Elizabeth Barrett-Browning and W.B. Yeats

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Elizabeth Barrett-Browning and W.B. Yeats


  Elizabeth Barrett-Browning and W.B. Yeats, examined together in the same sitting are as different as the Victorian and Post-Modernist eras they emerged from, yet they were both independent thinkers of their time.

 

       Browning, born in 1806 before Victorianism came into full play, was celebrated as a woman poet but also quite conformist to the Victorian movement in some regards.  Browning did make use of her family's money to "give herself an exceptional education"  (1858) and she thought outside of traditional lines in regards to gender roles for women as in her poem "Aurora Leigh".  In this poem, the narrator is a woman which is unusual for that era "Place your fecund heart in mine, and let us blossom for the world"  (1877).  It was unusual in the Victorian era - to consider that women added anything substantial to a marriage relationship.  Browning was definitely independent in her thinking and in her personal life - defying her father by eloping with Robert Browning late in life  (1859). 

 

      There are other elements of her poetry that are fairly conformist to the Victorian age.  Her poem "Sonnets from the Portugese" describes a courtship that is prudent and in keeping with Victorian age.  This form of a sonnet was taken from Shakespeare's style, yet another element of Browning stepping into territory formerly only occupied by men  (1859). 

 

      W.B. Yeats, influenced in large part by his free-thinking father, became just that  (2322).  Yeats poetry contains elements of the mysticism that he studied, whether the double worded meaning of "The Second Coming" or the reference to Spiritus Mundi in that poem, Yeats defied the religious conformist thinking prevalent at the end of the Victorian era..  In his poem, "Sailing to Byzantium", Yeats takes on the narrative voice of an old man, sailing away from his "homeland" to Byzantium, where old men stand in "God's holy fire"  (2332).  This reference to Byzantium, a city of the Roman empire, would not have been considered "holy" by traditional religious thinking. 

 

      Yeats borrows from Greek mythology in "Leda and the Swan" and puts words to a sexually explicit tale of a swan raping a girl  (2337).

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  Yeats theological beliefs, Spiritus Mundi reflects his poetry and perhaps even points a finger at tradition, especially concerning religion.  "Crazy Jane Talks with the Bishop" is an example of church tradition, attempting to convert the wayward.  Having read the whole series of "Crazy Jane" poems, Yeats presents a series of these poems where the question he wants to present is, who is really the crazy one?  It is this "in your face" style of Yeats that is both refreshing and unusual for his era.  Living until 1939, Yeats lived during the transition from Victorianism into Post-Modernism, but from the evidence of his writing, he seemed to be a few years ahead of his time.  

 

Works Cited

Damrosch, David, ed.  The Longman Anthology of British Literature.  New York: Longman,  2000.


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