Friday, 2 January 2015

Badgers in Literature: W.B. Yeats's Tidy Badgers and Fouling Foxes

Drawing on folk comparisons between supposedly filthy foxes and fastidious badgers, the Irish poet-playwright W.B. Yeats eulogized the great artists of his time in ‘The Municipal Gallery Re-visited’ (1937) with the defiant line ‘And now that end has come I have not wept;/No fox can foul the lair the badger swept’, hinting that there would be no lesser poets to sully the work of the greater ones. Yeats explicitly drew the proverb from Edmund Spenser’s 1591 lament for the death of Robert Dudley, the first Earl of Leicester, in The Ruines of Time, as well as ‘the common tongue’.[i] Spencer's earlier poem was a much more pessimistic view of noble men (badgers) displaced by far inferior ones (foxes).

[i] W.B. Yeats, The Collected Works of W.B. Yeats, Volume IV: Early Essays, edited by Richard J. Finneran and George Bornstein (New York, 2007), pp. 470-471.

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