Iseult Gonne

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Iseult Gonne was conceived by her parents when they were full of grief for her brother, who had died aged one year. Maud Gonne (revolutionary and founder of Inghinidhe na hÉireann – Daughters of Ireland), and Lucien Millevoye created her in the mausoleum where her brother lay.  Yeats wrote in his autobiography that “The idea came to her [Gonne] that the lost child might be reborn, and she had gone back to Millevoye, in the vault under the memorial chapel. A girl child was born, now two years old” (Memoirs 133).

Yeats wrote many poems about Maud:

No Second Troy

With beauty like a tightened bow, a kind
That is not natural in an age like this,
Being high and solitary and most stern?

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Maud Gonne

Maud hid Iseult’s illegitimate status by saying she was a niece or child she adopted, but everyone knew she was her natural born child.  Maud married John MacBride, and Yeats would later accuse him of having molested Iseult.

Yeats, desperately in love with Maud Gonne, who was his muse and obsession, watched Iseult grow up and wrote poems inspired by her beauty, grace and innocence.

To a Child dancing in the Wind

I

Dance there upon the shore;
What need have you to care
For wind or water’s roar?

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Both Maud and Yeats encouraged Iseult to write and tried to motivate her into greatness, but she didn’t show the passionate dedication to literature they desired to see in her, considering her aimless. In 1917 Yeats, rebuffed as a lover by Maud, decided marriage was what he needed to be able to write and he needed a new muse. He sought permission to court Iseult, which Maud agreed to, albeit with a warning he would be rejected. Iseult was 22, and described as a Pre-Rapehlite beauty, when he repeatedly asked her to marry him. If she took him seriously and considered it, or if she saw it as a joke, is contested between Yeats and her future husband Francis Stuart, who wrote different versions of what happened. Certainly she prevaricated, not wanting to disappoint her literary mentor (and one of the only constant, kindly paternal figures in her life). She declined in the end, and Yeats quickly married another.

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Iseult would drift through life not ever really fulfilling the great destiny placed upon her, unsurprisingly, considering the dubious abusive positions her step-father MacBride may have put her in, and terrible, confusing situation created when Yeats proposed to her.

She wrote and translated, had an affair with Ezra Pound, and married the writer Francis Stuart. She had three children. The first died as an infant and Iseult was left to raise her son and daughter with her mother-in-law after Stuart abandoned them. Iseult smoked constantly and appeared idle, although she channelled her mother’s rebellious spirit when she harboured a German parachutist/ spy during the war, falling in love with him and going on trial for her treason.

My poem about Iseult considers how it felt to have Yeats position her as his muse/wife and the weight of expectation Iseult must have experienced, needing to fulfil her destiny of replacing the much-adored dead brother. You can find information about my new poetry book: I, Ursula HERE on the V.Press Poetry website.

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More information on Iseult HERE by Amanda French

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Painting depicting the lovers in the tragic story Tristan and Iseult by John William Waterhouse

Jeanne Hébuterne

6 April 1898 – 26 January 1920

In my new collection I consider the role of a muse in an artist’s life by obsessively focusing on my own muse and contrasting this with a series of poems about famous muses. The poems offer a different perspective on the role of muse. How it feels to be put in that position, or how the muse herself had her own strength and talent that was eclipsed by their lover. It’s discomforting to think I place my muse in this objectified position. The collection tries to explore this intense focus/desire for a person who does, whether it is comfortable or not, inspire new art.

For my book launch I have invited eight women to read the muse poems before I read some of the other poems from the collection. I’m excited to hear them voice these women and hear my poems performed by another person.

I’m going to post some information about the muses over the next few days. The first person I’m going to talk about is Jeanne Hébuterne, the muse of Amedeo Modigliani.

I first saw Modigliani’s work when I was at art college 25 years ago and I loved it immediately, particularly his pictures of one young woman with auburn hair: Jeanne. As soon as I read about their life together and saw some pictures of them, I was half in love with him and fascinated by her.

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12 July 1884 – 24 January 1920

Modigliani lived a bohemian life as a painter in Paris, hanging out with Picasso, causing trouble in cafes and drawing constantly. He created daring nudes and impressive sculptures that were original and exciting. He was sadly suffering from TB, which he hid with his drinking, smoking and love affairs with beautiful women. This included one of my favourite poets Anna Akhmatova. You can read Anna’s memories of Modigliani HERE. Modigliani loved poetry, and would recite it all the time. He carried poetry books in his pockets.

‘I do not think I have ever met a painter who loved poetry so much.Ilya Ehrenburg

‘He had the head of an Antinous and eyes with sparks of gold— in appearance he was absolutely unlike anyone else. His voice remains engraved on my memory for ever. I knew he was poor, and no one knew what he lived on. As an artist, not a shadow of recognition.’ Anna Akhmatova

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Anna Akhmatova

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Anna Akhmatova sketch by Modigliani

 

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Jeanne painted by Modigliani

In the spring of 1917, the Russian sculptor Chana Orloff introduced Modi to a beautiful, long haired art student named Jeanne Hébuterne. She was 19 and Modi was 33, but he gave up his English mistress Beatrice Hastings to be with Jeanne, who is said to have been gentle, shy and delicate.

From a conservative bourgeois background, Hébuterne was disowned by her devout Roman Catholic family for her love affair with Modigliani, as they thought he was a debauched derelict. Despite her family’s objections, Jeanne and Modi were passionately in love and moved in together.

In the spring of 1918, the couple moved to the warmer climate of Nice where Modigliani’s agent hoped he would sell his art work to wealthy folk who were on holiday there. While they were in Nice, their daughter, Jeanne Modigliani was born.

In springtime, they returned to Paris and Jeanne became pregnant again. Modi was getting progressively more unwell from his TB and wild lifestyle. He passed away in January 1920. Jeanne’s parents brought her home to them, but she stepped out of the fifth floor window to her death. She was eight months pregnant. Their surviving daughter was brought up not knowing about her parents until she was an adult herself. At first Jeanne was buried away from Modi, but after ten years her parents relented and she was interred with him. Her gravestone epitaph, ‘Devoted companion to the extreme sacrifice.’ Modi’s reads, ‘Struck down by death at the moment of glory.’

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However, despite her role as devoted muse to the final extreme, Jeanne was a brilliant painter in her own right and deserved a share of the artistic glory. My poem has Jeanne’s voice detailing their shared act of painting: Modi painting her and Jeanne painting her self-portrait.

Below are four self-portraits painted by Jeanne.

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foto 3 Modigliani’s Women. Jeanne Hebuterne