The Living Beauty: Iseult Gonne

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:
The Living Beauty: Iseult Gonne

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Yeats's conversations with Maud Gonne's daughter, Iseult, during the summer of 1916 inform the intriguing essay on poetic creativity that he wrote while wrestling with the idea that Iseult might succeed her mother as Muse. In the essay, called Per Amica Silentia Lunae, he says that he seeks inspiration by ‘invit[ing] a marmorean Muse,’ thus invoking the image in the accompanying poem, ‘Ego Dominus Tuus,’ of Dante setting his chisel to the hardest stone and hungering for ‘the apple on the bough/Most out of reach.’ Yeats asks whether advancing age requires that he continue his quest for an unattainable Muse: ‘A poet, when he is growing old, will ask himself if he cannot keep his mask and his vision without new bitterness, new disappointment.’ He concludes that there is no alternative to the ‘bitter crust’ of unrequited pursuit of the Muse — a conclusion fraught with peril because it suggested that, in order to retain his access to poetic inspiration, he needed to relive his unsatisfied quest for Maud Gonne in uncanny pursuit of her daughter. Chapter 4 examines the way in which Iseult Gonne accelerated Yeats's career when it threatened to stall upon his abandonment of her mother as Muse. Iseult, the pupil as Muse, helped Yeats formulate his alternative to Freud's theories of the role of desire and sublimation in creativity. Her presence, ideas, and her own poetry profoundly influenced Yeats's work during this critical period. Yeats proposed marriage to Iseult in September 1917. She declined, but seemed unwilling to let him go completely. The prospect of a second generation of pursuing the unattainable was unnerving. Almost immediately, Yeats decided to marry George Hyde‐Lees, a young woman to whom Olivia Shakespear had introduced him a few years earlier.

Keywords: Iseult Gonne; Freud; Per amica silentia lunae; Ego dominus tuus; presences; desire and creativity; sublimation

Chapter.  11638 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Literary Studies (Poetry and Poets)

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