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Tuesday, 17 September 2019

WB Yeats and the Noh

W.B. Yeats and the Noh Tradition


On February 9, An Post issued a stamp to mark a celebration of Yeats' artistic adventure.

Acclaimed as one of Ireland’s greatest-ever poets, Yeats was a busy writer not just of poetry but in other genres too.  As a dramatist he explored the world of theatre and found himself to be highly influenced by the mysterious elegance and beauty of the art of the Japanese Noh Theatre. He thought it might help him reach the ‘strange intimacy’ he sought in his plays as opposed to the familiar distance he saw in the productions in England and at the Abbey Theatre at the time.

Yeats adapted this highly-stylized theatre of Japanese Noh into his own plays as well as borrowing some structural elements from it. Two of his plays that showed this influence were At the Hawk’s Well, performed at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin in 1917 and The Death of Cuchulainn first published in 1939 and performed at the Abbey Theatre in 1945. At the Hawk’s Well uses elements of dance, masks and the supernatural in its performance.

The stamp you see here is based on W.B. Yeats’ play At the Hawk’s Well and is a celebration of Yeats’ journey to explore realms beyond his own literary traditions. The play itself is set by a dried-up well on a desolate mountainside that is guarded by a hawk-like woman. In the stamp, the woman is represented by the golden wings and masked face in a Japanese style. The original stage backdrop used a large black cloth, and you can see that in the black background of the stamp.

The stamp’s designers, Zinc Design Consultants, used gold foil in the golden wings and mask to illustrate the Japanese oriental design culture. The red circle represents the sun, a symbol that is very significant in Japanese culture (it’s on the Japanese Flag, for example). The stamp also bears W.B. Yeats’ signature which depicts the Irish connection.