Literary Daybook, June 13

Real and imaginary events of interest to readers.

By the Salon Books Editors
Published June 13, 2002 7:00PM (EDT)

Today in fiction

On June 13, 1997, a champagne drinking party is held to celebrate the wedding of Jock Newhouse and Venus Doudounes.
-- "Love in a Dead Language" (1999)
by Lee Siegel

From "The Book of Fictional Days"
Know when something that did not really happen
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Today in Literary History
On this day in 1865, W.B. Yeats was born, in the Sandymount area of Dublin. Until his midteens, most of Yeats' youth was spent not in Dublin but divided between London, where his father attempted to establish himself as a painter, and his mother's hometown of Sligo, on Ireland's Atlantic coast. In "Reveries Over Childhood and Youth" -- No. 39 on the Modern Library's list of the best hundred nonfiction books of the 20th century -- Yeats describes his time in Sligo as a portal to the story-spirit world that would be of such importance to his life and poetry:

"The Middleton and Pollexfen flour mills were at Ballisodare, and a great salmon weir, rapids, and a waterfall, but it was more often at Rosses that I saw my cousin. We rowed in the river-mouth or were taken sailing in a heavy slow schooner yacht or in a big ship's boat that had been rigged and decked. There were great cellars under the house, for it had been a smuggler's house a hundred years before, and sometimes three loud raps would come upon the drawing-room window at sundown, setting all the dogs barking; some dead smuggler giving his accustomed signal ... It was through the Middletons perhaps that I got my interest in country stories, and certainly the first faery stories that I heard were in the cottages about their houses."

It was here that Yeats saw his first fairy, sliding down a moonbeam; at the age of 27 he was still seeing them, at Rosses Point, when they came in a rush of noise and music to the magic circle he had drawn in the sand. On this occasion the "queen of the troop" wrote back in the sand, "be careful & do not seek to know too much about us." Yeats did not follow this advice. His first published poem was "The Song of the Faeries," and his increasingly complex -- some would say embarrassing -- theories and visions and spirit studies were a lifelong obsession.

The psychoanalytically minded scholars find in Yeats' youth, and in the symbolism of the poems, not so much the presence of spirits as the absence of mother, as if Yeats' other-world companions were a compensation for her withheld love and scolding. His father, who also absented himself, eventually to Manhattan, reports being "no sooner in the house than I had to listen to dreadful complaints of everybody and everything -- especially of Willy, it was always Willy ..."

-- Steve King

To find out more about "Today in Literary History," contact Steve King.

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