Yeats on ‘supreme art’

William Butler Yeats

‘Supreme art is a traditional statement of certain heroic and religious truths, passed on from age to age, modified by individual genius, but never abandoned. The revolt of individualism came because the tradition had become degraded, or rather because a spurious copy had been accepted in its stead’.

– William Butler Yeats

… and a poem – ‘The Fascination of What’s Difficult’ – from The Collected Poems of W. B. Yeats (1989):

The fascination of what’s difficult
Has dried the sap out of my veins, and rent
Spontaneous joy and natural content
Out of my heart. There’s something ails our colt
That must, as if it had not holy blood
Nor on Olympus leaped from cloud to cloud,
Shiver under the lash, strain, sweat and jolt
As though it dragged road metal. My curse on plays
That have to be set up in fifty ways,
On the day’s war with every knave and dolt,
Theatre business, management of men.
I swear before the dawn comes round again
I’ll find the stable and pull out the bolt.

‘The Second Coming’, by W. B. Yeats

W.B. Yeats on his deathbed, 1939 by Georgie Hyde-LeesTurning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

– W. B. Yeats, ‘The Second Coming’, in The Collected Works of W. B. Yeats, Vol. 1: The Poems (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996), 187.

[Notes: Penned 1919, in the aftermath of WWI, ‘The Second Coming’ was originally titled ‘The Second Birth’. The image, taken by Yeats’s wife Georgie Hyde-Lees, depicts Yeats on his deathbed in 1939.]