Advertisement

“Uplift our State”: Yeats, Oedipus, and the Translation of a National Dramatic Form

  • Steven G. Yao

Abstract

With major achievements of various sorts ranging from the late nineteenth century to almost the middle of the twentieth, William Buder Yeats stands as the first, and in many ways most successful, of the polymath geniuses of Anglo-American Modernism. Poet, playwright, propagandist, philosopher of the occult, and politician, among other things, Yeats also helped to make the Modernist period in English “an age of translations” by producing renderings of both King Oedipus (1928) and Oedipus at Colonus (1934), which to this day remain compelling for their charged diction and powerful, stately rhythms. The ongoing effectiveness of these works, especially that of their language, eloquendy registers the extent to which contemporary aesthetic values remain deeply rooted in the standards and practices first set forth by the Modernists. In addition to such specifically dedicated feats of translation per se, Yeats also explicitly practiced translation as a form of poetic composition, concluding both “A Man Young and Old” and “A Woman Young and Old,” the final sequences from arguably his two finest collections of verse, The Tower (1928) and The Winding Stair and Other Poems (1933), with poetic renderings of choral odes from Oedipus at Colonus and Antigone respectively. Much more than just belated exercises of apprenticeship, as their appearance at the very height of his career alone suggests, these acts of translation of and from the tragedies of Sophocles culminate a more than quarter-century engagement with the practice of translation as a strategy for establishing the terms of an expressly national culture in the face of the hybrid cultural situation of modem Ireland, an engagement that unfolded primarily within the context of Yeats’s attempt to establish an Irish national theater and native dramatic form.

Keywords

National Culture Literary Production Literary Practice Political Speech Irish People 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

Preview

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Notes

  1. 1.
    From the first Priest’s speech in Yeats’s Sophocles’ King Oedipus: A Version for the Modem Stage, in The Collected Plays of W. B. Yeats (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1934, 1952), p. 304.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    For a different approach to the category of “genius” and the way in which it shapes the reading of various Modernist writers, see Bob Perelman, The Trouble with Genius: Reading Pound, Joyce, Stein and Zukofsky (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1994).Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Conor Cruise O’Brien, “Passion and Cunning: An Essay on the Politics of W. B. Yeats,” In Excited Reverie: A Centenary Tribute to W.B. Yeats 1865–1939, ed. Norman Jeffares (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1965).Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    For a defense of Yeats as nationalist and liberal, see Elizabeth Cullingford, Yeats, Ireland, and Fascism (New York: New York University Press, 1981).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. For a defense of Yeats as ardent nationalist, see Bernard Krimm, W. B. Yeats and the Emergence of the Irish Free State 1918–1939: Living in the Explosion (Troy, NY: Whitson Publishing, 1981).Google Scholar
  6. For a view that falls in between these two positions, see Grattan Freyer, W. B. Yeats and the Anti-Democratic Tradition (Dublin: Gill and Macmillan, 1981).Google Scholar
  7. 5.
    This is essentially the position taken by Paul Scott Stanfield in his Yeats and Politics in the Nineteen-Thirties (London: Macmillan, 1988).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. 6.
    Edward Said, “Yeats and Decolonization,” in Nationalism, Colonialism and Literature, ed. Seamus Deane (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1990), p. 84.Google Scholar
  9. 7.
    For Deane’s views, see Seamus Deane, “Yeats and the Idea of Revolution,” in Celtic Revivals: Essays in Modern Irish Literature 1880–1980 (London: Faber and Faber, 1985)Google Scholar
  10. For Kearney’s views, see Richard Kearney, Transitions: Narratives in Modern Irish Culture (Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, 1985)Google Scholar
  11. 8.
    David Lloyd, Anomalous States: Irish Writing and the Post-Colonial Moment (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1993), p. 5.Google Scholar
  12. 9.
    Majorie Howes, Yeats’s Nations: Gender Class and Irishness (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1996), p. 1.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. For another work that takes up the subject of the politics of Yeats’s writing from the perspective of psychoanalysis and reader-response, see Vicki Mahaffey, States of Desire: Wilde, Yeats, Joyce and the Irish Experiment (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998).Google Scholar
  14. 10.
    Michael Cronin, Translating Ireland: Translation, Languages, Cultures (Cork: Cork University Press, 1996), p. 1. Hereafter cited as Cronin in the body of the text.Google Scholar
  15. 11.
    For a textual history, see David R. Clark and James B. Maguire, W. B. Yeats: The Writing of Sophocles’ King Oedipus (Philadelphia: The American Philosophical Society, 1989), pp. 3–22.Google Scholar
  16. For a thematic analysis, see P. Th.M.G. Liebgrets. Centaurs in the Twilight: W. B. Yeats’s Use of the Classical Tradition (Amsterdam and Atlanta: Rodopi, 1993), pp. 359–71.Google Scholar
  17. See also Brian Arkins, Builders of My Soul: Greek and Roman Themes in Yeats (Gerrards Cross: Colin Smythe, 1990).Google Scholar
  18. 12.
    The most renowned of these discussions in contemporary criticism is, of course, Homi Bhaba’s edited volume Nation and Narration (London: Roudedge, 1990).Google Scholar
  19. 13.
    W. B. Yeats, Explorations (London, Macmillan & Co. Ltd., 1962), p. 3.Google Scholar
  20. 14.
    For a recent critical discussion of the cultural nationalist program of Young Ireland Movement in general and of the meaning of translation as a literary mode in James Clarence Mangan’s work, see David Lloyd, Nationalism and Minor Literature: James Clarence Mangan and the Emergence of Irish Cultural Nationalism (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1987), especially pp. 66–67 and Chapter 4, “Veils of Sais: Translation as Refraction and Parody.”Google Scholar
  21. For a brief outline of the efforts of the contemporary Field Day Company, and the relevance of translation as a metaphor, see Seamus Deane, “Introduction” to Nationalism, Colonialism, and Literature (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1990), p. 14.Google Scholar
  22. 16.
    For a related study, also see Declan Kiberd, Synge and the Irish Language, 2nd Edition (Dublin: Gill and Macmillan, 1993), p. 197.Google Scholar
  23. 17.
    See Mikhail Bakhtin, The Dialogic imagination: Four Essays. Michael Holquist, ed., Caryl Emerson and Michael Holquist, trans. (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1981), pp. 262–63 and passim.Google Scholar
  24. For a critique of Bakhtin’s theories as they apply to a specifically Irish situation, see David Lloyd, Anomalous States: Irish Writing and the Post-Colonial Moment (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1993), pp. 89–115.Google Scholar
  25. 19.
    For a discussion of this long-standing metaphor for translation, see J. Woodsworth, “Metaphor and Theory: Describing the Translation Process,” in P. N. Chaffey, A. G Rydning, and S. S. Ulriksen, eds., Translation Theory in Scandinavia: Proceedings from the Scandinavian Symposium on Translation Theory (Oslo: University of Oslo Press, 1988).Google Scholar
  26. 21.
    For a discussion of Yeats’s later engagement with the issue of compulsory Gaelic during his time as a Free State Senator, see Bernard Krimm, W. B. Yeats and the Emergence of the Irish Free State, 1918—1939: Living in the Explosion (Troy, NY: The Whitson Publishing Company, 1981), chapter 4, especially pp. 103–15.Google Scholar
  27. 26.
    James Flannery, W. B. Yeats and the Idea of a Theatre: The Early Abbey Theatre in Theory and Practice (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1976), p. 65.Google Scholar
  28. 28.
    The classic formulation of the importance of print capitalism, embodied in the form of the newspaper, is, of course, Benedict Anderson’s Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism (London and New York: Verso, revised edition, 1991).Google Scholar
  29. 30.
    For a discussion of this long and complex interaction, see James Longenbach, Stone Cottage: Pound, Yeats, and Modernism (Oxford, UK and New York: Oxford University Press, 1988).Google Scholar
  30. 37.
    See especially Eliot’s essay “Euripides and Professor Murray,” in Selected Essays (New York: Harcourt Brace, 1950), p. 47.Google Scholar
  31. 43.
    Frederic Grab, “Yeats’s King Oedipus,” in The Journal of English and Germanic Philology 71 (1972): 343.Google Scholar
  32. 50.
    Donal McCartney, “From Parnell to Pearse” (1891–1921) in The Course of Irish History, eds. T. W. Moody and F. X. Martin. Revised and enlarged edition (Cork: The Mercier Press, 1984), p. 311.Google Scholar
  33. 55.
    For an extended discussion of Yeats’s relationship to Fascist politics, see Elizabeth Cullingford, Yeats, Ireland and Fascism (New York: New York University Press, 1981).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. 61.
    R. C. Jebb, trans., The Oedipus Coloneus (Amsterdam: Adolf M. Hakkert, 1965), pp. 191–97.Google Scholar
  35. 62.
    See David Maguire, Yeats at Songs and Choruses (Amherst: The University of Massachusetts Press, 1983), pp. 202–10.Google Scholar
  36. 68.
    R. C. Jebb, trans., The Tragedies of Sophocles (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1904), pp. 153–54.Google Scholar
  37. 70.
    For a full accounting of Pound’s suggestions and the revisions Yeats made in light of them, as well as for a wonderfully full, yet nuanced reading of this poem, see Patrick J. Keene, Yeats’s Interactions with Tradition (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1987), pp. 285–310.Google Scholar
  38. 71.
    See Richard Ellmann, The Identity of Yeats (New York: Oxford University Press, 1954), pp. 183–84.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Steven G. Yao 2002

Authors and Affiliations

  • Steven G. Yao

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations