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Yeats

ENGL 568.301
instructor(s):
R 9-12:00

The focus of this course is on Yeats's poetry, read against the background of modernism on the one hand, and Irish history and mythology, on the other. In his famous review of "Ulysses, Order and Myth," T. S. Eliot credited Yeats with the invention of the "mythical method" that was to replace the "narrative method." What we will try to do is to develop a good working knowledge of what the mythical method is and how it changes the way we read. What makes Yeats difficult is also what makes him interesting; the different poems in a given volume set up a dialogue with one another, and then the different volumes in his collected works take up the dialogue, complicating and enriching it with different "dramatic" perspectives. Although Yeats is first and foremost a poet of feeling, valuing the "foul rag-and-bone shop of the heart" above all else, what makes him intellectually complex is his ability to entertain and engage any (and all) perspectives, and then to bring those perspectives into dynamic play. The questions that will recur throughout our discussions concern Yeats's sexual politics, his vision of history and its relation to myth, his national politics (although a nationalist, he was frequently drawn into heated controversy over the catholic--if not Catholic--inclusiveness of his definition of Irishness), his symbolism and its relation to both mysticism and religion, and the kaleidoscopic changes in his perspective(s) as Ireland was ripped apart by the Black and Tans and then the Irish civil war. We will read all the volumes of poetry, some of the stories and plays, some of the critical writings and letters, and some of the works that influenced him most strongly, such as Villiers de l'Isle-Adam's Axel and the writings of Lady Gregory. Students are encouraged to look at a biography of Yeats and a history of Ireland, if possible, in preparation for the seminar. The first volume of Roy Foster's biography and his Modern Ireland would be good places to begin. I will design the class to function as a seminar, with students leading discussion through oral and written presentations as much as possible. Written assignments include a short explication and a 20-25-pp.research paper.