Chapter

White Woman That Passion Has Worn: Olivia Shakespear

Joseph M. Hassett

in W.B. Yeats and the Muses

Published in print July 2010 | ISBN: 9780199582907
Published online September 2010 | e-ISBN: 9780191723216 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199582907.003.0002
White Woman That Passion Has Worn: Olivia Shakespear

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Chapter 1 shows that some of the best poems in Yeats's first great collection, The Wind Among the Reeds (1899), were written to Olivia Shakespear, his first lover, and reflect his association of Shakespear with the White Goddess. For example, He Remembers Forgotten Beauty, read in light of Yeats's discussion of the moon as symbol in his essays on Shelley and Spenser, suggests that when the poet hears ‘White Beauty sighing too’ in the sighs of his lover, he is hearing the loveliness of the White Goddess [t]hat has long faded from the world’. However, Shakespear did not conform to the rubric of the Muse as a stern mistress who cannot be possessed. Yeats too readily won her, and thus lost her as Muse. Rather than exhibiting the unattainability that caused Petrarch to speak of Laura as his beloved enemy, Shakespear was, as Yeats said in Memoirs, too near my soul, too salutary and wholesome to my inmost being. The book shows that, although Yeats forsook Shakepear to pursue other Muses, she dominates his beautiful encomium to ‘Three women that have wrought/What joy is in my days.’ After a long hiatus, she returned to Yeats's poetry as the subject of his great celebration of love as friendship, ‘After Long Silence.’

Keywords: Olivia Shakespear; He remembers forgotten beauty; friends; Love as friendship; After long silence

Chapter.  9832 words. 

Subjects: Literary Studies (Poetry and Poets)

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