Yeats – General Comments and Themes

Ongoing Post


Standard narrative: early period characterized as Irish national visionary, writing himself into a mythic past, writing Ballads, etc. Dressed as an old Irish king whose harp is broken..wandering in the woods, etc. This lure of the aesthetic withdraw, dangerous but irresistible, is rejected because of Yeats’ growing sensibility of the political exigencies of his day. He starts to write in a leaner, colder, more pessimistic style: the “heroic realist.” [But a comparison of Aengus and Fisherman shows something closer to a mere exchange of symbols: one for another. The Fisherman does not exist] Late Yeats is characterized by growing doubts about the efficacy of art and the worries that come with old age. There is a return to Irishness, but in the form of a senile peasant.

Relation to Modernism. Can be seen as a reactionary of sorts. “A Coat” can be seen as both a rejection of his former baroque style, but also of the public that failed to appreciate it. His new style will have a “nakedness” and a “coldness” that is still elite and symbolic. The “terrible beauty” of “Easter 1916” is, well, both terrifying and beautiful. Like the isolated Fergus, Aengus and Fisherman, Yeats imagines his own withdraw from and responsibility to a public that is “changed utterly.” He does not change, but his relationship to them does. The final stanza of Easter 1916 positions the poet as mother that has a duty to the particularity of historical violence. However, this is an aestheticization of violence.

The Occult in Yeats: Wandering Aengus and The Second Coming.


Can track certain images:

– Easter 1916 (makes the heart a stone)
– Circus Animals Desertion (faul rag and bone shop of the heart)

– Wandering Aengus (trout turns into beautiful girl that flees)
– The Fisherman (glorified Irish peasantry)
– Sailing to Byzantium (species and cycles of birth and death: the slamon falls, the mackerel crowded seas)
– Circus Animal Desertion (a wholesale subversion of animal tropes)

Birds (and the abruption of the divine into human history)
– Wild Swans at Coole
-Leda and the Swan
– Second Coming

Helen (Maud Gonne)
– No Second Troy
– September 1913
– Among School Children

– Wandering Aengus
– The Fisherman


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