In what way did Yeats' relationship with Maud Gonne influence his poetry?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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I think that it is important to view the life of a poet in a context, but not use it to draw too great of a portrait of the artist in relationship to their work.  In terms of Yeats' relationship with Gonne, there are some significant points to raise in light of Yeats' work.  On one hand, there is Gonne's nationalism, and the face that the love was one sided. Yeats' exploration into mysticism and what might transcend Western and Irish cultures preluded him from seeing nationalism as the sole notion of the good.  This was not the case with Gonne, who had little problem in placing all her proverbial intellectual marbles in nationalism.  Yeats' proposal of marriages were all rebuked.  Her marriage to an intense nationalist had to cast some level of aspersions into Yeats' understanding and psyche.  At the same time, when the two eventually consummate after years of friendship, and both of them find this to be hollow, it brings out the nihilism in Yeats on a personal level.  Examining poems such as "The Second Coming, "one can see this exploration of the idea of there being no escape from equally painful ends.  Humans that seek to find an exit from this end are condemned to futility.  As Yeats experiences this with his relationship with Gonne on an emotional level, it finds literary resonance within his work.  Such an emptiness can be seen in his final proposal to Gonne, empty in its intent, filled with attachments, hoping for rejection, only to cast eyes on her daughter.  This nihilistic and lack of order in his own relationship with her found ways into his work, one that was not afraid to embrace "millenial nihilism."

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