The True Tradition: Translations from the Gaelic

  • Colin Meir


Apart from those few poems he defined as ‘Irish’, Yeats’s early work shows very little evidence of being influenced by the translations from the Gaelic which by 1895 he was praising as the main line of his native tradition in verse written in English. When he wrote ballads like ‘Moll Magee’ Yeats was as far from that tradition as he was when, working several years later from new aesthetic principles, he searched in Irish folk-lore and mythology for the symbols of an esoteric lyricism. Initially he commended the translations for their personal emotion; and it is not until after 1900 that he emphasises the strength and clarity of their language, the vigour of their syntax and idiom. As can be seen from the work of translators from Callanan to Hyde, Yeats was to gain more from their tradition than he was at first aware existed in it.


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  1. 5.
    D. J. O’Donoghue (ed.), The Poems of J. C. Mangan (Dublin, 1904) xiv.Google Scholar
  2. 6.
    See James Carney, The Irish Bardic Poet (Dublin, 1967) for an account of the role of the professional Gaelic poet, with particular reference to Eochaidh O Heoghusa.Google Scholar
  3. 9.
    David Sutton, W. B. Yeats and the Irish Ballad Tradition (unpublished M.A. thesis, 1972; Leicester University Library) 105.Google Scholar

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© Colin Meir 1974

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  • Colin Meir

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