J. B. Yeats’s Marginalia in The Wanderings of Oisin and Other Poems

  • Michael J. Sidnell
Part of the Yeats Annual book series (YA)


THE PUBLICATION IN 1889 of The Wanderings of Oisin and Other Poems enhanced W.B. Yeats’s growing reputation and, as a sign of the twenty-four-year-old poet’s productivity and promise, gratified his father.1 But the son’s achievement was galling, also, since it came at a time when the father’s career had stalled. At fifty-one, John Butler Yeats’s achievement as a painter was modest and he was descending into chronic financial dependency on his family and friends. JBY’s biographer observes that as ‘Willy was rising to prominence … John Butler Yeats came as close to emotional breakdown as it was possible to do without going over the edge.’2 JBY always remembered this as a time of ‘incessant humiliation’.3 His son’s new book had the effect of further marginalising him and it was in its margins that he asserted himself.


Apple Tree Explanatory Note Exclamation Mark Inverted Comma Dreamless Slumber 
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  1. 2.
    William M. Murphy, Prodigal Father: the Life of John Butler Yeats (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1978), p. 161.Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    Ibid, JBY to John Quinn, April 1919.Google Scholar
  3. 4.
    WBY to John Quinn, 30 November 1921, quoted in B. L. Reid, The Man from New York and his Friends (New York: Oxford University Press, 1968), pp. 493–94.Google Scholar
  4. 9.
    JBY to Edward Dowden, 7 January 1884. See J. B. Yeats, Letters to his Son W.B. Yeats and Others: 1869–1922, ed. Joseph Hone (London: Faber & Faber, 1944), p. 53.Google Scholar
  5. 15.
    For the details of publication I am indebted to John S. Kelly, ‘Books and Numberless Dreams: Yeats’s Relations with his Early Publishers’, in Yeats, Sligo and Ireland, ed. A. Norman Jeffares (Gerrards Cross: Colin Smythe, 1980), pp. 232–253.Google Scholar
  6. 16.
    (a) ‘The dew …’ appears in ‘The Lord of the Isles’, canto 1, st. 3 by Sir Walter Scott (1771–1832). Edith, the Maid of Lorn, on her wedding day, is being urged by minstrels to wake and so allow her beauty to match Nature’s, which, at the moment, is ahead of hers. See The Poetical Works of Sir Walter Scott, edited J. Logie Robertson (London: Oxford University Press, 1908), p.413. (b) ‘And the bright dew-bead …’ appears in Part One of ‘The Omnipresence of The Deity’ by Robert Montgomery (1807–55). At this point in the poem, Montgomery is describing a transition from storm to calm weather. See Robert Montgomery, The Omnipresence of The Deity: A Poem, 13th edition, revised and enlarged (London: Simpkin and Marshall, 1834), p. 48.Google Scholar

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© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 1998

Authors and Affiliations

  • Michael J. Sidnell

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