Craftsmanship of W. B. Yeats Poetry

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      W. B. Yeats is one of the greatest poets of the English language. He had in common with most of the other poets regarding the two main methods of writing poetry: one spontaneous and the other a laborious process involving much alternation and substitution. However, it was only in the early phase of his poetic career that he relied entirely on inspiration giving himself up to “the chief temptation of the artist: creation without toil.” In the later phase, he became a conscious artist who took great pains to polish and re-polish his verse. He was very pain-staking artist and tried to say what he had to say in the best possible words. The following lines taken from Adam's Curse throw a valuable sidelight on his artistic methods:

I said, “A line' will take us hours maybe;
Yet if it does not seem a moment’s thought
Our stitching and unstitching have been naught.”

His Ability to Grow and Learn

      One of the most admirable things about Yeats, the artist, was that he continued to grow and mature as a craftsman throughout his long poetic career. His early poetry has a dreamy luxuriant style full of sleepy languorous rhythms. The tone is mostly wistful and nostalgic in these poems. There is an abundance of ornate word pictures as in Spenser.

Dissatisfaction with His Early Poetry

      It is a great tribute to Yeats craftsman that he soon grew dissatisfied with verse of this sort and tried to bring his versification nearer to the day to day speech. Along with this he tried to give a new directness and precision to his poetic language. He did away with archaisms and poeticism. His imagery also became more definite and accurate and acquired a new pithy quality. Verbiage and superfluity start giving way to vigor and intensity. His diction now became epigrammatic and terse and his poetry grew in density.

      Simultaneously. Yeats tried to develop what may be called “passionate syntax” and he came to have remarkable skill in modulating his rhythm so as to be in tune with the spirit of the poem. This skill is greatly evident in poems like The Second Coming, Sailing to Byzantium, The Tower, Easter 1916 and Among School Children and even in one of his earliest poems When You are Old.

Later Style

      The confidence and assurance found in his poetic style in the later years is astounding. His language became very functional: his rhythms very definite and accurate and above all he could now do justice to demands of grandeur and sublimity with effortless ease. He was now able to use poetry for a variety of effects—whether it was exhortation or calm comment, philosophizing or passionate condemnation, lamentation or celebration, nostalgia or prophecy. This does not mean that Yeats’s command over verification and meter was in any way less remarkable during his early poetic career. Even at that time he was able to have close correspondence between the mood of the those escapist poems and the language he chose for them. In keeping with the other-worldly atmosphere of his early poetry, his rhythms also were half entranced. In a collection like The Wind Among the Reeds, he was able to manipulate wavering and meditative rhythms to great effect.

      In his later poetry, again in keeping with his thematic content, Yeats was able to develop subtler, more varied and dramatically more adjustable cadences. His vocabulary had also become more inclusive. As a result, the metaphors were fresher and their range of reference wider. The imaginative structure of the poem and its actual manifestation came to be more firmly worked out and more spontaneous and natural in effect.

Short-comings or Faults

      As an artist Yeats continued to mature and grow right upto the end of his poetic career. His confidence and assurance grew more and more and he handled words with perfect ease like a master. However, this very self assurance accounts for his tendency to indulge in hyperboles and exaggerations. This tendency to exaggerate and use hyperboles has been considered a serious fault in his style by a number of critics. D.S. Savage criticizing this weakness in Yeats’s poetry writes: “This exaggeration and over-heightening, this indulgence in dramatics, is exemplified in the repeated use of hyperbolic phrases and of resounding words whose effect is to inflate meaning.”


      To sum up: Yeats was a conscious and gifted craftsman who has few equals in the whole range of English poetry. It is true that there are some serious faults in his poetry but they do not detract in any way from his true greatness as an artist. He wrote from inner compulsion which gave to his poetry, “its peculiar inner glow, as of inspiration, and classes it among our political monuments, if not precisely among “monuments of unaging intellect.”


Attempt an appreciation of the poetic craftsmanship of W.B. Yeats.

“All his (W.B. Yeats) creative work is marked with fine poetic touches.” Illustrate your statement from any of the poems of W.B. Yeats that you have studied.

Bring out the salient features of the style and versification of the poetry of Yeats’s middle period.

“The poetry of the middle period shows an immense advance in technique. The poet has acquired mastery over his craft.” Justify.

Write a note on the language and versification of Yeats’s later poetry.

Write an essay on Yeats’s poetic technique.

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