Migration and Belonging in Irish Literature and Film
An ‘Experiment in Living’: Bohemianism and Homelessness in W. B. Yeats’s Autobiographies
ABSTRACT This chapter looks at W. B. Yeats’s Autobiographies and connects certain ideas of dislocation and homelessness with the ‘experimental life’ of the Bohemian poet. The potential for the experience of something new to emerge from a truly open sense of living is one that does not follow a previous script but rather endeavours to follow the example of the Nietzschean knowledge-seeker with all its attendant risks. Here the self-transformation of the poet is echoed in the transformative function of poetry on language, where both wander from the familiar and search out the exotic, whilst paradoxically grounding themselves ultimately in the desire for a settled existence.
Richard Ellmann once wrote that ‘a strictly chronological account’ of Yeats’s life between 1889 and 1903 ‘would give the impression of a man in a frenzy, beating on every door in the hotel in an attempt to find his own room’.1 However appealing the hotel-room image is in this wonderful metaphor, it perhaps risks eliding the fact that an important cause for heterogeneity in Yeats’s life was its overriding sense of spatial dislocation. Yeats’s autobiographical writings document this heterogeneity, chronicling a restless itinerary that was initiated by how Yeats’s father, John Butler Yeats, submitted his young family to a series of uprootings in the 1860s, ’70s and ’80s. ← 273 | 274 → It is no coincidence that some of Yeats’s most vivid memories from Sligo, documented in the first volume of the Autobiographies, entitled Reveries over Childhood and Youth, are linked with...
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