Nox Oculis


William Butler Yeats (1865-1939)

Poète et auteur dramatique irlandais, lauréat du prix Nobel de littérature, l'un des chefs de file de la renaissance irlandaise et l'un des plus grands écrivains du XXe siècle.

William Butler Yeats naquit à Dublin le 13 juin 1865. Fils du peintre irlandais, John Butler Yeats, il étudia la peinture à Londres et à Dublin. Fasciné par la tradition folklorique irlandaise, il fut influencé par les préraphaélites, par l'œuvre de Blake et celle de Shelley. En 1887, il partit avec sa famille pour Londres et c'est de cette époque que date son intérêt pour les savoirs ésotériques. Ses premiers écrits sont des poèmes symboliques et lyriques qui reprennent des thèmes de l'Irlande païenne, comme les Errances d'Oisin (1889) et The Lake Isle of Innisfree (1893). On lui doit également le Crépuscule celtique (1893) et The Secret Rose (1897), inspirés de légendes irlandaises. L'actrice Maud Gonne, qu'il rencontra et dont il tomba éperdument amoureux, lui inspira certains de ses premiers écrits et lui fit adopter la cause irlandaise. En 1896, il fit la connaissance de lady Gregory, qui lui offrit l'hospitalité de sa demeure de Coole Park et avec laquelle il fonda ce qui devint en 1904 l'Abbey Theatre. Nommé directeur dramatique, il en fit l'une des plus grandes compagnies théâtrales du monde et le centre de la renaissance irlandaise qu'il appelait de ses vœux. Les pièces de Synge et de George Moore y furent créées. Yeats lui-même y créa de nombreuses pièces dont la Comtesse Cathleen (1902), drame nationaliste en prose dont Maud Gonne tenait le rôle principal, et Deirdre (1907), une tragédie en vers.

Dans les poèmes qu'il composa à cette période, Le Vent parmi les roseaux (1899), Des ombres sur les eaux (1900) et Le Heaume vert (1910), son ton devient plus personnel, moins mystique et moins symbolique.

Par la suite, il s'impliqua dans la vie politique de l'Irlande et fut sénateur de l'État libre d'Irlande de 1922 à 1928. Ses écrits tardifs furent influencés par Georgie Hyde-Lees, qu'il avait épousée en 1917. Elle avait des dons médiumniques et lui permit d'accéder à des expériences d'écriture automatique. Dans Une vision (1925), il exposa le système philosophique qui avait inspiré ses textes. De cette période datent Les Cygnes sauvages à Coole (1917), La Tour (1928), et L'Escalier en spirale (1933).

Fasciné par la tradition théâtrale du no, qu'il avait découverte grâce aux travaux de son ami Ezra Pound, Yeats écrivit Quatre Pièces pour danseurs (1921), faisant entrer sur scène le rituel, les masques, les chœurs et la danse no, et renouant ainsi les liens entre poésie et théâtre. Ses drames poétiques mêlent intimement réalisme et vision mythique afin de créer une illusion onirique.

Yeats, qui n'a cessé de repenser son œuvre, dressa un bilan de sa poétique dans Autobiographie (1927) et Dramatis personae (1936). Les dernières années de sa vie furent marquées par la publication de deux ultimes recueils, Pleine lune en mars (1935) et Derniers Poèmes (1939). Lauréat du prix Nobel en 1923, il s'éteignit le 18 janvier 1939 à Roquebrune. Il fut enseveli en Irlande, à Sligo.


The Cat and the Moon

    The cat went here and there
    And the moon spun round like a top,
    And the nearest kin of the moon,
    The creeping cat, looked up.

    Black Minnaloushe stared at the moon,
    For, wander and wail as he would,
    The pure cold light in the sky
    Troubled his animal blood.

    Minnaloushe runs in the grass
    Lifting his delicate feet.
    Do you dance, Minnaloushe, do you dance ?
    When two close kindred meet.

    What better than call a dance ?
    Maybe the moon may learn,
    Tired of that courtly fashion,
    A new dance turn.

    Minnaloushe creeps through the grass
    From moonlit place to place,
    The sacred moon overhead
    Has taken a new phase.

    Does Minnaloushe know that his pupils
    Will pass from change to change,
    And that from round to crescent,
    From crescent to round they range ?

    Minnaloushe creeps through the grass
    Alone, important and wise,
    And lifts to the changing moon
    His changing eyes.

    William Butler Yeats, tiré de The Wild Swans at Coole (1919)


The Crazed Moon

    Crazed through much child-bearing
    The moon is staggering in the sky ;
    Moon-struck by the despairing
    Glances of her wandering eye
    We grope, and grope in vain,
    For children born of her pain.

    Children dazed or dead !
    When she in all her virginal pride
    First trod on the mountain’s head
    What stir ran through the countryside
    Where every foot obeyed her glance !
    What manhood led the dance !

    Fly-catchers of the moon,
    Our hands are blenched, our fingers seem
    But slender needles of bone ;
    Blenched by that malicious dream
    They are spread wide that each
    May rend what comes in reach.

    William Butler Yeats, tiré de The Winding Stair and Other Poems


He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven

    Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,
    Enwrought with golden and silver light,
    The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
    Of night and light and the half-light,
    I would spread the cloths under your feet :
    But I, being poor, have only my dreams ;
    I have spread my dreams under your feet ;
    Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

    William Butler Yeats, tiré de The Wind Among the Reeds (1889)


He Thinks of His Past When A Part of the Constellations of Heaven

    I have drunk ale from the Country of the Young
    And weep because I know all things now :
    I have been a hazel-tree, and they hung
    The Pilot Star and the Crooked Plough
    Among my leaves in times out of mind :
    I became a rush that horses tread :
    I became a man, a hater of the wind,
    Knowing one, out of all things, alone, that his head
    May not lie on the breast nor his lips on the hair
    Of the woman that he loves, until he dies.
    O beast of the wilderness, bird of the air,
    Must I endure your amorous cries ?

    William Butler Yeats, tiré de The Wind Among the Reeds (1889)


The Phases of the Moon

    An old man cocked his car upon a bridge ;
    He and his friend, their faces to the South,
    Had trod the uneven road. Their hoots were soiled,
    Their Connemara cloth worn out of shape ;
    They had kept a steady pace as though their beds,
    Despite a dwindling and late-risen moon,
    Were distant still. An old man cocked his ear.

    Aherne. What made that Sound ?

    Robartes. A rat or water-hen
    Splashed, or an otter slid into the stream.
    We are on the bridge; that shadow is the tower,
    And the light proves that he is reading still.
    He has found, after the manner of his kind,
    Mere images; chosen this place to live in
    Because, it may be, of the candle-light
    From the far tower where Milton’s Platonist
    Sat late, or Shelley’s visionary prince :
    The lonely light that Samuel Palmer engraved,
    An image of mysterious wisdom won by toil ;
    And now he seeks in book or manuscript
    What he shall never find.

    Aherne. Why should not you
    Who know it all ring at his door, and speak
    Just truth enough to show that his whole life
    Will scarcely find for him a broken crust
    Of all those truths that are your daily bread ;
    And when you have spoken take the roads again ?

    Robartes. He wrote of me in that extravagant style
    He had learnt from pater, and to round his tale
    Said I was dead; and dead I choose to be.

    Aherne. Sing me the changes of the moon once more ;
    True song, though speech : "mine author sung it me."

    Robartes. Twenty-and-eight the phases of the moon,
    The full and the moon’s dark and all the crescents,
    Twenty-and-eight, and yet but six-and-twenty
    The cradles that a man must needs be rocked in :
    For there’s no human life at the full or the dark.
    From the first crescent to the half, the dream
    But summons to adventure and the man
    Is always happy like a bird or a beast ;
    But while the moon is rounding towards the full
    He follows whatever whim’s most difficult
    Among whims not impossible, and though scarred.
    As with the cat-o’-nine-tails of the mind,
    His body moulded from within his body
    Grows comelier. Eleven pass, and then
    Athene takes Achilles by the hair,
    Hector is in the dust, Nietzsche is born,
    Because the hero’s crescent is the twelfth.
    And yet, twice born, twice buried, grow he must,
    Before the full moon, helpless as a worm.
    The thirteenth moon but sets the soul at war
    In its own being, and when that war’s begun
    There is no muscle in the arm; and after,
    Under the frenzy of the fourteenth moon,
    The soul begins to tremble into stillness,
    To die into the labyrinth of itself !

    Aherne. Sing out the song ; sing to the end, and sing
    The strange reward of all that discipline.

    Robartes. All thought becomes an image and the soul
    Becomes a body: that body and that soul
    Too perfect at the full to lie in a cradle,
    Too lonely for the traffic of the world :
    Body and soul cast out and cast away
    Beyond the visible world.

    Aherne. All dreams of the soul
    End in a beautiful man’s or woman’s body.

    Robartes, Have you not always known it ?

    Aherne. The song will have it
    That those that we have loved got their long fingers
    From death, and wounds, or on Sinai’s top,
    Or from some bloody whip in their own hands.
    They ran from cradle to cradle till at last
    Their beauty dropped out of the loneliness
    Of body and soul.

    Robartes. The lover’s heart knows that.

    Aherne. It must be that the terror in their eyes
    Is memory or foreknowledge of the hour
    When all is fed with light and heaven is bare.

    Robartes. When the moon’s full those creatures of the full
    Are met on the waste hills by countrymen
    Who shudder and hurry by: body and soul
    Estranged amid the strangeness of themselves,
    Caught up in contemplation, the mind’s eye
    Fixed upon images that once were thought ;
    For separate, perfect, and immovable
    Images can break the solitude
    Of lovely, satisfied, indifferent eyes.

    And thereupon with aged, high-pitched voice
    Aherne laughed, thinking of the man within,
    His sleepless candle and laborious pen.

    Robartes. And after that the crumbling of the moon.
    The soul remembering its loneliness
    Shudders in many cradles; all is changed,
    It would be the world’s servant, and as it serves,
    Choosing whatever task’s most difficult
    Among tasks not impossible, it takes
    Upon the body and upon the soul
    The coarseness of the drudge.

    Aherne. Before the full
    It sought itself and afterwards the world.

    Robartes. Because you are forgotten, half out of life,
    And never wrote a book, your thought is clear.
    Reformer, merchant, statesman, learned man,
    Dutiful husband, honest wife by turn,
    Cradle upon cradle, and all in flight and all
    Deformed because there is no deformity
    But saves us from a dream.

    Aherne. And what of those
    That the last servile crescent has set free ?

    Robartes. Because all dark, like those that are all light,
    They are cast beyond the verge, and in a cloud,
    Crying to one another like the bats ;
    And having no desire they cannot tell
    What’s good or bad, or what it is to triumph
    At the perfection of one’s own obedience ;
    And yet they speak what’s blown into the mind ;
    Deformed beyond deformity, unformed,
    Insipid as the dough before it is baked,
    They change their bodies at a word.

    Aherne. And then ?

    Robartes. When all the dough has been so kneaded up
    That it can take what form cook Nature fancies,
    The first thin crescent is wheeled round once more.

    Aherne. But the escape ; the song’s not finished yet.

    Robartes. Hunchback and Saint and Fool are the last crescents.
    The burning bow that once could shoot an arrow
    Out of the up and down, the wagon-wheel
    Of beauty’s cruelty and wisdom’s chatter --
    Out of that raving tide -- is drawn betwixt
    Deformity of body and of mind.

    Aherne. Were not our beds far off I’d ring the bell,
    Stand under the rough roof-timbers of the hall
    Beside the castle door, where all is stark
    Austerity, a place set out for wisdom
    That he will never find ; I’d play a part ;
    He would never know me after all these years
    But take me for some drunken countryman :
    I’d stand and mutter there until he caught
    "Hunchback and Saint and Fool," and that they came
    Under the three last crescents of the moon.
    And then I’d stagger out. He’d crack his wits
    Day after day, yet never find the meaning.

    And then he laughed to think that what seemed hard
    Should be so simple —- a bat rose from the hazels
    And circled round him with its squeaky cry,
    The light in the tower window was put out.

    William Butler Yeats, tiré de The Wild Swans at Coole (1919)


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 watring 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.
    Rewording 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.

    William Butler Yeats, tiré de Crossways (1889)


Références :


Bibliographie :


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