Preface to The King of the Great Clock Tower
A year ago I found that I had written no verse for two years; I had never been so long barren; I had nothing in my head, and there used to be more than I could write. Perhaps Coole Park where I had escaped from politics, from all that Dublin talked of, when it was shut, shut me out from my theme; or did the subconscious drama that was my imaginative life end with its owner? but it was more likely that I had grown too old for poetry. I decided to force myself to write, then take advice. In At Parnells's Funeral I rhymed passages from a lecture I had given in America; a poem upon mount Meru came spontaneously, but philosophy is a dangerous theme; then I was barren again. I wrote the prose dialogue of The King of the Great Clock Tower that I might be forced to make lyrics for its imaginary people. When I had written all but the last lyric I went a considerable journey partly to get the advice of a poet not of my school who would, as he did some years ago, say what he thought. I asked him to dine, tried to get his attention. I am in my sixty-fourth year I said, probably I should stop writing verse, I want your opinion upon some verse I have written lately. I had hoped he would ask me to read it but he would not speak of art, or of literature, or of anything related to them. I had however been talking to his latest disciple and knew that his opinions had not changed; Phidias had corrupted sculpture, we had nothing of true Greece but certain Nike dug up out of the foundations of the Partenon, and that corruption ran all through our art; Shakespeare and Dante had corrupted literature, Shakespeare by his to abundant sentiment, Dante by his compromise with the Church.
He said apropos of nothing Arthur Balfour was a scoundrel, and from that on would talk of nothing but politics. All the other modern statesmen were more or less scoundrels except Mussolini and that hysterical imitator of his, Hitler. When I objected to his violence, he declared that Dante considered all sins intellectual, even sins of the flesh, he himself refused to make the modern distinction between error and sin. He urged me to read the works of Captain Douglas who alone knew what caused our suffering. He took my manuscript and went away denouncing Dublin as a reactioonary hole because I had said that I was re-reading Shakespeare, would go on to Chaucer, and found all that I wanted of modern life in detection and the wild west. Next day his judgment came and that in a single word Putrid.
Then I took my verses to a friend of my own school, and this friend said go on just like that. Plays like The Great Clock Tower always seem unfinished but that is no matter. Begin plays without knowing how to end them for the sake of the lyrics. I once wrote a play and after I had filled it with lyrics abolished the play. Then I brought my work to two painters and a poet until I was like Panurge consulting oracles as to whether he should get married and rejecting all that did not confirm his own desire.
God guard me from those those thoughts men think
In the mind alone,
He that sings a lasting song
Thinks in a marrow bone;
From all that makes a wise old man
That can be praised of all;
O what am I that I should not seem
For the song's sake a fool.
I pray--for fashion's word is out
And prayer comes round again--
That I may seem though I die old
A foolish, passionate man.
--William Butler Yeats