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Yeats: Enlarging Friends And Family To Heroic Proportions

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'No poet in our day has written more about his family and friends than Yeats, and no one has been more successful in enlarging them to heroic proportions.'

1. Discuss, commenting specifically on a small group of poems.

2. Make your analysis as detailed as possible and draw the generalizations appropriate to your analysis.

I will begin this essay with a brief history of the life of William Butler Yeats in order to secure an understanding of the social and historical context from which he created his works. I will then provide a brief explanation of Yeats's work over the two separate periods of his life, providing a brief account of the influences in each period and their effect on themes, styles and techniques. I will go on to show how Yeats intertwined his life within his work in order to begin showing how and why he enlarged friends and family to 'heroic proportions'. I will then provide a detailed analysis of 'In Memory of Major Robert Gregory' as an example of enlarging friends to 'heroic proportions' followed by a detailed analysis of 'A Prayer for My Son' as an example of enlarging family to 'heroic proportions'. In my analyses I will draw points from the rest of the essay as well as 'appropriate generalizations' from the works themselves to show the differing ways in which he enlarges friends and family to heroic proportions.

William Butler Yeats was born in Dublin on the 13 June 1865, living his life through the changeover from the Victorian to Modernist era. At the age of two William and his family followed his father, a Pre-Raphaelite painter to London where he lived from the age of two until he was sixteen. This was a difficult time for his family particularly his mother who longed for her home country of Ireland, consequently through her stories and songs as well as holidays, William was instilled with a very strong sense of Irish patriotism. William returned to Ireland in 1881 where he enrolled in the Dublin based, Metropolitan School of Art. Over the next five years he developed a fascination with literature as well as the occult and supernatural, William first published poems in 1885 in The Dublin University Review and formed the Dublin Lodge of the Hermetic society in 1886. In 1887 his family returned to London where a displaced Yeats became more focused on literature then ever. For the next few years William was primarily focused on identifying and expanding Irish heritage. He collaborated on Fairy and Folk Tales of the Irish Peasantry with George Russell and Douglas Hyde and injected Celtic influence into his works such as The Wonderings of Oisin and Other Poems. William eventually returned to Ireland permanently in 1896. Over the next decade he pursued various literary exploits including his involvement in the Irish literary revival and co-founding of the Abbey Theatre. Beside his roles as an Irish poet, playwright and mystic, William became involved in politics assuming the position of senator which developed his acclaim in the political sphere. Ultimately these three elements of Yeats life namely, the supernatural, Irish folklore and heritage as well as politics would prove to be the main influences on his literary works. Yeats won a Nobel Prize for literature in 1923 and in 1934 shared the Gothenburg Prize with Rudyard Kipling. He eventually died in 1939.

Yeats created an amazing number of literary works over his lifetime. His poetry in particular can be divided into two separate periods. The first period lasted about fifteen years from 1886 until around 1900. Like his father his technique was initially influenced by the Pre-Raphaelites, specifically in his diction and imagery. According to Yeats, Percy Bysshe Shelley would prove to be the most important of his technical influences and he took from Shelley a measured, semi-musical pace that helped to characterize Yeats's meter during this period. The central themes he focused on during this period were Irish folklore and mysticism that he appropriately represented with a lush fantasy-like quality. When he first began publishing poetry in the 1880's, his work followed the conventions of romantic verse, using typical rhyme schemes, structure and meter. While his early work is still very advanced and accomplished, his poetic expression itself was fairly ordinary, drawing influence from canons of the romantic poets.

In the second period, Yeats's age and political involvement had a major influence on his work. His work no longer existed in the realms of the mystical and was far less colourful and aesthetically weighted. Instead his themes became harder and more realistic, rooted in politics and every day Irish life. The dichotomy between this period and the previous one is significant and is presented as one of his common themes, the physical held up against the meta-physical and the harsh reality of life in contrast to the optimistic themes of Irish folklore. His work became more personal with his subjects including close friends, family and lovers and he sought to depict the experience of ageing and its influence on these relationships. At the time, the modernists experimented with free verse form, discussed politics and challenged the literary canons of the previous literary movements, they discounted the mentality that poetry should be lyrical and aesthetic. By the second period of his work, Yeats had explored and mastered the traditional forms of verse of his earlier poetry and while his later work has a noticeable more modernist shift in meter and style, he chose to adapt the traditional verse form rather than abandon it. He took influence from modernism by presenting his themes with a more serious and direct approach, as opposed to the more elaborate manner of the previous period. Through the perfection of this complex style, his later work is generally considered his best.

For Yeats the fusion between his poetry and his life was crucial, he built his life story and identity through and around poetry. His collection of poems was in a way, a living piece of him as he edited and re-wrote his works throughout his life so that they could properly reflect his own personal experience. Yeats published his first autobiographical essay, 'Reveries Over Childhood and Youth' in 1915 followed by 'The Trembling Veil' in 1922, both cover his life from childhood until his late twenties. Yeats then published, 'Dramatis Personae', 'Estrangement', The Death of Synge' and 'The Bounty of Sweden' in 1936 extending his autobiographical collection to cover his life past his fifties. The fact that Yeats never really concluded a work in his mind, coupled with the fact that his collection represented who he was, indicates



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