William Butler Yeats Poetry: British Analysis
The complexity and fullness of William Butler Yeats’s life was more than matched by the complexity and fullness of his imaginative thought. There are few poets writing in English whose works are more difficult to understand or explain. The basic problems lie in the multiplicity and intricacies of Yeats’s own preoccupations and poetic techniques, and all too often the reader has been hindered more than helped by the vagaries of criticism and exegesis.
A coincidence of literary history is partly responsible for the latter problem. The culmination and conclusion of Yeats’s career coincided with the advent of the New Criticism. Thus, in the decades following his death, some of his most important poems became exercise pieces for “explication” by commentators whose theories insisted on a minimum of attention to the author’s cultural background, philosophical views, personal interests, or even thematic intentions (hence their odd-sounding term “intentional fallacy”). The consequence has been critical chaos. There simply are no generally accepted readings for some of Yeats’s major poems. Instead, there have been ingenious exegeses, charges of misapprehension, countercharges, alternative analyses, then the whole cycle starting over again—in short, interpretational warfare.
Fortunately, in more recent years, simultaneously with decline of the New Critical movement, there has been increasing access to Yeats’s unpublished...
(The entire section is 10296 words.)
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