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British and Irish Literature W. B. Yeats
by
Lauren Arrington

Introduction

William Butler Yeats (b. 1865–d. 1939) was a poet, playwright, theater director, spiritualist, and politician, and the scholarship based on his life and work matches the diversity of his pursuits. He is regarded as belonging to the Romantic and the Modernist traditions, as a defender of democracy and as a champion of fascism. These are two of the most controversial topics debated by some of the most eminent scholars in the humanities. Yet where academics have seen conflict and contradiction, Yeats himself found unity, and this search for Unity of Being is the subject of much of his autobiographical and esoteric writing. As he was one of the foremost writers of the 20th century and a key figure in the Irish Revival, criticism of his work tends to be divided between international and national contexts, both of which are fruitful avenues of inquiry and represented equally here. Most readers come to Yeats through his poetry, but he saw his work for the stage as equal to if not greater than his poetic enterprise. On winning the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1923, he surprised the committee with a speech, later published as “The Bounty of Sweden,” focused on his establishment of an Irish National Theatre. This bibliography aims to reflect the unity of Yeats’s vision while reflecting disagreements in critical appraisals. The topics outlined reflect the major areas of study at undergraduate and postgraduate levels, and the sources have been selected on the basis of their usefulness for scholars at this level.

General Overviews

Howes and Kelly 2006 is the best place to begin the study of Yeats. It is comprised of introductory essays by eminent scholars on topics for which the scholars have published full-length studies. For example, Elizabeth Butler Cullingford’s essay on “Yeats and Gender” in Howes and Kelly 2006 is an overview of themes addressed in Cullingford 1993 (cited in Yeats and Women). Some of the essayists in Howes and Kelly 2006 have also contributed to Holdeman and Levitas 2010, which gives a more in-depth survey of major themes. Three guides to each genre—poetry, drama, and prose—are recommended here. Unterecker 1996 focuses exclusively on the poetry; although it covers much of the material included in Albright 1994 (cited in Poetry), it is more discursive and can be read independently or alongside the poems. Yeats’s plays, particularly the drama of the middle and late periods, have a reputation for being challenging and at times obscure. Taylor 1984 can also be read independently of the plays and provides an accessible overview of the major themes of the drama as a whole as well as concise critical appraisals of each play. Unterecker 1996 and Taylor 1984 are both foundational texts, ideal for readers approaching Yeats for the first time and seeking introductions that balance biography with other approaches to the literature. As Yeats’s prose fiction is generally studied by readers who have come to Yeats through the poetry or the drama, O’Donnell 1983 is slightly more advanced than Unterecker and Taylor but is nonetheless a good place to begin exploring themes in the prose that are addressed in further detail in the subject categories. Two scholarly journals have been devoted exclusively to Yeats. Yeats: An Annual of Critical and Textual Studies contains specialized articles that may be useful for scholars researching a particular topic, poem, or play. It has not been electronically indexed and must be consulted in print. The Yeats Annual was founded in 1982 and is the leading journal of Yeats criticism.

  • Holdeman, David, and Ben Levitas, eds. W. B. Yeats in Context. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2010.

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    Comprehensive volume divided into seven parts: Times, Places, Personalities, Themes, Philosophies, Arts, and Reception. “Themes” incorporates politics, “Class and Eugenics,” and “Fascism,” which are considered separately from “Philosophies,” which includes “Folklore” and “Nietzsche.” Important volume for understanding contexts outside the boundaries that Yeats set for his work, opening up lines for engagement with wider themes in 20th-century literature.

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  • Howes, Marjorie, and John Kelly, eds. The Cambridge Companion to W. B. Yeats. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2006.

    DOI: 10.1017/CCOL0521650895Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Essays on major topics in Yeats criticism, from Romanticism and Modernism to gender and politics. Howes’s introduction addresses dialecticism and continuity in Yeats’s work and gives a summary of his career. Includes basic chronology of life and work. The most useful starting point for readers new to Yeats criticism.

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  • O’Donnell, William. A Guide to the Prose Fiction of W. B. Yeats. Ann Arbor, MI: UMI Research, 1983.

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    Chronological analysis of short stories and novels (John Sherman and The Speckled Bird) written between 1887 and 1905. Emphasis on material motivation for turning to prose fiction as an alternative to journalism. Also an emphasis on supernatural themes. Argues against reading John Sherman as early evidence of the philosophy of man and mask (see Ellmann 1988, cited under Biographies).

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  • Taylor, Richard. A Reader’s Guide to the Plays of W. B. Yeats. London: Macmillan, 1984.

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    Introduction provides concise overview of major themes in the drama: ritual, magic, the mask, the idea of tragedy, and the relationship of image, symbol, and style. Plays are grouped according to early, middle, and late periods, emphasizing the formal experiments of the middle period. Provides synopsis and critical gloss of each play.

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  • Unterecker, John. A Reader’s Guide to William Butler Yeats. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1996.

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    First published in 1959, the Guide is intended to be read alongside the Collected Poems. The first chapter gives an overview of important persons, themes, and symbols in Yeats’s poetry. Each subsequent chapter is devoted to a volume of poems and discusses major revisions and the evolution of themes and symbols. Also provides close readings.

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  • Yeats: An Annual of Critical and Textual Studies.

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    Important series containing articles, notes, and editions from leading Yeats scholars of the 1980s and 1990s. Articles not indexed electronically, so the print version of journal must be consulted. Published under the editorship of Richard Finneran by Cornell University Press (1983–1986) and then by UMI Research Press (1986–1999).

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  • Yeats Annual.

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    Regarded as the leading journal for Yeats criticism. Includes articles as well as notes on texts and editions. Increasingly comprised of special numbers devoted to a single topic, such as “Poems and Contexts” or “Influence and Confluence,” often with guest editors. Published by Humanities Press and Palgrave Macmillan since 1982 under the editorship of Warwick Gould. Articles are indexed in the Annual Bibliography of English Language and Literature, which is available only to subscribers. Issues also available for purchase from Palgrave Macmillan.

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Bibliographies and Reference Works

A good chronology is essential for appreciating the breadth of Yeats’s interests, and that in Kelly 2003 is regarded as the most authoritative source because it draws from his careful editions of the Collected Letters. The concordances of Domville 1972 and Parrish and Painter 1963 were produced with the antiquated technology of the IBM punch-card system, but the tabulated lists of Yeats’s word choices remain enlightening for the study of a poet for whom an elaborate system of symbols was central. The most useful bibliography is Wade 1968 since its descriptions of Yeats’s books as material objects provide valuable information for readers unable to access early editions of the texts. Pritchard 1972 is a good source for readers new to Yeats seeking a guide through the early criticism; it is particularly valuable for its guide to criticism by Yeats’s contemporaries and his early successors, such as Louis MacNeice and W. H. Auden. Readers seeking contemporary reviews of Yeats’s plays will find the Modern Irish Drama series edited by Robert Hogan, James Kilroy, and Richard Burnham invaluable (Hogan and Burnham 1984, Hogan and Kilroy 1978, Hogan and Kilroy 1975). These sourcebooks provide insight into Yeats’s decisions as a theater manager, the reception of his plays and other Abbey productions, and critical perceptions of him as a playwright and literary persona.

  • Domville, Eric. A Concordance to the Plays of W. B. Yeats. 2 vols. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1972.

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    An underused resource, the concordance enables the reader to trace themes in the dramatic canon as well as word choice, which is particularly important for understanding the poet-playwright. Intended as a companion to Parrish and Painter 1963.

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  • Hogan, Robert, and Richard Burnham. The Art of the Amateur: 1916–1920. Portlaoise, Ireland: Dolmen, 1984.

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    Like Hogan and Kilroy 1975 and Hogan and Kilroy 1978, this is a valuable resource for new readers writing essays on Yeats and the theater and for advanced scholars investigating contemporary responses to the Abbey Theatre’s productions. Concise and well-chosen excerpts of reviews in major national and international newspapers alongside important details on the theater’s finances, especially during the war years.

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  • Hogan, Robert, and James Kilroy. The Irish Literary Theatre, 1899–1901. Dublin, Ireland: Dolmen, 1975.

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    Compilation of select reviews of the Irish Literary Theatre’s productions in major national and international papers, including the Freeman’s Journal, the Irish Independent, the Irish Times, and the Manchester Guardian, and by the important amateur theater critic Joseph Holloway. Provides contextual glosses on major historical events.

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  • Hogan, Robert, and James Kilroy. The Abbey Theatre: The Years of Synge, 1905–09. Dublin, Ireland: Dolmen, 1978.

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    Although focused on John Millington Synge’s drama, Yeats’s role as theater director is essential. Like Hogan and Kilroy 1975, this is an essential resource for contemporary reviews of the Abbey Theatre’s productions and Yeats’s role in major controversies at the theater, such as the riots over Synge’s The Playboy of the Western World in 1907.

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  • Kelly, John S. A W. B. Yeats Chronology. Basingstoke, UK, and New York: Palgrave, 2003.

    DOI: 10.1057/9780230596917Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An important companion to any biography, Kelly’s Chronology provides a day-by-day account of Yeats’s interests and activities. It draws from published and unpublished correspondence to trace meticulously the composition of poems and plays, in addition to providing important historical contexts and succinct but entertaining accounts of personal and public life.

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  • Parrish, Stephen Maxfield, and James Allan Painter. A Concordance to the Poems of W. B. Yeats. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1963.

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    The editors’ amusing introduction on Yeats’s use of animals, exotic and domestic, illustrates how the concordance can be used to investigate themes and language patterns in the 10,666 words in Yeats’s poetic vocabulary.

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  • Pritchard, William H. W. B. Yeats: A Critical Anthology. Harmondsworth, UK: Penguin, 1972.

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    Part 1 covers Yeats’s criticism of his work and criticism from contemporaries (e.g., Gerard Manley Hopkins, William Empson, W. H. Auden). Part 2 is devoted to criticism after 1939, including T. S. Eliot, Louis MacNeice, George Orwell, Hugh Kenner, Frank Kermode, Harold Bloom, and Helen Vendler. Part 1 and early Part 2 are particularly useful for new readers seeking an overview of Yeats’s reception by major figures in 20th-century poetry.

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  • Wade, Allan. A Bibliography of the Writings of W. B. Yeats. 3d ed. Revised by Russell K. Alspach. London: Rupert Hart-Davis, 1968.

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    Much of the information in this volume is accessible through comprehensive online databases, but the book is nonetheless still useful for its compilation of books by Yeats and books and periodicals to which Yeats contributed. Builds on the second edition by Rupert Hart-Davis (1967) and Wade’s first edition (1951). Most useful for its chronology and descriptions that will appeal to students of the history of the book.

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Biographies

By far, R. F. Foster’s two-volume work, Foster 1997 and Foster 2003, is the most comprehensive and authoritative biography. That is not to say that other biographies are entirely supplanted, especially since Foster focuses on the life rather than critical interpretation of the work. Jeffares 1988 is a reliable, quick reference with its clear index and simple structure. Brown 1999 is perhaps more manageable than Foster for new readers since it is a single volume, focuses on the literature, and engages openly with other biographers and critics, which makes it particularly useful for readers trying to navigate the literary criticism on Yeats. Brown is particularly keen to emphasize Yeats’s Irishness, while Bloom 1970 considers Yeats in a less geographically focused context of 20th-century writers. The strong authorial voice in Bloom 1970 makes it highly readable, and it is a good contrast to the conscientious historicism of other biographies. Hone 1971 should not be used in isolation but is enjoyable as a specimen of early biography by one of Yeats’s contemporaries. Ellmann 1988 draws from his work on Wilde and uses the idea of the mask as a unifying theory to find continuity in Yeats’s life and work. McCormack 2005 is focused on Yeats’s politics and reads the entire life through the lens of Yeats’s late flirtation with right-wing politics. Both Hone and McCormick should be used by initiates to Yeats with caution; the carefully referenced Foster 1997 and Foster 2003 are the preferred sources for factual information.

  • Bloom, Harold. Yeats. New York: Oxford University Press, 1970.

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    Precursor to Bloom’s The Anxiety of Influence (New York: Oxford University Press, 1973), argues for Yeats as a Romantic poet, particularly as a successor of Blake and Shelley. A chronological biography of the work, not the life, in the context of Yeats’s reading and his philosophical system. Entertainingly written in a characteristically strong, judgmental tone.

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  • Brown, Terence. The Life of W. B. Yeats: A Critical Biography. Oxford: Blackwell, 1999.

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    Brown’s chronological study is concerned with the inflection of the life on the work. A more sophisticated single-volume biography than Jeffares but still accessible to new readers. Engages directly with other biographers and critics, such as Bloom. Includes works cited and a thematically organized bibliography to direct further reading.

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  • Ellmann, Richard. Yeats: The Man and the Masks. Rev. ed. London: Penguin, 1988.

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    First published in 1948, this classic text evaluates Yeats’s biography alongside his work. Through the idea of the masks, Ellmann argues for a unity in the seemingly conflicting ideas of private versus public man, man of ideas versus man of action.

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  • Foster, R. F. W. B. Yeats, A Life, I: The Apprentice Mage, 1865–1914. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1997.

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    Regarded as the official biography for historians and literary scholars. Conventionally structured, but chapters occasionally overlap in chronology with Foster 2003 in order to facilitate thematic organization. Extensive footnotes point readers to archival and printed source material. Volume 1 weights the life more heavily than the work and occasionally seems lacking in literary analysis. Nonetheless, a masterful depiction of Yeats and his circles.

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  • Foster, R. F. W. B. Yeats, A Life, II: The Arch-Poet, 1915–1939. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2003.

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    This volume is more attentive to literary analysis than Foster 1997. Particularly significant for its handling of difficult questions such as the occultism of the 1920s and 1930s and the politics of the 1930s.

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  • Hone, Joseph. W. B. Yeats, 1865–1939. Harmondsworth, UK: Macmillan, 1971.

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    First biography of Yeats, draws from manuscript and other sources in possession of George Yeats at the time. Written in a popular style and highly readable. Encompasses the work and the life. Occasionally incorporates poetry, letters, and prose in the text, but no apparatus. Enjoyable but not preferred for academic research. Originally published in 1943.

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  • Jeffares, A. N. W. B. Yeats: A New Biography. London: Hutchinson, 1988.

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    The latest revision of Jeffares’s frequently revisited W. B. Yeats (first published in 1971). Its clear chronology and conventional structure, limited scope, and simple prose style make it an accessible basic reference tool, if occasionally dry reading. Includes annotated bibliography and refers to critics in the body of the text. Most useful for new readers.

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  • McCormack, W. J. Blood Kindred: W. B. Yeats, the Life, the Death, the Politics. London: Pimlico, 2005.

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    Political biography emphasizing Yeats’s late engagement with fascism and seeking out instances of this philosophy throughout his life. Examines at length occasions that most critics consider only briefly. Highly subjective tone.

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Editions and Anthologies

Yeats’s poetry, plays, and essays have gone through many editions, within his life and posthumously. The books included in this section have been selected as those that are most useful for readers. Larrissy 2008 includes a representative selection of Yeats’s writing in different genres and on different subjects. Taken together, these provide an introduction to the corpus, which readers of the poetry will find enriching. Larrissy’s anthology is the best all-round introduction to Yeats’s writing because it includes Senate speeches and correspondence, while Finneran 2002 is restricted to literary texts but is nonetheless still useful as an undergraduate textbook or a basic introduction for readers new to Yeats.

  • Finneran, Richard J., ed. The Yeats Reader: A Portable Compendium of Poetry, Drama and Prose. Rev. ed. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002.

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    Emphasis on the poems but also includes one-act plays; selections from Autobiographies, Memoirs, journals, and the Diary from 1930; critical essays from major collections, A Vision, and select introductions; excerpts from The Celtic Twilight, The Adoration of the Magi, and Stories of Red Hanrahan. Endnotes are brief and pertain mostly to basic background and explication of proper nouns.

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  • Larrissy, Edward, ed. The Major Works: W. B. Yeats. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008.

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    Concise introduction provides glosses on major artistic and political themes in Yeats’s corpus as well as his legacy in both the academy and poetry. The only volume to include the best-known poems from each of Yeats’s collections as well as selection of plays, essays, occult writings, autobiographical works, Senate speeches, and a brief selection of his letters to major correspondents.

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Essays

Two volumes of Yeats’s essays were published posthumously in editions selected by his wife, George Yeats: Explorations (Yeats 1962) and Essays and Introductions (Yeats 1961). O’Donnell and Loizeaux 1994, part of Scribner’s Collected Works, includes, among others, “A General Introduction for My Work” from Essays Introductions and corrects misprints in the earlier editions. Where possible, readers should refer to volumes from the Collected Works since these editions are edited meticulously and correct misprints in earlier editions. Donoghue’s edition of Memoirs (Donoghue 1972) and William O’Donnell and Douglas Archibald’s editions of Yeats’s autobiographical essays (O’Donnell and Archibald 1999) are particularly important for their notes, which draw attention to Yeats’s often deliberate conflation of events. Gould and Toomey 2005 is not published as part of the Collected Works but is important for Yeats’s early essays that explore folklore and spiritualism. Readers interested in Yeats’s collaboration with Lady Gregory in the foundation of the Irish Literary Theatre and the Abbey Theatre will find FitzGerald and Finneran 2003 indispensable. This volume reproduces essays published in the theater’s little magazines, Beltaine and Samhain, which are rare in library holdings. An understanding of Yeats’s early aesthetic is enlightened by Bornstein and Witemeyer 1989; the volume was first published in 1934, and their edition includes, like many in the Collected Works, new material and a textual history of the volume, the first edition of which was overseen by Yeats.

  • Bornstein, George, and Hugh Witemeyer, eds. The Collected Works of W. B. Yeats. Vol. 7, Letters to the New Island. Basingstoke, UK: Macmillan, 1989.

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    Essays and reviews constituting Yeats’s contributions to the American newspapers, the Boston Pilot and the Providence Sunday Journal, from 1888–1892, with a preface from 1933. First published by Harvard University Press and edited by Horace Reynolds (1934, reprinted 1970). Includes two pieces omitted from the previous edition. Appendix includes Reynolds’s 1934 introduction.

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  • Donoghue, Denis, ed. Memoirs: W. B. Yeats. New York: Macmillan, 1972.

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    Includes Yeats’s journal (begun 1908) and first draft of Autobiography (begun 1915); appendixes give transcription of notes from occult diaries, examples of automatic writing, and short essays on symbolism in poetry. Journal contains drafts of poems, particularly informative in context of Yeats’s private thoughts.

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  • FitzGerald, Mary, and Richard J. Finneran, eds. The Collected Works of W. B. Yeats. Vol. 8, The Irish Dramatic Movement. New York and London: Scribner, 2003.

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    Essays written for the little magazines Beltaine, Samhain, and The Arrow. Introduction outlines history of theatrical pamphlets and textual history of writing. Yeats planned to collect and publish these as The Irish Dramatic Movement, a project never realized in his lifetime. Important primary resource for aesthetic and political ideas on theater, dramatic writing, and literature.

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  • Gould, Warwick, and Deirdre Toomey, eds. Mythologies. Basingstoke, UK, and New York: Macmillan, 2005.

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    Includes The Celtic Twilight (1893), The Secret Rose (1897), Stories of Red Hanrahan (1897), Rosa Alchemica, The Tables of the Law, and The Adoration of the Magi (1897) first collected for intended publication as Mythologies and The Irish Dramatic Movement (1932) but not published until 1959 as Mythologies, which included Per Amica Silentia Lunae (1917). Not published as part of the Collected Works.

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  • O’Donnell, William H., and Douglas N. Archibald, eds. The Collected Works of W. B. Yeats. Vol. 3, Autobiographies. New York: Scribner, 1999.

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    Editors argue that this volume is central to the study of Yeats’s poetry and drama, as it is Yeats’s vision of his life as a work of art. Textual introduction discusses Yeats’s complex process of assembling the volume. Comprehensive endnotes and “Background Notes on Writers,” summarizing life and significance to Yeats of individuals mentioned in text.

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  • O’Donnell, William H., with Elizabeth Bergmann Loizeaux, eds. Later Essays: The Collected Works of W. B. Yeats. Vol. 5, Later Essays. New York and London: Scribner, 1994.

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    Essays collected in Essays 1931 to 1936 or those selected for collected editions; contributions to Lady Gregory’s Visions and Beliefs in the West of Ireland; introduction to Oxford Book of Modern Verse; “A General Introduction for My Work” and “A General Introduction for My Plays”; and full text of On the Boiler. Corrects misprints in earlier volumes. Extensive notes and textual introductions.

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  • Yeats, W. B. Essays and Introductions. Selected by Mrs. W. B. [George] Yeats. London: Macmillan, 1961.

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    Introduction by WBY (1937), “Ideas of Good and Evil” (1896–1903), “The Cutting of an Agate” (1903–1915), and “Later Essays and Introductions,” including, deceptively, “Gitanjali” (1912) alongside truly later essays such as “A General Introduction for My Work” and “An Introduction for My Plays,” both 1937.

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  • Yeats, W. B. Explorations. Selected by Mrs. W. B. [George] Yeats. London: Macmillan, 1962.

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    Introductions to Cuchulain of Muirthemne, Gods and Fighting Men, The Midnight Court, The Words upon the Window-pane, The Resurrection, and The Cat and the Moon; “Swedenbourg, Mediums, and the Desolate Places”; “The Irish Dramatic Movement: 1901–1919”; “If I Were Four-and-Twenty”; “Pages from a Diary Written in Nineteen Hundred and Thirty”; “Fighting the Waves”; and selections from On the Boiler.

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Uncollected Prose

This section includes prose not collected in any volume during Yeats’s lifetime. Frayne 1970 and Frayne and Johnson 1976 are generally regarded as the authoritative source for Yeats’s newspaper articles, which were crucial to his dissemination of artistic and political ideas. Johnson 2000 reproduces some of Frayne’s material but also contributes transcriptions of Yeats’s radio broadcasts and scores by Edmund Dulac, which are of particular importance for readers interested in Yeats and music. O’Donnell 1988 is a useful volume for scholars who do not have access to the editions in which they appear, as well as for its careful scholarship.

  • Frayne, John P., ed. Uncollected Prose by W. B. Yeats. Vol. 1. New York: Columbia University Press, 1970.

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    Covers articles and reviews dated 1886–1896. Sparsely annotated but includes full bibliography of works under review, Yeats’s contributions to periodicals, and important secondary criticism. Long introduction analyzes Yeats’s attitudes toward journalism and its necessity early in his career and examines his persona as a critic–reviewer and propagandist for the literary revival.

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  • Frayne, John P., and Colton Johnson, eds. Uncollected Prose by W. B. Yeats. Vol. 2. New York: Columbia University Press, 1976.

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    Reviews, articles, and miscellaneous prose dated 1897–1939. Similar structure to Volume 1 (Frayne 1970) but has extended critical apparatus and includes index to both volumes. Introduction emphasizes Yeats’s mysticism and the predominance of his work for an Irish National Theatre in his prose. Also includes errata to Volume 1.

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  • Johnson, Colton, ed. The Collected Works of W. B. Yeats. Vol. 10, Later Articles and Reviews: Uncollected Articles, Reviews, and Radio Broadcasts Written after 1900. New York: Scribner, 2000.

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    Prose not collected by either WBY or George Yeats, some of which also appears in Frayne and Johnson 1976. Significant for transcriptions of radio broadcasts from the BBC archive. Appendix includes scores by Edmund Dulac for musical settings of the poems and emendations by Yeats on broadcast script.

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  • O’Donnell, William H., ed. The Collected Works of W. B. Yeats. Vol. 6, Prefaces and Introductions. London: Macmillan, 1988.

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    Uncollected prefaces and introductions written by Yeats for works by other authors or his own anthologies from 1888 to posthumous publications. Appendixes with Yeats’s notes on the works. Substantive annotations from the editors and textual introductions for each inclusion.

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Poetry

Webb 2000 is a good starting point for readers looking for a portable Yeats, and it contains the best-known poems in the oeuvre. Jeffares 1989 is a reliable volume and focuses primarily on Yeats’s revision. The maps, glossary, and notes on pronunciation will all be useful to new readers. Albright 1994 is widely regarded as the preferred edition for readers, and it is inexpensive and available in paperback. Albright’s notes provide essential context for reading the poems and gloss Yeats’s most significant revisions. Since revision was such an important part of Yeats’s poetic process and reflects major developments in his thought throughout his career, more advanced readers wishing to study the poems in depth should look to Allt and Alspach 1987, which traces the evolution of the poems in published texts. Although the variorum editions can seem cumbersome at first, the reader’s persistence will pay dividends. One volume from the Cornell Manuscript Materials series has been included here (Finneran, et al. 2007) since The Tower is perhaps the most widely studied volume of Yeats’s poetry. While Allt and Alspach 1987 reflects changes in published versions, Finneran, et al. 2007 looks to prepublication drafts and provides remarkable insight into the subjects of the poetry, as Yeats often began by exploring a very personal question or theme, which evolved into abstract symbols and images as the poem took life.

  • Albright, Daniel, ed. W. B. Yeats: The Poems. Rev. ed. London: J. M. Dent, 1994.

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    Widely regarded as the standard text for students and teachers. Indebted to, but differs significantly from, Jeffares 1989 in editorial decisions regarding punctuation and definitive versions. Entertaining introduction and notes on text. Extensive endnotes give textual history, important context, and glosses on images/symbols, persons, and places.

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  • Allt, Peter, and Russell K. Alspach, eds. The Variorum Edition of the Poems of W. B. Yeats. London: Macmillan, 1987.

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    Collates revisions to poems from first publication through final edition compiled by Yeats. A separate section includes poems not included in that final edition. Appendixes with Yeats’s notes to individual poems and “General Notes,” prefaces, and dedications. Not inclusive of manuscript revisions, for which readers should refer to the Cornell Manuscript Materials. The footnotes can be challenging to interpret. Originally published in 1966.

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  • Finneran, Richard J. Finneran, ed. The Collected Works of W. B. Yeats. Vol. 1, The Poems. New York: Macmillan, 1989.

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    Revised from 1983 (New York) and 1984 (London) editions in light of John S. Kelly’s discovery of three poems. Part 1 is based on Collected Poems (1933), which Yeats was revising for publication at the time of his death, and includes posthumously published Last Poems and Two Plays. Part 2 contains published poems excluded from Collected Poems, including those in essays, plays, and short fiction.

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  • Finneran, Richard J., Jared Curtis, and Anne Saddlemyer, eds. W. B. Yeats: The Tower (1928), Manuscript Materials. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2007.

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    The brisk introduction summarizes the publication and composition of the volume, some poems in process for more than fifteen years. Photographs of manuscript drafts with transcriptions on facing pages. Transcriptions show in-line editing and footnotes provide supplementary details. Appendix shows fragments, preliminary arrangement of poems for publication (1928), and changes in subsequent editions.

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  • Jeffares, A. Norman, ed. Yeats’s Poems. 2d ed. London: Macmillan, 1989.

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    Introduction conveys a sense of Yeats’s work rather than a historically rigorous account. Notes for poems are less comprehensive than those in Albright 1994. Textual notes compare copy text with corrections/emendations and source or reason for change. Appendixes include biographical chronology, maps, glossary of people and places, note on pronunciation, Yeats’s notes, and an essay by Warwick Gould on the definitive edition.

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  • Webb, Timothy, ed. Selected Poems. London: Penguin, 2000.

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    Concise volume achieves a thorough range of Yeats’s poetry (1888–1939) for readers who may be intimidated by the sheer size of Albright 1994. Most useful for its printing in full of versions of the same poem in cases of major revisions.

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Plays

Yeats published his Collected Plays (Yeats 1934) five years before his death and in the midst of some of his most abstract work, such as The King of the Great Clock Tower, also published that year by Cuala Press. This first edition of the Collected Plays differs significantly from later, critical texts but is important for understanding the way in which Yeats viewed his own canon. Clark and Clark 2001 corrects elisions Yeats made in his edition, restoring the original chronology of the plays and including work that Yeats omitted. Clark and Clark 1993 is a work of criticism but contains in full Yeats’s first play, Time and Vivien, which is often dismissed as juvenilia but may be of interest to scholars researching Yeats’s earliest drama. Alspach 1966, the Variorum Edition (like Allt and Alspach 1987, cited under Poetry), is an important reference for more advanced readers, but its appendixes, which include dates of original productions and cast lists, will be useful for scholars of all levels. These books, except for the first Collected Plays, can be found in most academic libraries. Cave 1997 remains the most accessible volume for readers wishing to have their own copy of the text; Cave’s careful notes explain the reasons for the versions that he selected; scholars wishing to compare texts that underwent significant revision—such as transformation from prose to verse—should refer to Clark and Clark 2001 and will also find the Cornell Manuscript Materials invaluable.

  • Alspach, Russell K., ed. The Variorum Edition of the Plays of W. B. Yeats. London: Macmillan, 1966.

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    Useful for advanced scholars of Yeats’s plays. Same format as Variorum Edition of the Poems (Allt and Alspach 1987, cited under Poetry). Introduction notes the challenges in compiling the edition, including Yeats’s erratic editing. Includes Yeats’s notes to the plays. Appendixes give general notes, prefaces and introductions, dates, and cast lists of first productions.

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  • Cave, Richard Allen, ed. W. B. Yeats: Selected Plays. London and New York: Penguin, 1997.

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    Introduction provides comprehensive summary of Yeats’s drama, noting importance of his collaborations and major themes. Versions of plays included are those published in Collected Plays (1952). Informative commentaries give brief glosses on major revisions, performance histories including costumes and sets, and notes on persons and places in the text.

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  • Clark, David R., and E. Rosalind Clark, eds. The Collected Works of W. B. Yeats. Vol. 2, The Plays. New York: Scribner, 2001.

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    Restores chronology of plays that was altered by Yeats for the Collected Plays (Yeats 1934). Includes Diarmuid and Grania (1901) and Where There Is Nothing (1902), previously omitted by Yeats. “An Introduction for My Plays” (1937) opens the collection, and appendixes give Yeats’s notes for unpublished Macmillan and Scribner editions as well as musical scores for plays. Thorough explanatory and textual notes.

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  • Clark, David R., and E. Rosalind Clark, eds. W. B. Yeats and the Theatre of Desolate Reality. Rev. ed. Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 1993.

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    Work of criticism most valuable for its reprinting of Time and Vivien, the earlier version of Time and the Witch Vivien, which Yeats acknowledged as his first effort at drama.

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  • Yeats, W. B. Collected Plays of W. B. Yeats. London: Macmillan, 1934.

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    Preface by Yeats instructs readers seeking performance texts to consult other editions; this edition is for “hearers and readers.” Acknowledges Lady Gregory’s collaboration. Does not include Fighting the Waves, an earlier version of The Only Jealousy of Emer. Interesting for Yeats’s representation of his dramatic canon.

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Fiction

Yeats’s early experiments with fiction were short-lived. The best editions of his early novel John Sherman and the novella Dhoya have been published as part of the Scribner Collected Works (Yeats 1991). O’Donnell 2003 is a critical edition of a work generally classed as a “fictional autobiography,” so it is included here. Yeats’s short stories on magical topics and folklore have been collected with his essays on those themes in Gould and Toomey 2005 (cited under Essays).

  • O’Donnell, William H., ed. W. B. Yeats: The Speckled Bird: An Autobiographical Novel, with Variant Versions. Basingstoke, UK, and New York: Palgrave, 2003.

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    The 1902 (final) version followed by outlines of plot and themes from 1896–1897; full texts of 1897, 1897–1898, and 1900 versions. Editor’s introduction discusses biographical themes and Yeats’s opinions and attitudes toward his work, and sensitively addresses difficult editorial issues including silent emendation of punctuation and variations in spelling.

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  • Finneran, Richard J., ed. The Collected Works of W. B. Yeats. Vol. 12, John Sherman and Dhoya. New York: Macmillan, 1991.

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    Supersedes Finneran’s previous edition of the text (1969). Appendix with “Ganconagh’s Apology” included in 1891–1892 editions of texts but not in 1908 Collected Works in Verse & Prose. Editor’s introduction outlines thoroughly the history of both texts as well as and explanatory notes gloss names, places, and mythological contexts.

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A Vision

A Vision was extensively revised by Yeats from its first publication in 1925 to its later incarnation in 1932. The 1925 version was edited by George Mills Harper and Walter Kelly Hood (see Harper and Hood 1978) and contains notes that are essential for explaining Yeats’s system. The 1937 edition was reprinted in 1962 (Yeats 1962) and contains “A Packet for Ezra Pound,” which is an important source in its own right for scholars interested in modernism and the occult. The Vision Papers are collected in Harper 1992–2001 and provide reproductions of archival material. Rarely studied at the undergraduate level, these texts will be most useful for postgraduates and other advanced scholars.

  • Harper, George Mills, et al. eds. Yeats’s Vision Papers. 4 vols. London: Macmillan, 1992–2001.

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    Volumes 1 and 2 contain automatic scripts from 1917–1918 and 1918–1920. Volume 3 contains Yeats’s notebooks, including his dream diaries. Volume 4 contains “The Discoveries of Michael Robartes” and a draft of the twenty-eight phases of the moon, an early draft of the schema set out in A Vision. A lengthy introduction and endnotes provide necessary context and gloss particularly significant passages.

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  • Harper, George Mills, and Walter Kelly Hood, eds. A Critical Edition of Yeats’s A Vision (1925). London: Macmillan, 1978.

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    Lithographic reproduction of 1925 published text. Editorial introduction discusses briefly Yeats’s various involvements and associates in psychic experiments, and surveys the range of notebooks and manuscript materials that contributed to his construction of A Vision. Endnotes explain names, places, and direct allusions.

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  • Yeats, W. B. A Vision. London: Macmillan, 1962.

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    Reprinting of 1937 edition of the text, which includes “A Packet for Ezra Pound.” No critical apparatus.

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Senate Speeches

Yeats’s speeches for the Senate can be a useful resource for studying his poetry and drama, as he often addressed literary and artistic questions as well as political ideas that were major themes in his literary work from the period. Donald Pearce’s edition (Yeats 2001) is the only published collection of the speeches.

  • Yeats, W. B. The Senate Speeches of W. B. Yeats. Edited by Donald R. Pearce. London: Predeville, 2001.

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    Introduction outlining Yeats’s involvement in constitutional politics and the debates to which he contributed. All of the Senate speeches are reprinted in full, on topics ranging from censorship to stained glass. Undelivered speech on divorce and selected journalism on politics reprinted in the appendix. No critical apparatus. Originally published in 1960.

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Letters and Manuscripts

There are more than seven thousand letters by W. B. Yeats extant, all of which have been collected under the general editorship of John S. Kelly. They are entertaining in themselves and are an important source for researchers, as the subjects and correspondents range widely. All of the letters are available through the Intelex edition (Kelly 1992), but the four collections published to date are important for their extensive and enlightening notes (Kelly and Domville 1986; Gould, et al. 1997; Kelly and Schuchard 1994; Kelly and Schuchard 2005). Wade 1955 was regarded as standard prior to Kelly’s project and is still a good resource for readers owing to its structure, its short biographical essays, and Wade’s notes on important persons. Two collections of Yeats’s correspondence with particular individuals have been selected for inclusion here. White and Jeffares 1992 contains the correspondence of Yeats and Maud Gonne, who is considered—alongside Lady Gregory—one of the most formative influences on Yeats’s work, particularly in the early years. McHugh 1970, the correspondence between Yeats and the actress Margot Ruddock, has also been included, since it provides important insight into Yeats’s later life.

  • Gould, Warwick, John Kelly, and Deirdre Toomey, eds. The Collected Letters of W. B. Yeats. Vol. 2, 1896–1900. Oxford: Clarendon, 1997.

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    Textual apparatus as in Kelly and Domville 1986, including expanded chronology. Introduction outlining major themes for period: membership of Golden Dawn, importance of folklore, Irish Literary Society, and Irish Literary Theatre as well as personal entanglements. Addenda giving letters for 1865–1895 that surfaced after publication of Kelly and Domville 1986, or more accurate version of text published there.

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  • Kelly, John S., ed. The Collected Letters of W. B. Yeats: Electronic Edition. Charlottesville, VA: Intelex, 1992.

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    A full-text database available on CD-ROM and online through a subscription service. Contains all extant letters by Yeats. Subscription edition updated with Kelly’s footnotes after publication of each print edition by Oxford University Press. CD-ROM only contains notes for volumes 1–3.

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  • Kelly, John, and Eric Domville, eds. The Collected Letters of W. B. Yeats. Vol. 1, 1865–1895. Oxford: Clarendon, 1986.

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    First of a projected twelve volumes. Footnotes discuss fully the correspondents, contexts of locations, persons and subjects mentioned, and are widely regarded as being as entertaining as the primary text. Prefatory chronology of entire life with particular detail for years in question. Appendix gives fuller discussion of major persons and organizations. Comprehensive index.

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  • Kelly, John, and Ronald Schuchard, eds. The Collected Letters of W. B. Yeats. Vol. 3, 1901–1904. Oxford: Clarendon, 1994.

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    Textual apparatus as before with expanded chronology. Introduction discusses growing importance of drama and increasing antagonisms with personal and public figures, importance of Nietzsche, tour to America (1903), founding of the Abbey Theatre (1904).

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  • Kelly, John, and Ronald Schuchard, eds. The Collected Letters of W. B. Yeats. Vol. 4, 1905–1907. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005.

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    Textual apparatus as before with expanded chronology. Introduction outlines occupation with “Theatre business,” major controversies at the Abbey including riots over John Millington Synge’s The Playboy of the Western World (1907). Appendix reprints important documents related to the theater: constitutions and patent. Extensive addenda to Vols. 1–3.

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  • McHugh, Roger, ed. Ah, Sweet Dancer: W. B. Yeats, Margot Ruddock. Basingstoke, UK: Macmillan, 1970.

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    Introduction discusses significance of friendship with Ruddock, correspondence throws light on Yeats’s late aesthetic and his reflections on his work. Useful for study of the late plays, such as A Full Moon in March and The Herne’s Egg. In many cases, both sides of the correspondence are extant. Insights into a shared circle of associates, such as Shri Purohit Swami.

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  • Wade, Allan, ed. The Letters of W. B. Yeats. New York: Macmillan, 1955.

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    Selected letters; regarded as the standard volume prior to Collected Letters. Ranges from 1887 to 1939 and is divided into six major periods of Yeats’s life, each introduced with a short biographical essay. Informative footnotes explain important persons and allusions. Originally published in 1954 (London: R. Hart-Davis).

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  • White, Anna MacBride, and A. Norman Jeffares, eds. The Gonne-Yeats Letters, 1893–1938: Always Your Friend. London: Hutchinson, 1992.

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    Prologue by White is intimate in tone, with reminiscences of her grandmother; scholarly introduction by Jeffares traces importance of Gonne throughout Yeats’s life. Useful for both sides of correspondence, but sparsely annotated compared to Kelly and given in endnotes so less practical. Especially good for correspondence post-1907 not yet published in Collected Letters.

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Poetry

The criticism on Yeats’s poetry is vast, so only classic texts and the most prominent recent criticism have been included here. Ellmann 1967 predates Harold Bloom’s The Anxiety of Influence: A Theory of Poetry (New York: Oxford University Press, 1973) and looks to the way in which Yeats bridges the fin de siècle and Modernism through his appropriation of Wilde’s aesthetic and his poetic dialogue with major Modernist writers such as T. S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, and James Joyce. Ellmann 1967 is highly readable and is a good foundation text. Henn 1965 is an important combination of historicist and formalist criticism and is important for later scholars, including John Stallworthy, Donald Torchiana, and Nicholas Grene. Stallworthy 1963 has been included as a model of close reading and manuscript studies. MacNeice 1967 is a striking reflection on the role of the poet and poetry and is important for understanding how Irish poets who came after Yeats were both reliant upon him and preoccupied with escaping his legacy. Putzel 1986 has been chosen for its subtle and accessible discussion of symbolism in The Secret Rose and The Wind among the Reeds, which is an essential concept for connecting the early, Romantic Yeats with the modern poet of the 1920s and 1930s. Recent studies, Vendler 2007 and Grene 2008, attempt to restore the primacy of the poetic work among the biographical trend in Yeats scholarship. Vendler’s exclusion of historicism results in ingenious readings that will stir the imaginations of readers. Grene’s text is more in line with the approach of earlier critics like Henn and considers the historical context for symbols and language while focusing resolutely on poetics.

  • Ellmann, Richard. Eminent Domain: Yeats among Wilde, Joyce, Pound, Eliot and Auden. New York: Oxford University Press, 1967.

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    Considers the complex and often conflicting process of influence in poetry. Introduction looks briefly to Robert Frost. Subsequent individual essays on Yeats and the poets named in the title. Chapters draw heavily from Ellmann’s biographies of Yeats, Oscar Wilde, and James Joyce. Classic text in Yeats studies.

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  • Grene, Nicholas. Yeats’s Poetic Codes. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008.

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    Considers major “codes” (e.g., dates, place names, animals) that have a significance rooted not only in their physical and historical context but also in Yeats’s use of them poetically. Other, less tangible codes considered are the use of “This and That, Here and There” and “Bitter/Sweet.” More accessible than Vendler 2007 and immensely readable.

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  • Henn, T. R. The Lonely Tower: Studies in the Poetry of W. B. Yeats. London: Methuen, 1965.

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    Heavily contextualized study of Yeats’s poetry: importance of his esoteric study, influence of visual art, war and revolution, readings in philosophy. Takes into consideration “The Poetry of the Plays,” excluded by many commentators. Important text for later critics, including Donald Torchiana (see Torchiana 1992, cited in Politics and Political Philosophy). Originally published in 1950.

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  • MacNeice, Louis. The Poetry of W. B. Yeats. London: Faber & Faber, 1967.

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    Useful foreword by Richard Ellmann contextualizing W. H. Auden’s and MacNeice’s attitudes toward Yeats and explaining the critical position from which MacNeice wrote his appraisal. MacNeice’s introduction argues for seeing all of Yeats’s poetry as realism based on innovative definition of the term. Chronological survey compares Yeats with major writers of his generation. Highly readable. Originally published in 1941.

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  • Putzel, Steven. Reconstructing Yeats: The Secret Rose and The Wind among the Reeds. Dublin, Ireland: Gill and Macmillan, 1986.

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    Argues that these poems are an attempt to create an ordered mythology out of a disordered tradition comprised of multitudinous legends. Suggests this is achieved through the creation of a symbolic system that incorporates Irish mythology, French symbolism, and Yeats’s occult interests. Close textual analysis and attention to important revisions.

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  • Stallworthy, John. Between the Lines: Yeats’s Poetry in the Making. Oxford: Clarendon, 1963.

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    Classic text examines the manuscripts in order to recover process of composition, exhibiting the relationship between form and content and the move from subjective to impersonal tone. Readings are historically contextualized. More accessible than the Cornell Manuscript Materials, which are invaluable for the experienced researcher but can be too daunting for less advanced readers.

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  • Vendler, Helen. Our Secret Discipline: Yeats and Lyric Form. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2007.

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    Supremely formalist analysis of the poems argues for “imaginative impulse” behind each choice of genre, rhyme, and stanza form. First chapter, “Lyric Form in Yeats’s Poetry,” is a solid introduction to different styles and potential reasons for their usage. Subsequent chapters are organized by style and theme and most useful for readers in search of particular close readings.

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The Abbey Theatre

Yeats’s work in the Abbey Theatre is considered here separately from analysis of his Drama. While each of the sources included in this section considers Yeats as a playwright to some extent, the emphasis is on Yeats’s directorial role. Flannery 1976 is a cornerstone for later scholarship on the place of the Irish Literary Theatre and Abbey Theatre in a European context. Flannery also considers the necessity of making the theater a viable commercial project, which was at odds with Yeats’s vision of an experimental theater. Frazier 1990 takes a similar approach to Flannery, blending theory with theater history in his focus on the impact of Yeats’s dependence on his patron, Annie Horniman. Both Flannery and Frazier are important for Levitas and Arrington. Levitas 2002 focuses on the role of the Abbey Theatre in the Irish Revival. In many ways Arrington 2011 is the successor to Levitas as it looks at the politics of the theater during the Irish Revolution and in the early Irish Free State. Among the many histories of the Irish dramatic movement, Maxwell 1984 has been selected because it reaches into the 1920s and 1930s and focuses on the theater as an institution under the directorship of Yeats. Kavanagh 1950, a history of the Abbey, has been included since it is often neglected, perhaps because of its critical and at times irreverent tone. Kavanagh’s history includes important documents related to the theater’s history and, like Arrington’s history, will be useful as a primary resource. Gregory 1972 is an essential text for scholars of Irish theater history, as it contains important reminiscences of her collaboration with Yeats in the founding of the Irish National Theatre.

  • Arrington, Lauren. W. B. Yeats, the Abbey Theatre, Censorship, and the Irish State: Adding the Half-Pence to the Pence. Oxford: Clarendon, 2011.

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    Investigates effect of government subsidy on the Abbey Theatre and argues that it resulted in self and state censorship. Relies on new primary source material to suggest Yeats was directly responsible for censoring plays as a member of the theater’s board of directors. Spans 1916–1939.

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  • Flannery, James. W. B. Yeats and the Idea of a Theatre: The Early Abbey Theatre in Theory and in Practice. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1976.

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    Intellectual history of Yeats’s attempt to provide a theater for his theories of drama. Considers relationship of theater with occultism as well as the place of theater in the temporal concerns of Irish politics. Collaboration with Lady Gregory, Edward Martyn, and George Moore is given full discussion, as well as contexts of new movements in Continental and British theater.

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  • Frazier, Adrian. Behind the Scenes: Yeats, Horniman, and the Struggle for the Abbey Theatre. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990.

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    Scrutinizes Yeats’s relationship with his patron, Annie Horniman, and foundational controversies over the freedom of the theater and its relationship with financial controllers. Theater history complemented by textual analysis of The Countess Cathleen and The King’s Threshold—subjects of important debates. Highly theoretical in places (actor-audience relationship) but very readable.

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  • Gregory, Augusta. Our Irish Theatre: A Chapter of Autobiography. 3d ed. Gerrards Cross, UK: Colin Smythe, 1972.

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    Gregory’s recollection of the founding of the Irish Literary Theatre to the controversy over The Playboy of the Western World on its performance in America in 1911. Useful as primary account of her collaboration with Yeats. Also includes reprinted newspaper articles on the Abbey players’ tours and interviews with Gregory.

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  • Kavanagh, Peter. The Story of the Abbey Theatre: From Its Origins in 1899 to the Present. New York: Dev-Adair, 1950.

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    Unduly neglected study. Examines tensions between Yeats’s elitism and the need for a national drama. Considers theater’s policies in light of financial pressure brought about by World War I and the Irish Revolution and changing policy on the board of directors in the Irish Free State. Appendix reproduces important documents, such as government subsidy and 1904 patent.

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  • Levitas, Ben. The Theatre of Nation: Irish Drama and Cultural Nationalism, 1890–1916. Oxford: Clarendon, 2002.

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    Examines the theater’s part in developing Irish political identity in the Irish Revival and the impact of Revivalist politics on the theater. Yeats’s place in shaping the role of the theater is central, and his responses to major controversies are discussed in context of competing discourses of national identity.

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  • Maxwell, D. E. S. A Critical History of Modern Irish Drama, 1891–1980. Cambridge, UK, and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1984.

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    Mostly dedicated to Abbey Theatre under Yeats’s directorship and his relationships with major authors, including John Millington Synge. Especially important for discussion of the 1920s and early 1930s, such as refusal of Denis Johnston’s The Old Lady Says “No.” Introduction considers Yeats’s experimental vision for the theater versus the realism that was its most frequent fare.

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Drama

Ellis-Fermor 1977 remains an important foundational text for students of Yeats’s drama, as it opens up a comparative approach that is characteristic of some of the most rigorous scholarship to date. Its most immediate successor is Worth 1978, which is particularly important for understanding the relationship of Yeats with other 20th-century playwrights. Worth’s book faded from scholarship with a critical turn back toward viewing Yeats in a national context. The national and international approaches to Yeats’s drama have been blended successfully in McAteer 2010, which should be seen as Worth’s successor. Dorn 1984 is a solid survey of major themes in the drama and is particularly useful in its discussion of Yeats’s many collaborators and influences, including Edward Gordon Craig and Ezra Pound. Cave 2011 looks at Yeats’s work with the ballerina and choreographer Ninette de Valois. While focused on only a few plays, it is an important work for its innovative methodology, which uses photographs to inform the study of drama as performance. Miller 1977 is another important survey for readers new to Yeats’s drama; it also focuses on the plays as drama for performance rather than literature, and the elaborate plates in the volume assist the reader in imagining the plays in production. There are many studies of Yeats and Japanese Noh theater, and Sekine and Murray 1990 has been selected here as an accessible comparative collaborative text by experts in the Japanese and Irish dramatic traditions. Jeffares and Knowland 1975 will be most useful for readers focusing on the plays as literature.

  • Cave, Richard Allen. Collaborations: Ninette de Valois and William Butler Yeats. Alton, UK: Dance Books, 2011.

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    Looks to de Valois’s work at the Festival Theatre, Cambridge, to inform collaborations with Yeats at the Abbey. Studies photographs to inform the way de Valois utilized her training in ballet to realize Yeats’s dance plays. Little discussion of Abbey Theatre of Ballet (founded by de Valois).

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  • Dorn, Karen. Players and Painted Stage: The Theatre of W. B. Yeats. Brighton, UK: Harvester, 1984.

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    Comprehensive survey: early collaboration with Edward Gordon Craig; influence of Pound and experiment with Japanese Noh drama and dance plays; adaptations of Sophocles and The Resurrection contextualized in wider trend of Greek revival. Reads easily; includes useful plates of drawings and engravings by Craig and Robert Gregory and photographs of casts and sets.

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  • Ellis-Fermor, Una. The Irish Dramatic Movement. 2d ed. Totowa, NJ: Rowman and Littlefield, 1977.

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    Foundational text in the study of Irish drama as it argues for the impact of its achievements outside the national context. Particular attention to poetic drama in contrast with Henrik Ibsen and considers Yeats, Gregory, and John Millington Synge. Prose style is dated but nonetheless an invaluable book. Opens a line of scholarship later traced by Worth 1978 and McAteer 2010. First published in 1953.

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  • Jeffares, A. N., and A. S. Knowland, eds. A Commentary on the Collected Plays of W. B. Yeats. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1975.

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    Intended as a companion to the Collected Plays (Yeats 1934, cited under Plays; rev. 1952) but references still easy to follow used with Volume 2 of the Collected Works (Clark and Clark 2001, cited under Plays). For each play: general discussion, textual history, contemporary criticism and major criticism (pre-1974), original cast list, and explanatory notes on individual lines. More detailed than notes to Clark and Clark 2001.

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  • McAteer, Michael. Yeats and European Drama. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2010.

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    Builds on Worth 1978 but focuses exclusively on Yeats; divides study into early plays, Cuchulain cycle, and later plays and encompasses Maurice Maeterlinck, Henrik Ibsen, Luigi Pirandello, Noh theater, and German Expressionism, particularly Ernst Toller. Occasionally draws from theorists (e.g., Theodor W. Adorno) but largely historically diligent in interpretation.

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  • Miller, Liam. The Noble Drama of W. B. Yeats. Dublin, Ireland: Dolmen, 1977.

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    Survey ranging from The Land of Heart’s Desire to The Death of Cuchulain. Chronological study suggesting theme for each period: native drama, ancient memories. Considers plays as productions for the stage rather than literature and integrates this study effectively with historical-biographical context. Beautiful plates illustrating costumes and set designs.

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  • Sekine, Masaru, and Christopher Murray. Yeats and the Noh: A Comparative Study. Gerrards Cross, UK: Colin Smythe, 1990.

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    Clearly outlines the principles of Noh, Yeats’s understanding of Noh (mediated through Ernest Fenollosa via Ezra Pound), and examines Four Plays for Dancers in comparison with Noh conventions. Also includes a case study of a performance of The Dreaming of the Bones at University College Dublin and an essay by Katharine Worth, “Enigmatic Influences: Yeats, Beckett and Noh.”

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  • Worth, Katherine. The Irish Drama of Europe from Yeats to Beckett. London: Athlone, 1978.

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    Groundbreaking work that considers the European contexts affecting Irish drama, particularly Maeterlinck. “Towards Modernism” analyzes the importance of Symons and the symbolist movement; “The Syntax Achieved” looks to the staging techniques developed by Gordon Craig. Close textual analysis combined with context of theater history. Yeats is central to the entire volume.

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Politics and Political Philosophy

Arguably, this is the most heated topic of debate in Yeats criticism. O’Brien 1965 is a classic essay that sparked an ongoing discussion about the nature and extent of Yeats’s involvement in the Irish fascist organization, the Blueshirts. Indeed, even the classification of the Blueshirts as fascist is debated, as some historians prefer to view them as proto-fascist and thereby defuse their political ideology. Cullingford 1981 is a direct response to O’Brien, and Cullingford’s argument stands at the opposite end of the spectrum to his. Both of these texts are essential for understanding the range of debate on the subject. Freyer 1981, as evidenced by its title, is aligned with O’Brien’s argument, although it engages much more subtly with the political idea of fascism than O’Brien’s piece. Stanfield 1988 focuses on a range of political involvement and literary output and is less polemical than O’Brien or Cullingford, as is Krimm 1981. North 1991 attempts to balance Yeats’s late politics with an investigation of his interest in William Morris’s vein of socialism in the 1890s, and he considers Yeats among Modernist writers who held similar elitist views, to varying degrees. Bohlmann 1982 maintains a philosophical and literary focus that is textually based and disengaged with Irish politics. Torchiana 1992 is concerned with Yeats’s turn to major 18th-century figures, such as Swift and Burke, to explain his vision of the central role of the Anglo-Irish in ruling the country. Allison 1996 gives a helpful overview of the diversity of Yeats’s politics, many aspects of which have been eclipsed by the debate over fascism.

  • Allison, Jonathan, ed. Yeats’s Political Identities. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1996.

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    Important collection of essays that present opposing views of divisive topics including Yeats’s attitudes toward fascism, his position as a Modernist or Romantic poet, and the importance of the Protestant Ascendancy in his political imagination. Contributors include Conor Cruise O’Brien, R. F. Foster, Marjorie Howes, Seamus Deane, Declan Kiberd, Edna Longley, Seamus Heaney, and Terrance Brown.

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  • Bohlmann, Otto. Yeats and Nietzsche: An Exploration of Major Nietzschean Echoes in the Writings of William Butler Yeats. London: Macmillan, 1982.

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    Suggests that Yeats’s philosophical ideas have origins in William Blake. Analyzes Yeats’s drama in Nietzschean terms. Major themes include theory of tragedy, aesthetics, the hero and the Übermensch, and cyclical history. Emphasizes the multiple sources for Yeats’s political ideas, which do not necessarily originate in Nietzsche himself.

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  • Cullingford, Elizabeth Butler. Yeats, Ireland, and Fascism. London: Macmillan, 1981.

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    Reaction to O’Brien 1965. Argues that the term “fascism” is inappropriate but goes on to state that Yeats’s fascism was brief and excusable in the context of the early 1930s. Sees Yeats as beginning to reject fascist philosophy in 1934. Advocates reading late poems and pamphlets as products of old age.

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  • Freyer, Grattan. W. B. Yeats and the Anti-Democratic Tradition. Dublin, Ireland: Gill and Macmillan, 1981.

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    See particularly chapter 8, “At Posterity’s Bar,” which gives a useful overview of contemporary and posthumous critical attitudes toward the politics in relation to the poetry. Engages subtly with the idea of fascism as a historical concept and Yeats’s relation to it. Takes opposite view to Cullingford 1981 on politics post-1935.

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  • Krimm, Bernard G. W. B. Yeats and the Emergence of the Irish Free State, 1918–1939: Living in the Explosion. Troy, NY: Whitston, 1981.

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    Landmark text in shaping critical engagement with Yeats and Irish politics. Considers Yeats’s position during the Anglo-Irish War, the new state, his work in the Senate, his attraction to fascism in light of Civil War politics, Throughout, historical and biographical focus informs study of Yeats’s writing and other forms of cultural engagement, like the Abbey Theatre’s program.

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  • North, Michael. The Political Aesthetic of Yeats, Eliot, and Pound. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1991.

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    First chapter, “W. B. Yeats: Cultural Nationalism,” reflects on Yeats’s relationship with the modern and literary modernism by considering his debates on relationship of individual with nation. Provides concise background to the Revival and uses neutral language to discuss later fascism, which is carefully contrasted with early flirtation with Morrisite socialism.

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  • O’Brien, Conor Cruise. “Passion and Cunning: An Essay on the Politics of W. B. Yeats.” In In Excited Reverie: A Centenary Tribute to William Butler Yeats, 1865–1939. Edited by A. Norman Jeffares and K. G. W. Cross, 207–278, London: Macmillan, 1965.

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    Classic essay. O’Brien considers Yeats’s politics throughout his life and argues that his involvement in the Blueshirts should not be dismissed. Looks at authoritarian antidemocratic politics of On the Boiler (1938). Suggests that Yeats’s fascism was only limited by his circumstances. Sparked a debate that continues to the present.

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  • Stanfield, Paul Scott. Yeats and Politics in the 1930s. Basingstoke, UK: Macmillan, 1988.

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    Sensitive appraisal of the diversity of Yeats’s interests and the way that events, which in a different context would have been unremarkable, produced profound political statements in the 1930s: Lady Gregory’s death, his edition of the Oxford Book of Modern Verse, his rereading of Balzac, his introduction for Shri Hamsa’s The Holy Mountain.

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  • Torchiana, Donald. W. B. Yeats and Georgian Ireland. Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 1992.

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    Important analysis of Yeats’s interest in the 18th century and the significance of his conception of major figures (Jonathan Swift, Edmund Burke, George Berkeley, Oliver Goldsmith, and Henry Grattan) in the development of his politics, particularly after he joined the Senate. Argues that Yeats’s relationship with the Protestant Ascendancy was intellectual, not religious. Considers poetry on these themes as well as plays and pamphlets, especially the controversial On the Boiler (1938). Originally published in 1966.

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The 19th Century and the Fin de Siècle

Critics tend to take one of two approaches to the study of Yeats in the 19th century. The first is to view Yeats through the lens of 19th-century Irish literature, particularly the Young Ireland poets. Foster 2011 is the most recent work in that vein. The classic Marcus 1970 looks to Yeats’s earliest work and positions him at the center of the Irish Literary Revival, a view that is complicated by Foster in his analysis of the diversity of Irish writing in the period. Ingman 2009 looks to the short fiction that characterizes Yeats’s early career and argues that this form was important in the Irish Revivalists’ imagination of the nation. Regan 1995 is in a volume dedicated to the fin de siècle, so it usefully contextualizes the intellectual climate and introduces readers to important debates and major critics. The second approach to the early Yeats is to see him in the wider context of European writing at the turn of the century. Perloff 1971 has been included here as an exemplar. She illustrates the breadth of Yeats’s influences and argues convincingly that although Yeats could not read German, he came to Goethe through Walter Pater, who was a formative influence and whom Yeats discusses at length in his autobiographical writing.

  • Foster, R. F. Words Alone: Yeats and His Inheritances. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011.

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    Argues that the novelty of Yeats’s early work is taken for granted; attempts to recover its revolutionary nature by situating him in context of Irish literature post-1800: the national tale, nationalist ballads, the “Big House” novel. Chapter 4, “Yeats as Inheritor,” discusses the self-reflexive nature of the Revival and contemporary evaluations of Yeats.

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  • Ingman, Heather. “Fin de Siècle Visions: Irish Short Fiction at the Turn of the Century.” In A History of the Irish Short Story. By Heather Ingman, 55–83. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2009.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511770418.003Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Based on the premise that short fiction is best suited to fantasy; argues that Irish writers used this mode as a vehicle for transformation of a society in transition. Discusses Yeats’s collections of folklore and his early short fiction with particular comparison to Wilde and in the wider context of histories of reading and print culture.

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  • Marcus, Phillip L. Yeats and the Beginning of the Irish Renaissance. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1970.

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    Focuses on Yeats’s work from 1885 to 1899. Argues Yeats was deliberately trying to found a literary movement with himself at the center. Relationships with Katherine Tynan, A. E., Douglas Hyde, and lesser-known figures Nora Hopper and William Larminie. Final chapter looks at “The Tradition before Yeats” and Yeats’s dialogue with tradition. Conclusion addresses founding of Irish Literary Theatre.

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  • Perloff, Marjorie. “Yeats and Goethe.” Comparative Literature 23.2 (1971): 125–140.

    DOI: 10.2307/1769265Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Argues that Johann Wolfgang von Goethe influenced Yeats’s poetry and prose and that Yeats came to him via Pater, reflected in Goethe’s place in A Vision as representative of Unity of Being, and suggests that this extends to Yeats’s philosophy of the mask. Focuses on A Vision but concludes by positing evidence of Goethe’s influence in Yeats’s early poetry.

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  • Regan, Stephen. “W. B. Yeats and Irish Cultural Politics in the 1890s.” In Cultural Politics at the Fin de Siècle. Edited by Sally Ledger, 66–84. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1995.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511553707Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Lucid overview of the general artistic principles of the fin de siècle and the particular historical context of Victorian Ireland and their intersection in Yeats’s early volumes, The Rose (1893) and The Wind among the Reeds (1899). Good introduction to major critics.

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Modernism

Irish Modernism is an emerging field of study, but the critical consideration of Yeats as a Modernist has a long tradition. One of the earliest texts on this subject is Donoghue 1966, which argues that Yeats was involved in the development of Modernism but was not entirely committed to it as an aesthetic movement; this ambiguity is typical of criticism, which tends to position Yeats as a bridge between the Romantic and the modern. Maxwell 1977 considers Yeats alongside Eliot and Joyce and is a lighthearted and critically astute introduction to the major debates in this field. Fogarty 2007 claims boldly that it was Yeats’s Irishness that prevented his full incorporation into the Modernist canon, and she reads Yeats’s early poetry in the context of a formative Modernism. Longenbach 1990 is a close study of Yeats’s relationship with Pound and will be useful for readers interested in pursuing further the themes raised by Donoghue, Maxwell, and Fogarty. Castle 2001 is heavily informed by postcolonial theory; while his argument is similar to Fogarty’s, his methodology provides an informative contrast to the historicism that characterizes the most prominent work in the field. Brown 2010 successfully blends a historicist reading of “Easter 1916” with a study of the poem in relation to Modernist poetics and serves as a model of how further readings might be performed. Adams 1995 has been selected for inclusion as it considers A Vision as a Modernist text, among a field of study that tends to regard that book as supplementary to Yeats’s poetry and plays. Childs 2001 interrogates one of the most controversial aspects of the movement, explored further in Politics and Political Philosophy.

  • Adams, Hazard. The Book of Yeats’s Vision: Romantic Modernism and Antithetical Tradition. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1995.

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    Considers A Vision as a Modernist text, the ideas of which are rooted in the Romanticism of Blake and Shelley. Provides useful summary of the components of the 1937 version. Introduction engages with methodological questions related to concepts of text and author/narrator and proceeds on clearly defined terms. Includes glossary of Yeats’s terms, such as “gyre.”

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  • Brown, Terence. “Modernism and Revolution: Rereading Yeats’s ‘Easter 1916.’” In The Literature of Ireland: Criticism and Culture. By Terence Brown, 45–60. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2010.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511760662.005Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Challenges the reading of Vendler 2007 (cited in Poetry) of the poem as elegy and argues for a more subtle ambivalence, evident in formal and linguistic subtleties, such as contrast of comedy and tragedy. Considered in light of Yeats’s work on The Player Queen (1916). Emphasizes response to war and self-referential aspects, key tropes in Modernism.

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  • Castle, Gregory. Modernism and the Celtic Revival. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2001.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511485015Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Argues that the relationship between anthropology and the Irish Revival is central to development of modernism in Irish writing. Chapter 2, “Yeats, Revivalism, and the Redemption of Culture,” examines themes similar to Garrigan Mattar 2004 (cited under Folklore) but in a less historical and more heavily theorized argument, arising from postcolonial theorists, particularly Bhabha and Said.

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  • Childs, Donald J. Modernism and Eugenics: Woolf, Eliot, Yeats, and the Culture of Degeneration. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2001.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511485022Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Gives background to wide-ranging proponents of eugenics from Fabians to fascists. Finds the “language of eugenics” in Yeats’s occult interests, early poetry, and nationalist politics. Chapters 7–9 deal explicitly with Yeats. Attempts to connect major texts in eugenics with Yeats’s work; cannot always prove these texts were read by Yeats but argues that parallels provide convincing circumstantial evidence.

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  • Donoghue, Denis. “Yeats and the Living Voice.” Studies 55.218 (1966): 147–165.

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    Argues that Yeats was involved in Modernism but not committed to it. Does not distinguish between Symbolism and Imagism but sees Yeats’s use of symbols in the context of T. S. Eliot and Wallace Stevens. Discusses the Irish oral tradition and opposes it to the individualism of Eliot’s famous essay. Important early attempt to argue for the significance of Irish culture in Yeats’s late as well as early work.

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  • Fogarty, Ann. “Yeats, Ireland and Modernism.” In The Cambridge Companion to Modernist Poetry. Edited by Alex Davis and Lee M. Jenkins, 126–146. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2007.

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    Suggests Yeats’s relationship with Modernism is a formative influence on the movement and, paradoxically, “never fully embraced” by him as practiced by figures like Eliot and Pound. Proposes Yeats’s Irishness prevents critics from including him in the Modernist canon. Refreshing perspective on Celtic Twilight poems, seen as utopian, and on history as an active force in shaping poetry.

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  • Longenbach, James. Stone Cottage: Pound, Yeats, and Modernism. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1990.

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    Analyzes work undertaken during the three winters Yeats and Pound spent in Stone Cottage, Ashdown Wood, Sussex. Sees their relationship as foundational to “Anglo-American Modernism” as through each other they encountered other literary monoliths, Joyce and Eliot. Entertaining and comprehensive, particularly important for Imagism/Symbolism and Noh theater.

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  • Maxwell, D. E. S. “Yeats and Modernism.” Canadian Journal of Irish Studies 3.1 (1977): 14–31.

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    A highly entertaining essay that surveys the criticism and contemporary debates over the definition of Modernism. A large part of the essay is devoted to Eliot and Joyce in order to depict the movements in literature that Yeats witnessed. Explores playfully the relationship of the structure and language of Yeats’s poems with those of the universally acknowledged Modernists Eliot and Pound.

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Occultism

Yeats’s occultism is central to his work but can be a difficult subject to penetrate. The research in Harper 1975 pioneered the academic study of Yeats’s occultism and was foundational to establishing it as a subject for serious study. While much work on A Vision and other occult writings is intricate and can be opaque to initiates, this edited collection provides a comprehensible overview of the scope of Yeats’s occultist writings. Two studies into the formal occultist organizations to which Yeats belonged have been selected here. Monteith 2008 analyzes Helena Blavatsky’s influence on his work, and Harper 1974 investigates the reasons for Yeats’s leaving the Theosophists for that society. Raine 1986 looks at the influence of William Blake on Yeats’s interest in magic and esoteric philosophy. Readers with a solid grounding in the basic principles of Yeats’s occultism will find innovative Nally 2010, which pairs Yeats’s interest in the occult with his ideas about Irish nationalism. Most critical writing on Yeats’s occultist writing focuses on A Vision, but Levine 1983 looks to Yeats’s earlier work, Per Amica Silentia Lunae, and it looks at the relationship of his occultist interests with his early poetry.

  • Harper, George Mills. Yeats’s Golden Dawn. London: Macmillan, 1974.

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    Explains the attraction of the Golden Dawn to Yeats and his reasons for joining the society. Traces the impact of the relationships forged through the society and its magical principles on Yeats’s work. Appendixes include private correspondence, documents from the society, and a catalogue of the Wescott Hermetic Library, from which Yeats read.

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  • Harper, George Mills, ed. Yeats and the Occult. London: Macmillan, 1975.

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    Essays by eminent scholars, including William H. O’Donnell, William M. Murphy, and John S. Kelly. Harper’s introduction gives an overview of material in Yeats’s library—notebooks, tarot cards, and accounts of séances and other experiments—that are the subjects of many of the essays that follow. Important in the critical movement to regard Rosicrucianism and the occult as subjects for serious study.

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  • Monteith, Ken. Yeats and Theosophy. New York and London: Routledge, 2008.

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    Highly accessible introduction to the esoteric philosophy of Blavatsky’s branch of Theosophists, Yeats’s involvement, and its impact on his work. Clearly structured; introduction provides concise contextual summary. Gives close readings of “Crossways,” Mosada, Cathleen ni Houlihan, editions of Blake, folklore, and Yeats’s reflections on Blavatsky in his autobiography.

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  • Nally, Claire. Envisioning Ireland: W. B. Yeats’s Occult Nationalism. Oxford: Peter Lang, 2010.

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    Analyzes A Vision as an occult text that addresses Yeats’s relationship with nationalism and posits an alternative national narrative based on the idea of the Protestant Ascendancy. Draws on postcolonial theory to argue for reading A Vision as “ethnic narrative.” Theoretical introduction followed by more focused and accessible chapters. Chapter 4 considers the middle plays and the idea of theater as magic and ritual.

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  • Levine, Herbert. Yeats’s Daimonic Renewal. Ann Arbor, MI: UMI Research, 1983.

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    Attempts to balance scholarly attention to A Vision with a study of Yeats’s earlier esoteric text, Per Amica Silentia Lunae (1918). Builds on Harold Bloom’s focus on Per Amica’s importance to Yeats’s poetics while also emphasizing the esoteric themes that are also expressed in the poetry and plays of the middle period.

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  • Raine, Kathleen. Yeats the Initiate: Essays on Certain Themes in the Work of W. B. Yeats. Portlaoise, Ireland: Dolmen, 1986.

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    Essays on diverse mystical influences on Yeats. Chapters on Blake particularly informative for introduction to philosophies of Pythagoras and Emanuel Swedenborg, ideas on the order of the cosmos that influenced A Vision. Chapters on the tarot, “Death-in-Life and Life-in-Death,” and the Indian poet Kabir also accessible and informative. Considers diversity of writing, not restricted to A Vision.

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Folklore

Thuente 1981 is a useful starting point for surveying Yeats’s work in this vein and the impact of his studies in folklore on his style. Yeats’s interest in folklore is closely related to his Occultism and also the development of Modernism, and these two themes are pursued separately by Garrigan Mattar 2004 and Kinahan 1988. Garrigan Mattar 2004 considers Yeats alongside Lady Gregory and John Millington Synge and sees their work in the field as the inheritance of European Romanticism. Kinahan 1988 looks at the way in which symbols in Yeats’s early poetry resonate in both the tradition of Irish folklore and occultism. Readers interested in pursuing further the sources for Yeats’s approach to folklore will find Kinahan 1983 enlightening. His discussion of 19th-century folklorists relates to Garrigan Mattar’s study as well as the 19th-century tradition explored by Foster 2011 (cited under the Nineteenth Century and The Fin de Siècle).

  • Garrigan Mattar, Sinéad. Primitivism, Science, and the Irish Revival. Oxford: Clarendon, 2004.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199268955.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Seeks to link Victorian primitivism with primitivism of Modernism by looking at Yeats, Gregory, and Synge. Argues that their primitivism is rooted first in European Romanticism rather than in Irish nationalism or anthropology. Focuses on Yeats’s reading in comparative science to inform analysis of his collections of folklore and his emphasis on ritual in drama.

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  • Kinahan, Frank. “Armchair Folklore: Yeats and the Textual Sources of ‘Fairy and Folk Tales of the Irish Peasantry’.” Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy. Section C: Archaeology, Celtic Studies, History, Linguistics, Literature 83C (1983): 255–267.

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    Analysis of Yeats’s notes and commentary in the volume. Traces sources for Yeats, such as the importance of Croker’s methodology for Yeats’s approach and the proximity of Yeats’s passages to William Wilde’s Irish Popular Superstitions (Dublin, Ireland: James McGlashan, 1852). Compelling argument for reasons behind Yeats’s appropriations and the absence of acknowledged sources.

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  • Kinahan, Frank. Yeats, Folklore, and Occultism: Contexts of the Early Work and Thought. Boston and London: Unwin Hyman, 1988.

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    Attempts to define the poet’s early sensibility and argues that this was as sophisticated as his later aesthetics. Considers major symbols (the rose, the sidhe or fairies, nature) and their sources and the evolution of the images as Yeats matured. Important for considering folklore as a “philosophy” and placing it on par with other occultist pursuits.

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  • Thuente, Mary Helen. W. B. Yeats and Irish Folklore. Dublin, Ireland: Gill and Macmillan, 1981.

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    Defines separately “myth” and “folklore” and argues that Yeats was significantly more engaged with the latter. Impact of narrative traditions of folklore on Yeats’s style. Traces shifts in subjects of editing and collecting, from fairies through peasants to heroes. Argues that this context provides a basis for understanding the concept of the hero in his work.

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Classicism and Byzantium

An interest in classicism is important to most modern poetry, and Yeats is no exception. Arkins 1990 provides an introduction to Yeats’s engagement with this theme across his work and is a good starting point for readers. Scholars interested in pursuing the links between classical forms, such as the Sophoclean ode, and Yeats’s poetry will find Clark 1983 enlightening. Jeffares 1946 explores the symbolism of the middle poetry and offers a clear reading of one of Yeats’s most debated poems, “Sailing to Byzantium.” Notopoulos 1959 uses the same poem as the foundation for an exploration of Plato and Plotinus, whose philosophy underpins much of Yeats’s writing.

  • Arkins, Brian. Builders of My Soul: Greek and Roman Themes in Yeats. Gerrards Cros, UK: Colin Smythe, 1990.

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    Implicitly situates Yeats as a Modernist by beginning with argument that the classics are an important element in Modernism. Begins with “Yeats’s Knowledge of Classics” and then considers Greek and Roman themes in philosophy, myth, religion, history, literature, visual art, and the trope of Byzantium. Accessible to readers with little knowledge of classical literature and of interest for classicists interested in Yeats.

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  • Clark, David R. Yeats at Songs and Choruses. Gerrards Cross, UK: Colin Smythe, 1983.

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    Looks to intersections in Yeats’s interest in folklore and classicism to explain connections between folk song and Greek choruses. Almost exclusive focus on the “Crazy Jane” poems and Yeats’s adaptations of Sophocles. Close formal analyses of the poems to elucidate experiments in meter. Examines representations of Oedipus and the Sphinx in painting and argues for their influence on Yeats.

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  • Jeffares, A. Norman. “The Byzantine Poems of W. B. Yeats.” Review of English Studies 22.85 (January 1946): 44–52.

    DOI: 10.1093/res/os-XXII.85.44Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Informed by drafts of poems and contributions by George Yeats regarding Yeats’s reading for sources of imagery. Discusses the process of eliminating the personal and particular from “Sailing to Byzantium.” Contrasts that poem with “Byzantium” and compares the symbolism.

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  • Notopoulos, James A. “Byzantine Platonism in Yeats.” Classical Journal 54.7 (1959): 315–321.

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    Uses “Sailing to Byzantium” as a platform for discussion of Yeats’s interest in and uses of Plato and Plotinus. Largely biographical and emphasizes importance of his friendship with Stephen McKenna. Suggests probable (neither Greek nor Latin) sources that Yeats consulted for imagery in “Sailing to Byzantium.”

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Women and Gender

The category “Women and Gender” has been chosen because it highlights two major strands of criticism: studies of the importance of women in Yeats’s life and work and Yeats’s attitudes toward women, which is a topic addressed by critics whose work is informed by gender theory. Kelly 1987 and Foster 2004 on Yeats and Lady Augusta Gregory and Harwood 1989 on Olivia Shakespear come under the first category, while Cullingford 1993, Howes 1996, and Kline 1983 are aligned with the second. Several essays on Gregory have been selected here; in addition to those by Foster and Kelly is Pethica’s important essay on Yeats and Gregory’s collaboration, included in Toomey 1997; the prominence of Gregory in the citations below reflects the significance attributed to her by Yeats. Both Cullingford 1993 and Kline 1983 situate Yeats’s love of poetry in a historical tradition. Cullingford’s essay focuses on an Irish context, so readers interested in the European tradition of love poetry will find Kline’s study more helpful.

  • Cullingford, Elizabeth Butler. Gender and History in Yeats’s Love Poetry. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1993.

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    Situates Yeats in his Irish contexts in order to provide historical as well as gender theory–based understanding of the love poetry. Considers the tension between the generic history of love poetry and the New Women with whom Yeats associated and who were the subjects of his poems.

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  • Foster, R. F. “Yeats and the Death of Gregory.” Irish University Review 34.1 (2004): 109–121.

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    One essay in a special issue of Irish University Review devoted to Gregory. Analyzes Yeats’s writing in Gregory’s last days as a consideration of the fate of her class; considers his attempts to publish her work—diaries, letters, and autobiographies. Summarizes Yeats’s reflections on her in Dramatis Personae and “The Municipal Gallery Revisited.”

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  • Harwood, John. Olivia Shakespear and W. B. Yeats: After Long Silence. London: Macmillan, 1989.

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    Constructed as a biography of Shakespear (step-aunt to George Hyde-Lees, mother of Dorothy Shakespear, and mother-in-law to Ezra Pound) but focuses on her intersections with Yeats, his reflections on their love affair, and his poetry in which she is featured. Conveys a sense of an intimate network of creative and sexual affairs.

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  • Howes, Marjorie. Yeats’s Nations: Gender, Class, and Irishness. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1996.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511581939Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Interrogates Yeats’s ideas of nationality—what it means to be Irish—rather than the more frequently argued question of his nationalism. Evaluates Yeats’s representations of women and his interest in the occult in wider political contexts. Avoids the simplification often found in biographical approaches and attempts to integrate Yeats’s philosophy with theoretical precepts and wider cultural debates.

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  • Kelly, John S. “Friendship is the Only House I Have’: Lady Gregory and W. B. Yeats.” In Lady Gregory, Fifty Years After. Edited by Ann Saddlemyer and Colin Smythe, 179–257. Gerrards Cross, UK: Colin Smythe, 1987.

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    Traces the relationship from the motivations for its beginning through their joint endeavors, with particular focus on the early years and the reconstruction of their personalities and the psychological importance of their association. Argues that she was a major transforming force in his life, while he enriched but did not significantly alter hers.

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  • Kline, Gloria. The Last Courtly Lover: Yeats and the Idea of a Woman. Ann Arbor, MI: UMI Research, 1983.

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    Argues Yeats is the “last courtly lover” because he saw women as having a symbolic place in culture and sought out these symbols in the women he knew: Maud Gonne, Katherine Tynan, Florence Farr, Olivia Shakespear, Iseult Gonne, George Hyde-Lees, Margot Ruddock, Dorothy Wellesley. Contextualizes Yeats’s work in a tradition ranging from Chaucer to Baudelaire.

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  • Toomey, Deirdre. Yeats and Women. 2d ed. Basingstoke, UK: Macmillan, 1997.

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    Essays by Toomey, Elizabeth Cullingford, James Pethica, John Harwood, Warwick Gould; letters to Yeats from Florence Farr, Olivia Shakespear; Yeats’s BBC broadcast “Poems about Women.” Pethica’s “Patronage and Creative Exchange” and “‘Our Kathleen’: Yeats’s Collaboration with Lady Gregory in the Writing of Cathleen ni Houlihan” are landmark contributions to Gregory’s importance. Appendix includes manuscript draft of Cathleen ni Houlihan illustrating Gregory’s major contributions.

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Music

Yeats’s claim that he was tone deaf led to a deficit of critical engagement with the relationship of his poetry with music. This topic is emerging as an important field in Yeats studies. Meir 1974 is a largely neglected study that deserves to be more widely read, as its importance has been justified by the more recent Schuchard 2008. Schuchard devotes a significant portion of his study to Yeats’s interest in music and the theater, and scholars wishing to pursue this line will find Davidson 1990 compelling.

  • Davidson, Peter. “Music in Translation: Yeats; Pound; Rummel; Dulac.” In Yeats and the Noh: A Comparative Study. Edited by Masaru Sekine and Christopher Murray, 137–144. Gerrards Cross, UK: Colin Smythe, 1990.

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    Analyzes music for At the Hawk’s Well and The Dreaming of the Bones (composed by Dulac and Rummel, respectively, and approved by Yeats) and its relation to conventional music for Noh theater.

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  • Meir, Colin. The Ballads and Songs of W. B. Yeats: The Anglo-Irish Heritage in Subject and Style. London: Macmillan, 1974.

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    Situates Yeats’s poetic form in context of ballads of 19th-century popular nationalism and focuses on form. Looks to influence of translations of Irish-language poetry (particularly Hyde). Chapter “Yeats’s Debt to Anglo-Irish Dialect” is useful for readers unfamiliar with dialect patterns of speech, although term “Anglo-Irish” is increasingly unfashionable in criticism owing to its sociohistorical ambiguities.

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  • Schuchard, Ronald. The Last Minstrels: Yeats and the Revival of the Bardic Arts. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2008.

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    Recovers, contra Richard Ellmann, the importance of music to Yeats: his belief in the role of the bardic poet and importance of bardic tradition; work with Florence Farr; music and dance for the theater; the relationship between music and ritual, chant and symbolism; poetry and music in BBC broadcasts of the 1930s.

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Visual Arts

Loizeaux 1986 is still the best survey of Yeats’s work in relation to this topic. Scholars interested in the emerging field of “word and image” will find Brown 2011 useful, as it engages theoretically and historically with the subject. Lewis 1994 has been included here because it considers W. B. Yeats throughout and discusses the importance of the press in publishing his work as well as its role in the formulation of ideas about visual representation. Readers interested in the Yeats brothers will find Pyle 1977 readable and informative. The importance of Walter Pater in the development of Yeats’s aesthetic is addressed in Bizot 1976. This theme is pursued further by North 1983 on Yeats’s ideas about sculpture and public art. The visual art of the theater is addressed by Flannery 1975 on the collaboration of Yeats and Edward Gordon Craig, which complements Dorn 1984 and Cave 2011 (both cited under Drama).

  • Bizot, Richard. “Pater and Yeats.” ELH 43.3 (1976): 389–412.

    DOI: 10.2307/2872421Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Builds on Bloom 1970 (cited under Biographies) to discuss the history of Pater’s and Yeats’s relationship, Yeats’s published references to Pater, and the importance of Pater’s essay on Leonardo da Vinci to Yeats’s late work. Discusses at length the history of Pater–Yeats criticism and its biases. Argues for direct influence of the Leonardo essay on Yeats’s formulation of symbolic method.

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  • Brown, Karen. The Yeats Circle: Verbal and Visual Relations in Ireland, 1880–1939. Farnham, UK, and Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2011.

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    Part of emerging body of scholarship on the relationship between word and image. Chapters 1–3 are particularly relevant: the tradition of Pre-Raphaelitism and the influence of John B. Yeats; collaborative work at the Dun Emer and Cuala industries; and collaboration with Nora McGuinness and its contribution to development of Irish Modernism.

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  • Flannery, James W. “W. B. Yeats, Gordon Craig and the Visual Arts of the Theatre.” In Yeats and the Theatre. Edited by Robert O’Driscoll and Lorna Reynolds, 82–108. London: Macmillan, 1975.

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    Focuses on Yeats’s concern with manipulating space on the stage and his collaboration with Craig in experimenting with color and light in plays like The Hour-Glass and The King’s Threshold. Concise and useful discussion of Craig’s background and Yeats’s aesthetic opinions of Craig’s London productions.

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  • Lewis, Gifford. The Yeats Sisters and the Cuala. Dublin, Ireland, and Portland, OR: Irish Academic Press, 1994.

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    Although focused on Elizabeth and Lily Yeats, the entire Yeats family, including W. B., considered throughout. Useful context for the arts and crafts movement in Ireland, ideas about design, and the Yeats family’s collaboration in publication of limited edition collections of W. B. Yeats’s poetry and broadside ballads, illustrated by Jack B. Yeats and printed by Cuala.

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  • Loizeaux, Elizabeth Bergmann. Yeats and the Visual Arts. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1986.

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    Helpfully illustrated survey of the relation of art to Yeats’s corpus and the significance of particular artists (such as Michelangelo) in his personal symbolism. Includes early and late poetry, A Vision, and theater. Limited to Western art as well as art forms and artists who had theoretical significance, rather than contemporary artists in his circle.

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  • North, Michael. “The Ambiguity of Repose: Sculpture and the Public Art of W. B. Yeats.” ELH 50.2 (1983): 379–400.

    DOI: 10.2307/2872822Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Argues that the use of sculpture in Yeats’s poetry derives from Walter Pater and the influence of Gustave Moreau. Considers evolution of metaphor from early to late poetry. Engages with positive and negative critical interpretations of “repose” and argues that ambiguity is a means by which Yeats addresses the disjuncture between public art and its private inspiration.

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  • Pyle, Hilary. “‘Men of Destiny’: Jack B. and W. B. Yeats, the Background and the Symbols.” Studies 66.262–263 (1977): 188–213.

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    Discussion of parallel themes in the Yeats brothers’ work and a simultaneous shift in aesthetics in the 1920s. Considers early collaborative efforts on illustrated poems as well as the later series Broadsides. Also Jack B. Yeats’s designs for the theater and shared symbols, such as the rose. Engaging tone and useful illustrations.

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Yeats in Contexts

The sources here have been selected as a sample of the contextual material that will inform the study of Yeats’s work across its varied scope. Jeffares 1980 will greatly inform the study of Yeats for readers with little knowledge of the west of Ireland, as the Sligo landscape was a formative influence on Yeats. Pierce 1995 provides a contrasting view to Jeffares as it illustrates the importance of England in Yeats’s career. Mikhail 1977 will supplement scholarly biographies of Yeats, providing colorful reminiscences that may be transparently subjective but are an invaluable glimpse into Yeats’s contemporaries’ perceptions. Howe 1985 is recommended to readers interested in the further context for Yeats’s esoteric study. Trotter 2001 is a landmark text and essential for situating Yeats’s work at the Abbey in the context of other Dublin theaters. Finally, Watson 1994 has been selected for its importance in reconsidering Yeats in an Irish context that explodes the traditional conceptions of Irishness and nationalist politics.

  • Howe, Ellic. Magicians of the Golden Dawn: A Documentary History of a Magical Order, 1887–1923. Rev. ed. Wellingborough, UK: Aquarian, 1985.

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    Important in George Mills Harper’s revisions of his manuscript of Yeats’s Golden Dawn. History of the organization during Yeats’s involvement. Significant sections on Yeats as well as important associates, including MacGregor Mathers, Annie Horniman, Aleister Crowley, and Florence Farr. Originally published in 1972 (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul).

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  • Jeffares, A. Norman, ed. Yeats, Sligo and Ireland. Gerrards Cross, UK: Colin Smythe, 1980.

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    Collection of essays by some of the most eminent Yeats scholars of the 20th century. Includes “Yeats and Victorian Ireland” by F. S. L. Lyons, “Home Life among the Yeatses” by William M. Murphy, “Yeats’s Relations with His Early Publishers” by John S. Kelly, and “The ‘Dwarf-Dramas’ of the Early Abbey Theatre” by Anne Saddlemyer.

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  • Mikhail, E. H., ed. W. B. Yeats: Interviews and Recollections. 2 vols. London and Basingstoke, UK: Macmillan, 1977.

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    Response to perceived lack of a “definitive biography” at the time of writing. Collection of interviews and recollections in order to reveal the breadth of Yeats’s pursuits and the perceptions of his personality by notable contemporaries, including John Eglinton, Sean O’Casey, Denis Johnston, Oliver St John Gogarty, Frank O’Connor, Lennox Robinson, and Edmund Dulac, among others. Also includes interviews with Yeats in American, Irish, and British newspapers.

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  • Pierce, David. Yeats’s Worlds: Ireland, England and the Poetic Imagination. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1995.

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    Handsomely illustrated. Chronological, biographical approach to major themes and influences. Amid a critical trend to emphasize the Irishness of Yeats, looks to substantial English contexts in which Yeats lived and wrote. One of the first critics to recover the importance of George Yeats. Based largely on material from the in-progress Foster biography and Kelly letters. Remains relevant for its tone, scope, and helpful illustrations.

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  • Trotter, Mary. Ireland’s National Theaters: Political Performance and the Origins of the Irish Dramatic Movement. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 2001.

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    Considers the work of the Irish Literary Theatre (chapter 1) and the Abbey Theatre (chapter 4) in the context of contemporary enterprises in Dublin: popular drama at the Queen’s Theatre and amateur companies formed by the Daughters of Ireland and St Enda’s boys’ school. Illustrates conflicting ideas of what constituted national drama.

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  • Watson, G. J. Irish Identity and the Literary Revival: Synge, Yeats, Joyce and O’Casey. Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 1994.

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    Part of a wave of historiography and literary criticism (“revisionism”) that complicated polemical conceptions of identity (Catholic and Republican/Protestant and Unionist) that occluded the diversity of writers’ engagement with ideas like “nationalism.” Chapter on Yeats surveys his work in light of major questions of identity, particularly class and ideas of democracy. Originally published in 1979 (London: Croon Helm).

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LAST MODIFIED: 09/20/2012

DOI: 10.1093/OBO/9780199846719-0063

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