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Chapter 20

I generalized a great deal and was ashamed of it. I thought that
it was my business in life to bean artist and a poet, and that
there could be no business comparable to that. I refused to read
books, and even to meet people who excited me to generalization,
but all to no purpose. I said my prayers much as in childhood,
though without the old regularity of hour and place, and I began
to pray that my imagination might somehow be rescued from
abstraction, and become as pre-occupied with life as had been the
imagination of Chaucer. For ten or twelve years more I suffered
continual remorse, and only became content when my abstractions
had composed themselves into picture and dramatization. My very
remorse helped to spoil my early poetry, giving it an element of
sentimentality through my refusal to permit it any share of an
intellect which I considered impure. Even in practical life I only
very gradually began to use generalizations, that have since
become the foundation of all I have done, or shall do, in Ireland.
For all I know, all men may have been as timid; for I am persuaded
that our intellects at twenty contain all the truths we shall ever
find, but as yet we do not know truths that belong to us from
opinions caught up in casual irritation or momentary phantasy. As
life goes on we discover that certain thoughts sustain us in
defeat, or give us victory, whether over ourselves or others, & it
is these thoughts, tested by passion, that we call convictions.
Among subjective men (in all those, that is, who must spin a web
out of their own bowels) the victory is an intellectual daily
recreation of all that exterior fate snatches away, and so that
fate's antithesis; while what I have called 'The mask' is an
emotional antithesis to all that comes out of their internal
nature. We begin to live when we have conceived life as a tragedy.


William Butler Yeats

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