William Butler Yeats

THE LAUREATE: W. B. Yeats was born in 1865 outside of Dublin. His earliest published work was very derivative, but he soon turned to Irish mythology and folklore, and his poetry became readable. Yeats was an Irish Nationalist, and the woman he fell in love with was in the Irish Independence party. It’s kind of like Romeo and Juliet, only if Juliet married Tybalt, decided that she hated him and then hooked up with Romeo 10 years later and was decidedly unimpressed. Yeats was a major player in the Abbey Theater company, which sought to create a new Irish literature. He “discovered” Rabindranath Tagore, and the two were close friends for a while (connections!). Yeats died in Paris in 1939.

WHAT DO YOU KNOW ABOUT THIS GUY?: Like with Heaney, I read a bunch of his work in high school English. So, you know. Gyres and shit.

WHAT ARE YOU READING?: I’ve got a [Mostly] Complete Poems of book, so I’m going to read what’s in there from The Rose and Last Poems, the second and last books listed.


REVIEW: My copy of the book was previously owned, and I fished it out of the library’s free books shelf. The previous owner took quite a few notes. For instance, next to “When you are old,” this person wrote “Could be about Maud who refused him.” Good thinking, except Maud is the lady who got her rebound on with Yeats after turning his proposal down four times. That’s really the only note worth mentioning.

The two books share some surprisingly consistent themes. Both deal heavily with Cuchulainn and Fergus, characters from the Táin Bó Cúalnge, which is totally sweet. I need a copy that isn’t falling apart so I can actually read it. They also, strangely enough, deal with the pain of being old (in the sense of watching young people do stupid things and then complain about how stupid it was.) Sorry, Billy, but 28 isn’t old. Not even a little bit. Last Poems has more political content, though, and I only know a few of the names because of Joyce. Form-wise, Yeats does all the standard English verse types, and he does them well, but his content usually shows a bit more innovation. I approve.

DO YOU RECOMMEND IT?: Sure, why not? Yeats is good times. Gyres and shit, yo.

WHAT’S NEXT: Well, this whole thing has kind of been a sausage fest. I think it’s time to read something by a woman. Nadine Gordimer, maybe.

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