“Sea-worthy must put to sea”: W. B. Yeats’s “Nō” and the Japanese Model

  • Min Tian
Part of the Palgrave Studies in Theatre and Performance History book series (PSTPH)


Critics in the majority have reached the consensus that W. B. Yeats’s encounter with Nō marked the turning point in his career as a legitimate poet-playwright for the theatre when he finally discovered a model for his ideal form of an aristocratic drama. A fundamental challenge to this consensus, this chapter places Yeats’s interest in Nō in its proper historical and aesthetic contexts. It argues that without a first-hand knowledge or a direct practical experience of Nō, Yeats was not in a position to “find” the model of his ideal form of drama in Nō. Nor did he invent a new drama modelled on Nō. Objectively, Nō did not conform to—and thereby did not confirm—Yeats’s ideas for a new form of drama. It was Yeats, an Irish modernist emplaced in the tradition of European Romanticism and occultism, who projected, in his imaginary interpretation and use of Nō, his ideas onto a distorted mirror of the Japanese Nō displaced from its historical and aesthetic contexts.


  1. Bablet, Denis. 1962. Edward Gordon Craig. Translated by Daphne Woodward. New York: Theatre Arts Books.Google Scholar
  2. Bentley, Eric. 1946. The Playwright as Thinker: A Study of Drama in Modern Times. New York: Reynal & Hitchcock.Google Scholar
  3. Bloom, Harold. 1970. Yeats. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  4. ———. 1994. The Western Canon: The Books and School of the Ages. New York: Harcourt Brace.Google Scholar
  5. Bottomley, Gordon. 1948. A Stage for Poetry: My Purposes with My Plays. Kendal, UK: Titus Wilson & Son.Google Scholar
  6. Boyd, Ernest. 1922. Ireland’s Literary Renaissance. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.Google Scholar
  7. Caldwell, Helen. 1977. Michio Ito: The Dancer and His Dances. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  8. Carruthers, Ian. 1976. A Translation of Fifteen Pages of Ito Michio’s Autobiography “Utsukushiku Naru Kyoshitsu”. The Canadian Journal of Irish Studies 2 (1): 32–43.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Cervantes, Charlotte Ann. 1991. The Effects of Eastern and Western Culture on Michio Ito’s Choreography. M.A. thesis, the University of California, Irvine.Google Scholar
  10. Chapman, Wayne K. 2002. Authors in Eternity: Some Sources of Yeats’s Creative Mysticism. Yeats Annual 15: 288–312.Google Scholar
  11. ———. 2003. Introduction. In “The Dreaming of the Bones” and “Calvary”: Manuscripts Materials by W. B. Yeats, ed. Wayne K. Chapman, xxiii–xxlii. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.Google Scholar
  12. Chiba, Yoko. 1986. Ezra Pound’s Versions of Fenollosa’s Noh Manuscripts and Yeats’s Unpublished “Suggestions & Corrections”. Yeats Annual 4: 121–144.Google Scholar
  13. ———. 1988. W. B. Yeats and Noh: From Japonism to Zen. PhD diss., University of Toronto.Google Scholar
  14. Clark, David R. 1993. W. B. Yeats and the Theatre of Desolate Reality. Washington, DC: The Catholic University of American Press.Google Scholar
  15. Craig, Edward Gordon. 1957. Index to the Story of My Days: Some Memoirs of Edward Gordon Craig. New York: The Viking Press.Google Scholar
  16. Eliot, T.S. 1917. The Noh and the Image. The Egoist 4 (7): 102–103.Google Scholar
  17. ———. 1951. Poetry and Drama. London: Faber and Faber.Google Scholar
  18. Ellmann, Richard. 1948. Yeats: The Man and the Masks. New York: The Macmillan Company.Google Scholar
  19. Engelberg, Edward. 1988. The Vast Design: Patterns in W. B. Yeats’s Aesthetic. 2nd ed. Washington, DC: The Catholic University of American Press.Google Scholar
  20. Fenollosa, Ernest. 1914. The Classical Drama of Japan. The Quarterly Review 221 (441): 450–77Google Scholar
  21. Fenollosa, Ernest, and Ezra Pound. 1916. “No”, or Accomplishment: A Study of the Classical Stage of Japan. London: Macmillan.Google Scholar
  22. Flannery, James W. 1976. W. B. Yeats and the Idea of a Theatre: The Early Abbey Theatre in Theory and Practice. New Haven: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
  23. Genet, Jacqueline. 1989. Villiers de I’Isle-Adam and Yeats. In Yeats the European, ed. A. Norman Jeffares, 49–68. Savage, MD: Barnes & Noble.Google Scholar
  24. Gibson, Matthew. 2003. Magical Romanticism: Yeats’s Absorption of Romantic Writers into Fin-de-Siècle Movements. In I Encontro de Estudos Românticos, eds. Maria Joao Pires and Filomena Vasconcelos, 13–24. Porto: Eduardo & Nogueira.Google Scholar
  25. Gogarty, Oliver St. John. 1954. It Isn’t This Time of Year at All! Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Company.Google Scholar
  26. Groemer, Gerald. 1998a. Nō at the Crossroads: Commoner Performance during the Edo Period. Asian Theatre Journal 15 (1): 117–141.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. ———. 1998b. Elite Culture for Common Audiences: Machiiri Nō and Kanjin Nō in the City of Edo. Asian Theatre Journal 15 (2): 230–252.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Harper, George Mills. 1975a. The Mingling of Heaven and Earth: Yeats’s Theory of Theatre. Dublin: The Dolmen Press.Google Scholar
  29. ———., ed. 1975b. Yeats and the Occult. Toronto: Macmillan of Canada.Google Scholar
  30. Harper, Margaret Mills. 2006. Yeats and the Occult. In The Cambridge Companion to W. B. Yeats, eds. Marjorie Howes and John Kelly, 144–166. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Iremonger, Valentin. 1955. Yeats as a Playwright. In W. B. Yeats, a special number of Irish Writing, 31, 51–56. Dublin, Ireland.Google Scholar
  32. Ishibashi, Hiro. 1966. Yeats and the Noh: Types of Japanese Beauty and Their Reflection in Yeats’s Plays, no. VI of the Dolmen Press Yeats Centenary Papers. Dublin: Dolmen press.Google Scholar
  33. Jackson, Holbrook. 1917. Men of To-Day and To-Morrow III. Mr. William Butler Yeats. To-Day 1 (3): 93–97.Google Scholar
  34. Kelly, John S. 2003. A W. B. Yeats Chronology. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Kermode, Frank. 1957. Romantic Image. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.Google Scholar
  36. Komesu, Okifumi. 1984. The Double Perspective of Yeats’s Aesthetic. Gerrards Cross, Buckinghamshire: Colin Smythe.Google Scholar
  37. ———. 1987. At the Hawk’s Well and Taka No Izumi in a “Creative Circle”. Yeats Annual 5: 103–113.Google Scholar
  38. Liebregts, P.Th.M.G. 1993. Centaurs in the Twilight: W. B. Yeats’s Use of the Classical Tradition. Amsterdam: Rodopi.Google Scholar
  39. Londraville, Richard John. 1970. To Asia for a Stage Convention: W. B. Yeats and the Noh. PhD diss., the State University of New York at Albany.Google Scholar
  40. Longenbach, James. 1988. Stone Cottage: Pound, Yeats, and Modernism. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  41. Martin, Heather C. 1986. W. B. Yeats: Metaphysician as Dramatist. Waterloo, ON, Canada: Wilfrid Laurier University Press.Google Scholar
  42. Moore, Virginia. 1954. The Unicorn: William Butler Yeats’ Search for Reality. New York: Macmillan.Google Scholar
  43. Nally, Claire. 2010. Envisioning Ireland: W.B. Yeats’s Occult Nationalism. Bern: Peter Lang.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Nathan, Leonard E. 1965. The Tragic Drama of William Butler Yeats: Figure in Dance. New York: Columbia University Press.Google Scholar
  45. NKengasong, John Nkemngong. 2011. W. B. Yeats: Realms of the Romantic Imagination. Göttingen: Cuvillier.Google Scholar
  46. Noguchi, Yone. 1907a. Yeats and the Irish Revival. The Japan Times, April 28, 6.Google Scholar
  47. ———. 1907b. Mr. Yeats and the No. The Japan Times, November 3, 6.Google Scholar
  48. O’Casey, Sean. 1949. Inishfallen Fare Thee Well. New York: The Macmillan Company.Google Scholar
  49. Orage, A.R. 1930. The Art of Reading. New York: Farrar & Rinehart.Google Scholar
  50. Oshima, Shotaro. 1965. W. B. Yeats and Japan. Tokyo: The Hokuseido Press.Google Scholar
  51. Ould, Hermon. 1922. Caviare. The English Review 34: 447–453.Google Scholar
  52. P. N. 1911. The Abbey Theatre’s Success. The Mask 3 (10–12): 190–191.Google Scholar
  53. Parkinson, Thomas. 1954. Yeats and Pound: The Illusion of Influence. Comparative Literature 6 (3): 256–264.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Pound, Ezra. 1950. The Letters of Ezra Pound 1907–1941. Edited by D. D. Paige. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company.Google Scholar
  55. Pronko, Leonard C. 1967. Theater East and West: Perspectives toward a Total Theater. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  56. R. H. C. (Alfred Richard Orage). 1915. Readers and Writers. The New Age, XVII (12): 282.Google Scholar
  57. Raine, Kathleen. 1972. Yeats, the Tarot and the Golden Dawn. Dublin: The Dolmen Press.Google Scholar
  58. Sekine, Masaru. 1989. Four Plays for Dancers: Japanese Aesthetics and a European Mind. In Yeats the European, edited by A. Norman Jeffares, 232–37. Savage, MD: Barnes & Noble Books.Google Scholar
  59. ———. 1998. Noh, Fenollosa, Pound and Yeats—Have East and West Met? Yeats Annual 13: 176–196.Google Scholar
  60. ———. 2015. Yeats and Japan: The Dreaming of the Bones. Irish University Review 45 (1): 54–68.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Sekine, Masaru, and Christopher Murray. 1990. Yeats and the Noh: A Comparative Study. Savage, MD: Barnes & Noble Books.Google Scholar
  62. Sharoni, Edna G. 1973. At the Hawk’s Well: Yeats’s Unresolved Conflict Between Language and Silence. Comparative Drama 7 (2): 150–173.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Stucki, Yasuko. 1966. Yeats’s Drama and the Nō: A Comparative Study in Dramatic Theories. Modern Drama 9 (1): 101–122.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Symons, Arthur. 1908. The Symbolist Movement in Literature. London: Archibald Constable.Google Scholar
  65. Taylor, Richard. 1976. The Drama of W. B. Yeats: Irish Myth and the Japanese Nō. New Haven: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
  66. Thwaite, Anthony. 1957. Yeats and the Noh. The Twentieth Century 162 (967): 235–242.Google Scholar
  67. Waley, Arthur. 1921. The Nō Plays of Japan. London: George Allen and Unwin.Google Scholar
  68. ———. 1922. The Nō Plays of Japan. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.Google Scholar
  69. Wilson, F.A.C. 1958. W. B. Yeats and Tradition. London: Victor Gollancz.Google Scholar
  70. Yeats, W.B. 1910. The Tragic Theatre. The Mask 3 (4–6): 77–81.Google Scholar
  71. ———. 1916. Introduction. In Certain Noble Plays of Japan: From the Manuscripts of Ernest Fenollosa, Chosen and Finished by Ezra Pound, With an Introduction by William Butler Yeats, I–XIX. Churchtown, Dundrum, Dublin: The Cuala Press.Google Scholar
  72. ———. 1917. Instead of a Theatre. To-Day 1 (3): 98–102.Google Scholar
  73. ———. 1920. Swedenborg, Mediums, and the Desolate Places. In Visions and Beliefs in the West of Ireland, second series, collected and arranged by Lady Gregory, 295–339. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons.Google Scholar
  74. ———. 1921. Four Plays for Dancers. London: Macmillan.Google Scholar
  75. ———. 1924. The Cat and the Moon and Certain Poems. Dublin, Ireland: The Cuala Press.Google Scholar
  76. ———. 1935. The King of the Great Clock Tower, Commentaries and Poems. New York: The Macmillan Company.Google Scholar
  77. ———. 1955. The Letters of W. B. Yeats. Edited by Allan Wade. New York: The Macmillan Company.Google Scholar
  78. ———. 1957. The Variorum Edition of the Poems of W. B. Yeats. Edited by Peter Allt and Russell K. Alspach. New York: Macmillan Publishing.Google Scholar
  79. ———. 1961. Essays and Introductions. New York: The Macmillan Company.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  80. ———. 1965. The Autobiography of William Butler Yeats. New York: Macmillan Publishing Company.Google Scholar
  81. ———. 1966. The Variorum Edition of the Plays of W. B. Yeats. Edited by Russell K. Alspach. New York: The Macmillan Company.Google Scholar
  82. ———. 1970. Uncollected Prose, vol. 1. Edited by John P. Frayne. New York: Columbia University Press.Google Scholar
  83. ———. 1976. Uncollected Prose by W. B. Yeats, vol. 2. Edited by John P. Frayne and Colton Johnson. New York: Columbia University Press.Google Scholar
  84. ———. 1989. The Collected Works of W. B. Yeats, vol. VII, Letters to the New Island. Edited by George Bornstein and Hugh Witemeyer. New York: Macmillan.Google Scholar
  85. ———. 1993. The Poet and the Actress (1916). In W. B. Yeats and the Theatre of Desolate Reality, ed. David R. Clark, 170–183. Washington, DC: The Catholic University of American Press.Google Scholar
  86. ———. 1994. The Collected Works of W. B. Yeats, vol. V, Later Essays. Edited by William H. O’Donnell. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons.Google Scholar
  87. ———. 2003. The Collected Works of W.B. Yeats, vol. VIII, The Irish Dramatic Movement. Edited by Mary Fitzgerald and Richard J. Finneran. New York: Scribner.Google Scholar
  88. ———. 2007. The Collected Works of W.B. Yeats, vol. IV, Early Essays. Edited by George Bornstein and Richard J. Finneran. New York: Scribner.Google Scholar
  89. ———. 2015. The Collected Works of W. B. Yeats, vol. XIV, A Vision: The Revised 1937 Edition. Edited by Margaret Mills Harper and Catherine E. Paul. London: Scribner.Google Scholar
  90. Yeats, W.B., and T. Sturge Moore. 1953. W. B. Yeats and T. Sturge Moore: Their Correspondence, 19011937. London: Routledge & K. Paul.Google Scholar
  91. Zeami, Motokiyo. 1984. On the Art of the Nō Drama: The Major Treatises of Zeami. Translated by Thomas Rimer and Yamazaki Masakazu. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Min Tian
    • 1
  1. 1.University of IowaIowa CityUSA

Personalised recommendations