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This article is taken from PN Review 181, Volume 34 Number 5, May - June 2008.

The Condition of Simplicity II David Gervais
 
Yeats, who loved Shelley, provides a rather different case of a poet in search of simplicity but addicted to rhetoric. His rhetoric is not, of course, as ingenuous as Shelley's (whose is?). For a start, it depends on a fundamental paradox; no poet ever tried harder to be beautiful than the young Yeats, yet none tried harder to resist the merely beautiful than the mature Yeats did. Was he to give in to his muse or to fight it? All that was clear was that simplicity would hardly come as unbidden as it did to his master, Blake. This is why, from quite early on in his work, his candour often seems forced. Unlike Shelley, he had to be fired up to be direct. It is all too easy to see how useful the persona of Crazy Jane was when he had something to get off his chest. His simplicity may have been a result of clarity of vision but it was not the painstaking spiritual discipline that Eliot's was. In fact, part of its value was that it never came as easily to him as the accompanying rhetoric did. The late poetry was written against the odds.

To put it like this is not to deprecate Yeats, either in youth or maturity. One does not go to him for an undivided, Wordsworthian simplicity in any case. His rhetoric is inextricable from his simplicity, like ivy that has grown round a tree until it is part of ...


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