Page 8, 2nd March 1990

2nd March 1990
Page 8
Page 8, 2nd March 1990 — Bland approach to W B Yeats

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Organisations: Yeats's senate


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Bland approach to W B Yeats

The Yeats Companion by Ulick O'Connor (Pavilion £14.95) William Riviere THE Yeats Companion will not interest the reader who already knows the poet's work well. Mr O'Connor has not unearthed forgotten texts, nor has he new perspectives on the Yeats canon to suggest. But for newcomers to Yeats, or for those whose appetites have been whetted by a few poems found in anthologies, he has made a useful introduction.

The short biography with which the book opens is factually dependable; but it can be journalistically bland to the point of degrading its subject. George Hyde-Lees, for instance, is helpfully described as "32, young".

When after their marriage she discovered she could do spirit writing we are told that this "was a bonus for Yeats". Do a great poet's feelings have to be written about so tritely?

But there is more in the same vein. "Though she was marrying one of the most difficult men in the world to manage, the relationship worked like a dream. She seemed to have some instinct into Yeats's inner needs ." All good glossy magazine stuff.

Mr O'Connor is more successful as an editor. Of course many brilliant poems have had to be left out Crazy Jane never appears, Two Songs From A Play is out, Meru is out . . And Farm,11's Fvneral is in, as second-rate as ever. But the over-all picture is well balanced, with representative pieces from the successive phases of the poet's career. And where, in the case of the plays, the editor cannot show how brilliant Yeats is, he is admirably stalwart in maintaining how excellent they are, and in bringing forward witnesses in their defence.

The editor has scored another success by choosing some of Yeats's senate speeches. In the discussion of the proposed bill of divorce, the poet is as incisive and eloquent as we could desire, who like to see a writer among politicians acquit himself honourably.

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