The Literary & Social Background of W. B. Yeats's Poetry

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      The Irish Literary Movement was one of the remarkable manifestation of the romantic revival of the late 19th century and W. B. Yeats was the leader of the movement and its greatest! figure. The early poetry of Yeats is steeped in the spirit of the rich mystic mythology of the Celtic race. But very soon Yeats evolved into a “modem” poet.

The Literary Background: The Imagist Movement

      As a reaction to the verbal imprecision and lushness of the Romantics emerged the Imagist Movement. Their leaders were T. E. Hulme and Ezra Pound. The movement was international but it proved to be short-lived. Yeats was one of the several poets who was influenced by this new attitude. However, he never lost interest in or contact with the Anglo-Irish culture in which he had been brought up. He never passively reflected any new movement that arose. The change in Yeats is attributable only partly to the influence of Ezra Pound and his friends. All the same, this change was most striking. From the self-conscious romanticism of the early poems to the complex magic of Byzantium or the packed austerity of the Crazy Jane poems had been a long and tedious journey for Yeats.

The Social Background

      Yeats worked out his poetic salvation in his own way and he never lost the compelling individuality of his accent. It was not Ezra Pound and his Imagist school but the Dublin Literary Circle that sent him to Standish O’s Grady’s History of Ireland, Heroic Period where he found the great stories of the heroic age of Irish history. The Irish revolution gave Yeats food for thought.

      Even before meeting Ezra Pound in London, Yeats had come a long way. As David Daiches puts it: “In some of his early poems handling folk themes, he achieved by a careful counterpointing of contrasting pairs of images (such as human and fairy, natural and artificial, domestic and wild, familiar and strange, modem and ancient, ephemeral and permanent) more suggestive patterns of meaning than might have been expected from such material. He was concerned from the beginning with opposites, with the dichotomy which he saw as central in experience: in his earlier poetry he explored the contrasts, while later he found poetic ways of resolving them or of subsuming them in a tertium quid,’

      The fact is that Yeats’s poetic imagination was nurtured by various factors. From London, Yeats got some vague Pre-Raphaelite notions and some knowledge of the French Symbolists; from Sligo and Rosses he got earthiness and folklore and a racy dialect; from Dublin, especially in the ‘lull in politics’ that followed the death of Parnell, he got the sense of belonging to a National Literary Movement. Thus, we see that the social and literary milieu of the time led to the flowering of Yeats’s poetic genius.

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