WB Yeats Poems in the Dublin University Review 1885-1886: Open Fiction Post

As I have been exploring WB Yeats as a very young man, a list of the poems he first published would have been useful to me, so I'm reproducing it here, in case it might be helpful to another.

These first poems, while of course less celebrated than his later works, and omitted from his “canon” of his own work, nonetheless offer invaluable insights into the nascent stages of what would become one of the most illustrious careers in literary history.

He wrote some of them while he was still at art school, at the Metropolitan School of Art, but mostly in the period after he left, and the writing of them confirmed to himself, and to the world, that he was not to be an artist but a writer.

Two poems from The Island of Statues (“Song of the Fairies”; and “Voices”, later reprinted as “The Cloak, the Boat, and the Shoes” were first off the blocks, appearing in the March 1885 issue of the Review and the entire play was serialized that year, from April through July.

Towards the end of the sequence, you can see the effect that the influential visit of Mohini Chatterjee, an Indian chela to Madame Blavatsky and the Theosophy Society, had on his work. “An Indian Song” (later “The Indian to his Love”), and “From the Book of Kauri the Indian—Section V. On the Nature of God” (later “The Indian upon God”).

Yeats had to do an “audition” to be allowed to serialize his book in The Review. I bring this  event to life in my next extract for fiction patrons, next Friday. If you'd like to read it, become a fiction patron for a micro-payment each month)


The Dublin University Review Poems 1885-1886 (Chronological Order)

March 1885

  • Songs from The Island of Statues: Song of the Fairies; and Voices (reprinted as The Cloak, the Boat, and the Shoes)

April–July 1885

  • Extracts from The Island of Statues

May 1885

  • Love and Death

September 1885

  • The Seeker

October 1885

  • Epilogue to The Island of Statues—later The Song of the Happy Shepherd

January 1886

  • In a Drawing-Room

February 1886

  • Life

March 1886

  • The Two Titans. A Political Poem
Nettleship Lion Studies
Nettleship Lion Studies of the type praised by  WB Yeats in his poem (Dublin University Review)

April 1886

  • On Mr. Nettleship’s Picture at the Royal Hibernian Academy

June 1886

  • Mosada

October 1886

  • Miserrimus—later The Sad Shepherd
  • From The Book of Kauri the Indian—Section V. On the Nature of God —later The Indian upon God

November 1886

  • “The Poetry of Sir Samuel Ferguson” (Essay)

December 1886

  • An Indian Song— later The Indian to his Love

Yeats was disappointed that The Island of Statues was not included in his first conventionally published volume of poetry – The Wanderings of Oisin and Other Poems, which was published in 1889. He wrote to a friend: I am sorry that the whole of the island of statues is not in my book. It would've increased the book's size too much. It will be printed later in some future volume.”

In fact, he never saw the play printed in its entirety, and there was no entire printing until Kevin Millar brought it out in 2014, together with The Seeker, and The Song of the Happy Shepherd, the poem he first published in the Dublin University Review as an Epilogue to these plays. When Yeats put together his collected poems in 1933, he began with this, my favorite early Yeats poem, and I think his first great poem (see below).

Maud Gonne loved “The Island of Statues”, which she read in the Dublin University Review. When she visited Yeats house for the first time, in January 1889, she told him the play made her cry.

And that she altogether favored the (wicked!) Enchantress and hated (the heroine) Naschina. Interesting choice, he must have thought!


The Song of the Happy Shepherd
The woods of Arcady are dead,
And over is their antique joy;
Of old the world on dreaming fed;
Grey Truth is now her painted toy;
Yet still she turns her restless head:
But O, sick children of the world,
Of all the many changing things
In dreary dancing past us whirled,
To the cracked tune that Chronos sings,
Words alone are certain good.
Where are now the warring kings,
Word be-mockers? — By the Rood
Where are now the warring kings?
An idle word is now their glory,
By the stammering schoolboy said,
Reading some entangled story:
The kings of the old time are dead;
The wandering earth herself may be
Only a sudden flaming word,
In clanging space a moment heard,
Troubling the endless reverie.

Then nowise worship dusty deeds,
Nor seek, for this is also sooth,
To hunger fiercely after truth,
Lest all thy toiling only breeds
New dreams, new dreams; there is no truth
Saving in thine own heart. Seek, then,
No learning from the starry men,
Who follow with the optic glass
The whirling ways of stars that pass —
Seek, then, for this is also sooth,
No word of theirs — the cold star-bane
Has cloven and rent their hearts in twain,
And dead is all their human truth.
Go gather by the humming sea
Some twisted, echo-harbouring shell,
And to its lips thy story tell,
And they thy comforters will be,
Rewarding in melodious guile
Thy fretful words a little while,
Till they shall singing fade in ruth
And die a pearly brotherhood;
For words alone are certain good:
Sing, then, for this is also sooth.

I must be gone: there is a grave
Where daffodil and lily wave,
And I would please the hapless faun,
Buried under the sleepy ground,
With mirthful songs before the dawn.
His shouting days with mirth were crowned;
And still I dream he treads the lawn,
Walking ghostly in the dew,
Pierced by my glad singing through,
My songs of old earth's dreamy youth:
But ah! she dreams not now; dream thou!
For fair are poppies on the brow:
Dream, dream, for this is also sooth.

WB Yeats in the Dublin University Review 1885-1886: Links and Further Reading

The poems and plays mentioned, including the edits and changed titles, can be found in The Variorum Edition of the Poems of W. B. Yeats,

The essay on Ferguson is reprinted in the first volume of Uncollected Prose by W. B. Yeats (pictured)

The Island of Statues has now been published in complete form for the first time by Keith Miller. His volume also contains the short play The Seeker and “The Song of the Happy Shepherd,” intended as an epilogue to both plays.

More on Yeats' relationship with TW Nettleship (“On Mr. Nettleship’s Picture at the Royal Hibernian Academy) including Yeats opinions on his Blake paintings in John Trivett Nettleship and his Blake Drawings, from The Blake Society.

The featured image of Trinity College Dublin in the 1880s was taken by William Lawrence Studio. Sourced at Te Papa Museum New Zealand

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