• Elizabeth Cullingford


Much that is extreme about Yeats’s politics in his last decade can be attributed to his deliberate rejection of the temptation of quiet. In old age he needed his ‘spurs’, one of which was a rage which frequently found political expression. If the note is at times forced and distinctly unappealing, the reason is that Yeats was bent on proving himself, through no matter what contrivance or exaggeration, ‘a foolish, passionate man’.1 In On the Boiler he succeeded only too well. But Yeats was not actually foolish, and any assessment of his politics which lingers too long over his outbursts of passion is in danger of mistaking the show for the substance. As there is a sharp distinction between the experimental and the final versions of his poetry and prose, so there is an equally sharp distinction between his willingness to take political risks and try out extreme positions, and the foundation of consistent and reasonable beliefs to which he always returned. Even in his wildest flights there is a constant sense of qualification and irony, and a humorous awareness of his own attitudinizing. But although Yeats longed for a society ‘where a man is heard by the right ears, but never overheard by the wrong, and where he speaks his whole mind gaily, and is not the cautious husband of a part; where fantasy can play before matured into conviction’,2 he failed to find it. His fantasies have been taken for his convictions.


Extreme Position Political Risk Sharp Distinction Humorous Awareness Irish Society 
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© Elizabeth Cullingford 1981

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  • Elizabeth Cullingford

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