Matthew Mutter, Bard College
Title: “‘What is Joy?’: Yeats, Paganism, and the Passions”
November 3, 2016
W.B. Yeats claimed that the governing tension of his poetic imagination could be characterized as a competition between the “swordsman” and the “saint.” His writing figures this tension in multiple ways—Oedipus v. Christ, Homer v. von Hügel, Michael Angelo v. Saint Catherine of Genoa, Cuchulai v. Patrick, “antithetical” v. “primary,” self v. soul—but the principal fault-line for Yeats is between pagan and Christian. This lecture will explore the consequences of this tension for Yeats’s vision of the emotional life. Yeats pits the vehement pagan “passions” against the spiritual Christian “affections,” yet the energy underwriting all passion for Yeats is the state of “joy.” Through a close reading of Yeats’s “Vacillation,” this lecture will attempt to answer the elusive question that drives the poem: “What is joy?” In doing so I hope to articulate the stakes of a broader question: how do competing religious and secular imaginaries impact our understanding of the shape and value of the emotions?
For a summary of the presentation, please click here.