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Customer Review

on 1 March 2003
I must be brief, as my lunch is dangerously close to completion, so here is my Yeats review condensed into a few points:
W.B. Yeats was the greatest poet of the 20th century, even if you only include the works he wrote after 1900.
Looking at his whole body of work, he was a genius and undoubtedly one of the great poets of literature.
Part of what makes him such a genius IMO is his range. At first Yeats seems to live up to how he is sketched - a modern-day (well, 20th century) romanticist with a love of mythology, etc. but then you keep reading and discover that his interests are much wider than just that.
Forget Jackson Pollack, Ernest Hemmingway, etc. - Yeats' life as a searcher for romanticism in a rational society is, I believe, the best model for an artist in modern times there is.
With Yeats, I think more so than other poets, his most minor, uncollected, obscure works are full of wonderful surprises (e.g. the one about H.G. Wells) and so it is important to get the most complete 'Complete Poems of W.B. Yeats as possible'. I read a copy of this very edition in my local library, and I believe this is very much comprehensive.
If you think Yeats had no command over the English language, then it is likely that you either (1) are not familar with modern poetry, which tends to avoid simple rhyming for rhyming's sake, (2) you do not have an eye for subtle nuance (e.g. the rhyming of a word with the exact same word in 'He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven' stripping the verse of a love poem's usual artificiality and underlining its simplicity and naturalness) or (3) you just don't get Yeats and what he's trying to do.
If you like Yeats, your next port of call should be Seamus Heaney. Sometimes Heaney can write utterly opaquely about the most obscure subjects, but he has also written some amazing poetry. To put on my soundbite hat, Heaney is the mid-20th century's own Yeats, the post-Joyce Yeats.
The quotation in my title is from the Smiths' 'Cemetery Gates' if you're wondering, which you probably weren't.
In conclusion: Yeats is great. Is he better than Joyce? Hard to say, as they both wrote primarily in the media they were best at (though don't think I'm claiming any sort of expertise on Irish literature though! This is all IMO) - Yeats poetry, Joyce novels. Just don't assume that Joyce was the modern modernist one and Yeats was old-fashioned, as it isn't that easy.
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