Yeats: Not the Romantic at Heart - Sample Essay
Even though William Butler Yeats lived and wrote during the Romantic era in literature and socialized with the likes of famous Romantic writers Percy Shelley, Mary Shelley, and William Blake, Yeats ended up being least romantic of the group. First examination of quotes such as “The only business of the head in the world is to bow a ceaseless abeisance to the heart” (Letter 1886) would leave the impression that Yeats was romantic in thought, but further exploration into his works proves otherwise. Yeats was more concerned with art for the sake of art and what one could explore through this medium.
In “Lapis Lazuli”, Yeats searches for human elements in nature to examine the situation of man. He states, “Every accidental crack or dent, Seems a water-course or avalanche. Though doubtless plum or cherry-branch Sweetens the little half-way house Those Chinamen climb towards. ” Yeats acknowledges the human experience as struggle and reality, but finds beauty in it. He does not fantasize about the beauty in reality; he simply acknowledges that it is there. He refers to World War II and chaos in the world and uses art as a place of stability and tranquility, “All things fall and are built again, And those that build them again are gay”.
In “Easter 1916”, Yeats uses this poem to relate to “terrible beauty”, the pointless sacrifices that people make. While they are magnificent and beautiful, they are also terrible, and Yeats does not find understanding in them, “And what if excess of love Bewildered them till they died? ” Yeats believes that struggling to make change in life is more practical than dying needlessly and that the romantic love of something, whether human or a cause, such as referred to in this particular poem, can be counteractive.
In “Among School Children”, Yeats recants several philosophers and their thoughts and accomplishments as he muses on how things change, yet remain the same. He contemplates the value of life once someone has grown old. “What youthful mother, a shape upon her lap Honey of generation had betrayed…Would think her son, did she but see that shape With sixty or more winters on its head, A compensation for the pang of his birth, Or the uncertainty of his setting forth?
” Here Yeats questions the validity of birth. Would women still bear the pain of birth if they could see their children sixty years from now? Would it be the same? There is no romantic view in his practical reflection of life. In conclusion, although W. B. Yeats was one of the first Romantic poets, he ended up being more of a modernist and valued art as art, not as some ethereal tie between heaven and Earth.