William Butler Yeats

Banquet speech

William Butler Yeats’s speech at the Nobel Banquet at Grand Hôtel, Stockholm, December 10, 1923

I have been all my working life indebted to the Scandinavian nation. When I was a very young man, I spent several years writing in collaboration with a friend the first interpretation of the philosophy of the English poet Blake. Blake was first a disciple of your great Swedenborg and then in violent revolt and then half in revolt, half in discipleship. My friend and I were constantly driven to Swedenborg for an interpretation of some obscure passage, for Blake is always in his mystical writings extravagant, paradoxical, obscure. Yet he has had upon the last forty years of English imaginative thought the influence which Coleridge had upon the preceding forty; and he is always in his poetry, often in his theories of painting, the interpreter or the antagonist of Swedenborg. Of recent years I have gone to Swedenborg for his own sake, and when I received your invitation to Stockholm, it was to his biography that I went for information. Nor do I think that our Irish theatre could have ever come into existence but for the theatre of Ibsen and Bjørnson. And now you have conferred upon me this great honour. Thirty years ago a number of Irish writers met together in societies and began a remorseless criticism of the literature of their country. It was their dream that by freeing it from provincialism they might win for it European recognition. I owe much to those men, still more to those who joined our movement a few years later, and when I return to Ireland these men and women, now growing old like myself, will see in this great honour a fulfilment of that dream. I in my heart know how little I might have deserved it if they had never existed.

Prior to Mr. Yeats’s speech, Einar Lönnberg, President of the Academy of Sciences, addressed the Irish writer:

Mr. Yeats – A worthier tongue than mine has already given us a review of your literary work.

What more, then, can I do on this occasion than express our admiration and thank you for the beautiful visions you have revealed to us from the Emerald Isle? We have delighted in listening to the tales of the fairies and elves, with which you have made us acquainted. We have been especially charmed by your poem about the little “silver trout”.

In another of your poems you have said:

“Time drops in decay
Like a candle burnt out” – – –

It is true, but we should be happy if this day would remain long in your memory, as it certainly will in ours.

From Nobel Lectures, Literature 1901-1967, Editor Horst Frenz, Elsevier Publishing Company, Amsterdam, 1969

Copyright © The Nobel Foundation 1923

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