Question: Discuss the personal elements of Yeats poetry.
Literature is the mirror of society. Every poet writes his literary works from his personal experience and high far-reaching perspective. Yeats (1865 – 1939) had a long literary career and he wrote his literary works by gathering his experiences from different perspectives. Basically, Critics have tried to find out his source of success and they have been able to understand that the power of his personal elements has made him more significant and successful. The personal elements of Yeats’s poetry are discussed here with reference to his poems.
The subject matter of his poems
The subject matter of Yeats’ many poems is taken from his personal life. The poems which are directly related to his personal life are “A Prayer for My Daughter, No Second Troy, Easter 1916 and Sailing to Byzantium”.
Vain nature of the beautiful girls
In commenting on the vain nature of the beautiful girls, Yeats perhaps hints at the behavior of Maud Gonne, the attractive girl whom he loved but failed to marry. Yeats had a lifelong passion for Maud Gonne and many of his poems contain references to her. In the poems such as “A Prayer for My Daughter, No Second Troy and Easter 1916”, he has talked about Maud Gonne. In most of the poems, we find a blend of passion and censure for his long-loved woman.
In the poem “A Prayer for My Daughter”, he censures Maud Gonne and in the destructive situation, he expresses his concern for his daughter’s future. He also prays for his daughter that his daughter should not have extreme beauty like Helen and Maud Gonne and will be married in an aristocratic family. Now, we realize that the futile nature of beautiful girls is universal and this stupid type of women suffer a lot in their lives.
Yeats is an Irish nationalist poet. His sense of nationalism and patriotism is evident in “Easter 1916”. Here the poet pays homage to the Irish nationalists who gave their lives for the interests of their country. Yeats mentions some of his acquaintances among these nationalists. It may be that these people have lived a ridiculous and ordinary life before. But their sacrifice has given meaning to their lives and as a result, a terrible beauty is born. The poet says that these people embody the eternal human quality and their stone-like quality can disturb other people’s lives:
“Hearts with one purpose alone
Through summer and winter seem
Enchanted to a stone
To trouble the living stream.”
Personal ideas about history and civilization
Like William Blake, Yeats puts forward his personal ideas about history and civilization. The poet has adopted the symbolic word to express himself. This is evident in the poem “The Second Coming”. Here the poet expresses his knowledge about the decay and destruction of civilization. Yeats believes in the cyclical sequence of history that he symbolizes by the image of ‘gyre’.
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
From the above reference, it is transparent that the poet is talking about his idea of separation and the idea of disintegration is certainly personal nature like that of Blake.
The conflict between physicality and spirituality
Although Yeats’s early poems were based on love, affection, nationalism, and patriotism, he reunited with these elements and life in his mature years. In the poem “Sailing to Byzantium” he discusses the conflict between physicality and spirituality. The older people are excluded from physical pleasure; they are like “A tattered coat upon a stick”. Yet they have a special ability to penetrate the soul. This is why the poet travels to the holy Byzantium, a symbol of spiritual practice. Feelings of romantic sadness pervade in this poem and many more poems.
“Now that my ladder’s gone,
I must lie down where all the ladder starts;
In the foul rag and bone shop of the heart.”
These lines are subtle expressions of Yeats’s own concept of poetry stemming from his personal experiences and passions like John Keats who is the youngest powerful romantic poet in the history of English literature and famous for his own innovative style which is ideality versus reality.
In the concluding remarks, it can be said that Yeats draws his subject from his personal life. In his poems, he has his own ideas about life and society. He relates his ideas and concepts about love, youth, age, death, and others. However, he presents his personal feelings in such a way that they touch the readers as well. Although his poetry contains autobiographical elements, its appeal is universal.