W. H. Auden
YEATS'S POETIC statements often end, as we have seen, on a note of acceptance--acceptance of everything that life has to offer. But when we compare it with other kinds of literary expression we may feel that this attitude is one that goes well into poetry but bears little relation to the lives we actually have to lead.
Irrational streams of blood are staining earth;
Empedocles has thrown all things about;
Hector is dead and there's a light in Troy;
We that look on but laugh in tragic joy.
( The Gyres)
The effect of incantation is obvious and superb. The identity of Empedocles, and why his influence should have been so unsettling, remain unimportant. The forces that threaten to destroy us are of an august kind, Yeats seems to be saying, and we should have enough sense of style to find that consoling. None the less, it is a long way from the world of Hector to the world of Hitler; we are not Housman's 'Spartans on the sea-wet rock', and we are not the tragic heroes and heroines whom Yeats invokes as models of decorum when times are bad.