Yeats’s Passage to India

  • Ruth Nevo
Part of the Yeats Annual book series (YA)


The Herne’s Egg, written two years before Yeats’s death, is a very difficult play. Yeats wrote to Dorothy Wellesley that it was “wild”: “as wild a play as Player Queen, as amusing but more tragedy and philosophic depth” (L 843). This is itself a paradoxical judgment. In letters to Ethel Mannin, he called it “the strangest wildest thing I have ever written” (L 845), “my very Rabelasian play” and added, “but do not ask me what it means” (L 904). Critics and interpreters, needless to say, have asked, and have come up with a variety of (mostly) unenthusiastic answers. Helen Vendler,1 to whom it is an allegory of art as sublimation finds it “rather arid and contrived, with very little ‘humanity’ and less s tage- craft”, its “tragic-comic levity tiresome, its grotesquerie a fatal flaw” (1963, 160, 164ff). Bloom finds it “squalid”, “unequivocally rancid”, its ‘tone of the apocalyptic absurd’, unsuccessful and unfunny. Since he takes the play’s irony to be ‘indeliberate” he comes to the conclusion that it “is as bitter as it is confused, and every kind of a failure”. “Yeats,” he says, “meant to purge himself of some of his own obsessions by this play, but his poems written after it do not show that the purgation was effective” (1970, 422, 424, 426). Ure, one of the most sympathetic of Yeats’s major critics, claims that while, “in The H erne’s Egg all runs sweetly up to the pinnacle, which is firmly set” nevertheless “Yeats seems to have been betrayed into muddling his own design”, chiefly, he feels through the theme of metempsychosis (1963, 156).


Creative Mind Sacred Object Moonless Night Dreamless Sleep Soft Flesh 
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  1. 7.
    E. M. Forster, A Passage to India (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1961 etc.) p. 189.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Warwick Gould 1986

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  • Ruth Nevo

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