W. B. Yeats: The Last Romantic

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Aurum, 1990 - 61 pages
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W.B. Yeats was the twentieth-century heir of the Romantic poets and is considered by many to be the finest poet of the last hundred years. He was an artist whose long career and thematic and stylistic evolution eschewed the almost mythic tendency of Romanticism: he failed to flame briefly and die young, as did Keats, Shelley and Byron before him. This undoubtedly makes Yeats, the last unrepentant romantic, especially interesting, and the themes of human love and the ravages of time resultantly reverberate throughout his poetry.

Living through a turbulent, violent epoch in Irish and European history, Yeats’ poetry can be seen as a creative reflection of its often hostile context –as a poet he is remarkable for bridging the gap between a backwards-looking appeal to Victorian sensuousness, and a modern hardness of edge and acerbity.

Yeats believed that poetry is nothing less than ‘the true voice of feeling’. This selection, from his early lyricism to his more mature mysticism, shows a mind growing ever more adept at matching intense feeling with fully crafted art.

The 32 poems selected in The Illustrated Poets: W.B. Yeats are accompanied by English and Irish paintings of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and cover every stage in his writing career.

This compact anthology, with an introduction by Peter Porter, himself one of the most renowned poets of the second half of the twentieth-century, is a concise and valuable introduction to the last of the Romantics.

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User Review  - gbill - LibraryThing

I’ll start by saying I loved the selection of twelve paintings included in this little book, and how they were paired with Yeats’ poetry. In particular “The Garden of Eden” by Riviere, with that look ... Read full review


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About the author (1990)

In his 1940 memorial lecture in Dublin, T. S. Eliot pronounced Yeats "one of those few whose history is the history of their own time, who are a part of the consciousness of an age which cannot be understood without them." Modern readers have increasingly agreed, and some now view Yeats even more than Eliot as the greatest modern poet in our language. Son of the painter John Butler Yeats, the poet divided his early years among Dublin, London, and the port of Sligo in western Ireland. Sligo furnished many of the familiar places in his poetry, among them the mountain Ben Bulben and the lake isle of Innisfree. Important influences on his early adulthood included his father, the writer and artist William Morris, the nationalist leader John O'Leary, and the occultist Madame Blavatsky. In 1889 he met the beautiful actress and Irish nationalist Maud Gonne; his long and frustrated love for her (she refused to marry him) would inspire some of his best work. Often and mistakenly viewed as merely a dreamy Celtic twilight, Yeats's work in the 1890s involved a complex attempt to unite his poetic, nationalist, and occult interests in line with his desire to "hammer [his] thoughts into unity." By the turn of the century, Yeats was immersed in the work with the Irish dramatic movement that would culminate in the founding of the Abbey Theatre in 1904 as a national theater for Ireland. Partly as a result of his theatrical experience, his poetry after 1900 began a complex "movement downwards upon life" fully evident in the Responsibilities volume of 1914. After that he published the extraordinary series of great volumes, all written after age 50, that continued until the end of his career. Widely read in various literary and philosophic traditions, Yeats owed his greatest debt to romantic poetry and once described himself, along with his coworkers John Synge and Lady Isabella Augusta Gregory, as a "last romantic." Yet he remained resolutely Irish as well and presented in his verse a persona bearing a subtle, idealized relationship to his everyday self. Political events such as the Easter Rising and the Irish civil war found their way into his poetry, as did personal ones such as marriage to the Englishwoman Georgiana "Georgie" Hyde-Lees in 1917, the birth of his children, and his sometime home in the Norman tower at Ballylee. So, too, did his increasing status as a public man, which included both the Nobel Prize in 1923 and a term as senator of the Irish Free State (1922--28). Yeats's disparate activities led to a lifelong quest for what he called "unity of being," which he pursued by "antinomies," or opposites. These included action and contemplation, life and art, fair and foul, and other famous pairs from his poetry. The most original poet of his age, he was also in ways the most traditional, and certainly the most substantial. His varied literary output included not only poems and plays but an array of prose forms such as essays, philosophy, fiction, reviews, speeches, and editions of folk and literary material. He also frequently revised his own poems, which exist in various published texts helpfully charted in the Variorum edition (1957).

Peter Porter was born in Brisbane, Australia on February 16, 1929. He moved to London in 1951 and worked as a bookseller and in advertising before writing on poetry for the Observer. In 1961, he published his first collection of poems, Once Bitten, Twice Bitten. His other works include The Cost of Seriousness, Better Than God, and Max is Missing, which won the Forward prize in 2001. His other awards include the Duff Cooper prize, the Whitbread poetry award, and the Queen's Gold Medal for poetry. He died on April 23, 2010 at the age of 81.

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