WB Yeats Poems Inspired By Iseult Gonne

White bird Symbol of Maud Gonne & Iseult Gonne
White bird: a symbol in Yeats's poetry for both Iseult & Maud Gonne

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

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Who To Follow On Twitter: WB Yeats, Maud Gonne and Iseult Gonne

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 imagine Maud 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 tweets here.

And here's a Storify list of people to follow if you're interested in learning more:

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WB Yeats Poems Inspired By Maud Gonne

Inspiration for Maud Gonne
Rosetti Pre-Raphaelite woman, a trope that inspired Yeats's vision of Maud Gonne

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

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Why WB Yeats, Maud Gonne and Iseult Gonne?

Iseult Gonne
Iseult Gonne

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

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After The Rising 3. Never Say Never.

The story so far: Jo Devereux has returned to Mucknamore, the Irish seaside village where she grew up, for her mother's funeral after an absence of 20 years. There she reconnects with her sister Maeve and her ex-boyfriend, Rory O'Donovan, the only man she has ever loved, who caused the rift between her and her family. Now read on:

‘So, Dev,’ he says, after my sister has made her excuses and scuttled away. ‘What’s going on? Why are you receiving us in bed, like a courtesan? You don’t look sick to me. You look better than ever.’

As he’s talking, he’s pulling out the chair from the corner and bringing it over, close to the bed. ‘Don’t think I don’t know what you’re up to. Lying low, avoiding the mob. Avoiding me too, you brat.’

Brat-sh. The soft Irish T. He sounds so Wexford to my ears now, such a strong streak of Mucknamore in his accent: the nasal vowels, the singing rise and fall to his sentences. But of course it’s my speech that has changed, not his. I am stuck again by the newness of him, the short hair that makes him look unfinished.

‘It’s all a bit Mucknamore for me.’

‘I knew it.’

‘I hear you’re a full fledged resident now.’ I speak as if I only heard today, as if Maeve and Dee, my Wexford friend who also lives in SF, hadn’t passed on everything they knew about him since I left. ‘Was the progressive liberalism that drew you? Or the cultural stimulation?’

‘No need to sneer, city girl. It’s a good place to live.’

I raise my brows into a question. The Rory I knew could not have

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Salema Moods: Three Short Poems

I. Ocean Pulse

Rising, curling, foam unfurling,
waves of cold Atlantic sea,

next one coming, meet it running,
plunge into the safe beneath.

Avoid crashing, hard sand-smashing
that could knock me to my knees.

Out here holding. Look I’m floating!
Blood-beat drumming in my ears.

Waves keep surging, endless burgeon
sent up from the darkest deeps,

surface playing, breath delaying,
I dive into your mystery,

always saying all to me.

II. Here is Where
I've been here
before but
now I’m here
for healing.

Twice times ill
with cancer
and its cure
here is where
I’ve come. Numb
beneath – or
should I say
beyond? – these,
my extremities.

I've been here
before but
now I’m here
for healing.

III. Seeing Eye

I’m rocked in salt arms: the ocean,
waves pillowing under my head.
The sky’s eye seems to wink open
to glint all I seek to reflect.
For one glittering, infinite instant
I can’t tell the fall from the swell.

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Tormentor Mentors

IN AUTUMN OF 1916, Iseult Gonne sent a long letter to her friend and mentor, WB Yeats, in which she referred to his recent critique of her writing: “I am most thankful to you for those criticisms you have made on my scribblings,” she wrote. “Yes, they are bad. I knew it all the while and I am glad of what you say about truth and beauty. I will try and put it into practice . . . but just now I am still too tired to work.”

Too tired to work. When I first came upon those words, as part of research I was doing into Gonne’s life, I felt like weeping. Yes, the writing she was doing at the time could sometimes be

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