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YEATS’S POEMS WRITTEN IN DISCOURAGEMENT, 1912–1913: THE POLITICS OF CULTURE ANTHONY BRADLEY in the course of an evening’s conversation with John Quinn during his American tour of 1920, W. B. Yeats wondered why the volume Responsibilities was not more evident in American bookstores and among the books presented to him at readings and lectures for his autograph. Quinn jokingly told him that the book had not sold well because of its title, which “reminds one of marriage or babies or high rents, but most of all income taxes,” and proposed that Yeats remedy the problem simply by changing the book’s title to Irresponsibilities. Also, he thought that some of Yeats’s American readers might regret the passing of romantic Ireland lamented in “September 1913”: “Some of the romantic ladies object to such a poem as ‘Romantic Ireland’s Dead and Gone’.”1 Quinn’s facetiousness and brash opinions did not amuse Yeats, although he forebore to correct Quinn’s renaming of “September 1913.” There is an element of truth in Quinn’s observations, however, in that Responsibilities engages the actual social and political world in a way that was new for Yeats, and that disappointed those of his readers who preferred the dream-haunted early volumes to the realism and irony and even bitterness that characterized Responsibilities. But “September 1913” is one of Yeats’s most memorable and frequently anthologized poems even if, like Quinn, one tends to remember the refrain before one remembers the title, or the occasion for the poem. And the title of the poem is so chronologically speciWc that it seems to indicate a very particular occasion for the poem, which the poem itself does not identify. We need to refer to notes and commentaries on Yeats’s poems to be reminded that the poem was inspired YEATS’S POEMS WRITTEN IN DISCOURAGEMENT, 1912–1913 103 1 Richard Londraville, ed., “John Quinn’s ‘An Evening in New York with W. B. Yeats,’” in Yeats Annual No. 6, ed. Warwick Gould (London: Macmillan, 1988), p. 180. by the controversy over the Lane pictures and the matter of Wnding a suitable gallery for them in Dublin. Yet, few or none of these notes and commentaries indicate what may have happened in September, 1913, and more importantly, in a volume dedicated to acknowledging a variety of responsibilities , the poem largely conceals its own origins. Lady Gregory’s nephew, Sir Hugh Lane, promised to give his collection of thirty-nine Impressionist paintings by Renoir, Manet, Degas, and others to Dublin, if a suitable gallery were built to house them. To cut a long, complicated, and painful story short, the Dublin Corporation Wnally refused in September, 1913, to built the gallery Lane had set his heart on— a gallery which would have spanned the LiVey, inspired by the UYzi Gallery in Florence—and rejected his choice of architect Sir Edwin Lutyens because Lutyens was not Irish enough (only his mother was Irish). In many cases, the reasons given for saying no to the conditions Lane had laid down probably masked the real reasons for opposing the building of a new art gallery. Many middle-class Dubliners were no doubt simply opposed to paying for the gallery in their taxes at all; but some rationalized their opposition by contending that the paintings were not worth as much as Lane’s supporters claimed they were; or that the paintings were dangerously decadent and modern; or that Lane was only interested in acquiring a monument to himself at the expense of Dublin taxpayers; or that he was somehow going to make money out of the gallery; or that they were opposed to the site because anything precious in a gallery over the LiVey would go mouldy from the eZuvia of the river—not to mention the smell that would aZict the gallery. The source of the opposition, more likely, was middle-class nationalist resentment of Lane because of his AngloIrish origins, because he was identiWable with Lady Gregory, Yeats, and Synge—with what seemed to middle-class Catholic nationalists a Protestant clique that had undertaken to deWne and manage Ireland’s culture. And painting in Ireland was, more than writing...


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