Overview (Masterplots II: Christian Literature)
William Butler Yeats was born into a middle-class Church of Ireland family—that is, he was a product of Protestant and English descent. His grandfather and great-grandfather were members of the clergy. His father, however, rebelled against the family’s religious life, so Yeats was not reared in the traditional Christian faith, although Christian imagery and beliefs, especially moral, remained a continuing and powerful element in his poetry. For instance, his Crazy Jane poems thematically echo the conflicts between Christian morality and human desire which are the concerns of “A Dialogue of Self and Soul.” Too, Yeats used the form he used in “A Dialogue of Self and Soul” in the seventh section of “Vacillation,” although in the latter poem the debate is between the “Soul” and the “Heart.” Certainly, a knowledge of the story of the conception and birth of Christ, as well as of that birth’s religious significance, is necessary for the reader of the antithetical images of Yeats’s “The Second Coming.” However, Yeats’s own “religious” life was a committed interest in, faith in, and even practice (largely synthetic) of various occult beliefs, from his early involvement with the Rosicrucians and Theosophy to his acceptance of aspects of Eastern religions. He was far from being a rationalistic unbeliever.
Yeats was also an Irish patriot and regarded Irish culture as his own; his earliest works are steeped in Irish myth. At the...
(The entire section is 804 words.)
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