Friday, March 5, 2010

The Muse Who Does Her Own Work

Today is the birthday of Lady Augusta Gregory. You've never heard of her? What a shame. Without her steadying presence, we'd have likely never heard of William Butler Yeats.

Yes I know, you might argue that Maud Gonne was the muse of Yeats. Perhaps. It fits with our idea of a muse, after all: a beautiful woman who haunts your visions for years or decades with her inability to love you back in just the way you love her.

Excuse me for a moment while I go vomit.

Maybe muse is not the word that I want for Lady Gregory. She served to inspire Yeats, to push him in directions he might not have otherwise gone. She had already done a lot of work in the field of folklore when she met Yeats, and the two of them probably accomplished more together than they would have alone. Without their work, those tales and customs and perhaps even those languages might have been lost forever.

Her work in establishing the Abbey Theatre and supporting Irish playwrights is most inspiring to me. She wrote plays herself, some 20 plays, which doesn't include the plays of others (including Yeats) that she helped revise; some scholars would tell you that she deserves co-author status. Her folklore fieldwork helped her to rewrite the language of the peasant characters to sound more authentic.

Of course, any artistic movement, particularly one in the performing arts, requires money, often lots of it, and Lady Gregory had plenty to contribute. What a wonderful legacy, as the Abbey Theatre still survives.

I often dream of having a huge chunk of money and the kinds of groups I would love to support. I often think of artistic colonies that I would create. I dream of scholarships for deserving students. I make a promise to the artistic gods that I would be wise and create a lasting legacy that would continue to support artists long after I was gone.

Did Lady Gregory and Yeats know what they were in the process of creating? I doubt they thought about it much. They had their passions and they followed them with verve and commitment. May we all be that lucky!

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