Monday, June 6, 2016

Yeats & Co.

One of the little ironies of twentieth-century 'British' literature is that most of the best of it was written by people who were born outside of Britain, places like Bombay, Dublin, Cape TownBloemfonteinOgidi, AbeokutaBerdychiv, and even (in the case of adopted Brit T.S. Eliot) St. Louis, Missouri. And the first harbinger of this shift from the purported center of Anglophone writing was, without doubt, the 'Irish Literary Renaissance' that had its origins in Dublin in the 1880's and 1890's. Ironically, the first wave of this movement sought to restore Irish Gaelic language and culture; its leaders, such as Douglas Hyde and his Gaelic League, scorned English as the tongue of the oppressor. At the same time, however, a small and loosely affiliated group of writers in Dublin were starting to establish a national literature and theatre in English; among their numbers were the poet George William Russell (known as Æ), the playwright John Millington Synge, along with James Stephens, Ella Young, Lady Gregory, and George Moore. Yeats, a brash young poet, was among the first to gain wider recognition, and in fact after a relatively brief period when he was active in Dublin's Abbey Theatre, spent most of the rest of his life in London. His early poems were steeped in the old Irish tradition, beginning in 1889 with The Wanderings of Oisin (a sort of Irish 'Ancient Mariner') and evocations of traditional ballads ("The Song of the Wandering Aengus")  In his middle years, he dabbled in occultism, joining the somewhat infamous Order of the Golden Dawn (which counted Aleister Crowley and S.L. MacGregor Mathers among its members) and becoming enamored of Wyndam Lewis and the "Vorticist" movement. He captured the spirit of Irish resentment ("An Irish Airman Foresees his Death") and memorialized the Irish rebellion with "Easter 1916." His poetry continued to evolve throughout his career, culminating in the rich, dark, ironic modernism of "Sailing to Byzantium," "The Second Coming," and "The Circus Animals' Desertion." By the end of his life, Yeats could be seen to represent a new efflorescence of lyricism, something not known in English since the Romantics, and not -- alas -- heard much since.

1 comment:

  1. Just by reading a handful of Yeats poems, it is clear that he is an extremely influential poet of the twentieth century. The themes and imagery of his poems leave you thinking in a way I never have before. He uses poetry as an art, which made him so influential. It seemed that he learned about the type of poet he would like to be throughout a period of time. He was a romantic poet, using a strict style and lyrical manner, with his poems having a large focus on love and losses. But, after a period of time, Yeats poems speak about the issues of the time, like the Irish rebellion, and other parts of politics. He uses everything he learns about the time period and incorporates it in his poems. He picked up many conventions of modern poets, taking risks with his writing and creative style and rejecting the romantic type of poetry. His lyrical, flowing poetry begins to take some dark twists. There was a clear divide between his romantic poetry verses his more modern poetry as I was reading. Yeats clearly wanted to use his poems to teach people about Irish history. There is often a lot of nature imagery in his poems, with the Irish land as the backdrop for Yeats to talk about real issues. He would speak about issues in the war, like in “Easter 1916”, or his nationalism for Ireland in “The Second Coming”. Yeats effectively used Irish politics and crisis to get his messages across. He began a new wave of poetry, using his works as the forefront to educate people about the real issues going on in this world. He modernized poetry by mixing both classic, romantic styles together with his cultivating new touches to inform people of conflicts happening in real time, making him one of the most influential poets in history.