- The Wild Swans at Coole: A Facsimile Edition ed. by George Bornstein
W. B. Yeats’ The Wild Swans at Coole: A Facsimile Edition, with introduction and notes by George Bornstein, is the third in a trilogy of facsimile editions. Richard Finneran initiated this project with Scribner in 2004 with Yeats’ The Tower (1928), then in 2011 Bornstein edited The Winding Stair and Other Poems (1933), and now Bornstein concludes with the first in order of original publication, The Wild Swans at Coole (1919). Bornstein’s contributions to Yeats scholarship, in particular his study of the material production of Yeats’ collections, are well known, and this edition provides readers with a concise history of the production of the book and Yeats’ design collaboration with T. Sturgis Moore. He also provides brief, explanatory annotations that gloss passages and provide documentary evidence for creative sources.
Before enjoying this edition, a useful kind of preface would be Born-stein’s Material Modernism (Cambridge University Press, 2001) and his own essay on the Winding Stair edition, “Facsimiles and their Limits: The New Edition of Yeats’s The Winding Stair and Other Poems”. They both outline reasons to study the material production of modernist works and what we miss by not seeing how poems appeared in their initial publication. In the article especially, Bornstein lays bare the impossible feat of trying to create a replica of an original edition through facsimile: “a facsimile nowadays is not merely an effort to transcribe out of an original, but to reproduce as many material features of the original as possible. As such, it is doomed to failure, or more kindly to partial success. Yes, a facsimile can use the same size of the same font, it can use the same size paper, it can even reproduce layout and cover design, but some features will always elude it — for instance, paper stock, binding, feel, or weight” (Bornstein 2011, 92).
Such “partial successes” appear in this edition of Coole. For example, compared to the first edition, the paper quality of the new one is inferior, the cover lacks the luster of the original, and the back cover’s marketing copy is misleading: “This facsimile of the 1919 edition presents the reader with the work in its original form, the way Yeats himself would have seen it in the early twentieth century”. The “original form” can never be replicated in terms of using exactly the same materials. Types of paper, ink, and cover materials no longer exist or likely exceeded the budget for this new edition. What it does give us, though, is Yeats’ arrangement of the poems, the original layout, and a representation of the Moore cover design that [End Page 151] Yeats commissioned. Here is Bornstein’s description of the Yeats-Moore collaboration, the symbolic elements on the cover and the care given to the design of the interior pages: “Stamped in gold on a blue background, the new cover featured a swan in a circle at the top looking down and the top half of a swan at the bottom, both in flight. They thus reinforced the prominence of the title poem of the book, and at the same time enacted one of Yeats’s favorite dichotomies of up/down, or ‘as above, so below’. The interior layout stressed the formal integrity of each poem, beginning each on a new page, even if that required an unusual amount of white space” (xx).
The original presentation order of the poems can provide revelatory readings of some verses. You may be familiar with poems such as “The Wild Swans at Coole” and “Men Improve with the Years” through having read them in newly edited anthologies. If so, you might not have connected lines such as “Their hearts have not grown old” in the title poem and “But I grow old among dreams” in “Men Improve with the Years”. In the original edition these appear close together, alongside “O heart, we are old” in “The Living Beauty” and “That...