Yeats: Poems

Pdf Yeats, W.B., Poems, London: T. Fisher Unwin Ltd
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Poems by the Anglo-Irish poet, William Butler Yeats (1865-1939) dedicated to his muse Maud Gonne contains revisions of some his most famous works, plays and poems such as The Wanderings of Usheen, The Countess Cathleen, The Rose and The Land of Heart's Desire. They were revised and reprinted in one volume in 1895, again revised and reprinted in 1899, and again reprinted in 1901, 1904, 1908, 1912, 1913, 1919 and 1920. The book includes a 1912 and a 1901 preface from previous editions in which the poet explains he changes and revisions.

Yeats was born into wealthy Anglo-Irish Protestant privilege, the son of a painter and a descendent of a 17th century Williamite soldier. In his youth his unconventional enthusiasm for the occult led to his life long fascination with ancient Irish Gaelic mythology and his subsequent embrace of Irish nationalism and republicanism. A driving force behind the Gaelic Revival along with fellow Anglo-Irish literary figures he was out of step with the prevailing British Imperialist outlook among the Dublin bourgeoise of late 19th and early 20th century Ireland.

Despite his identification with Ireland rather than Britain, he was also out of step with the majority of the Catholic Irish who shared neither his cultural refinement nor his unconventional religious beliefs nor his liberal morality. Yeats also fell hopelessly in love with fellow Anglo-Irish nationalist Maud Gonne, who spurned his advances due his political moderation. She married the radical John McBride, who was later executed for his role in the 1916 Easter Rising. Gonne was to remain his muse for the rest of his life.

The Wanderings of Usheen retells the ancient Gaelic myth of Oisin, son of Fionn Mac Cumhaill, the leader of the Fianna, who rides with Niamh to the immortal land of Tir na nOg. He returns hundreds of years later to find the pagan world of heroes has vanished and been replaced by Christianity. He falls from his horse, is transformed in to a withered old man but refuses conversion despite the efforts of St. Patrick to persuade him otherwise. The legend is a parallel for how many Irish nationalists saw Ireland as colonised by Britain and Roman Catholicism.

The Countess Cathleen is an allegory about a countess who saves the souls of her tenants by offering her own to the devil during an ahistorical famine. Her sacrifice is recognised and she is awarded with eternal life. The play is unusual for the substitution of the male martyr figure of classical and Christian mythology for a female one. Maude Gonne performed the role during performances in the Abbey Theatre.

The Rose is symbollic of the wild beauty of Ireland and Maud Gonne who for Yeats was the ideal Irish woman. Meanwhile The Land of Heart's Desire is a fable about a faery child who entices a young couple to go with her to the pagan otherworld of immortality and joy and reject the lifeless Catholicism represented by the character of Fr. Hart. The poems express the feelings of Yeats and other Irish nationalists who wanted to strip away the baggage of history and return to the ancient Gaelic past for a model of the new Ireland after British rule had been removed.

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