Punctuating Yeats and reading writers’ minds

March 23, 2015

‘Yeats’s handwriting resembles a mouse’s electrocardiogram,’ writes the late Daniel Albright in his preamble to the marvellous Everyman Library edition of W. B. Yeats’ Poems, which he edited.

Albright gives a similarly forthright account of the poet’s spelling and punctuation, excerpted below. While acknowledging his debt to Richard Finneran, who oversaw a different collection of Yeats’s poems, Albright parts company from him in two ways:

First, he is more respectful of Yeats’s punctuation than I. He supposes […] that Yeats’s punctuation was rhetorical rather than grammatical, an imaginative attempt to notate breath-pauses, stresses, and so forth; and that the bizarre punctuation in some of Yeats’s later poems is due to the influence of experimental modernists such as T.S. Eliot and Laura Riding. I suppose that Yeats was too ignorant of punctuation to make his deviations from standard practice significant. Although Yeats surely wished to make his canon a text worthy of reverence, he conceived poetry as an experience of the ear, not of the eye. He could not spell even simple English words; he went to his grave using such forms as intreage [‘intrigue’] and proffesrship. His eyesight was so poor that he gave up fiction-writing because the proof-reading was too strenuous. Finally, Yeats himself admitted, ‘I do not understand stops. I write my work so completely for the ear that I feel helpless when I have to measure pauses by stops and commas’.

Read the rest of this entry »


What do you wonder at, asthore?

October 15, 2011

Dusk, a pearl-grey river, o’er
Hill and vale puts out the day—
What do you wonder at, asthore,
What’s away in yonder grey?

Dark the eyes that linger long—
Dream-fed heart, awake, come in,
Warm the hearth and gay the song:
Love with tender words would win.

Fades the eve in dreamy fire,
But the heart of night is lit:
Ancient beauty, old desire,
By the cabin doorway flit.

from Twilight by the Cabin by George William Russell, aka Æ.

You might have wondered at the word asthore. It’s an Irish English term of endearment, an anglicised form of the Irish a stór /ə’st̪oːr/, meaning ‘my dear’ or ‘my darling’ – literally ‘treasure’, with the Irish vocative particle a.

I love the sound and appearance of a stór. Google Books has examples of it in literary use, but asthore appears to be the more common form. I’ve also come across m’asthore, a mixed-tongue contraction of mo stór, ‘my treasure’.

What do you wonder at, a stór?

And did you notice how the verses above look like a face in profile, with a strong nose, a weak chin, and the broad brim of a hat?