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Abstract

The title of the sequence Words for Music Perhaps, published by Cuala Press in 1932 and then included in The Winding Stair and Other Poems (1933), is a red herring: the twenty-five short poems of the sequence are not really meant to be set to music. Yeats told his old friend Olivia Shakespear as much when he wrote her in March 1929 that “I am writing Twelve poems for music—have done three of them (and two other poems)—no[t] so much that they may be sung as that I may define their kind of emotion to myself. I want them to be all emotion & all impersonal” (L 758). Indeed, both W.°B. and George Yeats seem to have found the question of actual musical set-tings the cause for amusement. R. F. Foster quotes George Yeats writing to Tom McGreevy that “William…yesterday came dashing along from his cot to announce that he was going to write twelve songs and I had got to purchase ‘a musical instrument’ at once and set them to music…All said songs being of a most frivolous nature!” (Life 2 385).1 Given that George did not play a musical instrument, not to mention that it seems not to have mattered which musical instrument she was meant to buy, frivolous might be the least that could be said about the idea.

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