Yeats’s “Last Poems”: a Reconsideration

  • Phillip L. Marcus
Part of the Yeats Annual book series (YA)


In the “Definitive Edition” of Yeats’s Poems published by Macmillan in 1949 and the collected editions based on it, the “Last Poems” section, ending as it did with “Under Ben Bulben” and the poet’s self-composed epitaph, seemed to many readers to provide a fitting conclusion to Yeats’s oeuvre. That section with the same contents and order had first appeared in print in Macmillan’s posthumous Last Poems (and)Plays of 1940. Then in 1961 Curtis Bradford published a manuscript table of contents, written by Yeats himself, that coincided with the contents and order (very different from the Macmillan volumes) of Last Poems and Two Plays (Cuala Press, 1939). In a subsequent essay, Bradford proposed that the Cuala volume rather than the Macmillan texts be used as the basis for the “Last Poems” section of future collected editions.1 The impact of his argument has been substantial. Jon Stallworthy accepted it in Vision and Revision in Yeats’s “Last Poems” (1969), and Stanley Sultan based his 1975 critical monograph on it.2 Most recently, Richard Finneran realized Bradford’s proposal in The Poems of W. B. Yeats: a New Edition. Although that edition has provoked heated controversy, supporters and critics alike have received Finneran’s decision concerning “Last Poems” with approval.


Heated Controversy Manuscript Document Epic Hero Irish Artist Definitive Edition 
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  1. 1.
    Curtis Bradford, “The Order of Yeats’s Last Poems”, MLN 76(1961) 515–16; Yeats’s “Last Poems” Again (Dublin: Dolmen Press, 1966; hereafter CB).Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Jon Stallworthy, Vision and Revision in Yeats’s “Last Poems” ( Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1969 ) pp. 72–3;Google Scholar
  3. 2.
    Stanley Sultan, Yeats at His Last ( Dublin: Dolmen Press, 1975 ) pp. 19–22.Google Scholar
  4. 2.
    See also, for example, Richard F. Peterson, William Butler Yeats (Boston: Twaync Publishers, 1982 ) pp. 179–85.Google Scholar
  5. 3.
    Daniel Albright, “The Magician”, New York Review of Books, 31 Jan. 1985, p. 31;Google Scholar
  6. 3.
    Warwick Gould, “The Editor Takes Possession”, TLS, 29 June 1984, p. 731.Google Scholar
  7. 5.
    Richard Finneran, Editing Yeats’s Poems (London: Macmillan Press; New York: St Martin’s Press, 1983) p. 68; hereafter EYP.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Warwick Gould 1987

Authors and Affiliations

  • Phillip L. Marcus

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