Thursday, February 18, 2010

W. B. Yeats - Among School Children

If you are asked to give a talk to Leaving Cert students about W.B.Yeats what do you say? The students have studied the selection of Yeats' poems on the curriculum so it doesn't make sense to just go through those again.

Faced with this enjoyable task recently - well I would be Among School Children, a sort of sixty-year-old smiling public man- I decided as a starting point to discuss Yeats as a professional poet, a person who at a young age decided to become a poet. I talked about what he decided he needed to become a great poet.

First he needed a place and he found this in Sligo or his version of Sligo which became his magical place, the source of much of his mythology though his connection with Sligo was quite tenuous.

He needed a people to belong to and chose the Anglo-Irish aristocracy as a contrast to the middle class greasy till people then in the ascendant in the country. His own antecedents especially in Sligo belonged firmly to the merchant, money making classes.

He needed a great unrequited love and found that in Maud Gonne.

So he created for himself a persona, a mask and went on to write the greatest poetry in the English language of the twentieth century, (arguably!)

This proved a good framework to hang many references to the poems and to point out similarities in many of them. Asked what was their favourite Years poem they weren't very forthcoming so I asked which was the least favourite and got Sailing to Byzantium as the answer. Understandable since it is a poem of a disillusioned old man. That is no country for old men.

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