Two Resources Regarding W. B. Yeats'
Acquisition and Poetic Use of Junzō Satō's
Familial Blade

Taken almost word-per-word from the web page titled BL48 W. B. Yeats, The Letters of W. B. Yeats:

To Edmund Dulac, 22 March 1920. 

Includes Yeats’s fullest account in the published record of his meeting with Sato and receipt of the sword that appears in the Vision papers, Meditations in Time of Civil War, "A Dialogue Between Self and Soul," and Symbols.

A rather wonderful thing happened the day before yesterday. A very distinguished looking Japanese came to see us. He had read my poetry when in Japan and had now just heard me lecture. He had something in his hand wrapped up in embroidered silk. He said it was a present for me. He untied the silk cord that bound it and brought out a sword which had been for 500 years in his family. It had been made 550 years ago and he showed me the maker’s name upon the hilt. I was greatly embarrassed at the thought of such a gift and went to fetch George, thinking that we might find some way of refusing it. When she came I said “But surely this ought always to remain in your family?” He answered “My family have many swords.” But later he brought back my embarrassment by speaking of having given me “his sword.” I had to accept it but I have written him a letter saying that I “put him under a vow” to write and tell me when his first child is born—he is not yet married—that I may leave the sword back to his family in my will.

[W. B. Yeats]

Yeats continues by noting that he has come to a decision about the offer from Japan: ‘We are not going to Japan. At least not for the present. The offer from there grew vaguer and the expense of living is immense. We should be bankrupt before we reached Tokyo’.

Taken word-per-word from the Google cache of the now-absent web page titled Hinchingbrooke School.

A Dialogue of Self and Soul

Yeats used the dialogue form at many points in his literary career. In one sense it reminds us that he was also a dramatist, a lover of drama and the theatre. In another sense, it is a very appropriate form for Yeats to use to explore different 'voices' and points of view at war in his mind and work. In this case the dialogue takes the form of a debate carried on from two opposed viewpoints, with 'the self' representing that part of us/Yeats that is temporal and which values lived reality - however imperfect - and 'the soul' representing the immortal part of us/Yeats that seeks to transcend lived actuality.

The poem is in two parts, the first is a dialogue between self and soul; the second a dramatic monologue in which the self defends its belief in life, despite its imperfections. The movement from dialogue to dramatic monologue speaks of a resolution.

The dialogue

The first verse of the poem begins with the soul inviting the self to climb "the ancient winding stair", an invitation to abandon life and "every wandering thought" and instead attempt to fix his mind upon "the star that marks the hidden pole". Note how the verse offers us a stair that begins with the stair in Yeats' tower and sweeps on into the night sky, stair upon stair.

The second verse offers the self's defence of life with a complex reference to Sato's sword. It embodies here a set of paradoxes, or antitheses, that reflect the nature of lived reality for Yeats: the sword is symbol of war and art - it can "protect" and "adorn"; it, and its covercloth, speak of the masculine and the feminine. We are invited to perceive what Yeats sees as they dual nature of reality. The sword may be "tattered" and "faded" - as all things that are time-bound - but it still speaks of the complex inter-relationship of forces that make life what it is. The Yeats scholar will be reminded of the poetry that deals with the conflicting realities of art and war: here they become interdependent and absolutely necessary to each other.

The soul then asks Yeats, as an old man, why he should be drawn to things of "love and war" and invites him to think instead of "ancestral night" - the immortal life - which can deliver him from the wanderings of mortal existence - "the crime of death and birth.".

In verse four the self replies with another antinomy: that between day and night. Sato's sword and its covercloth becomes a symbol of day - of life contrasted with the world of night (and eternity). At the end of the verse the self claims the right to live on - "a soldier's right" - and to sin again as it is in the nature of man to do.

The soul replies with a reference to "that quarter" - see verse 1 where 'that quarter' is clearly heaven - and to how the immortal life is void of the antinomies that characterise life, with the loss of the senses. Once again the soul invites the self to flee the fragmneted nature of mortal life and replace it with a seeming complete harmony.

The dramatic monologue

The self now speaks alone, offering a troubled justification for life, despite its torments and trials: "The ignominy of boyhood; the distress/ Of boyhood changing into man;/ The unfinished man and his pain/ brought face-to-face with his own clumsiness;". With a simplicity characteristic of the late verse Yeats speaks at times as if without artifice: "I am content to live it all again".

The poem ends with a radiant belief in life, but only possible, the poet says, when he can "cast out remorse", that is, deny a natural inclination to regret that can spoil this beauty that life offers. A final complexity lies in the penultimate line: "We are blest by everything" - even the fractured nature of reality is the foundation of our joy, of all that is good. Sato's sword, then, becomes a symbol of this fractured reality.

Back to Yeats' poems on Adilegian.