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PN Review 276
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This review is taken from Poetry Nation 1 Number 1, 1973.

YEATS: THE MEMOIRS Transcribed and edited by Denis Donoghue. W. B. YEATS: MEMOIRS. Autobiography - First Draft. Journal. Macmillan. £4.

APART FROM ITS obvious importance to scholars and specialists, not to mention future biographers of Yeats, this excellently edited and annotated volume could well prove more capable than the more stylised Autobiographies of overcoming common prejudices against Yeats's poetry, or against the successive anti-selves that predominate in so much of it. Discriminating readers, of course, need no assurance that Yeats was 'human', that he suffered moral conflicts, nervous breakdowns - and sexual deprivation; but for a long time now we have been conditioned to poetic personae that set up no ladders in the 'foul rag and bone shop of the heart'. Any poetry that does not make itself thoroughly at home there, offering literal purchases of experience to any corner, tends to be suspect.

In the first draft of the autobiography Yeats hardly dramatises those quarrels with himself out of which he made his poetry; he is as frank about his personal failures and deficiencies as about his need to overcome them, if only by 'compensating' for them in the most various ways. The study of occultism, for instance, provided him with symbols to be used in poetry; and those symbols, unlike the images of the more advanced French Symbolists, served to break the bounds of an individualism with which he never ceased to grapple, most explicitly in Ego Dominus Tuus. Involvement in politics and in 'theatre business answered similar needs, because - as the Journal puts it - artists, 'as seen from life', are 'an artifice, ...


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