- Yeats and Afterwords ed. by Marjorie Howes and Joseph Valente
Yeats and Afterwords, edited by notable Yeats scholars Marjorie Howes and Joseph Valente, and featuring contributions from ten additional and noteworthy critics, attempts to clarify Yeats’ infamous sense of belatedness. Yeats’ own articulation of himself and his cadre as “the last romantics” leads Howes and Valente to examine precisely how Yeats conceives of the way he embodies his literary moment. In other words, how Yeats understands his own context with respect to his revivalist perspective. As the editors astutely point out, Yeats’ sense of belatedness, while rooted in “bygone eras, faded orders, or missed opportunities as impossible to reclaim as to forget,” (4) is inherently a circumstance of his present awareness, the meaning of which is discernible in a future that will have to incorporate those absences. The book is divided into three parts, addressing the past, present and future, respectively, of Yeats’ conception of belatedness.
Part I, titled “The Last Romantics,” deals with how Yeats uses the past as a channel through which to convey the terms of an Irish Revivalism. One stand-out piece is Elizabeth Cullingford’s epic essay, “The Death of Cuchulain’s Only Son” which invokes the mythic connection to Yeats, and argues that while Yeats conceived of ancient Irish myths as a source for coaxing patriotism undone by years of colonization, his concentration on the Cuchulain tales in which a father kills his only son—the reversal of the usual Greek tragedy—belies his claims for a fertile future. Cullingford notes that tragedy in both Irish and Greek myth tends to revolve around conflicts between generations. Yet while in Greek myth the younger generation inevitably prevails, in Irish myth, as Yeats conceives it, the younger generation is associated with failure. Thereby the instigator of tragedy is shifted: from the mere passage of time in which the father is replaced by the son in Greek mythology, to war in Irish [End Page 524] myth, in which dead sons represent an ending rather than the beginning of a new order. Pointing out particular revisions Yeats made to various lines and drawing out specific allusions to Aeschylus’ work, Cullingford shows how Yeats’ reference to Greek mythology serves to emphasize the dissonances between them, and ultimately to shed light on Yeats’ fear that the Irish Revival failed to foster a sustainable future. James H. Murphy looks to the more recent past in “The Dark Arts of the Critic: Yeats and William Carleton,” as he explores the historical figure of William Carleton, an Irish novelist, as he is recast by Yeats as a bonafide Irish peasant, masculine for all his supposed rugged earthiness. Carleton is, therefore for Yeats, an exemplar of his vision of Irish Revivalism. In fact, as Murphy explains, Carleton was himself a bit of a revisionist, whose novels often reworked standards of English literature. Murphy’s essay uncovers the alterations to Carleton’s biography propounded by Yeats’ readings of his novels, which in many ways suit the present circumstances and bolster his calls for a “return” to an authentic masculine Irish peasantry. The remaining essays in the first section including “The Revivalist Museum: Yeats and the Reanimation of History” by Renée Fox and “Nation for Art’s Sake: Aestheticist Afterwords in Yeats’ Irish Revival” by Joseph Valente likewise bring to light Yeats’ manner of rekindling the past as crucial and often instructive to the present times.
Part II, “Yeats and Afterwords” works through the ways an undercurrent of negation in his poetics speaks to possible futures that Yeats envisions in his present writing. Marjorie Howes picks up the idea of modern Ireland’s degeneracy, though from a different critical perspective. In “Yeats’ Graves,” Howes argues that a careful examination of the progression of grave images Yeats’ Last Poems, shows the poet’s earnest desire, indeed his attempt, to manage his own death and burial while at the same time disclosing his awareness of the inability to do so. In her nuanced reading of Yeats’ late work, Howes regards “Under Ben Bulben,” the first...