Synopses & Reviews
William Butler Yeats has cast his long shadow over the history of both modern poetry and modern Ireland for so long that his preeminence is taken for granted. Now, in the first authorized biography of Yeats to appear in over fifty years, leading Irish historian R.F. Foster travels beyond Yeats's towering image as arguably the century's greatest poet to restore a real sense of Yeats's extraordinary life as Yeats himself experienced it--what he saw, what he did, the passions and the petty squabbles that consumed him, and his alchemical ability to transmute the events of his crowded and contradictory life into enduring art.
In the first volume of this long-awaited biography, Foster covers the poet's first fifty years, bringing new light to bear on Yeats's heroic and often ruthless efforts to invent himself as a poet and public figure. Drawn from a fascinating archive of personal and contemporary documents with the cooperation of surviving members of the Yeats family, it dramatically alters long-held assumptions about the poet's background, his relationship with Maud Gonne and other women, and his roles in the great cultural and political upheavals that transformed Ireland in his lifetime. A rich and entertaining account of Yeats's boyhood days amidst the talented but troubled members of the Yeats and Pollexfen clans provides important insight into the poet's deep and lifelong connection to the Irish landscape, his early, impassioned embrace of the nationalist cause, and his later retreat to the traditions of the once grand Protestant aristocracy. In his own day Yeats attracted enemies and admirers with equal passion, and Foster vividly recreates the friendships, love affairs, and simmering rivalries that swirled about the poet's circles in London, Dublin, and Coole Park. Complementing his meticulous scholarship with a shrewd wit and a novelist's eye for detail, he chronicles the romantic disappointments, financial difficulties, experimentation with hashish and mescal, and the growing preoccupation with the occult that prefaced Yeats's attempt to unite Irish politics with high culture and his creation of an Irish national theater. Here are the poet's memorable encounters with many of the most interesting people of his time, including Oscar Wilde, George Bernard Shaw, Lady Gregory, J.M. Synge, Ezra Pound, James Joyce, and the wildly diverse leaders of the Irish independence movement. And here at last is a full accounting of the complex bond between Yeats and the incomparable Maud Gonne, revealed as an influence eternally recreated 'like the phoenix,' affecting almost everything he did.
Poet, playwright, mystic and revolutionary; lover, confidant, and friend. This brilliant account of the public and private lives of William Butler Yeats illuminates not only the wellspring of his artistic vision, but the modern Irish identity he helped to create. It is essential reading for anyone intrigued by one of the most original and influential voices of the twentieth century.
"Rich as Yeats's achievements had been, Mr. Foster says in his final paragraph, what lay ahead would be more astonishing. The old magician, apprentice no longer, has found in Mr. Foster a worthy biographer. He would be relieved to know, as readers of Irish writing have known for some years, that the biographer is himself a fine writer, bearing with grace his knowledge of Irish history, and writing with wit, authority and, when appropriate, considerable eloquence."--New York Times Book Review
"A wonderful work of scholarship. It turns Yeats around, making us see his poems from within his life and helps us to experience them in a way that both revealing and intensely moving."--Washington Times
"The often quite grim youthful experiences, the yearnings, the search for love, the magical evocations of place and time, which we have all known for so long, take on a new and deeper intesnsity as we explore with Mr. Foster their background and their inspiration. This is a great story of Ireland's greatest poet, and it is superbly told."--
"With a shrewd sense of irony, Foster vividly evokes the frustrations of Yeats's apprentice years."--Inside Publishing
"By showing that the explosion of heroic myths can enhance rather than diminish humanity, Roy Foster's book has opened up new visions not just of Yeats but of the Irish culture he did so much to create."--he Economist Review
"In this superb biography, Foster unscrambles destiny and complicates it into life. The most distinguished Irish historian alive, Foster floods his Yeats with historical detail"--James Woods, Slate
"Foster has rightly dubbed his biography a `thick' history of Yeats's life; it's also a smoothly written one that is politically as well as psychologically astute."--The Nation
"Mr. Foster has a jeweler's eye for the crystallizing moments in Yeats's development."Wall Street Journal
"Foster gives us a considerably more nuanced view of what it means to be a mystic, a holy man, a seer in modern times than Yeats biographers before him. He shows that Yeats was a s much a striver as a seeker--that the poet cannot be understood except as a man on the make, in pursuit of fame, love, and revelation."--Weekly Standard
About the Author
is Carroll Professor of Irish History, Hertford College, Oxford. His books include Modern Ireland 1600-1972, The Oxford Illustrated History of Ireland
, and acclaimed biographies of Charles Stewart Parnell and Lord Randolph Churchill.
Table of Contents
List of illustrations; Source illustrations; Acknowledgements; Foreword; Family trees; Introduction; Prologue: Yeatses and Pollexfens; 1 The Artist's Children: Sligo 1865-1881; 2 Explorations: Dublin 1881-1887;
3 Two Years: Bedford Park 1887-1889; 4 Secret Societies 1889-1891; 5 The Battles of the Books 1891-1893; 6 Lands of Heart's Desire 1894-1896; 7 Waiting for the Millennium 1896-1898; 8 Shadowy Waters 1898-1900; 9 Occult Politics 1900-1901; 10 National Dramas 1901-1902; 11 The Taste of Salt 1902-1903; 12 From America to Abbey Street 1903-1904; 13 Delighting in Enemies 1905-1906; 14 Synge and the Ireland of His Time 1907-1909; 15 Severances 1909-1910; 16 True and False Irelands 1910-1911; 17 Ghosts 1911-1913; 18 Memory Harbour 1913-1914; Appendix: 'The Poet Yeats Talks Drama with Ashton Stevens', from the San Francisco Examiner, 30 January 1904; Abbreviations; Notes; Index.