Yeats Unpopular Concern for Truth in Poetry

Also Read

      Yeats’s later poetry is characterized by a stark, naked realism, one may even say brutality and coarseness. The poet was caught ‘‘between two worlds.” His poetry reflects the clash of opposites.

      Yeats saw man as torn in conflict. The human existence is made up of antgonies: the spiritual and the physical, the sensuous and the artistic the past and the present, the personal and the impersonal, physical decay and intellectual maturity. The conflict is ever-present in Yeats’s poetry. He saw and presented the truth of the human situation.

      To Yeats, the modem civilization tended to build our fundamental consciousness of ourselves. The rise of democracy and mob violence which he witnessed in Ireland and Europe did not appeal to him. He felt that these events reflected a brutalization of humanity. In A Prayer for My Daughter, he wishes that his daughter should remain free of “intellectual hatred” which has corrupted beauty and innocence. In an age glorifying the ideals of democracy, Yeats spoke against it, or rather against the shape it was assuming in the civilization around him:

For arrogance and hatred are the wares
Peddled in the thoroughfares

      Meditations in Time of Civil War ends with a note of regret and the vision of futile violence. Nineteen Hundred and Nineteen ends on the same note. The mob is presented as “dragon-headed”. Heart and soul are separated from the intellect and there is every possibility of an evil future.

      Yeats was not over-impressed by the scientific progress made my modem man. “Aeroplane and Zeppelin will come out....until the towns lie beaten flat” (Lapis Lazuli). Destruction looms large before his eyes. He is disgusted with the sordid and common life led by the people, their imagination and spirit blunted and barren. This view of the Irish people becomes a statement of universal validity in the twentieth century—the truth of which may, of course, be unpalatable and unpopular. In Easter 1916, Yeats celebrates the transformation of the Irish people under the spell of violence. For once, they ‘‘resigned their parts in the casual comedy”—woman who spent her days in “ignorant good-will” and “her nights in argument”, and the “drunken vainglorious lout” were transformed. “A terrible beauty is bom”—the sordidness has been discarded to show vitality and a spirit of independence. But, asks Yeats, was the martyrdom of the rebels “needless death after all”? However unpopular, Yeats does not fear the truth.

      Perhaps, the evil fragmentation of our civilization is best expressed in The Second Coming. Yeats bluntly puts the truth before us—“Things fall apart; the center cannot hold,” and “anarchy is loosed upon the world.” The fragmentation in our lives can cause disorder and corruption. The good people unfortunately lack conviction, while the bad pursue their wicked ends with passionate intensity. The falcon, the symbol of intellectual power, has gotten free of the control of the falconer, who represents the heart or soul. In order words, the intellect’s progress is directionless in these times, and separated from human instinct. In such a situation, the future seems bleak—a brutal and savage force is about to take over. All this might have sounded pessimistic and certainly unappealing to his readers, but we cannot deny the basic truth of his vision.

      In the situation, Yeats wants to seek some kind of beauty and permanence beyond all the ugliness, corruption and impurity. Thus is his Sailing to Byzantium, the wish is not merely to escape sensuality and mortality but also the impurity and corruption of this world— the “complexities of mire and blood.” Byzantium presents the ideal world, free of the “dissipations and despairs” of the modem world, and, representing the unity of all aspects of life. In Byzantium, there is none of the multiplicities, hate, strife or confusion which are peculiar to the everyday life of men and women. The Byzantium poems bear out the contention that Yeats presents the clashing opposites of the human situation—“country-city, sensuality-intellectuality, dying- unageing, body-soul, flesh-spirit, holy-unholy.” We may not agree with his way of reconciling the opposites but we are fully conscious of the fragmentation in the human being and society of today. “Bodily decrepitude is wisdom; young loved each other and were ignorant”, Yeats says in one of his poems. He was always bewildered by the problem of the dissociation of power and knowledge—again a fact true to the human situation. As he questions in Leda and the Swan, are we fully aware of the action done or their significance?

      Man, according to Yeats, was faced with a fragmented life, unable to achieve the unity of being, where all contradictions are resolved. Only art and philosophy triumph over tragedy, only wisdom can teach us the value of tragic gaiety—that is his rejoinder to “hysterical woman” who says that something “drastic” should be done. Byzantium to him represented that point in history where ‘religious, aesthetic and practical life were one and architects and artificers spoke to the multitude and few alike.”

      Yeats’s poems present the truth about the human situation and he does not hesitate to use blunt and brutal terms to express it. He calls the world “the frog-spawn of a blind man’s ditch,” and “fecund ditch.” He says that man is :

All mere complexities
The fury and the mire of human wishes. (Byzantium)

      He does not glorify man’s intellect and progress in the scientific field or the growth of democracy, for he felt that human beings were losing the values and qualities which are truly great. The “ceremony of innocence” was being drowned in the blood-diamond tide. Like T.S. Eliot, Yeats too saw the world as disintegrating, becoming increasingly uncongenial, and faced with an uncertain future. He saw man going farther and farther from the Unity of Being which he should seek—that unity in which dancer and dance cannot be separated and tragic joy is possible. The truths which he speaks about human beings—the desires of the old man when he has lost all powers, the young lost in a sensual mire but ignorant in knowledge, the screaming mob devoid of discipline and beauty born of tradition - these cannot be popular and appealing. But it is this very uncommercial concern for truth that moves the reader of Yeats’s poetry. Tlie lines ring with sincerity of feeling. In a world in which one speaks “polite meaningless words”—itself speaking of the fragmentation in our life, for words devoid of meaning are useless— Yeats was not afraid to speak the truth.

University Questions

Yeats moves us because “he speaks unpopular truths about the fragmentation of our lives.” Furnish illustrations from the poems you have read.
Discuss Yeats’s uncommercial concern for truth in the poems you have read.

Previous Post Next Post