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Old 09-25-2007, 10:15 PM   #1
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William Butler Yeats

So I think I'm going to do my Master's Thesis on Yeats. I'm really intrigued by the various ways he presents the poetic identity, and how his presentations seem to be shaped by the tensions in his life and career (romanticism vs. modernism, Irish identity vs. English language and form, etc).

I'm really in love with "Leda and the Swan" right now, in particular.

More later, I'm tired.
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Old 09-25-2007, 11:00 PM   #2
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Excellent choice! I cannot WAIT to see the writer's museum in Dublin. So much talent evaolved from Ireland! Good luck on your thesis. Check back to share with us, I'd love to know how you're doing on the project!
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Old 09-26-2007, 11:44 AM   #3
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About a year ago I picked up a random book of short stories because I liked the title, "Music Through the Floor" by Eric Puchner. There's a really, really, great story in it based on Leda and the Swan, called "Essay #3: Leda and the Swan." I nearly died laughing reading it, written in the voice of a teenage student who is supposed to be writing an essay about the Yeats piece but it turns into something else entirely. You can read it (or some of it? I'm not sure if it's reprinted here in its entirety or not) here:

http://thesunmagazine.org/issues/363...a_and_the_swan

It won't help you with your thesis, but it's a good read anyway.
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Old 09-26-2007, 11:59 AM   #4
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Old 09-26-2007, 10:01 PM   #5
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I have a really cool book called VOICES OF IRELAND that has writings of all kinds of Irelands great writers. I like it because they are all short snippets so although it is a rather heavy and thick book, it's easy to pick up, read a few bits and set it back again.
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Old 09-27-2007, 05:24 AM   #6
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I really identified with his poem of "Cleosa".
It was almost as if he had written about me.
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Old 09-27-2007, 09:40 AM   #7
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Quote:
Originally posted by UnforgettableLemon
So I think I'm going to do my Master's Thesis on Yeats. I'm really intrigued by the various ways he presents the poetic identity, and how his presentations seem to be shaped by the tensions in his life and career (romanticism vs. modernism, Irish identity vs. English language and form, etc).

Fantastic!!!! That will be one hell of a thesis!!!


Quote:
Originally posted by Carek1230
Excellent choice! I cannot WAIT to see the writer's museum in Dublin. So much talent evaolved from Ireland! Good luck on your thesis. Check back to share with us, I'd love to know how you're doing on the project!

You'll love the writers museum. Don't forget to take in the surroundings outside as well!!!
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Old 09-27-2007, 10:22 AM   #8
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They have an exhibit on him right now at the National Library of Ireland. It's pretty cool. I think it will be there until December, or even next year. It includes showings of all his first editions, reproductions of all his journals, special bit on Maude Gonne, influences and times he lived, etc. Turns out he was interested a bit in astrology, clairvoyants.

Good luck on the thesis!
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Old 09-27-2007, 10:31 AM   #9
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Quote:
Originally posted by Fille Friday
Turns out he was interested a bit in astrology, clairvoyants.
Oh yeah. The latter portion of his career was very, very odd. But also brilliant. When he finally married, NOT to Maude Gonne, his wife supposedly received visions from ghosts, and in his attempts to contact them, he claimed to receive visions himself. These are documented in his book, A Vision. This is where he introduced the notion of the gyre, the two cones that represent the motion of history into a single point and then back out every 2000 years. It was this belief that informed what is, arguably, his best poem, "The Second Coming." It's all a little kooky, but it's also quite fascinating.

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in the sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?
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Old 09-27-2007, 10:56 AM   #10
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I also need to clarify that I'm first year and that this year will largely consist of doing research. I'm not quite sure if this will be the direction I keep, but I'm almost certain to stick with Yeats if nothing else. I was going to do Joyce, but it just feels exhausted to me right now. And for the first time in my life, even after earning my degree in English, I'm enjoying poetry. I want to savor that.
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Old 09-27-2007, 11:02 AM   #11
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Old 09-27-2007, 01:51 PM   #12
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I'm not a huge Yeats fan, but I've always loved "The Circus Animals' Desertion." It's such an amazing depiction of the writing process. Those last few lines are some of my favorite lines ever from any poem.

I

I sought a theme and sought for it in vain,
I sought it daily for six weeks or so.
Maybe at last, being but a broken man,
I must be satisfied with my heart, although
Winter and summer till old age began
My circus animals were all on show,
Those stilted boys, that burnished chariot,
Lion and woman and the Lord knows what.

II

What can I but enumerate old themes,
First that sea-rider Oisin led by the nose
Through three enchanted islands, allegorical dreams,
Vain gaiety, vain battle, vain repose,
Themes of the embittered heart, or so it seems,
That might adorn old songs or courtly shows;
But what cared I that set him on to ride,
I, starved for the bosom of his faery bride.

And then a counter-truth filled out its play,
'The Countess Cathleen' was the name I gave it;
She, pity-crazed, had given her soul away,
But masterful Heaven had intervened to save it.
I thought my dear must her own soul destroy
So did fanaticism and hate enslave it,
And this brought forth a dream and soon enough
This dream itself had all my thought and love.

And when the Fool and Blind Man stole the bread
Cuchulain fought the ungovernable sea;
Heart-mysteries there, and yet when all is said
It was the dream itself enchanted me:
Character isolated by a deed
To engross the present and dominate memory.
Players and painted stage took all my love,
And not those things that they were emblems of.

III

Those masterful images because complete
Grew in pure mind, but out of what began?
A mound of refuse or the sweepings of a street,
Old kettles, old bottles, and a broken can,
Old iron, old bones, old rags, that raving slut
Who keeps the till. Now that my ladder's gone,
I must lie down where all the ladders start
In the foul rag and bone shop of the heart.
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Old 09-27-2007, 03:40 PM   #13
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I also love how "The Circus Animals' Desertion" is essentially the classic five paragraph essay in verse. While we encourage our undergrads to break away from this form, I think it fares a little better here. And if my students wrote like Yeats, I'm not sure how much I would care. In addition, the poems and plays it references are all fantastic (in my opinion, shame we don't agree). "On Baile's Strand" may be my favorite Yeats play (fourth stanza). Yeats is integrating lots of greek dramatic and poetic conventions (Achilles = Cuchulain, Agamemnon = Conchubar, there is this inverted Oedipal battle, etc) and combining it with the aforementioned celtic icons. Essentially, he is promoting Irish drama in the twentieth century as something that can transcend the parochial.

This will probably be a big part of my thesis, too. It takes a lot of guts for someone who, like Yeats, invested so much time in exploring form and subverting content in the modernist bent to charge himself with the call to embrace introspection again. His final redefinition of poetic self, if you will.
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Old 09-27-2007, 03:46 PM   #14
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Oh, and this doesn't really show up in any anthology, but Yeats wrote a really funny and damning response to the people who railed against Synge's "Playboy of the Western World."

"On Those Who Hated the 'Playboy of the Western World', 1907"

Once, when midnight smote the air,
Eunuchs ran through Hell and met
On every crowded street to stare
Upon great Juan riding by:
Even like these to rail and sweat
Staring upon his sinewy thigh.
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