“Everybody has their particular bias and mine is in favour of a certain kind of swiftness, and simplicity, or rather I want that from certain writers. I myself began to write through reading old ballads, most of my poetical perception is still shaped by them. I cannot get away from that...”
REVEALING LETTER BY YEATS ON HIS POETIC TASTES AND INFLUENCES.
By late 1935 Yeats was hard at work at the completion of the monumental Oxford Book of Modern Verse 1892-1935, a major anthology of poems edited and selected by Yeats. (The anthology would appear one year later, in November 1936.) In selecting the poems for inclusion, Yeats makes no secret that the works will reflect his tastes, that he wishes to “get under one cover poems I want to read to myself, to a friend, or to my children” and that “I must be able to say this is my table of values” (Foster, W.B Yeats, A Life, Vol II 556).
In this letter to the poet, playwright, and novelist Richard Hughes (1900-1976), one of Yeats’s “most exciting discoveries” during the creation of the anthology, Yeats - after discussing financial matters related to the publication - explains what he is looking for in modern poetry (“a certain kind of swiftness and simplicity”) and recognizes that this is perhaps a bias because most of his “poetical perception” has been shaped by old ballads.
The letter, on Yeats’s Riversdale letterhead, reads in full:
November 13 1935
Chatto and Windus ask me two pounds a poem and I had proposed to take nine poems. T.S. Eliot and some of the older poets have asked two pounds a page, and I calculate that your nine poems will print as seven pages. I have a fixed sum to pay authors with, and if Chatto and Windus ask so much I must reduce my selection from you to four or five poems. I cant spend on your work more than ten pounds and I want to give enough of your work to make it important. Please let me know as soon as you can as I go to a warmer climate the week after next, and must finish the anthology before [hand corrected] I go.
I feel that I ought to return to you the copy of “Confession Juvenis” which you sent to me as I already had it. I dont think you like my choice of your work; one or two other poets have complained that I have not taken their latest work. This is not from ignorance on my part. Everybody has their particular bias and mine is in favour of a certain kind of swiftness, and simplicity, or rather I want that from certain writers. I myself began to write through reading old ballads, most of my poetical perception is still shaped by them. I cannot get away from that. From some writers (they are not many) I want intricate thought, but I cannot in the least tell you why I want some sort of fruit from one tree, another sort from another.
WB Yeats [signed]
Yeats wrote a long Introduction to the anthology that was a “peculiarly Yeatsian testament of intellectual autobiography, at once affirmative and allusive, and a declaration of the sustaining power of tradition,” underscoring the poetical preferences and influences he reveals in this letter (Foster 560).
Note: The discussion of payments to the poets is not insignificant, for Yeats admitted limiting the contributions of certain poets (like Kipling and Pound) because their royalty demands were prohibitively high. The “Confessio Juvenis”, which Yeats mentions, was Hughes 1926 collection of verse.
Dublin: November 13, 1935. One 8.5x11 sheet of Yeats’s Riversdale letterhead. One page (and one line and signature on reverse). Several editorial corrections in Yeats’s hand. Usual folds, otherwise fine.
Price: $6,800 .