Other Literary Forms (Critical Survey of Drama, Second Revised Edition)
Throughout a literary career spanning a half century, William Butler Yeats distinguished himself principally by means of the production of some dozen volumes of lyric poems. His early work is most clearly indebted to the English Romantics, but his commitment to the cause of the Irish Literary Revival, of which he was the leader, and to the management of its showcase, the Abbey Theatre, gave him an increasingly public voice. The poetry of his last twenty years contains his most complex, modernist, and profound work and is often considered the highest achievement in that genre during the twentieth century.
Yeats was also the author of a considerable body of essays, reviews, and introductions during a career of literary journalism and theatrical management: Essays and Introductions (1961), Explorations (1962), and Uncollected Prose by W. B. Yeats (two volumes; 1970, 1976). He collected and edited writings and promoted the work of such collaborators as Lady Augusta Gregory and John Millington Synge. Yeats’s early excursions into short fiction are collected in Mythologies (1959). Autobiographical fragments are found in Autobiographies (1926, 1955) and Memoirs (1972). A Vision (1925, 1937) sets forth a symbolic ordering of history and human character in a manner chiefly useful in explicating his poetry, while The Senate Speeches of W. B. Yeats (1960) gathers some of his public statements from the 1920’s. The Yeats correspondence is partially collected in The Letters of W. B. Yeats (1954) and in Ah, Sweet Dancer: W. B. Yeats, Margot Ruddock—A Correspondence (1970).
Achievements (Critical Survey of Drama, Second Revised Edition)
William Butler Yeats’s reputation as one of the masters of modern literature rests mainly on his achievements in poetry, and his dramatic work has long been regarded less favorably as “poetry in the theater.” This aspect of his uvre has, however, been reassessed, and he has come to be regarded as one of the boldest and most original dramatists of the twentieth century. As one of the founders, first playwrights, and lifetime directors of the Abbey Theatre , Yeats was the central figure of the Irish Literary Renaissance . The example of efforts to develop a modern and national literature that drew on Celtic mythology, folklore, and the oral tradition of Ireland provided incentives for the latent talents of such dramatists as Lady Augusta Gregory, John Millington Synge, Padraic Colum, and Sean O’Casey.
Although Yeats experimented with several dramatic styles, including peasant realism, farce, and naturalism, his genius found its true métier in a highly sophisticated drama that combined poetry, dance, mask, and symbolic action to represent a world of ideals and pure passion. These plays, borrowed from the tradition of the Japanese N for their form and from Celtic heroic tales for their subjects, expressed Yeats’s views of the primacy of imaginative or spiritual realities of which historical change and the differentiation of human character are emanations. Yeats was therefore at odds with modern realism and with its interest in individual character and social relations: An attitude of detachment and impersonality shaped his works into intensely ritualized expressions, having affinities both with religious drama and absurdism.
Yeats lived through revolutions in politics and sensibility. Most important, through a lifelong remaking of dramatic and lyric form and style, Yeats achieved a continuous renovation of his own spirit. Thus, he became one of those primarily responsible for the restoration to Ireland of its cultural heritage, at the same time forging an idiom that the modern world at large considers its own.
Other Literary Forms (Critical Survey of Short Fiction, Second Revised Edition)
William Butler Yeats, a prolific writer, composed hundreds of lyrical, narrative, and dramatic poems. It was not unusual to find characters from his short stories appearing in his poems; Michael Robartes and the Dancer, a collection of poems published in 1920, is one example. In addition to writing poetry, he contributed to the Irish dramatic movement, which culminated in the establishment of the Abbey Theatre in Dublin. His Cathleen ni Houlihan (1902) and Deirdre (1906) are typical plays of that early period. Yeats was a prolific and accomplished essayist and also produced various works of autobiography (collected in one volume entitled Autobiographies, 1926, 1955) as well as an ambitious philosophical treatise entitled A Vision (1925, 1937), which details his cosmology.
Achievements (Critical Survey of Short Fiction, Second Revised Edition)
William Butler Yeats’s reputation as one of the major poets of the twentieth century is unassailable, and his influence, particularly on the course of American verse, as practiced most notably by Robert Lowell, is equally well attested. His adaptation of native Irish materials for poetic ends, his mythic projection in verse of his life and times, and his conception of art as an antidote to history have exerted a powerful imaginative influence on poets succeeding him. In a more narrowly Irish context, his ideological pronouncements and cultural commitments—the latter culminating in the establishment of the Abbey Theatre—have constituted an overwhelmingly important instance of the relationship of the artist to society.
Yeats received honorary degrees from Queen’s University (Belfast) and Trinity College (Dublin) in 1922. Receipt of the Nobel Prize in Literature followed in 1923, as well as honorary degrees from the University of Oxford in 1931 and the University of Cambridge in 1933.
Other literary forms (Critical Survey of Poetry: British, Irish, & Commonwealth Poets)
William Butler Yeats (yayts) was a playwright as well as a poet. During certain periods in his career, he devoted more time and energy to the composition, publication, and production of plays in verse or prose than to the writing of nondramatic poetry. These plays, excluding several early closet dramas, were republished singly or in various collections from 1892 through the year of his death. The Collected Plays of W. B. Yeats was published in 1934, and a “new edition with five additional plays” appeared in 1952 (London) and 1953 (New York), the former being the “basic text.” The genuinely definitive publication, however, is the admirably edited Variorum Edition of the Plays of W. B. Yeats (1966).
In addition to poems and plays, Yeats published prolifically during the course of his life in almost every imaginable genre except the novel. Numerous prose tales, book reviews, nationalistic articles, letters to editors, and so on far exceeded poems and plays in volume in the early stages of Yeats’s career. In 1908, The Collected Works in Verse and Prose of William Butler Yeats—including lyrics, narrative poems, stories, plays, essays, prefaces, and notes—filled eight volumes, of which only the first contained predominantly nondramatic poetry. Previously, stories and sketches, many of them based wholly or in part on Irish folk tales, had been collected in The Celtic Twilight (1893) and The Secret Rose (1897). Rewritten versions of those tales from The Secret Rose that featured a roving folk poet invented by Yeats were later published as Stories of Red Hanrahan (1904). Similarly, relatively formal critical and philosophical essays were collected and published as Ideas of Good and Evil (1903), The Cutting of an Agate (1912), and Essays, 1931-1936 (1937).
A slender doctrinal book, Per Amica Silentia Lunae (1918), is generally regarded as something of a precursor to A Vision (1925). The first edition of A Vision itself, an exposition of Yeats’s mystical philosophy, appeared in 1925. A considerably revised edition first published in 1937 has revealed to scholars that while the book...
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Achievements (Critical Survey of Poetry: British, Irish, & Commonwealth Poets)
William Butler Yeats is generally regarded as one of the major English-speaking poets of the “modern” era (approximately 1890 to 1950). Some authorities go even further, designating him the most important twentieth century poet in any language. Although in his late career and for some time thereafter, he was overshadowed by the poetic and critical stature of T. S. Eliot, in the years since Eliot’s death, Yeats’s reputation has continued to grow whereas Eliot’s has declined. Like most modern poets, writing in a period labeled the age of the novel, Yeats has been relatively obscure and inaccessible to the general reader, but among academicians his eminence has flourished, and, even more significant, his influence on other...
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Discussion Topics (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
With what is William Butler Yeats concerned in the writings from his Celtic Twilight period?
In what ways do the events of Irish history influence and impact Yeats’s poetry and drama?
What are some of Yeats’s major themes across the body of his work?
How does Yeats’s love for Maude Gonne influence his writing?
What does Byzantium come to symbolize for Yeats, and how does he use this in his poetry?
What is Yeats’s understanding of history, and how is this understanding articulated in poems such as “The Second Coming”?
In what ways does Yeats represent the transition to modernism in literature during the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning...
(The entire section is 137 words.)
Bibliography (Critical Survey of Drama, Second Revised Edition)
Aldritt, Keith. W. B. Yeats: The Man and the Milieu. New York: Clarkson Potter, 1997. Discusses Yeats’s life and times.
Bloom, Harold. Yeats. New York: Oxford University Press, 1970. An influential work by a leading contemporary critic. The emphasis is on Yeats’s Romanticism. The poet is seen as the English Romantic poetry’s heir. The prosodic, aesthetic, and imaginative implications of the inheritance are the subject of much intense and sophisticated discussion.
Bornstein, George. Material Modernism: The Politics of the Page. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2001. A study of Modernism in...
(The entire section is 1104 words.)