gods to be republished, and there is evidence that in the years following its appearance he amplified his view of Yeats’s poetry, revised his ideas on Yeats’s relationship with Ireland and tempered his views on Yeats’s heterodoxy by accepting its correspondence with Indian philosophy. His new appreciation of Yeats’s position in contemporary literary life seems to have been a product of his Harvard lectures on ‘Contemporary English Literature’, and were succinctly stated his commemoration of Yeats’s seventieth birthday in the Criterion of July 1935. Here Eliot addresses the long perplexity of Yeats’s Irish ethnicity and rethinks it in terms of his developing ideas of centre and periphery, a notion which he was to amplify in Towards a Definition of Culture, and which, in turn, has affinities with his theory of tradition and individual talent. Just as he regarded tradition as depending for its continuing vigour on the vitality of individual talent, which in its part is schooled by that tradition, so a vibrant culture depends on its centre being reinvigorated, but not overwhelmed, by its more diverse edges. Thus, even when he was devoting an overwhelming amount of his time and energy to the theatre in Ireland, ‘Mr. Yeats in Dublin performed as great a service to English literature, and belonged as much to it, as Mr. Yeats in London’, and this because, Eliot believed, ‘the future vitality of English literature will depend very much upon the vitality of its parts, and their influence upon each other’. He went on to argue that this diversity was ‘not a petty question of employing one’s native Doric, which is merely a nuisance’, nor was it ‘a question of being sentimental about the old homestead and the landscapes of childhood’, the very attributes he had hitherto detected in early Yeats and which caused him to deny Synge ‘universality’. Now, however, he is able to accommodate and welcome Yeats’s Irish identity because it is an enriching part of his English identity. What is essentially Irish about Yeats is, Eliot confesses, ‘impossible fully to define’, but it is ‘most effectually expressed through rhythm’, and is ‘something which can best be expressed, and most successfully maintained, through poetry’. Crucially in Eliot’s definition of culture, the centre must hold, and Yeats work has contributed effectively to that. In his ‘literary Nationalism therefore’ (Eliot does not distinguish other forms of nationalism, nor ponder their possible relationship with literature), ‘Mr. Yeats has performed a great service to the English language’. And, ironically, Eliot sees the chief element in this service as his chastening of language, a feature Yeats’s had persistently, if not always approvingly, thought pre-eminent in Eliot’s own poetry. In his ‘latest and greatest period’, Eliot insisted, Yeats ‘has tended to divest itself of the more superfluous stage properties of Ireland, and is perhaps all the more Irish for being unaffectedly so. There is a rhythm, an intonation, a way of making the simplest statement in the fewest and barest words, which belong to Mr. Yeats and to no one else’. This has produced a paradoxical situation in which his ‘influence upon English poetry has been great and beneficial; upon Irish poetry it seems to me to have been almost disastrous’. A paradox for Yeats and perhaps for literary historians, but not for Eliot: on the contrary, it is ‘just what you should expect’. Those poets who can have a beneficial influence on contemporary English (or Irish) literature must either be ‘considerably removed in time’ or current writers ‘from outside’. Given this, Irish poets ‘must shift for themselves’, since ‘no nation owes its great poets a debt of gratitude for their influence upon their immediate successors’, but England’s gratitude to the outsider Yeats ‘is without this reservation, for his influence, wherever apparent, has been wholly salutary’.67 The ‘Foreign Mind’ has, it seems, been entirely naturalized.

Eliot’s new sympathy with Yeats also extended to his philosophic interests and in his capacity as a publisher he gave him enabling assistance with three books on Indian thought. Both men had long been fascinated by Indian philosophy, although Eliot’s approach had been more academically rigorous. The fascination was fuelled by the increasing importance of comparative mythology which found in Sanskrit (as in the Celtic languages) important insights to Indo-European languages and early European culture.

Yeats had in part been introduced to eastern thought by A. P. Sinnett’s Esoteric Buddhism, which led him to help found the Hermetic Society in Dublin and to become associated with, but never actually join, the Dublin Theosophical Society. His interest in the East was focused when he met the young chela Mohini Chatterjee, who accompanied Madam Blavatsky to Europe in 1884, and was invited to Dublin by Yeats and his friends in 1885. As Yeats recalled, it was his ‘first meeting with a philosophy that confirmed my vague speculations and seemed at once logical and boundless’ (Au, 91–92). At the age of only twenty-seven Chatterjee, although a Brahmin, was hardly a seasoned Sanskrit scholar and, as P. S. Sri has argued, distorted the Vedanta though an interpretation coloured by Theosophy and Walter Pater (YA11 61–76). Nor was Yeats’s allegiance to Theosophy as committed as that of his friends George Russell and Charles Johnston. Although he frequented Madame Blavatsky’s London Lodge, he had fundamental doubts about her hidden Mahatmas, as about her manipulation of psychic phenomena, and he complained to John O’Leary that she and her followers were ‘turning a good philosophy into a bad religeon’ (CL1, 234). It was not until the early 1930s that he began to make a more concentrated study of the ‘good philosophy’ of the East.

Eliot’s study had been systematic from the beginning. Harvard was at the forefront of the study of Indian philosophy and from 1911–13 he took classes with two internationally renowned scholars. With Charles Lanman he learned Sanskrit and Pali, and read The Bhagavad Gita and the sacred texts of Buddhism. James Woods, another leading Orientalist and a particular advocate of Eliot, taught him ‘Philosophical Sanskrit’, which included the study of Yoga System and Patanjali’s Sutras (upon which Woods was currently writing a scholarly commentary). Yet, although his study was more academic, Eliot’s purpose in pursuing Indic studies was close to that of Yeats, and his attitude towards Indian thought and religion more receptive and sympathetic than that of his professors, who never doubted the superiority of the Western over the Eastern tradition. Like Yeats, he was ready to see connections between Eastern and Western thought. The Fire Sermon section of The Waste Land draws upon both Buddhist and Christian sources, while the poem ends with a triple invocation in Sanskrit taken from the ‘Fable of the Jungle’ in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, ‘Datta, Dayadhvam, Damyata’, and concludes with the repeated ‘Shantih’, ‘a formal ending to an Upanishad’, compared to which, Eliot’s notes assure us, ‘“The Peace which passeth understanding” is a feeble translation’.68 These allusions at once discourage an overtly Christian interpretation of the poem, invited by its quotations from St Augustine, and its settings in Gethsemane and Emmaus, and also universalise its theme of quest. Krishna’s injunctions to Arjuna on the field of battle, cited in the third part of The Dry Salvages, also serve to broaden the reach of a more avowedly Christian poem, and Krishna’s sentiments also inform Eliot’s 1943 poem ‘To the Indians who died in Africa’, dedicated to men who fought on a real as opposed to mythological battlefield.

The Indian allusions in Eliot’s work are a form of parallelism, which extend his poems’ philosophical implications beyond the Western tradition, but they remain predicated upon that tradition. For Yeats India held out more radical possibilities, nothing less than the promise of achieving the revolution in Western consciousness he had ardently sought in the 1890s. In his Introduction to The Ten Principal Upanishads in 1937 he recalled that in his youth

we talked much of tradition, and those emotional young men, Francis Thompson, Lionel Johnson, John Gray, found it in Christianity. But now that The Golden Bough has made Christianity look modern and fragmentary we study Confucius with Ezra Pound, or like T. S. Eliot find in Christianity a convenient symbolism for some older or newer thought… Shree Purohit Swami and I offer to some young man seeking… vast sentiments and generalisations, the oldest philosophical compositions of the world’.69

Two years earlier, in his essay, ‘The Mandookya Upanishad’, published by Eliot in the Criterion, he had likened the transformation experienced by the Indian pilgrim to the acquisition of Unity of Being: ‘The initiate, all old Karma exhausted, is “the Human Form Divine” of Blake, that Unity of Being Dante compared to a perfectly proportioned human body’ (E&I 483). As in his preface to The Cat and the Moon, he continued to count Eliot as part of this movement, arguing in his Introduction to The Ten Principal Upanishads that between 1922 and 1925 ‘English literature, wherever most intense, cast off its preoccupation with social problems and began to create myths like those of antiquity, and to ask the most profound questions. I recall poems by T. S. Eliot, Those Barren Leaves by Aldous Huxley, where there is a Buddhistic hatred of life, or a hatred Schopenhauer did not so much find in as deduce from a Latin translation of a Persian translation of the Upanishads’.70

The spur to Yeats’s new interest in India was Sri Purohit Swami, who, after years as an itinerant monk, had arrived in London at the end of February 1931, eager to prepare his version of the The Bhagadavad Gita for publication. Thomas Sturge Moore, whom he met that April, helped him in this task and also introduced him to WBY, who urged him to write an autobiography. He immediately set to work, but Moore was now too busy to assist him, as, initially, was Yeats (who assured AE that, in any case, his preoccupations were ‘Greek not Indian’71). This stance altered dramatically when he read the first few chapters in manuscript early in 1932; they so ‘overwhelmed’ him that he volunteered to write an Introduction and pressed the ‘masterpiece’ on his own publisher, Macmillan. An Indian Monk appeared in October 1932, whereupon the Swami and Yeats turned their attention to the account of a spiritual journey by his friend and ‘Master’ Bhagwān Sri Hamsa, a book which also significantly deepened Yeats’s absorption with India and for which he also offered to write a preface. He explained to Olivia Shakespear in October 1933 that his ‘essay on The Tibetan Travels of his Master with the Swami… has taken me two months at least’, but had ‘grown to have great importance in my scheme of things’ (CL InteLex 5458). Unfortunately, An Indian Monk had not sold as well as hoped and, notwithstanding Yeats’s forceful advocacy, Macmillan refused to commit themselves to another book by the same author. Finding a replacement publisher proved difficult until Yeats, making the most of his friendly relations with Eliot, lobbied him to take it, and on 20 January 1934, after what seem to have been drawn-out deliberations within the firm, he was able to inform Shri Purohit that he just received ‘an answer & a most satisfactory answer from Faber & Faber’ (CL InteLex 5996), who estimated that the book would ‘not have a large sale but will continue to sell for a long time’ (CL InteLex 5998). From now on Eliot became an important factor in the collaboration between Yeats and the Swami. There is evidence that he himself was not entirely convinced by the Swami’s reliability or scholarship, but in the light of Yeats’s enthusiasm and support, and his own interest in Indian thought, he was willing to disregard his scruples.

Indeed, he unwittingly did much to keep the collaboration going. It is evident that by the spring of 1934 Yeats, in ill-health and with major projects of his own in hand, was trying to disengage from the Swami. His Introduction to The Holy Mountain had taken far more time and effort than he had anticipated, as did the correction of the manuscript and of the proofs which he was currently reading. He refused to accept the Presidency of the London Institute of Indian Mysticism, set up by the Swami’s British followers to promulgate his teachings, informing him on 21 May that ‘as I have edited those two books, you have already what support my name can give you’, and advising him ‘to make somebody ‘president’ who can bring you new support, or serve you the better for the honour. I wish you all good luck’ (CL InteLex 6046). But the Swami’s good luck depended very largely on Yeats’s continuing support and he was not so easily to be shaken off. He was now eager to publish his translation of The Bhagadavad Gita, and had begun work on the Upanishads. In early August, just as The Holy Mountain was reaching the bookshops, he had a long interview with Eliot, possibly set up by Yeats so that he no longer had to act as a go-between. He reported back that Eliot had ‘said he was very much interested in my mission and promised to do his best’, adding that Eliot ‘immensely liked your essay in the “Criterion”, and wished you could write more. I think he will write to you’.72

Eliot did write, to ask Yeats to contribute an introduction to the Swami’s version of the Gita but Yeats instantly passed the buck back to him: ‘All I could do for the Swami book’, he insisted,

is write a couple of pages taking some one point. I gave three months to my essay for ‘The Holy-Mountain’ but now I am writing against time to keep my sister’s press going. His work wants one or other of two things, or both of them, to introduce it. One of those things is a scholourly introduction by a learned orientalist…. The other thing (suplement or substitute) in a few words by some man of letters (not me; my bolt is shot). You have studied Indian philosophy a few words from you would vouch for him to a modern audience I cannot reach. It would be a mistake to send him forth again as my God-child. Perhaps somebody could show how his sacred texts are related to ours, his movement to our movements’ (CL InteLex 6076).

Eliot declined the honour of introducing The Geeta, and, after failing to persuade the Swami to send the book to George Allen & Unwin, commissioned a preface from His Highness Sir Sayaji Gaekwar, the reformist Maharaja of Baroda, a powerful political and social figure, but for this assignment perhaps no substitute for a major poet.

Part of Yeats’s reasons for refusing to write an Introduction was, as he says, the pressure of other work, but it was also because that text did not engage his imagination in the way that the Swami and Hamsa books had. The Upanishads, the ancient Sanskrit treatises, expounding and elaborating the scriptures of the Vedas in mystical terms, were more compelling, and a few days after the publication of The Holy Mountain and his long talk with Eliot, the Swami sent Yeats some typed translations of them. In thanking him on 29 August Yeats wished he ‘had asked you to include in ‘The Holy Mountain’ a translation of Mandukya Upanishad as your master heard the supernatural voice singing it’ (CL InteLex 6091), and the Swami took him up on this. In October Yeats called on Eliot and agreed to write a prefatory article for the Swami’s version of the Upanishad to appear in the Criterion. Publication was delayed by two serious bouts of ill-health Yeats suffered in the late winter and mid spring of 1935 and did not appear until July. By that time, he and the Swami had made plans to collaborate on a translation of all the major Upanishads and, helped by Gwyneth Foden, with whom the Swami enjoyed, and later did not at all enjoy, an ambiguous relationship, arranged to avoid the rigours of a British winter by working on the project in warm and sunny Majorca.

They evidently hoped that Faber & Faber would publish the volume when completed, but Eliot, who had been eager for Yeats to introduce The Geeta, was more circumspect about the Upanishads, even with the association of his name, and Yeats had to use a good deal of ingenuity to keep him sympathetic. He astutely turned a less than warm review of The Geeta in the Spectator (which wondered ‘why this translation was made, when there are so many other vivider and no less accurate versions’73), to his advantage by firing off a letter to Eliot, dismissing it as ‘silly’ and enclosing two letters—almost certainly solicited—from his friend Frank Sturm, ‘a fine scholour in English & other tongues’, as he assured Eliot, ecstatically praising the Swami as a translator (CL InteLex 6330). The gambit worked and two weeks later, in thanking Sturm for the letters, Yeats revealed that Eliot had ‘said they were “a great encouragement”’ (CL InteLex 6343).

Not, however, encouraging enough to coax Eliot off the fence and the Swami, Yeats and Mrs Foden set out for Majorca in late November 1935 still without a contract. Work on the translations was seriously delayed when Yeats suffered a life-threatening collapse caused by nephritis and a heart problem which triggered serious difficulties in his breathing. The success of the project was threatened in different way when the Swami and Mrs Foden had a blazing row. She flounced back to London and in the early summer he returned to India. When, after a long recuperation, Yeats was well enough to take a ship home he found that Mrs Foden was trying to sabotage the edition of Upanishads by blackening the Swami’s reputation, particularly at Fabers. As he complained to Dorothy Wellesley in June 1936, her latest effort had been to call on Richard de la Mare, one of the publishers at Fabers who was responsible for seeing the Swami’s books though the press, to

tell him that the Swami did not know Sanskrit but had translated the Upanishads from the vernacular & that he is not a Swami. Then she wrote to T. S. Elliot hinting that a homo-sexual scandal—or so my informant understood T. S. Elliot to say—might overwhelm the Swami at any moment. The object is to scare Faber & Faber so that they may reject our translation (CL InteLex 6594).

He found himself in the delicate position of refuting Mrs Foden’s malicious allegations at the same time as trying to close a deal over publication with Eliot. In early July 1936 he sought out a pretext to give Eliot a gentle nudge:

I dont know if you have come to any conclusion yet about the Upanishads, and I dont want to hurry you. I write to make the suggestion that if you accept you might care to have (say) one of the minor Upanishads, or some part of a[n] Upanishad, given by an appendix with the Sanscrit words and the ancient music which accompanies it (CL InteLex 6604).

Eliot took the hint and within days of receiving the letter formally accepted the book, later entitled The Ten Principal Upanishads. The translations were a collaborative effort and without Eliot’s admiration for Yeats and his work it is unlikely that he would have contracted this, or perhaps any of the Swami’s books. This was certainly true of the last book the Swami published with him, a translation of Patanjali’s Aphorisms of Yoga. Since one of his favourite Harvard professors, James Wood, had written what was universally considered the definitive scholarly edition of Patanjali, Eliot was suspicious of the Swami’s less rigorous treatment and accepted it, as Yeats revealed, only ‘subject to my writing a preface’ (CL InteLex 6915). Eliot also sounded him out as to whether he had had any hand in the translations, and he was obliged to confess that ‘Yes I had something to do with the general character of his book & did some revision of text’ (CL InteLex 6916). He exacted revenge for Eliot’s doubts in his Introduction with a light tilt at the famous poet who had commissioned it, when, using information he must have got in conversation with Eliot himself, he insisted upon the superiority of imaginative translation over academic exactitude. ‘Some years ago’, he began,

I bought The Yoga-System of Patanjali, translated and edited by James Horton Woods and published by the Harvard Press. It is the standard edition, final, impeccable in scholastic eyes, even in the eyes of a famous poet and student of Samskrit [sic], who used it as a dictionary. But then the poet was at his university, but lately out of school, had not learned to hate all scholar’s cant and class-room slang, nor was he an old man in a hurry.74

Yeats’s old man’s hurry was one of the things about him that most impressed Eliot. Another was his career as a dramatist and theatre administrator, and, as we have seen, he counted himself and Auden ‘in his debt’ for keeping ‘the real spirit of the theatre alive’. In the autumn of 1934 Yeats and Eliot combined with Auden and others in a practical project to keep this real spirit alive by setting up the Group Theatre. Yeats, as he explained to the actress Margot Collis, was particularly pleased to have Eliot in the scheme ‘because he represents a movement that has grown all over the world and is strong at the Universities. It seeks modernness in language and metaphor and helps us to get rid of what Rossetti called “soulless self reflections of man’s skill” but it does throw out the baby with the bath-water’ (LMR27). Among the organisational and artistic problems that prevented the initiative developing quite as planned was the production of Eliot’s Murder in the Cathedral, which had been commissioned by Canterbury Cathedral and therefore could not be fitted into the London programme. Reading the script forced Yeats to reconsider his persistent accusation that Eliot’s language was plain and monotonous: it was, he reported to his wife in April 1935, ‘no play but magnificent speach’, and few days later elaborated on this: ‘Elliots play is about the murder of Becket, half play half religeous service as spoken poetry exceedingly impressive…. It will require magnificent speaking, its oratory is swift & powerful’ (CL InteLex 6225). That September, and back in Dublin, he attended a lecture on the play at the Abbey Theatre, given by Martin Browne, with recitations by Robert Speaight, reporting to Eliot that it was all so moving that the audience called for more and that he would ‘like to get up a performance here but do not know if it is possible. I will discuss it with the Abbey board’ (CL InteLex 6330).

More frequent meetings to discuss Group Theatre policy led a warmer friendship. Although Yeats’s cantankerousness sometimes made Eliot want to kick him down the stairs, he came away from a lunch with him in October 1934, as he told Ottoline Morrell, with an increased liking and admiration for the old poet.75 These sentiments led him to contribute towards the present of a Rossetti drawing to mark Yeats’s seventieth birthday, an occasion he also celebrated with a generous tribute in the Criterion, where he asserted unequivocally that Yeats ‘has been and is the greatest poet of his time’, and that he could ‘think of no poet, not even among the very greatest, who has shown a longer period of development than Yeats…. Development to this extent is not merely genius, it is character; and it sets a standard which his juniors should seek to emulate, without hoping to equal’.76

Notwithstanding this, and his delight in Murder in the Cathedral, the question of why Eliot’s poetry commanded such a following continued to puzzle Yeats, and arose again when, early in 1935, he began work on an anthology, The Oxford Book of Modern Verse, divulging to Olivia Shakespear that the problem he had set himself was ‘“how far do I like the Ezra, Elliot, Auden school & if I do not why not?” Then this further problem “why do the younger generation like it so much? What do they see or hope?”’ (CL InteLex 6191). Although he took advice from Eliot on the selection of American material for the book, his assessment of his poetry disappointingly reverted to what it had always been. He ignored the ‘magnificent language’ of Murder in the Cathedral: while he mentions this play and The Waste Land in his introduction, he does not select passages from either of them in the book itself. Nor does he print anything from ‘Prufrock’, ‘Gerontion’, or ‘Ash Wednesday’. Indeed, the majority of the poems he chooses are early works, wilfully selected to enforce his view of Eliot (re-enforced by his reading of MacGreevy, which they echo closely) that Eliot was a satirist, writing in scorn of the limitations of the modern world, and in this sense negative in style and approach. This had certainly been the more general view of Eliot fifteen years before, a fact that Eliot himself bemoaned in a letter to his brother of 15 February 1920: ‘even here I am considered by the ordinary Newspaper critic as a Wit or satirist’.77 By 1935 this perception had significantly changed—but not it seems in the case of Yeats. The poems representing Eliot’s later style and manner are represented only by ‘The Journey of the Magi’ (a theme that Yeats had also handled in both poetry and prose, and which register their preoccupation with, and different approaches to, Incarnation), and a very brief extract from ‘The Rock’. By contrast, most of the poems Yeats printed from his own work were very recent—the earliest dated from 1914, but the large majority were taken from The Winding Stair which had only been published in 1933. In restating his view of Eliot as a satirist, Yeats, who had recently accused him of trying to write like Shakespeare, now compared him to Pope:

Eliot has produced his great effect upon his generation because he has described men and women that get out of bed or into it from mere habit; in describing this life that has lost heart his own art seems grey, cold, dry. He is an Alexander Pope, working without apparent imagination, producing his effects by a rejection of all rhythms and metaphors used by the more popular romantics rather than by the discovery of his own, this rejection giving his work an unexaggerated plainness that has the effect of novelty.

Even in The Waste Land, in which Yeats admits there is ‘much that is moving in symbol and imagery’, there is also ‘much monotony of accent’. And in considering the influence of religion in enriching Eliot’s emotional life and latest poetry, Yeats argues that ‘his religion… lacks all strong emotion; a New England Protestant by descent, there is little self-surrender in his personal relation to God and the soul’ (OBMV xxi-xxii; CW5 191–92). In spite of this robust, not to say partial, criticism, Yeats was eager to remain on good terms with Eliot and when on 1 November 1936 the Observer alleged that in his introduction to the Oxford Book he had preferred Cecil Day Lewis and Louis MacNeice to Eliot, he wrote at once to him that he had ‘done nothing of the kind’ (CL InteLex 6704).

The very reception of his Anthology, especially the attacks on it by the then Communist Stephen Spender over his omission of the War Poets, provided him to his satisfaction with the answer he was looking for as to Eliot’s appeal, as he announced in ‘Modern Poetry’, a radio programme broadcasted by the BBC in October 1936. Here Eliot, ‘the most revolutionary man in poetry during my lifetime’, is seen as the first and most powerful voice to register the disillusion of the War and the years entre les deux guerres: ‘No romantic word or sound, nothing reminiscent… could be permitted henceforth. Poetry must resemble prose, and both must accept the vocabulary of their time; nor must there be any special subject-matter…. The past had deceived us: let us accept the worthless present’ (E&I 499; CW5 95).

Had he lived, Yeats might have been obliged to revise this view, but he died before Eliot published Four Quartets, his last major poem (although he did read Burnt Norton). Four Quartets is a poem that owes a good deal to Yeats, who had complained in The Oxford Book of Modern Verse that there was ‘little self-surrender’ in Eliot’s ‘personal relation to God and the soul’. This cannot be said of Four Quartets, which is perhaps the most directly personal of Eliot’s poems, and one in which the necessity of selflessness and self-surrender is a recurrent theme, as is the articulation of a personal relationship with God and the soul. The courage to adopt this new manner for so fastidious and intentionally impersonal a poet as Eliot seems to have derived in great measure from Yeats, and it is quite possible that Yeats’s criticism had spurred him to this mode. Moreover, the ‘unattended moments’ of the poem, those crucial ‘hints followed by guesses’ that may make possible some consciousness of the infinite, seem in concept and description to owe something to Yeats’s account of the ascetic’s experiences in ‘Initiation on a Mountain’, an essay which Eliot had published in the Criterion in July 1934:

Nor is supernormal sense confined to the moments of concentration; he will suddenly smell amid the ordinary occupations of life, perhaps in the middle of winter, an odour of spring flowers, or have an unimaginable sense of physical well-being that is described as a transformation of the sense of touch, or meet in empty places melodious sound, or a fine sight’ (E&I 464).

In The Dry Salvages Eliot describes

…the unattended

Moment, the moment in and out of time,

The distraction fit, lost in a shaft of sunlight,

The wild thyme unseen, or the winter lightning

Or the waterfall, or music heard so deeply

That it is not heard at all, but you are the music

While the music lasts.78

But the posthumous presence of Yeats is more palpable than this, for he constitutes the chief component of the ‘familiar compound ghost’ whom, in Little Gidding, Eliot accosts during the London blitz. Even if we do not identify Yeats from the poem (and it is difficult not to), Eliot makes it clear in various drafts that it was Yeats he had in mind, although he took pains to avoid a too obvious identification. Originally he had thought of modelling the revenant on Ser Brunetto from Canto XV of Dante’s Inferno, but as he wrote on he had to get rid of Brunetto since

the visionary figure has now become somewhat more definite and will no doubt be identified by some readers with Yeats…. However, I do not wish to take the responsibility of putting Yeats or anybody else into Hell and I do not want to impute to him the particular vice which took Bruno there’.79

This is a remarkable passage in Modernist literature: one great poet summons up another to question him about the value of a life not merely dedicated to poetry but the value of life itself. (Yeats had done something similar, but not identical, in interrogating Red Hanrahan, one of his own creations, in ‘The Tower’.) The answers are uncompromising and uttered in a language and tone far from the ‘unexaggerated plainness’ of which Yeats had accused him

‘Let me disclose the gifts reserved for age
To set a crown upon your lifetime’s effort.
First, the cold friction of expiring sense

Without enchantment, offering no promise
But bitter tastelessness of shadow fruit
As body and soul begin to fall asunder.

Second, the conscious impotence of rage
At human folly, and the laceration
Of laughter at what ceases to amuse.

And last, the rending pain of re-enactment
Of all that you have done, and been; the shame
Of motives late revealed, and the awareness

Of things ill done and done to others’ harm
Which once you took for exercise of virtue.
Then fools’ approval stings, and honour stains.

From wrong to wrong the exasperated spirit
Proceeds, unless restored by that refining fire
Where you must move in measure, like a dancer’.80

Helen Gardner argues that Eliot found in Yeats a voice he echoed with a difference. He thought of Yeats as the poet of middle age and she lists the many references to middle age in Four Quartets, suggesting that the line in the poem about old men’s ‘fear of fear and frenzy’ is an echo of ‘Grant me an old man’s frenzy’ in ‘An Acre of Grass’. But in this, as in other late poems, Yeats does not fear fear and embraces frenzy as an agency of imagination and self-knowledge. It was for this, more than his poems of middle age, that Eliot most praised him. In fact, at this period, which alas constituted the effective end of his own creative career, Eliot seems almost obsessed with Yeats’s extraordinary capacity for self-renewal and change over a lifetime. In his Dublin Lecture of June 1940 he extolled him for ‘exceptional honesty and courage to face… change’, and picked out his poem ‘The Spur’ as a powerful example of this. He also discussed his play Purgatory and, although differing theologically from Yeats, was almost certainly thinking of this in giving Little Gidding its purgatorial ambiance. Typically, he asserts, older poets are reduced to mimicking their early work, or leaving their passion behind, or succumbing to the worst temptation of all: ‘that of becoming dignified, of becoming public figures with only a public existence—coat-racks hung with decorations and distinctions, doing, saying, and even thinking and feeling only what they believe the public expects of them. Yeats was not that kind of poet’.81 It is a Yeatsian capacity for perpetual reappraisal that the familiar compound ghost Little Gidding insists is the key to human experience, reaffirming what Eliot by now already knows

the pattern is new in every moment

And every moment is a new and shocking

Valuation of all we have been.82

In conclusion we may note that the strategically important appearance of Yeats in Four Quartets, the care which Eliot took there in appropriating Yeats’s voice, which was not his own voice, together with the number of earlier examples of Yeats and Eliot defining their own poetic methods and ideas against those of the other, greatly complicates and modifies Ezra Pound’s ‘benevolent speculation… as to whether the two poets ‘neglected to develop a mutual illumination’. There was ‘insemination’ at important points in their careers and Eliot, towards the end of his writing life, certainly found an ‘illumination’ in the example and practice of Yeats, an illumination which had its effect on Four Quartets.

But are we entitled to ask why that illumination did not do more for Eliot? Yeats is the great example for him of a poet who goes on, year after year, remaking himself and his art. Yet Eliot himself conspicuously failed to do this and for the last two decades of his life the poetry dried up, though not of course the prose writings on culture, religion, and society. It would be unfair to categorize this Eliot in his own terms as becoming merely ‘dignified’, one of those ‘public figures with only a public existence—coat-racks hung with decorations and distinctions’. Eliot did not say merely what the public expected of him, but he did acquire a public gravitas—not for nothing was he dubbed ‘the Pope of Russell Square’. Yeats—and perhaps we come back to his favourite punctuation, the question mark—never managed to acquire this sort of certainty, and it is his intellectual and emotional restlessness which animates and charges the poetry he continued to write even on his deathbed. In a note written late in January 1929, he recorded that he disliked the word ‘belief’, and went on: ‘We, even more than Eliot, require tradition and though it may include much that is his, it is not a belief or submission, but exposition of intellectual needs… I feel as neither Eliot nor Ezra do the need of old forms, old situations that, as when I re-create some early poem of my own, I may escape from scepticism’.83 For scepticism not belief is Yeats’s default position, or, as he put it in Per Amica: ‘We make out of the quarrel with others, rhetoric, but of the quarrel with ourselves, poetry’.84

1 This sixth annual UCC W. B. Yeats Lecture was delivered on 30 April, 2008 as ‘A “Mutual Illumination”? W. B. Yeats and T. S. Eliot’. When delivered, it began with a tribute to ‘that renaissance man Eamonn Cantwell [who] spent the first part of his life bringing physical light to Ireland in the ESB and the second part intellectual light in his work on Yeats and his generous bequest to the National University, Cork, of his superb Yeats library’.

2 Ezra Pound to George Yeats, 21 Nov 1957 (Private).

3 Eliot ‘Ulysses, Order, and Myth’, the Dial, LXXV, 1923, 480-83; Yeats, ‘Blood and the Moon’ (VP 481).

4 Ezra Pound and Dorothy Shakespear; their letters 1910–1914, ed. Omar Pound and A. Walton Litz (London: Faber & Faber, 1985), v.

5 ‘The First Annual Yeats Lecture’, delivered to the Friends of the Irish Academy at the Abbey Theatre, Dublin, 30 June 1940, in On Poetry and Poets (London: Faber & Faber, 1957), 252.

6 The Letters of T. S. Eliot, Volume I: 1898–1922, eds. Valerie Eliot and Hugh Haughton (London: Faber & Faber, 2009), 103. Hereafter TSE, Letters I.

7 TSE, Letters I, 185–86.

8 Richard Ellmann, Eminent Domain (New York: Oxford University Press, 1967), 90. It is significant that the chapter on Yeats and Eliot is by far the shortest in this excellent study of Yeats’s encounters with five major contemporaries.

9 T. S. Eliot, Collected Poems and Plays (London: Faber & Faber, 1969), 62. Hereafter TSE, Collected Poems and Plays.

10 George S. Fraser, ‘W. B. Yeats and T. S. Eliot’, in Neville Braybrooke (ed.), T. S. Eliot: A Symposium (London: Hart-Davis, 1958), 196–216.

11 Collected Poems and Plays, 186, 197.

12 T. S. Eliot, Inventions of the March Hare: Poems 1909–1917, ed. Christopher Ricks (London: Faber & Faber, 1996), 53.

13 Lyndall Gordon, Eliot’s Early Years (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977), 50.

14 Knowledge and Experience in the Philosophy of F. H. Bradley (London: Faber & Faber, 1964), 143, 165.

15 Reviews of Mens Creatia by William Temple, International Journal of Ethics (July 1917), 542–43; Religion and Philosophy by R. G. Collingwood, International Journal of Ethics (July 1917), 543.

16 Review of Per Amica Silentia Lunae by W. B. Yeats, Egoist (June-July 1918), 87.

17 Ibid.

18 Review of Consciousness and Christ: Six Lectures on Christian Ethics by Hastings Rashdall, International Journal of Ethics (October 1916), 112.

19 Review of Reflections on Violence by Georges Sorel, Monist (July 1917), 478–79.

20 ‘Beyle and Balzac’, review of A History of the French Novel to the Close of the Nineteenth Century by George Saintsbury, Vol. II: Athenaeum (30 May 1919), 392–93.

21 ‘The Letters of J. B. Yeats’, review of Passages from the letters of John Butler Yeats, selected by Ezra Pound, Egoist (July 1917), 89.

22 ‘A Sceptical Patrician’, review of The Education of Henry Adams: An Autobiography, Athenaeum (23 May 1919), 361–62.

23 ‘Observations’, review of Others, an Anthology of the New Verse, ed. Alfred Kreymborg, Egoist (May 1918), 69–70.

24 ‘A Foreign Mind’, review of The Cutting of an Agate by W. B. Yeats, Athenaeum (4 July 1919), 552–53.

25 TSE, Letters I, 367.

26 Ibid., 381.

27 Ibid., 315.

28 Ibid., 188.

29 Ibid., 370.

30 Ibid., 476.

31 Ibid., 370.

32 Ibid., 574.

33 ‘The Noh and the Image’, review of Noh, or Accomplishment by Ernest Fenollosa and Ezra Pound, Egoist, August 1917, 102–03.

34 In Memory of Henry James’, Egoist, January 1918, 1–2.

35 Review of Edward Garnett’s Turgenev, Egoist (December 1917), 167.

36 ‘A Foreign Mind’, 553.

37 ‘Murmuring of Innumerable Bees’, review of Coterie: An Illustrated Quarterly, Athenaeum (3 October 1919), 972.

38 ‘The Method of Mr. Pound’, review of Quia Pauper Amavi by Ezra Pound, Athenaeum, 24 October 1919, 1065–66.

39 TSE, Letters I, 404.

40 Ibid., 437.

41 Ibid., 610–11.

42 Ibid., 494.

43 Eminent Domain, 91.

44 ‘Ulysses, Order, and Myth’, op. cit., 480-83.

45 TSE, Letters I, 710.

46 Ibid., 766–67.

47 Ibid., 806.

48 TSE, Letters I, 803.

49 The Letters of T. S. Eliot, Vol. II: 1923–1925, eds. Valerie Eliot and Hugh Haughton (London: Faber & Faber, 2009), 22. Hereafter TSE, Letters II.

50 Ibid.

51 Eliot in fact slightly ‘repaired’ this version in ink, correcting ‘A crowd flowed under London Bridge’ to ‘over London Bridge’ (7); ‘In which sad light a coloured dolphin’ to ‘a carvèn dolphin’ (9); and in the notes altering the publisher of From Ritual to Romance from ‘Macmillan’ to ‘Cambridge’ (29). Since WBY already had the Criterion printing of the poem, he left most of the pages of this presentation copy uncut.

52 TSE, Letters II, 383.

53 Thomas MacGreevy [also McGreevy], Thomas Stearns Eliot: A Study (London: Chatto & Windus, 1931), 1, 24, 27.

54 TSE, Collected Poems and Plays, 194.

55 TSE notes, Harvard. I am very grateful to Ron Bush for drawing these to my attention.

56 Ibid.

57 ‘The Censorship and Ireland’, Criterion, December 1928, 185–87.

58 Yeats gave the lecture under the auspices of the Barnswallows Drama Association, which had mounted a production of The Land of Heart’s Desire in Wellesley just over a month before. A somewhat garbled anonymous account of the talk in the Wellesley College News reports Yeats as saying that the early productions of the Irish dramatic movement ‘were felt by the authorities to be a public menace’, that The Playboy of the Western World ‘had to be acted under police protection, but the Theatre finally won a victory over public opposition’ and that since then ‘many new writers have added to the repertoire of the Irish Players, but none of the plays touches on propaganda, and they are all founded on a passionate desire for service to country’.

59 See frontispiece. It is not clear just where in the Boston region or at what function this photograph was taken.

60 Elizabeth Wheeler Manwaring (1879–1949), had been educated at Wellesley College and returned to teach there, becoming Professor of English and Head of Department. Her acclaimed Italian Landscape in Eighteen-Century England, ‘a study chiefly of the influence of Claude Lorrain and Salvator Rosa on English taste, 1700–1800’, had appeared in 1925.

61 Elizabeth Manwaring was generally attentive in extending invitations to Eliot. She also arranged an outing with him to a recital by Jan Paderewski on 30 October 1932, and she invited him to dine with her in February 1933, ‘a great pleasure’ to which he looked forward ‘with keen anticipation’. On 28 February 1933 Eliot presented her with an inscribed copy of The Swiss Family Robinson. On her visit to England in the summer of 1933 she pleased him by generously offering to visit the estranged and partly deranged Vivien, although she was recalled to the USA by the sudden illness of a colleague before this could done. She was one of the three American correspondents to whom Vivien wrote in early 1934, when she belatedly realised how terminal the separation from Eliot really was (see The Letters of T. S. Eliot, Vol. 6: 1932–1933, edited by Valerie Eliot and John Haffenden, 15, 466, 479, 544, 602, 633, 640 n.).

62 James F. Loucks in his article ‘The Exile’s Return’ (ANQ, Spring 1996), giving the date of the encounter as ‘November’ 1932, cites Ellmann as his source (17), and no mention of Eliot’s attendance appears in the Wellesley College News or in Eliot’s letters at this time. However, given the proximity of Wellesley, the availability of his sister, Ada Sheffield, and her husband in providing transport, his friendship with Elizabeth Manwaring, and his respect for Yeats, it is probable that he did make the journey from Harvard, although it would have meant a fairly tight schedule since he held a regular weekly At Home for his students and acquaintances on Wednesday afternoons, and he was due to deliver the fourth of his Norton Lectures, ‘Wordsworth and Coleridge’, on Friday, 9 December.

63 See David Bradshaw, ‘“Oxford Poets”: Yeats. T. S. Eliot and William Force Stead’, YA19 77–102.

64 After Strange Gods: A Primer of Modern Heresy (London: Faber & Faber, 1934), 44.

65 Ibid., 45–46.

66 Ibid., 47.

67 ‘A Commentary’, Criterion (July 1935), 611–13.

68 T. S. Eliot. The Waste Land: A Facsimile and Transcript of the Original Drafts, ed. Valerie Eliot (London, Faber & Faber, 1971), 149.

69 The Ten Principal Upanishads, put into English by Shree Purohit Swami and W. B. Yeats (London: Faber & Faber, 1937), 10.

70 Ibid., 9.

71 WBY letter to George Russell (AE), 29 Oct 1931; CL InteLex 5533.

72 Sri Purohit Swami to WBY, 1 Aug 1934 (NLI). The essay was ‘Initiation on a Mountain’, published in Criterion (July 1934).

73 ‘The Geeta’, Spectator (30 August 1935), 336.

74 Aphorisms of Yoga by Bhagwān Shree Patanjali; done into English from the original in Samskrit [sic] with a commentary by Shree Purohit Swami (1938), 2.

75 See Robert Medley, ‘The Group Theatre 1932–9’, London Magazine (January 1981), 47ff.

76 Criterion (June 1935), 612–13.

77 TSE, Letters I, 441.

78 TSE, Collected Poems and Plays, 190.

79 Quoted in Helen Gardner, The Composition of ‘Four Quartets’ (London: Faber & Faber, 1978), 176.

80 TSE, Collected Poems and Plays, 194–45.

81 On Poetry and Poets, 257.

82 TSE, Collected Poems and Plays, 179.

83 Quoted in Richard Ellmann’s The Identity of Yeats (London: Faber & Faber, 1964), 240.

84 Myth 331.