Yeats and the Catholic Imagination

Yeats and the Catholic Imagination

At the First Things blog Michael Novak writes about W. B. Yeats:

I would not assert that Frank O�Malley or Fr. Keena listed W.B. Yeats as a Catholic writer. But I would even then, back in the 1950s, have enjoyed the challenge to show convincingly how Catholic his imagination was. And today I judge his imagination, after more experience of my own, to be even more so than I might have seen then.

Obviously, others disagree. Is that not the beauty of literary studies? We try to define standards and definitions, and then we argue where x fits with w, y, and z.

It would not be a bad time to define again, as we yield place to a younger and smarter generation, �the Catholic imagination.� And to see how many would include Lewis, Eliot, Yeats, and others among the artists who express that imagination in their work. And how many would, by contrast, limit their list of Catholic writers to the formally inscribed, the orthodox, and the relatively virtuous (or at least repentant).

Count me in the disagreeing camp. I’m really curious about how Novak would further explain this claim. I’m fond of some of Yeat’s work, but much of it leaves me cold and learning about his fascination with the occult, spiritualism, automatic writing, celtic gods, Golden Dawn, etc. makes me very leery of calling his imagination “Catholic”.

Eliot and Lewis I can definitely see. Yeats, not so much. But, like I said, I’d like to see Novak’s argument.

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  • Pamela,
    I think you misunderstand me. I would certainly agree with you that we will treasure the gifts that children make whether they are useful of not. I know my parents were the recipients of plenty of ashtrays and the like and have even kept some of these “useless” treasures for exactly the reasons you state.

    However, my approach in criticizing such crafts is that of a teacher, and looking toward the future when I plan to homeschool my daughter.

    If it is true that we treasure the crafts our children make even when they are not useful, that does not imply that we would treasure them less if they were actually useful. I would suggest the opposite is true. If your grandaughter had made you an object you could use, you would think of her every time you used it.

    The author I quote from is a homeschooling mother of seven. Which means if she did an ashtray project she could end up with seven ashtrays that would need to find “homes” somewhere, either on surfaces of their home or as gifts to friends and family. If no one smokes then they are useless gifts. By saying that I don’t mean to imply worthless, in fact as you point out there is still quite a bit of worth because of who made it.

    But I think there is a deeper lesson we as parents can teach our children. Not only the joy of making something to give to someone else; but the joy of matching the gift to the recipient.

    For example, I’m a quilter. And it gives me great joy to see my parents snuggling under the quilt I made for them, to see how perfectly the colors I chose fit in with y mother’s style, how well they match all the other things in the room. What a great pleasure it was to go to the store and find all the different fabrics that reminded me of my mother’s favorite shirts and skirts, of her love of cooking, and travelling, and one fabric that matched the curves of their wrought-iron headboard.

    So I think it is a good lesson for children to not only learn various handcrafts but also to learn to notice the people around them, their likes and dislikes, their habits and preferences and to discern how to make a gift that will not only be ornamental but perhaps even useful.

    Perhaps instead of ashtrays my children can make flower vases for their grandmothers, and give them with a card that promises to fill them with flowers every time they visit. I think my mom and mother in law would appreciate that even more than an ashtray they couldn’t ever use.

  • I loved your own story from your childhood but I can’t agree with your comments.  I am a grandmother now and have crafted all my life, now I pass on my knowledge to my grandchildren and we all gain so much from the things that I help them make.

    My own prize possession from number 1 granddaughter when she was 6 yrs old is an ash tray and I have never smoked but when I pick it up I can see and feel all the indents where her little fingers went.  Not beautiful to anyone but me so thank goodness no-one else wants it.

    Very best wishes to you, Pamela

  • I’m sorry you felt I misunderstood and I loved your reply.

    All creative people as you and I are passionate about all crafts, whether we ourselves craft a particular beautiful thing or just admire the work of others.

    My own grandchildren benefit from a very good art/craft curiculum (which is where the ash tray, come whatever, was sporned).  The eldest has even mummified a barbie doll and made the sarcophagus for her to lie in and it’s beautiful.  I think what I meant was that whatever a child crafts should be valued because it is one step towards becoming a craft person and whether or not they will earn their living in crafts, it will always be something they can get pleasure from all their lives.

    Finally I think the handicraft is theirs, the clutter is always mine.  One day they will clear up after themselves, I hope!  If you can find your way into my profile and look into the craft by children blog you will see a small part of what we have achieved.

    Very best wishes and I hope to visit your site again.