‘silent ambassadors of national taste’ – W.B. Yeats’s Sculptural Coins
University of York and Research Assistant with Prof. Tom Walker on the interdisciplinary project ‘Yeats and the Writing of Art
Coins are relief sculptures. Throughout the nineteenth-century British coins were designed and made by renowned sculptors including Benedetto Pistrucci, Joseph Edgar Boehm, and Leonard Charles Wyon. And leading sculptors, painters and art curators formed committees to solicit and select designs, including Frederic Leigthon. Distinct from colossal statuary, coins could circulate from person to person, around countries and continents. At the apex of the British Empire, coins featuring the face of Queen Victoria were the most reproduced and widely circulated images in any artistic medium.
As chairman of the Irish coinage committee, W.B. Yeats spearheaded the search for appropriate sculptors to design the new coinage, the first Irish coins produced since 1822. When Yeats described coins as ‘the silent ambassadors of national taste’ in an address to the Senate upon beginning his chairmanship of the committee, he was no doubt aware of the considerable undertaking. His statement suggests a commitment to making a mute and politically uncontroversial mint, but it might also be an acknowledgement that coins silently disseminate an iconography of power across the population of a nation or empire.
This paper will propose that the coinage deliberations from 1926-1928 were an important aspect of Yeats’s enduring interest in sculpture, and that the coins in Yeats’s poems and prose can be re-examined as durable, portable relief sculptures. The coinage committee’s membership and method of soliciting coin designs bears significant resemblances to Yeats’s recommendations for commissioning public monuments. And I will examine instances in Yeats’s later poetry where he uses the coin as a visual arts medium of portraiture in ekphrastic episodes, as durable talismans that record and transmit national myths, or as structural metaphors for the poem itself.
Night: Another Frontier in American Wilderness Studies?
M.Litt student of American Literature
Wilderness studies is a strand of ecocriticism which, according to Roderick Nash, permits the critic to read fiction in relation to its depiction of uncultivated and otherwise undeveloped land. Although American wilderness studies have been concerned predominantly with the wilderness of the New World’s forests, Nash’s definition of wilderness as “Any place in which a person feels stripped of guidance, lost and perplexed” allows the critic to consider alternative avenues for wilderness studies. As such, this paper will argue that the American night time is a viable avenue of literary study.
This paper will do so by over viewing how several nineteenth century American authors such as Charles Brockden Brown and Nathaniel Hawthorne dealt with night in their work. As A. Robert Ekirch observes of preindustrial societies, “Night alone permitted the expression of man’s inner character.” The cover of night time often paradoxically provides the fictional American subject with a space in which to dis-cover, not only the injustices and hypocrisies of American society, but also that society’s own complicity in these actions. Though often a time of fear, night time for these American writers is crucial. It is often a space in which to explore issues considered too unsavoury for daylight hours by the American establishment. It is through this night-space that the ghosts of America’s past (and present) are brought to life.
Finally, this paper will argue for the importance of night within the field of literary studies. The Western world is increasingly losing its dark skies due to a year-on-year increase in artificial lighting. It is only now, at the beginning of the twenty-first century, that scientific and ecological thought is catching up with these literary forebodings. Perhaps wilderness studies, through an appreciation of the night, can in small way contribute to the reversal of this loss.