W. B. Yeats and Tradition

W. B. Yeats and Tradition

W. B. Yeats and Tradition

W. B. Yeats and Tradition

Excerpt

This book IS centrally a study of the last five plays Yeats wrote: The King of the Great Clock Tower, A Full Moon in March, The Herne's Egg, Purgatory and The Death of Cuchulain. These are, of course, very obscure works, and they cannot be approached without full understanding of Yeats's theories both of symbolism and of the drama. An introductory essay therefore explains these theories, or as much of them as is to the purpose, and I then proceed to a detailed study of the plays themselves. A third section considers those lyrics which are related; among other poems such difficult works as 'Byzantium', 'The Black Tower', and 'Cuchulain Comforted'.

An ulterior function of the book is to examine the rationale of Yeats's philosophy. The last plays, and the lyrics which connect with them, are eminently philosophical. Almost the whole of Yeats's thought is relevant and is therefore reconstructed in my essays: they go, indeed, beyond the mere statement of fact into a very thorough investigation of his authorities. My attitude has been frankly sympathetic, in that I have found it less difficult than most writers to accept Yeats's cardinal beliefs, and this, I think, differentiates my book from much previous Yeats criticism.

If the last plays have been misunderstood in the past, this is largely because of the difficulties presented by their symbolism. Most of Yeats's mature symbols are used in the course of their composition, and I have tried to relate each to its literary or philosophical 'source'. Yeats's symbolism is not, as has been thought, fluid, but it is for the most part fixed and constant, so that the interpretation of any given image has an ulterior value. The reader who understands the symbol in one context should be able to understand it in all contexts, and to demonstrate that this is so is part of the purpose of my book.

These essays, it will by now be clear, are interpretative; and my attempts at evaluation are no more than casual. I have usually given my own estimate, as for example of The Herne's Egg, but I have done so in full awareness that I may have overpraised the work. A result of the New Criticism, or so it seems to me, is that Yeats's stature as a poet has been too rashly guessed at; his poetry has been evaluated . . .

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