The Crazy Jane Poems: A Critical Analysis

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The Crazy Jane Poems - A Critical Study

      The Crazy Jane Poems are a series of poems included in the volume entitled Word For Music Perhaps. They are seven in total. The poem titled Crazy Jane On the Mountain is the last poem of this series and it is included in the volume Last Poems.

      Crazy Jane, as Yeats told to Olivia Shakespeare, was based upon the character of an old woman who lived in a cottage near Gort. She had an ‘amazing power of acidulous speech’. She had the tendency of making satirical comments which appealed Yeats a lot. In a letter to Olivia, Yeats wrote:

      “She loves her flower garden. She has just sent Lady Gregory- some flowers inspite of the season and has amazing power of acidulous speech—one of her queer performances is a description of how the meanness of a gort shopkeer’s wife over the price of a glass of porter made her so despairing of the human race she got drunk. The incident of that drunkenness are of an epic magnificence. She is the local satirist and really terrible one.”

      However same doubts are still there about whether the origin of Crazy Jane is as simple as that Yeats hints at. In the earlier versions of the poems she is called as Cracked Mary. She was mentioned in the poems as early as 1904. The same character had been treated as the source for the song in The Pot of Broth that refers to Toor Jack the Journeyman’. After prolonged illness and abstinence from literary activities in the spring of 1929 Yeats wrote “life returned to me as an impression of the uncontrollable energy and daring of the great creators...I wrote Mad as the Mist and Snow and after that almost all that group of poems called, in memory of those exultant weeks, Words for Music Perhaps. In a letter written to Lady Gregory on 9th March, 1929 Yeats informed that he finished writing five of Twelve Poems for Music. By 13th September he claimed that the number planned for the series had been increased to thirty and he had already written half of them. He felt contented for this progress as he wrote: “I am writing more easily than I ever wrote and am happy, whereas I have always been unhappy when I wrote and worked with great difficulty.”

      Crazy Jane poems, as indicated by Ellmann’s chronology, written before Byzantium and Vacillation. It points out that aesthetic order does not necessarily follow chronological order.

      Crazy Jane represents earthiness and sexuality. She is a woman of easy virtue. Yeats himself admitted that it was the sexual drive during illness that found the expression in these poems. He wrote: “Sexual abstinence fed their fire. I was ill and yet full of desire. They sometimes came out of the greatest mental excitement I am capable of.”

      After having created this character Yeats found it amusing to think himself possessed by her. He wanted to get rid of her. He wrote to Olivia Shakespeare that “in the attempt to shake off ‘Crazy Jane’ he started to write longish poem called Wisdom and then continued to inform her: “I begin to think that I shall take to religion unless you save from it.” To his wife he emphatically declares: “I want to exercise that slut, Crazy Jane, whose language has become unendurable.” However, there was a shift in his opinion that we observe when he comments: “I approve of her”. Yeats wrote elsewhere “I want them to be all emotional and all impersonal”. He described them as “the opposite of my recent work and all praise of joyous life”.

      Some features of these poems: For poetry, this state of lust was also again: from it not only a scandalously outrageous poem like The Three Bushes, but the Crazy Jane sequence of poems issued. Crazy Jane is the poet’s spokesman for a life where sex is to be accepted on the same footing as other more elevated aspects of life. The sixth poem in this sequence is particularly famous. It is entitled Crazy Jane Talks with the Bishop. The poem is brisk and hard-hitting dialogue of this Crazy Jane (who is as open-mouthed as Chaucer’s Wife of Bath) and the Bishop. Even in her old age, she is after the sexual life. A Bishop reprimands her and tells her that her “breasts are flat and fallen now. Those veins must soon be dry”, and, therefore, she should live a more religious life. Instead of feeling ashamed, she turns savagely on the Bishop and maintains that love (or lust, to be more precise), should be accepted as an important part of life. She gives her argument a philosophic twist. She points out that Love has pitched his mansion in the place of excrement, and ends with the statement of the Platonic theory of opposite! Every quality cries out to be combined with that which is most alien to it, and without such fusion cannot be called complete: without contraries is no progression. The consummation of virginity lies in its desecration, just as the consummation of the divine order lies in its reconciliation with the fallen world” (F.A..C. Wilson).

      The poems of these series are dominated by the note of sexsuality, candidness and very crude and rustic way of looking at some aspects of life. In Crazy Jane on the Day of Judgement we see Yeats’ consummate use of epigrams that interprets Jane’s view on love:

“Love is all
That cannot take the whole
Body and soul,”

      She is basically a woman of easy-virtue. But promiscuity does not produce a sense of guilt in her mind. As in Crazy Jane on God she comments:

“Men come, men go:
All things remain in God”

      In Crazy Jane Grown Old Looks At the Dancers the passionate love turns complex and Crazy Jane’s interpretation of the love instill it with a sense of animality. Love is like the lion’s tooth is a hint towards the basic instinct that accompanies love.

      Conclusion. In these poems we observe Blake’s influence on Yeats. We note this similarity, especially in his use of the idea of contrariety and use of the imagery. We experience a shock when Yeats writes “place of excrement” in Crazy Jane Talks with the Bishop. However almost a same kind of line we find in Blake’s Jerusalem, “For I will make their places of love and joy excrementitious”. Overall we can view these poems as Yeats's attempt to get relief from his idealistic world of philosophical theory to earthy sensuality.

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