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ELT 48 : 2 2005 haps a symptom of this. Where there is serious and groundbreaking scholarship, why not give it the room to breathe? ROGEB LUCKHUBST __________________ Birkbeck College Foster's Volume II: Yeats Biography R. F. Foster. W. B. Yeats, A Life: II. The Arch-Poet. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003. xxiv + 798 pp. $45.00 HAVING READ Foster's biography, I feel that I know more about Yeats's life than about my own. I know about the problems with his blood pressure, his operations, about the fever he had on his honeymoon. I even know how much he paid for the restoration of the Ballylee tower. Finally, and even less necessary, I learnt details about his intimate life that should have remained private and intimate, in particular about his treatment for impotency and about his little escapades in old age when his desire was stronger than his ability to perform. On my office desk there is a picture of Yeats. Distinguished, handsome in an abstract and sublime way, Yeats is for me the epitome of a poet and of a bard. I want to think of him as one who could touch the hearts of his people, encouraging them to attain a higher level of consciousness . I want to think of him as a poet who understood the human mind and passion. I also think of him as a visionary, not on a grand scale, prophesying history (though inA Vision he tried to do just that), but as a person of great personal insight, understanding desire, and love, and their interrelation. Of course, while creating my own personal myth of Yeats, I was aware of Yeats's contradictions. I knew how painful the lines in "The Man and the Echo" or "The Circus Animals' Desertion" must have been to the patriots that with tears in their eyes listened to "Easter 1916." I knew how he hated the idea of his aging, believing that his virility gave him the power of poetic expression. Also, I was not impressed by his attraction to Maud Gonne's daughter Iseult, a typically male gesture of replacing an older woman with a younger one, in this case in the most literal fashion. Nor was I impressed by his attraction to Fascism, even if it was Mussolini rather than Hitler who caught his attention. Yet I felt that all these contradictions were somehow unimportant. Not only because they contributed to his humanity, but also because they were transcended by the power of his poetry. For what is poetry, if not, as Keats put it, negative capability : the capacity of living in contradictions and doubts without turning to reason. 214 BOOK REVIEWS In his study, Foster does turn to reason, and this is his strongest quality and, at the same time, his greatest weakness. It is hard for me to imagine what motivated this historian, dispassionate and aloof, to devote over a decade of his life to understanding and describing the life of another man, rationally, without passion. It is difficult not to think of the protagonist in Sartre's Nausea, Antoine Roquentin, who had also spent years working on a biography, to realize in the end, that the life of one person cannot justify the life of another. What intimate justification did Foster feel in the end, when he handed his manuscript to the publisher? It is certain that he has written one of the most, if not the most, thorough and meticulous biographies ever. It is certain that Yeatsian scholarship after this book will never be the same. Yet the biography will not contribute, at least not in an important way, to the understanding of Yeats's poetry, though numerous pages are devoted to Yeats's poetry, and the biography will serve as an important source for the study of its intertextuality, both of the intertextual relationship between the images in his poems and some other writings as well as of the intertextual relationship of his texts to other poetic texts—for example, the intertextual relationship between O'Grady's The Masque of Finn and Yeats's "Cuchulain Comforted." What this biography contributes to in a significant way is the understanding...


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