In “A Memory of Youth” Yeats acknowledged how his poetic inspiration had dried until the intervention of “a most ridiculous little bird [who] Tore from the skies his marvelous moon.”
The little bird was Iseult Gonne, who saw herself as both pupil and teacher to Yeats.
Their friendship was founded on intellectual and spiritual connection and an attempt by Yeats’ to cast her in the role of muse from which her mother had disqualified herself.
At the time of his romantic attachment to Iseult, When he was seriously considering her as a wife (1916 to 1918), Yeats was working on the first volume of his autobiographies – reliving his infatuation for the mother while becoming
Willie, Maud and Iseult, three of the most imaginative people who ever lived, never imagined the Internet or Twitter.
If they were alive today, I imagineMaud would leap on Twitter for PR purposes, Iseult would shun it,and Willie would dismiss it for a time, with a lofty air of Parnassus, for the low-brow level of the conversation and the low-bred emotion of the crowd… but then be drawn in by finding his own way to use it.
I like to tweet regularly about Yeats and the Gonnes, as I find interesting new information about their life and work. You can follow those tweetshere.
And here's a Storify list of people to follow if you're interested in learning more:
In the early part of his life, Yeats was a Romantic (capital R), heavily influenced by Rossetti, Shelley and other pre-Raphaelites and Romantics, in his ideas of what constituted a perfect love, and an ideal world.
In the courtly love tradition, the poet deliberately woos a muse as a career move: to extend his spiritual and creative capacities. Dante’s pursuit of the unattainable Beatrice is the model for this “suffering of desire” that, Yeats believed, made Dante's “the chief imagination of Christendom” in the sixteenth century.
When Maud Gonne came calling to his house in 1889, Yeats was perfectly primed to cast her in this role, so he might become the “chief imagination” of his own time.
He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven
This poem was one of many written in the early 1890s, when Yeats knew little of Maud's real-life character or history. She was, as yet, purely
I wrote last time about first hearing of the strange love triangle between WB Yeats, Maud Gonne and her daughter, Iseult.
Iseult is less well known than her mother though her life story is equally dramatic, in a different sort of way. Born on August 6, 1894, she was the only surviving child from Maud's thirteen-year affair with a married
French politician and journalist, Lucien Millevoye.
She lived with Maud who passed her off, variously, as her niece, her cousin, or as “a charming child I adopted”. But she did know Lucien and he acknowledged her as his daughter, if not publicly.
It was an inauspicious start to life and Iseult struggled with issues of identity and self-worth always.
Most of my novels begin with a question. Here, the question was: how could Yeats, who had carved a poetic career from writing about his unrequited love for Maud find himself, some years on, proposing marriage to his muse's daughter? To a girl almost 30 years his junior, and one to whom he had long acted in locus parentis?
Other extraordinary connections between these three characters include:
In 1890, Maud Gonne had a son with Lucien Millevoye, who died of meningitis. Yeats and his mystical friend AE had convinced Maud it would be possible to reincarnate a dead person by having ritual sex in their tomb. So she on Hallowe'en night 1893, she brought