In “Lapis Lazuli,” how does Yeats attempt to justify the role of art and artists in a world dominated by anarchy and violence?

In “Lapis Lazuli,” Yeats suggests that art and artists connect people with the crucial role of creativity in a world dominated by anarchy and violence. The speaker states that gaiety transforms dread. Art not only alleviates pain in a tragic setting, but also may endure after tyrants fall and wars end.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In his poem “Lapis Lazuli,” William Butler Yeats offers a speaker who praises art for its crucial role in helping people comprehend, cope with, and alleviate the heavy burdens of life.

The speaker begins by implying that hysteria over difficult situations often impels people, especially women, to criticize...

Unlock
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Start your 48-Hour Free Trial

In his poem “Lapis Lazuli,” William Butler Yeats offers a speaker who praises art for its crucial role in helping people comprehend, cope with, and alleviate the heavy burdens of life.

The speaker begins by implying that hysteria over difficult situations often impels people, especially women, to criticize poets for being “gay.” It is wrong to assume, the speaker insists, that writers and other artists are unaware of or trivializing serious subjects when they focus on the positive and happy aspects of life. Rather, one of artists’ most important roles is to remind people that there are good things in life and that wars and other tragic events are just as temporary as intense pleasures: “All things fall and are built again …”

Yeats’s speaker reminds the audience of the transformative power of art through references to great English literature, especially the characters of Shakespeare. The use of “gay” for tragic characters such as Hamlet and Lear does not imply frivolity, but a passionate attachment to life.

The speaker finally uses the carved lapis lazuli scene to remind the reader that the works of art themselves may endure even when the artist’s name is no longer known or when the society in which the artist thrived has lost its influence. For the speaker, the old men depicted in the carving have eyes that are “gay” in shining with vitality within their wrinkled faces.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on