Glossary entry for
Yeats, William Butler

William Butler Yeats (June 13, 1865 - January 28, 1939) celebrated Irish poet and nationalist, was born in Dublin, and educated in London and Dublin. While studying at the School of Art in Dublin he developed an interest in mystic religion and the supernatural. He helped to found the Irish Literary Society, and with the help of Lady Gregory and others, co-founded the Irish Literary Theatre (later the Irish National Theatre Society) in 1899. His wife's interest in automatic writing exercised a profound effect on his life and work. Yeats received the 1923 Nobel Prize in literature (see

One of Yeats' longer works was entitled "A Vision" (with a Van reference in "Rave On"), which has been called "a completely obscure work about which there is hardly any literary criticism because as with Finnegans Wake, it is barely written in English"

Van previously recorded a song called "Crazy Jane on God" (based on the Yeats poem of the same name) for the A Sense of Wonder album, but the Yeats estate wouldn't allow the song to be included (only classic settings of Yeats poems were allowed at the time). "Crazy Jane On God" was replaced on that album by "If You Only Knew", however it went out on the test/promo albums (vinyl), so there are copies around.

There were about a dozen or so "Crazy Jane" poems which Yeats put under the heading, "Words For Music Perhaps" (published in The Winding Stair and Other Poemss). Yeats wanted them sung, or read to music, which makes the Yeats estate's reaction all the more ironic...

Crazy Jane on God

That lover of a night
Came when he would,
Went in the dawning light
Whether I would or no;
Men come, men go:
All things remain in God.

Banners choke the sky;
Men-at-arms tread;
Armoured horses neigh
In the narrow pass:
All things remain in God.

Before their eyes a house
That from childhood stood
Uninhabited, ruinous,
Suddenly lit up
From door to top:
All things remain in God.

I had wild Jack for a lover;
Though like a road men pass over
My body makes no moan
But sings on:
All things remain in God.

The following extract from the Norton Anthology of English Literature gives background to another Yeats reference, in the song "Here Comes the Knight":

One of Yeats's last poems, ending with the epitaph he wrote for himself. He wished to be buried in the churchyard of the village of Drumcliff, which lies "under Ben Bulben," mountain in County Sligo. Although he died on the French Riviera, his body was later brought back and buried at Drumcliff.

from "Under Ben Bulben"

Under bare Ben Bulben's head
In Drumcliff churchyard Yeats is laid.
An ancestor was rector there
Long years ago, a church stands near,
By the road an ancient cross.
No marble, no conventional phrase;
On limestone quarried near the spot
By his command these words are cut:

Cast a cold eye
On life, on death.
Horseman, pass by!

And another Yeats reference can be found in the track "Before the World was Made" on Too Long in Exile, which was adapted from part of a Yeats poem entitled "A Woman Young and Old" (originally published in The Winding Stair and Other Poems, 1933):

If I make the lashes dark
And the eyes more bright
And the lips more scarlet,
Or ask if all be right
From mirror after mirror,
No vanity's displayed:
I'm looking for the face I had
Before the world was made.

What if I look upon a man
As though upon my beloved,
And my blood be cold the while
And my heart unmoved?
Why should he think me cruel
Or that he is betrayed?
I'd have him love the thing that was
Before the world was made.

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