In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Paterian Aesthetics in Yeats’ Drama F. C. McGrath The pervasiveness of Walter Pater’s influence on English letters in the 1890’s is canonical fact. Yeats and his friends in the Rhymers’ Club had looked to Pater as the greatest contem­ porary prose stylist, and they had been infatuated with his philosophy of the flux. Like many literary styles in the nineties, Yeats’ early experiments, such as “Rosa Alchemica” and The Shadowy Waters, were imitations of Pater’s florid, languorous cadences. Partly as a result of his early stylistic failures, Yeats, with the help of the rigorous demands imposed by writing for the stage, began during the next decade to forge a new style that led to the lean, sinewy power of his mature verse. Writing plays gave Yeats’ verse vigor, concreteness, and a sense of structure, and consequently brought it out of the “cloud and foam” of the Celtic Twilight and his 1890’s aestheticism. It has long been a critical commonplace that Yeats’ experience as a dramatist had a substantial impact on his later poetry, but what has not been recognized is that Pater played an even greater role in shaping the dramatic ideals that informed Yeats’ new style than he had in influencing his earlier style. When Yeats went to Stratfordon -Avon in April of 1901 to study Shakespeare as part of his preparation to become a serious dramatist, he again turned to Pater for philosophy; only this time he was assessing not the philosophy of the flux but Pater’s philosophy of aesthetic form, and not the accidentals of his style but the essence of his thought. As the revisions to On Baile’s Strand and the develop­ ment of Yeats’ dramatic theory after 1901 indicate, Yeats’ new style resulted not merely from a fusion of his early Paterian lyricism with a new interest in dramatic action and simplicity;! rather his new dramatic aesthetic was an expansion and refine­ ment of a somewhat vague notion of lyricism into a more pre­ cise and profoundly Paterian concept of lyric unity. Moreover, 33 34 Comparative Drama the direction of Yeats’ subsequent refinements in his drama continue inexorably toward perfecting Pater’s lyric ideal. Far from leaving Pater behind in the nineties, Yeats was not so much transcending his aesthetic philosophy as arriving at a deeper understanding of it and discovering its true meaning for himself. We cannot ignore, however, the very significant differences between Yeats and Pater. Yeats’ vision of reality was substan­ tially broader than Pater’s: it encompassed a spiritual universe in addition to the material, intellectual, and emotional. But once this difference is granted, Yeats’ affinities with Pater become clearer. Even though Yeats says, “nothing is an isolated artistic moment; there is unity everywhere,” if we grant the metaphysical chasm, Pater’s statements on intense personal experience and “life as the end of life” are appropriate to Yeats as well; and Yeats’ writings during the time when his theory of drama was developing reveal that his broader metaphysical vision is not exclusive of Pater’s but inclusive of it. Although Paterian in conception, Yeats’ ideal of lyric unity was not subject to the general neo-Kantian limitations of Pater’s vision; for Yeats not only incorporated it into his drama and poetry, but also ex­ tended its scope and application to his spiritual-aesthetic vision of reality. The apparent difference between Yeats’ new and old styles and the tendency of his critics to emphasize the distinc­ tions between him and Pater have obscured how Yeats incor­ porated Pater into his mature theory and practice; hence many have been led to misunderstand Pater’s influence on one of his most successful disciples, for through Yeats’ drama Pater’s aes­ thetic subtly found its way into Yeats’poetry and into the literary sensibility of the twentieth century. Prior to his Stratford visit, Yeats’ dramatic theory was in­ choate. Most of his comments were either in praise of symbolist drama, such as Axel, which had a strong influence on his own Shadowy Waters, or critical of realist drama.2 The earliest statements suggesting the course his own drama would take, however, were exaggerated encomiums of the plays of...


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 33-48
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.