“A couple of days ago, while correcting the proofs of this book, I remembered a lecture you delivered in the year 1894 to the Dublin National Literary Society; a denunciation of rhetoric, and of Irish rhetoric most of all; and that it was a most vigorous and merry lecture and roused the anger of the newspapers. Thereon I decided to offer the book to you—though I had years ago dedicated various sections to friends, some of whom are long dead—for a distaste for rhetoric was a chief characteristic of my generation, and gave the book its defects and qualities.
The Irish form of Victorian rhetoric had declined into a patriotic extravagance that offended all educated minds, but Victor Hugo and Swinburne had so delighted our school days that we distrusted our habitual thoughts. I tried after the publication of “The Wanderings of Oisin” to write of nothing but emotion, and in the simplest language, and now I have had to go through it all, cutting out or altering passages that are sentimental from lack of thought. Are we not always doomed to see our world as the Stoics foretold, consumed alternately by fire and water.
Upon the other hand, I cannot have altogether failed in simplicity, for these poems, written before my sevenand-twentieth year, are still the most popular that I have written. A girl made profound by the first pride of beauty, though all but a child still, once said to me, “Innocence is the highest achievement of the human intellect,” and as we are encouraged to believe that our intellects grow with our years I may be permitted the conviction that—grown a little nearer innocence—I have found a more appropriate simplicity.
I published the first edition of “The Celtic Twilight” when we were founding the National Literary Society, and often when it was time for some committee meeting—how modest and practical you were at those meetings—I rose without regret, for it is pleasanter to talk than to write, from some finished or unfinished story of “The Secret Rose.” I wrote a good portion of that book while I still shared a lodging with old John O’Leary, the Fenian leader, but “Rosa Alchemica,” “The Tables of the Law,” and “The Adoration of the Magi” when I had left Dublin in despondency.”
W. B. Yeats.