BOOK REVIEW: Collected Poems by W.B. Yeats

Collected PoemsCollected Poems by W.B. Yeats
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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This collection gathers about 300 poems from 12 poetry collections by Yeats. Most of the dozen collections are included in their entirety.

Yeats is considered by some to be the best poet of the 20th century and by most to be among the best. Most poetry readers will be familiar with Yeats’ more commonly anthologized poems such as: “The Lake Isle of Innisfree,” “The Second Coming,” “Leda and the Swan,” and “Sailing to Byzantium.” However, many readers may not be familiar with the full scope of his work. Some may believe that Yeats work is antiquated, not because it isn’t approachable, but because Yeats favored traditional forms (i.e. rhymed and metered poetry) [though he did engage in experimental approaches.] By the time he was writing, there had already begun to be a shift toward free verse, and so his work may seem of a more bygone era than it was. Of course, as will be mentioned below, Yeats work included a lot of political poetry, and political poetry doesn’t tend to age well.

On subject matter more than form, Yeats was progressive and experimental. Yeats poetry drew heavily on mysticism and the occult. In his earliest collection, “Crossways,” he does as many 20th century poets and writers with mystic ambitions or interests did, and turned his attention eastward to India. However, Yeats soon decided to focus on his homeland of Ireland. Hence, one will see references to faeries and Christian mystic notions rather than appeals to Hindu mythos. Many will find Yeats’ appeal to mysticism intriguing.

Yeats’ poems were also often political in nature. He viewed himself as Irish to the core, but was among the Protestant minority. While he was an Irish nationalist who wanted an independent Ireland, he wasn’t so keen on the fact that the full expression of that would mean that his sect, whose power outsized its numbers — would suffer a shift from the ruling to the ruled. “Easter, 1916” is among his most well-known and potent political poems. His feelings about Ireland being yoked into Britain’s affairs can most vividly be seen in “An Irishman Foresees His Death.”

I enjoyed experiencing the full breadth of Yeats’ work from tiny amusing poems like “A Drinking Song” to clever lessons such as “Beggar to Beggar Cried” to more extensive commentary on social issues like “Lapis Lazuli.” I’d highly recommend this collection for poetry readers.

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