W.B.Yeats (1865-1939) – Photograph by Pirie MacDonald

The young Allen Ginsberg writing to Jack Kerouac, circa December 1948, quotes Yeats: “Men come, men go./All things remain in god”  and “”I don’t understand”/”you ask what makes me sigh, old friend/ What makes me shudder so?/ I shudder and I sigh I think/ That even Cicero /and many minded Homer were /Mad as the mist and snow”- (from “Crazy Jane on God” and “Mad As The Mist And Snow,“, respectively) –  and goes on – “Have you read W.B. Yeats‘ poesy? I will give you the book for a temporary present this Xmas. I have studied him and he knows all the problems. You might enjoy reading him. Say no if it bores you. He has a voice like an echo chamber”

Listen to that voice, the recorded voice of W.B.Yeats – here

And in a letter a few months later – referring to his own early poem, “Stanzas Written at Night In New York City“, he quotes from Yeats again – from “Crazy Jane” again – “Crazy Jane Talks with the Bishop” – (“Love has pitched his mansion in/The place of excrement”):
“That’s my favorite poem of all because it is so literal, it has really only one meaning, and that’s what Yeats means”  – Allen goes on, ” I am not just dirty to be cute, it’s partly that when in (my) poem I say “blows“, not “smokes” the flower superfine”), (it’s) because I’m calling the attention of the poem and reader to a state of fact, which is hidden, either from consciousness, or real attention, if conscious…”

Subsequently, he’d revise his opinion of that poem   -“Blows the flower superfine” is , I don’t know, a bit heavy-handed and ungainly”

He also warns Kerouac of Yeats’ notion of  Hodos Chameliontos” – “You know what that is? …That is a big dragon, all Chinese, except that it is a chameleon, and one minute you have one Chinese image, the next moment you are bumping along on a Mayan spider, and before you know it it turns into a North African porpentine, and an Indian geek, and a western cat..”

and again: “HODOS CHAMELIONTOS in Yeats, is a series of unrelated images, chameleon of the imagination diddling about in the void or hang-up, meaning nothing to each other.”

Philip Whalen and Allen in 1976 give a series of lectures at the Naropa Institute on Yeats, covering both his early and late work – very well-worth visiting – see here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here

Today, June 13, we celebrate W.B. Yeats’ birthday


  1. Thanks for this. I really enjoyed Yeats’ readings. Bloomsday is on Thursday. I don’t remember Allen saying anything about Joyce’s poetry. Or, for that matter, much about Joyce’s prose. I guess it was Kerouac’s job to cover that territory.

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