1 Chapter- 5 W.B. Yeats and India: Theoretical Observations 5.1 Introduction 5.2 Aesthetics of Literary Influences 5.3 Text, Reader, Meaning and Interpretation 5.4 Indianness of the Irish Yeats 5.5 Ireland and India Cultural Affinity Reading Literature 5.6 Yeats s Symbolism Yeats, Kabir, Indian Mythology and Philosophy 5.7 Islamic / Arabic Elements 5.8 Yeats and Indian Academia Yeats s Feminism 5.9 Themes and Symbols with Irish as well as Indian Significance 5.10 Irish and Indian Nationalism 5.11 Positions of English in Ireland and India Yeats s Linguistic Attitudes Theory and Techniques in Yeats s Poetry 5.12 Conclusion
2 CHAPTER- V W. B. YEATS AND INDIA: THEORETICAL OBSERVATIONS 5.1 Introduction The previous chapters clearly show that Yeats s creative response to India was influenced by his reading about Indian philosophy and literature and his contacts with India through Indians as well as English poets. All these influenced his writing, particularly his poetry. Yeats brought his Irishness to this response, and if the Indian element in his poetry appears to be a major element, it is partly if not wholly related to his Irishness. It was also seen that Indians, both poets and critics responded warmly to Yeats and this response consisted of their reading of Yeats s poetry to which they brought their Indianness. The critics who point at a great deal of Indianness in Yeats do not necessarily find that much Indianness in Eliot. Even when the Indian elements in the two poets are compared by the Indians, the response of Yeats to India is more natural and deeper. 5.2 Aesthetics of Literary Influences Henry Peyre, in 1952, appealed for a rediscovery of the concept of literary influence in the article A Glance at comparative Literature. Further, Harry Levin focused on a fresh way of analyzing a reader s response to a text. Later critics looked at each national literature as a subspecies and comparative literature as a study of contact and cross fertilization between various national literatures. It was understood that influence is closely related to the origin or birth of a poem and that the meaning of a poem is not limited to superficial similarities in and imitation of style, technique, metre and images. As Claudio Guillen in Aesthetics of Literary Influence points out, Influences make a poem possible and are transcended by it. He also shows that there is a common confusion between influences and textual similarities and that influences need not assume the form of parallelism, nor
3 does every case of parallelism come from influence. 1 Harold Bloom s Map of Misreading and Anxiety of Influence sets up the close relationship of poetic influence with the origin of a poem. When a poet reads another poet, he finds his own meaning into the poem. This reading is a kind of misreading which gives birth to another poem. A strong poet can never be read accurately or objectively. Every reading of such a poet is a misreading or subjective reading which gives birth to another poem where the second poem is the meaning of the forthcoming poem. The reading of a poem by the future poet itself is the beginning of poetry. This dynamic relationship ensures that no poetic text is autonomous and original, the meaning of a text is not confined to that text alone but it has meaning in relation to other texts. A particular poem is therefore a synecdoche, a part which stands for the whole that consists of innumerable texts. The etymological meaning of the word influence where flu means flow, suggests that there is a natural flow from one poem to another of certain basic elements which include meaning. As a poem does not begin or end in itself, it cannot have a meaning by itself. Meaning therefore, is perpetually wandering from text to text. A poem exists only in relationship to other poems. Bloom s way of literary influence makes it clear that a reader s response to a poem which is based on his own background is the same as literary influence. Louise Rosenblatt in On the Aesthetic as the Basic Model of the Reading Process has rightly emphasized the contribution of the reader in the act of reading: The text offers guidance and constraint, yet it is also open, requiring the reader s contribution. The reader must draw selectively on the resources of his own fund of experience and sensibility to derive verbal symbols from the signs of the text and to give substance to those symbols, and he organizes them into a meaning that is seen as corresponding to the text. 2
4 The text alone cannot determine its meaning and this is true particularly when the text is a poem which calls for an aesthetic reading. An aesthetic reading is a transaction between the text and the reader in which each shapes and in turn is shaped by the other. Roland Barthes also considers a text as a piece of writing where the reader is involved in the process of meaning and the reader is forced to make an effort to find meaning. 3 Claudio Guillen in Literatura Como Sistema defines literary relations as the convergence of text and tradition but tradition according to him is derived not from the activity of the writer but from the experience of the reader confronted with the text. 4 Rosenblatt in Towards a Transactional Theory of Reading clearly distinguishes between the term text and other terms such as poem, play, and novel and so on. The former refers to the printed marks on the page whereas the latter terms imply the involvement of the reader. Rosenblatt further says, We cannot simply look at the text and predict the poem. The text is necessary, but not the sufficient condition of the poem. For this, a reader or readers with particular cultural and individual attributes must be postulated. 5 The poem thus is what the reader experiences and lives through under the guidance of the text. 5.3 Text, Reader, Meaning and Interpretation Rosenblatt observes in On the Aesthetic as the Basic Model of the Reading Process that William James in his pioneering work The Principles of Psychology offers a dynamic vision of human consciousness which centers on a concept of prime importance: selective attention.
5 Thought or consciousness, James tells us is always interested in one part of its object than another, and welcomes and rejects, or chooses, all the while. 6 The Indian reader responds more readily to the Indian element in Yeats. An average Indian reader of English poetry knows little of Irish culture. When he is finds some Irish element in Yeats s poetry which has some resemblance to an Indian element, he naturally sees it as an Indian influence particularly because he is likely to be aware of the fact that Irish people in general and Yeats in particular borrowed ideas and images from India. The meaning of a text depends more on what the reader brings to it than what the writer intended. The Indian reader and critic unconsciously reads an Indian influence or meaning into a poem irrespective of whether Yeats intended it or not and such a reading need not be considered false, on the contrary it would be more rewarding. The American New critics emphasized the point that no one can fully understand the psychological and mysterious process of poetic creation and composition- not even the poet himself/herself. Therefore no critic can determine the meaning of a text except from what can be found by the reader in the text. The fact that the reader gives meaning to a literary text and in that sense the reader is the writer of the text has been well established by the theorists like Roland Barthes, Stanly Fish and a few others. A common objection to this theory is that it leads to chaos, total subjectivity. In his early essays Fish tried to refute this point by introducing constraints such as controlling author, uniformity among readers and a meaningful text. However in his later essays he argues that this problem itself is a useless one because the readers do not respond to a text in a private or subjective way but as members of an interpretive community. These Interpretive Communities, Fish says, are made up of those who share interpretive strategies not for reading (in the conventional sense) but for writing texts. 7
6 Fish s interpretive communities can be regarded as cultural communities. Poetry is interpreted by its symbols, themes and the language. The themes and symbols derive their meanings from the cultures to which they belong. When Indians interpret Yeats s poetry, they interpret these themes and symbols that are familiar in Indian culture as they are in Irish culture. It is natural that this interpretation is partial because of their knowledge of Indian culture. The meaning which the Indian readers of Yeats create is thus their own meaning which belongs to the Indian culture interpretive community. An interpretive community however does not emerge easily and by itself. Many times it has to come into existence by challenging and overthrowing the earlier one. The Indian interpretive community has the difficult task of overthrowing the European, American, British communities who would confidently condemn its reading as a false one. The Indian interpretation is therefore as valid as any other. The cultural similarity between India and Ireland equips the Indian to give deeper meanings to Irish texts, especially to Yeats s poetry. 5.4 Indianness of the Irish Yeats The Indians who stress Yeats s Irishness and those who emphasize the Indian element in him are both engaged in a similar activity. These apparently contrary activities satisfy the same need in the readers. The Irishness that they respond to is another face of their Indianness. Few Indians have noticed Yeats s fascist tendencies or his colonial attitude that Western critics have noticed because these things do not fit well with the Indian aspects that they are happy to see in the Irish. Yeats s attitude to history, women and to the British, his concept of the poet as a seer and a mystic and such other aspects which suit both the Indian and the Irish psyche have found a great response among Indians. A poet is not always aware of the sources that influence his poetry. Various experiences and fields of knowledge that he is familiar play upon his mind and form new compounds which hardly bear any resemblance to the original sources. A reader who feels that he has been able to trace the source is required to ascertain that the poet was in fact exposed to that source. An Indian critic or reader with his knowledge of and sympathy for Indian culture is more likely to be able to feel the Indian echoes. But he must look for support in Yeats s autobiography or perhaps his biography, his letters or other
7 writing. That Yeats was not only familiar but well versed with Indian philosophy is clearly proved by his letters and essays. Therefore the possibility that he was strongly influenced by it can never be dismissed. The Indians who see too much of Indianness in him are valid and cannot simply be dismissed. However they must also recognize the other influence too. A study of how these different influences fuse together and are changed by one another would be more enriching. This would be useful not only for a better understanding of Yeats but also for the process of poetic composition. If an Indian reader finds the possibility that Yeats perhaps was influenced by the Indian concept of Pralaya and Manvantric, it may sound farfetched. But there is evidence to show that Yeats was familiar with these concepts as he has himself mentioned them in his introduction to the play The Resurrection. 8 A poem must hold together as a whole. If imposing a particular interpretation or influence and goes against the basic unity of the poem, it cannot be valid. In a poem all the various elements which the poet borrows are combined in a whole which is greater than the sum of those diverse elements. The elements are processed and changed in such a way that they get their meaning from the unity of the various elements. A serious attention makes it clear that such a unity is more easily achieved when the borrowed elements share some cultural affinity. 5.5 Ireland and India Ireland and India have always responded to each other enthusiastically and meaningfully due to the many similarities and contacts between the two cultures. It is well known that the Celts and the Aryans had a common origin. It is generally believed that the Aryans came to India from somewhere in central Europe and brought their language Sanskrit with them. The fact that such a theory was proposed indicates the cultural affinity between the two races. Some resemblances and contacts have been discussed earlier to understand the history and background of the mutual response of the two countries to the culture and literature of each other.
8 Hugh Boyd (b.1746) was the earliest writer to deal with India. He was a colonial officer in India who wrote in The Indian Observer. Edmund Burke led a crusade against the corrupt reign of Warren Hastings, the Governor General of Bengal. Burke showed great concern and sympathy for India in his parliamentary speeches. His theory of the sublime was influenced by India. Yeats tells us that in Lady Gregory s house he saw a letter from Burke to Gregory that was chairman of the East India Company saying that he committed to his care now that he himself had grown old, the people of India 9 Thomas Moore s popular poem Lalla Rookh that portrayed Indian landscape and life was translated into many languages and several editions were brought out. It was also made into an opera by C.E.Horn ( ) and produced in Dublin in or about In 1913 Yeats arranged a production of Tagore s The King of Dark Chamber at Little Theatre in London and Post Office was produced by the Abbey Theatre. These are some of the examples of the many Irish responses to India and its culture. India also reciprocated in this cultural exchange. Sri Aurobindo, a mystic and a political revolutionary developed his theory of poetry as magical incantations and soul searching language in his book The Future Poetry as a response to an Irish critical text New Ways in English Literature by James Cousins. He refuted Cousin s idea of poetry as revelation with his idea of poetry as mantra. Aurobindo was fascinated by Irish culture. He also wrote awesome poems with Irish themes which include His Jacet: Glasnevin Cemetery, an epitaph on Charles Stewart Parnell and Lines on Ireland. Jawaharlal Nehru in the book Glimpses of World History points at similarities between the Irish monasteries and the Indian Ashrams and argues that history, imagination and the peasantry of Ireland are similar to those of India. He also shows how the British benefited from the conflict between the Catholics
9 and Protestants in Ireland as they benefited from the conflict between the Hindus and the Muslims in India. 10 Tagore created the main character of his novel Gora as the son of an Irish couple. His father dies in the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857 and the mother dies while giving birth to her child. He is adopted by Krishnadayal who keeps the child s identity a secret and so he grows up a fierce Hindu. The discovery of his Irish origin finally leads to rejection of Hindu orthodoxy. Politically too the two peoples received inspiration and support from each other in their struggle against the British. It has been reported that in May 1910, Irish and Indian revolutionaries plotted together to rescue Veer Savarkar, an Indian freedom fighter from Brixton jail with the help of Maud Gonne and Mrs. Dryhurst 11 Gandhiji wrote in 1921, It is not the blood that the Irish men have taken which has given them what appears to be their liberty. But it is the gallons of blood they have willingly given 12 He thus used Irish examples of sacrifice and suffering as the effective weapons for the freedom struggle and he achieved freedom for India using the same weapons. It is well known that the Home Rule movement was inspired from Ireland to India through leaders like Annie Besant who was an Irish woman. As Nehru suggested, The Holi or bonfire of English clothes could well be an echo of Swift s line Burn everything English except their coal. 13 Indian leaders like Gandhiji and Tagore enjoyed great esteem among the Irish. Tagore wrote to Yeats on 5 March 1916,
10 Few things would give me greater pleasure than to have a part, however remote, in the revival of Irish national culture 14 In December 1931 the poet AE wrote to Yeats, I got a wire from London... I have been reading Gandhi at work and I am sorry I could not meet this extraordinary man. However as I wrote over I believe in Karma as Gandhi probably does, and if I really belong to him and he to me, we must meet. 15 Sean T. O Kelly, a representative of the Irish Republic in Paris during the World Peace Conference hoped that it would not take the Indians as long as it had taken the Irish to learn the necessary lessons for the struggle with the British. He quoted Tagore: To hold India forever is impossibility, It is against the law of the universe Even the trees has to part with its fruits Brother do not be discouraged, for God Slumbers not for sleeps. The tighter the knot the shorter will be Your period of bondage. 16 He asked the Indians to recall the words of MacSwiney, If you expect to live and to command respect in this world, first be prepared to give your lives to your mother Cultural Affinity There are some interesting fields of popular culture and life in which India and Ireland are similar. Traditionally the public wailing over the dead was an important part of the funeral ceremony in Ireland. This was done sometimes by relatives and at other times by elderly women who were experts in the art. In India even today there are
11 expert mourners who are invited to mourn the dead and these women specifically to compose verses in praise of the dead person and they sing the good deeds and good qualities in poetic songs composed on the spot. When a Hindu child is born in India, one of the first things that the parents must do is to get the horoscope prepared. Marriages rarely take place unless the horoscopes of the couple match. This faith and interest in astrology has been shared by many Irish people. Yeats s uncle George Pollex fen s main passion was astrology and he was known to make accurate horoscopes. Yeats has been listed as a patron of the Irish Astrological Society. Cyril Fagan the president of the society is reported to have sent Yeats the correct horoscope of your (Yeats s) little baby 18 Frank Pearce Sturm who carried on regular correspondence with Yeats, mentions in one of his letters that he has ordered Brahat Samhita and Brahat Jataka 19 Both these books are on astrology by Varaha Mihira, an Indian Mathematician and astronomer. The Irish, like the Indians are by and large fatalists. Many Irish people have been attracted to occultism and theosophy and Indian Philosophy. The response of the Irish to Indian sacred literature is summed up in the letter of Thomas Kennedy, the general secretary of the Irish Section of the Theosophical Society written to Yeats on 29 October 1937: May I take this opportunity to thank you very warmly for your translation of the ten Upanishads? Anything that is done to enable the western world to release the wealth of wisdom
12 available in Indian thought and literature is a great public service and I wish to thank you on behalf of the Irish Section of our society for having made this notable contribution to that work. 20 Yeats interpreted some Christian concepts in the light of Hindu philosophy. In his introduction to An Indian Monk he says,... nor can a single image that of Christ, Krishna or Buddha represents God to the exclusion of other images. 21 This open mindedness to multiple God-images is perhaps typically Irish, certainly typically Hindu. Yeats suggests that when Christ says I and my father are one it is possible to interpret it in a manner similar to the interpretation of the concept I am Brahma. 22 With this background it is easy to understand why in reclaiming the Irish past Yeats found his exploration of Indian culture a useful tool. It also explains the Indian response to Yeats s poetry. A suppressed culture needs to seek support from other suppressed cultures. In this case it is more likely to turn to a culture that has some affinity or similarity with itself. Ireland faced repression from the British and writers like Yeats were conscious of the cultural danger and the possibility of the English culture abolishing the Irish culture. They knew it well that India faced a similar danger but it had showed a remarkable strength and retained its cultural identify in spite of the influence of the Mogul rulers and the intensive attempts of the
13 British. Ireland had managed to fight cultural invasions in the past but did not seem to be in great danger and unable to fight. It was therefore natural that they turned to India and the similarity of the two cultures and the parallel situations in their relation to the English further helped this mutual response of the nations to each other. Thus cultural kinship between two nations or poets plays an important part in literary influences and reception of literature. Cultural affinity between two countries sometimes creates an interesting situation where an idea or image from one culture comes back to the poet of that culture through a great poet from another culture that has borrowed that idea or image and made a powerful use of it. As G.S.Amur points out, Dr. Bendre, a Kannada poet was inspired by AE the Irish poet and he experienced the manifestation of the divine in the multiplicity of nature. 23 It was from AE that he picked up the psychic realization of nature and the double view. 24 It is interesting how a basically Indian concept like the manifestation of the divine in nature returns to an Indian writer through an Irish poet. Yeats also used this concept in his poem The Indian Upon God. Whether Yeats received this concept directly from India or from AE cannot be affirmed. Perhaps he was inspired by both these sources. As Robert Welch remarks about the Irish openness to foreign elements, it is important that strangers feel at home; that they may be accommodated within the structure, and that means adapting the elements of the structure to take account of the new presence. Just as this openness helps Irishmen like Yeats to accommodate Indian element into poetry, a similar attitude of the Indians helps them to enjoy the Irish poetry, especially the poetry of Yeats.
14 5.5.2 Reading Literature Most theories of reading literature accept the significance of the reader and agree that the reader is well justified in arriving at his own interpretation of a literary text based on his own personality and experience. When an Indian reader finds an Indian philosophical interpretation to an English poem, he is in fact imposing a personal interpretation. To a Western mind similarity of the personal responses raises doubts because it is trained to see differences as the evidence of individuality. The Indian mind does not need only difference as an expression of one s individuality. An Indian artist producing a work of art which seems to be identical with other works is still being individual. Hence, if a personal response to a poem is welcome, an Indian interpretation must be welcome too. Indian philosophy and mythology are an indispensable part of Indian life and a common Indian sees everything through this background. It is too much to expect an Indian to have a personal response without allowing that response to be colored by his knowledge of Indian philosophy and mythology. The chief quality of a good poem must be to satisfy every reader allowing sufficient if not full scope for the person s individual personality. If a poem imposes its own identity on the readers at the expense of their individualities, it is no different from a non-literary information based text. A reader must be allowed, urged and even encouraged to bring his own personality to the reading of a poem. The personality consists of his cultural background and personal experiences. The personal experiences are however determined and colored by the cultural make up. So if an Indian reader responds enthusiastically to Yeats because of a personal experience of having loved in vain which he finds in Yeats s poetry, it is his Indian culture which facilitates not only his experience but his response to the experience and his response to the manifestation of that experience in the poem. An Indian s response to an Irish poet like Yeats is the response of Indian culture to Irish culture. Likewise, Yeats s response to India can also be better understood as not only his personal experience but the response of Irish culture to Indian culture.
15 The importance of literature in culture and culture in literature can hardly be overemphasized. Guy Amirthanayagam in his article Literature and Cultural Knowledge affirms, Literature is an invaluable cultural expression because it springs from its cultural nexus, if it may be so called, with an immediacy, a freshness, a concreteness, an authenticity and a power of meaning which are not easily found in other emanations or through other channels. 26 Though the cultural context may be a necessary condition for art, the importance of a great artist s work is in no way limited by the regional or national perspective. But the cultural context in which a text, particularly a poem is composed and the cultural context in which readers interpret it both add to the meaning of the poem. C.D. Narasimhaiah in his article Literature in the Global Village: An Inquiry into Problems of Response observes that English Literature and Language is a popular subject in India mainly for its cultural value. He adds that myths and legends have a greater hold on the Indian imagination than history which is viewed by the west in a linear rather than cyclical manner, but History itself has to be mythicised in India if it must have a claim on our attention. 27 The Irish attitude to history and myth is also similar. It was this cultural background that led Yeats to adopt a cyclical view of history
16 and poems such as Leda and the Swan and The Second Coming dealing with this side can thus be received more meaningfully by the Indian readers. A poet creates poetry out of his personal experience. If a reader has had a similar experience, he might respond to that poem which gives expression to this own experience. However the reader s experience and the poet s experience are not the same. The reader s experience, which is different in certain respects, helps him understand the poet s experience and in turn sees his own experience differently with the help of the poet s experience. Yeats creates poetry out of his Irish experience. Indian readers warmly respond to this poetry because their Indian experience resembles Yeats s Irishness. In this transaction the Indian reader gives a new meaning and dimension not only to the Irishness of Yeats but also his own Indianness. This bipolar process is further assisted by the fact that Yeats has himself responded warmly to India. This process called Approximation of Cultural Content is at work in all cases of literary influence and reader s response to literature where two different cultures are concerned. In Christianity, God intervening in the dealings of the humans directly is not generally acceptable. Such an intervention occurred only when God took human birth as Jesus Christ. Hindu gods on the other hand regularly intervene in individual and collective human life. So the Indian reader interprets the angel as God Himself. In the poem Leda and the Swan for example, both the Indians and the Irish may learn the Swan as England who ravishes the victim but whereas the Irish will read the ravished girl as Ireland, Indians will see her as a symbol of India. The likeness in the myths and legends of Ireland and India naturally has an important bearing on the literature of the two countries. An Irish artist s use of Irish myth or legend in many ways resembles an Indian artist s use of Indian myth or legend. This fact facilitates the Indian response to the use of an Irish myth or legend. Indian readers can respond to Irish myths promptly and easily. It is this
17 fact which inspired Sri Aurobindo to make use of Irish themes for some of his poems and many Irish poets to use Indian themes. 5.6 Yeats s Symbolism The meanings of symbols in a given culture or language are decided by the use of the myths and legends, the life styles, the folk lore, the beliefs and superstitions, the religion and the popular culture of the people. Because of the similarity of the Indian and the Irish cultures, many of the common symbols used by Irish poets, particularly Yeats, are also common Indian symbols and they have a parallel symbolic significance for Indians. The appeal of poetry is chiefly through its symbols. Therefore Indians respond to Yeats s poetry so well as they find there symbols which are Irish symbols at one level and Indian symbols at another level. It is quite possible that Yeats was aware of this double significance of most of his symbols as he had studied Indian philosophy and discussed Hinduism with Indian monks and writers and scholars and had also read some books of and on Indian literature. As many people during Yeats s time were drawn to India and were familiar with Indian culture, the use of these symbols must have appealed to them. They also appeal to Indian readers today who may or may not be conscious of their Irish background. A similar observation can be made about some of the common themes which most Indians perceive as Indian themes or influences of India on Yeats. One of the main factors that help Indian readers to respond to Yeats s poetry is his symbolism. The poems which have obviously Indian themes or background understandably use Indian symbols. The parrot, the peacock, the lotus and such other symbols used in the Indian poems of Crossways create an ambiance that is familiar to Indian readers. But there are many poems which have no Indian theme nevertheless they have a strong appeal to Indians. It is perhaps due to the kind of symbols that Yeats uses. It is a fact that Yeats drew many symbols from Indian sacred literature, especially the Upanishads and the Bhagwadgita. He knew quite well the Upanishads, Buddhism, the poems of Kabir, Kalidasa and some aspects of Indian drama, and theosophy and these sources may have supplied some of his symbols. Some symbols drawn from the Irish mythology are very similar to Indian symbols as there is an extensive similarity between Irish and Indian mythology.
18 The symbols in Yeats s poetry of the 1890s resemble those of Indian Puranas and myths. Yeats used Indian concept but found support for them not only in European mysticism but also in the myths and peasant Irish beliefs. He thus acquired the universality of these symbols. He learnt from Madame Blavatsky s books the symbolic interpretation of myths and employed this method in his poems on Irish themes. He quoted Rhys and Jubainville to show similarities between Indian and Celtic concepts. Rhys had worked out parallels between ancient Irish Gods and their corresponding Hindu Gods. He thus showed that the Druids had a religion akin to that of the Aryans in Celtic Heathendom (London 1888). Jubainville highlighted the Celtic doctrine of reincarnation and the duel aspect of evil in Le Cycle Mythologique Irlandis (1884), the second volume of his twelve volume work Cours de Literature Celtique ( ) which was translated by Maud Gonne and published in Yeats too held that the recurring symbols of the myths came from the collective memory of a community, the memory of nature Yeats, Kabir, Indian Mythology and Philosophy Many studies have been made to trace the Indian influence on Yeats. Critics have taken pains through Yeats s writing to look for the Indian elements. Many recurrent themes and images have been pointed out as of Indian origin. Kathleen Raine has suggested that The symbol of chest-nut tree in the poem Among the School Children is borrowed from Kabir s poems. 28 The book of Kabir s poems translated into English by Tagore was among the books found in Yeats s personal library. Kabir s poem has the following lines: The unconditioned is the seed, The conditioned is the flower and the fruit, When you come to the root, The root will lead you to the branch
19 The leaf, the flower and the fruit. 29 Yeats s poem echoes Kabir s tree in the following lines: O chest-nut tree, great rooted blossomer, Are you the leaf, the blossom or the bole? 30 The emphasis on the root in Kabir s poem bearing the triad leaf, flower and fruit appears to be convincing source of the great rooted tree of Yeats with a similar triad of the leaf, the blossom and the bole. However, Shiro Naito, a Japanese critic thinks that the vividness and vitality of Yeats s poem is missing that of Kabir. Kabir s poem points to God whereas Yeats s tree is the symbol of Unity of Being, a concept which Yeats derived partly from Zen thought. Naito in his essay Yeats and the Indian poet Kabir in the book Yeats s Epiphany: His Quest for the Last Masks shows how Kabir s poem as well as Zen Buddhism are combined in Yeats s last poems. 31 Yeats borrowed from various sources, combined them, and transformed them in such a way that the complex compound which finally emerged was typically Yeatsian. One of the recurring symbols in Yeats is the swan which has a number of symbolic meanings. The Swans appear in many of his poems. In Wild Swans at Coole they symbolize permanence and at the same time they also suggest change. All is changed in the world but the swans have retained their passion. Their hearts have not grown old. 32 But the poet wonders, Among what rushes will they build, By what lake s edge or pool
20 Delight men s eyes when I wake some day To find they have flown away. 33 The poem inspired by the flight of swans at a lake sounds very Indian. It would remind many Indians of Tagore s The Flight of Swans. But the swan in the sonnet Leda and the Swan is quite different. This swan is the God Zeus who rapes Leda in the form of a swan. This visit of a God in the form of a bird to a woman is a comparable to the virgin birth of Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit which is generally represented in the form of a dove. Both the annunciations give birth to new civilizations. The swan again appears in the poem The Tower : When the swan must fix his eye Upon a fading gleam, Float out upon a long Last reach of glittering stream And there sing his last song. 34 An Indian reader knows that the swan is a traditional Indian symbol that symbolizes the human soul, the released soul with the lake Manas Sarowar as its resting place. In Indian culture the swan can stand for man, the human mind, the heart or the soul. It is often used in Bhakti poetry and traditional hymns in many languages. Kabir for instance uses it in poems like Chal Hamsa Vo Des, Hamsa karo Puratan Bat, Man Mast Hua Tab Kyon Bole, Tu Surat Nain Nihar and a few others. It appears certain that Yeats was aware of these various aspects of the symbol and he adopted the swan, the lonely bird as an important symbol and taking a clue from this he also used other birds like the hawk, the eagle, the herne and others to suggest subjective loneliness. Indian folklore and mythology has a number of stories where the fish is used as a significant symbol. There are many stories in India of Matsyakanyas, the mermaids who fascinate unwary sailors by their sweet songs and beauty. The fish in the river or the sea symbolizes man in the world. The fish is also one of the avatars among the ten
21 dasavatar. The fish symbol is also used in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad. As a large fish moves from one bank of a river to the other, Self moves between waking and dreaming. 35 Kabir too compares the man who does not see that the Real is in his own home and wanders to forests and places of pilgrimage to a fish who is thirsty in the midst of water in the poem Pani Vich Min Piyasi. 36 Indians are familiar with most of these symbolic meanings of the symbol and so when they read Yeats s poetry, they are happy to find so many references to the fish, the trout and mermaids. In The Song of Wandering Aengus a silver trout turns into a beautiful woman makes the young Aengus fall headlong in love with her that he intends to spend all his life in search of her. The Mermaid is a six line poem which describes a mermaid who Found a swimming lad, Picked him up for her own, Pressed her body to her body 37 The story ends tragically with the lovers plunging into the deep sea and drowning. There are a number of Irish stories where the Sidhe take the form of a fish or where a fish-woman marries a human, bears him children but ultimately returns to the sea. We find many such stories in Fairy and Folk Tales of Ireland edited by Yeats and he mentions in the book that trout stories are common all over Ireland.
22 Dance is perhaps the most significant of Yeats s symbols. His famous lines from Among School Children are among the most often quoted lines from English poetry: O body swayed to music, O brightening glance, How can we know the dancer from the dance? 38 After reading this poem it is impossible to use the image of dance without bringing in the Yeatsian meaning of the symbol. Yeats has used this symbol to imply the Unity of Being in the poem and also in many other poems where it is employed to convey a deep spiritual meaning. In Mohini Chatterjee, Men dance on the deathless feet 39 and in Byzantium, all complexities of fury leave, / Dying into a dance 40 Yeats also uses the image to portray fairies. In To Ireland in the Coming Times we find the fairies dancing under the moon, 41 and in The Host of the Air O Driscoll sees young men and young girls / who danced on a level place 42 There are many other poems such as The Stolen Child, The Song of the Happy Shepherd, and others where the dance is used as a strong symbol. In the poem To a Child Dancing in the Wind the poet symbolizes being happy and carefree in spite of danger and suffering by dancing in the wind. In Upon a Dying Lady, the lady s soul flies to the predestined dancing place. 43 In The Double Vision of Michael Robartes, we see a girl dancing between the statues of the Sphinx and the Buddha. In the poem All Soul s Night the world s despite is a place where The damned howl away their hearts, / And where the blessed dance. 44 Dancing can be terrible too as in A Prayer for My Daughter where the father hearing the sea scream imagines That the future years had come, / Dancing to a frenzied drum. 45 Dancing is very popular In Ireland. The fairies are always imagined as dancers in fairy and folk tales. In Fairy and Folk Tales of
23 Ireland, there is a story of a woman from near Ballisodare who lived among the fairies for seven years and had no toes when she came back because she had danced them off. It is said that in November Eve there is a dance with the ghosts. Ireland has many stories of humans who see young people dancing are fascinated to them and are carried away by the Sidhe. It is interesting to note that the worth of dance in Indian culture is somewhat similar. Ananda Coomara Swamy has written a well known book on Indian culture entitled The Dance of Shiva. This refers to the dancing form of God Shiva known as Nataraja. The dance has the power to create but in its violent form the Tandava Nritya it is a symbol of destruction. Coomara Swamy says, The significance of Shiva s dance is threefold. It is a symbol which is the source of all movement in the cosmos. Secondly, the purpose of the dance is to release souls from the snares of illusion. Thirdly, the place of the dance, Chidambaram, the centre of the universe is within the heart. 46 In India also the ghosts are assumed to meet together and dance on the eve of Deepavali, the darkest night of the year. The spiritual importance of dancing is also found in the Sufi and the Bhakti cults. The Sufi saints dance when they experience God. Mirabai and Narsimha Mehta, the great Bhakti poets gave up all social inhibitions and hesitations and danced in public while singing hymns to God. In one of Kabir s poems The dance goes on without hands and feet 47 and in another poem he asks his heart, Dance my heart! Dance today with joy and describes the dance of life: The strains of love fill the days and nights with music,.
24 Mad with joy, life and death dance To the rhythm of this music. The hills and the sea and the earth dance, The world of man dances in laughter and tears. 48 Kabir also describes the process of creation of all things by Om, He dances in rupture and waves of form arise from His dance. 49 The union of the Conditioned with the Unconditioned is also expressed in terms of a dance, Before the Unconditioned, the Conditioned dances: Thou and I are one! this trumpet proclaims. 50 Whether Yeats borrowed the image of the dancer and the dance from Coomaraswamy, Kabir or the Irish tradition is not essential, perhaps his use of the symbol was influenced by all the three, but what is important is the fact that the dance image has riches of meaning for Indians and this helps them to respond to Yeats s use of the image. In Indian mythology the sea symbolizes eternity on account of its visual effect of being endless and boundless. It is also a traditional symbol for life and the world and this is reflected in common phrases in Indian languages like Jivan Sagar, Sansar Sagar and Bhava Sagar which mean the sea of life. Yeats refers in his earlier poems to the sevenfold sea. It refers to the sea which is the source of all the worldly creation that sprang under seven hazel trees. The well of Connla is recognized with the ocean of immortality. Thus, Yeats reconciles the Indian with the Irish traditions in his imagery. Yeats himself speaks often of the similar approach of the Indian and Irish traditions. He wrote to Olivia Shakespeare in 1929,
25 The waves are of course dancers. I felt that the sea was eternity and that they were all upon its edge. 51 Another symbol that Yeats often used to suggest Unity was the tree as in the great rooted blossomer, the chest-nut tree of Among School Children, The Coming of Wisdom with Time is one of the most beautiful four line poems by Yeats. Though leaves are many, the root is one; Through all the lying days of my youth I swayed my leaves and flowers in the sun; Now I may wither into the truth. 52 The Rose Tree stresses the need to sacrifice oneself, There s nothing but our own red blood Can make a right Rose Tree. 53 The tree appears in many other poems including The Tower, In Memory of Major Robert Gregory, Red Henharan s Song about Ireland to name a few. In the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad the sage Yajnavalkya teaches the Brahmins by comparing man to a tree and says that man can discover the difference between his nature and that of a tree by becoming like a tree. 54 The image is also used in the Rig-Veda and the Bhagwadgita.
26 Eternal creation is a tree with roots above branches on the ground. 55 Chapter XV of the Bhagwadgita is The Tree of Life or The Cosmic Tree. 56 The recurrent use of the image creates an Indian ambience in Yeats s poetry. The Indian societies imagined gods to be dwelling on the mountains, in the oceans and in the forest as these were unfathomable, unapproachable and insurmountable. Therefore the symbols related to them such as the fish, the tree and the birds acquired awe and a mystical significance. The Irish too have a similar notion of these symbols. The rose is a very complex symbol in Yeats. The rose has been a traditional symbol of Ireland as used in Mangan s poem The Dark Rosaleen and also a flower which stands for the Virgin Mary, the mystical rose in Catholicism. Yeats lent the symbol such an intensity and symbolic significance that one naturally associates it with the Indian lotus. The lotus is a rich symbol that signifies beauty, spirituality and mysticism. It is used quite often in sacred as well as secular literature. In one Sanskrit verse which praises the beauty of the child Krishna, the different parts of his body are suffixed with the word Arvindam which means lotus, thus creating compound words like Kararvindam (lotus hands), padarvindam (lotus feet) and mukharvindam (lotus face). The number of words used in Indian languages to refer to the flower (Kamal, Saroj, Mrinal, Pankaj, Padma, and Arvind) indicates its importance. Kabir mentions a lotus with a thousand petals as a seat from which one may gaze on the infinite beauty. 57 It is a symbol of perfection in Hinduism. A fully blossomed lotus symbolizes a fully developed spiritual consciousness. Yeats himself in a note to The Wind among the Reeds (1889)
27 pointed out that his rose had a counterpart in the lotus, the flower of life blossoming upon the tree of life. 58 Yeats preferred the western symbol rose and imagined it growing upon the tree of life. Yeats s rose symbolizes supreme beauty and the spiritual love which are also the features of the Indian Mother Goddess of Hinduism. That the rose stands for the virgin Mother Mary adds a further significance. In Vedantic Hinduism matter is Maya or illusion which should be freed in order to get liberation from the wheel of birth and rebirth. In Puranic Hinduism Maya is not illusion but Shakti or Devi, the Eternal Feminine Principle worthy of adoration. It is the creative power symbolized by the lotus. Yeats s rose also symbolizes Eternal Beauty, Intellectual Beauty, Beauty and Wisdom, love, purity, creativity, sacrifice, suffering, Ireland itself and religion. Such a wealth of symbolic significance being granted to a single flower appears to be a typically Indian cultural act. Thus Yeats has created a European equivalent of the Indian lotus. The symbols discussed here attracted Yeats to India and also Indian readers to his poetry because of the similarity of the Indian and Irish cultures that created favorable conditions for this mutual response. 5.7 Islamic/ Arabic Element Indian culture is associated with only Hinduism. Nevertheless, the Islamic element is an important aspect of India. The present cultural makeup of India is strongly influenced by the Muslims and the Islam. The Muslim influence is clearly visible in classical music and dance. The Hindustani or North Indian classical music and the Kathak form of dance are the remarkable examples of the fusion of Hindu and Muslim cultures. Classical music and dance in India before the Muslims were religious. The Muslims gave them a secular dimension and made them more popular and enjoyable among the common masses. The Muslim influence in poetry is not so obviously visible but it is considerably strong. The Sufi movement is the supreme instance of the creative contact between the two cultures. The Gazal that is perhaps the most popular form of poetry in many Indian languages is a gift of the Arabic
28 Persian poetry. The spiritual dimension of romantic love between man and woman is the gift of the Arabic and Persian poets to Indian literature. Thus Indians easily respond to Arabic literature. As S.B. Bushrui has shown in his article Yeats s Arabic Interest, Yeats s interest in India was comparable to his interest in Arabia. The Arabic element in Yeats is an additional aspect that helps Indians to respond to his poetry. Yeats was interested in the Arabia of pure romance and an Arabia that was related to the old romantic Ireland. He compared the Pre-Islamic pagan Arabia with the Pre- Christian pagan Ireland. Poetry for the Arabs was something awful and solemn, something almost divine. The Celtic approach to literature was similar. It is interesting to learn that in the Dark Ages, the latter half of the sixth century both Arabic and Irish poetry excelled when the rest of the world was in a standstill phase of poetic activity. It is known that Arabian Nights was a great favorite with Yeats. He recommended to Ethel Mannin the sentence from Sherzada, There is nothing shameful in speaking of these things which lie below our waists. 59 It is quite likely that in addition to Tantra, Arabian Nights contributed to Yeats s more and more frank treatment of sexuality in his later poems. Yeats s description of the Judawalis in A Vision is quite familiar to most Indians with their cultural background which has integrated the Sufi and the Arabic elements. Yeats describes them as having a violent contrast of character as they have both licentiousness and sanctity. 60 The Judawalis are according to Yeats, diagram makers. This reminds an Indian of the Yantras. Yeats s reference to Hafiz and his use of symbols like the hair of the beloved are familiar to the Indians and they seem to be Indian elements as they have been familiarized by the Indian interest in Arabic literature. Yeats s poems with clearly Arabic background are The Gift of Harun Al-Rashid, On Woman, Solomon and the Witch and Solomon to Sheba. In these poems, Yeats turns quite frank about sexuality. Yeats s Solomon is not the Solomon of the Old Testament but a master magician who can converse with and is the master of animals, birds and even the djinns, obviously the Solomon of the Arabian Nights. Sheba is plainly described as of Arab origin in the poem Solomon and the Witch, And thus declared that
29 Arab lady. 61 and in the poem Solomon to Sheba,.... And kissed her Arab eyes. 62 In addition to Solomon and Sheba the other Arab characters are Yeats s own daemon Leo Africanus, Kusta Ben Luka and Harun Al-Rashid. Kusta Ben Luka s character has autobiographical echoes. His bride for example is djinn-possessed like Yeats s wife who was possessed by the unknown powers in her automatic writing. In The Gift of Harun Al-Rashid, the djinn appears again, or was it she that spoke or some great djinn? / I say that djinn spoke The reference to the djinns takes us to the Arabic concept of djinn (that is familiar in India) which are of two types: Kuffars or non-believers who are malicious spirits and Moslemin or believers who are benevolent ones. Djinns are said to take animal shapes when they wish. Indian popular belief and folklore are widely inhibited by djinn like spirits. The Irish Sidhe resembles the djinns in many ways. Some of Yeats s works seem to be clearly influenced by Arabian Nights. In Yeats we find the character of the Blind Beggar and the Lame Beggar. These characters are perhaps based on the Blind Man and the Cripple of Arabian Nights. It is interesting to learn that Yeats links them with some medieval Irish sermon as simile of body and soul. 64 In Arabian Nights, there are characters like the cripple man, the hunchback, the fool, the Blind man and the Saint. It is quite possible that Yeats was influenced by these characters in poems like The Saint and the Hunchback, Two Songs of a Fool and Another Song of a Fool. However, such characters are common in Irish folklore as well as Indian mythology. Lady Gregory has recorded in Cuchullain of Muirthemme how Nerrac sees a blind man with a lame man on his back going to a well. Dillon points out the similarity with the Indian Samkhya philosophy where Purusha and Prakriti are represented as blind energy and cripple consciousness and adds that creativity can result from their union like the lame man on the blind man s shoulders. 65