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Chapter 21

A conviction that the world was now but a bundle of fragments
possessed me without ceasing. I had tried this conviction on 'The
Rhymers,' thereby plunging into greater silence an already too
silent evening. 'Johnson,' I was accustomed to say, 'you are the
only man I know whose silence has beak & claw.' I had lectured on
it to some London Irish society, and I was to lecture upon it
later on in Dublin, but I never found but one interested man, an
official of the Primrose League, who was also an active member of
the Fenian Brotherhood. 'I am an extreme conservative apart from
Ireland,' I have heard him explain; and I have no doubt that
personal experience made him share the sight of any eye that saw
the world in fragments. I had been put into a rage by the
followers of Huxley, Tyndall, Carolus Duran and Bastien-Lepage,
who not only asserted the unimportance of subject, whether in art
or literature, but the independence of the arts from one another.
Upon the other hand I delighted in every age where poet and artist
confined themselves gladly to some inherited subject matter known
to the whole people, for I thought that in man and race alike
there is something called 'unity of being,' using that term as
Dante used it when he compared beauty in the _Convito_ to a
perfectly proportioned human body. My father, from whom I had
learned the term, preferred a comparison to a musical instrument
so strong that if we touch a string all the strings murmur
faintly. There is not more desire, he had said, in lust than in
true love; but in true love desire awakens pity, hope, affection,
admiration, and, given appropriate circumstance, every emotion
possible to man. When I began, however, to apply this thought to
the State and to argue for a law-made balance among trades and
occupations, my father displayed at once the violent free-trader
and propagandist of liberty. I thought that the enemy of this
unity was abstraction, meaning by abstraction not the distinction
but the isolation of occupation, or class or faculty--

'Call down the hawk from the air
Let him be hooded, or caged,
Till the yellow eye has grown mild,
For larder and spit are bare,
The old cook enraged,
The scullion gone wild.'

I knew no mediaeval cathedral, and Westminster, being a part of
abhorred London, did not interest me; but I thought constantly of
Homer and Dante and the tombs of Mausolus and Artemisa, the great
figures of King and Queen and the lesser figures of Greek and
Amazon, Centaur and Greek. I thought that all art should be a
Centaur finding in the popular lore its back and its strong legs.
I got great pleasure too from remembering that Homer was sung, and
from that tale of Dante hearing a common man sing some stanza from
'The Divine Comedy,' and from Don Quixote's meeting with some
common man that sang Ariosto. Morris had never seemed to care for
any poet later than Chaucer; and though I preferred Shakespeare to
Chaucer I begrudged my own preference. Had not Europe shared one
mind and heart, until both mind and heart began to break into
fragments a little before Shakespeare's birth? Music and verse
began to fall apart when Chaucer robbed verse of its speed that he
might give it greater meditation, though for another generation or
so minstrels were to sing his long elaborated 'Troilus and
Cressida;' painting parted from religion in the later Renaissance
that it might study effects of tangibility undisturbed; while,
that it might characterise, where it had once personified, it
renounced, in our own age, all that inherited subject matter which
we have named poetry. Presently I was indeed to number character
itself among the abstractions, encouraged by Congreve's saying
that 'passions are too powerful in the fair sex to let humour,' or
as we say character, 'have its course.' Nor have we fared better
under the common daylight, for pure reason has notoriously made
but light of practical reason, and has been made but light of in
its turn, from that morning when Descartes discovered that he
could think better in his bed than out of it; nor needed I
original thought to discover, being so late of the school of
Morris, that machinery had not separated from handicraft wholly
for the world's good; nor to notice that the distinction of
classes had become their isolation. If the London merchants of our
day competed together in writing lyrics they would not, like the
Tudor merchants, dance in the open street before the house of the
victor; nor do the great ladies of London finish their balls on
the pavement before their doors as did the great Venetian ladies
even in the eighteenth century, conscious of an all enfolding
sympathy. Doubtless because fragments broke into even smaller
fragments we saw one another in a light of bitter comedy, and in
the arts, where now one technical element reigned and now another,
generation hated generation, and accomplished beauty was snatched
away when it had most engaged our affections. One thing I did not
foresee, not having the courage of my own thought--the growing
murderousness of the world.

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

William Butler Yeats

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