BL. W. B. Yeats


47. W. B. Yeats and T. Sturge Moore: Their Correspondence 1901-1937. Edited by Ursula Bridge. London: Routledge and Paul, 1953.

Letters noted are from Yeats to Moore.

a. 17 July 1923. Yeats writes that he is ‘deep in a new nôh Play’, probably The Resurrection (28). He referred to his drama as ‘Noh’ from late 1917 to late 1923 (see 48f).

b. 5 February 1926. Includes Yeats’s earliest direct reference in the published record to Zen (though see also 11). He remarks first on a passage from Waley’s Introduction to the Study of Chinese Painting (London: Benn, 1923), and quotes the famous enlightenment poem of Hui-neng (Jpn.: Enô, 638-713, the sixth patriarch of Zen), about the ‘mirror’ of the mind; Yeats adds that ‘Zen art was the result of a contemplation that saw all becoming through rhythm a single act of mind’. Oshima (124e) suggests Hui-neng’s poem as a source for Yeats’s perception that ‘Mirror on mirror mirrored is all the show’ in The Statues (43, l. 22), and that Yeats would have known of the poem from his reading of Suzuki’s Essays (see D28), second series, where Hui-neng’s poem appears on pp. 27-28, but Yeats probably had not read Suzuki in February 1926 (see 67), and no evidence exists that he ever owned or read the second series of the Essays. The more likely source is the one Yeats quotes in the letter, Waley, p. 221: ‘Knowledge is not a tree, / The mirror has no stand; / Since nothing exists, / How could dust rise to cover it?’ Yeats mentions Zen in passing in two other letters included in the volume, of ‘before 29 March 1926’ and 23 February 1928 (d below).

c. Before 2 June 1927. Writing of a planned season of ‘dance plays’ at the newly-opened Peacock Theatre (see 185), Yeats notes that he has ‘two fine Japanese Noh Masks’. These masks and a third Yeats apparently acquired later are described by Miller (185); according to Ishibashi (131) he used one of them for ‘meditation’.

d. 23 February 1928. Includes a passing reference to Zen that according to Oshima (124e) demonstrates that Yeats in his reading of Suzuki (see D28) had come to know ‘that the essence of Eastern wisdom consists [of] the negation of knowledge’; Oshima argues further that this understanding informs lines 20-21 of The Statues (43): ‘Empty eye-balls knew / That knowledge increases unreality’.





Home | Top | Previous | Next

Previous | Next


Creative Commons License