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Neil Bowen
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Posts: 921

SEMINAR ON W.B. YEATS 31ST JAN 7-8 PM Dr Mike Craddock

Looking at the late Yeats poem ‘Man and the Echo’ and comparing it with the themes and styles of Yeats’s early poems.

I thought it would be interesting to look at the brilliant late poem ‘Man and the Echo’, and compare it with the styles and themes of some of his earlier work like ‘The Lake Isle of Innisfree.

‘Man and the Echo’ is a wonderful poem, a man contemplating life and death ‘in extremis’ as the poet and critic Seamus Heaney has said. Its stark, often brutal simplicity could not be more different in many ways from the dreamy, romantic magic of Yeats’s early writing, yet its imaginary setting is mystical and it is full of puzzles and rich mysteries.

I hope we can discuss some of its many depths and obscurities and I have put some prompt questions below. I am also interested in comparing and contrasting it with those early poems and songs of the ‘Celtic Twilight’. It has always been a critical commonplace that Yeats developed from a rather dreamy, romantic writer into someone who wrote more ‘responsibly’ in the end about the real world and, as the poet Auden put it, sung about ‘human unsuccess/In a rapture of distress’ rather than repeating clichés of the romantic imagination. You may be familiar with the modernist poet Ezra Pound’s send up of his famous poem ‘The Lake Isle of Innisfree’ in which he playfully dismisses the poem as escapism from a world that is too much trouble to deal with!

Maybe this tells us as much about Pound as it does about Yeats, but what are the characteristics of such early poems ( often amongst Yeats’s most popular) and what are their real and enduring merits? He spoke himself of his early writing, ironically, perhaps, as ‘the cry of the heart against necessity’, but some of them do seem to express a still powerful music of turning away from the materialism and mediocrity of a grey modern world. They yearn and long for something more, something better, perhaps expressing something of the spiritual vacuum of our modern age. 

 

January 28, 2013 at 6:41 AM Flag Quote & Reply

Neil Bowen
Administrator
Posts: 921

Anyway, I would be delighted to hear your thoughts and ideas on ‘Man and the Echo’ and early Yeats and I have put the following questions and prompts down as starting points for, I hope, some interesting discussions!

 

1. What are the qualities and merits of Yeats’s early writing like ‘The Lake Isle of Innisfree’?

 

2. How might we see Yeats’s interest in the supernatural and Irish folklore and mythology as part of his nationalism?

 

3. Are we right to dismiss some kinds of dreamy romantic poetry because it is escapist, somehow irresponsible or not ‘relevant’ or is that applying the wrong critical criteria to it?

 

4. Turning to ‘Man and the Echo’, it might be interesting to think about the following points and questions. If you have never read it before, read it through and note down any impressions of it, particularly how it may be different in style and theme from his early work.

 

(a) What do you think Yeats or his persona’s fundamental question is in the first part of the poem?

 

(b) Here is a man making some kind of reckoning with himself. What do you think the ‘Echo’ in the poem is all about? Is it an answer, a reflection of his own voice, a demonstration that he cannot even control his own voice, a bleak sense of man’s solitary, lonely predicament in a Godless universe etc?

 

(c) The terse lines and full rhymes- and indeed the blank space around the poem- add to its effect in what kind of ways?

 

(d) When ‘Man’ starts speaking again, he seems to find some kind of purpose- what is it?

 

(e) Many of Yeats’s late poems explore the mind/body conflict or duality of human nature- how does Yeats do that here?

 

(f) Man’s final speech is full of questions. Does the persona return to his angst at the start of the poem about his life and his imminent death? How does the breath-taking and stunning end when ‘natural’ voices interrupt the reverie add to the poem’s exploration of life and death?

 

5. Finally, the poem seems a long way from the rather wistful tone of some of Yeats’s early work. It is stark, urgent, passionate and vital in ways that seem very different from the cultivated mysteries of his early poems, but are there any similarities? Has Yeats swapped dreams for angst about the absence of such dreams, or is there finally something more impressive about such a poem?

January 28, 2013 at 9:01 AM Flag Quote & Reply

Mike Craddock
Member
Posts: 16

Thanks to Neil Bowen for posting the background information for the Yeats seminar for me; technology now seems to be working for me so I am looking forward to hearing your views on early Yeats and this late poem tomorrow!

Mike C

January 30, 2013 at 4:33 AM Flag Quote & Reply

Mike Craddock
Member
Posts: 16

Looking forward to your thoughts on Yeats this evening- we'll start with thinking about the qualities and merits of his early poetry and then look at 'Man in the Echo'. I hope the prompts I posted above help here.

January 31, 2013 at 3:50 AM Flag Quote & Reply

Mike Craddock
Member
Posts: 16

Good evening all. Well it's nearly seven so the seminar is now open. I thought it would be interesting to hear some views on Yeats's early poems -especially in 'grey' January first- and then move on to look in detail at 'Man and the Echo'. The traditional view is that Yeats's poetry 'improved' as he grew older and  old. Do you agree? What are the merits and characteristics of his early work?

January 31, 2013 at 1:56 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Neil Bowen
Administrator
Posts: 921

Good evening, Mike and to everyone,

Isn't the earlier work easier to like, and understand? Doesn't the late work get rather heavy and morbid?


January 31, 2013 at 1:59 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Neil Bowen
Administrator
Posts: 921

Which poems do people know reasonably well? Could everyone post, so we can get a sense of which ones we all know?

January 31, 2013 at 2:04 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Mike Craddock
Member
Posts: 16

I certainly think poems like 'Innisfree' are easier to understand than some later ones- and enjoyable even if they are escapist. .. and some like 'The Stolen Child' contain their own warnings about the imagination and fantasy so perhaps like most generalisations we have to be careful!

January 31, 2013 at 2:06 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Neil Bowen
Administrator
Posts: 921

Perhaps Mike you could get things going by outlining the characteristics of the early poems. Then I'm sure members will want to contribute some thoughts about their merits...

January 31, 2013 at 2:11 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Jack Whitehead
Member
Posts: 5

Mike Craddock at January 31, 2013 at 2:06 PM

I certainly think poems like 'Innisfree' are easier to understand than some later ones- and enjoyable even if they are escapist. .. and some like 'The Stolen Child' contain their own warnings about the imagination and fantasy so perhaps like most generalisations we have to be careful!

I'd agree with Mike in his view on 'The Stolen Child', this is a poem that has more to it than might be understood on a first reading. Certainly prevelant is Yeats' interest in mysticism and spiritualism, but there is also a sense of Yeats disfatisfaction of the world he is in, made prevelant by the extemporal world he describes which contrasts dramatically with reality.

January 31, 2013 at 2:12 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Alistair Whittle
Member
Posts: 47

Good evening all!

Yeat's poems that i'm most confident in are 'The Song of Wandering Aengus' and 'Leda and the Swan', but have read through the majority of his poems!

I think one of the most interesting things about Yeats was his syncretistic nature, which can be seen through how all his poetry develops! For example, the early celtic twilight poems include aspects of mysticism and the love with the occult. Whereas in his later poems we see his nationalism shining through, and alos a synthesis of all the influences of his life, and so he produces more accomplished poems.

January 31, 2013 at 2:15 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Mike Craddock
Member
Posts: 16

Perhaps the early poems are characterised by yearning- for another world, for transcendence in some sense, for Maud and unbounded love, for a heroic past against a 'grey reality, for an imagination unfettered by everyday politics and compromise and mediocrity- for the ideal I suppose in a late nineteenth century world where many of the things Yeats adored were under threat.

January 31, 2013 at 2:17 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Mike Craddock
Member
Posts: 16

I often think Yeats's comment 'man is in love and loves what vanishes' speaks volumes about not just his early work but all his writing- even if later he is more in love ( and more bitter about perhaps) the real world.

January 31, 2013 at 2:20 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Mike Craddock
Member
Posts: 16

I also wonder if a lot of the energy of the early poetry is a symptom of Yeats's search for a different kind of faith or religion alongside the more modernist sense of a lost faith and sense of hierarchy- whatever that might be!

January 31, 2013 at 2:22 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Jack Whitehead
Member
Posts: 5

Alistair Whittle at January 31, 2013 at 2:15 PM

Good evening all!

Yeat's poems that i'm most confident in are 'The Song of Wandering Aengus' and 'Leda and the Swan', but have read through the majority of his poems!

I think one of the most interesting things about Yeats was his syncretistic nature, which can be seen through how all his poetry develops! For example, the early celtic twilight poems include aspects of mysticism and the love with the occult. Whereas in his later poems we see his nationalism shining through, and alos a synthesis of all the influences of his life, and so he produces more accomplished poems.

I agree, there is a sense of Yeats' nationalistic tendencies in his poem 'The Fisherman' written right at the beginning of his late phase. Here he can be seen to be inscorn of the Dublin Knavery, 'the living men i hate/ the dead man that i loved/ the craven man in his seat/ and the insolent unreproved'.

January 31, 2013 at 2:22 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Mike Craddock
Member
Posts: 16

I actually enjoy 'Innisfree'- although it is an oddly empty landscape- and the sense of quest in poems like Song of Wandering Aengus is inspiring too.

January 31, 2013 at 2:23 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Mike Craddock
Member
Posts: 16

I suppose what some object to in some of the early poems is the sense of cultivated melancholy an cliches- but he said himself 'in dreams begins responsibility'.

January 31, 2013 at 2:25 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Jordsy96
Member
Posts: 1

Neil Bowen at January 31, 2013 at 1:59 PM

Good evening, Mike and to everyone,

Isn't the earlier work easier to like, and understand? Doesn't the late work get rather heavy and morbid?


Yeah, I find his earlier work to be more lyrical and easy to follow whereas his later ones, such as the man and the echo, show a lot of uncertainty about death/after death!

January 31, 2013 at 2:26 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Mike Craddock
Member
Posts: 16

Perhaps we should turn to 'Man and the Echo- a wonderful but obscure poem- I'm intrigued to know what people make of it,. It's hardly favourit poem, or anthology piece, but it is breath-taking in some of its lines.

January 31, 2013 at 2:28 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Mike Craddock
Member
Posts: 16

It's certainly a morbid poem- a man confronting his life and death and his own rather hollow echo- but what an ending! Isn't he actually affirming something about man as distinct from blind nature- as he says in another poem- man creates death- isn't a tribute to mind and the intellect and the power of art to try to order experience even if we are mortal and 'defeated in the end?!

January 31, 2013 at 2:31 PM Flag Quote & Reply

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