The Cat and the Moon W.B. Yeats Written 1917. Published in‘The Wild Swans at Coole’ (1919)
THE cat went here and thereAnd 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, 5For, wander and wail as he would,The pure cold light in the skyTroubled his animal blood.
Minnaloushe runs in the grassLifting his delicate feet. 10Do 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, 15A new dance turn.
Minnaloushe creeps through the grassFrom moonlit place to place,The sacred moon overheadHas taken a new phase. 20Does Minnaloushe know that his pupilsWill pass from change to change,And that from round to crescent,From crescent to round they range?Minnaloushe creeps through the grass 25Alone, important and wise,And lifts to the changing moonHis changing eyes.
"I think all happiness depends on the energy to assume the mask of someother life, on a re-birth as something not ones self."WB Yeats ‘Per Amica Silentia Lunae’ (1918) ‘On the afternoon of October 24th 1917, four days after my marriage, my wife surprised me by attempting automatic writing. What came in disjointed sentences, in almost illegible writing, was so exciting, sometimes so profound, that I persuaded her to give an hour or two day after day to the unknown writer, and after some half-dozen such hours offered to spend what remained of life explaining and piecing together those scattered sentences. ‘No,’ was the answer, ‘we have come to give you metaphors for poetry.’’ WB Yeats ‘Introduction to ‘A Vision’’
Yeats married in 1917. Only four days after the wedding, his bride began what would be alengthy experiment with the psychic phenomenon called automatic writing, in which herhand and pen presumably served as unconscious instruments for the spirit world to sendinformation.Yeats and his wife held more than four hundred sessions of automatic writing, producingnearly four thousand pages that Yeats avidly and patiently studied and organized. Fromthese sessions Yeats formulated theories about life and history.He believed that certain patterns existed, the most important being what he calledgyres, interpenetrating cones representing mixtures of opposites of both a personal andhistorical nature. He contended that gyres were initiated by the divine impregnation of amortal woman—first, the rape of Leda by Zeus; later, the immaculate conception of Mary.Yeats found that within each two-thousand-year era, emblematic moments occurred at themidpoints of the thousand-year halves. At these moments of balance, he believed, acivilization could achieve special excellence, and Yeats cited as examples the splendour ofAthens at 500 B.C., Byzantium at A.D. 500, and the Italian Renaissance at A.D. 1500.The Poetry Foundation Website (www.poetryfoundation.org/bio/william-butler-yeats)
Yeats further likened these historical cycles to the twenty-eight day lunar cycle, contendingthat physical existence grows steadily until it reaches a maximum at the full moon (phasefifteen), which Yeats described as perfect beauty. In the remaining half of the cycle,physical existence gradually falls away, until it disappears completely at the new moon,whereupon the cycle begins again.Applying this pattern both to historical eras and to individuals lives, Yeats observed that aperson completes the phases as he advances from birth to maturity and declines towarddeath. Yeats further elaborated the scheme by assigning particular phases to specific typesof personality, so that although each person passes through phases two through fourteenand sixteen through twenty-eight during a lifetime, one phase provides an overallcharacterization of the individuals entire life.Yeats published his intricate and not completely systematic theories of personality andhistory in A Vision (1925), and some of the symbolic patterns (gyres, moon phases) withwhich he organized these theories provide important background to many of the poemsand plays he wrote during the second half of his career.The Poetry Foundation Website (www.poetryfoundation.org/bio/william-butler-yeats)
‘Some were looking for spiritual happiness orfor some form of unknown power, but I had apractical object. I wished for a system ofthought that would leave my imagination freeto create as it chose and yet make all that itcreated, or could create, part of the onehistory and that the soul’s.WB Yeats ‘A Vision’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-twentyThe cradles that a man must needs be rocked in:For there’s no human life at the full or the dark.WB Yeats ‘The Phases of the Moon’ (1917)Q. Write a short paragraph explaining how these ideas relate or help contextualiseyour understanding of the poem ‘The Cat and the Moon’.
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