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W. B. Yeats: A Life , Vol. 2: The Arch-Poet 1915-1939: Arch-poet 1915-1939 v. 2 Hardcover – 2 Oct 2003


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Product details

  • Hardcover: 856 pages
  • Publisher: OUP Oxford (2 Oct 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0198184654
  • ISBN-13: 978-0198184652
  • Product Dimensions: 24 x 5.3 x 16.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 251,493 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

Product Description

Review

Foster, a historian with a great literary sensibility, masterfully tells the story of W.B. Yeats, and the whole landscape of the poet emerges afresh. (Ken'ichi Matsumura, Journal of Irish Studies)

... excellent and exhaustive biography. (Contemporary Review)

'Magisterial' and 'monumental' are the words for which one reaches in awed response to this second volume of Roy Foster's biography of Yeats. Yet such routine blurb epithets hardly convey the book's special strengths; suppleness, subtlety, patience might come closer. What is remarkable is the tenacity and skill with which the historian has stuck to his task. (Irish Studies Review)

The rich, messy, complicated, heroic and ignoble life of Yeats is all here ... Above all, [Foster] shows throughout how, with Yeats, the life generated the poetry and the poetry animated the life. (Irish Studies Review)

Foster has an eye and an ear for poetry to match his special skills as historian and biographer. For all of us who care about Yeats he has done a great service; this is a book we will be revisiting again and again. (Irish Studies Review)

This is a hugely absorbing, meticulously researched, stately biography of a great and peculiar man that illuminates, without explaining, the mystery of his creativity. For lovers of his work, it is an essential companion to the poetry. (Winston-Salem Journal (USA))

Roy Foster has quite magnificently done his best to help us reach into and read W. B. Yeats. To recommend this book to others is an honour. (The Globe and Mail (Canada))

It is hard to know which to admire the more: the unravelling of Yeats's own politics or the historian's understanding of the new Ireland. (Michael Foot, Books of the Year, Observer Review)

The treatment afforded (The Globe and Mail (Canada))

... for those who think the poetry of Yeats one of the great inheritances of the century now mercifully finished, the second instalment of the mighty work of University of Oxford historian R. F. Foster is welcome. (The Globe and Mail, Canada)

Again Foster approaches Yeat's memoirs with skepticism, shrewdly and scrupulously applying the historical facts to Yeats's self-made image and his poetry. (Publishers Weekly)

Foster's initial volume is exceptional ... (The New Leader)

My first choice is R.F. Foster's (Ian Duhig, Books of the Year, The Irish Times)

R.F. Foster's (Caroline Walsh, Books of the Year, The Irish Times)

R.F. Foster's training as an historian and his feeling for literature join together to create both a formidable scholarly work and a marvellous story. (John Montague, Books of the Year, The Irish Times)

... the second volume of [Foster's] biography of Yeats completes with great elegance the most important Irish biographical project of the era. (Bernard O'Donoghue, Books of the Year, The Irish Times)

The biography of the year - of the decade - is surely R.F. Foster's (John Banville, Books of the Year, The Irish Times)

... superb on the poetry, the politics and the personal life. (Colm Tóibín, Books of the Year, The Irish Times)

Foster's control of such voluminous material is remarkable in itself, but it is not achieved at the expense of lucidity nor of intelligent reading of the poetry. And through its long course we are constantly enlivened by Foster's ironical wit. (Frank Kermode, Books of the Year, The Irish Times)

Foster's biography is a magnificent achievement. (The Catholic Herald)

I have never read a biography of any poet that has conveyed so clearly the genius of its subject and the talent of its author. (Frank Kermode, Los Angeles Times)

Elegant, interesting, comprehensive, the book marshalls its army of facts lightly, anecdotally, magisterially. It will be plundered by critics and historians, for generations probably. (The Dubliner)

There are few writers better able to place Yeats in a broader historical, political and, yes, religious context ... a magisterial biography. (Mick Heaney, Sunday Times (Ireland))

... as readable as it is definitive. (Catherine Foley, The Irish Times)

Yeats once described his art to Ezra Pound as "an accident in one's search for reality". In this lively new book Foster captures all the richness of that reality, creating a balanced view of Yeats's poetry and his politics alike. (Newsweek)

... as much an introduction to the fraught history of Irish nationalism as a definitive life of Ireland's best-loved poet. (Newsweek)

The overwhelming impression one carries away from this wonderful book is one of dense activity, constant creativity, endless self-examination and extraordinary achievement, packed into the last 20 years of Yeats's life. That all of this can be clearly laid out, and expertly mediated to us, is a mark of Foster's great scholarship, fine intelligence and detached empathy. (Catriona Crowe, Sunday Tribune (Dublin))

Foster's capacity to intelligently interweave the life and the work gives the narrative resonance and depth, and immeasurably enriches our understanding of these great works. (Catriona Crowe, Sunday Tribune (Dublin))

Foster's takes on the great poems are as good as anything one will find, and better than most because of his detailed understanding of their contexts and the clarity of his prose. (Catriona Crowe, Sunday Tribune (Dublin))

[Foster] places Yeats in a scrupulously balanced context. While he does not hide the poet's reactionary views, he also demonstrates that those were free of the taint of anti-Semitism ... Foster is also an admirable interpreter of the poems. (The Week)

... this book reminds us how inspiring lives can be in their retelling. It lets us imagine, as Yeats wanted to imagine in 1925, 'history grown symbolic, the biography changed into a myth'. (Adam Phillips, The Observer)

In writing this biography of Yeats as one biography of Ireland in his times, Foster is writing a new kind of history, as well as a new kind of biography. (Adam Phillips, The Observer)

... it is the miracle of this book that it is exhaustive without ever being exhausting. The narrative never flags, and the writing never falters; neither the intricacies of the political situation, nor the deft and sometimes daft ingenuities of Yeats's (Adam Phillips, The Observer)

Rich as Foster's achievement was in the first volume, the second volume is more astonishing yet. (Adam Phillips, The Observer)

... the biography will be invaluable to scholars, who will mine it for decades to come. Every decent library should have it. (Lachlan Mackinnon, Daily Telegraph Saturday Arts)

... one of the most scholarly and entertaining biographies of recent years. (Ferdinand Mount, The Sunday Times Culture)

Foster is adept in presenting the evidence and leaving it to the reader to judge. (Jonathan Bate, The Sunday Telegraph)

... an extraordinary achievement ... this is the biography that no lover of Yeats's poetry can afford to be without. (Mark Bostridge, The Independent on Sunday)

... a biography to stand beside Ellmann's (Bernard O'Donoghue, Guardian Review)

Yeats has found his ideal biographer, a sparkling controversialist with exactly the right degree of patience with the visionary thought, ready to suspend belief where the poet's claimed credulity becomes excessive. (Bernard O'Donoghue, Guardian Review)

Foster is wonderfully readable; he keeps a courteous rein on his scepticism, but it is given occasional licence to fine comic effect. (Bernard O'Donoghue, Guardian Review)

... the volume's distinctive and triumphant form places the poems in relief against the historical and personal documentation, rather like set pieces embedded in a film script. (Bernard O'Donoghue, Guardian Review)

Roy Foster exemplifies the virtues of that Irish intellect so often invoked by Yeats himself, independent, vigorous, liberal and, on occasion, consciously provocative. (Seamus Heaney, Financial Times magazine)

gave promise of a masterwork and the promise is fulfilled in (Seamus Heaney, Financial Times magazine)

... this triumphant sequel to (Seamus Heaney, Financial Times magazine)

The completion of this biography is in itself a moment of cultural rearticulation in Ireland. The work involved is staggering, but the narrative carries it with the ease of a lifting wave. (Seamus Deane, The Irish Times)

... magnificent. (Paul Muldoon, The Times)

Foster tells the whole story with just that blend of empathy and scepticism which allows him to register the frequent absurdities amidst all the grandeur. (Declan Kiberd, Times Literary Supplement,)

Foster reminds us every so often of what is happening offstage as well as on, giving a sense of depth and perspective to the emerging portrait. (Declan Kiberd, Times Literary Supplement,)

To restore openness to each moment of a long, rich life requires a mastery of many different planes of narrative, all unfolding simultaneously ... Foster's gifts as a narrative historian, as well as his talent for archival research, mean that he is equal to the task. The amount of detail included in some paragraphs is quite astonishing, yet the prose never seems weighed down by this knowledge. The result is not only a major study in itself, but a trove which will be mined by commentators for years to come. (Declan Kiberd, Times Literary Supplement,)

...it is the detailed research, well-serviced by a graceful literary style, which makes this work so valuable and enduring. The dust of the archives never clutters the narrative momentum. This is partly a testament to the propulsion lent the ale by the full, varied, and engaged life that Yeats led, but it is also a tribute to the tight and unobtrusive stitching of the narrative structure. In short, it is a biographical achievement worthy of its subject. (The Yearbook of English Studies)

About the Author

Roy Foster is Carroll Professor of Irish History at the University of Oxford, and a fellow of Hertford College. Professor Foster has written widely on Irish history, society and politics in the modern period, as well as on Victorian high politics and culture, and his publications include Lord Randolph Churchill: a Political Life (Oxford, 1981), Modern Ireland 1600-1972 (London, 1988), and The Irish Story: Telling Tales and Making it up in Ireland (London, 2001). The first volume of this biography, W.B. Yeats, A Life. I: The Apprentice Mage 1865-1914 was published by OUP in 1997.

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BY THE New Year of 1915, the year in which he would turn fifty, WBY had reluctantly left Coole, coming back to wartime London and the established pattern of his English existence. Read the first page
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By conjunction on 29 Mar 2013
Format: Hardcover
This book may be much better than four stars but to be honest I stopped reading after about half way. This was not because of any fault of the book, simply because my interest was not sustained. There are some things about Yeats I understand and some things I do not. I understand his love of the land and of tradition, I understand his interest in the past and Irish mythology, and I understand his promotion of Irish cultural life, the energy he put into the Abbey Theatre, and his carefully measured but at times passionate support for the independence movement. I also have an interest in how the occult becomes a constant theme in Yeats' poetry and his interest in the relationship between image and truth, 'How can you know the dancer from the dance?'

But for me the real interest in Yeats is his struggle to arrive at the kind of plateau he seems to have arrived at by the mid 1920s, from which point he seems to repeat old themes, and whatever there is that is new and further refined somehow ceases to engage me.

For me the vital chapters of this book are those that deal with the sudden re-arousal of Yeats' ferocious political instincts which occurs at the time of the Black and Tans, (as evidenced by his poem 'Reprisals', a fine poem never before printed but here included), and then Foster's careful discussion of 'A Vision', which I have never read but intend to, and which is no doubt a summary of many of his beliefs.

As in the first volume Foster's approach is exhaustive and meticulous without being dry or disinterested. All his relationships are hung up to dry, but for me are perhaps less fascinating than in the earlier volume. The relationships which most interest me are those with Gonne, Synge and Gregory, and to some extent his wife; those that came later don't grab me and unless I'm missing something it is Synge and Gonne more than anyone who turn up again and again in his poetry throughout his life.
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4 of 6 people found the following review helpful By H. C. Merritt on 14 Mar 2004
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Foster has completed his long task, and Yeats scholars are going to be grateful to him for years to come. His second volume completes the ground-breaking work of the first. This is a volume not likely to be replaced for many years and will remain essential reading for anyone interested in Yeats.
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1 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Alladin on 8 Sep 2011
Format: Hardcover
I have ambivalent feelings about this book. On the one hand, it is beautifully written and Foster's identification with Yeats means that it has a great deal of vitality. It is also a classic of historical analysis...

On the other hand, I find it deeply problematic in its whitewashing of Yeats' deeply disturbing political views, especially from the mid-1930s onwards. Anyone who doubts the repellent nature of these politics should read Yeats pamphlet On The Boiler which contains some extremely sinister passages...

I would suggest reading W.j.McCormack's Blood Kindred or Terence Brown 's biography of Yeats as an antidote to the glossing over of Yeats ugly attitude towards eugenics and violence. An admiration for Yeats poetry should not entail a willingness to excuse his often ugly reactionary and elitist views.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 5 reviews
Meticulous and Inspired 29 Mar 2013
By conjunction - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
This book may be much better than four stars but to be honest I stopped reading after about half way. This was not because of any fault of the book, simply because my interest was not sustained. There are some things about Yeats I understand and some things I do not. I understand his love of the land and of tradition, I understand his interest in the past and Irish mythology, and I understand his promotion of Irish cultural life, the energy he put into the Abbey Theatre, and his carefully measured but at times passionate support for the independence movement. I also have an interest in how the occult becomes a constant theme in Yeats' poetry and his interest in the relationship between image and truth, 'How can you know the dancer from the dance?'

But for me the real interest in Yeats is his struggle to arrive at the kind of plateau he seems to have arrived at by the mid 1920s, from which point he seems to repeat old themes, and whatever there is that is new and further refined somehow ceases to engage me.

For me the vital chapters of this book are those that deal with the sudden re-arousal of Yeats' ferocious political instincts which occurs at the time of the Black and Tans, (as evidenced by his poem 'Reprisals', a fine poem never before printed but here included), and then Foster's careful discussion of 'A Vision', which I have never read but intend to, and which is no doubt a summary of many of his beliefs.

As in the first volume Foster's approach is exhaustive and meticulous without being dry or disinterested. All his relationships are hung up to dry, but for me are perhaps less fascinating than in the earlier volume. The relationships which most interest me are those with Gonne, Synge and Gregory, and to some extent his wife; those that came later don't grab me and unless I'm missing something it is Synge and Gonne more than anyone who turn up again and again in his poetry throughout his life.
The Thrilling Conclusion 29 Jan 2013
By Alan Charnock - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is, without any hesitation, the best, most readable, and most comprehensive Yeats biography that I've ever read, and the combination of comprehensive and readable is a master-stroke in itself. This poet has been my passion for going on five years, and the gift of having this book in existence is inexpressible.
1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Distinguished Biography 29 Dec 2008
By J. Farrell - Published on Amazon.com
Verified Purchase
Roy Foster has lived up to the standard he set in the first volume of this biography. This is deeply researched, well-written, and wonderfully informative account of Yeats's life.
12 of 23 people found the following review helpful
Messin' With Ellmann et al 21 May 2004
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
I agree, largely, with what I've read here. Foster *is* an anteater, to quote one Amazon reviewer.
On the other hand, you're dealing with Yeats. Yeats was probably the most sophisticated thinker about literary persona and literary stance that Western literature has ever produced. Only Shakespeare--who, as far as we know, never theorized explicitly about any of this, much less wrote it down--surpasses him, and not by design. Such figures as Pound are nothing in comparison. It should come as no surprise that Yeats' own autobiographical material is forbidding in the extreme; if you get past that you have Ellmann to deal with, and you'd best go loaded for bear.
Foster has taken a blunderbuss, since Ellmann showed up with a rifle. Nonetheless, both approaches are invaluable. Foster's work is magisterial, even if it's not a great literary biography *taken as such*. On the other hand, it offers an incredible resource for the serious student of Yeats. Detail aside (helpful as that is to scholars) Foster makes a very good case for Yeats' persona-management in public and private, something I have come to feel is essential to understanding the poet and which, along with the occult study, has been imperfectly examined. (See Maddox's ridiculous effort for an example of this at its worst.)
Read together, though, both major biographies tend to compliment each other very nicely. Give that a try.
21 of 51 people found the following review helpful
Te Diem 1 Jun 2002
By "olly_aginous" - Published on Amazon.com
If I may be permitted to speak oxymoronically, this book as it once indispensable and utterly useless. It is indispensable for the sheer wealth and weight of fact it carries. The book constitutes a veritable rhapsody of small details, collected without due regard for relevance and with every regard for hanging on the the myriad fruits of bibliophilia. How then is it useless?It is useless because it dispenses with the immense effort - at once imaginative and cognitive - of reconstructing the relationships and the world to which the work and activity of Yeats was a response and against which he defined himself. This task of reconstruction is never only a matter of painstaking factual excavation. It is a question of reimagining a whole "field of force" (Wittgenstein) into which, so to speak, the poet was "thrown". This bok is a heroic but antiquarian leviathan.
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