BL. W. B. Yeats

34. The Words Upon the Window Pane. Dublin, Cuala, 1934.

Reprinted in Wheels and Butterflies.

This play, in prose, is indebted to the nô to the degree that Yeats’s idea of the ‘dreaming back of the dead’ is indebted to the form, and evidence for a direct link is clear, particularly in Per Amica Silentia Lunae (13), Yeats’s first full exploration of the concept, in which he explicitly ties it to the understanding of the ‘Japanese poets’. That he found evidence elsewhere that the dead ‘dream back’ their passions—part of his point in Per Amica is that the understanding is a phenomenon apprehended by various cultures at various times—makes it impossible to conclude that the idea originates in his understanding of the nô, but at the least he found in mugen nô a confirmation of it, and a way of dramatising it that he put to use in the Plays for Dancers (17) and later work, particularly The Resurrection (28). This work does not draw on the techniques Yeats adapted from the nô in the plays for dancers—masks, a chorus of musicians, and other devices— but the ‘dreaming back’ is central. In the early speeches of Dr. Trench, a member of the Dublin Spiritualists’ Association, may be found explication of the concept of the ‘dreaming back’ as clear as any in Yeats’s writing: ‘Some spirits are earthbound—they think they are still living and go over and over some action of their past lives, just as we go over and over some painful thought, except that where they are thought is reality. . . . Sometimes a spirit relives not the pain of death, but some passionate or tragic moment of life’, and they are bound to a place where the event took place, and may only ‘pass out of [their] passion and  . . . remorse’ if the living who are aware of their presence ‘pray that the spirit find rest’ (ll. 191-224). The ghosts here, who become manifest not in the manner of nô or of The Dreaming of the Bones (14a) but rather in the realistic presentation of a séance, through the voice of a medium, are those of Jonathan Swift and two women he loved, their agony, like that of the lovers in Nishikigi (BK8), that their love was unrealised. Takahashi (235) is perceptive in finding that this work and Purgatory (44b) demonstrate ‘more interesting assimilations’ of what Yeats learned from the nô even than the plays for dancers. The works, according to Takahashi, are ‘radical divergences’ from the ‘norm’ of the nô, and ‘bold innovation[s]’ on the form, but unlike critics such as Sekine (see BK207, BL233, 247, 250, and 258), who often find Yeatsian drama successful to the degree that it follows Zeami’s ideals, Takahashi suggests that these ‘divergences . . . from the example of the master Zeami [Ap] are not an artistic sin but proof of Yeats’s creative achievement’: he ‘internalis[es] the ghost . . . so that the audience is made to perceive another drama played out in a space which is invisible or inaudible’. First performed, in Dublin, in 1934. See also 38b, 117, 120, 185, 216, 246, and 248. Reprinted in 35.





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