W. B. Yeats

W. B. Yeats

W. B. Yeats

W. B. Yeats

Excerpt

For just over ten years before he died in a hotel in the south of France, at the beginning of 1939, William Butler Yeats had been universally recognized by his peers as the greatest poet, writing in the English language, of this century. The recognition dates from the publication, in 1928, of his finest volume, The Tower . In June of 1939, he would have been seventy-four. He had been writing verses since his 'teens and had been a poet of some reputation since his twenties. Since the turn of the century, he would probably have been mentioned by any critic in a list of the four or five most distinguished English poets, and, in any consideration of Irish poetry, he would have been head of the list. He had won the Nobel Prize for Literature, he had done more than any other man to bring about the birth of the Irish theatre, and he had sat in the Senate of the Irish Free State. Yet every critic knows that these public honours are never the full measure of a poet's reputation. At regular intervals during his long life, shrewd critics had been convinced that Yeats was finished. To George Moore, in the Edwardian decade, it seemed that all Yeats's best poems had been inspired by his hopeless love for Maude Gonne; that love was never to find physical fulfilment, and Moore thought that Yeats's lyrical gift would wither, like cut flowers in a glass. To the young Mr. T. S. Eliot, in the early Georgian era, Yeats seemed not much more than an interesting survival from the 1890's. The young Mr. Pound, sending some of Yeats's poems to an American magazine, took it upon himself to polish and improve them. The young Mr. Middleton Murry, one of the best critics of poetry of his period, dismissed The Wild Swans at Coole , which came out in 1919, as the work of a used-up aesthete. The interesting generation of writers who came to Oxford after the First World War thought little of Yeats. 'Surely', wrote T. E. Lawrence to Ezra Pound, 'Yeats is no good?' Mr. Robert Graves, in the . . .

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