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This review is taken from PN Review 136, Volume 27 Number 2, November - December 2000.

Edited by Grevel Lindop
Duncan Wu
KATHLEEN RAINE, W.B. Yeats and the Learning of the Imagination (Golgonooza Press) £25 hardback, £12 paperback

Although its text extends to no more than 111 pages, Kathleen Raine's latest prose excursion, W.B. Yeats and the Learning of the Imagination, is a multi-faceted volume, encyclopaedic in its range, the product of a lifetime's research and meditation. It is no less immediate and urgent in its preoccupations than any of her other works - more so, in some respects.

It consists of five essays, 'Yeats in Retrospect', 'Yeats and the Learning of the Imagination', 'Yeats's Holy City of Byzantium', 'Yeats and the Afterlife', and 'Poetry as Prophecy' which, she says in her introduction, make 'no claim to do more than draw out a few threads from the rich texture of Yeats's work' (p.6). Of course this is in one respect no more than the truth, but it is also somewhat misleading because the book is more coherent than this would suggest. As an explication of Yeats's pursuit of the immaterial, in the context of some of his greatest works, particularly 'Byzantium', it has no peer, except perhaps for Raine's own earlier Yeats the Initiate (1986). But of course her preoccupation with Yeats entails a corresponding interest in esoteric resources at large. In truth, this book is a kind of primer, not just for anyone interested in Yeats, but for anyone with an interest in great poetry.

A theme that runs throughout the volume is Raine's detestation of the materialistic purview that has come to dominate our thought, one of the more dubious legacies ...

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