William Butler Yeats Poetry: British Analysis - Essay

William Butler Yeats Poetry: British Analysis

(British and Irish Poetry, Revised Edition)

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recent years, simultaneously with decline of the New Critical movement, there has been increasing access to Yeats’s unpublished materials—letters, diaries, and especially the manuscript drafts of poems and plays—and more scholarly attention has been paid to the relationships between such materials and the probable themes or meanings in the completed works. Even so, critical difficulties of no small magnitude remain because of continuing widespread disagreement among even the most highly regarded authorities about the basic metaphysical vision from which Yeats’s poetic utterances spring, variously interpreted as atheism, pagan theism, quasi-Christian theism, Theosophy, sheer aestheticism, Platonic dualism, modern humanist monism, and existentialism.

Shifting philosophies

Added to the problems created by such a critical reception are those deriving from Yeats’s qualities as an imaginative writer. Probably the most obvious source of difficulty is the highly allusive and subtly symbolic mode in which Yeats so often expressed himself. Clearly another is his lifelong practice of infusing many of his poems and plays with elements of doctrine, belief, or supposed belief from the various occult sources with which he was so thoroughly imbued. Furthermore, as to doctrine or belief, Yeats was constantly either apparently or actually shifting his ground (more apparently than actually). Two of his better-known poems, for example, are appropriately titled “Vacillation” and “A Dialogue of Self and Soul.” In these and numerous others, he develops and sustains a running debate between two sides of an issue or between two sides of his own truth-seeking psyche, often with no clear-cut solution or final stance made unequivocally apparent.

Related to this—but not simply the same—is the fact that Yeats tended to change philosophical or metaphysical views throughout a long career, again either actually or apparently, and, also again, sometimes more apparently than actually. One disquieting and obfuscating consequence of such mental habits is that one poem will sometimes seem flatly to contradict another, or, in some cases even aside from the dialogue poems, one part of a given poem may appear to contradict a different part of the same poem. Adjacent passages in the major piece “The Tower,” involving apparent rejection of Plato and Plotinus alongside apparent acceptance of Platonic or Neoplatonic reincarnation and “translunar paradise,” constitute a case in point.

To quibble at much length about Yeats’s prevailing metaphysical vision is to indulge in delusive sophistry, however, if his more than moderate pronouncements on such matters in prose are taken at anything approaching face value. What emerges from the prose is the virtually unequivocal proposition that—having rejected orthodox Christianity—the poet developed his own theistic “religion.” His ontology and cosmology are made from many pieces and parts of that almost unimaginably multiplex body of lore—exoteric and esoteric—sometimes referred to as the philosophia perennis: Platonism, Neoplatonism, Hermetic symbolism, spiritual alchemy, Rosicrucianism, and certain elements of cabalism. Moreover, as Yeats stated in several essays, he found still further parallel and supporting materials at almost every turn—in Jakob Boehme, Emanuel Swedenborg, and William Blake; in the folklore of the Irish peasantry; in classical mythology, Irish legends, and the seasonal rituals examined by Sir James George Frazer; and in Asian religions, among other places. In two different senses Yeats found in all these materials convincing bases for the perpetuation of his obsession with extracting unity from multiplicity. For one thing, all the similarities and parallels in theme and motif from the many diverse sources constituted in themselves a kind of unity within multiplicity. Furthermore, the “philosophies” involved were largely oriented toward oneness—Plato’s idea of the good, alchemy’s distillation of the immutable lapis from the world of flux, Hermetism’s theory of symbolic correspondences (as above, so below), Hinduism’s Brahma, and so on.

In both thought and work, however, the unresolved opposites sometimes seem to loom as large as—or even larger than—the union itself. From this context came the so-called doctrine of the mask or anti-self (though not actually wholly original with Yeats). From that in turn, or alongside it, came the concept of the daimon, “guardian genius,” or minor deity for each human being, a concept fundamental to a number of the traditional sources already cited. The greatest of all possible unions, of course, was the ultimate one of human beings with God, natural with supernatural, or temporal with eternal. Because of the scintilla principle, however, also inherent in parts of the tradition (the universe’s permeation with tiny fragments of the godhead), the union of human being and daimon became virtually equivalent to the ultimate divine union. This concept helps to explain a handful of otherwise misleading passages where Yeats occasionally seemed to be rejecting his usually dominant dualism for a momentary monism: For example, in “The Tower,” man creates everything in the universe from his own soul, and in “Two Songs from a Play” whatever illuminates the darkness is from man’s own heart. Such human wholeness and power, however, are not possible, Yeats would probably say, without communion with daimon.

In spirit, doctrine, or belief, then, Yeats remained preponderantly a romantic and a nineteenth century spiritualist as he lived on into the increasingly positivistic and empirically oriented twentieth century. It was in form, not content, that he gradually allowed himself to develop in keeping with his times, although he abjured vers libre and never wholly relinquished his attachment to various traditional poetic modes. In the direction of modernism, he adopted or employed at various times irregular rhythms (writing by ear, declaring his ignorance of the technicalities of conventional metrics), approximate rhymes, colloquial diction, some Donnean or “metaphysical” qualities, and, most important of all, symbolic techniques much like those of the French movement, though not from its influence alone. The inimitable Yeatsian hallmark, however, remained a certain romantic rhetorical quality (despite his own fulminations against rhetoric), what he called passionate syntax, that remarkable gift for just the right turn of phrase to express ecstatic emotional intensity or to describe impassioned heroic action.

To suggest that Yeats consistently achieved great poetry through various combinations of these thematic elements and stylistic devices, however, would be less than forthright. Sometimes doctrinal materials are indeed impediments. Sometimes other aspects of content are unduly personal or sentimental. At times the technical components seem to be ill-chosen or fail to function as might have been expected, individually or conjointly. Thoroughly capable of writing bad poetry, Yeats has by no means been without his detractors. The poems for which he is famous, however—even those which present difficulties of understanding—are masterpieces, alchemical transformations of the raw material of his art.

“The Lake Isle of Innisfree”

Probably the most famous of all Yeats’s poems, especially from his early period and with popular audiences, is “The Lake Isle of Innisfree.” A modern, middle-income Dublin homemaker, chosen at random, has said on mention of Yeats’s name: “Oh, yes; I like his ’Lake Isle of Innisfree’; yes, I always did like ’The Lake Isle of Innisfree.’” Such popularity, as well as its representative quality among Yeats’s early poems, makes the piece a natural choice for initial consideration here.

On the surface, there seems to be little that is symbolic or difficult about this brief lyric, first published in 1890. The wavering rhythms, syntactical inversions, and colorful but sometimes hazy images are characteristic of much of Yeats’s youthful verse. So too are the Romantic tone and setting, and the underlying “escape motif,” a thematic element or pattern that pervades much of Yeats’s early work, as he himself realized and acknowledged in a letter to a friend.

The island of the title—real, not imaginary—is located in Lough Gill near the Sligo of Yeats’s youth. More than once he mentioned in prose a boyish dream of living on the wooded isle much as Henry David Thoreau lived at Walden Pond, seeking wisdom in solitude. In other passages, he indicates that while homesick in London he heard the sound of a small fountain in the window of a shop. The experience recalled Lough Gill’s lapping waters, he says, and inspired him to write the poem. The most important factor for Yeats’s emerging poetic vision, however, was his long-standing fascination with a legend about a supernatural tree that once grew on the island with berries that were food for the Irish fairy folk. Thus in the poet’s imaginative thought, if not explicitly in the poem itself, esoteric or occult forces were at play, and in a figurative sense, at least, the escape involved was, in the words of the letter to his friend, “to fairyland,” or a place much like it.

One of the most notable sources of praise for “The Lake Isle of Innisfree” was a letter from Robert Louis Stevenson in distant Samoa. Stevenson wrote that only two other passages of literature had ever captivated him as Yeats’s poem did. Yeats himself said later that it was the earliest of his nonnarrative poems whose rhythms significantly manifested his own music. He ultimately developed negative feelings, however, about his autobiographical sentimentality and about instances of what he came to consider unduly artificial syntax. Yet in late life when he was invited to recite some of his own poems for radio programs, he more than once chose to include “The Lake Isle of Innisfree.” Evidently he wished to offer to that audience what he felt it probably wanted to hear. Evidently he realized that the average Irish homemaker or ordinary working man, then as later, would say in response to the name Yeats: “Oh, yes, I like his ’Lake Isle of Innisfree.’”

“Leda and the Swan”

Technically, “Leda and the Swan” (1923) is a sonnet, one of only a few that Yeats ever composed. The spaces between quatrains in the octave and between the octave and the sestet—not to mention the break in line eleven—are evidently Yeats’s innovations, characteristic of his inclination toward experimentation within traditional frameworks in the period of the poem’s composition. The story from Greek mythology on which the poem is based is well known and much treated in the Western tradition. In the tale from antiquity, a Spartan queen, Leda, was so beautiful that Zeus, ruler of the gods, decided that he must have her. Since the immortals usually did not present themselves to humankind in their divine forms, Zeus changed himself into a great swan and in that shape ravished the helpless girl. The story has often been portrayed pictorially as well as verbally; Yeats himself possessed a copy of a copy of Michelangelo’s lost painting on the subject. There has been considerable critical discussion of the degree of interrelationship between the picture or other graphic depictions and Yeats’s poem, but to no very certain conclusion, except that Leda seems much less terrified in Michelangelo’s visual version—where perhaps she might even seem to be somewhat receptive—than in Yeats’s verbal one.

The poem has been one of Yeats’s most widely praised pieces from the time of early critical commentaries in the first decade after his death. Virtually all commentators dwell on the power, economy, and impact of the poem’s language and imagery, especially in the opening sections, which seem to be concerned predominantly, if not exclusively, with mere depiction of the scene and events themselves. The poem’s apparent simplicity, especially by Yeatsian standards, however, is decidedly deceptive. The greatest problem in interpretation is with the sestet’s images of Troy in flames and with Agamemnon’s death.

To understand the importance of these allusions to Greek history—and the deeper meanings of the poem—the reader must realize that Yeats intended the poem to represent the annunciation of a new era of civilization in his cyclic vision of history, the two-thousand-year-period of pagan polytheism that preceded the present age of Christian monotheism. As emphasized in Giorgio Melchiori’s book The Whole Mystery of Art (1961), the poet later imaginatively balanced a second poem against “Leda and the Swan”: “The Mother of God,” in which another woman, Mary, is visited by another deity, the Holy Ghost, in the form of another bird, the divine dove, to initiate another period of history, the Christian era. The conscious intention of such a parallel between the two poems is attested by Yeats’s having printed “Leda and the Swan” at the head of the chapter in A Vision titled “Dove or Swan,” with a sentence on the next page stating explicitly that he thought of the annunciation that began Grecian culture as having been made to Leda. Equally unequivocal evidences are Melchiori’s citation of a letter in which Yeats called the poem a classic annunciation, Yeats’s note for the poem that speaks of a violent annunciation, and the fact that the poem’s first submission to a publisher was under the title “Annunciation.”

This last-mentioned fact relates to another point of critical disagreement. In a note, Yeats says that the poem was written in response to a request from the editor of a political review. As he worked, though, the girl and the swan took over the scene, he says, and all politics fell away. Some commentators have accepted or reaffirmed this assertion, failing to realize that Yeats—intentionally or unintentionally—overstated the case. Bird and woman did indeed so dominate the poet’s imagination in the first eight lines that one critical consequence has been undue attention to the language and imagery of the surface there. When one recalls, however, that the pre-Christian era in Yeats’s system was governmentally monarchical or totalitarian while the present era was imagined (however erroneously) as predominantly democratic, the perception dawns that the affairs of Leda’s progeny, especially Helen as a causal factor in the Trojan war and Clytemnestra as a figure involved in its aftermath, constitute, in truth, “politics” enough. Otherwise, the allusions to the burning city and deceased king would be gratuitous deadwood in the poem, unaccountable anomalies, which is just exactly what they remain in those analyses that disregard them or minimize their importance.

Even recognition and acceptance of the themes of annunciation and history do not reveal the poem’s full complexity, however, as the average reader may well sense on perusal of the final interrogative sentence. This concluding question seems to constitute a third unit in the piece, as well as the basis of some third level of significance. The traditional octave-sestet relationship of the Italian sonnet created for Yeats a division into two parts with two different but related emphases. It is his unconventional break in line 11, however, which achieves a tripartite structure at the same time that it introduces the thematic bases for an amalgamating—if not resolving—unity for all three parts of the poem and for all their interrelated levels of symbolic implication.

If the octave can be said to focus predominantly on the “surface” level of “Leda and the Swan,” with the allusions to antiquity adumbrating a historical level, then the final question—a real one rather than the rhetorical sort with which Yeats sometimes concluded poems—can be seen as the introduction of a philosophical or metaphysical level. Given the possibility of such consort or interaction between the human and the divine, what supernatural effects—if any—are consequent for the mortal party? This issue, so relevant to the rest of this poem, is raised not only here or a few times in related pieces like “The Mother of God,” but rather over and over again throughout the entirety of Yeats’s canon. More than that, it is frequently voiced in those other places in surprisingly similar terms.

Seeking a transcendent union

The possibility of union between humankind and God, between natural and supernatural, is probably the most persistent and pervasive theme in all of Yeats’s oeuvre. It is the strongest of those threads woven throughout the fabric of his work that create the unity within multiplicity previously considered. It was also unquestionably the motivating factor in his relentlessly moving from one occult preoccupation to the other. Moreover, the conviction that artistic inspiration was one of the more readily observable manifestations of such divine visitation on the human sensibility was what made Yeats philosophically a confessed Romantic for life, regardless of what modernist elements of style or technique he may have allowed to emerge in the poetry of his later years.

A major emblem for such miraculous converse, elsewhere in Yeats just as in “Leda and the Swan,” is sexual union. In several prose passages, for example, he draws explicit parallels between human interaction with the daimon or semidivine guardian spirit and a man’s relationship with his sweetheart or lover. In another place, he conjectures that the “mystic way” and physical love are comparable, which is not surprising in the light of the fact that most of his occult sources employed the same analogy and frequently spoke of the moment of union—mortal with immortal—as the “mystic marriage.” Yeats’s utilization of this particular sexual symbology is apparent in pieces such as “Solomon and the Witch,” “A Last Confession,” “Chosen,” and The Player Queen, among others. Equally relevant is the fact that Yeats repeatedly used birds as symbols of discarnate spirits or deities. Finally, the two motifs—sexual union as an analogue for supernatural union and avian symbolism for the divine—occur together in at least two works by Yeats other than “Leda and the Swan”: the plays At the Hawk’s Well (pr. 1916) and The Herne’s Egg (pb. 1938), in the latter of which, copulation between a woman and a great white bird is similarly fundamental to the piece’s philosophical implications.

In Yeats’s imaginative thought, such moments of transcendent union leave behind in the physical world some vestige of the divine condescension—the art object’s “immortality” in the case of inspiration, for example. In more portentous instances, however, such as those imaged in “Leda and the Swan” and “The Mother of God”—with clear metaphorical interplay between the phenomena of creation and procreation, even if not voiced in so many words—the remnant is the conception of some demigod or incarnate divinity such as Helen or Christ, whose beauty, perfection, or power is so great that its presence on earth inaugurates a whole new cultural dispensation.

What one ultimately finds in “Leda and the Swan,” then, is Yeats hammering out, in the midst of manifold antinomy, two kinds of unity at a single stroke. The three somewhat separate parts of the poem are joined in unity with one another, and, simultaneously, the poem as a unified whole is united to some of the most important themes that recur throughout his canon. This unity within multiplicity is achieved through Yeats’s ingeniously imaginative manipulation of a single famous myth chosen from many that involve—either or both—godhead manifested in avian form and divine visitation on humankind cast in the image of sexual conjugation.

“The Second Coming”

Almost as synonymous with Yeats’s name as “The Lake Isle of Innisfree” is the unusual and foreboding poem “The Second Coming,” which was composed in January, 1919, and first published in 1920. It is one of Yeats’s few unrhymed poems, written in very irregular blank verse whose rhythms perhaps contribute to the ominous effect created by the diction and imagery. The piece has had a strange critical reception, deriving in part from the paradox that it is one of Yeats’s works most directly related to the system of history in A Vision, but at the same time appears to offer reasonably accessible meanings of a significant kind to the average reader of poetry in English.

The more obvious “meanings,” generally agreed on, are implications of disorder, especially in the first section, in which the falcon has lost touch with the falconer, and impressions of horror, especially in the second section, with its vision of the pitiless rough beast slouching through the desert. In the light of the date of composition, the validity of such thematic elements for both Yeats and his audience is immediately evident. World War I had just ended, leaving the Western world in that continuing mood of despondency voiced also in T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land (1922) (which shares with Yeats’s poem the desert image) and in Gertrude Stein’s—and Ernest Hemingway’s—epithet of “a lost generation.” In other words, despite the author’s considerable further concerns, the piece on this level “caught a wave,” as it were, so that it quickly came to be regarded by commentators and the author alike as prophetic—an attitude enhanced, of course, by the richly allusive title.

History as spiral

On a deeper level, “The Second Coming” is directly related to the cyclical conception of history that Yeats delineated in A Vision. As seen in the discussion of “Leda and the Swan,” Yeats envisioned history in terms of two-thousand-year eras, each of which was ushered in by a portentous annunciation of some sort. If Zeus’s descent on Leda initiated the period from about 2000 b.c.e. to the year zero, and if the Holy Ghost’s descent to Mary initiated the subsequent period from the year zero to approximately 2000 c.e., then in 1919, the poet could speculate that the next such annunciation might occur either just barely within his lifetime or else not very long thereafter. These two-thousand-year periods of culture were characterized, like so many other things in Yeats’s imaginative thought, by opposition to each other, with the main oppositions in A Vision designated as antithetical (or “subjective”) and primary (or “objective”). These labels, or tinctures as Yeats called them, are not always easy to define, but from reading A Vision one begins to sense their nature. In general, theantithetical is individualistic (self-centered), heroic, aristocratic, emotional, and aesthetic. It is concerned predominantly with inner being and is symbolized by a full moon. The primary, by contrast, is anti-individualistic (mass-oriented), saintly or sagelike, democratic, rational, and moral. It is associated mainly with external existence and is symbolized by either the sun or the dark of the moon. Yeats identified himself with the antithetical and associated many things that he disliked (such as democracy and “fact-finding” science) with the primary. Thus he favored the polytheistic era of Homeric and classical Greece (antithetical), whereas he rejected or spurned the moral and anti-individualistic monotheism (primary) which began with the birth of Christ.

Borrowing from Swedenborg and other esoteric sources, Yeats conceptualized the growth of these historical movements in terms of gyres or spirals, a feature of the system rather difficult to discuss without reference to diagrams. (One may see A Vision for diagrams in great sufficiency.) For the sake of convenience in depiction, the spirals (widening from vertex in larger and larger circles) are imaged as the outer “shells” surrounding them—that is, as cones. Furthermore, for purposes of two-dimensional representation on a book’s page, each cone is usually regarded simply in terms of its profile—that is, as a triangle. However, since the entire system of A Vision is based on the proposition that the universe consists of numberless pairs of antinomies or contraries, no cone or triangle exists in isolation; instead, everyone is in locked interpenetration with an opposing cone or triangle, each with its vertex or narrowest point at the center of the other’s widest expansion or base. Thus, Yeats conceived of the present two-thousand-year era not simply as one set of interlocked cones, but rather as two sets of one thousand years each, as is made quite explicit in the chapter that reviews history under the title “Dove or Swan.” Thus, instead of the Christian gyre or cone sweeping outward toward its widest expansion at the year 2000 c.e., as most commentators seem to have assumed, the widest expansion of the triangle representing that primary religious dispensation occurred at about the year 1000 c.e., completely in keeping with the medieval Church’s domination of virtually all aspects of life at that time. For the period following 1000 c.e., that religion’s declining movement is represented by a contracting gyre, its base set against the base of its predecessor, forming, in two-dimensional terms, a figure that Yeats speaks of as shaped like an ace of diamonds. The Christian dispensation, then, is at dwindling to its cone’s or triangle’s narrowest point, at the center of the opposing gyre’s widest expansion, completely in keeping with the post-Darwinian upheaval in Victorian England about science’s undermining the foundations of the Church, subsequent notions of the “death of God,” and so on.

What, then, is spiraling outward to its widest expansion in the twentieth century, the falcon’s gyring flight having swept so far from the falconer that “the centre cannot hold”? The answer to this question lies in recognition of a point that appears rather clearly at various places in A Vision. In Yeats’s system of history, every cone representing a religious dispensation has as its interlocking counterpart a cone that represents the secular culture of the same period. Thus, the two movements, religious and secular, live each other’s death and die each other’s life, to use an expression from Heraclitus that Yeats repeated time and again, in creative pieces as well as in his discursive prose. The birth of Christ came, then, as Yeats indicates with unequivocal clarity, at the time of an antithetical secular or political phenomenon at the very height of its development, at the widest expansion of its cone—the Roman Empire. As the gyre representing the primary Christian religious movement revolved outward toward its widest expansion in the Middle Ages, the power of the Roman Empire gradually declined until it vanished at about 1000 c.e. (Yeats uses the year 1050 in “Dove or Swan”). Then both movements reversed directions, with primary Christianity beginning to dwindle at the same time that a new secular life of antithetical nature started and gyred outward up to the present day. This—the widest expansion of an antithetical secular or political gyre in the twentieth century—is almost certainly what Yeats identified with fascism, not the new annunciation to come. Such a collapsing and reexpansion of the antithetical spirals in the two-thousand-year period since the birth of Christ—two one-thousand-year cones tip to tip—created what Yeats called an hourglass figure superimposed on (or, more accurately, interlocked with) the diamond shape of Christianity’s primary religious dispensation.


The crucial point in interpreting “The Second Coming” is that the annunciation of every new religious dispensation involves what Yeats calls an interchange of the tinctures. In other words, at 2000 b.c.e., at the year zero, and at 2000 c.e., religion changes from primary to antithetical in quality, or vice versa, while secular life and politics change tinctures just oppositely. (Yeats was explicit about identification of the secular with politics.) No such interchange occurs, however, at the initiation of new secular gyres, as at 1000 b.c.e. or 1000 c.e. At those points the expanding or collapsing gyres of both aspects of life—religious and secular—simply reverse directions without their tinctures changing from primary to antithetical or the other way around. The importance of this feature of the system for meanings in “The Second Coming” can hardly be overstated. The interchange is sudden and cataclysmic, causing such strife in human history as the Trojan War soon after the annunciation to Leda from Zeus or the widespread battles of the Roman Empire soon after the annunciation from the Holy Ghost to the Virgin Mary. The abrupt change near the end of the twentieth century, of the antithetical tincture from secular life’s widely expanded cone to religion’s extremely narrowed one (and, vice versa, of the primary tincture almost instantaneously from the nearly extinguished religious gyre to the widest expansion of the counterpoised secular or political gyre), could in and of itself be catastrophic enough to warrant most of the portentous imagery and diction in Yeats’s poem. Fearful concerns even more specifically related to the system than that, however, were involved in the piece’s genesis and evolution. The annunciation of a new religious dispensation, antithetical in nature, would not have been anticipated by Yeats with foreboding, for he simultaneously favored the antithetical tincture and held in low regard the existing primary religious movement which was to be displaced. The only disappointing thing for Yeats about the forthcoming antithetical religion was that it would have no more than its merest beginnings within his lifetime or shortly thereafter, reaching its fullest expansion as a historical gyre not until the year 3000 c.e. The sudden imposition on the world of a primary political system, on the other hand, at its widest expansion from the very outset, was quite another matter.

What might constitute such an ultra-primary or super-“democratic” political phenomenon for the aristocratic-minded Yeats as he looked about the European world in 1919? Other than the last stages of World War I, one particular violent upheaval had just occurred: the Bolshevik Revolution. Communism was for Yeats the horrifying rough beast slouching through the postwar wasteland to be born, its politically primary hour come round exactly as predicted by the gyres and cycles of history available to him from the “automatic scripts” that his wife had begun to write out more than a year before the poem’s composition.

Although this interpretational conclusion can be reached through a careful reading of A Vision’s sections on history, its validity has been made virtually unequivocal by Jon Stallworthy’s publication of the poem’s manuscript drafts (originally in his book Between the Lines: Yeats’s Poetry in the Making, 1963, and again with fuller transcription of some partially illegible passages in the journal Agenda, 1971/1972). Along with several other convincing clues in these drafts occurs one line that leaves little to the imagination: “The Germany of Marx has led to Russian Com.” Working with these same unpublished drafts as well as other materials, Donald Torchiana has made a persuasive case for the proposition that what upset Yeats most of all was the possibility that Ireland’s civil strife in this same period made his country a highly vulnerable tinderbox for the spread of Marxist factions or Communistic forces (W. B. Yeats and Georgian Ireland, 1966). A letter by Yeats written later in 1919 makes this thesis virtually incontrovertible. In it the poet states that his main concern was for Ireland to be saved from Marxist values, because he felt that their fundamental materialism could only lead to murder. Then he quotes a catch-phrase that seems to echo lines from “The Second Coming”: “Can the bourgeois be innocent?”

The manuscripts reveal much else as well. They show, for example, that from its earliest inception—a brief prose draft of the opening portion—“The Second Coming” was a decidedly political poem, not one concerned with some antithetical religious annunciation. Even the highly effective—though intentionally ironical—religious allusions to Bethlehem and Christ’s return emerged relatively late in the poem’s development. Moreover, the politics of concern are plainly of the primary tincture; the word “mob” appears repeatedly. When the expression “surely” occurred for the first time, it was followed by “the great falcon must come.” Yeats, however, having said in a much-quoted passage elsewhere that he often used large noble birds to represent the subjective or antithetical and beasts that run on the ground to symbolize the objective or primary, realized his momentary drift toward depiction of the birth of an antithetical religious entity and struck the line. Then later came the famous beast, with its blank solar (primary) gaze.

Although it might shock some readers to think that Yeats would identify Christ with a beast, and with a political ideology such as Marxism, the point that should not be overlooked is that while Christ may be alternately sacred or secular in Yeats’s imaginative thought, he is always unalterably primary. A Vision is quite explicit in several places about Christ’s being primary. The poem is therefore, about his second coming, although in a frighteningly unfamiliar secular guise: a mass-oriented and anti-individualistic political materialism that paradoxically corresponds to but simultaneously contravenes his previous mass-oriented and anti-individualistic spiritual teachings. After twenty centuries of religious equality urged by Christ the Lamb, a cataclysmic and leveling social anarchy is about to be loosed on the world by Christ the Lion.

“Among School Children”

Composed in 1926 and published in 1927, “Among School Children” is another of Yeats’s most widely acclaimed and extensively studied poems. The two most famous interpretative readings are by Cleanth Brooks in The Well Wrought Urn: Studies in the Structure of Poetry (1947) and John Wain in Interpretations: Essays on Twelve English Poems (1955). Although both essays are almost belligerently New Critical, each sees as the overall theme the relationships between natural and supernatural, or between matter and spirit, and the ravages wrought on humankind by the passage of time. Most other analyses tend to accept this same general meaning for the poem as a whole, although almost inevitably there have been some who see the subject as the triumph of art, or something of that sort. With this poem, the problems and difficulties of interpretation have been not so much with larger suggestions of significance as with individual lines or passages in their relationships—or supposed relationships—to the poem’s broadest meanings. Such tendencies toward agreement about the piece’s general thematic implications are fortunate since they are in keeping with Yeats’s own comments in notes and letters: that physical or temporal existence will waste the youthful students and that the poem is one of his not infrequent condemnations of old age.

The inspirational matrix for the poem was literal enough—a visit by Yeats in his role as senator in the newly established Irish Free State to a quite progressive school administered by a Catholic convent. Given this information, the reader will have no problems with stanza 1. (Any analysis, incidentally, which suggests that Yeats felt that the children depicted were being taught the wrong kinds of things is open to question, for Yeats subsequently spoke to the Senate about the convent school in highly laudatory terms.) The next three stanzas, however, although they are generally thought to be less problematical than the last part of the poem, are somewhat more opaque than the casual-toned and low-keyed opening. In stanza 2, the sight of the schoolchildren suddenly brings to the poet-senator’s memory (with little transition for the reader) a scene in which a beautiful woman had told him of some childhood chastisement, probably by a schoolteacher. That memory, in turn, evokes for him a vision of what she must have looked like at such an age, perhaps not too much unlike the girls standing before him in the convent’s hall.

There can be little doubt that the beautiful woman in question is the one by whom Yeats’s aching “heart” was “driven wild” for a large part of his adult life—Maud Gonne. Time and time again throughout his canon, Yeats compares that special woman’s almost divine or superhuman beauty to the beauty of Helen of Troy, who, in Greek mythology, was born to Leda after her visitation by Zeus. This information, then, helps to clarify such characteristically allusive terms in stanzas 2 through 4 as “Ledaean body,” “daughters of the swan,” “every paddler’s heritage,” “Ledaean kind,” and “pretty plumage.” The alteration of Plato’s parable (in the Symposium, probably one of the middle dialogues, where the basis of love is explained as the desire in divinely separated humankind for reunion in a sphere) to union in the white and yellow of a single egg, rather than the myth’s division, also fits into this pattern of Ledaean imagery, at the same time that it looks forward to images and suggestions of generation or birth in subsequent stanzas.

Then, in stanza 4, with still another shift, the beautiful woman’s present visage drifts before the poet’s eyes. Surprisingly, despite the rather heavily connotative language of lines 3 and 4, along with Yeats’s comparison in the second quatrain of his own youth with his present old age (not to mention similar thematic implications in the entire poem), there has been some controversy about line one. The issue is whether Yeats meant to convey a vision of the woman still young and beautiful or, instead, ravaged by time and decrepitude. The word “Quattrocento,” denoting fifteenth century Italian art and artists, might be taken to substantiate either side of such a debate, depending on how it itself is construed; but along with virtually everything else in the stanza, the concluding—and later recurring—scarecrow image would seem to lend support to the suggestion of deterioration and decay.

If lines 2 through 4 of stanza 5 were removed, the stanza not only would be completely intelligible, but it would also be a rather concise statement of one of the poem’s two main themes—the effects on humankind of time’s passage. Since lines 2 through 4 were included, however, along with other characteristically Yeatsian elements akin to them in subsequent stanzas, the poem’s real difficulties begin to manifest themselves in its second half. In a note to the poem, Yeats indicates that the honey of generation is an image that he borrowed from Porphyry’s essay “The Cave of the Nymphs,” almost certainly with an intended symbolic suggestion, on one level, of the pleasures of sexual union. The same note, however, also indicates explicitly that the recollection mentioned is the soul’s memory—à la William Wordsworth’s “Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood”—of a prenatal condition higher and freer than earthly incarnation. At this point, Yeats’s occult and esoteric beliefs that so many critics have found difficult to accept enter the poem. Brooks’s reaction, for example, is virtual incredulity. To make interpretational matters even worse, Yeats evidently employed the honey image ambiguously to relate also to “the drug,” presumably physically procreated or temporal existence, which allows or causes the prenatal memory to fade. Both the note and the draft versions of the poem (reproduced in Thomas Parkinson’s W. B. Yeats: The Later Poetry, 1964) suggest the likelihood of such intentional or semi-intentional ambiguity. All this, along with what is probably the poem’s least felicitous line—“sleep, shriek, struggle . . .”—has led to considerable exegetical dispute about who or what was betrayed—mother or shape? The ambiguity seems less intentional in this particular case, however, and the drafts, along with a certain amount of common sense, tend to indicate the child, a soul entrapped in flesh by the mother’s generatively honeyed act.

Stanza 6 is perhaps not too difficult once the reader realizes that the final line is, in effect, appositionally related to the main nouns in the other seven lines. In other words, the generally accepted thrust of meaning is that even the greatest and presumably wisest of men come to be, in time, like elderly poet-senators and everyone else, dilapidated old scarecrows. There is, however, a bit more wit and symbolism at work—or at play—in the stanza. For one thing, Yeats has chosen men who were teachers or students or—in two cases—both in turn: Plato, Aristotle, Alexander the Great, and Pythagoras. Furthermore, three of these four men spent their lives contemplating and theorizing about the same crucial and fundamental aspects of human experience which are the subjects of the poem—the relationships between spirit and matter and between being and becoming.

The second half of stanza 7 is the most problematical unit in the poem. The first quatrain, however, gives little trouble. With a pun on the word “images,” Yeats refers both to pictures in the maternal mind’s eye and to religious icons or statuary. The “Presences” of line 5 are what create interpretational difficulties, again because here Yeats’s occult views become involved, views that too few exegetes have been willing to address even as accepted by the poet himself. Yeats’s use of a capital P and the expression “self-born” (compare “self-sown,” “self-begotten,” and “miracle-bred” on the very next page of The Collected Poems of W. B. Yeats) should be clues that some kind of divinity is being apostrophized in this stanza about worship. That, in turn, can lead to recognition of a third level of meaning for the punword “images.” The mask, the antiself, and especially the daimon (not synonymous terms, but kindred ones in Yeats’s esoteric thought and vocabulary) were sometimes referred to as the image, for they are, like a mirror image, simultaneously like and yet exactly opposite to the human individual. Furthermore, with the daimon, that special semidivine guiding or misguiding spirit, each man or woman is involved in an exasperating attraction-repulsion relationship which explains the poet’s emphasis upon heartbreak and mockery. Fleetingly known—in actuality or by analogy—through such heightened experiences as the earlier stanzas’ sexual love (passion), religious love (piety), or maternal love (affection), these hatefully loving guardian geniuses draw man onward from the flesh toward spiritual glory at the same time that they do all they can to frustrate every inch of his progress or enterprise along the way.

The first half of the closing stanza would be much more readily comprehensible if Yeats had retained his draft’s version of the opening line, which began with the word “all” instead of “labor.” That would have agreed with a draft line relating to the dancer, “all so smoothly runs,” and would justify the status usually attributed to the concluding quatrain: perhaps the most successful of Yeats’s famous passages whose antinomy-resolving symbols or images lift poet, poem, and reader above the strife of physical existence to a condition of triumphant affirmation or realm of artistically perfected unity. Dance and dancer are indivisibly—almost divinely—one. The tree—and the poem—are supremely organic wholes, greater than the sums of their parts. This seems to be Romantic lyricism at its transcendent best.

Such a conclusion, however, is too hasty. When its initial word was “all,” the first quatrain of the final stanza rather plainly meant something like “Life in this world is best when and where humankind achieves a balance between body and soul, between spirit and flesh.” Yeats’s eventual substitution of the word “labor,” however, could well have been intended to add, among other things, the idea that such a balance is never easily come by nor readily sustained in this life. That would echo in one sense the feminine persona in “Adam’s Curse,” who says that women have to labor to become beautiful, as well as her interlocutor’s rejoinder that subsequent to Adam’s fall nothing very fine can be achieved or created without a great deal of labor. How, then, did the poet move so suddenly from the broken hearts and mockery of stanza 7 to some rhapsodically evoked unity or triumph in the last four lines of stanza 8? Perhaps the poem was never meant to suggest such a leap. There is, after all, no journey in this poem from one realm to another, as there is in “Sailing to Byzantium.” The tree and the dancer are still very much in the sensuous physical realm. Perhaps the supposed transition has been only through some strange magic as unsavory to common sense as Yeats’s occult inclinations were to the critics who have perpetrated this illusory transmutation. Perhaps, ironically, the un-Romantic critics have made Yeats much more Romantic in this particular poem than he ever intended to be. In all fairness, the point must be acknowledged, however, that Brooks and Wain themselves read the final stanza in much more neutral or negative terms than many of the commentators who have written subsequently. Almost unquestionably the chief influence on numerous analyses of the final stanza in terms of transcendence and artistic unity has been Frank Kermode’s book Romantic Image (1957), which takes the passage as a virtual epitome of the opposition-resolving powers of the symbolic mode, as the image of the Image.

“Among School Children” has a rather high incidence of puns and intentional ambiguities in addition to the ones already noted. The two most obvious further instances involve the words “labor” and “play,” which have been commented on both separately and together. Perhaps insufficient attention has been given, however, to possibilities of multiple meanings in that salient feature, the title. Yeats, an inveterate reviser, was well capable of changing a title if it no longer best suited the interests of his poem. Why would he have retained the title here if it did not fit the finished piece—the whole work as well as the opening portions? Some continuing concern with the symbolic implications of students and teachers has already been observed in stanza 6. Why would not or could not the same kind of thing be appropriate for that very important portion of the poem, its conclusion? Suppose, in contrast to prevalent interpretations of the last quatrain, that the questions asked there are real questions, such as schoolchildren ask, rather than rhetorical ones implying some transcendence or triumph over the rest of the poem’s concerns. Like a staring schoolchild, man might well ask—in fact, for centuries he has asked—where the material world ends and the spiritual world begins, and how, in this temporal realm, he can separate the one from the other. The great rooted blossomer, then, may be more an emblem of the puzzles and problems studied in life’s schoolroom than of some artistically achieved solution to them. Is man the newborn infant, the adolescent pupil, the youthful procreator, or the white-haired elder statesman—or none of these or all of these or more than all of these? In the face of such conundrums, all men are “among school children,” seeking and inquiring, frequently without finding or being given reassuring answers.

“Sailing to Byzantium” and “Byzantium”

No work in Yeats’s canon has won more renown or elicited more controversy than the so-called Byzantium poems, “Sailing to Byzantium” (1927) and “Byzantium” (1930). Critical opinion as to which is poetically superior has been almost, if not quite, equally divided. There is almost universal agreement, however, that the earlier and more frequently reprinted piece, “Sailing to Byzantium,” is the easier to understand.

Several authorities, in fact, have gone so far as to say that “Sailing to Byzantium” explains itself or needs no extensive clarification; but if such were actually the case, the amount of commentary that it has generated would clearly constitute an anomaly. If nothing else, the general reader ought to have some answer to the almost inevitable question, “Why Byzantium?” Though it does not provide every possible relevant response to such a query, a much-quoted passage from A Vision indicates some of the more important reasons why and how Yeats came to let that great Near Eastern city of medieval times represent in his imagination a cultural, artistic, and spiritual ideal. He believes, he says, that one might have found there “some philosophical worker in mosaic” with “the supernatural descending nearer to him than to Plotinus even,” that in “early Byzantium” perhaps more than at any other time in history “religious, aesthetic and practical life were one.” Artists of all kinds expressed “the vision of a whole people,” “the work of many that seemed the work of one” and was the “proclamation of their invisible master.”

Although there is no question whatever that “Sailing to Byzantium” is a richly symbolic poem, its genesis apparently involved a more or less literal level that, even though it has not been ignored, may not have been stressed in all its particulars as much as might be warranted. Yeats was first exposed to Byzantine art during a Mediterranean tour in 1907 that included Ravenna, where he saw mosaics and a frieze in the Church of San Apollinare Nuovo that is generally regarded as the chief basis of imagery in stanza 3 of “Sailing to Byzantium.” Years later, however, two factors coincided to renew his interest, one of them involving a voyage in certain respects interestingly akin to that in the poem. In the first half of the 1920’s, Yeats had read rather widely about Byzantium in connection with his work on the historical “Dove or Swan” section of A Vision. Then in 1924, nearing sixty years of age, he became somewhat ill and suffered high blood pressure and difficulty in breathing. He was advised to stop work and was taken by his wife on another Mediterranean tour, this time seeking out other Byzantine mosaics, and similar craftsmanship that sharply contrasted art with nature, at places such as Monreale and Palermo, Sicily. As at least one commentator has pointed out, Yeats had no great regrets about leaving home at this time because of dissatisfaction with the political situation and depression about his health. The first legible words in the drafts of “Sailing to Byzantium” are “Farewell friends,” and subsequent early portions make unequivocal the fact that “That country” in the finished poem is (or at least originally was) Ireland. Thus, the imaginative and poetic voyage of a sick old man leaving one locale for a more desirable one very probably had at least some of its antecedents in a rather similar actual journey a few years earlier.

Two symbolic interpretations of “Sailing to Byzantium” have been predominant by a considerable margin: Either the poem is about the state of the poet’s spirit or soul shortly before and after death, or it is about the creative process and artistic achievement. A choice between the two might be said to pivot on response to the question, “How ideal is the ideal?” In other words, does Byzantium represent this-worldly perfection on the aesthetic level or perfection of an even greater kind in a transcendent realm of existence? A not insignificant amount of the massive critical commentary on the poem (as well as on its sequel “Byzantium”) has been in the way of a war of words about the “proper” reply to such a question, with surprisingly inflexible positions being taken by some of the combatants. Fortunately, however, a number of authorities have realized that there is no reason at all why both levels of meaning cannot obtain simultaneously and that, as a matter of fact, the poem becomes much more characteristically Yeatsian in its symbolic complexity and wealth of import if such a reading is accepted.

Return to physicality, sexuality

About 1926 or 1927 and thereafter, an apparent major change—with emphasis on apparent—seems to have taken place in Yeats’s attitude toward life. On the surface, “Sailing to Byzantium” may look and sound like the culmination of a long line of “escape” poems, while many poems or passages written after it (for example, “A Dialogue of Self and Soul”) seem to stress instead a plunge into the physicality of this world, even a celebration of earthly existence. Even though Yeats continued to write poems very much concerned with transcendence, supernaturalism, and otherworldliness, he developed in his late career a “new” kind of poem. These poems were often short, were frequently presented in series or sequences, and were frequently—but not always—concerned with a particularly physical aspect of worldly existence, sex.

These poems also share other attributes, a number of them related to Yeats’s revived interest at the time in the ballad form. One group is titled, for example, Words for Music Perhaps, and Other Poems, indicating their songlike qualities. In addition to the poems themselves being brief, the lines and stanza patterns are also short, the lines sometimes having as few as two stresses. Diction, syntax, and idiom are—again as in the ballad or folk song—colloquial and uncomplicated. Imagery, too, is earthy, sometimes stark or blunt. At times sound patterns other than rhyme contribute to the songlike effects, and some pieces, although not all, make effective use of the refrain as a device. In these verses, Yeats has come a long way from the amorphous Pre-Raphaelitism of his early lyrics. In them, in fact, he achieves some of the most identifiably “modern” effects in his entire canon.

Related to that modernity is the fact that these late-life songs are anything but simple in content and meaning. Their deceptiveness in this regard has led some early critics to label them—especially the scatological ones—as tasteless and crude. More recent and perceptive analysts, however, have found them to be, in the words of one commentator, more nearly eschatological. What Yeats is doing thematically in such pieces, in fact, is by no means new to him. As in “Solomon and the Witch,” “Leda and the Swan,” and some other earlier pieces, he is using the sexual metaphor to explore some of the metaphysical mysteries of human existence. One significant difference, however, is that now the sexual experience itself sometimes seems to be regarded as something of a mystery in its own right.

Crazy Jane poems

Almost as well known as Yeats himself is his fictive persona Crazy Jane, evidently based compositely on two old Irish women from the poet’s experience, one early, one late. Like Shakespeare’s—and Yeats’s—fools, however, Jane is usually “crazy like a fox.” In her series of poems, in the “Three Bushes” sequence, and in poems such as “Chosen,” “A Last Confession,” “Her Anxiety,” “Consolation,” and “The Wild Old Wicked Man,” Yeats considers or deals with sexuality and sexual imagery in some six or seven different, though frequently interrelated, ways. At times, the poet seems to vacillate or contradict himself from one poem to another, a habit that at first makes understanding these pieces rather difficult. After a while, however, the phenomenon can be recognized for what it is: Yeats’s characteristic technique of shifting ground or altering angle of vision in order to explore his subject the more completely.

One basic use of the sexual image has already been seen: The union of man and woman is parallel to or representative of the union of natural with supernatural, human with divine, or man with daimon. In some of these poems, however, the union seems to be so overwhelming that it almost ceases to be mere symbol and becomes the thing in itself, as in the last stanza of “Chosen” or in an unpublished poem where even the gyres are laid to rest in the bed of love. On the other hand (and at the other extreme) are poems that suggest that sex just does not accomplish very much at all, as in “The Chambermaid’s Second Song” (last in the “Three Bushes” sequence), where after mere physical pleasure, man’s spirit remains “blind as a worm.” A poem of this kind echoes a reported statement by Yeats that the most unfortunate thing about coitus is the continuing “virginity of the soul.” In between the two extremes are poems that see sex as little better than a pis aller—“Consolation,” for example, or “The Wild Old Wicked Man,” whose protagonist chooses “the second-best” on “a woman’s breast.” Then there are poems that contemplate the pleasures or problems of sexuality in this life in the light of a Swedenborgian intercourse of the angels (“A Last Confession” and “Crazy Jane on the Day of Judgment”) or the Hermetic paradigm—as above, so below (“Ribh Denounces Patrick,” though this piece is not in the ballad tradition). Still other poems in the collection, instead of comparing bodies in this world with spirits in the other world, use sexual symbolism to ponder the conundrums of the body-soul relationship here on earth, a theme reminiscent of “Among School Children.” The Lady’s three songs in the “Three Bushes” series fall into this category. Finally, Yeats sometimes uses the transience of sexual experience to parallel the ephemeral nature of all human experience, especially such heightened moments as mystic vision or artistic inspiration. Such an ironic self-consuming quality inherent in the sex act is touched on in the first stanza of “Crazy Jane and Jack the Journeyman” and in “Her Anxiety,” among other places.

“Under Ben Bulben”

As indicated earlier in the biographical section, Yeats continued to work on poems and plays right down to the last day but one before his death. Although “Under Ben Bulben” was not his last poem, it was written quite consciously as a valedictory or testamentary piece in the summer and fall of 1938, when Yeats knew that death was not far away. Although such a status for the poem has been widely recognized by authorities from a very early date, surprisingly little has been written about it until relatively recently.

Ben Bulben is the impressive west-Irish headland “under” whose shadow Yeats specified that his body be buried in the churchyard at Drumcliff where his great-grandfather had been rector a century earlier. In draft versions, “Under Ben Bulben” had two previous titles: “His Convictions” and “Creed.” Furthermore, the opening lines that read “Swear by” in the finished poem originally read “I believe.” Here, then, presumably, if anywhere, one should be able to find Yeats’s final views on life and the human condition. Because the poem goes on, however, to indicate quite candid belief in the existence of supernatural spirits and, further still, in reincarnation or transmigration of the soul, modern critics who do not accept such quasireligious views have evidently declined to take the piece very seriously. One apparent consequence has been that they have had little adequate basis for understanding or glossing the epitaph with which the poem concludes.

Ironically, the epitaph has been very often quoted: “Cast a cold eye/ On life, on death./ Horseman, pass by!” Exegetical commentary on these three lines, however, has been almost as rare as that on the larger poem. Explication has been so minimal and inconclusive, in fact, that as late as 1974 one spokesperson, Edward Malins, asserted that determination of the epitaph’s meaning and its intended audience “is anybody’s guess.” In terms of the framing poem’s thesis of transmigration, however, along with evidence from other sources, the horseman can be identified as Yeats himself, a cosmic journeyer engaged in a vast round of cyclical deaths and rebirths, as outlined in A Vision. A cold eye is cast on both life and death because the point of possible release from the wheel of reincarnation to some ultimate beatific state such as that imaged in “Sailing to Byzantium” is at such great distance that the grave is little more than a way station on the cosmic odyssey. Thus, there is time or place for little more than a passing nod or glance toward either life or death. In the words of a passage from A Vision that is virtually a prose counterpart of the epitaph’s verse, man’s spirit can know nothing more than transitory happiness either between birth and death or between death and rebirth; its goal is to “pass rapidly round its circle” and to “find freedom from that circle.”

The means of passing rapidly around A Vision’s great wheel is to live each incarnation properly “in phase.” Failure in this endeavor can cause rebirth again into the same phase, thus slowing progress toward “freedom” or release. From his youthful days as a disciple of Walter Pater, Yeats had long regarded the living of life itself as an art. With the coming of A Vision, teleological impetus was added to this aesthetic conviction. In a note on “Sailing to Byzantium” from a radio script and in several poems, Yeats exclaims that he must “make his soul.” In the terms of A Vision, then, once he knew the prescribed qualities of his current incarnation or phase on the wheel, he must shape and sculpt his very life until it becomes a concrete manifestation of that phase, a mythopoeic objet d’art.

In Autobiographies, on the other hand, Yeats states that when great artists were at their most creative, the rest was not simply a work of art, but rather the “re-creation of the man through that art.” Similarly, in a scrap of verse, he said that whenever he remade a poem, the real importance of the act was that, in the event, he actually remade himself. Thus emerged the ultimate unity. Yeats’s life and his work became two sides of the one coin. The phenomena were mutually interdependent, the processes mutually interactive. As he forged his poems, Yeats also created his self. That created self, a living myth, was in turn the image reflected in his poetry, the center of vision embodied in the verbal constructs of his art.