Our Secret Discipline: Yeats and <BR>Lyric Form

In his famous 1926 sequence, The Tower, W. B. Yeats wrote, "I?send imagination forth / Under the day's declining beam, and call / Images and memories / From ruin or from ancient trees, / For I would ask a question of them all." In her new study of Yeats, esteemed critic and Harvard professor Helen Vendler sends imagination forth to ask question of all of Yeats's work: Why did he use the forms that he did? This, of course, leads to other questions: How did Yeats arrive at his forms, and in what ways did he vary and develop some, like the ballad, over his 50-year career? Why, in a sequence like The Tower, did he vary forms within a single sequence, and what is the effect -- and possible meaning -- of his mosaic? When Yeats revisits a place or theme, as he did with poems about Byzantium or the Delphic Oracle, how does he rewrite what he has written before? These questions are as wise as they are difficult. It helps to have one's Collected Yeats nearby; to know or be willing to learn about rimes riche and royale; and to have already spent a fair amount of time thinking about possible meanings of the linguistic (and golden) mosaics in "Sailing to Byzantium." With certain amounts of dense academic prose, the book -- intended to correct an absence in the Yeatsian inquiry Vendler found on library shelves -- is not for the faint of heart. (Whether or not it is a country for old men is a different question.) That said, Vendler can be as charming a tour guide through Yeats as she is a learned one. And her frame of examining Yeats's external and internal lyric structures offers a new, insightful, and often revelatory map of Yeatsian terrain. -

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