Article

W. B. Yeats: Poetry and Violence

Edna Longley

in The Oxford Handbook of Modern Irish Poetry

Published in print October 2012 | ISBN: 9780199561247
Published online January 2013 | | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199561247.013.0006

Series: Oxford Handbooks of Literature

W. B. Yeats: Poetry and Violence

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W. B. Yeats's poetry is littered with the words ‘violence’ and ‘violent’, from ‘No Second Troy’ to ‘Nineteen Hundred and Nineteen’, ‘Under Ben Bulben’, and ‘Cuchulain Comforted’. His 1921 poem ‘Ancestral Houses’ begins ‘Meditations in Time of Civil War’, in which ‘violence’ also shifts between historical and psychic eruptions, as well as between the overlapping spheres of war, politics, creativity, and sexuality. The more Yeats's poems prefer declaration to dialectics, the more they draw a strong line, the less he transmutes ‘human violence’ into intensity or complexity. Yeats argues that ‘style’ and ‘mask’ have enabled him to ‘subdue a kind of Jacobin rage’, to turn ‘petulant combativeness’ into ‘self-possession’. According to Otto Bohlmann, Friedrich Nietzsche confirmed or stimulated Yeats's approach to rationality, to the attributes and morality of the hero, to the conflict of self and soul, and to the cyclical nature of history. In another Yeats poem, ‘Easter 1916’, the speaker argues with himself and with history, and thus brings himself close to ‘voice’.

Keywords: poetry; W. B. Yeats; violence; war; politics; creativity; sexuality; Friedrich Nietzsche; rationality; Easter 1916

Article.  7941 words. 

Subjects: Literature ; Literary Studies (20th Century onwards) ; Literary Studies (Poetry and Poets)

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