Drama Versus Picture: the Romantic and Elizabethan Background
"WE WERE THE LAST ROMANTICS. . . ." THE context of the phrase in "Coole Park and Ballylee" leaves no question of the sense in which Yeats regarded himself and chosen contemporaries as "Romantics"; it was a sense broad enough to include the classical poet Homer, and was centered upon the choice of lofty and traditionally-ennobling subject matter, as opposed to the intentional search for the quotidian which Yeats saw as a dominating concern of many modern poets. As several generations of scholars have demonstrated, however, Yeats' earliest verse was also Romantic in the more usual and specialized sense; it obviously derived much of its characteristic tenor from Yeats' immersion in Shelley and Keats, and in those exotic and supernatural portions of Elizabethan and Jacobean verse which had previously inspired the Romantic poets.
The assets and liabilities of this heritage have led, inevitably, to a deep division between critics. One extreme is found in Louis MacNeice, who believes that the early Yeats languished temporarily and unfortunately in Romanticism as in the awkwardness of adolescence; and another in Harold Bloom, who finds what is good in Yeats' poetry to be more or less what represents an organic extension of the Romantic tradition, and what is bad