“Long-legged Fly” and Yeats’s Concept of Mind

  • Dennis Haskell
Part of the Yeats Annual book series (YA)


In a somewhat cantankerous short essay that eventually became the “Introduction” to his Essays and Introductions, Yeats declared that “it is our first business to paint, or describe, desirable people, places, states of mind” (E&I x). Yeats’s declaration was prompted by a belief that Western civilisation was debilitated. The hard-edged, geometric representations of Modernist painting provided evidence that “We have arrived at that point where in every civilisation Caesar is killed, Alexander catches some complaint and dies; personality is exhausted” (E&I x). In the same year, 1937, Yeats wrote one of the most intriguing, tantalising and difficult of all his poems, “Long-legged Fly”. In keeping with Yeats’s protest, there is nothing Cubist or Vorticist about the poem; its difficulties are of another kind. Clearly “Long-legged Fly” concurs with the comments in his “Introduction”: in castigation of the current weakness, “Long-legged Fly” presents three major figures of Western civilisation, “desirable people” in their different places, linked by engagement in a similar state, or process, of mind. The poem seems difficult because Yeats does not “describe” that process of mind, but conveys it through the image of the mysterious long-legged fly as it defies the normal laws of nature.


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Copyright information

© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 1993

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  • Dennis Haskell

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