‘Larrissy’s readings of the poems are illuminating…’ Irish Studies Review
This book not only introduces the reader to contemporary themes in Yeats criticism, but also provides a unified interpretation based on Yeats’ ambivalent sense of identity as a nationalist conscious of the Anglo-Irish tradition from which he claimed descent.
Contemporary scholarship about W.B. Yeats (1865-1939) is increasingly clear about the implications of his being a nationalist from a Protestant background. He always felt a degree of distance from his Catholic compatriots, while at the same time believing that his own background offered him relative freedom to interpret Ireland’s pre-Christian traditions and mythology. This study shows how Yeats moved from passionate identification with the idea of Ireland in his early work, through a period in which he re-emphasizes his Anglo-Irish inheritance and its difference from that of Catholics, to a new sense of unity in his later work, founded on the belief that the Gaelic and the Anglo-Irish aristocracies were fundamentally alike. Effects of indecision and provisionality in the writing are intimately bound up with this ambivalent sense of identity, as are aesthetic doctrines such as that of the Mask. In line with recent scholarship, this study also treats Yeats’ occult researches as important for understanding the poetry, and as possessing political significance. Other topics addressed include the concept of the nation, representations of gender, and Orientalism, as well as those questions of style and form which underlie the extraordinary esteem in which Yeats’ poetry is still held by poets and readers of the twenty-first century.
Contents: Biographical Outline. 1. Introduction. 2. Early Yeats: The Rose of Ireland. 3. Mask, Image, and Aristocracy. 4. Esoteric Yeats. 5. Loosening Masonry. 6. The Influence of Yeats.