Romance in Ireland
September 8, 2013 3:32 PM   Subscribe

One hundred years ago today, W.B. Yeats published one of his best known poems, September 1913, as a letter to the Irish Times.

The poem was a response to a long-running argument [vid, 4.25] over whether Dublin Municipal Corporation should fund a permanent location for a bequest of modern art from the collector Hugh Lane [vid, 2.38]. Objections were made on economic and moral grounds, by what Yeats called "the mob" [PDF].

It was also written against the background of the Dublin Lockout, which saw bitter class conflict erupt between Dublin's rising trade unions and the capitalist employers. The piece stood as an attack on what Yeats saw as the pettiness of bourgeois materialism, and the betrayal of Ireland's revolutionary past.

Together with the Lockout, its centenary marks the first wave of a decade of commemorations for 1912 - 1923, the most turbulent years of modern Irish history. Century Ireland is a website funded by RTÉ, the national broadcaster, reporting on the events of that era in real-time.

***

- Read the original publication in the Irish Times archive, and its original accompanying editorial. Some annotations.

- Hear WB Yeats read his poem (with a slightly disturbing visual attached).

- Listen to RTÉ's six-part radio documentary on the Dublin Lockout here. (The publication of the poem is covered in episode two).

***

The Hugh Lane Gallery (eventually installed in 1933) is running an exhibition on the links between the Dublin Lockout and the Gallery dispute until February 2014. Admission, as always, is free.
posted by rollick (7 comments total) 28 users marked this as a favorite

 
Awesome post. Can't wait to dive in later!
posted by nevercalm at 3:54 PM on September 8, 2013


The piece stood as an attack on what Yeats saw as the pettiness of bourgeois materialism, and the betrayal of Ireland's revolutionary past.

It's also a reminder of Yeats's aristocratic distaste for the Irish middle class. I don't know what his views were on the Lockout itself but you'd be hard pressed to find him in agreement with either James Larkin on the side of the unions or William Martin Murphy on the side of the employers.

When I studied Yeats in Irish secondary school, it was treated almost as one half of a pair, the other poem being Easter 1916 (link to Poetry Foundation). It was written after the 1916 Easter Rising and looks at times almost like an apology for his earlier scorn of the middle class, as well as showing some ambivalence about getting the return to revolutionary tradition he'd hoped for.
Reading it now, they do benefit for being read together but it seems to me that the observation of class has almost vanished between September 1913 and Easter 1916 and that his focus is entirely on romantic nationalism (and whether it's what Yeats had expected).

Might be reaching a bit here but you can see a similar thing happen in Irish historiography around and after independence. James Conolly, an important socialist figure and ally of James Larkin in 1913, was executed for his participation in the Easter Rising but after independence, he was rather sidelined compared to (seemingly) purely nationalist figures like Patrick Pearse. Class struggle didn't fit into the narrative of independence you got later.
As I said, might be looking at art imitating life where it's just superficial, so Yeats scholars and Irish historians correct me!
posted by ocular shenanigans at 4:55 PM on September 8, 2013 [5 favorites]


Fascinating post - had never heard of the Dublin Lockout. And so that's how "Les Parapluies" wound up in the Nat? A classically complex Irish tale...
posted by speug at 4:58 PM on September 8, 2013


I decided recently that I really need to read more Yeats...if it's not too much of a derail, pointers to a good critical edition or collection would be most appreciated.
posted by jquinby at 6:09 PM on September 8, 2013


The Dublin Lockout was world news when it happened. Now even few Irish people really know about the era.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 9:44 PM on September 8, 2013


The Dublin Lockout was world news when it happened. Now even few Irish people really know about the era.

It would be challenging for anyone in Dublin this year not to know, to be honest – there's been furore about closing O'Connell Street for the commemoration (I suspect this is everyone warming up for 2016), a bridge named for 1913 union activist Rosie Hackett), a ton of exhibitions ranging from a tenement recreation to photography, along with the usual commemorative stamps and that. It's being marked pretty effectively from what I can see.

Anyone interested in stories well told about social, cultural, counter-cultural, and politics in Dublin history might really enjoy the blog Come Here To Me!, by the way.
posted by carbide at 6:59 AM on September 9, 2013


When I studied Yeats in Irish secondary school, it was treated almost as one half of a pair, the other poem being Easter 1916.[...]

Yes, I was coming in to say exactly this. For me, Easter 1916 is the more powerful poem, shot through as it is with uncertainty and the sense of being caught up in a historical tide, as opposed to September 1913 which has, as mentioned, an aloof and somewhat pat perspective and pronouncement.

Still, it's really hard to read Easter 1916 without being caught up in the frankly absurd and interminable drama between Yeats and Maud Gonne, and I always have the suspicion that the "terrible beauty" which is born is in some respects the revival of Yeats' designs on Gonne following her husband's execution. Poets, man, we're pretty fucked up as a race.
posted by Errant at 10:42 AM on September 10, 2013


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