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Selected Poems And Four Plays [Paperback]

William Butler Yeats , M.l. Rosenthal
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Sept. 9 1996
Since its first appearance in 1962, M. L. Rosenthal's classic selection of Yeats's poems and plays has attracted hundreds of thousands of readers. This newly revised edition includes 211 poems and 4 plays. It adds The Words Upon the Window-Pane, one of Yeats's most startling dramatic works in its realistic use of a seance as the setting for an eerily powerful reenactment of Jonathan Swift's rigorous idealism, baffling love relationships, and tragic madness. The collection profits from recent scholarship that has helped to establish Yeats's most reliable texts, in the order set by the poet himself. And his powerful lyrical sequences are amply represented, culminating in the selection from Last Poems and Two Plays, which reaches its climax in the brilliant poetic plays The Death of Cuchulain and Purgatory.

Scholars, students, and all who delight in Yeats's varied music and sheer quality will rejoice in this expanded edition. As the introduction observes, "Early and late he has the simple, indispensable gift of enchanting the ear....He was also the poet who, while very much of his own day in Ireland, spoke best to the people of all countries. And though he plunged deep into arcane studies, his themes are most clearly the general ones of life and death, love and hate, man's condition, and history's meanings. He began as a sometimes effete post-Romantic, heir to the pre-Raphaelites, and then, quite naturally, became a leading British Symbolist; but he grew at last into the boldest, most vigorous voice of this century." Selected Poems and Four Plays represents the essential achievement of the greatest twentieth-century poet to write in English.


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William Butler Yeats, whom many consider this century's greatest poet, began as a bard of the Celtic Twilight, reviving legends and Rosicrucian symbols. By the early 1900s, however, he was moving away from plush romanticism, his verse morphing from the incantatory rhythms of "I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree" into lyrics "as cold and passionate as the dawn." At every stage, however, Yeats plays a multiplicity of poetic roles. There is the romantic lover of "When You Are Old" and "A Poet to His Beloved" ("I bring you with reverent Hands / The books of my numberless dreams..."). And there are the far more bitter celebrations of Maud Gonne, who never accepted his love and engaged in too much politicking for his taste: "Why should I blame her that she filled my days / With misery, or that she would of late / Have taught to ignorant men most violent ways, / Or hurled the little streets upon the great, / Had they but courage equal to desire?" There is also the poet of conscience--and confrontation. His 1931 "Remorse for Intemperate Speech" ends: "Out of Ireland have we come. / Great hatred, little room, / Maimed us at the start. / I carried from my mother's womb / A fanatic heart."

Yeats was to explore several more sides of himself, and of Ireland, before his Last Poems of 1938-39. Many are difficult, some snobbish, others occult and spiritualist. As Brendan Kennelly writes, Yeats "produces both poppycock and sublimity in verse, sometimes closely together." On the other hand, many prophetic masterworks are poppycock-free--for example, "The Second Coming" ("Turning and turning in the widening gyre / The falcon cannot hear the falconer; / Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; / Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world...") and such inquiries into inspiration as "Among School Children" ("O body swayed to music, O brightening glance, How can we know the dancer from the dance?"). And at his best, Yeats extends the meaning of love poetry beyond the obviously romantic: love becomes a revolutionary emotion, attaching the poet to friends, history, and the passionate life of the mind.

About the Author

William Butler Yeats is generally considered to be Ireland's greatest poet, living or dead, and one of the most 

important literary figures of the twentieth century. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1923. 


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Most helpful customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Poems Not To Be Read, But Learned By Heart Feb. 23 2002
Format:Paperback
In 250 years the mass of pablum we currently pass as literature will be blown away like chaff in the wind.
One of the hard and nourishing kernals left on the threshingroom floor will certainly be Yeats.
These are poems not to be read, but learned by heart.
Among my favorites from this collection (with years of composition) are: "The Stolen Child", "To an Isle in the Water" and "Down by the Salley Gardens" (1889); "The Lake Isle of Innisfree" and "When You Are Old" (1893); "He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven" (1899); "The Folly of Being Comforted" and "Adam's Curse" (1904); "All Things Can Tempt Me", "Brown Penny" and "To a Child Dancing in the Wind" (1910); and "The Cat and the Moon" and "Two Songs of a Fool" (1919).
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5.0 out of 5 stars A wonderful introduction to Yeats May 1 2000
By John M
Format:Paperback
I picked up this book of poems as an introduction to Yeats and found it to be wonderful. It contains major works from all of his periods and four plays as well. Highly recommended, for poetry lovers and those with only a passing interest.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.3 out of 5 stars  10 reviews
20 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Poems Not To Be Read, But Learned By Heart Feb. 23 2002
By Bay Gibbons - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
In 250 years the mass of pablum we currently pass as literature will be blown away like chaff in the wind.
One of the hard and nourishing kernals left on the threshingroom floor will certainly be Yeats.
These are poems not to be read, but learned by heart.
Among my favorites from this collection (with years of composition) are: "The Stolen Child", "To an Isle in the Water" and "Down by the Salley Gardens" (1889); "The Lake Isle of Innisfree" and "When You Are Old" (1893); "He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven" (1899); "The Folly of Being Comforted" and "Adam's Curse" (1904); "All Things Can Tempt Me", "Brown Penny" and "To a Child Dancing in the Wind" (1910); and "The Cat and the Moon" and "Two Songs of a Fool" (1919).
18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A wonderful introduction to Yeats May 1 2000
By John M - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
I picked up this book of poems as an introduction to Yeats and found it to be wonderful. It contains major works from all of his periods and four plays as well. Highly recommended, for poetry lovers and those with only a passing interest.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Cannot Go Wrong With Yeats Jan. 16 2014
By Wendy Louise Boyle - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I've always been a fan of William Butler Yeats. I was given a poetry book with all the great Poets many years ago, but, unfortunately it was lost. I'm so pleased that I purchased this book. There's nothing better than unwinding from a long day by sitting down with a hot cup of tea (or nice glass of wine) and reading poetry. Definitely relaxes the brain.
5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The golden apples of the moon, the silver apples of the sun Dec 15 2005
By Shalom Freedman - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Yeats lives in the minds of most lovers of great modern poetry through lines of incredible beauty.

"And we will wander hand in hand

Through hollow lands and hilly lands,

And pluck till time and times are done,

The golden apples of the moon,

The silver apples of the sun.

"We must lie down where all the ladders start

In the foul rag- and- bone shop of the heart"

"But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,

and loved the sorrows of your changing face"

"An aged man is but a paltry thing

a tattered soul upon a stick

unless soul claps its hand and sing..

Yeats believed in much nonsense in his life, and apparently was not the kindest of human beings but he wrote some very great poetry.
10 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Questions Sept. 26 2006
By Kevin Killian - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
During a recent fright when we were escaping our apartment down a ladder, I took two books with me, thinking that perhaps I would need something strong. Happily Yeats's SELECTED POEMS AND FOUR PLAYS was at hand, together with, well, something private. This book, edited by the late M.L. Rosenthal, is an expanded edition of a previous book by Rosenthal that had the same title except it was called, SELECTED POEMS AND TWO PLAYS. This present edition doubles the number of plays it prints in one stroke, adding the very late THE DEATH OF CUCHULAIN as well as the strange, feverish THE WORDS UPON THE WINDOW-PANE. Previously we had only the two plays PURGATORY and CALGARY. Did I say CALGARY? I meant, CALVARY, and neither of them are worth the paper they're printed on. In college my professor used to tell us that Yeats, together with his patron Lady Gregory, invented the Abbey Theater and kept it going by writing plays annually and encouraging their society friends not only to attend but to pledge money in exchange for participation in a community-based theater. However, according to Rosenthal, some of Yeats' plays were distinctly unpopular even with this sudsidized theater and neither the actors nor the audience loved them to death.

As a boy, my dad used to quote Yeats on every occasion and he (Yeats) was a patron saint to many Irishfolk. Today not so much, but as I made my way down the ladder I was glad I had the Yeats book tucked into my pants. He is the epitome of the artist who keeps changing through circumstance, open to new influence, even partial to drugs, for many credit his late flowering to the monkey glands he took in Switzerland to rejuvenate his sex life, the precursor to today's Viagra. In his youth he became a member of a secret band called the Order of the Golden Dawn, and spiritualist interests fueled his poetry and politics both. On his honeymoon he discovered that his wife, Georgie, had mediumistic leanings, and they spent many night holding seances and conversing with the spirits of the dead, all of whom, or so Yeats claimed, had arrived to dispense new metaphors for his poetry. He later wrote up these events in his book A VISION.

Rosenthal was a superb editor who went back and checked all of the original manuscripts and who could distinguish Yeats' handwriting in all its different avatars, and this helped him date the poems to within an inch of their lives. His task was made no easier by Yeats' habit of revision and by his need to provide an income for his sisters, who wound up producing elaborate private, limited printings of much of his work to sell to collectors only at absurdly inflated prices. These books are beautiful but useless, like so many of the romantic Irish flourishes the poet's late work commemorates only to condemn. It is a poetry of questions, which always appeals to young people, those who know the answers. "What's water but the generated soul?" (That one always threw me.) "How can we tell the dancer from the dance?" "Is every modern nation like the tower,/ Half dead at the top?" (Makes you think about our nation, caught up in a senseless war against Iraq.) "Those masterful images because complete/ Grew in pure mind, but out of what began?" "What voice more sweet than hers/ When, young and beautiful,/ She rode to harriers?" Riding to harriers doesn't sound so fabulous now, but we've all got something we look back on and say, everything's been changed, changed utterly.
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