Study Guide

Crazy Jane Talks with the Bishop

by William Butler Yeats

Crazy Jane Talks with the Bishop Themes

Themes and Meanings (Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

The Crazy Jane series, like much of Yeats’s poetry, remains enigmatic. Why, after all, choose such an unlikely persona for this series? Why, in this particular poem, is there the harshness of this encounter with a bishop? Every poet develops a personally significant vocabulary and set of place names and images, but this is especially true of Yeats. Part of the reason for the particularity of his imagining in this poem can be explained by its theme, but, as with much of Yeats’s vision, part of the reason remains (probably intentionally) mysterious.

The claim made for him by many to be the greatest lyric poet of the twentieth century rests upon his unique expression of three worlds: that of the rustic Celtic imagination he found in Sligo in western Ireland, that of the politics of Dublin, and that of the literary sophistication of London. Crazy Jane arises from the world of Sligo. To these influences Yeats added a truly extraordinary interest in finding something meaningful beyond the material world, while at the same time celebrating the material world specifically as a manifestation of the ethereal. This quest for a non-Christian, quotidian “incarnation” is the key to this poem and to many of his best poems.

What becomes clear from the other Crazy Jane poems is that one is to listen more respectfully to her insights into life than one is to those of someone like the bishop. He has far more importance in the eyes of the world, and he...

(The entire section is 575 words.)