The Tension Displayed in W.B Yeats’ Poetry
When one hears the name ‘Yeats’, one most likely thinks of the man many consider to be Ireland’s greatest ever poet. However, if you were to ask these poets to discuss their favourite aspects of his poetry, I am sure that the response would amount to little more than some ‘umming’ and ‘errring’ and the occasional ‘his alliteration’ from those who remember their days at school. I must admit, I was the same before I began studying his work. Now, however, I consider myself well versed on the subject of Yeats’ poetry. I can identify, as many others can, with his longing to escape the pressures of civilisation and with his desire to possess the courage his heroes did. Above all, I can identify with his wish for an ideal world.
Quite frankly, Yeats was a bitter, arrogant and cynical man who, despite his riches and comfortable lifestyle, never seemed happy. An Anglo-Irish descendant, he spent part of his childhood in England, before returning to Dublin for the later part of his education. He was greatly influenced by Maud Gonne, his unrequited lover, and Lady Augusta Gregory, an old friend of his. Yeats spent his life moaning about the problems with the modern world and with his own body. He longed to escape to his ideal world, where he could be young and carefree once again, and be free of the pressures that so irritated him during his life.
Many themes are evident throughout Yeats’ work. He displays themes of nature, pacifism and of immortality through art. However, the most visible theme presented in his work is his desire to live in the ideal world. The manner in which his poetry is driven by a tension between the real world in which he lives and his ideal world he imagines is fascinating. The late great Séamus Heaney (another personal favourite) described Yeats as ‘a dreamer, an idealist’. It is hard to disagree with him.
Perhaps the clearest example of Yeats’ ideal world is shown in one of his most well-known poems, ‘The Lake Isle of Innisfree’. This popular poem is, in comparison to some of his other work, softly written. It is less a condoning of London, where he was based at the time, and more of a tale of the beauty of Innisfree. Yeats chooses to contrast the dull, grey city life with the vibrant life one can obtain by living in isolation on the isle. He repeats the phrase ‘I will arise and go now’ to great effect in this poem. He wants to go, to escape, to be at one with the world of nature by the lake. He is fed up of London and longs to escape again. There, he can build a small cabin ‘of clay and wattles made’. He will have ‘nine bean rows’ and ‘a hive for the honey bee’. Already, one can see why Yeats desires to live here. What he is describing is beautiful, vibrant, and alive with colour and life. At the same time, he will have ‘some peace there’, which he will have ‘from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings’. Yeats continues to describe his ideal world when he uses alliteration, assonance, sibilance, onomatopoeia and rhythmic metre in one single line, ‘I hear lake water lapping by the shore’. This is the most descriptive line in the poem. I completely identify with what Yeats is saying here. The imagery he uses is magnificent. This comes in sharp contrast to the ‘roadway’ and ‘pavements grey’ he is currently standing on. He realises he cannot go to his ideal world; he must stay, and like everyone else, deal with the pressures of civilisation. He hates the world he lives in, and loves Innisfree. The tension is again evident here. In my opinion, Yeats is simply describing the dream of millions in this poem. We all want to escape to this ideal world (I know I do!) but we can’t.
One has to look on a deeper level to find the ideal world in ‘The Wild Swans at Coole’. It is not presented to us in the most orthodox manner, it has to be said. However, through the theme of time passing, we can find Yeats’ ideal world. It is, quite simply, a world...
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