This is an irregular series that aims to give you the outline of a literary figure (to make you sound clever ? Make academic friends maybe? And impress of course…. But also to inspire some real engagement, and build in some more context and understanding of people who have shaped our current artistic and human understanding of the world..)
The first installment of the series will be on...
YEATS…..is a personal favourite with loads of intellectual oomph and one who potentially intimidates.. and need not… He has lots to offer, not least a real sense of passionate belief in the redemptive power of love and desire, a strong sense of personal insecurity, and an absolute belief in the importance of imagination and the arts as possibly the only thing that will survive and renew us!.... phew.. see what I mean?
· Esoteric pronunciation (easy culture points here) – rhymes with deBATES/fetes and not heats/treats….(Yeats/Keats ….old literati game)
· Largely feared by many – (so promising literary capital for the ambitious) because of his weird spiritual phases, symbolism and the sheer weight and number of poems produced over a long life.
· A legend and a bit of a joke in his own lifetime – which was long – 1865 – 1939 – so seen as something of a SEER with a view on the Romantic values of the 19th century and the Modernism of the 20th.
· Obsessive – (slightly mad to you and me) about all sorts of things….. swans, stones, towers, politics….and …. The key YEATS/FACT ….ONE WOMAN throughout his very long life and writing career…
· MAUD GONNE - the defining fact of his life is his obsession with an unusual woman – over 6 foot tall with a penchant for heroic alpha-males…who refused his constant offers of marriage, spent her life fighting for Irish independence (whilst being English) and wore black in mourning for said Ireland to reflect her sense of having failed in her quest….(attention seeking? probably)
· WHY HE MATTERS…Because he’s given us some of the finest poetry lines and images ever….. there is real passion and breath-taking precision in the way that he gives shape and force to human experience and response to the world…
· Overexposed? In his lifetime –probably…. But now? He still really has something to say– the mix of the passionate human response (why should old men not be mad?), and the eloquently romantic (Tread softly, because you tread on my dreams) is still hard to beat. This is a man who felt it all – including at times a very strong sense of his own irrelevance, failure ( especially in love and lust) – as well as understanding his role as spokesman in the mad political shenanigans of Irish politics and the shifts of early twentieth century power and attitudes.
· His final echo? Lives on in language and ideas….. ‘That is no country for old men’ ….’It is time that I made my will’…. ‘A terrible beauty is born’…..’the best lack all integrity/ while the worst are full of passionate intensity….’
· Not sure where journalism would be without his portable and potent quotations!
· YEATS AND CONTEMPORARY CULTURE…..? Still features large on University Challenge….. he almost single-handedly underpins the headline-grabbing journalism of the twentieth century, and can still move me to tears in his articulation of our self-destructive ability to love the wrong person… and fail – again and again – in our attempts to be the person we know we could be. In the end this great poetic voice reminds us how we are all flawed, all dread old age and death and all fear that we are unloveable………………………………..and mad….
· He wishes for the Cloths of Heaven
· The Lake Isle of Innisfree
· The Second Coming
· Easter 1916
· Sailing to Byzantium
· Lapis Lazuli
HOW TO IMPRESS…
· The quirky fact…. Yeats believed in FAIRIES…..
· The rumours and what to believe….He’s not that difficult to understand ….. just enjoy the flow of his intellectual gropings and spiritual yearnings … he was more ordinary than he thought.
· The enigmatic final comment……’Could you just turn to page … and line…’ He died with his boots on, eternally editing his work for the world..
· The personal fact…..when, after regular proposals of marriage to Maud, he finally accepted that her ‘NO’ actually meant ‘NO’, he proposed to her daughter Iseult. She also said ‘NO’…. Hmmm.
YOU ARE NOW READY TO IMPRESS…