BL. W. B. Yeats


17. Four Plays for Dancers. London: Macmillan, 1921.

Reprints At the Hawk’s Well (12), The Dreaming of the Bones (14a), The Only Jealousy of Emer (14b), and ‘A Note on At the Hawk’s Well’ (12a), the last under the title ‘Note on the First Performance of At the Hawk’s Well’. All work included is reprinted in 20. See also 64.


a. Calvary. Mugen nô was only one of several sources from which Yeats developed the doctrine of the ‘dreaming back’ of the dead (see especially 13), but he found in the form both a validation for the idea and a set of conventions for giving it dramatic life. This work retains the conventions inspired or confirmed by the nô that Yeats first brought together in At the Hawk’s Well (12), and relies for its subject on the dreaming back of the passions of Christ. Beyond this, though critics have found more of the nô in the work—Wilson (102) argues that the closing dance of the Roman Soldiers derives from the nô ‘God-dance’, and Taylor (180) that Yeats ‘appears to have used’ Pound’s Kakitsubata (BK23) as a ‘model’—the central symbols, themes, and issues do not derive from Japanese sources, and the lack of ‘release’ from the passions binding him to earth sets this Christ well outside the spiritual tradition of the nô. According to the automatic script of Yeats’s wife, the material of the play was ‘given’ to Yeats by the ‘control’ Ameritus (see 57c). See also A32, BK153, BL38b, 44, 48g-h, 62, 64, 69, 84, 86, 99-101, 104, 108, 113, 116, 131, 141, 151, 153, 154, 158, 167, 180, 185, 192, 199, 201, 204, 218, 222, 226, 230, 233, 246, 247, 250, and 252.

b. ‘Note on The Dreaming of the Bones’ (14a). In discussing the ‘world-wide belief that the dead dream back’ (see 13), Yeats notes Cornelius Agrippa’s contention that the wicked ‘dream themselves to be consumed by flames’, and that ‘precisely the same thought’ occurs in a nô play ‘where a spirit, advised by a Buddhist priest she has met upon the road, seeks to escape from the flames by ceasing to believe in the dream’. The play in question would be Motomezuka (see D23), which Yeats had allied with his notion of the dreaming back of the dead in two earlier works (13 and 15a) and to which he would return repeatedly (see 29, 32a, 38b2, and 57h).





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