Jacynth Parsons, W.B. Yeats and ‘The Songs of Innocence’

WB Yeats' preface to an illustrated edition of William Blake's Songs of Innocence (Medici Society 1927.) The illustrator was a young English girl called Jacynth Parsons*. It is an interesting piece about the illustrator but also about the Ireland of the time. The joke of doing the thing you are refusing to do (i.e. write a preface) is reminiscent of another Irish writer -George Bernard Shaw. GBS would reply to requests for his signature with notes such as 'Sir, I never give autographs! George Bernard Shaw.' There is very little about Jacynth Parsons online and no Wikipedia page.

Prefatory Letter
To the Medici Society.

Dear Sirs,
A Dublin maker of beautiful stained glass brought to my house last night a 16 year old English girl with a face of still intensity, her black plaited hair falling between her shoulders. He laid a large portfolio on a table in the middle of the room, as I had already refused to write the preface for her drawings I carried the portfolio to a table in a distant corner. Those present were a Free State officer, a distinguished dramatist, a country gentleman with imperfect sight who has the history of modern Italy read to him for five hours a day because he thinks it is like that of modern Ireland.We arranged our talk unconsciously that it might contain incidents to amuse a young girl fresh from Grimm's goblins and Treasure Island. Somebody told stories of our civil war, I pointed to the bullet hole in the study door and hinted at all the Free State officer could tell if he were not silent and gloomy. Presently he said Republicans were bound to win the general election in September, and all kinds of horrible things, and in a minute we had exchange civil war for politics.  But I am old and impatient and have listened to one theme or the other most Monday evenings these five years.

So I brought the portfolio back into the middle of the room and for the rest of the evening we talked of nothing but these pictures   It is natural that she should picture pretty children playing among the squirrels, but not that she should draw hands and feet like that; make hair coil in those great heavy folds where there is so much nature and so much pattern; discover the poignant emotion of those two figures half lost in the dark wood; or the strange austere beauty of that dark Indian woman sitting under her tree of life, a dark child upon her knees, suggesting so much mysterious intellect. He would have understood that she had read until certain of his songs - 'The Little Boy Found', 'Another's Sorrow', most of all perhaps - became her own songs and needed her own ornament.

I had to explain to those about the table that only a task continued from day to day had momentum enough to overcome my indolence, that I intended to write nothing but philosophy for a year, that being no art critic I had not knowledge enough to judge this painting with the precision that gives judgment authority, that I hated writing prefaces and wrote one a couple of years ago so badly that I have had spasms of remorse ever since. No, you must forgive me and not fancy that I lacked astonished admiration because I refuse to write one single word.

WB Yeats

*Jacynth Parson (1911-1992) was born in Northwood, Middlesex. She was the daughter of Karl Parsons designer and maker of stained-glass. She received no formal art training but from her earliest childhood 'must have absorbed the visual language of the late Pre-Raphaelites from her father' (Alan Horne). In 1927  the Medici Society put on an exhibition of her 'pictures from the age of 3 to 16' - it was met with considerable success.  Apart from Blake she  also illustrated  a book of poetry by WH Davies and a John Masefield volume. She then illustrated a book of  her fathers poems for children (Ann's Book), and in the early 1930s produced some charming drawings for Gladys Forbes The Enchanted Forest. She married the architect  Dennis Clough and after the birth of a  son and a daughter gave up her artistic career, except for illustrations to a series of school 'readers' published by EJ Arnold. Later in life she retired to North Cornwall.

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