Penn Arts & Sciences Logo


ENGL 365.401
TR 3-4:30

William Butler Yeats was one of the most colorful figures of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. He experimented with mescaline, was thrown out of the esoteric division of Madame Blavatsky's theosophy group for trying to raise the ghost of a flower, spent years pining for the gorgeous, six-foot tall revolutionary Maud Gonne, saw Ireland through the most tumultuous portion of its troubled history, became a Senator in the new Irish Free State, won the Nobel prize. What is most engaging about Yeats is also, seen from another angle, almost embarrassing: he would "believe" anything, which is to say that he would entertain any system of belief as a way of exploring its imaginative potential.

In this course, we will concentrate on Yeats' large poetic corpus, which spans four decades, beginning in 1890. We will explore the question of how to read poetry; we will learn Irish folklore and Irish history through the lens of Yeats' poetry, essays, and some of his plays. We will discover how he used a symbolist technique to structure individual volumes of plays, and how he used both poems and volumes to create multiple perspectives that play off of one another so as to reflect a varied and volatile world--both beautiful and violent, free and constrained.

Requirements include one or two one-page papers to be presented orally to the class, and two 10-page papers. I will retain the option of giving a final exam if that seems pedagogically warranted.

fulfills requirements