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2. Modernist Non-fictional Narratives of War and Peace (1914-1950)
III/ Non-fiction Ambiguities, Audiences, and Technologies

‘Of war and war’s alarms’: W.B. Yeats from On the Boiler (1939)



On the Boiler constitue le dernier écrit en prose complet de W.B. Yeats. Publié en 1939, après sa mort, par la Cuala Press, la maison d’édition de sa famille, ce texte représente ce qui semble être son dernier mot officiel sur la politique, l’éducation, l’esthétique, la guerre et la paix. Controversé et par endroits, difficilement acceptable, On the Boiler est, de tous les écrits en prose de Yeats qui ont été publiés, celui qui se rapproche le plus du fascisme. C’est également une méditation sur l’art et la politique européenne d’un grand poète. Dans toute analyse de la prose nonfictionnelle moderniste consacrée à la guerre devrait figurer On the Boiler. Cet article défend l’idée que On the Boiler, texte hybride et contradictoire s’il en est, ne représente pas une anomalie dans l’oeuvre de Yeats mais s’insère dans sa continuité. Cependant, c’est aussi un texte qui est le fruit de circonstances et conditions contingentes et qui doit donc être étudié comme un objet imprimé, en contexte et en tenant compte de sa forme et du paratexte, afin de comprendre pleinement sa portée incendiaire.

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1On the Boiler is W.B. Yeats’s last piece of completed prose. Published posthumously through his family’s Cuala Press in 1939, it represents what appears to be his final authorized word on politics, on education, on aesthetics, on war and peace. It is, however, conspicuously (and it would seem deliberately) controversial – indeed, cantankerous, cussed, recalcitrant, contradictory, inflammatory and in places unpalatable. It is also a serious meditation on art and European politics by a major poet. All of which has made it difficult to talk about: it is a difficult text. By his admirers it has been treated with embarrassment and special pleading, by judicious editing, or simply ignored; by his detractors as evidence of inimical reactionary thinking. Though published (just) in peacetime, any analysis of modernist nonfictional prose concerning war cannot ignore it. Indeed, as a printed object it loudly demands attention. On the Boiler is a raucous text, featuring a crosstalk of poems, a play, and prose chapters on disparate themes, as well as a cover by W.B. Yeats’s brother Jack, depicting the text’s adopted persona: a crazed ship’s carpenter climbing on top of a steamship’s boiler to harangue the world for its ills. Despite this unusual premise this piece argues that On the Boiler does not represent an anomaly, but a continuation. It exhibits familiar Yeatsian themes, ideas, and methods. If this makes it the more uncomfortable, all the more THE GREATER THE NEED need not to excuse or minimize its extremes, but take a cold-eyed look at what it says and how it says it. Such analysis, however, finds that it is a contingent, conditional text, textually rather than mentally unstable, occasional in intent and unfortunate in its printing: anything but a final word. It demands the elucidation of historical background and context before turning to key features of the printed thing itself in formal comparison. Doing so requires using the f-word. Of all Yeats’s published prose, it is that which comes closest to fascism.

2George Orwell’s 1943 verdict on Yeats’s politics appears unequivocal. “Translated into political terms,” he says, “Yeats’s tendency is fascist […]. He is a great hater of democracy, of the modern world, science, machinery, the concept of progress – above all, the idea of human equality.” He credits Yeats for being open-eyed about the inequities of the neo-aristocratic society he desires, but calamitously naïve about the consequences. “Yeats, the poet, sees at a glance that Fascism means injustice, and acclaims it for that very reason. [… But] It will not be ruled by noblemen with Van Dyck faces, but by anonymous millionaires, shiny-bottomed bureaucrats and murdering gangsters.” Did this mean Yeats would have remained fascist in the face of war? Without specifically considering On the Boiler, here Orwell is generous. “Others who have made the same mistake have afterwards changed their views, and one ought not to assume that Yeats, if he had lived longer, would necessarily have followed his friend Pound, even in sympathy” (190-1). Mention of Ezra Pound, then in Italy, eventually imprisoned for collaboration with Mussolini’s regime and escaping conviction by plea of insanity, raises the stakes. Yeats’s political actions were nothing like so suspect but then his madness was more calculated frenzy. Conor Cruise O’Brien’s seminal essay on Yeats’s politics takes “cunning” as its key word, arguing that calculation haunted his political actions so that “if his pro-Fascism was real, his irony and caution were real too” (O’Brien 264). Elizabeth Butler Cullingford’s judgment is moderate, while W.J. McCormack’s bolder telling in Blood Kindred mines some Yeatsian depths, but returns with intemperate judgments. By examining On the Boiler as printed thing this piece tries to amplify the contextual conclusions of Siegal and Pietrzak, and the careful editorial work of O’Donnell. Still, Orwell’s charge of fascism must be addressed. If we expect a definitive statement, On the Boiler will disappoint us. While its extreme language makes it quotable, overall it does not lend itself to coherence. Yeats is usually charged with the obscurity of his ideas, reasonably enough; on the other hand, some he had never stated more clearly: “for the first time in my life I am saying what are my political beliefs”, he wrote, even if in publicly taking up an extreme pose he was not quite acting in propria persona (Letters 7132).

3It is critical then to consider when and how it says what it does. When the book appeared after the author’s January 1939 death, the Second World War had still not yet arrived. On the Boiler is thus a pre-war text: the timing of its publication neither gives its author the excuse of writing in wartime, nor the chance of responding to subsequent events. Yet if not strictly a wartime book, On the Boiler can be compared to other war texts, and was born out of an extraordinarily violent period in European history. Before considering it as a published entity, some context is therefore required.

1. Roman, Russian and Spanish politics

  • 1 John Stallworthy once told me privately his work on Wilfred Owen was a reaction to his sense of Yea (...)

4Yeats has drawn considerable censure for neglecting war. John Stallworthy and Peter McDonald have deplored his muted reaction to the First World War. Yet reports of the Russian revolution and civil war had given birth to the apocalyptic lines of “The Second Coming”, and Italian politics play behind the poets’ combative affinities (and carefully signalled divergences) in Yeats’s A Packet For Ezra Pound (1929).1 Michael Wood’s Yeats and Violence shows how much Yeats reckoned with war’s horrors in Ireland: as senator of the new Irish Free State he was himself a target, complete with security detail and bullet holes in his windows. As “smiling public man” Yeats carefully weighed his public pronouncements, and adapted his private comments to suit his audience and correspondents, adding to the complexity of interpreting his varied responses. So unpublished comments in “Michael Robartes Foretells” about a phase of “Russian violence” and “young men marching in step, with the shirts and songs that give our politics an air of sport”, recall Yeats’s published marching songs for Ireland’s quasi-fascist blueshirts under General O’Duffy (Hood 217). Yet allusions in the revised A Vision (1937) to fascist symbolism suggest tacit dissent about coming violence, the “discords [which] will drive Europe to that artificial unity – only dry or drying sticks can be tied into a bundle” (219). All such attention “on Roman or on Russian | Or on Spanish politics” is disdained in lines closing his collected poems, “Politics”, in favour of a return of youthful desire, but not before an atmosphere of “politician” and “travelled man” accustomed to political conversation is created (Poems 472).

5There is good evidence, in other words, from his writings and other recollections that Yeats himself was considerably exercised about the coming of war, and that he spent a considerable part of his final years talking, reading, and writing politics. To Ethel Mannin he noted that in “The Second Coming” “I foretold what is happening” and “every nerve trembles with horror at what is happening in Europe” (Letters 6530). His son Michael Yeats remembered that this interest drew them closer in the last few months of his life; contemporary letters display the same animation, though carefully tailored to each correspondent, often women, sometimes former lovers: Mannin and Hilda Matheson on the left, Olivia Shakespear and Dorothy Wellesley on the right. Much of this talk finds its way into On the Boiler, which indeed insinuates that sex and politics are not so opposed as the poem “Politics” intimates. Although looking through a lens of Irish affairs, it prophesies that “some tragic crisis will alter Europe” and thus makes claims to observe a continuing European predicament (27).

  • 2 Starkie is a curious figure: A student of Romany languages and later translator of Don Quixote, as (...)

6As a writers’ war, Spain dominated discussion. With former revolutionary Dermot MacManus, Yeats admitted, “we constantly discuss the war in Spain”, abroad admitting a feeling for a country resurgent against the British Empire, but by now disdaining O’Duffy and his attachment to a “Catholic Front” which supported Franco’s avowed clericalism: “more inflamed than ever before […] as a reflection from war in Spain, an ignorant form of Catholicism is my enemy” (Letters, 6806, 6751). Yeats, who spent the spring of 1936 in Mallorca, had some contact with writer-observers who were developing a genre of political travel writing in response to the war: the London left of W.H. Auden and Louis MacNeice (though not Orwell or Kate O’Brien, author of Farewell Spain (1937)), and the Dublin right, from the pen of Walter Starkie, Professor of Languages at Trinity College Dublin, together with Yeats a director of the Abbey Theatre. Published in 1934, his book precedes the descent into civil war proper, though coming after the deposition of the Spanish King and establishment of Republic. Called Spanish Raggle-Taggle: Adventures with a Fiddle in North Spain, the narrator takes on the outsider role of the jogler, medieval vagabond musician and gypsy storyteller, recounting Starkie’s picaresque musical journey through northern Spain and the Basque country, observing more than commenting on political events, though in his accounts of aristocratic exiles and priestly refugees we might suspect a discreet royalist sympathy, and Starkie was able later to live and work in Franco’s Spain under the aegis of the British Council.2

  • 3 For more see Barnes’s ‘W.B. Yeats and Broadcasting’ (1940): Yeats was even approached by the BBC ab (...)

7This matters, because before ill-health prevented it Yeats planned the latest in a series of BBC radio broadcasts to be called “Poems of Love and War” (no doubt including the poem “Politics”) featuring drum rolls and Starkie on the violin. That such sweet and raucous paradoxes also abound in On the Boiler augured for an energetic radio collaboration, scheduled for spring of 1938, just as the text was being completed. Indeed in early drafts On the Boiler was called “Poet’s Corner”, a title that aligned it directly with other of Yeats’s radio broadcasts, “In the Poet’s Pub” and “In the Poet’s Parlour”, which mixed music, poems, and prose introductions.3 While not approaching the extremes of Pound’s wartime radio propaganda, On the Boiler thus had considerable affinities with Yeats’s broadcasts, generically and contextually, even while it represented all he couldn’t say on air.

2. Paratexts and audiences

  • 4 For Bakhtin see The Dialogic Imagination, for Kristeva see Polylogue.
  • 5 For more on its vexed publication history and editions see William O’Donnell’s comprehensive articl (...)

8Considering On the Boiler paratextually thus throws up questions of audience. It claimed for itself a narrower audience than for the BBC broadcasts: “I intend the essay mainly for Irish readers” (Letters 7144). At the same time it was conceived as a money-making scheme for the ailing Cuala Press, for which Yeats remained financially liable. The idea was to make a splash through controversy: “I count on a rumpus over On the Boiler to advertise Cuala”, he wrote, hoping perhaps to attract the kind of notoriety that might lead to its suppression (7223). It could thus (so the bank was promised) inaugurate a profitable series. Like the broadcasts and earlier theatre periodicals, it was supposed to be one of many, “a pamphlet along the lines of my Samhains: […] I expect much notice in the press & a quick sale” (7224). That this did not happen was due to accident and misdirection. His sister’s press was busy and refused him: with timeliness of the essence, a commercial printer was sought. With Yeats often abroad and ailing, through the lackadaisical handiwork of F.R. Higgins, publication had several false starts, exchanges of proofs and a change of press, his widow and Higgins finally seeing it into print. It was conceived as an “occasional”, bi-annual, even provisional “periodical”, part of a continuing discussion or contentious argument: “I shall curse my enemies and bless my friends. My enemies will hit back and that will give me the joy of answering them” (Letters 7113). It is thus truly dialogic, always expecting an answer in the Bakhtinian sense, and polylogic in Kristeva’s (which broader definition includes poetry and poetics): from the beginning it was to “contain poems as well as notes on passing things” (Letters 7112).4 The fraught exchange of proofs and revisions made its appearance all the more contingent and provisional.5

9No wonder that given its occasional, variable, half-aborted, dialogic aspects, when it finally appeared on the brink of war in August 1939 (over a year later than planned), the publication presented conflicting signs to any potential readership. Its paratextual cues were mixed, not to say confused: overall On the Boiler is, formally and conceptually, an unusual printed text. While the large blue cover page boldly claims it for “The Cuala Press – Dublin”, the large paper size and stark sans-serif font signalling a commercial publisher state a modern technological detachment from the subtle medieval harmonies associated with the Yeats family’s Cuala Press books, still handprinting the first editions of Yeats’s poems. While (especially posthumously) it possessed the potential for wider and more dramatic circulation (the price “three shillings and sixpence” is proclaimed on the cover), the book still represents a relatively unremarked Yeats family collaboration. Jack B. Yeats’s inked cover design shows a hobnail-booted, soft-hatted figure, grizzled but not ancient, scrambling up a steamship boiler – or in the process of slipping off its metal curves. Behind him comes a hint of older technology, the ships’ masts in Sligo harbour, ascending to a blustery sky as the recognisable shadow of Ben Bulben looms over all. Privately this associates it with the brothers’ shared industrial inheritance, the Pollexfen-Middleton family of Sligo steamship owners. It also nods to W.B. Yeats’s public poetic persona, which, especially since the poem “Under Ben Bulben” (printed everywhere after his death) associated him closely with the mountain. At the same time, the wild open-mouthed expression of desperation on the carpenter’s face suggests the artist’s dissent from the book’s wilder aspects, just as some of his illustrations for his brother’s poems in A Broadside appeared to take issue with their politics. Such dissent is a better marker for the publication’s contents than the posthumous testament it appeared to become, given its complicated gestation: it is fitting that this figure plays before an audience a contentious, crazed, piratical, but also self-consciously masked disposition.

  • 6 Thinking of Ruskin’s periodical (1871-1884) returned Yeats to his socialist roots; several times in (...)
  • 7 A Broadside appeared in monthly numbers for 1935 (co-edited by F.R. Higgins) and 1937 (co-edited by (...)

10Within the covers, too, bibliographic codes and textual apparatus are just as contradictory. Arranged in seven irregular sections, the text also adopts short subdivisions, which has the effect of ensuring the progression of its argument is far from linear. Branching out at alarming tangents it treats a range of disparate subjects, from architecture to anarchy, tragedy to heredity. Yeats called it an essay, and it combines a journalistic cognisance of recent events with quasi-scholarly footnotes coveting a less occasional footing. Perhaps most disconcertingly, from the beginning it mixes the different voices of verse and prose. It features three original poems (as well as quotations from Swift and William Morris) whose personae interrupt the text to complicated effect. It ends with a verse-play, Purgatory, a kind of reverse Oedipal tragedy in which a father kills his misbegotten son. What a reader is to make of this hybrid text is unclear. There were precedents. Pound’s Guide to Kulchur (1938) adopted a comparable discontinuous procedure employing discrete paragraphs on aesthetics and economics, although it consistently alerts readers to an underlying order. One suspects mutual influence: Yeats’s A Packet for Ezra Pound, now incorporated into A Vision (1937), had exhibited similar resistance to definition, employing under the same imprint comparable methods and irregular generic qualities in its reflections. Other examples predated the century’s major wars. Its blessing and cursing recalled Nietzsche’s Twilight of the Idols or Wyndham Lewis’s BLAST, while Yeats’s Discoveries (especially the second series) had used similar non-consecutive techniques. On the Boiler revived his old plan for the Abbey’s theatrical journal Samhain to be a Fors Clavigera for Ireland, after Ruskin’s miscellaneous social and economic tract published monthly for the working man.6 Significantly, Yeats’s recent titles had a nautical inspiration: On The Boiler borrowed incendiary force from A Packet and the ongoing Cuala Press Broadside ballad series Yeats continued to edit.7 Author of the prose/verse combination Kora in Hell (1922), William Carlos Williams asserted in the wartime The Wedge (1944) “A poem is a small (or large) machine made of words. […] I mean there can be no part, as in any other machine, that is redundant. Prose may carry a load of ill-defined matters like a ship. But poetry is a machine which drives it” (256). Yeats might have disdained Williams’s mechanized language for poetry (and here it is the poetry almost driven by the pamphlet) but his own hybrid prose/verse text is broad ship bristling with weaponry and loaded with provisions for war, carrying a bulk of assorted ill-defined baggage in its variety of subjects and textures.

3. Fanatics, eugenics, war

11The sea-faring expanse announced by the wide blue paper cover is picked up in On the Boiler’s brief opening section. “Name” explains the title as deriving from a handpainted notice on the Sligo docks: “the great McCoy will speak on the old boiler”. Yeats recalls that this ship’s carpenter would climb atop this old landmark or scull in the harbour reading scripture, and from his improvised pulpit “denounce his neighbours” and “the general wickedness”, to be greeted by “a shower of stones” (9). When such an explanation is followed by a poem, “Why should not old men be mad?” it is clear the text is welcoming condemnation. The book borrows the voice of an extremist madman but also a persecuted prophet, with echoes of both Christ and Nietzsche, especially his Thus Spake Zarathustra. Such a self-conscious adoption of vantage point might be employed as a way of excusing incendiary rhetoric. Even this is undercut by the text’s stated determination to dispense with the “patter” Yeats claims to have too often adopted as social lubricant: “allowing myself an easy man’s insincerity, and for honesty’s sake a little malice, […] now it seems I can talk nothing else” (15). Wearing this mask represents a departure, but only from other masks: “None of my friends”, he concludes, “know that I am a fanatic”. The persona’s breaking the shackles of social convention, joining a series of other “performers defying their public audiences” (McDiarmid 86), supposedly lays bare what the poem “Remorse for Intemperate Speech” calls “my fanatic heart” (Poems 370, 421). Years before, concerning Dublin’s 1913 Lock Out, Yeats had written to the newspapers:

I do not complain of Dublin’s capacity for fanaticism whether in priest or layman, for you cannot have strong feeling without that capacity, but neither those who directed the police nor the editors of our newspapers can plead fanaticism. They are supposed to watch over our civil liberties. (Uncollected Prose 1:406)

  • 8 Belfast was still a major ship-building hub; Charles Parsons of Birr, Fourth Earl of Rosse, founded (...)

12This allows fanaticism its head, while requiring sober society to rein in its impulses. On the Boiler lets them loose, reverting to the ancient enmity of an “old Fenian” (Letters 6806). Yeats’s “mad ships-carpenter’ is conspicuously out of time, and yet somehow (for the late 1930s) timely. He is hired as an outsider with an inside job: not yet redundant in the age of steam, he services coal-fired ships with technology and manufacture conceivably from Ireland, working for and witness to the mad effects of industrial capital which made up Yeats’s own family inheritance.8 The rejection of comic patter is thus by no means total; ripping aside the bromides of conventionality produces more than ever a performance, whose game-playing increases around the interpolated poems.

  • 9 See (Letters 7144); Bradshaw explores Yeats’s correspondence with Blacker, his reading of R.A. Fish (...)

13So “Tomorrow’s Revolution”, the most troubling section of the book, proceeds: “I must if I can put away my patter” (15). All the same, a patter is adopted: like a preacher, our old man takes a “text” for his lesson: a passage from Robert Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy. The venerable nature of the source should not obscure the contemporary resonance of the degeneration theories outlined, nor disguise the remedies offered. David Bradshaw notes that in this decade to take an interest in eugenics was neither remarkable nor necessarily questionable. The Francis Galton-inspired Eugenics Society had the respectable Julian Huxley as vice-president and George Bernard Shaw as advocate (it is notable that both Yeats and Shaw began as socialists under William Morris, and apparently both still found certain forms of social revolution and dirigiste government policy acceptable). Population control through the availability of birth control is even now seen as a feminist and environmental issue, compatible with Yeats’s liberal stance on divorce: Ethel Mannin, the sexologist Havelock Ellis, and others of Yeats’s acquaintance had shown much interest in eugenics. Bradshaw however details Yeats’s correspondence with the secretary of the society (especially in the winter of 1937-8) indicating a turn towards the extreme.9 In this Yeats retains a semblance of rationality. He is sometimes sceptical about the efficacy of Galton-derived intelligence tests on adults, for instance, but a direction of travel is clear: “sooner or later we must limit the families of the unintelligent classes” (20). Why a poet so sceptical of the age of Darwin should have such strong views on heredity is something that requires an answer.

  • 10 To Olivia Shakespear he noted “This pamphlet is so tory that there is not a tory in the world will (...)

14As the text turns to consider Roman and Russian (and German) politics, European powers are invoked. In draft Yeats argued the ideology and structures of neither far-left nor far-right met the present case: “Communism, Fascism inadequate because society is the struggle of two forces not transparent to reason, the family & the individual” (Foster 613). So far so tory, libertarian if not quite liberal.10 Accordingly the new superstates are criticized, but on unusual grounds. The text is critical of Russia because although possessing “the necessary authority”, “it thinks the social problem economic and not eugenic and ethnic”; of the Fascist states because their agricultural and military programmes “put quantity [of people] before quality”: “any hale man can dig or march”. Through the offices of Ezra Pound the possibilities of reorganising on Social Credit “to escape violence”, are considered but found beside the point (Boiler 19). A poet’s zest for irrationality makes the conclusion not analytic but apocalyptic, predicting a class war of the few against the many. Unlike many Marxist prophets Yeats takes the side of the few.

15Thus, like the poem “Politics”, On the Boiler is predicated on a coming war. Not with the poem’s assumed indifference; the war is anticipated at times with a shocking eagerness: “The danger is there will be no war”. Given the Second World War’s grievous outcome many readers then and now find such relish for cataclysm especially callous. Remember though that other voices on the left and right called for confrontation: nowadays it is those against war who are often castigated and glibly characterized as “appeasers”. According to this analysis Yeats’s arguments here, however extremely phrased, are on the right side of history.

  • 11 To Dorothy Wellesley, 26 September 1938.
  • 12 No fascist sympathies (or secret societies) were required for comparative cyclical views of history (...)

16Even if this were accepted it is hard to put this down to political acumen. If Yeats were on the ‘right’ side, which is doubtful, it was for the wrong reasons. By contrast with On the Boiler’s truculence, Yeats would privately support De Valera’s (and Chamberlain’s) doomed push for peace, fearing that otherwise “the armed mobs of Europe will now tare [sic] each other into pieces & the innocent will perish in the scuffle. I do not know whether I can work for I am exhausted with bitterness” (Letters 7306).11 Potentially a creditable as well as prescient sentiment: why then not say so in public print? The answer lies partly in the gap between the text’s early completion and publication, partly in its determination to see such episodes in a wider tapestry of inevitable history. Though he knew George Macaulay Trevelyan’s recent works of Whig historiography, Yeats had been reading with greater interest Arnold Toynbee’s A Study of History with its interest in the rise and fall of civilizations, and tracts by Oswald Spengler and Wyndham Lewis presenting historical cycles of degeneration and rejuvenation punctuated by violence. On the Boiler quotes the frenzied utterance of Michael Robartes, one of Yeats’s earlier mouthpieces speaking in A Vision’s cyclical view of history: “Love war because of its horror, that belief may be changed, civilization renewed. We desire belief and lack it. Belief comes from shock and is not desired” (20). However masked in a series of personae, such rhetoric reflects convictions filtered through Spengler and Toynbee’s ideas about war, elites, and civilization, drawn finally from the ‘Roman’ history of Gibbon and philosophy of Giambattista Vico.12 That the Italian Vico was feted by Mussolini is no necessary pointer: James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake (drawing on Yeats’s A Vision) is replete with the same idea of cycles and revolutionary thunders accompanying the rise and fall of ages and civilizations, without committing itself to On the Boiler’s incendiary ecstasy.

  • 13 The links between Nazism and esoteric philosophy, for instance, are subject to considerable sensati (...)

17Such intoxication seems flavoured by millenarian fervour of religious enthusiasm. For Irish readers it stirs memories of the Nationalist John Mitchel’s Jail Journal, whose subversion of the biblical text “Send war in our time, O Lord”, is quoted in “Under Ben Bulben”, reviving to new ends the revolutionary spirit of the Irish Republican Brotherhood of which Yeats had once been a member (Poems 450). Considering the perceived connections between occult and fascist ideology, Orwell finds that secret societies predispose their members to revolutionary organizations.13 These however could be aligned in many directions, and Roy Foster’s study of Ireland’s revolutionary generation Vivid Faces finds that such societies are as likely to promote vegetarian and feminist convictions as fascist ones. Still, whether open like the Theosophical or Anthroposophical societies, or closed like Order of the Golden Dawn or Stella Matitudina, such groups were predicated on the idea that humankind could undergo a fundamental change in psyche. To such revolutions the text brings the ringing cadences of scripture, and the rhetoric of a playwright. Yet precisely those features most peculiar to Yeats’s phantasmagoria (confirming On the Boiler as no outlier) are those which become (in prose more even than poetry) unconvincing as popular propaganda. Typically, gnomic sayings and undigested philosophy litter the text: several times Yeats’s favourite Heraclitan opposites are invoked “we die each other’s life, live each other’s death”. So the startling notion that “eugenical and psychical research are the revolutionary movements”, remains puzzling to most readers. These idiosyncrasies are something the text itself seems to acknowledge, marking its central section “Private Thoughts: Should be Skipped by Politicians and Journalists” (21). One passage (omitted in later republications) even promises more to come, “without tact or discretion” in a future number: “The old man on the boiler has been silent about religion; […] he holds that the whole nation must be convinced by some new argument that death is but passing from one room to another” (32). The prospect of an occult (and conceivably sectarian) sequel to On the Boiler is intriguing. Yet including obscurities and featuring advertisements reminding readers of its incompleteness inevitably mutes its effectiveness as a revolutionary pamphlet.

4. Ireland and race

  • 14 Earlier Yeats had hankered after the impersonal ease of appointed bankers and lawyers in the old Se (...)

18So does the text’s construction. Indeed, the following section, “Ireland after the Revolution”, addresses rather a post-revolutionary nation. The already-signalled tension between a pan-European view and narrow Irish one (“do not try to pour Ireland into any political system” [13]) is here made most plain. A recent reconfiguration of the Irish Free State, with the new 1937 constitution indicating a “special position” for the Catholic church and a completely remodelled elected Senate, causes tangible reactive effects, as the rights of minorities (Protestant? elitist?) are favoured, but against democracy.14 Appeals to “Young Ireland” recall the intellectual and national revolution of one hundred years before: but constructive solutions expose further contradictions. On education Yeats thinks as a father and former senator inspecting schools modelled “in the best modern way” (Poems, 323). His proposed curriculum is eclectic but eccentric, notably proposing subjects Yeats himself did not have: Latin is foregone, with concentration instead on Greek, mathematics and, surprisingly, Irish, following the Gaelic League’s avowed policy. English, history, and geography are so significant they are taught early in an initiatory kind of medieval trivium, except by ‘father and mother, ancestral tradition, and child’s own reading’, suggesting an impractical misplaced nostalgia, especially next to what follows:

Armament comes next to education. The country must take over the entire defence of its shores. The formation of military families should be encouraged. Armed with modern weapons, officered by men from such schools as I have described, it could throw back from our shores the disciplined uneducated masses of the commercial nations. (29-30)

  • 15 Autumn Journal rhymes “trench” with “Übermensch” and admits “the parks in London are a nasty sight” (...)
  • 16 Both Allied and Axis powers drew up serious invasion plans for Ireland. For more on this and Irish (...)

19This offers all the hallmarks of a Prussian-style militarist state, the prescription certainly compatible with fascism’s attempt to mobilize all society. It is worth remembering that by 1938 such practices were not unusual in Europe, with advanced preparations for war including the digging of trenches on public and private land noted by Yeats and described in Louis MacNeice’s hybrid-form poem Autumn Journal.15 It is striking that the Irish state can only escape allegiance to Britain by mirroring its structures. However, appealing for an Ireland whose ports might still be controlled by the British, this marks a peculiarly militarist strand to a growing 1930s isolationism. Even with the handover of the ports (a note records this was written before “De Valera’s London agreement”), Irish mobilization only began in late 1938, so the effort to stem the “filthy modern tide” appears entirely unrealistic, if in line with government policy.16 Neutrality though is disdained. War is purposed to unify classes: “Desire some just war” that all “may know they belong to one nation” (30). The justice of any war must remain a matter of opinion, but a familiar nationalist appeal has different emphasis from Fascist rhetoric about the birth-right of people to reclaim old territories. It appears to stem from Yeats’s Civil War contention that government finds legitimacy and independence in sanctioned violence. This makes it unclear whether Yeats could have consistently supported De Valera’s policy of Irish neutrality in the war when it came. Like Louis MacNeice, George Orwell and others it is conceivable, given his ready relationship with the BBC, that he would continue to broadcast, using (even if obliquely) a BBC platform in service of Allied powers. After all, whatever his most extreme views, at the height of international tensions in the spring of 1939 he was still preparing a radio programme just as On the Boiler was finally projected to come out. Notably, however, the text’s call for war completely contradicts the first. For Ireland Yeats envisages not a class war but a national one.

20Such as it is, his reasoning appears to be an abiding belief in racial difference. He opposes any remaining allegiance to (British) monarchy for instance, but not on the grounds of French or American republicanism, rather as unfitting for the Irish: “The Irish mind has still, in country rapscallion or Bernard Shaw, an ancient, cold, explosive, detonating impartiality” (31). That unexpected last word impartiality does itself detonate – Yeats seems to be identifying a kind of violent, native, levelling (if not exactly democratic) spirit in Ireland that like explosives affects everybody indiscriminately. This is traced back to Ireland’s violent history and settler prejudice, and even further back to ancient myths of apocalyptic battles he had recounted in early poems (like ‘The Valley of the Black Pig’). Given Yeats’s disbelief in progress, the alleged “inferiority of our [Irish] emigrants’, debated for a page or two, is turned almost into a compliment as he concludes ‘we Irish are nearer than the English to the Mythic Age” (21). Ireland is thus not a modern nation at all, if unfortunately not quite immune from commercial pressures; such unflinching statement of familiar revivalist sentiment ends surprisingly in tune with De Valera’s government policy of self-sufficiency.

21Overall, the publication’s attitude to race is patronizing and essentialist, if not irredeemably prejudiced. Time is taken to praise what he considers Asian wisdom, and yet the note struck by “photographic eyes of mere multitude” suggests an unreckonable fear of eastern masses. Individuals are more kindly dealt with than the many: the instinctive gifts of a “Negro girl” he knew when young are praised, “the only one [among us] who could find a plover’s nest” (26). This is consistent with Yeats showing the authorities Shaw’s well-meaning The Adventures of the Black Girl in Her Search for God as an argument against censorship in Ireland. If anything at these moments an idea of racial difference is prized, though the queasy consequences of encouraging essentialism are not fully explored. Racial decline or struggle is certainly envisaged, but the text is without the kind of direct diatribes concerning wider racial inferiority, whether against Slav, Chinese, African, or Jewish peoples, that promoted Nazi atrocities. Elsewhere he had praised German legislation that allowed “old families to go on living where their fathers lived” (not acknowledging that such property rights could be weaponized against non-Aryan families (something Foster calls “at best […] unforgivably myopic”), though at the same time (and not incompatibly) he was in favour of the establishment of a Jewish homeland in Palestine (Foster 628). This contrasts Yeats with the openly anti-semitic Maud Gonne who thought even studying the Kaballah was suspiciously Hebraic, and unlike Pound or T.S. Eliot (and others of the poet’s friends like Dorothy Wellesley) it is hard to find any meaningful example of Yeats’s anti-semitism. Yeats retained elements of Gonne’s violent anti-imperialism, but altogether it seems implausible that he would have joined her (and many others) in the Irish nationalist movement which during the war harboured Nazi spies.

5. Aesthetics and politics

22Unfortunately, perhaps, some of the more sympathetic statements and interesting moments occur outside the main run of the argument in the section we are exhorted to skip, “Private Thoughts”. Here Castiglione, Swift, and Nietzsche are all rallied to dismiss the nineteenth-century Whig history notion of human progress. Justifying discarding scientific evidence more honestly than some (“I am philosophical, not scientific, which means that observed facts do not mean much until I can make them part of my experience”) his argument nevertheless includes pseudo-scientific statements about intelligence drawn from correspondence with the Eugenic Society (17). Yeats’s long-standing suspicion of logic can make him proudly impervious to rational argument. Earlier he had written:

Logic is a machine; one can leave it to itself, and unhelped it will force those present to exhaust the subject. The fool is as likely as the sage to speak the appropriate answer to any assertion. (Mythologies 138)

23Such is the pose of On the Boiler, which leads Yeats on to the rocks, as often as finding shore in unexpected harbours.

24The need to defy rational thought means aesthetics play a surprisingly large role in what claims to be a political essay. With “Preliminaries” the book begins with meditations on art and architecture, only in an Irish context recognisable as identifying a decline in taste through differences between Protestant and Catholic traditions. The unpopularity of fine art is transformed into a virtue: “try to be popular and you think another man’s thought” (13). If this sounds like exhortation towards the book’s most extreme statements, it becomes also a manifesto of artistic freedom. The climate in which libraries and books are condemned is noted, but not as expected for someone who has been called fascist: the text utterly condemns book burnings, censorship, and any such restrictions on artistic liberty whether on behalf of state policy or (especially) church influence. This statement of liberal values leads to reflections on the power of the theatre, considering Hamlet as a reluctant man of action, and the aesthetic highs picked out tend to be moments of fine speech, song, music, or craft, Diana Murphy’s Cuala embroidery designs or the dances of Ninette de Valois, recalled from the Abbey: moments that “will haunt me on my death-bed” (14). The limitation of the implied argument is that most examples of artistic perfection are confined to Ireland, to women, sometimes indeed to within his family, whose creativity (including, unusually his brother’s writing) is celebrated; an opportunity previously declined. Such local, familial emphasis brings us back to heredity, and the possibility that preserving artistic inheritance against its detractors has eugenic implications.

25Fittingly for such a disjointed text, the fugitive but central connection of political and aesthetic arguments is made by the way in the closing chapter, “Other Matters”, which combines reflections on aesthetics and on the body. In short, the argument reads: beauty is a matter for poets; art can best represent the body beautiful; refined aesthetic appreciation is thus a component of natural sexual desire; given the standards of both have dramatically declined, so too have the morals, aesthetics, and bodily health of the world. So, as in the poem “The Statues” Greek ideals of bodily order and proportion are mobilized against modern shapelessness. It shows how deeply Yeats’s aesthetics are infected with eugenic ideas; or, rather, how much old ideals of beauty and desire have influenced his political views. A celebration of sexuality, and a strong defence of artistic freedoms against prudery and censorship, thus plays out differently in this context: even innocent statements like “the arts are all the bridal chambers of joy” become suspect (35). Certainly the imagery is more attractive than Shaw’s dogmatic attachment to a Nietzschean “Life Force”: here is room for the Dionysian spirit of dance and moments of ecstasy, particularly in the face of approaching death where (quoting Blake) “will or energy is eternal delight”. Yet, despite Yeats’s lifelong advocacy of education, aesthetic value, and even modernist recklessness (“a pure, aimless joy”, in song, speech, music) and despite his promotion of the artist and the individual’s right to choose (hence support for divorce), it is not clear if the needs of family or society might require compulsion as a solution for sexual politics. If, according to Yeats’s reading of Castiglione, the courtier “must know so many foreign tongues, know how to dance and sing, talk well, walk well, and always be in love”, what of the rest? The text is culpably ambiguous on this point: “if our government cannot send them doctor and clinic it must, till it get tired of it, send monk and confession box” (20). In Ireland, supporting (Protestant) facilities for self-determined contraception might promote liberal choice; demanding (what would otherwise be anathema) Catholic moral pressure seems coercive (and ineffective); but this leaves slightly ajar the possibility of compulsory sterilization, something the Eugenic Society at that time rejected.

26The central contradiction of all this, and perhaps its saving grace, is that such ideals of bodily beauty, wrapped up in aesthetic appreciation, grand style, and eugenic rigour should be espoused in such a conspicuously motley, hybrid, even degenerate text. This is no monument to dreamy sensuality and the escape of Victorian poetry, whose pretentions like its ideals of progress are mocked. Such visions are deliberately undercut by a final part in which rears the head of an anti-hero fool figure, with a proximate connection with our ship’s carpenter: ‘Here in Monte Carlo where I am writing, somebody talked of a man with a monkey and some sort of stringed instrument, and it has pleased me to imagine him a great politician. I will make him sing to the sort of tune that goes well with my early sentimental poems.

Am I a great Lord Chancellor
That slept upon the Sack?
Commanding officer that tore
The khaki from his back?
Or am I De Valéra
Or the King of Greece,
Or the man that made the motors?
Call me what you please!
Here’s a Montenegrin lute
And it’s old sole string
Makes me sweet music
And I delight to sing:
Tall dames go walking in grass-green Avalon.

With boys and girls about him
With any sort of clothes,
With a hat out of fashion
With old patched shoes
With a ragged bandit cloak,
With an eye like a hawk
With a stiff straight back,
With a strutting turkey walk
With a bag full of pennies,
With a monkey on a chain,
With a great cock’s feather
With an old foul tune.
Tall dames go walking in grass-green Avalon. (Yeats’s Poems 445)

27Referred to as “The Statesman’s Holiday”, the poem’s ragged persona revives Walter Starkie’s vagabond jogler existence as traveling musician, foolish and disreputable, speaking or singing throwaway lines in “a kind of half nursery rhyme to wind up a note” (Letters 7178). He is also an underestimated disruptive upright figure of some resource and history. He borrows the identity of a spectrum of notorious political figures known for intransigence rather than nobility, from the Irish taoiseach De Valera to George II, newly restored monarch to Greece’s authoritarian government, via a range of variously indolent or industrious aristocrats or plutocrats (like Morris the automobile mogul, earlier denounced for bringing ‘applied science’ to Oxford [18]). If these are our future’s overlords, they are a conspicuously unsavoury bunch, including some of Yeats’s own political adversaries: pursuing thus an idea to its conclusions suggests an unblinking sense of who profits from revolution, and a perspective not as naïve as Orwell describes. The juxtaposition of the speaker’s monkey with an image of beauty is particularly relished. A well-bred chorus of ‘tall dames’ from Morte d’Arthur walking the grass as if they had stepped out of a Burne-Jones painting add shock value, if they are to be coveted and taken by this ragged cast of pauper and aristocrat as lovers, behind the backs of the intervening middle classes. If this is a eugenic poem about the survival of stock (“I lived among great houses | Riches drove out rank”), it is oblique, mapped as it is onto a faded tradition of proud outcast Irish harpers, in which the deformity of his musical instrument represents ancient survival and the “old foul tune” a parodic remnant of high culture. Except, that is, the one-stringed lute goes back to Pythagoras’s monochord. It was the same instrument heard in Milman Parry’s Yugoslavian oral researches, but comes here from Montenegro, a country which with significant Muslim and Catholic minorities among its population was at that time striving for independence from Yugoslavia. As in Starkie’s musical wanderings, minority cultures, classes, nations, races, are valorized, even if their sexuality can be stereotypically exaggerated: something not countenanced by Europe’s fascist regimes. This musician represents a troubling figure, a real “stock” character, but his “nursery rhyme” upsets the placidity of all societal orderings in ways that are redeemable.

6. Conclusions

  • 17 Purgatory posits the original sin as eugenic, so miscegenation thereby affects us all, from aristoc (...)

28The musician’s unruly comic voice is not the last word: that comes from the Old Man of the closing tragedy, haunted by hoofbeats, who realizes too late his unproductive violence is endlessly circular, curiously reflected in the ruptured printing of the script.17 Such parting shots confirm On the Boiler as almost glorying in its ungainly hybrid production, wilder even than the radio broadcasts combining verse, prose, dialogue, and music, formally heterogeneous and rhetorically antithetical. More than simply dialogic it revels in the conflict of opposites, disrespecting its many audiences and at times plainly self-contradictory. Steadfast against the science of Darwin, it complacently adopts Galton’s pseudo-scientific rationales; its concern about the rise of the mentally ill is voiced by a confessed madman, while its stated desire for harmony is disturbed by fragmentary texture, turbulent paratexts, and dislikeable personae. Seeking, he said, “the brutality, the ill-breeding, the barbarism of truth”, the text has found the first three adjectives at least: making it a peculiar testament to eugenic notions of purity (Letters 7135). To his old friend Olivia Shakespear Yeats wrote with pride of On the Boiler: “It is violent, amusing & convincing & will be put down to the declining faculties of old age” (Letters 7179).

29Yeats was declining, but not mentally: in January 1939, following frantic correspondence with Higgins, Yeats turned to his daughter to smoke out the fugitive editor, showing the ability to humour himself and his eugenic theories, especially the idea that “our bodies are nearer to the unconscious than our thought” (Boiler 34):

You have told me quite a lot of things, but not what look there is on Higgins. Can you judge by a drop in his eye, or the shape of his waist, or his walk, that he is thinking about the “Boiler”; that the proofs have been seen through the press. Or perhaps you might get at it by palmistry. (Letters 7363)

  • 18 See “Introduction”; for more on Denis Johnston, see Tom Walker and Maurice Walsh in Depner and Wood (...)

30His own Beckettian obsession with gait is candidly mocked here. But, despite its rapscallion air, On the Boiler does not sufficiently mock itself: diverting not amusing, determined to rage, any humour now seems distinctly muted. As published, it had a serious look: closing advertisements for Cuala Press productions featuring Broadsides and Christmas cards and a wealth of Yeats’s own books (including a Last Poems whose posthumous frisson underlines the fragility of his health, not his mind) only emphasise the fecundity of his work and continuity of his ideas, notwithstanding the markedly differing dress of many of these Cuala Press publications. It allows free reign to his provocative eloquence, and while thus prophetic of violence represents a potentially calamitous misjudgement of the situation in Europe. Yet even if it appears convinced it is not convincing. The book’s circumlocutions and jagged form make it an atypical political tract, consciously obscure, and philosophically uncertain, even as it condemns “revolutionary massacre”: “If I would escape from my patter I must touch upon things too deep for my intellect and knowledge” (24-5). It might seem more familiar if no less disconcerting to readers of the period: an unwelcome member of that family of war texts this issue outlines, to which might be added MacNeice’s Autumn Journal, David Jones’s In Parenthesis, with its frenetic self-drawn cover, and Denis Johnston’s Nine Rivers from Jordan, all in their own ways expressing an inexpressible attitude to troubled times in paratextual ruptures, and generic and formal experimentalism.18

  • 19 For more see Marjorie Howes, ‘Yeats’s Graves’ (Yeats and Afterwords 213-232), though I differ in th (...)
  • 20 As edited by the publishers Macmillan (with the agreement of the copyright-holder George Yeats) omi (...)

31The author’s death and delays to publication gave to it the frisson of actual war but also the gloss of history: it was already out of date when it emerged. And, unlike “Under Ben Bulben”, it was not written as a posthumous text, rather asserting its author’s vitality.19 As reprinted alongside other essays between the neat covers of Explorations it becomes part of an oeuvre, interesting to Yeatsians rather than readers reckoning its energy as current intervention. Lacking vivid contemporary sections and the original’s genre-bending, no longer prefaced by “I shall write what ever interests me at the moment”, it is less occasional, more serious, giving it an unwarranted formal authority but rendering it politically inert, except to Yeats’s own reputation (7).20 In consequence it acts as something considerably less sinister in content and scope than Pound’s diatribes.

  • 21 Not least because Yeats still sought Pound’s approval of his work: “Ezra, who comes to dinner on Tu (...)

32Still, some of the same questions must be asked of Yeats as of Pound, especially where politics and aesthetics overlap.21 W.H. Auden, no friend of Yeats politically (though his plays are mentioned in On the Boiler) penned a dialogic essay “The Public vs the Late William Butler Yeats”, rather undermining the idea that “a great poet must have the right answers to the problems which perplex his generation” (Prose 2:5). His epitaph on Yeats originally included these lines:

Time that with this strange excuse
Pardoned Kipling and his views,
And will pardon Paul Claudel,
Pardons him for writing well.
(English Auden, 242)

  • 22 See the manuscript texts of what might have become On the Boiler 2, in the National Library of Irel (...)

33Whether or not this is true for poetry in general, it is harder to say about On the Boiler: there are placid waters and sunny shallows, but also treacherous cataracts, ragged shorelines, and the stormiest of seas. It is not just a political screed, either, but one where poetry provides commentary, pronouncements on art, theatre, music and poetry take some charge from politics, and even a sense of beauty is blighted by ideas of eugenic inheritance (an uncorrected misprint of “theatre” as “threats” seems guided by the stars [O’Donnell, 428]). It is not so much that its political tendencies can be seen as overlapping with fascism: it is more open than fascist governments about disconcerting implications of such elitist views, and though invested in a troubling if nuanced kind of racial essentialism, much less inclined to wider racial animus, and finally much more energized to subversive radical individualism, of no party but its own. Certainly, it might be seen among the late texts which David Lloyd maintains refuse “the consolatory myths of belonging on which fascism relies for its legitimation” (79). No, it is its eugenic fixation, only partially undermined by the variety of its pages, and by the complexity of poetry on which it hoped to count as illustrations. To the questions such a book raises about modernism’s yoking of aesthetics and politics, there are no easy answers, even if its own answers can in practice be compelling as well as disturbing, and the fragments of its religious sequel tantalize us with whirls of soul and destiny.22 What remains is a difficult book, never mind text, which cannot be separated from its author. Still, it is one that must be looked at in totality, contextually, paratextually, of and in its times, designed and published as part of an (aborted) series. It is not a final word, but an ongoing provocation.

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1 John Stallworthy once told me privately his work on Wilfred Owen was a reaction to his sense of Yeats’s indifference to the First World War and its poetry. For more on A Packet for Ezra Pound, see Paterson, “Men of Letters: W.B. Yeats’s A Packet for Ezra Pound (1929).” E-rea vol. 15 no 2, June 2018.

2 Starkie is a curious figure: A student of Romany languages and later translator of Don Quixote, as linguist and musician a convinced supporter of the survival of “gypsy” and other minority ethnic groups, languages and cultures under threat across Europe (see his popular Raggle Taggle: Adventures with a Fiddle in Hungary and Roumania [1933]), he tended to favour self-determination for small nation states; a view at times at odds with a political flexibility that would lead him to flourish in Franco’s Spain (see Hurtley’s Walter Starkie: An Odyssey).

3 For more see Barnes’s ‘W.B. Yeats and Broadcasting’ (1940): Yeats was even approached by the BBC about the possibility of adapting these raucous performances for television (Letters 7116).

4 For Bakhtin see The Dialogic Imagination, for Kristeva see Polylogue.

5 For more on its vexed publication history and editions see William O’Donnell’s comprehensive article.

6 Thinking of Ruskin’s periodical (1871-1884) returned Yeats to his socialist roots; several times in letters he refers to On the Boiler as ‘my Fors’ (7113).

7 A Broadside appeared in monthly numbers for 1935 (co-edited by F.R. Higgins) and 1937 (co-edited by Dorothy Wellesley); further numbers were planned for 1939.

8 Belfast was still a major ship-building hub; Charles Parsons of Birr, Fourth Earl of Rosse, founded in 1893 the Marine Steam Turbine Company to promote his revolutionary invention.

9 See (Letters 7144); Bradshaw explores Yeats’s correspondence with Blacker, his reading of R.A. Fisher and Raymond Cattell, and eugenic expression in prose drafts. For more on Yeats’s reading of economics and connection with Mannin, see Pietrzak.

10 To Olivia Shakespear he noted “This pamphlet is so tory that there is not a tory in the world will agree with it” (Letters 7179).

11 To Dorothy Wellesley, 26 September 1938.

12 No fascist sympathies (or secret societies) were required for comparative cyclical views of history to take hold: Toynbee’s immense A Study of History (with great sections devoted to “War and Civilization” and detailed scrutiny of historical “modernism” and coinage of the term “post-modernism”) became vastly popular and put him on the cover of Time magazine.

13 The links between Nazism and esoteric philosophy, for instance, are subject to considerable sensationalism (see Goodrick-Clarke).

14 Earlier Yeats had hankered after the impersonal ease of appointed bankers and lawyers in the old Seanad Éireann, though admitting they made “terrible decisions” (12).

15 Autumn Journal rhymes “trench” with “Übermensch” and admits “the parks in London are a nasty sight” (Poems, vii 114, ix 117). In an amused letter to his wife Yeats describes an argument between Matheson and the aristocratic Wellesley, who displayed great pique that her land should be used for trenches (Letters 7335).

16 Both Allied and Axis powers drew up serious invasion plans for Ireland. For more on this and Irish neutrality see Wills.

17 Purgatory posits the original sin as eugenic, so miscegenation thereby affects us all, from aristocrat down. By killing his son before the ancient house the Old Man can only condemn his family to circular suffering, making it interesting that by an accident of printing the long last line is the only one to spill over: “Mankind can do no more. Appease | The misery of the living and the remorse of | the dead” (46).

18 See “Introduction”; for more on Denis Johnston, see Tom Walker and Maurice Walsh in Depner and Woodward, Irish Culture 148-173.

19 For more see Marjorie Howes, ‘Yeats’s Graves’ (Yeats and Afterwords 213-232), though I differ in thinking On the Boiler presents a different kind of mask than that adopted in a poem no longer called “His Convictions” (Yeats, Last Poems).

20 As edited by the publishers Macmillan (with the agreement of the copyright-holder George Yeats) omitted are the play Purgatory, a poem “Crazy Jane on the Mountain”, a section on education, and any hints like the “Preface” of its occasional status (see O’Donnell, 441).

21 Not least because Yeats still sought Pound’s approval of his work: “Ezra, who comes to dinner on Tuesday writes that my recent poems are ‘rather good’ which for him is rapturous approval” (Georges Yeats, Letters, 552).

22 See the manuscript texts of what might have become On the Boiler 2, in the National Library of Ireland (NLI MS 30, 280) part-transcribed in Ellmann, The Identity of Yeats, 236-7.

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Adrian PATERSON, « ‘Of war and war’s alarms’: W.B. Yeats from On the Boiler (1939) », E-rea [En ligne], 17.2 | 2020, mis en ligne le 15 juin 2020, consulté le 14 juillet 2020. URL : ; DOI :

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National University of Ireland, Galway
Adrian Paterson is Lecturer in English at the National University of Ireland, Galway, with a particular interest in Irish literature and modernist artistic interactions. Recent work, including articles on Ezra Pound, James Joyce, George Bernard Shaw, and a forthcoming monograph Words for Music: W.B. Yeats and Musical Sense, pursues music, print, and technology as far back as the eighteenth century (for Irish Literature in Transition 1780-1830 ed. Claire Connolly, Cambridge 2020). He is the curator of the multimedia exhibition Yeats & the West, co-editor with Tom Walker and Charles Armstrong of The Edinburgh Companion to Yeats and the Arts, and co-editor with Christine Reynier of the open access E-rea special journal issue Modernist Non-fictional Narratives: Rewriting Modernism (Vol. 15, no. 2 2018).

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