Yeats and shoe-throwing

From ‘Stories of Michael Robartes and his Friends: An Extract from a Record Made by his Pupils’, one of the odd little semi-biographical fictions which enliven W B Yeats’ A Vision:

“My name is Daniel O’Leary, my great interest is the speaking of verse, and the establishment some day or other of a small theatre for plays in verse. You will remember that a few years before the Great War the realists drove the last remnants of rhythmical speech out of the theatre. I thought common sense might have returned while I was at war or in the starvation afterwards, and went to Romeo and Juliet to find out. I caught those two well-known persons Mr. . . . and Miss . . . at their kitchen gabble. Suddenly this thought came into my head: What would happen if I were to take off my boots and fling one at Mr. . . . and one at Miss . . . ? Could I give my future life such settled purpose that the act would take its place not among whims but among forms of intensity? I ran through my life from childhood and decided that I could. ‘You have not the courage,’ said I, speaking aloud but in a low voice. ‘I have,’ said I, and began unlacing my boots. ‘You have not,’ said I, and after several such interchanges I stood up and flung the boots.

“Unfortunately, although I can do whatever I command myself to do, I lack the true courage, which is self-possession in an unforeseen situation. My aim was bad. Had I been throwing a cricket-ball at a wicket, which is a smaller object than an actor or actress, I would not have failed; but as it was, one boot fell in the stalls and the other struck a musician or the brassy thing in his hand. Then I ran out of a side door and down the stairs. […]

“You can understand even better than Robartes why that protest must always seem the great event of my life.”

This in 1925, mark you, from a man who knew a thing or two about being on the receiving end.


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