"THE LAKE" AND THE TRADITION OF THE NOVEL
Let Fielding, Goethe, Stendhal stand for the period in which the novel thrived on the interplay of two interests: the education or quest of the individual protagonist and the exploration and criticism of society. In a novel of this period faith in the individual and faith in society are still intact, despite the tensions between them, and this faith gives the novel the status of a wise and authoritative guide to worldly reality. In the great post-Romantic novels of disillusion, however ("Illusions perdues," "Middlemarch," "L'Education sentimentale," "Great Expectations"), the self and the world no longer seem so well-matched. The world is a cruel machine crushing the aspirations of the self and the novelist is the one who unveils the horrific laws of the mechanism. Thus Balzac relentlessly analyses the "capitalization of the spirit" [See G. Lukacs, "Studies in European Realism", London, 1950]; Flaubert convinces us that the social life of Paris and the provinces is a mediocre void; the Dickensian phantasmagoria testifies to a similar emptiness; Zola finally attempts to reduce the workings of society to a positivist formula leaving only illusory spaces for the spirit to breathe. Hillis Miller's account of the nineteenth century "doubt of the possibility of ever finding the proper form of life" ["The Disappearance of God," Harvard UP, 1963, p. 11] is confirmed by this reduction of social reality to the status of a hostile machine.
The protagonist of these novels is typically Romantic and his or her Romanticism is typically impotent, resigned or self-destructive. But at a certain point a reversal comes to pass in the fortunes of the Romantic subject, a reversal which may be loosely associated with the immense impact of Wagner and Nietzsche on the whole of literary Europe. Already in Flaubert and Zola the void in society is compensated for by an intense investment in subjective impression and sensation. The novelist ceases for the first time to be primarily a story-teller and sees himself as a stylist, a painter, a musician. Zola paints with relish the succulent meatstuffs in "Le Ventre de Paris," and George Moore too, in his early Zolaesque period, is more a painter of society than its narrational explorer (since faith that there was anything to explore had declined). Esther Waters triumphs over the monotonous oppressions of society by producing a baby, who appears on the last page as a splendid young man, and this can be read as a Romantic and subjective triumph over the world at large, albeit in the refreshingly wholesome guise of motherly love. The fatal machine grinds on, but life wells up despite it, beyond it. James and Proust maintain a passionate interest in the workings of society, but only as they nourish the development of a refined aesthetic consciousness – society exists to be consumed in consciousness, consciousness to be transformed into style, style to cement the edifice of an imaginary universe, "tout, au monde, existe pour aboutir à un livre" (Mallarmé).
"The Lake" (Gerrards Cross, 1980) celebrates the triumph of the subject in a manner not as cerebral and aesthetic as that of the writers just mentioned. It belongs to a line of novels in which interest in the workings of society is almost eclipsed by the concern to communicate in all its primitive vigour a message of self-realisation, a gospel of Life. Gospels rather than novels are the typical produce of this generation, steeped in Nietzsche's "Zarathustra," the daunting model of the genre. Whatever ironic distance the evangelist maintains towards his Christ-figure, the novels of Gide, Forster, Lawrence and Joyce's "Portrait" remain stirring affirmations of the self and of life which wrench the novel form away from its traditional social bearings. (Others will explore the existential alienation and the fragmentation of identity implicit in this proud isolation of self. In the springtime of their optimism these evangelists show little consciousness of it.) The choices of Moore's priest, Gide's immoralist, Joyce's artist, Lawrence's lovers bear a purely negative, anarchic, relation to a social context, despite dreams of social regeneration. The novel is no longer a "vade mecum" of social wisdom, but a vehicle of utopian unrest, preaching a fulfilment society has failed to provide. Madame Bovary is no longer crushed by the world. Her reinforced rebellious subjectivity, now backed by the collusion of the artist, subverts the established order.
Moore is more Wagnerian than Nietzchean, in that his conception of Life consists more in an opening up to Nature and Love than in the Promethean assumption of one's own destiny as something original, unique and self-created. Moore's priest is portrayed as journeying back to normality where Joyce's Dedalus aspires to a creative abnormality; Father Gogarty defrocks himself in the end, whereas Stephen robes himself as a priest of art. Moore's quest is for the native harmonies of the soul, stifled by the conventional conscience, and so his art is obliged to "aspire to the condition of music". But Joyce, more radically, aims at an "uncreated conscience" and is impelled to do more serious violence to inherited forms.
THE MUSICAL STRUCTURE OF "THE LAKE"
A certain drabness characterises the 1905 versions of "The Lake" insofar as Moore attempts to give Father Gogarty's self-realisation objective social correlatives. Through Rose Leicester's letters he learns to know the great world and becomes involved, at a distance, in the novelistic plot constituted by her adventures abroad. But in the 1921 version (five years after Joyce's "Portrait") Rose Leicester (now Nora Glynn) dissolves into a presence as vague as the rose-coloured clouds which are her symbol. The priest's dialogue is with the lake and the wood – the lake calling forth the responses of his heart, varying shades of joy or sadness, the wood nourishing his mind with a deepening sense of the complexity and mystery of life. [For the pattern of nature symbolism in the first edition, see Eileen Kennedy, "Design in George Moore’s ‘The Lake’", in Raymond J. Porter and James D. Brophy, ed. "Modern Irish Literature", New York, 1972.] If, within the space of a year, the priest moves from emotional and intellectual dormancy to a mature and autonomous decision for life, this is not the effect of contact with the world, but of the constant persuasive murmur of lake and forest, summoning the sleeping self to consciousness. The drama, as Moore insists in the 1921 preface, passes within the priest's soul. And paradoxically the other characters are more convincing, now that they are reduced to the function of agents and stimuli of Gogarty's self-realisation, than they were when Moore tried to present them in their full social reality. This is because the narcissistic orbit of Father Gogarty's quest clashed with the residue of conventional narrative in the early versions. In the 1921 version Moore espouses more faithfully the limits of his theme, lets the objective world recede, and brings the form and texture of the novel into harmony with the psychic processes which constitute its real plot.
It is paradoxical too that in the 1921 version Moore has more successfully distanced the priest's quest. We have less the impression that we are being preached at, that we are being asked to participate in a fantasy of wish-fulfilment. This is mainly because Rose Leicester no longer rushes to fulfil the priest's longings – her silence allows the priest's quest to develop with all its tensions, bewilderment and solitude, instead of smothering it with gratuitous commentary. Thus, though the novel is more intensely concentrated on the priest, the sharper definition of his situation creates a satisfying fictional distance. The tensions and ambiguities in the priest's soul, no longer smoothed over by too helpful voices telling us and him what to think, provide the co-efficient of friction which the objective world provided in the traditional novel. In the 1921 version a silence persists, right to the end of the novel, the silence of the lake's undeciphered enigma. Moore knows now that this silence is the heart of the novel, that the message of self-fulfilment is secondary to the growing sense of mystery the priest's experiences bring, and so he treats much more lightly and discreetly the themes that were so important in 1905, in order to convey in its purity the elusive poetic essence of the novel.
These improvements are reflected in the texture of the1921 version, which is far more genuinely musical than in 1905; now there are no lectures on Wagner, and the crude labelling of motifs (e.g. those associated with Rose's name) is avoided. Instead the motifs are left to speak for themselves, in their varying degrees of opacity, just as in Wagner. Moore no longer has any desire to attach a message to the priest's experience, realising that it is enough to have evoked the murmur of the heart's discontent. The rhythm of the narrative is more closely attuned to the impulses which constitute the principal material of the priest's psychic life, the wavelets on its surface. Indeed Gogarty's character is delightfully suited to the theme of the novel. He is a man of reveries (at several points in the story he falls into a distracted trance), timid, superstitious, his mind easily played upon by thoughts and fancies – "thoughts are rising up in my mind"; "I am, as it were, propelled to my writing-table" (p. 140). When we meet him all his movements betray "his desire… to be freed for a while from everything he had ever seen and from everything he had ever heard" (p. 4) and his soul remains as changeable as the landscape right through the novel even up to his final escape.
The direct expression of feeling in this novel attains a limpidity which again and again really does seem to convey "the essential rather than the daily life of the priest" (p. x). This is because the melodic line gives the simple diction a musical tone (in the absence of all sophisticated chords, i.e. complex psychological observations) that makes it seem to come from the heart: "Loneliness begets sleeplessness. And sleeplessness begets a sort of madness. I suffer from nightmare" (p. 93). But the transparency of this language is supported by the opacity of the motifs – these are like a cloudy piano accompaniment lending subtlety to a song in which the vocal line is naive.
While readers have been enchanted by the motival texture of "The Lake" it may be that they have overlooked the musical effects created by the formal structure of the novel, which seems to bear a resemblance to sonata form. One may regard the first four chapters as an exposition section to which the last four chapters correspond. The intervening development comprises three phases: the trip around the lake (chapters five and six); Father O'Grady (chapter seven); and Father Gogarty's agonized winter (chapters eight to ten). It seems important to take account of this structure in order to appreciate the admirable spacing and timing of the changes in the priest's soul. The structure also lends their full significance to the motifs, which often have a structural function as well as a psychological and narrative one. For instance, it is towards the end of the exposition that Gogarty murmurs to himself: "Every man… has a lake in his heart" (p. 35). The completion of his thought comes at the structurally corresponding place at the end of the novel. Again, towards the end of the exposition Gogarty releases ducklings into the water, which corresponds to his own swim to freedom at the novel's end.
The yacht which appears in the exposition (and thereafter vanishes) stimulates the priest's dreams of escape and is linked with the images (from "Siegfried") of the birdsong and the forest breezes. But just as in Siegfried the song of the bird has to be interpreted by the hero, so Father Gogarty is occupied in interpreting the signs that surround him all through the book. The yacht is one of many symbols of a nameless longing. To label it the Nameless Longing motif would however be as preposterous as the musicological practice of labelling even the most elusive of Wagner's motifs. Most of the motifs retain their opacity in Moore's novel even though the priest's soul grows into kinship with the message they convey to him.
The yacht illustrates the musical handling of motifs rather well. At the transition from the first theme of the exposition (Father Gogarty's soul) to the second (Nora Glynn), at the start of the second chapter, the chief motifs of Gogarty's restlessness are recapitulated: "A breeze rose, the forest murmured, a bird sang, and the sails of the yacht filled" (p. 15). The yacht recurs at the end of the chapter (and at the end of the exposition of the second theme) on page 25. Finally it returns at the very end of the exposition on page 38. The animal dartings in the undergrowth – the fox on page 2 for example – are associated perhaps with the stirrings of life in Father Gogarty; these too recur at the end of the exposition – the rabbit and weasel on page 38. The duckling he releases recalls the ducks warbling in the opening paragraph of the novel. The twilight scene which closes the exposition of the Nora Glynn theme at the end of the second chapter is transformed into a dawn scene at the end of chapter four (reflecting his ecstasy at Nora's forgiveness): "Rose-coloured clouds descended, revealing many new and beautiful mountain forms, every pass and every crest distinguishable" (p. 25); "At last a red ball appeared behind a reddish cloud; its colour changed to the colour of flame, paled again, and at four flared up like a rose-coloured balloon" (p. 37). The end of the exposition thus prefigures the happy conclusion of Father Gogarty’s travail: "life emerges like the world at daybreak" (p. 144).
The symbolism of dawn probably owes something to the dawn scene in "Goetterdaemmerung," as the phrase "blow a horn on the hillside to call comrades together" in the same letter recalls Siegfried's horn call in that scene, Thus where the symbolism of the exposition recalled "Siegfried," Act II, in which the adolescent hero seeks his way to Brunnhilde, the symbolism of the recapitulation alludes to the scene in which Siegfried has become a man, ready to leave Brunnhilde in order to confront the world at large. Moore claimed that the style of "The Lake" owed much to his frequent listening to the "Lohengrin" Prelude. The movement from indeterminate vagueness to dazzling radiance and back to dreamlike vagueness again, which we may note in Moore's treatment of lake and sky (and of the priest's soul), is certainly reminiscent of that music. Wagner's programme note reads: "Out of the clear blue ether of the sky there seems to condense a wonderful yet at first hardly perceptible vision; and out of this there gradually emerges, ever more and more clearly, an angel-host bearing in its midst the sacred Grail." Another Wagnerian note: Siegfried first learns fear as he trembles when approaching Brunnhilde; Parsifal learns of sorrow and compassion from Kundry's kiss. That there is a Wagnerian character in Gogarty's awakening is suggested by the following: "There have been cases of men and women going mad because their love was not reciprocated, and I used to listen to these stories wonderingly, unable to understand, bored by the relation" (p. 126). Like Parsifal, Gogarty was a "pure fool" and has become "knowing through compassion." It is in this Wagnerian tonality that we should hear the remark Gogarty lets drop in an amusing conversation with Moran: "Woman is life" (p. 230).
At the start of the recapitulation, in chapter eleven, the Nora Glynn theme re-appears as Gogarty receives her letter, breaking a long silence, on the very anniversary of the opening scene. The lake seen through the priest's eyes may be intended to register an advance from the indeterminacy of that scene: "more blue in the sky, less mist upon the water" (p. 135). The twilight, when it recurs, is again a moment of clarity and splendour, imaging goddesses around a celestial lake; but, that vision gone, vagueness enshrouds the terrestrial lake again: "And he watched the earth and sky enfolded in one tender harmony of rose and blue – blue fading to grey, and the lake afloat amid vague shores, receding like a dream through sleep" (p. 139). Chapter twelve is the corresponding recapitulation of the Gogarty theme, taking the form of a letter in reply to hers. He goes over the story of his vocation for the third time in the novel: the first time, in chapter one, it was presented at its face value; in the dialogue with Father O’Grady in chapter seven the ambiguities first emerge into consciousness; here, finally, the true perspective is established, the authentic vocation emerges from behind the false one. The animals of the exposition section come back into the picture (all has been dead in the preceding chapters) as he writes of "the bleat of the lamb and the impatient cawing of the rook" (p. l44).
"WITHIN THE PRIEST’S SOUL"
Structurally the 1921 version is a great improvement on both the 1905 versions, an improvement reflecting Moore's closer attention to the essential subject of the novel. In the second 1905 version there is a passage in which Gogarty's fellow-clergy discuss, with much coarseness and narrow-mindedness, his action in denouncing Rose Leicester from the pulpit. This piece of anti-clerical satire is a regression to the "Protestant" Moore’s public critique of Catholicism; it impedes his effort to map the private obstacles Father Gogarty must overcome, obstacles whose personal, inward shape must be allowed to come to light in the course of his lakeside broodings. In the 1921 version it is Father O'Grady who drops in at this point, although it is only five days since he has written to Gogarty from London without giving any warning of a visit to Ireland. Despite this unlikelihood O'Grady's visit gives the story a backbone which is missing in the earlier versions. Rose Leicester's gushing correspondence is also drastically reduced. Her souvenirs of Bayreuth are no longer supposed to influence the process of Gogarty's liberation in any way, nor is there any attempt to parallel his growth with her own discovery of a bigger world. Wagner was no longer a "cause" in 1921 was Bayreuth the only temple of his genius. (Shaw, in a late foreword to "The Perfect Wagnerite," indicates that better performances could be attended in London at this time.) The. Bayreuth material had in any case been re-used in a charming, comic vein in "Ave" (1911). However, another genius had appeared on the scene and it may be that the O'Grady episode owes something to Freud.
The unlikelihood of Father O'Grady's visit is finely integrated into the texture of the novel by the long evocation of the unease with which both men are smitten, an unease which on Gogarty's part shows his fear of the painful probings to which the encounter exposes him. The scene could seem predictable and melodramatic to a cursory reader; closer reading shows it to be a study of considerable psychological finesse. The apparent melodrama of Gogarty's cry: "I'm frightened, frightened, my fear is great and at this moment I feel like a man on his deathbed… Can I be forgiven if that soul be lost to God?" (p. 81), and of the absolution administered by Father O'Grady, disappears when one realises that Gogarty's cry is an amalgam of several displacements or self-deceptions. His fear is not really fear of divine judgement but of them moment of truth which is facing him, the immanent judgement of his growth in self-awareness; he is on his deathbed in the sense that his clerical persona can no longer provide him with a satisfactory identity; his obsession with Nora's soul is of a personal and erotic nature, the cultural shield of clerical convictions preventing it from finding correct expression as yet. His confession serves the purpose of opening him up to the real nature of his anxiety. At the moment of absolution he rejoins the life of instinct in an undistorted form: "conscious of the green grass showing through the window, lighted by a last ray of the setting sun" (p. 81), and is more ready for the _real_ confession which ensues. "What had he confessed? Already he had forgotten." He asks O'Grady a question which touches a deeper level: "if he discovered any other influence except an intellectual influence in Mr. Poole"; and complains that he "might have warned Nora of the danger" (this is the first time in the interview that Gogarty allows himself to call her "Nora" rather than "Miss Glynn"). O'Grady puts two leading questions "as if he wished to change the subject": "Tell me how it all came about"; and "Was no attempt… made to marry you to some girl with a big fortune?" Gogarty then begins to talk with growing self-awareness. He is "a little dazed and troubled in his mind"; "he rambled on, telling his story almost unconsciously"; he "continued, like one talking to himself.". Father O’Grady, catalyst of this emergence of truth, listens, "seriously moved by the story" (that is meant to ward off the reader's temptation to a slight scorn for Gogarty's confusions), almost murmurs, "Now, I'm beginning to understand," and finally leaves, without comment, "as if he felt that the object of his visit had been accomplished." So it has. "He goes as a dream goes," thinks Gogarty, "Why did he come here? And he was surprised that he could find no answer to any of the questions that he put to himself" (p. 84). O'Grady's visit has brought about a state of lucidity and of crisis – the desolation of the opening words of the following chapter: "Nothing will happen again in my life – nothing of any interest," and the inner storm matched by an outer one which he describes in his letter to Nora. The first words of her reply helpfully confirm that he is on the right path: "You are a very human person after all" (p. 97).
The culturally deflected interpretation of his inner turmoil which ensnares Father Gogarty for so long, his difficulty in thinking his way out of his ready-made clerical categories, is handled by Moore with remarkable empathy, and the paradoxical conversion of those categories in the final scene is a convincing resolution of the priest's struggle towards self-understanding. There the lake provides the true equivalent of the baptism over whose external forms a bizarre wrangle between Catholic and Protestant peasants had earlier developed, and the rocks become a natural altar on which Gogarty sacrifices his dead clerical identity. Joyce laughed at the dimpled buttocks and earmarked the scene as a comic mythology for use in "Finnegans Wake." But the comic touch is not unintentional; Moore will not let his priest keep up a dignified sacerdotal air and take his new sacraments more seriously than the old, for the serious theme of his novel is what passes within the soul, and its external enactment is better left as muddled and tragicomical as ordinary life will have it. The combination of this external comedy with the sober chronicle of inner states, in which neither is over-emphasised at the other's expense, is a fine achievement, possible only to one with a long schooling in the bitter-sweet art of Maupassant or Turgenev.
MOORE AND THE CATHOLIC PRIESTHOOD
Mary McCarthy claims that "Madame Bovary" is the novel that best speaks to the condition of modern American women. If I may add another extra-literary claim, which may not be without literary relevance after all, I would suggest that "The Lake" is the novel that best speaks to the condition of the contemporary Catholic clergyman, insofar as that condition is one of discontent, and that recent history has verified the psychological finesse of Moore's portrait to a surprising extent. Of course there is another dimension, which Moore and Father Gogarty but distantly recognise. That is the dimension of grace, the quest for the essence of the Gospel, sublimely, perhaps too sublimely, expressed in Bernanos "Diary of a Country Priest." But I cannot think of any novel which evokes as subtly and as exactly as Moore's does the oppressive aspects of a clericalist culture and the psychology of a revolt of which most priests will have some idea, however they resolve the resultant tensions. What distinguishes Moore's treatment from such crude attempts as Zola’s "La Faute de l’Abbé Mouret" is an affectionate feeling for the life of the Irish presbytery and convent. The pathos of "The Lake" is that of revolt against an environment which has claims on the heart. The priest's choice for life on larger terms thus has a boldness and tension to it which it would not have were it merely a matter of fleeing a detestable prison. Again and again good reasons for staying in the rut present themselves, and subtle discernment is needed to overcome this false conscience and strive onward to self-realisation. The indecisive and wavering temperament of Gogarty adds to the interest and subtlety of the drama. Father Gogarty has to tear himself away. Had Moore introduced a more tragic clash of duties, in the manner, for instance, of "Anna Karenin," his novel might have been greater, a novel of adulthood rather than of late adolescence. But the lack of that dimension too takes nothing from the truth of the novel. Indeed, in presenting the priest, like the hero of "So on He Fares," as a psychological orphan torn between two mothers, Eliza and Nora, the Church and Nature, Moore may have sensed an aspect of the drama of the Catholic priesthood which has more sociological weight than might appear.
Contemporaries of Moore in Ireland queried the verisimilitude of his clerical portrait, but perhaps for reasons similar to those that caused people to shudder at Flaubert's "moeurs de province.". Stephen Gwynn, for instance, in "Irish Literature and Drama" (1936), assured us that "an Irish reader, though well aware that many an Irish priest has succumbed to sexual temptation, will almost certainly say that neither such a priest nor such a school-mistress as Moore depicts ever drew breath in the province of Connaught. A novelist, if he is to succeed, must make himself believed" (99. 168-9). Yet Canon Sheehan's Luke Delmege, in the novel of that name published four years before Moore's (London, 1901), shares many traits with Moore's protagonist. Luke's history is swathed in much pious trash and moralizing intrusions, and his problems are traced to intellectual discontent rather than to a nostalgia of the heart, but at times we can hear in his musings too "the mysterious warble, soft as lake water, that abides in the heart" (1921 preface):
"Was this to be his life? Dreary days, spent in idleness and unprofitable attempts to raise a helpless and dispirited people; and dreadful evenings, when he could not escape from himself, but had to face the companionship of thoughts that verged on despair." (p. 343)
"The morning was fine, and a gray mist hung down over field and valley, and wet the withering leaves, and made the red haws, that splashed the whole landscape, as if with blood, glisten and shine. But the mist could not conceal the gray, lonely fields... 'It's a land of death and ruin,' said Luke." (p. 332-3)
Luke's affective starvation and sensitivity of temperament produce effects at least as strange as anything experienced by Gogarty:
"'I have seen colouring across the moors and the breasts of the mountains that would make an artist's fortune, could he fix it on canvas. And, then, certainly the little children are very attractive. The one thing that strikes every English visitor to Ireland are the children's eyes – _das Vergissmeinnicht blauste Auge_!'" (p. 348)
"Luke thought, and was tempted. He said goodbye to the mother, and stooping down touched with his lips the wet, sweet mouth of the child. He walked away, leaving serious wonderment in the child's mind, but infinite gratitude in the mother's; but he had to steady himself against a tree for a few moments, whilst a current of strange, unwonted feelings surged through his veins… it was a fatal kiss! Luke had examined his conscience rather too scrupulously that night, and decided that these little amenities were rather enervating, and were not for him." (p. 360)
It may be that a taboo surrounding the intimate life of the priest in rural Ireland is the reason for Gwynn's inability to recognise the precision of Moore's insight. Or it may simply be a case of that inattention to the finer resonances of the narrative against which Moore pleads in the 1921 preface: "It may be that I heard what none other will hear… and it may be that all ears are not tuned, or are too indifferent or indolent to listen." Again, a moral prejudice can utterly block awareness of what is going on in the book, so that it is read as an anti-clerical satire. It might very easily have become so, had Moore yielded to his baser instincts. What saves it from becoming so is perhaps above all the potent image of the lake itself.
The lake imposes a spell on Father Gogarty, cutting him off from his conventional existence – from Tinnick where his sisters live, just across the strait – and condemning him to an inward journey. The lake contains the secret of his identity in its bosom – symbolised by the two islands, Castle Island where he wished in youth to build a hermitage (and where George Moore's ashes now lie) and Church Island, the haunt of Marban, a saint of the times when Irish religion was still a communion with nature and with life. The secrets of this haunting and melancholy Irish landscape, secrets never laid bare, not even in the moonlight clarity of Gogarty's swim to freedom, come from a realm older and wiser than all clericalism and anticlericalism. Perhaps the lake is the indeterminate maternal principle which holds sway over all of Gogarty's life, enticing him to religion with Eliza or to a flight from religion with Nora. Its grey monotony induces boredom and discontent, its subtle motions seem an invitation to escape, its magic, the magic all too rarely attaching to an individual place, commands him to remain – there is no Wagnerite who will not feel at home with such ambivalence! Later, in "The Brook Kerith," Moore tries to evoke directly the essence of religion, and if it entirely eludes him in that work, as I fear it does, that is not only because his strategy of having a revivified Jesus repent of his apocalypticism (discovered by Weiss and Schweitzer) and return to a diluted Renanism is an unreal and academic one, but above all because the foothills of Jericho and the Judean desert have no genius loci comparable to that of the Irish lakeside. Not even his Arimathean's faintly homoerotic reveries prevent this later attempted vision from being swallowed by the sand. In "The Lake" however the vision presses in, greater than the explicit issues of the narrative. Yeats wrote: "I said once: ‘You work so hard that, like the Lancelot of Tennyson, you will almost see the Grail.’ But now, his finished work before me, I am convinced that he was denied even that ‘almost’" ("Autobiographies," London, 1970. p. 438). It may be that here is the one point at which the judgement is confuted, the one point at which the Grail, the constant object of the aesthetic quest, the regulative idea of a thousand revisions, is inexplicably unveiled.
Joseph S. O'Leary
From: Robert Welch, ed. "The Way Back". Dublin: Wolfhound Press, 1982.