Yeats – Crazy Jane poems (1933)

As a whole, these poems, which appeared in Words for Music Perhaps, continue the theme of Dialogue between self and soul, but locate the resolution of that poem in the figure of Jane, whose insanity becomes coextensive with a sort of natural, pre-reflective knowledge, won by long experience. The idea of “the hero” get here re-written for the last time: from the early magic, to the political martyr, to the metaphysical traveler, and now to the folk woman who will not separate body and soul. Formally, Yeats has progressed from the lyric, to the ode, and now to the ballad. Read Jane as mask for Yeats, in which a certain unity of self and soul is achieved in the form of folk peasant–in tradition of Shakespeare’s fool.

“Crazy Jane and the Bishop” – Sets out the primary tensions between Jane and the Bishop, the latter associated with cant and prohibition: “Yet he, an old book in his fist, / Cried that we lived like beast and beast.” The refrains act as a sort of tragic chorus, offering at times consolation, and at other times ironic sympathy.

“Crazy Jane on the Day of Judgment” – Ambiguous whether it is Jane or the Bishop doing the judging. Contrasts Jane (hero) with Jack (common man). Opening stanza is important:

‘Love is all
That cannot take the whole
Body and Soul’;
And that is what Jane said.

Read this in dialogue with “Dialogue of Self and Soul.”

“Crazy Jane Talks with the Bishop” – Tells of an event when Jane and the Bishop are much older. That they are talking rather than connected with a mere “and,” as in the first Jane poem, points to the agency that Jane has taken on. She claims that “Fair and foul are near of kin, / And fair needs fowl,” which is moving to a final stanza that will rewrite Keats “Ode to Melancholy” (even in the very Temple of delight veiled melancholy hath her sovereign shrine) in terms of Love and excrement:

A woman can be proud and stiff
When on love intent;
But love has pitched his mansion in
The place of excrement;
For nothing can be sole or whole
That has not been rent.

Can relate this Stephen Dedalus’s refrain: “no reconciliation without s sundering,” but also to the project of mimesis more generally (cracked looking-glass, etc.) .Pairing “sole” and “whole” together is counterintuitive, but begins to point to the assumptions behind modernist commitments to autonomy, etc.

“Crazy Jane Gown Old Looks at the Dancers” – Connect with “Among School Children” line: cannot tell the dancer from the dance. Crucially, Jane is not dancing, but remembers a times when “I had limbs to try / Such a dance as there was danced.” The danger of such a dance–“Love is like a lion’s tooth”–is palpable in the opening lines: As though to strangle her, not scream,” etc. This danse macabre achieves an incredible intersubjectivity conditioned on incredible violence. The rhyme scheme (ABACACB) is most formall tight of all the Jane poems (it is also the last) marking out a curious formal trajectory/progress that the idea of the ballad seems to work against. Such is th perspective of the aged.



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