The Dreaming of the Bones (1919), on the other hand, exhibits a large number of successfully assimilated, performance elements from Nō, but its plot has nothing to do with its heroic, esthetic, and spiritual aspirations. The secondary character who introduces the action, is in flight from reprisals following participation in the Easter Rising of 1916. He passes through a barren, rocky landscape before encountering the ghosts of Diarmuid and Dervorgilla who betrayed Ireland by inviting the English Crown to support an ill-judged rebellion in 1169. Subsequent occupation and misrule led to the failed Easter Rising of 1916.    

Even though there is an expressive dance meant to indicate significant emotion, it is inconceivable that a Nō play could ever have anti-heroes as protagonists. Moreover, the betrayal (abstract in this case rather than personal) would have to figure largely at the climactic moment. In the Nishikigi of Hirata’s inadequate summary there is a positive emphasis on loyalty and steadfastness in love; the original celebrates an apotheosis of self sacrifice. Yeats’s characters, on the other hand, drift among rocks, lament past conduct, and the impossibility of forgiveness, as well as an inability to consummate their undying love.

The title is based on Yeats’s concept of ‘The Dreaming Back’ which derives from Mystical-Occult tradition (as tauted by Theosophists). The origin lies in the Hindoo belief that, after death, souls relive a past life in order to cancel memory out before being reborn. The notion is hardly uncommon. According to Virgil, Anchises, in the Underworld, offers the same explanation to Aeneas at the crowded banks of the river Lethe. European folklore also has it that when drowning, one’s life is relived immediately before oblivion.

                                                            * * * * *

Pound had written Tristan and Yseult years before Yeats published The Dreaming of the Bones. Yeats could not have been unaware of his earlier effort as they were then living together and deeply involved in one another’s work. Yeats, too, followed the pattern of Nishikigi, and came up with an equally hybrid form, but one recognizably influenced by his addled perception of Japanese performance techniques.

The Dreaming of the Bones, is not so much influenced by Hirata’s text as by symbolist drama (especially Villiers de l’Isle-Adam and Maeterlinck). Whereas Nō celebrates a transcendence of human character and art, Symbolism contended with a world of tragedy and sorrow in which victims/perpetrators found comfort in both longing for fulfillment and denying (suppressing) their questionable behavior. Pelléas et Melisande offers a more reasonable model for both Pound and Yeats than Nō. At the same time one can hardly ignore Francesca da Rimini’s plight in Dante’s ‘Inferno’ (Canto V) as a condemned lover, fated to be tossed forever on a howling wind.

Yeats’s Calvary (1920), on the other hand, ostensibly presents Christ’s passion, but as in ‘The Dreaming Back’ it represents yet another inquiry into spiritual identity – one in which opposing forces contend. Christian mythology, rather than Celtic, is subverted. The burden of the play is an inversion of orthodoxy and associates itself closely with the mystical-occult perspective of his earlier Dance Plays.

Here the secondary role is doubled, as in The Dreaming of the Bones – Lazarus and Judas, while the Three Roman Soldiers (chorus) represent yet another reaction to Christ’s mission. Lazarus is angry that he has been raised from the dead because he enjoyed oblivion, and now claims Christ’s death having been deprived of his own. The point is that he resents not being able to escape Christ’s love. Judas, on the other hand, establishes his own identity – existentially. He denies individual agency, saying that Christ’s death was ordained, but not the identity of the betrayer. Judas thus becomes Christ’s alter ego, a kind of Jehovah/Belezabub dichotomy. The Roman Soldiers lift the discourse from a personal level to the universal. They throw dice for the prize of the seamless garment and dance around the cross. The determinism of Christ’s love is therefore countered by blind chance and hilaritas. As with all the dance plays, the structure is impressive, but the subject(s) so arcane as to dismay any norman audience.

In The Cat and the Moon Yeats believed that he was writing Kyōgen because its plot embraced comedy although the intended realization/recognition is obviously serious. Traditionally, Kyōgen involves two characters of common and country background, one playing a trick on the other, found out and roundly drubbed.

The antics of the rustics in A Midsummer Night’s Dream offers a reasonable comparison as does the drunken porter scene in Macbeth. Yeats’s Pot of Broth (1904) could easily be rewritten as Kyōgen by condensing the dialogue and altering the ending. Traditional Kyōgen has neither chorus nor musical accompaniment, and its closest European kin would be Commedia dell’ Arte. Kyōgen’s purpose in a Nō program is contrastive, amusing interludes between dramas of high seriousness.

The only nod towards mythology in The Cat and the Moon is that the action takes place at St Colman’s Well, surrounded by ash trees; a Christian usurpation of the Celtic Well of Wisdom and Immortality, overhung by rowan berries. The scene reverses that of At the Hawk’s Well. As in Nō, there is both musical accompaniment and contrastive styles, but the characters speak prose and the chorus verse. The differentiation obviously originated with Yeats. There is nothing in Fenollosa’s papers to account for such a strategy.

The protagonists of The Cat and the Moon are Irish anti-heroes who are interdependent. The confidence trick played by the Lame Man on his Blind counterpart grounds the action, and when discovered, the Lame Man receives a comic, Kyōgen-like drubbing. The discovery that the Lame Man had stolen the Blind Man’s sheep skin, comes to light through the presumed miracle. The protagonists are offered a crucial choice – as was Cuchulain’s wife in The Only Jealousy of Emer – either to be made whole (physically normal) or blessèd. The Blind Man chooses the recovery of his sight and sees the evidence of his betrayal. The Lame Man, however, dances out his joy and fulfillment. The play is obviously about contentions between a physical and spiritual existence. Whereas The Only Jealousy of Emer was complex and inaccessible, Yeats’s ‘Kyōgen’ is simple, direct, and amusing, but we are still in the world of the Mystical-Occult Revival, not that of Nō – nor even Kyōgen.

                                                            * * * * *

Pound’s Plays Modelled on the Nō (1916) are even further removed from Japanese performance techniques– not to mention subject matter. Only in Tristan can interaction with
Nō be discerned, but the others need be discussed in order to demonstrate why they should not be so associated. Gallup assumes “The Protagonist” to be Kyōgen and that “The Consolations of Matrimony” is a more serious effort to follow the model of Nō. Considering British spelling, the publication’s title is more likely to be Pound’s than the editor’s, but, none-the-less, wildly inaccurate.

With twelve characters rather than two, and a mystery substituted for the revelation of a rustic rouse, “The Protagonist” falls far wide of Kyōgen norms. Pound gives us two layers of action, the first involves social satire which concerns personal animosities as well as conflict between an urban under-class and authority – the police. Multiple characters are used to flesh out an abstract theme. The crux is Toomey’s arrest and the joke – that he had done no more than get drunk and frighten a woman who saw him performing wild antics atop an unclimable, eight foot fence – “in his glory, waving his arms like a windmill”. Pound was only interested in Irishness and working class dialect. There is not a single element in the skit that can be traced to Japanese tradition, unless mounting the fence is taken as some sort of anti-apotheosis, but such an idea rather stretches imagination. There is certainly no evidence of heroic ideals, aesthetics values, or spirituality.

“The Consolation of Matrimony” might be considered slightly more serious and the social level is obviously ratcheted up a notch. The assertion, however, that a ‘locker room’ conversation between a womanizer and a disgruntled husband might be modeled on Nō is dismaying. Although the cast of characters is mercifully reduced, the dialogue is cast in naturalistic prose. The irony which passes for climax is blindingly banal: ‘when you get what you think you want, you find that you don’t want it’. Again, there is no single element even vaguely related to the subject matter, structure, or performance of Nō.

Pound’s playlet, “De Musset’s ‘A Supper at the House of Mademoiselle Rachel’”, might be reckoned a shade more interesting. The demi-monde of Paris in the early nineteenth century, however, is little more elevating than either that of working class or lace-curtain Irishmen. The action is conspicuously vulgar and the script entirely in prose. Rachel herself, even en désabiellé, does manages to seem more refined than her peers and proves so when reading Phèdre. Her sensibility brings on a moment of recognizable transcendence, but the heroism is Phèdre’s, not Rachel’s. The epiphany is vaguely Nō-like, but described rather than manifested. Pound freely admitted that “there is no dramatic construction, there is nothing warped for the stage”. | 16 |

“Tristan” is the only one of his plays which might possibly be thought to have been modeled
on Nō. | 17 | The structure follows Hirata’s Nishikigi fairly closely – as had Yeats’s Dreaming of the Bones three years later. A landscape, rocky and barren, is evoked, and the travel song (michiyuki) is turned into a conventional prologue. Sculptor’s quest is not for the site of a legendary event, but rather an unnaturally early-blooming quince. When Yseult (in disguise) appears, she hints that the scene is vaguely other-worldly.

16 | Ezra Pound, Plays Modelled on the Noh (1916), ed, Donald C. Gallup. Toledo, OH; The Friends of the University of Toledo Libraries, 1987.

17 | My categorical (piqued) dismissal in The Ezra Pound Encyclopedia, eds. Demetres Tryphonopoulos and Stephen Adams. (Westport CT; Greenwood Press, 2005), p. 223 should be ignored.

The main characters (apparitions in medieval dress) enter into dialogue with a Waki figure who describes the scene and questions them. The protagonists wear costumes which are gilded on one side and rock-grey on the other. They do not dance but pass each other without touching and drift among the rocks, sometimes flashing and fading through one other, showing either the brilliant side of their costumes in contrast with the background or the drab which disembodies them. They recount aspects of their lives which hint at the substance of the legend, but not in enough detail to make the event clear.

The Leibestod, obviously, the high point of the legend as Wagner understood, is altogether ignored. Pound chose to write of Tristan and Yseult’s after-life because he relied on narration rather than recreation of emotional intensity. His characters lament their failures, and romantic nostalgia alone is expected to induce sympathy. The verse approximates natural speech and employs just enough ellipsis to both engage imagination and obscure reality. A crevassse, however, yawns between the lush romantic symbolism of that play and the hard-edged modernism of his first three Cantos whose dates coincide.

In the following speech Yseult recalls various moments in her relationship with Tristan: | 18 |

A boy stolen by merchants,
Standing among strange wares ….
(Tristan makes a gesture as if trying to brush away a cloud
from his eyes or memory and come at the present.)

A sea, stretched out around,
A warm and sun-lit day, flame hid in the cup:
Why would you put the past out of mind?
(Tristan again seems unsatisfied with the speech.)
Many a time in Marrois, the high green of the forest,
Hid in a light lodge of boughs ….
(Tristan approaches. They pass each other going left-right,
right-left, alternately hidden as the grey side of the costume
fails to show against the background.)
| 19 |

Had Pound managed to relate the quince tree (Cydonica oblonga), the protagonists’ plight, and the sculptor’s quest, some sense might have come of it (Unity of Image). Why should the secondary character be a sculptor since that art has nothing to do with the tale – a student of Brythonic mythology might have made more sense. Probably Pound had Gaudier-Brezka in mind (for him, at that time, the ultimate artist), but the association of Arthurian legend with Japonica (the common name for flowering quince) is more than a little unlikely. Although it follows the general outline of Hirata’s, ham-strung Nishikigi (as does Yeats’s Dreaming of the Bones), Pound's Tristan and Yseult is definitely not modeled on Nō. As in the case of Yeats’s dance plays, we’re back in the world of symbolist theater.









18 | Cp. Sumidagawa. Tristan is not known to have been abducted.





19 | Ezra Pound, Plays Modelled on the Nō (1916), p. 36.