William Butler Yeats

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William Butler Yeats.

William Butler Yeats was the major figure in the cultural revolution which developed from the strong nationalistic movement at the end of the 19th century. He dominated the writings of a generation. He established forms and themes which came to be considered as the norms for writers of his generation.

Yeats was a confessional poet - that is to say, that he wrote his poetry directly from his own experiences. He was an idealist, with a purpose. This was to create Art for his own people - the Irish. But in so doing, he experienced considerable frustration and disillusionment. The tension between this ideal, and the reality is the basis of much of his writing. One central theme of his earlier poetry is the contrast between the aims he, and others, such as Lady Gregory, had for their movement, and the reality. He had hoped to provide an alternative to nationalism fuelled mainly by hatred for Britain, through the rebirth and regeneration of an ancient Irish culture, based on myth and legend. Instead, he found that the response of the newly emerging Irish Catholic middle class to their work, varied between indifference and outrage. On the one hand, their indifference was displayed by their refusal to fund a gallery for the Hugh Lane collection of Art, and on the other hand, they rioted in outrage at Synge's Playboy of the Western World.

The tension between Yeats' ideal, and the reality is developed in the Fisherman and September 1913. Both these poems deal with Yeats attempts to bring Art to the people of Ireland, and the negative response of Irish society.

September 1913.

Here, Yeats directs his passionate rage against the Irish Catholic middle class. He perceives them as Philistines, whose values are monetary and religious, not artistic. His scorn for their petty money grubbing - dry the marrow from the bone and their narrow selfish piety
Prayer to shivering prayer is set in contrast to his admiration for the heroes of old.
Yet they were of a different kind.
These patriots had loved Ireland with a passion which consumed them, and for which no sacrifice was too great.
For whom the hangman's rope was spun.
But the present materialistic age has no place for such men of courage and idealism. Their age is past. It's
With O'Leary in the grave.
Self sacrifice and patriotism are dead. Consequently, he dismisses the Ireland of his day with ...

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...Blind Man stole the bread' were 'Heart mysteries' -that is, having their origins in human emotions, he sacrificed the man to the artist:
'Players and painted stage took all my love,
And not those things that they were emblems of".

The joy of creation increasingly absorbed him, not the living of life.

Character isolated by a deed
To engross the present and dominate memory.
These images were 'masterful' - under the Ringmaster's control. And they 'grew in pure mind' -increasingly they were the product of his intellect, not his emotions. But now they have gone - they've deserted him, or perhaps he has deserted them, seeing them in all their artificiality. So he is left with no option but to return to what he has avoided - the world of feeling, of emotion. His ladder out of that tangled world of human emotion, has gone. He's left at the bottom of the ladder, with his feet on the ground. He uses the powerful metaphor of litter -

'old kettles, old bones, old rags' to suggest the ugliness of human feeling. But, he must confront the reality of life and living at last - he must return to the source of all art, the world of human emotion-
'The foul rag and boneshop of the heart'.
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