The Poetry of W.B. Yeats

The Poetry of W.B. Yeats

The Poetry of W.B. Yeats

The Poetry of W.B. Yeats

Excerpt

We have been told many times that we do not have to take the ideas of Yeats seriously in order to appreciate his poetry; but if this is true, Yeats is the first poet of whom it has ever been true. We need to understand the ideas of Donne and of Shakespeare in order to appreciate their works, and we have to take their ideas seriously in one sense or another, and it is possible to take their ideas seriously much of the time. A great deal of scholarly work has been done on their ideas, and some of this work has contributed to our appreciation of what they wrote. A great deal of scholarly work has been done on Yeats in recent years; unfortunately, the better one understands him, the harder it is to take him seriously.*

I shall refer rather often in this essay to a recent book by John Unterecker1. The book gives a more detailed account than any other which I know of what Yeats was doing or thought he was doing. It accepts without question Yeats's ideas regarding the nature of poetry, ideas which in my opinion are unacceptable. And like almost every other publication on Yeats it accepts without question the notion that Yeats was a very great poet and it merely substitutes exegesis for criticism. For example, Mr. Unterecker explains the meaning of an early poem, The Two Trees, (p. 47) and I think correctly. Then, with no explanation whatever, he refers to it as "so grand a poem." The poem is obviously a bad poem: it is sentimental and stereotyped at every point. Mr. Unterecker is a split personality: on the one hand he is a careful scholar and on the other he is a critic with neither talent nor training. In this he resembles most of the literary scholars with whose work I am ac . . .

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