W. B. Yeats: His Poetry and Thought

W. B. Yeats: His Poetry and Thought

W. B. Yeats: His Poetry and Thought

W. B. Yeats: His Poetry and Thought

Excerpt

The main subject of this book is W. B. Yeats' poems, in their most accessible published form. I have kept in mind the reader who is interested enough to study them attentively, but may not have access to everything else he wrote. Yeats was so continuously discovering himself that his writings throw light on one another: every poem is complete in itself, but often an early poem gains in depth or a later one in clarity when they are put side by side, or beside a passage from some prose essay or letter. I have used this kind of cross-reference to throw into relief some of the continuous strands of his thought.

It may seen arbitrary to have left out nearly all the plays, except for a reference here and there, for they embody the same coherent vision as his poetry and prose. But Yeats' plays are meant to be performed, and his sense of the theatre was exact and exacting; the stage décor, the techniques of speech and movement, were thought out in strict relation to the words. To discuss them as plays without seeing at least some of the later ones played as he intended could be too much like talking in the air. To treat them as supplementary poetry is hardly adequate, and though it might reinforce, would not greatly change what I have found to say.

I have dwelt chiefly on the thought of the poems, with more emphasis on its fundamental cogency than on the heterodox pattern in which it took shape, because it seems to me that to ignore this cogency is to miss too much in the poetry itself. It is true that a poet's ideas cannot be detached from his words, but there is nothing wrong in taking his ideas seriously: to believe that great art does not grow out of flabby thinking is not the same thing as mistaking the 'message' for the greatness of the art. Yeats was not a flabby thinker, nor was he by any means a mere virtuoso of ideas. He sought his words arduously and corrected with pains, because . . .

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