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BLOOD KINDRED by W.J. Mc Cormack

BLOOD KINDRED

W.B. Yeats: The Life, the Death, the Politics

By W.J. Mc Cormack

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 2006
ISBN: 0-7126-6514-5
Publisher: Pimlico/Trafalgar

A cogent—and densely scholarly—political study by Dublin historian and librarian Mc Cormack that delves uneasily into Yeats’s flirtation with fascism and eugenics.

By the end of Yeats’s life, in early 1939, the great Irish poet and Nobel laureate was deeply disillusioned by the course of Irish politics, in which he had been active for decades. His group of friends, such as Maude Gonne and her pro-Nazi son-in-law Francis Stuart, were anti-Semites, and his own After Strange Gods (1934) is explicit in its hostility toward Jews, while the posthumously published On the Boiler (1939) is a methodical treatment of the politics of hatred. The first major poke at Yeats’s Brahmin status among intellectuals came about with Conor Cruise O’Brien’s 1965 essay “Passion and Cunning,” which exploded the poet’s fascist leanings and knocked him from the pedestal established in earlier biographies by Joseph Hone, Richard Ellmann and A.N. Jeffares. Mc Cormack works backward here, from the pall surrounding the poet’s death to the announcement of Yeats as co-winner of the Frankfurt Plakette award in honor of Goethe’s centenary in 1932, sanctioned by the new Nazi regime, and the German production of his play The Countess Cathleen in 1934, produced by SS commander Friedrich Bethge. The author even explores Yeats’s confusion over sexuality and politics after his vasectomy in 1935, when he was 70, a procedure that seemed to have restored his manly vigor. Moreover, Yeats was actively wooed by the Nazis, as the author notes: “His ‘mystical’ and folklore interests were manifestly compatible with their ideology.” Mc Cormack moves backward still into the “intrusive ghosts” of Augustan poets like Swift, who haunted the poet’s work and mindset, as well as the Victorian roots in engendering the twin motivating forces of the early-20th century—militarism and anti-Semitism. Mc Cormack has previously written on the Anglo-Irish literary tradition, and his writing is erudite and well-informed, though often murky to navigate. However, this is a significant study, cold-eyed and solidly researched.

A troubling, important assessment of Yeats’s life and work.