Opposite of what we might think

“In dreams begins responsibility” — William Butler Yeats.

I came across this quote in Arthur Quinn’s book, “Figures of Speech: 60 ways to turn a phrase” (Routledge: New York, 1982), p. 45 (ISBN: 1-880393-02-6).  From what I can ascertain (http://www.sacred-texts.com/neu/yeats/lpy/lpy080.htm), Yeats included this in the preface to his collection, Responsibilities (1914), and attributed the phrase to Old Play.

Quinn includes this quote in chapter IV, Man Bites Dog, in a discussion on anastrophe, the reversal of an adjective and a noun.  In this section, he also talks about the misplacement of an adjective (an hyperbaton).  One example of anastrophe is this quote from Virgil: “Let us die, and rush into the heart of the fight”.  Another is the reference to “city of waters” in 2 Samuel 12:27.  He says, “…we know from the context that this is not literally true.  The city would fall later; all that had been taken here was the water supply, ‘the waters of the city’. This … once recognized, suggests all sorts of meanings the literal statement would not.”

Turning to Yeats, Quinn says, “…most of us would have begun with responsibility and ended in dreams.”  Most of us would have, but Richard Weaver would not have.  As he says (and I seem to be repeating myself, at least in my own mind) in Ideas Have Consequences, “Sentiment is anterior to reason”.  Upon a closer examination of Yeats’ poems (in the above link), one might see a parallel between Yeats and Weaver.

Quinn’s book may be, at first glance, rather dry and filled with minutiae.  However, the benefit to the writer of poetry is not only one of style and rhyme but the conveyance of meaning and insight.