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502 LETTERS IN CANADA 1997 Michael J. Sidnell. Yeats's Poehy and Poetics St Martin's Press tgg6. xvC 192. us$49ยท95 Yeats's Poetry and Poetics incorporates nine essays that Michael Sidnell produced over a period of about thirty years. One essay, '"Marbles of the Dancing Floor": Image, Symbol and Dancer,' has been written especially for this volume; the other eight have been previously published, the earliest of them in 1965. The essays appear in four groups organized not chronologically but under subject headings: 'Poetics/ 'Fellow Poets' (touching especially on James Joyce and John Synge), 'Phantasmagoria,' and 'Faery Brides/ this last incorporating meditations on The Countess Kathleen and The Wanderings of Oisin. The resultmg sequence approximately reverses the chronology of original publication, and also places in final position a treatment of Yeats's earliest published works. Yeats often liked inverting chronology, as he did for example in placing poems within the Tower collection, and the present arrangement is one which I am sure he would have approved. The book of essays seems in itself an apt form for a summation of Yeats, correlating as it does with the multifaceted nature of his own work Some information about the history of each essay appears in the acknowledgments. It might have been illuminating if the essays were tagged with their original dates; but since some of them had evolved over time through several previous versions, such summary information might equally have been misleading. Michael Sidnell assures us that the texts have not been modified (apart from a few corrections) for their present incarnation, which reassurance is encouraging: U1e practice of selective updating can often tarnish or compromise a text, making problematic even so attractive a work as Richard Ellmann's revised James Joyce of 1982, and the effect of such restraint here is to preserve intact a sense of fresh responses delivered in their original form. That respect for the original nature of these texts, in turn, also highlights the remarkable consistency of Sidnell's work. Readers may search the book for the kinds of contradictions or backtrackings which could almost be expected in the course of thirty years' responses to a major author: they will find very few instances. And insights sustained over the course of three decades gain considerable weight from being patiently expounded in the context of essays with diverse central concerns. Sidnell treats with steady attenbon and emphasis, and hence all the more persuasively, such matters as Yeats's interest in and application of magic and spirihralism (more focused and controlled than many readers have believed), his literary debt to Synge (greater than is usually recognized, though Yeats always shaped his sense of Synge for hjs own purposes), and the poetic merits of The Wanderings of Oisin (widely underestimated; an association of this poem with Wallace Stevens, quietly made in passing, is also provocative). HUMANITIES 503 The essays, originally prepared with diverse contexts in mind, naturally differ among themselves in range and, to some extent, in level of formality, though such variations nowhere pose problems for readers. One essay in particular, 'Mr Yeats, Michael Robartes and Their Circle' (first published in Yeats and the Occult in 1976)1 occupies almost thirty pages and is an ambitious piece, seeming close to definitive in its comprehensive treatment of Yeats's Michael Robartes persona and the portions of Yeats's thought which he deployed Robartes to expound. It also investigates with some dexterity broader patterns and structures in Yeats's thought and writings. Its companion essay in the 'Phantasmagoria' section, 'The Presence of the Poet: or, \Nhat Sat Down at the Breakfast Table?/ is much lighter, but the two essays balance one another rather neatly for this very reason. A similar complementarity links the bibliographical rigour of the essay on The Countess Kathleen and the critical nimbleness of its companion essay on Oisin. The Oisin essay's identification of the poem's demon with Professor Dowden could be questioned (Yeats's own autobiographical account of his conflict with John F. Taylor seems to suggest a closer parallet or we might prefer to argue for a less specific source)/ but the controversial reading lends additional energy to the account of...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 502-503
Launched on MUSE
2014-07-02
Open Access
No
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