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The acclaimed first volume of this definitive biography of W. B. Yeats left him in his fiftieth year, at a cross-roads in his life. The subsequent quarter-century surveyed in The Arch-Poet takes in his rediscovery of advanced nationalism and his struggle for an independent Irish culture, his continued pursuit of supernatural truths through occult experimentation, his extraordinary marriage, and a series of tumultuous love affairs. Throughout he was writing his greatest poems, from the stark simplicity of 'The Fisherman' and 'The Wild Swans at Coole', through the magnificent complexities of the sequences reflecting the Troubles and Civil War and the Byzantium poems, to the radical compression of his last work - some of it literally written on his deathbed. The drama of his life is mapped against the history of the Irish revolution and the new Irish state founded in 1922. Yeats's many political roles and his controversial involvement in a right-wing movement during the early 1930s are covered more closely than ever before, and his complex and passionate relationship with the developing history of his country remains a central theme. Throughout this book, the genesis, alteration, and presentation of his work (memoirs and polemic as well as poetry) is explored through his private and public life. The enormous and varied circle of Yeats's friends, lovers, family, collaborators, and antagonists inhabit and enrich a personal world of astounding energy, artistic commitment, and verve. Yeats constantly re-created himself and his work, believing that art was 'not the chief end of life but an accident in one's search for reality': a search which brought him again and again back to his governing preoccupations: sex and death. He also held that 'all knowledge is biography', a belief reflected in this study of one of the greatest lives of modern times.

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Book Details

ISBN: 9780198184652
ISBN-10: 0198184654
Format: Hardback
(241mm x 162mm x 50mm)
Pages: 856
Imprint: Oxford University Press
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Publish Date: 2-Oct-2003
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Reviews

US Kirkus Review » Eminent Irish historian meets eminent Irish poet, continuing the massive biography begun nearly seven years ago. Foster (History/Oxford Univ.; The Irish Story, 2002, etc.) carries on with a number of themes that occupied The Apprentice Mage (1997): William Butler Yeats's long infatuation with the Celtic bohemian Maud Gonne, his infatuations with many other women, his researches in the psychic and paranormal, and, above all, his refusal to be easily categorized in either poetry or politics, his twin vocations. Foster begins with Yeats in turning-point 1915, when he turned 50 and was beginning to tire of life in wartime London, writing of England's war with Germany, "It is merely the most expensive outbreak of insolence and stupidity the world has ever seen, and I give it as little of my thought as I can." Things were no quieter in Ireland, where, soon afterward, the Easter Uprising-the subject of some of Yeats's most memorable poems-broke out, followed by civil war and the difficult birth of the Irish Free State. Back home, Yeats positioned himself, Foster shows, not quite on the sidelines, but certainly at some distance from the sloganeers on either side, and he did not please his nominal fellow nationalists ("whose strict Sinn Fein platitudes," Foster sniffs, "seem[ed] bathetically ill attuned to the necessities of modern compromise") by insisting that true Irish culture owed as much to Anglo-Norman as Celtic influences. Tweaking simpler-minded politics in his "Crazy Jane" poems, Yeats goes on, in Foster's account, to poke about in less attractive corners of politics, expressing occasional admiration for the totalitarians across the sea; but mostly, having won the Nobel Prize, he retreats, slowly, into revered and grand-old-man-of-poetry status, getting himself in more trouble on the homefront than in the public sphere. Foster wisely lets Yeats's poetry speak for itself, though he ably deconstructs the bard's songs in light of contemporary events, and he provides an extraordinarily thorough context for scholars of a more strictly literary bent-and all in entirely readable, deeply nuanced fashion. "We may come at last," Yeats once remarked, "to think that all knowledge is biography." Foster's knowing, richly detailed investigation is a remarkable achievement, essential to serious students of Yeats's life and work. (Kirkus Reviews)


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Author Biography - R. F. Foster

Roy Foster is Carroll Professor of Irish History at the University of Oxford, and a fellow of Hertford College. Professor Foster has written widely on Irish history, society and politics in the modern period, as well as on Victorian high politics and culture, and his publications include Lord Randolph Churchill: a Political Life (Oxford, 1981), Modern Ireland 1600-1972 (London, 1988), and The Irish Story: Telling Tales and Making it up in Ireland (London, 2001). The first volume of this biography, W.B. Yeats, A Life. I: The Apprentice Mage 1865-1914 was published by OUP in 1997.

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