Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Yeats as complicated whole

Brian Phillips reviews R. F. Foster’s W.B. Yeats: A Life: Volume II: The Arch-Poet, 1915-1939. In this essay you will learn much about Yeats’ goofy life, and his life as art, and some about his spectacular poems. Regardless of his life and flaws, you can’t patronize Yeats because in the end there are the poems, always the lovely poems. Phillips:

"There are always the poems, where the ungainly aggregations of the life are distilled into moments of airy and bluff and sweet and impossible beauty, and as long as the poems exist, the last word will be theirs. To laugh at Yeats’s life is to find oneself softly checkmated. The poems are things of such constant astonishment that they dismay description; flocks of adjectives graze on them and never see the ground. Reading the fourth section of “Vacillations” makes one understand very well how the split sense of the burial story could have come into existence, how the poet could appear simultaneously as a helpless collection of bones and a powerful guiding spirit. Its ten plain lines show how accident can be transfigured by inspiration."

My fiftieth year had come and gone,/
I sat, a solitary man,/
In a crowded London shop,/
An open book and empty cup/
On the marble table-top./

While on the shop and street I gazed/
My body of a sudden blazed;/
And twenty minutes more or less/
It seemed, so great my happiness,/
That I was blessèd and could bless./


And note these "breathtakingly lovely" lines:

When you are old and grey and full of sleep,/
And nodding by the fire, take down this book,/
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;/

How many loved your moments of glad grace,/
And loved your beauty with love false or true,/
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face;/

And bending down beside the glowing bars,/
Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled/
And paced upon the mountains overhead/
And hid his face amid a crown of stars.

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Thanks for that.

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