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YEATS'S WORLDS by David Pierce

YEATS'S WORLDS

Ireland, England, and the Poetic Imagination

By David Pierce

Pub Date: Jan. 17th, 1996
ISBN: 0-300-06323-7
Publisher: Yale Univ.

 Pierce's distant, skeptical, pedantic view of Yeats's life and poetry seems all the weaker next to the lavish illustrations that accompany the text. In what he calls a ``provisional study'' before the full publication of Yeats's correspondence and other relevant volumes, Pierce (English/Univ. College of Ripon and York St. John; James Joyce's Ireland, 1992, not reviewed) takes a neutral if lackluster biographic stance towards Yeats's individual brand of literary-patriotic Irish nationalism and his self-creation out of the Celtic Twilight. Although Pierce is aware of the contradictions Yeats faced--an aristocrat by temperament but of the mercantile class by birth, a spiritualist and an Irish nationalist but of Protestant Anglo-Irish stock--he simply does not explore them to the depths Yeats did himself. Pierce's book has its strengths, which include a survey of 19th-century Irish nationalist writings that preceded (and arguably influenced) Yeats and a personable if still incomplete portrait of his wife, Georgina Hyde-Lees. Usually a peripheral figure in Yeats biographies, ``George'' comes out as a more formidable and humorous character in her letters here than she does in the well-known automatic writing that she provided for her husband's poetic inspiration. Pierce's pluses are unfortunately detracted from by a schoolmasterish approach to Yeats's poetry, which includes charts and tables of literary output, and a perfunctory examination of more familiar biographic and historical matter. The portraits of the poet's father, John Butler Yeats, and of Lady Gregory, Maude Gonne, Ezra Pound, and others are sketchy, and knottier problems such as Yeats's attitude to Easter 1916 and fascism remain stuck. This volume's illustrations handsomely evoke an eloquent atmosphere, though photographs of Yeats, et al., and scenes from Sligo to Coole are familiar. An uneasy compound of coffee-table biography and college literary primer, this is an attractively produced but wholly optional supplement for Yeats devotees and Hibernophiles. (150 b&w photos and 36 colorplates)