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While many literary figures were affected by the First World War in one or the other, Yeats remained aloof about the consequences of the war. In his "An Irish Airman Forsee his Death" we find the lines,
" Those that I fight I do not hate/ Those that I guard I do not love".
This kind of approach makes him uniquely modern in the sense that he was not carried away by the narrow nationalism of the 19th century. It does not mean that he was totally indifferent to the lot of Irish people who struggled for a free state. But Yeats did not approve of the parochial attitude of the people and wanted to ennoble their cause making it universal in appeal. Yeats, in fact, was moved very much at the bloodshed during the Easter Rising of 1916. He could not reconcile himself to the revolutionary turn of the movement and finds in his EASTER 1916.
Different crirics have responded to Yeat's poetry differently. He is such a wholesome poet that one or the other aspect of his poetry appeals to his readers and critics. Dennis Donogue observes that, " readers who believe that literature is important normally believe that Yeats is important." Though swayed by multifarious interests Yeats's primary concern was poetry. " An enthusiast of vision, he conspired with images, meditating upon unknown thought. But he took up these interests as latent forms of poetry, and the attention he gave them was poetic. Activities capable of being brought to the condition of poetry."
Yeats captured much of the perpetual doubt and insecurity that is inherent in the modern condition. "The Second Coming" is a fine example of this. The level of questioning and uncertainty which is evident throughout the poem is highly reflective of shadows cast upon Europe as a result of the First World War. The "widening gyre" is an excellent metaphor to capture how the modernists saw the world and the individuals within it. The motif of "things fall apart" has become appropriated by other modern thinkers to describe a world order which is anything but. Yeats was instrumental in communicating this state of affairs in the world, a reason why he occupies significant stature as a modernist poet.
W.B.Yeats is the last romantic rather than the first modern poet. His poetical career falls into three periods: the Aesthetic period, the Mask period and the Prophetic period.In the last phase his vision is a little complicated . During the early twenties he was a member of the Yellow Book Coterie in London. He threw himself wholeheartedly into the Celtic Renaissance and proved to be its most impressive figure. He was instrumental in establishing the Irish literary Theatre in 1899. Masefield called him 'the choicest poet and the greatest poetical influence of our time.'
Yeats' modernism is different from the strikingly innovative polished witty expressions and trained complexity of thought found in T.S.Eliot. Overall his approach is less modern and comprehensive. But for some years after his meeting with Ezra Pound in 1908, his poetry betrayed the typcial modern traits as formulated by Pound and his Imagist friends. Direct treatment of the poetic subject , refusal to indulge in poeticism or padding for the sake of rhythm or rhyme, freedom of treating the subject matter, verbal economy and critical attitude make him modern among the moderns. Many poems in The Green Helmet and Responsibilities betray his modern outlook.
Yeats is a very interesting poet to study and write about in terms of modernism, as his poetry writing career spanned a lifetime and also spanned the changing mood moving away from romantic lyrical poetry towards the more brutally honest and unembroidered poetry of the humanists. Yeats own poetry started out at the beginning of this journey, with lyrical writing of aspiration and beauty. By the time of writing of 'The Second Coming' however, he knew that 'the faclon' could no longer 'hear the falconer' and 'things fall apart' when 'the centre cannot hold.' He saw a new age of war and revolution coming and his poetry became more bleak, more honest and yes more brutal as we see in language such as a fearful creature that 'slouches towards Bethlehem to be born.'
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