My view on the Yeats poems we looked at was diametrically opposed to that of KC. For me this poetry represents some deeply moving, and beautifully expressed, attitudes towards old age, death, love and art. Two books gave me some great insights: The New Poetic: Yeats To Eliot by CK Stead and WB Yeats: A Critical Introduction by Stan Smith. CK Stead talks of Yeats’s conscious adoption of a mask, to avoid ‘a passive acceptance’ of the prevailing middle class code he found in poets like Kipling, Pope and Dryden. He says:
For Yeats, drama was always stylized – a non-realistic medium; to dramatise himself was not to express his own personality; it was to adopt a persona, to wear a mask.
Yeats saw ‘opinions’ as belonging to the world of politics, newspapers, business, the State – transient things that don’t express the deeper truths of life. This, in his view, should never be the subject of poetry. As he puts it:
We make out of our quarrel with others rhetoric; but of our quarrel with ourselves, poetry.
In his book, Stan Smith makes a really interesting point about Yeats’s poetic imagination, which he regards as an ‘image making power’ that is concerned with concrete realities, not abstractions. This can be seen most effectively in the powerful second section of the Tower:
And send imagination forth
Under the day’s declining beam, and call
Images and memories
From ruin or from ancient trees,
For I would ask a question of them all.