Yeats's disappointments

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This essay examines ways in which W.B. Yeats’ poetry depends on apparent earnests about the future that are unfulfilled. Accepting Yeats as a poet who narrates disappointment (national, emotional, aesthetic), the essay probes how, more subtly, he allows his reader to feel varieties of disappointment in the act of reading and why this matters. Local instances of rhythmic variation and verbal repetition are examined, as well as curious moments of bathos and plainness that constitute forms of verbal “let-downs.” The essay concludes by assessing Yeats’ habit of apparently inviting rational thought by asking questions—he is supremely a poet of the question mark—but then depriving the reader of the possibility of answering. Reading Yeats we apprehend exactly what, in the act of reading poetry, we cannot know of what is to come and, in turn, experience a peculiarly sophisticated and concentrated version of the permanent truth that reading itself involves an act of guessing.
Original languageEnglish
Article number3
Pages (from-to)18-31
JournalInternational Yeats Studies
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 28 Apr 2017


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