Monday, 29 February 2016

Yeats in Love ~ Annie West

It is 29 February, a leap year; traditionally the day women deign to propose to their male counterparts.  And I have been thinking of romance and women; I have been reading and enjoying Annie West's book - Yeats in Love.  And I was wondering about Maude Gonne, is she ever would have proposed to Yeats; if she ever even remotely entertained the idea of a future with the famed Irish bard.
It seems that all the world has come to know of Yeats's rejection, his everlasting shame of having loved and not been loved in return.
West has created a curious book about Yeats's relationship, or rather famous obsession, with the great beauty Maude Gonne.  We imagine theirs as the love of Yeats's life, but it seems that the whole affair was one sided, a mere figment of Yeats's imagination, no more real that the fairies of the Celtic Twilight, or his journey to Innisfree.  He did nothing by halves, and it seems that Yeats's adoration of the elusive Maude was all consuming.  Today, we'd call this lover by another name: STALKER!  

This is the slant that West takes in this book.  It presents a humorous collection of prints, punctuated with quotations by and about Yeats; comments, poetic snippets, that shed some light on Yeats's relationship with Mrs MacBride.  
The irony is, that the more West pokes fun at Yeats, the more sympathetic the reader feel towards him; the humour giving way to something altogether more melancholic.  It seems cheap to poke fun at someone else's misery, but aspects of  Yeats's life are undoubtedly comic - his proposal to Iseult MacBride, Gonne's daughter, followed by another inevitable rejection (the apple didn't fall far from the tree!) was silliness itself.
Yet, there is something charming in this portrayal of Yeats as the lover eternal, doggedly determined
to have his amour. These images reveal his foolishness for all to see, but the poet himself.  He dreams and schemes to have his love, while those around him laugh.  And it seems to me, that this book humanises Yeats, more than any biography.  Here is the real Yeats, the lover, the dreamer, the man who wrote of fairies and misty vales. And it seems to me what a fine thing to be; we could all be a bit more like Yeats.  And I think that perhaps Yeats was more a Colonel Brandon than a Mr Collins (to speak in the parlance of a Jane Austen fan), whose steadfast love was something to admire, not belittle.  So perhaps it is Gonne who we should pity; the woman who turned her back on the love of a poet.  Did she regret him?  Did she wish he would call again? Did she wait for a leap year to come
around at last?