Bryan - Crazy Yeats
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Crazy Yeats

by Rudy Bryan


            See Yeats meet Maud Gonne. See Yeats fall in love with Maud Gonne. See Yeats try to marry Maud Gonne. See Maud Gonne reject Yeats. See Yeats get frustrated with women. This rip off of a See Spot Run narration becomes interesting in that William Butler Yeats views woman as a tool for his own sexual desire. But if readers can pull themselves away from Maud Gonne as an influencing agent in the narration of his poetry, it’s interesting to see how Yeats incorporates woman into his works. Thus, the incorporation of woman-ness, through the ideology of the mask, into his Crazy Jane figure makes her a unique character in her and outside her. It becomes unique in three ways: a) how Crazy Jane was created (the process that led up to her creation), b) how Crazy Jane becomes an object of male sexual desire, and how she can thwart that desire by portraying herself as c) a tool against the ideology religion


I, Jane


            “I care not what the sailors say,” said Crazy Jane, she’ll “never hang [her] heart upon/ a roaring, ranting journeyman” (Lines 1, 12-13 p. 256-257). This is Crazy Jane emphasizing her independence as a woman who wants nothing to do for men in the poem “Crazy Jane Reproved.” Jane may be a real independent animal (I use that term lightly, only that humans are all animals/mammals), and as part of Yeats’ poetry and work, the idea of Crazy Jane is independent in its element(s). And to see this independence, it will only stand out if you look to see how Yeats’ work first began leading up to his creation of Crazy Jane. Walter E. Houghton, author his article “Yeats and Crazy Jane: The Hero in Old Age,” provides to his audience a really good account of the historical process through which Yeats’ work goes through.


            1906  “By and large,” Houghton says, “Yeats had gone the first road, both in substance and in style” in that he had “written for only a small and learned audience or downward until all was ‘simplified and solidified again.’” This collection also included a lot of his works which were directed to “Maud Gonne and his friends at Coole Park and the satire of Dublin Philistines.” Instead of his works as being separated from each other, a progression of his work with prose and style peaked, and that is what Houghton seems to be doing. By taking each peak of progression, he categorizes each stylized progression even further (Houghton p. 316).


            1916   After the poems addressed to Coole and Gonne, Yeats became even deeper, in that his “range and density” increased. Yeats wrote not only about “modern society [-‘s] plunging toward anarchy,” but put “that vision in a larger perspective of historical cycles. From history, he moved more “inward to a happier world of the imagination”: the mind. With his interest in the world of the mind, he pulled in more trance-like imagery and the “philosophical poetry of Michael Robartes and Owen Aberne” (Houghton p. 316). And within all of this, there was a presence of the occult as well. The website, Religious, defines the occult as being the following: esoteric thought, going beyond the five senses, and supernatural elements.


            1925   Yeats was “losing” his style by now and seemed to be loosing the way his trance imagery and the occult expressed themselves. But “two years later he was rejecting the sensual music” of life and death and focused on the soul’s eternal life (does Byzantium sound familiar?). And from there, after creating much occult symbolism and “principal” lyrical poetry, he turned from the complex to the simplistic and “elemental, from the mystical to the sensual, from the lords and ladies of Byzantium to Crazy Jane and Jack the Journeyman” (Houghton p. 316).


            To summarize the flow of Yeats’ work progression, his poems started in a simple manner that only small audiences could get the deeper meaning from, then he enriched his poetry with historical background and occult imagery (improving in some areas), and almost falling off the popular-literature tree, but manages to hang on with the creation of Crazy Jane. But how does Yeats use her?


Crazy Jane, the Mask, and Religion-esque


That lover of a night
Came when he would,
Went in the dawning light
Whether I would or no;
Men come, men go;
All things remain in God. (“Crazy Jane on God Lines 1-6)


            This first stanza of Yeats’ poem conveys a certain view on what happens to life after death. Just as the italicized line says, everything “remains in God.” But how did Crazy Jane become the spokesperson for religious skepticism/beliefs? The “how” comes from the whole idea of Crazy Jane as a mask; a mask that Yeats wears when writing on religion. Yeats created Crazy Jane as his religious mask for this reason:

            When Huxley and Darwin robbed [Yeats] and he made a new religion out of myth and legend, its central dogma was the truth of whatever “those imaginary people” had spoken: the revelation of Odysseus was the revelation of heaven. (Houghton pg. 318)

If one were to know anything at all about Odysseus, one could assume the knowledge of Heaven itself. However, this being a complicated issue of mythology (another area besides religion that I am unfamiliar with), it becomes more important to look at religion itself outside of mythological references. This religion, though, that Yeats has created (according to Houghton) is not a worship of God Himself, but it is a “worship of dynamic personality” which enabled Yeats to create “’an exciting person, whether the hero of a play or the maker of poems’ as one who ‘will display the greatest volume of personal energy’” (Houghton pg. 319).


            Houghton, though, does not rule out any religious aspects in Yeats’ Crazy Jane character:

When Yeats spoke in 1904 of the opposition of heroic passion “with the law that is the expression of the whole, whether of Church or Nation,” he thought of pulpit and press as the “enemies of life”; and every bishop as the Bishop of Connaught who “told his people a while since that they ‘should never read stories about the degrading passion of love.’” . . . But a deeper insight, gained in the intervening years, has the original opposition a closer fidelity to life. The Bishop is not the symbol of law but of the letter of law, the letter that killeth. He [the Bishop] is not misguided, like his predecessor at Connaught, but cruel and cruel because as Yeats realized, without charity “our moral sense can be but cruelty.” (pg. 322).

In other words, Yeats had a complex notion against religion. He thought it crazy that the Bishop of Connaught thought the idea of love was nothing but “degrading passion.” Then his skepticism carries even further in that religious icon (or religion in general) is the determining factor of who lives and who dies, and there’s nothing anybody can do about it except for God.


            Thus Crazy Jane, this fictitious female, is referred to as a “mask,” or “Faculty of the Mask.” Janis Tedesco Haswell describes the mask in the following way:

The Faculty of the Mask is synonymous with both “role” and “image,” the exact terms Yeats used to define the aesthetic mask earlier in his career. The Faculty is “a revolution of soul” insofar as it dramatizes the self. But as Yeats makes clear, the drama does not consist of a single actor—the ego alone. (33).

Crazy Jane, then, may be the main focus (and even got a few poems with her name in the title, but she is just one of many masks that Yeats uses in his Crazy Jane collection. All the other characters now encompass and convey some of Yeats’ skepticism. But Jane still can be considered unique in that Yeats has decided to have Crazy Jane (a woman) relay his thoughts/opinions on Irish religious issues or societal oppression to his audience.


            Going back to the first stanza of “Crazy Jane on God,” a reader can observe his later skepticism being played out, but not in such a skeptic manner. This first stanza seems to accepting the way things are. Violent imagery then becomes an important tool in picking up on Yeats’ skeptic behavior in this poem. As in the second stanza,

Banners choke the sky;
Men-at-arms tread;
Armoured horses neigh
In the narrow pass:
All things remain in God. (“Crazy Jane on God” Lines 7-12)

With this imagery that represents a battle taking place, there is a ferocity over the idea in the first stanza of “men come, men go.” But the poem makes a turn in the third stanza by conveying a feeling celebration or rejoicing in that everything is in God’s hand. This feeling portrays itself through the image of a broken, rundown house (likened to the way one feels when someone close to you dies) that brightens and is “suddenly lit up/ from door to top” (Lines 13-18). The house imagery, plus Jane’s likening herself to a road traveled heavily upon, then becomes a metaphor for how Crazy Jane feels about her dead lover, Jack the journeyman:

I had wild Jack for a lover;
Though like a road
That men pass over
My body makes no moan
But sings on:
All things remain in God. (“Crazy Jane on God” Lines 18-23)


            This is where I’d like to argue with Houghton. He makes it sound as if Yeats absolutely despised the way religion determined how one lived after death. Yes, Yeats religious skepticism does appear in this Crazy Jane poem. But he seems very neutral about it in a flip-flop-the-issue kind of way. His bitterness (against fate?) conveys itself when Jane compares herself to a road being traveled over by numerous men, but his bitterness gives into acceptance of the way things are in that “all things remain in God.”


            In the end, though, it becomes convincing that even just a smidge of Yeats’ skepticism (anger against God, religion, the bishops, etc.) present in his poetry does add to consideration in how a reader interprets any of the Crazy Jane poems. In addition to religion, though, there are two more ingredients to Yeats’ recipe for Crazy Jane: sex and violence.


Sexually Oppressive Violence against Jane


            As much as violence and sex sounds terrible, Yeats is not that graphic with this imagery as this essay’s reader might be thinking at the moment. In fact, there is more of an implied meaning of sexual violence. The violence, though, is more interesting in that the violence shows itself through the characters’ interactive conversations between one another, rather than through a poetic description of physical sexual violence.. Yeats uses this linguistic violence to do verbal harm to Crazy Jane’s body in two ways: 1) someone else speaking against Crazy Jane, and 2) Crazy Jane’s infliction of verbal abuse upon herself. First, let us take a look at the sexual violence that another character directs towards Crazy Jane. In the first stanza of “Crazy Jane Talks with the Bishop,”

I met the Bishop on the road
And much said he and I.
‘Those breasts are flat and fallen now
Those veins must soon be dry;
Live in a heavenly mansion,
Not in some foul sty.’ (Lines 1-6, p. 259).

In this stanza, the Bishop is the one who is speaking where the text is located inside the quotation marks. Even though this could go toward the argument of a backlash at religion, try and keep any idea of religion out of mind for now because in order to see this stanza as just poetic violence (verbal abuse), the Bishop then becomes just a man saying terrible things about an older woman (who is not abstinent at all). It’s “’those breast [which] are flat and fallen now’” which implies that Crazy Jane is depicted as old here. She’s so old, that her “’veins must soon be dry, too” (Lines 3-4, p. 259).


            Going back to the ideology of the mask, this poem looks very familiar in a way in which it describes Crazy Jane’s old bodily features. The familiarity springs from another poem of his, “Among School Children,” in which his image has been incorporated to the last stanza of that one as well as “a sixty year-old smiling public man.” Elizabeth Butler Cullingford, a gender-perspective writer on Yeats’ work, even goes so far as to prove my point (even though hers came first). She says Crazy Jane is “a female speaker created by a man, Crazy Jane is inescapably hybrid. She undermines Yeats’ representation of himself . . . .” (234). In a sense, then, the verbal violence that the Bishop has inflicted upon Crazy Jane can also be interpreted as Yeats’ putting himself down (lack of self-confidence).


            Another instance of this verbal sexual violence occurring against Crazy Jane takes the form of her own self inflicted abuse. In the second stanza of “Crazy Jane and the Day of Judgment,”

‘Take the sour
If you take me,
I can scoff and lour
And scold for an hour.’
‘That’s certainly the case,’ said he. (Lines 6-10).

A reader could possibly argue that Jane continues to be in defense of her identity for she can “’scoff and lour/ And scold for an hour’” (Lines 8-9). And that the abuse has been inflicted on by another person because of the Bishop’s agreement with her (as shown in italics). However, the lack of self confidence (the verbal self-abuse) appear in the first two lines of that stanza in that if the Bishop is to “take” Crazy Jane for who she is, she sees herself as “sour.” If Yeats had wanted Jane to be truly defending herself, there would have been a notion of how “angry” she is, for she can “scoff and lour/ And scold for an hour,” which would intensify a notion of woman’s independence from man in a frightful (frightening to the male) tone. Absolutely, though, this abuse of the self fits in nicely with Cullingford’s point that Crazy Jane is a fictional representation of W.B. Yeats: since she is who he is in a sense, the reader could interpret this Yeats putting himself down once more. But the antagonist is, most importantly, the self.


            I purposefully did not include any reference to sexually abusive statements in the paragraph explication of that stanza. It was my intention to point out the self-inflicted abuse only, so that it’s easier to pick out the verbal abuse of the self in order to locate any sexual violent connotations within Yeats’ Crazy Jane’s poems. As seen in the third stanza of the same poem,

‘Naked I lay
The grass my bed;
Naked and hidden away,
That black day’;
And that is what Jane said.

The verbal sexual violence (abuse) on the self (Crazy Jane) occurs not in the lack of self-confidence, but in that Jane mimics “Bakhtin’s celebration of woman as the open body leaves her vulnerable to male predators” (Cullingford 237). If a reader takes a humanist approach to this stanza, Crazy Jane could show more independent female action by not leaving herself so naked (or vulnerable) for male gaze. But, she subjects herself to a masculine Bakhtin rule by choosing to be naked. It is the vulnerability of the situation which turns this into a violent context against Jane, a context in which she appears to overcome by choosing to be naked, but in the end a naked body is a naked body that is vulnerable to the male gaze.      


Objectivity and Subjectivity in Crazy Jane


            Sexual violence and religion could be the two greatest examples of subjectivity and objectivity. David Krell states that “the mind’s own spirit is subject and object, being in-itself and for-itself Spirit sees what it is, what it is sees it” (p.116). To explain this even better, Krell writes:

In other words, spirit must express itself in order to make the return to interiority, must compel its depth from the inside to the outside, meeting the force of penetrating objects with its own force. Confronting intuition with thought and judgment, spirit attains its interiority and hence its freedom. At the zenith of its progress toward freedom spirit perfectly expresses its proper depth in the infinite judgment that all reality is spirit, that substance is subject. (116)

Applying this to the issue of religion, we (as people) subject ourselves to object (a higher entity), but in order to get to this point of worship it’s necessary or crucial to understand what you’re worshipping, or letting the spirit “express itself” as Krell says. Thus, before we become subjects, we are objects letting the higher entity penetrate our lives. Once we have let this penetration reach its peak or “zenith,” the higher entity of worship becomes object while we transform into a state of subjection to this higher being. Going back to the first two stanzas poem “Crazy Jane Talks with the Bishop,” will sum this whole essay up. The first stanza, as I have discussed earlier, Jane is the object of the Bishop’s sexual rant over her “’flat and fallen’” breasts, for “’those veins must soon be dry’” (Lines 4-5). She replies:

‘Fair and foul are near of kin,
And fair needs foul,’ I cried.
‘My friends are gone, but that’s a truth
Nor grave nor bed denied,
Learned in body lowliness
And in the heart’s pride. (“Crazy Jane Talks with the Bishop” Lines 7-12)

“Fair” and “foul” then in themselves become examples of objectivity and subjectivity, in that they become interdependent on each other. The fair is life (subject) which would make foul “death” (object). Because Jane’s friends were subjected to death, she reiterates in this stanza (as she did in “Crazy Jane on God”) that fair needs foul. The idea of fair needing the foul makes the notion of life and death seem inevitable. And bringing this back around to the Bishop’s sexual derogatory comments he made about her breasts, the reason why her breasts seem to be in a deteriorating state is because her boobs have been subjected to the objective of old age and other people’s comments.


            Conclusively, Crazy Jane’s influence is both one of subject and object, which is exactly like the idea of religion, the idea she was created for in order to tackle. It becomes hard to argue against the fact that she was created as a tool that toys the with subjectivity and objectivity that the Irish episcopate is all about in the first place: the idea that love is silly, and life and death is only decided by God and that we, as worshippers, must subject ourselves to the master plan.. The way a reader interprets Yeats’ Crazy Jane series, though, is not through a right or wrong answer. In fact, the answer lies within a series of struggles between woman and man, man (including woman) and God. When these struggles are then pinpointed, a huge enveloping struggle of morals vs. ethics also comes into play. Morals, the right or wrong behavior, and ethics, which is the study of the moral judgments, mixed with the right amount of sex and violence, and religion, thus bring in a complex meaning to Crazy Jane and the different ways she expresses herself, which makes Yeats’ Crazy Jane poems unique compared to the work (described in the timeline at the beginning of this essay) he has done before. Any character he had created previously represented only one side of an issue while another character represented another issue (this can be found in most of plays, for example). But Crazy Jane takes on many issues that Yeats had been facing through out his life, making her a more rounded character than her predecessors.



"All poems of the poet: William Butler Yeats." 8 Dec. 2005
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Cullingford, Elizabeth B. "Crazy Jane and the Irish Episcopate." Gender and History in Yeats's Love Poetry. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse UP, 1996.


Haswell, Janis T. "Gender, the Mask, and Complementarity." Pressed Against Divnity: W.B. Yeats's Feminine Masks. DeKalb: Northern Illinois UP, 1997. 15-33.


Houghton, Walter E. "Yeats and Crazy Jane: The Hero in Old Age." Modern Philology 40 (1943): 316-329. Academic Search Premier. JSTOR. Colorado State University. 27 Nov. 2005.


Krell, David F. "Pitch: Genitality/Excrementality from Hegel to Crazy Jane." Boundary 2 12 (1984): 113-141. Academic Search Premier. JSTOR. Colorado State University. 27 Nov. 2005.




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