BL. W. B. Yeats: Primary Materials

1. ‘The Ainu’. Review of Life with Trans-Siberian Savages, by Douglas Howard. Speaker, 7 October 1893.

    Reprinted in Uncollected Prose, vol. 1.  

Important parts of Yeats’s mature concerns are anticipated in his first published consideration of a Japanese subject, in which he takes the Ainu of Sakhalin to be representative of ‘primitive peoples’ and finds much to admire. As later he equates the ontology of the nô with that of Swedenborg and Blake (see 15a), here he finds that the ‘simple and beautiful creed’ of the Ainu ‘would have seemed almost entirely admirable to . . . the great European mystics’. He focuses in particular on belief in the ‘souls of the dead’, who ‘return at times’ to the world of the living, precisely his point of entrance into the nô twenty years later (in 15a), and the subject of much of his drama indebted to it. Chiba (255) makes use of this work in arguing that Yeats’s ‘intuitive understanding’ of shamanist practices informed his interest in the nô; Naitô (249) goes to some extremes to find in Yeats’s interests here evidence of a kindred spirit between the Irish and the Japanese. Reprinted in Uncollected Prose by W. B. Yeats, vol. 1, edited by John P. Frayner (London: Macmillan, 1970).





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