Yeats: Poems

October 11, 2022

Selected Poems and Four Plays
W.B. Yeats
Edited by M.L. Rosenthal (4th Ed.)
(Scribner, 1996)
xliv + 270 p.

For some years I’d been hoping to devote some time to the poetry of Yeats. I was familiar with really only a few of his poems: “Sailing to Byzantium”, “The Second Coming”, “Down by the Salley Gardens”, and “The Lake Isle of Innisfree” pretty much exhausted my acquaintance, I believe. For some reason which I cannot now specify, but probably gleaned from references to him here and there, I hoped that I was going to discover in him a friend, a kindred spirit.

I regret to say that this has not happened. I’ve had a tough time with Yeats. True, my collection now has 30 or so pages folded down to mark poems that appealed to me — poems like the simple and direct “A Drinking Song”, the folk-like “To an Isle in the Water”, the humorous “Politics”, or the elegiac “The Four Ages of Man” and “To a Friend whose Work has Come to Nothing”, or, with some surprise, the religious lyric “The Mother of God” — but sadly these were the exceptions. I found Yeats thorny and cold-shouldered, by and large. Truth be told, I simply found a great many of these poems hard to understand. I felt I was reading the poems without an entry point, and they remained, very often, merely cryptic and elusive. I don’t know if this is a common experience with this poet, but it was mine.

This volume also includes four of Yeats’ plays, but I was dispirited and didn’t read them.

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