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On The Scale Of Art And The Aesthetics Of Difficulty- Rereading 'Lapis Lazuli' As Ecological Critique

Sheils, Barry



Charles I. Armstrong

Adrian Paterson

Tom Walker


In mid-1936, while writing ‘Lapis Lazuli’, W. B. Yeats was finalising his controversial selections for The Oxford Book of Modern Verse (1936). He was also pronouncing upon a significant generational trend towards ‘difficult’ poetry. As he suggested in private correspondence with Dorothy Wellesley in April 1936, the younger poets had ensured ‘[t]he sudden return of philosophy into English Literature around 1925’ (CL Intelex 6531). More publicly, he asserted of Ezra Pound’s unfinished Cantos that they had ‘too much life’ and ‘no edge’, their proposed mathematical construction an augur of ‘Auden, Day-Lewis and that school’. Louis MacNeice, too, was implicated in the ‘difficult art’ of ‘seeing beyond the flux’ an unchanging structure (OBMV, xxiv; xxxvi-viii). ‘Difficult’ here was akin to intellectual organisation yet remained itself a difficult word to define. On the one hand, Yeats associated difficulty with stylistic ‘intricacy’ and ‘professional’ patterning alien to those writers like himself who were all for ‘naturalness and swiftness […] vast sentiments, generalisations supported by tradition,’ as he described in a subsequent letter to Wellesley (CL Intelex 6538). On the other, as he wrote in solidarity and reproach to Margot Ruddock, again in April 1936, ‘when your technic [sic] is sloppy your matter grows second hand – there is no difficulty to force you down under the surface – difficulty is our plough’ (CL Intelex 6532).

Online Publication Date Jun 30, 2024
Deposit Date Jun 24, 2024
Publicly Available Date Jul 1, 2027
Publisher Edinburgh University Press
Book Title W.B. Yeats and the Arts
Chapter Number 5
ISBN 9781474499668
Keywords Difficulty; ekphrasis; 'Lapis Lazuli'; scale critique; miniatures; Ethel Mannin
Public URL
Publisher URL
Contract Date Jan 31, 2023


This file is under embargo until Jul 1, 2027 due to copyright restrictions.

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