Despite the extensive critical attention that has been paid to the work of W. B. Yeats, we are still very much in the process of understanding both the greatness and the modernity of this poet. The assessment of his poetry has rested primarily on the scope, intensity, and memorability of his lyrics, but his romantic beginnings have made it problematic to acknowledge him as a modernist, while his failure to produce a long poem has for some time raised questions about his greatness. Don’t major poets, the argument runs, produce major poems?
In this meticulous analysis of The Tower, David Young addresses both these issues, showing that this powerful volume represents Yeats at his best and most modern, and that its careful construction makes it the deliberate equivalent to the long poems of tradition.
By tracing the careful ordering of the poems in The Tower, Young demonstrates the volume’s overall vision, giving careful readings of each poem and illustrating the growing repetition of images that create a whole which is both emotionally and dramatically greater than the sum of its parts. Young contends that the best way to read Yeat’s lyrics is through attention to the context he created for them. Their interdependence, he asserts, is the true key to their modernity.
This eminently readable study appears at a time when most readers are in danger of losing touch with the particular achievement of Yeat’s individual volumes as he conceived them. Most students and readers now encounter Yeats in anthologies, in a volume of selected poems, or in a somewhat misleadingly presented complete Poems. Young convinces us that by persisting in this approach we will lose sight of a significant aspect of a foremost modern poet and the very elements that make him a true modern.