Later Poems: William Butler Yeats

New York. The Macmillan Company. 12mo. xiii+362pp. $2.50.
YEATS is inextricably associated in our hearts with Synge and Dunsany and Pearse and MacDonagh and Plunkett and the Celtic Revival and the Abbey Theatre and Lady Gregory and the blood of a singing clan.
As a poet he has been, let us hope, sufficiently appreciated (witness the recent brilliant study by Llewellyn Jones in the North American Review); as a lyric force, however, he has never been adequately appraised. He continues to surprise the reader by a fine excess, by a quiet and grave contact with the old perpetual grace of words; he continues to dust our eyelids with the sound of white moth-wing syllables, our mouths with the clamor of roving phrases. We know he has suffered much, yet there is no falling off in this volume called Later Poems.
According to his own preface the book contains all his poetry, except the plays, written between his twenty-seventh year and the year 1921. Like Synge he has drawn generously on the legendary sources of his land — only with this difference: that whereas the one took his material with little alteration (we have his word for it) from the gossip of the servant girls at a Wicklow Inn or a wake, the other is too dominantly the lyrical poet to accept the popular hint without passing it through his own mood and individual heat.
We encounter with the old thrill a song like ‘Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,’ but it is rather in the solemn beauty of ‘The Wild Swans at Coole’ that we touch the haunting and desperate serenity of the Yeats we know:
I have looked upon those brilliant creatures,
And now my heart is sore,
All’s changed since I, hearing at twilight,
The first time on this shore,
The bell-beat of their wings above my head,
Trod with a lighter tread.
What we must remark, Mr. Middleton Murry notwithstanding, is, that while there is in the older Yeats the savor of autumnal sadness, there is no diminution of lyrical integrity, no acrid compromise with cynicism or sentimentality. The man who has watched his great friends go down to death, who has witnessed the mutilation of ancient ardors, the defeat of glowing lonely passions — call him sorrowful if you will, you cannot call him bitter. Where, in our poetry of the last decade, shall we find courage more poignantly defiant under the current of grief than in that magnificent sequence for Miss Mabel Beardsley, sister of Aubrey: —
With the old kindness, the old distinguished grace,
She lies, her lovely piteous head amid dull red hair
Propped upon pillows, rouge on the pallor of her face.
She would not have us sad because she is lying there. . . .
Read the beautiful ‘Prayer for my Daughter’; read ‘Adam’s Curse’ for the credo of his art, and finally read ‘To be Carved on a Stone at Thoor Ballylee’: —
I, the poet William Yeats,
With old millboards and sea-green slates,
And smithy work from the Gort forge,
Restored this tower for my wife George;
And may these characters remain
When all is ruin once again.
This is naked and hard and uncluttered; this is humorously gaunt; nothing merely decorative and verbal; but a steady hand cutting grim stars on stone.