Yeats's Worlds

Ireland, England and the Poetic Imagination

By David Pierce
(Yale University Press, Hardcover, 9780300063233, 360pp.)

Publication Date: October 1995

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William Butler Yeats was Ireland's leading poet, chief architect of the Irish Literary Revival, and, according to T. S. Eliot, 'one of those few whose history is the history of their own time, who are part of the consciousness of an age which cannot be understood without them'. In this absorbing new study, David Pierce provides a fresh perspective, one that attends as much to Yeats's English contexts as his Irish ones and to the preoccupations of his art. If he was critical of British attitudes towards Ireland, Yeats was also much taken with English life, with the coterie atmosphere of the Rhymers' Club in the 1890s, with membership of the Savile Club in London, with gatherings at English country houses. For this intimate portrait of Yeats, Pierce pays particular attention to the hitherto unappreciated role of the poet's English wife, George Yeats, whose presence, influence, and humour can be felt throughout the book. Interweaving biography, criticism and history, Pierce follows Yeats's life from his birth in Dublin in 1865 to his death in the South of France in 1939. He describes Yeats's family and home; his interest in the oral tradition, the occult and automatic writing; his literary activities in London and Dublin; his work with the Abbey Theatre and his life during the First World War; his response to the Irish War of Independence and the Civil War; his friendship wide fellow-modernist Ezra Pound; his sympathy with fascism; and his rage against old age. Enriched with a wide range of illustrative material, including specially commissioned photographs, the book affords a timely reassessment of Yeats's worlds.

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