More Miracle than Bird – Dramatis Personae
Georgie Hyde-Lees, later George Yeats
“I am hungering for a mind that has bite.”
—Georgie in a letter to W. B.
W. B. Yeats
“I miss you beyond words, and have carefully watered your seeds on the window sill, as the only form of attention I can show you. They do not need water but I am doing it to satisfy my feelings, so they must endure it.”
—W. B. in a letter to Georgie
Dorothy Shakespear, later Dorothy Pound
“Georgie had an amusing dream about you two nights ago. You were hanging to the top of a very straight pine tree-all-stem-&-a-burst-of-branches-at-the-top-kind, and you had not climbed it—but got there ‘by translation’ as she says. You seemed very happy—but hanged—”
—Dorothy in a letter to Ezra Pound
Dorothy Shakespear Pound was a painter and a dear friend of Georgie’s. Because Dorothy’s uncle married Georgie’s mother, Georgie referred to herself as “the step-pest.” Dorothy married the American poet Ezra Pound in 1914.
“Have the Irish a monomania? I notice with Yeats he will be quite sensible till some questions of ghosts or occultism… then he is subject to a curious excitement, twists everything to his theory, usual quality of mind goes.”
—Ezra on W. B.
Ezra Pound remains known for his Cantos, and also for his fascist views, which involved strong support of Mussolini and virulent anti-Semitism, and led to his incarceration for insanity for twelve years.
The author of six novels, a novella and two plays, Olivia was also W. B. Yeats’ first lover, coaxing the nervous poet to kiss her when he was an inexperienced 30-year-old. This is one of several poems he wrote later on.
A crazy man that found a cup,
When all but dead of thirst,
Hardly dared to wet his mouth
That another mouthful
And his beating heart would burst.
October last I found it too
But found it dry as bone,
And for that reason am I crazed
And my sleep is gone.
W. B. Yeats
“The world should thank me for not marrying you.”
—Maud to W. B.
Actress, heiress, political activist, and beauty, Maud Gonne was the object of W. B. Yeats’ adoration for decades.
“Iseult has always been something like a daughter to me.”
—W. B. on Iseult
A translator and writer, Iseult was Maud’s daughter and also a beauty.
A spirit photograph of W. B. Yeats with a strange woman looming overhead.
“He seemed to live in the centre of an immensely intricate briar bush; from wh. he could issue at any moment; & then withdraw again. And every twig was real to him.”
—Virginia Woolf on W. B.
George Yeats and William Butler Yeats
George and Willy Yeats were married from 1917 until the poet’s death in 1939. They had two children, a son and a daughter. George died in 1968.
A few of the locations from the book, as retraced in 2014 and 2015
From the hospital in London at 27 Berkeley Square Gardens in Mayfair…
… to the house in Sussex, The Prelude, which Georgie’s mother Nelly often rented for the summers…
… and along the road to Stone Cottage, where Dorothy Shakespear, Ezra Pound and W. B. Yeats spent some winters …
… and The Hatch, the pub where Pound and Yeats used to drink cider at day’s end.
This is Yeats’ apartments at Woburn Buildings in Bloomsbury…
… and here is the ever-so-unassuming exterior of the former headquarters of the Order of the Golden Dawn in North Kensington…
… and finally the tower in Ireland, Thoor Ballylee, which also provides the cover of Yeats’ famous book, The Tower. George lived in the tower and cottage for many summers with their two children, Anne and Michael. The first floor often flooded up to two feet, and there was no electricity or plumbing.
Today, the wall of the tower also features part of Yeats’ poem:
I, the poet William Yeats,
With old mill boards and sea-green slates,
And smithy work from the Gort forge,
Restored this tower for my wife George.
And may these characters remain
When all is ruin once again.
Traces of their spiritual adventures can be found at the National Library of Ireland.
George Yeats and W. B. Yeats are buried together in Drumcliff Churchyard in Sligo, Ireland. This is the pattern on the door of the church…
Under bare Ben Bulben’s head
In Drumcliff churchyard Yeats is laid,
An ancestor was rector there
Long years ago; a church stands near,
By the road an ancient Cross.
No marble, no conventional phrase,
On limestone quarried near the spot
By his command these words are cut:
Cast a cold eye
On life, on death.
Horseman, pass by!
… and the gravestone (on which the exclamation mark does not appear).
“Alice, freezing, in County Galway, Ireland, 2015.”