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Seamus Heaney Writes Back to William Butler Yeats*

Youngmin Kim

Abstract

William Butler Yeats was born at Georgeville, Sandymount Avenue, Dublin, in1865, and died in the South of France, in January 28, 1939. Yeats was fifty in1915-1916. He provides a poetic rendering of his visionary experience at his fiftiethyear in the fourth section of "Vacillation" written in November 1931, when hebecame absorbed in the philosophical thinking while writing A Vision: "My fiftiethyear had come and gone,/ I sat, a solitary man,/ In a crowded London shop,/ Anopen book and empty cup/ On the marble table-top./ While on the shop and street Igazed/ My body of a sudden blazed;/ And twenty minutes more or less/ It seemed,so great my happiness,/ That I was blessed and could bless."(CPN 251).
In May 9, 1917, recalling his fiftieth year, Yeats describes this experience in aprose, entitled "Anima Mundi": "Perhaps I am sitting in some crowded restaurant,the open book beside me, or closed, my excitement having overbrimmed the page. Ilook at the strangers near as if I had known them all my life, and it seems strangethat I cannot speak to them: everything fills me with affection, I have no longerany fears of any needs; I do not even remember that this happy mood must cometo an end. It seems as if the vehicle had suddenly grown pure and far extendedand so luminous that the images from Anima Mundi, embodied there and drunkwith that sweetness, would, like a country drunkard who has thrown a wisp into hisown thatch, burn up time." (Myth 364-5)
Seamus Heaney was born in April 13, 1939 in Count Derry, Northern Ireland,and has been attacking Yeats since 1980s for the latter's aristocratic mysticism andspiritual matters. Heaney gave a lecture at Oxford University in 1990, entitled "Joyor Night: Last Things in the Poetry of W. B. Yeats and Philip Larkin." This lecturewas given at the end of his own fiftieth year and simultaneously commemorated the fiftieth anniversary of Yeats's death. In this lecture, Heaney comes to open up "asudden comprehension" to Yeats's vacillating visionary experience of the spirit in"The Cold Heaven": "The spirit's vulnerability, the mind's awe at the infinite spacesand its bewilderment at the implacable inquisition which they representall of this issimultaneously present" (The Redress of Poetry 148). In "Fostering," a poem fromSeeing Things (1991), Heaney professes his poetic admission of Yeatsian visionaryposition: "Me waiting until I was nearly fifty/ To credit marvels" (50). In short,Heaney reaches what Yeats did for the spiritual world.
The main objective of this paper is to demonstrate how Heaney reacts Yeats'spoetry of vision. My focus is on the year fifty, when they erupt their creativeenergy in terms of "vacillation"which nevertheless shows the provocative and violentdynamism of the Yeatsian "interlocking gyres."

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