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Masking the Profound: Yeats and Nietzsche’s Masks

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  1. Introduction
  2. The poet of 'Adam's Curse' and 'philosophers and friends'
  3. Types of nobleness exemplified in Helen according to Nietzsche
  4. The decline of the other lover
  5. Yeats suggestion that he may be leaving Nietzsche's masks behind in 'A Coat'
  6. Conclusion
  7. Works cited

Though it is impossible to measure the degree of influence that the work of Friedrich Nietzsche had upon William Butler Yeats, a definite change in Yeats' poetry occurred soon after the point in which the Irishman received a copy of Thus Spake Zarathustra in 1902. The ?masks? that suddenly appear in his poetry that same year bear striking relations to the masks that populate Nietzsche's books, especially Beyond Good and Evil. Beginning with ?Adam's Curse? and continuing throughout his career, Yeats employs Nietzschean masks as constructs that shield profound spirits who exist beyond the laws of man from that unworthy realm.

[...] For in Dominus he employs two masks as speakers for himself and discusses the masks of Dante and Keats as well. The masks through whom Yeats speaks, Hic and Ille, debate the nature of the Dante and Keats relative to their artistic masks. Hic argues that the Dante and Keats are accurately represented in their art. Dante is the ascetic, deeply religious figure who wrote The Divine Comedy, and Keats is the happy Romantic represented in his Odes. However, Ille suggests that the actual men behind these works were in fact the opposite of their artistic masks. [...]


[...] The noble, virtue of [her] suffering,? ?knows more than the cleverest and wisest could possibly reflected in her ?high and solitary and most stern? appearance (Nietzsche 410, Yeats 32). She is a leader of ?ignorant existing above the worn-out morality of man (Yeats 32). A tension like that in Helen's beauty, a fire beyond good and evil, attracts the lovers in Mask? to each other as well. The most obvious of Yeats' ?mask poems,? Mask? introduces yet another property of Nietzschean masks: the difficulty of removing them. [...]

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