‘Four-fifths of our energy’, W. B. Yeats remarked to an Indian doctor, ‘is spent in the quarrel with bad taste, whether in our own minds or in the minds of others’ (EI. 390). In an age which takes as axiomatic T. S. Eliot’s dictum about ‘the capital importance of criticism in the work of creation itself ’,1 it is strange that what Yeats made of this quarrel has gone largely unnoticed. His critical writings have been read and used widely—but primarily as an instrument for interpreting his poems and plays, seldom in their own right.2 And yet he was a practising critic throughout his literary career of over fifty years, and his critical work accounts for the bulk of his output as a writer.
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