The Lost "Wind Among the Reeds"
The other delights of bibliophilia are ideational [if you will permit me to use a foolish word] : they are strictly confined to, and limited by, the aesthetics of the thought, and the artistry of the thought, contained within the book's words. To a bibliophiliac who is solely devoted to the ideational aspects of a book, the physical characteristics don't matter- they are as necessary, and disposable, as a cardboard milk carton.
But there are few bibliophiliacs who belong strictly to one camp or the other--most of us adore both the carrier and the carried, the container and the contained. Which means that most of us, properly enlightened, can be infected with paleo-bibliophilia--the love of old books.
Sometimes paleobibliophiliacs collect old editions of the books they love simply because they prefer the old books--the design aesthetics please them more. But more often the bibliophiliac responds to something else: the idea [and the capi- talist value] of the first edition, for example. Sometimes the attraction is to the idea of owning a book which was issued while the author was still alive--the book as the author prepared it, rather than as later edited or footnoted by critics and academics. Sometimes the appeal is more simple - the book is out of print entirely, or is available only in a collected edition; this is especially likely for those of us who collect short story or poetry collections. Another reason for buying older editions of titles which have been subsumed into "selected" or "collected" volumes is because the authors themselves rearranged, revised or otherwise altered their original works in collecting them. W. B. Yeats is a case in point.
With most dead poets, the only easily obtainable editions of their works are "selected" editions, and the selections were not made by the poets themselves. The individual collections probably did not even remain in print during the poet's lifetime and--since his/her death--even the collected may have fallen out of print. If the bibliophiliac wants to own [almost always the case] the original collections, rather than simply to check them out from the libary, he must turn to old copies of the books. Yeats is still revered enough, popular enough, and good enough, that both selected and collected volumes remain in print. And if the reader scans the collected volume, he will get the impression that it is a straightforward compilation of Yeats' individual books. Is it not so indicated on the contents pages? "Crossways"  ; "The Rose"  ; "The Wind Among the Reeds"  ; and so on. A closer look at the contents pages, however, suggests some problems. "Cross- ways," for example, seems to have contained only 20 pages of poetry. Well, one might reason, the poems in the collected edition are in smaller print, and are printed more than one to a page; and poetry collections are often fairly slim--so maybe "Crossways" really was just a little book. But did "In the Seven Woods" and "The Green Helmet" really contain only ten pages of poetry each? And look-- "The Wanderings of Oisin," shunted to the back of the book in the "narrative and dramatic" section, shows the same date as the brief "Crossways". Could it be that they were originally one longer book, separated by Yeats for the col- lected? And what if one turns to the "Notes" and reads, " 'The Rose' was part of my second book, 'The Countess Kathleen and Various Legends and Lyrics,' 1892. . . ." This is the first direct indication that Yeats has not simply collected his books. "The Countess Kathleen" is nowhere listed in the contents, and "The Rose," we now know, was never a book per se, and certainly not one issued in 1893. One's suspicions are raised.
In fact, "The Collected Poems of W. B. Yeats" is a carefully constructed accumulation which does not accurately reflect the original composition of his individual books for at least the first half of his career, and the contents pages of the volume do nothing to make this evident.
Several of Yeats's individual books were not, as it turns out, simple poetry collections : they were collections of poems and plays, and the plays have been collected elsewhere. Furthermore, some of the volumes included narrative or dramatic poems which [as is noted above] Yeats separated from his lyric poems for the collected edition. I owned Yeats's collected for years before I knew this. I learned it, to be frank, only last year, when I succumbed to bibliophilia at a deeper level and bought a first edition of "In the Seven Woods" from an online book service [more on this in another essay.] "In the Seven Woods" originally contained both "The Old Age of Queen Maeve" and "Baile and Aillinn," listed as 1903 publications in the "narrative and dramatic" section of the collected, as well as a play, "On Baile's Strand." The publication date of the actual "In the Seven Woods", as opposed to its reflection in the collected volume, was 1903, as the dates for the narrative poems indicate, and not in 1904, as the lyric contents pages indicate. The later date apparently is given to reflect a later composition date for four poems nowhere to be seen in "In the Seven Woods" as a separate book,but added in to "In the Seven Woods" in the collected edition.
"The Green Helmet and Other Poems" also reveals something odd, if one simply reads the contents page of the collected poems. There is no "title" poem, nor is there any explanation for this curiosity. But if one tracks down "The Green Helmet" as a separate book, or the collected edition of the plays, one learns that there is a play of that title, and hence the title of the book.
So what? you may ask. If Yeats has pulled all the poems together in one place and the plays in another, big deal. And at a certain incurious level, you are right. But if one is interested in separate collections and in books as originally issued [and in what they may reveal about an author that later issues do not], then Yeats's habits are certainly worth investigating. This point was made clear again when, several weeks ago, I received in the mail my 1905 copy of "The Wind Among the Reeds," Yeats's 1899 collection.
One of the first things I learned is that "The Wind" originally contained about forty pages [small pages, to be sure] of notes, almost none of which are included in the notes of the collected. Furthermore, in comparing "The Wind" against the collected, one notices that poem titles featuring the men named Aedh, Mongan, Michael Robartes and Hanrahan become poem titles featuring "He," The Lover," or "The Poet." Again one might respond, "So what? Yeats has simply chosen at a later date to universalize his titles"-- which is, to some extent, true. But, in reading the notes to "The Wind," one learns that originally Yeats in- tended the characters Aedh, Hanrahan and Michael Robartes to be symbols of certain kinds of men, or-- as Yeats first put it-- as "principles of the mind." Michael Robartes is "fire reflected in water" or "the pride of the imagination brooding upon the greatness of its possessions," which Yeats likens to the adoration of the Magi. Hanrahan is "fire blown by the wind" or "the simplicity of an imagination too changeable to gather permanent possessions," or, again in biblical terms, the adoration of the shepherds. Aedh, the loftiest, is "fire burning by itself" or "the myrrh and frankincense the imagination offers continually before all that it loves"--an imagination we should presumably link to Mary Magdalene,though Yeats does not instruct us so. Does knowing this symbolic intention in any way alter or deepen the poems? Apparently Yeats thought not, since he removed the names and the notes [though Michael Robartes is not a character he surrendered entirely]. Perhaps more notable than the removal of these unnecessarily freighted names is that the removal seems to be part of a larger alteration-- the general de-Irishing of "The Wind."
Most critics will laugh at such a contention, since Yeats was proudly Irish and since the poems themselves-- if not the titles-- are still full of Irish places and characters. But, once the larger Irish context provided by titles and notes is removed, Yeats's remaining Irish terms are no longer "occult," if I may use that term: they function, to a great extent, like the names and places in Hardy's poetry do-- as specificities which the reader automatically generalizes into universalities. Yeats is translating, one might say, his poetry out of the "Celtic twilight" and into the mainstream of twentieth-century English verse. And the poems don't seem to suffer much either way : theyare not among Yeats's finest work in any sense and would not be much read today if they had not been written by a major poet who is otherwise of great interest. The most "famous" poem in "The Wind"-- and it is a fine one-- is "The Song of Wandering Aengus," a specifically Irish character narrating a universal situation; Yeats's take on "la belle dame sans merci." Otherwise the best poems in the book are "The Host of the Air" and "The Cap and Bells", neither of which features the missing "names" nor needs outside explication.
On the other hand, the loss of the notes is a loss indeed. Several of them are lengthy enough to feature not simply one or another explanation of something within a poem but also to expand upon the poem itself or to detail the "environmental" influence out of which Yeats wove the poem. If we take Yeats's notes at face value, which I assume we should, then they provide us with a fascinating glimpse at folk beliefs and tales in rural Ireland not much more than one hundred years ago : tales in which the "powers" behind nature are still personified as sometimes malevolent spirits which frequently interact with human beings, a "folk" world in which the events of Yeats's earlier "The Stolen Child" would be accepted as literally true.
Since I am not a Yeats scholar, I do not know if he later supressed these notes,or if they are collected in another place. But in any event, by separating them from their connection to the poems in "The Wind," he effectively removed them from the consideration of the "average" Yeats fan, who comes to the poet only for his poetry. And that is indeed a pity, and a reason to own "The Wind Among the Reeds" as a discrete object.