Keats as Bard

  • Christine Gallant


At the other end of the century, Yeats also found Celtic lore and the “fairy-faith” a powerful defense against the English in the service of the more well-known Irish Celtic Revival. The early anthropologist W.Y. Evans-Wentz, whose book The Fairy-Faith in Celtic Countries is a classic in Celtic studies, considered this a living faith that “depends not so much upon ancient traditions, oral and recorded, as upon recent and contemporary psychic experiences.”1 For Yeats, the faery-faith was more or less synonymous with folklore, and he regarded it as such when he collected folklore materials in western Ireland during the 1880s. Yeats himself seemed to have believed that faeries did exist and spoke of this belief in several speeches of the late 1880s and 1890s, though he was prudent in admitting it.2 Yet one wonders.


Greek Myth Poetic Romance Great Poet Classical Myth Human Realm 
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  1. 1.
    Evans-Wentz, p. 477, cited in Gregory Castle, Modernism and the Celtic Revival, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001, p. 41.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. 2.
    Edward Hirsch, “‘Contention is Better than Loneliness’: The Poet as Folklorist,” in The Genres of the Irish Literary Revival, ed. Ronald Schleifer, Dublin: Wolfhound Press and Norman, OK: Pilgrim Books, 1980, p. 13.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Gregory Castle, Modernism and the Celtic Revival, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001, p. 58.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. 5.
    The taboo on faery privacy was a widespread one, as Yeats should have recalled if he genuinely believed faeries existed (Motif F361.3, Fairies take revenge on person who spies on them). W.B. Yeats, ed., Fairy and Folk Tales of Ireland, intro. Yeats, 1888; rpt. Gerrards Cross: Colin Smythe Ltd, 1973. Thus he classifies faeries as either the “trooping” ones who go about together, or the solitary ones who tend to be malicious and evil. Yeats’s taxonomy is continued by Katharine Briggs in her Encyclopedia of Fairies, although she does not attribute those terms to Yeats.Google Scholar
  5. 7.
    Yeats A, “The Message of the Folk-lorist” (1883), in Uncollected Prose, collected and ed. John P. Frayne, I, New York: Columbia University Press, 1970, pp. 284–8.Google Scholar
  6. 9.
    Frank Kinahan, Yeats, Folklore, and Occultism: Contexts of the Early Works and Thought, Boston: Unwin Hyman, 1988, p. 52.Google Scholar
  7. 14.
    For two incisive demonstrations of just how much of a construct Yeats’s peasant was, see Edward Hirsch, “The Imaginary Irish Peasant,” PMLA 106, No. 5 (October 1991), pp. 1116–33; and Deborah Fleming, “A man who does not exist”: The Irish Peasant in the Work of W.B. Yeats and J.M. Synge, Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 1995.Google Scholar
  8. 31.
    Jonathan Bate, Shakespeare and Ovid, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993, p. 136. Bates remarks that “Shakespeare was well versed in Ovid” (24), and “the fact of Shakespeare’s imitation of Ovid is beyond dispute” (9).Google Scholar
  9. 57.
    Robert F.Gleckner, “Keats’s ‘How Many Bards’ and Poetic Tradition”, Keats-Shelley journal, Vol. XXVII (1978), p. 16.Google Scholar

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© Christine Gallant 2005

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  • Christine Gallant

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