Issue 79, Spring 1981
The passage in the interview with Stephen Spender published in your issue no. 77 in which Mr. Spender played about with a reference made by W.B. Yeats to Laura Riding, in a talk presumably witnessed by Mr. Spender, came to my attention when I was in the midst of composing a chapter for a book of memoirs, the chapter having the title “Importance.”The reference to myself exhibits an attitude to me as one who is an item of literary mention outside the bounds of the Important Mentions but useful as something of a flourish of special sophistication. Literary interviews bring out this particular worst—addiction to strategic mentions—of the literary- world worsts.
Spender told his interviewer that “another thing which amused Yeats very much for some reason was Robert Graves and the whole saga of his life with Laura Riding. Yeats spoke of how Laura Riding had thrown herself out of a window without breaking her back or breaking it but being cured very rapidly. All that pleased Yeats tremendously.”Thus does Spender put the touch of debonaire interviewee poise on this vanity caper of Yeats’s that he reproduces as a little anecdotal gem for the interview’s adornment. Yeats is seen being “amused"—to borrow Spender’s disgusting word for this disgusting exposure by Yeats of his organ of humor—by a joke of which I am the center, it tickling both his only-human and his artist nature. But I am only an incidental mention in the whole frame of reference, which is Robert Graves and “the whole saga”of his life with me. Robert Graves himself was not joke stuff for Yeats, he recognizing in him another head up in the clouds where the Important keep their heads.