W. B. Yeats

. . . with the help of the Japanese plays ‘translated by Ernest Fenollosa and finished by Ezra Pound,’ I have invented a form of drama distinguished, indirect, and symbolic, and having no need of mob or Press to pay its way—an aristocratic form.

W. B. Yeats, ‘Certain Noble Plays of Japan’ (BL11)

from The Dreaming of the Bones (1919)

Young Man. I have heard of angry ghosts
Who wander in a wilful solitude.

Young Girl. These have no thought but love; nor any joy
But that upon the instant when their penance
Draws to its height, and when two hearts are wrung
Nearest to breaking, if hearts of shadows break,
His eyes can mix with hers; nor any pang
That is so bitter as that double glance,
Being accursed.

Young Man. But what is this strange penance—
That when their eyes have met can wring them most?

Young Girl. Though eyes can meet, their lips can never meet.

Young Man. And yet it seems they wander side by side.
But doubtless you would say that when lips meet
And have not living nerves, it is no meeting.

Young Girl. Although they have no blood, or living nerves,
Who once lay warm and live the live-long night
In one another’s arms, and know their part
In life, being now but of the people of dreams,
Is a dream’s part; although they are but shadows,
Hovering between a thorn-tree and a stone,
Who have heaped up night on wingéd night; although
No shade however harried and consumed
Who change his own calamity for theirs,
Their manner of life were blessed could their lips
A moment meet; but when he has bent his head
Close to her head, or hand would slip in hand,
The memory of their crime flows up between
And drives them apart.




For an overview of Yeats’s Japanese interests see W. B. Yeats, Certain Noble Plays, and Japan in the Bibliography. The Dreaming of the Bones (BL14a) appeared first in Yeats’s Two Plays for Dancers (BL14).

Among more than a hundred Yeats titles in print are many collected editions of his poems and drama. These include the Macmillan Variorum Edition of the Poems of W. B. Yeats (available in the UK here, the US here), Variorum Edition of the Plays of W. B. Yeats (in the UK here), Poems of W. B. Yeats (in the UK here), and The Plays (in the UK here), along with the Oxford World Classics Major Works, Including Poems, Plays, and Critical Prose (in the UK here, the US here), the Vintage Collected Poems (in the UK here, the US here), the Everymans Library Poems (in the UK here), the Prentice Hall / Scribner Collected Poems of W. B. Yeats (in the UK here, the US here), the Picador Collected Poems (in the UK here), the Pheonix The Poems (in the UK here), the Wordsworth Editions Complete Poems of W. B. Yeats (in the UK here), and the Papermac Collected Plays (in the UK here).




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