Tension in the Literary Hemisphere

Image Source: National Portrait Gallery

Through reading Yeats’ poems alone, it is evident that his work was essential within the Revivalist movement. Yeats’ ability to collapse time and interweave Celtic folklore into contemporary themes is beyond admirable. Certain imagery he employs truly stuck with me, particularly “There midnight’s all a glimmer, / and noon a purple glow, / And evening full of the linnet’s wings” from “The Lake Isle of Innisfree.” His poetry is definitely otherworldly at moments, and transports the reader to a time and place beyond the scope of the present. More specifically, within the Irish context, a time and place that is not rife with revolution, chaos, and death.

From this laudatory perspective, it’s easy to consume Yeats’ poetry without a critical eye for it. However, after reading “The Irish Paradigm,” I definitely consider his work from a different perspective. Of course, within a cultural movement, or even just referring to literature in general, tastes vary and what may resonate for one may completely miss the other. Yeats is obviously not the universal mascot for Irish literature, but I was unaware that his Symbolist work was in some cases almost disregarded in favor of realism. The article states,

“The passage of neoromanticism — the idealization and romanticization of the peasantry, seen as incarnating the popular essence of the ‘soul’ — to realism — at first rural, then associated with urban life and literary and political modernity — summarizes the history and succession of popular aesthetics.” (313)

This demonstrates the 1912-1913 trend of young Gaelicizers and the younger generation of Irish Catholic writers who gradually departed from admiring Yeats’ aesthetics. The romanticization of the past is indulgent, and while Yeats sought to invoke a quintessential Celtic spirit, this sentiment is tricky because it can detract from current happenings. In addition, real life is not so structured and poetic as it is depicted in verse.

It is interesting to note the intersection of the literary, theatrical, political, and cultural during the Revivalist period, and how these shifted in response to Yeats’ poetic presence. My main takeaway this week is that literary production does not happen in a vacuum. As the end of the article explains, it is impossible to study a work of literature in terms of itself; it must be considered in terms of the national and literary space in which it was conceived (322). There are often multiple threads of literary aesthetics that run alongside each other, become entangled, and ultimately separate.

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