Yeats and spelling

Does it help that Yeats was dyslexic?



The editors of his letters, where the texts are raw, have decided that Yeats’ spelling was idiosyncratic. That’s a good word. It doesn’t have the same word-injuring psychosis, the same serial killer among the letters, that is baked into dyslexia. Rather, it understands that spelling is a curious procedure, full of mirrors and disorientations. A spell, as Yeats (who at one point belonged to the same organization as Aleister Crowley, the Golden Dawn) was always aware, was a matter of magical summoning. Spelling, too, is a magical summoning, made domestic by our schoolrooms and four hundred years of rules, so that the words appear under our pens. That the first words we learn to spell are often animal names makes complete sense from this point of view, for animals were, after all, the first things humans drew. But there’s a certain graffiti impulse that lies just outside the spelling book, under which we run away from the rules concerning what to write on and how to write it, and go cave man for real.

I grow old, I grow old. I am too old for emoticons. And graffiti spelling does sometimes assault my sense of the order of things. Yet I am helped by the thought that Yeats was as apt to spell “there” “their” as not. I really am.

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