Yeats's Poetry

W.B. Yeats reads "The Lake Isle of Innisfree!"

Listen to W. B Yeats reading his own poetry in the video above. Yeats made these recordings for the wireless in 1932, 1934 and the last on 28 October 1937 when he was 72. He died on January 28 1939. The photograph shows him sitting before the microphone in 1937.

Early Poetry

In the Seven Woods

In Yeats's early poetry, up to the volume, In the Seven Woods (1904), we can see the influences of English Romanticism, the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and Symbolism.

The Song of Wandering Aengus

Two further influences were the occult and the languorous world of the Celtic twilight poets of the 1890s.

Yeats saw himself as writing for Ireland and out of an Irish poetic tradition. However, his Ireland is the shadowy world of Celtic legend, rather than a contemporary reality.

"The Song of Wandering Aengus" captures the essence of Yeats's early poetry.

Middle Poetry

No Second Troy

Easter 1916

Yeats's middle period poetry can be read in the volumes from The Green Helmet (1910) to Michael Robartes and the Dancer (1921). Subject matter and attitude change. Love is dealt with in a more direct, questioning manner. Yeats still writes about Ireland, but it has become a real Ireland aspects of which irritate or puzzle him by their complexity. He now writes about real events, such as the death of Robert Gregory; and real people (Lady Gregory) and real places (Coole Park). With these changes comes a noticeable change in style from the meditative rhythms of the earlier verse to the more muscular rhythms and tighter syntax of this middle period.

We can hear this new distinctive voice in the two poems, "No Second Troy" and "Easter 1916".

Late Poetry

Sailing to Byzantium

The final phase of Yeats's poetry begins with "The Tower" (1928). Yeats constructs himself as a very self-conscious bard in poems like "The Tower" and "Sailing to Byzantium".

He publicly celebrates Ireland's culture which he sees embodied in Coole Park and Lady Gregory and which for him become emblematic of a nostalgically remembered Anglo-Irish Ascendancy dispensation. He contemplates old age and its difficulties, and meditates on the function of art in life.

Among School Children

Yeats was also an Irish Senator, reflected in the poem, "Among School Children", together with "Sailing to Byzantium", can serve as exemplary verse from the last phase of Yeats's poetry.