William Butler Yeats Poetry
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William Butler Yeats.

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William Butler Yeats


About:
William Butler Yeats was an Irish poet and dramatist and one of the foremost figures of 20th century literature. He was a driving force behind the Irish Literary Revival, and together with Lady Gregory and Edward Martyn founded the Abbey Theatre and served as its chief playwright during its early years. Yeats was a pillar of the Irish literary establishment and was an Irish Senator for two terms. In 1923, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature for what the Nobel Committee described as "his always inspired poetry, which in a highly artistic form gives expression to the spirit of a whole nation". Yeats is generally considered one of the few writers whose greatest works were completed after being awarded the Nobel Prize; such works include The Tower (1928) and The Winding Stair and Other Poems (1929).

Yeats is generally considered to be one of the twentieth century's key English-language poets. Yet, unlike most modernists who experimented with free verse, Yeats was also a master of the traditional verse forms. The impact of modernism on his work can be seen in the increasing abandonment of the more conventionally poetic diction of his early work in favor of the more austere language and more direct approach to his themes that increasingly characterises the poetry and plays of his middle period, comprising the volumes In the Seven Woods, Responsibilities and The Green Helmet. His later poetry and plays are written in a more personal vein, and the works written in the last twenty years of his life include mention of his son and daughter, as well as meditations on the experience of growing old. In his poem, "The Circus Animals' Desertion", he describes the inspiration for these late works:
Now that my ladders gone
I must lie down where all the ladders start
In the foul rag and bone shop of the heart

During 1929, he stayed at Thoor Ballylee, near Gort in County Galway (where Yeats had his summer home since 1919) for the last time. Much of the remainder of his life was lived outside of Ireland, although he did lease Riversdale house in the Dublin suburb of Rathfarnham in 1932. He wrote prolifically through his final years, and published poetry, plays, and prose. In 1938, he attended the Abbey for the final time to see the premier of his play Purgatory. His Autobiographies of William Butler Yeats was published that same year.

While Yeats's early poetry drew heavily on Irish myth and folklore. His later work was engaged with more contemporary issues, and his style underwent a dramatic transformation. His work can be divided into three general periods. The early poems are lushly pre-Raphaelite in tone, self-consciously ornate, and at times, according to unsympathetic critics, stilted. Yeats began by writing epic poems such as The Isle of Statues and The Wanderings of Oisin. After Oisin, he never attempted another long poem. His other early poems are lyrics on the themes of love or mystical and esoteric subjects. Yeats' middle period saw him abandon the pre-Raphaelite character of his early work and attempt to turn himself into a Landor-style social ironist. Critics who admire his middle work might characterize it as supple and muscular in its rhythms and sometimes harshly modernist, while others find these poems barren and weak in imaginative power. Yeats' later work found new imaginative inspiration in the mystical system he began to work out for himself under the influence of spiritualism. In many ways, this poetry is a return to the vision of his earlier work. The opposition between the worldly-minded man of the sword and the spiritually-minded man of God, the theme of The Wanderings of Oisin, is reproduced in A Dialogue Between Self and Soul.

Some critics claim that Yeats spanned the transition from the nineteenth century into twentieth-century modernism in poetry much as Pablo Picasso did in painting. Others question whether late Yeats really has much in common with modernists of the Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot variety. Modernists read the well-known poem The Second Coming as a dirge for the decline of European civilization in the mode of Eliot, but later critics have pointed out that this poem is an expression of Yeats' apocalyptic mystical theories, and thus the expression of a mind shaped by the 1890s. His most important collections of poetry started with The Green Helmet (1910) and Responsibilities (1914). In imagery, Yeats's poetry became sparer, more powerful as he grew older. The Tower (1928), The Winding Stairs (1929) and New Poems (1938) contained some of the most potent images in twentieth-century poetry; his Last Poems are conceded by most to be amongst his best.

Yeats's mystical inclinations, informed by Hindu Theosophical beliefs and the occult, formed much of the basis of his late poetry, which some critics have judged as lacking in intellectual credibility. W. H. Auden criticizes his late stage as the "deplorable spectacle of a grown man occupied with the mumbo-jumbo of magic and the nonsense of India". The metaphysics of Yeats's late works must be read in relation to his system of esoteric fundamentalities in A Vision (1925).

His 1920 poem, "The Second Coming" is one of the most potent sources of imagery about the twentieth century.
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

For the anti-democratic Yeats, 'the best' referred to the traditional ruling classes of Europe, who were unable to protect the traditional culture of Europe from materialistic mass movements. For later readers, 'the best' and 'the worst' have been redefined to fit their own political views. The concluding lines refer to Yeats' belief that history was cyclic, and that his age represented the end of the cycle that began with the rise of Christianity.
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?


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