Yeats’ “Green Helmet”

September 12th, 2015
Title page from William Butler Yeats, The green helmet and other poems (Cuala Press, 1910). Private Press Collection, Department of Special Collections, Memorial Library, University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Page 13 in William Butler Yeats, The green helmet and other poems (Cuala Press, 1910). From the Private Press Collection, Department of Special Collections, Memorial Library, University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Page 13 in William Butler Yeats, The green helmet and other poems (Cuala Press, 1910). From the Private Press Collection, Department of Special Collections, Memorial Library, University of Wisconsin-Madison.

The current exhibit in Special Collections, entitled “Green Green — It’s Green They Say,” has heightened our awareness of both references to the color green and use of color in printing, fine and otherwise. For example, the setting of “The green helmet: An heroic farce” by William Butler Yeats calls attention to a “green and luminous” sea and calls for nearly all the characters to be “dressed in various shades of green.”

Front cover, William Butler Yeats, The green helmet and other poems (Cuala Press, 1910). From the Private Press Collection, Department of Special Collections, Memorial Library, University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Front cover, Yeats, The green helmet and other poems.

The Cuala Press edition, The green helmet and other poems (Churchtown, Dundrum: Cuala Press, 1910), part of the Private Press Collection in the Department of Special Collections, features a simple typographic cover printed in black on dun-colored paper.

Our copy was once part of the holdings of the Library Company of Philadelphia (their bookplate is stamped “duplicate sold”), and hence the traces of a call number in the upper left corner of the front cover. The only other color in the book is the colophon printed in red, as shown below. No green to be seen.

However, on a recent visit to the Golda Meir Library, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, we recently saw an edition of Yeats’ The green helmet that featured a decidedly green helmet on the cover — this, part of an exhibit entitled “Yeats at 150” drawing on the strong holdings of Irish literature in their Special Collections.  (A free e-book version of the Macmillan edition of 1912, showing clearly the green helmet on the cover, is available through Project Gutenberg. Another digitized version of the Macmillan edition, also with a green helmet on the cover, can be found in the Hathi Trust shared digital repository. The latter copy, hailing from the Northern Regional Library Facility of the University of California System, has a barcode over part of the helmet; and the helmet looks at best a very dark green.)

Colophon, William Butler Yeats, The green helmet and other poems (Cuala Press, 1910). From the Private Press Collection, Department of Special Collections, Memorial Library, University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Colophon, Yeats, The green helmet and other poems.

The Cuala Press was established by Elizabeth Corbet (Lolly) Yeats, sister of William Butler Yeats. The Press was part of Cuala (pronounced COOL-a) Industries, founded in 1908 by Elizabeth and her sister Susan (known as Lily). Their brother Jack, a noted artist, supplied much of the art work and design; brother William was both editor and advisor; and Mollie Gill was long the principal compositor. The press featured the work of Irish authors, many closely associated with W. B. Yeats. We hold several dozen products of the Press, which issued books until 1946. The Press as revived in 1969 by W. B. Yeats’ son and daughter, Michael and Anne, returned to printing books, including Liam Miller, A brief account of the Cuala Press (Dublin: Cuala Press, 1971), and Pressmarks and devices used at the Dun Emer Press and the Cuala Press (Dublin: Cuala Press, 1977), both held in Special Collections.

A reprint of the Cuala Press edition issued by the Irish University Press can be found in the Memorial Library stacks: call number: PR5904 G6 1970. For more about the Cuala Press and what is known as Irish Renaissance, see such works as Gifford Lewis, The Yeats sisters and the Cuala (Dublin: Irish Academic Press, 1994) and Joan Hardwick, The Yeats sisters: A biography of Susan and Elizabeth Yeats (London: Pandora, 1996), both in Memorial Library’s circulating collections. A short history of the Cuala Press is available in the Boston College Libraries Newsletter, 10:1 (fall 2008).

— Robin Rider