BL. W. B. Yeats

25. ‘The Bounty of Sweden: A Meditation’. London Mercury 10 (September 1924): 466-79.

    Reprinted in the 1938 and 1955 editions of Autobiographies.  

As early as 1909 Yeats had read Binyon, accepted his definition of the importance of literary tradition in Japanese painting, and set this in contrast with the degradation of tradition in modern European art (see 27a). In this work he enlarges the point, again drawing on Binyon: ‘The artistic genius of old Japan continually renewed itself through dynasties of painters. The descendants of Kanoka made all that was greatest in the art of their country from the ninth to the eleventh century, and then it but passed to other dynasties, in whom, as Mr. Binyon says, “the flower of genius was being continually renewed and revived in the course of many generations”’. Yeats continues with discussion of the ‘serenity’ of Japanese art, its freedom from ‘academic tyranny’, its ‘tradition as naturally observed as the laws of a game or dance’, and then sets in contrast to ‘our individualistic age’ the ‘famous [Japanese] player’ whose genealogy may be traced to actors of the Middle Ages, and the man Yeats had seen ‘judging Chinese and Japanese pictures’ in the British Museum Print Room, who, Yeats was told, was ‘one of the greatest living authorities’ and ‘the Mikado’s hereditary connoisseur, the fourteenth in his family to hold the post’. The ‘player’ in question would have been Umewaka Minoru (Ap), whom Yeats would have known from Pound’s work with the nô (see especially BK17f); ‘the Mikado’s hereditary connoisseur’ would have been Kohitsu Ryônin (see BC2). The reference to ‘Kanoka’ is a mistranscription from Binyon’s discussion of Kose no Kanaoka (fl. late 9th to early 10th centuries). Yeats closes the passage by allying the Japanese reliance on tradition and lineage to an aesthetic of anti-realism, a principle that permeates his writing about his own dramatic enterprise both before and after his acquaintance with Japanese art: ‘May it not have been possible that the use of the mask in acting, and the omission from painting of the cast shadow, by making observation and experience of life less important, and imagination and tradition more, made the arts transmittable and teachable?’ See also 10, 48, 80, 129, and 228. Reprinted in 1938 and 1955 editions of 27.





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