Analyze the imagery in W.B. Yeats An Acre of Grass

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 Analyze the imagery in W.B. Yeats's An Acre of Grass

Analyze the imagery in W.B. Yeats An Acre of Grass


Summary and Analysis of An Acre Of Grass by W.B  Yeats | An Acre of Grass Summary |  Full Text, summary and explanation and Analysis  of  An Acre Of Grass | An Acre of Grass as a Representative Poem by W.B. Yeats  | Summary and Analysis of An Acre Of Grass by W.B Yeats | An Acre of Grass by W.B. Yeats Summary and Line by Line Explanation |  An Acre of Grass as a Representative Poem of W.B. Yeats| Summary and Analysis of An Acre Of Grass by W.B Yeats | Analyze the imagery in W.B. Yeats An Acre of Grass


If you are looking the English literature Notes then you are on the right website. In this post, I am going to provide you a complete Guide to W.B. Yeats' poem’ ‘An Acre of Grass’ Full Text and  Analysis of Each Stanza of  the poem  and summary, An Acre of Grass’ ,  critical appreciation of Yeats' ‘An Acre of Grass’ , An Acre of Grass as a Representative Poem of W.B. Yeats, An Acre of Grass to be a typical specimen of Yeats' last poem

 



Q. 1. Analyze the imagery in W.B. Yeats' An Acre of Grass.
Or
Briefly analyze the images used in An Acre of Grass and show how they conform to the general pattern of imagery used in Yeats' last poems.

 

Ans: ‘An Acre of Grass’ is both a lament over and a rebellion against the frailties of old age. The poet is now a broken man with all his keen intellect and imagination dimmed and blunted by age. Banished from a life of vigorous enterprise and activities, his entire world now consists of books and pictures. The first two stanzas of the poem are pervaded with a note of dejection and despair which may well remind the reader of Coleridge's Work without Hope. Another of Yeats' last poems, The Circus Animal's Desertion is also pervaded with the same note of melancholy. But while The Circus Animal's Desertion ends on a note of defeat and dejection, the final two stanzas of An Acre of Grass boldly reveal the poet's firm determination to revive within himself his former poetic gifts.

 

In the true spirit of the last poems, ‘An Acre of Grass’ is frankly devoid of all meretricious ornamentation. But there are a few symbols and imagery that may remind us of what is best in Yeats' earlier and more well-known works. But there is a marked difference, too. Here there is no philosophical or mystic no philosophical or mystic preoccupation and correspondingly complex and elaborate imagery.

 

  

The poet is more concerned with himself rather than with the outside world. To overcome the frailties of old age and to revive himself his former creative power and zeal have now become the sole concern of his life. Accordingly, the scope of the imagery is narrowed down while they gain immensely in intensity, appealing to the mind with a compelling urgency.

 

The image of the old house 'where nothing stirs but a mouse' most effectively expresses the utter loneliness of old age. And the image of the mind consuming its 'rag and bone' startles us with its shocking unconventionality. Then, there is the image of William Blake beating upon the wall 'till truth obeyed his call'. This image, simple as it is, has something primitive, something elemental in it. The rag-and-bone image is quite common in Yeats' last poems. This rather unconventional imagery has a typically modern flavour that may remind the reader of that particular brand of poetry pioneered by Pound and Eliot. We may remember in this context that this rag-and-bone imagery also occurs in The Circus Animal's Desertion.

 

 The imagery of 'the dead in their shrouds' and 'an old man's eagle mind' could easily occur in some of Yeats' best poems. The poet's urgent longing for an old man's frenzy sounds almost like an incantation and easily reminds the reader of the last lines of Kubla Khan. And, the indomitable will for a spectacular regeneration echoing through the last two stanzas compellingly suggests the image of the phoenix. But, perfectly in keeping with the spirit of the last poems, the imagery in 'An Acre of Grass' has a rugged primitive grandeur rather than the blooming exotic beauty of Yeats' earlier images.



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Q. 2  Attempt a critical appreciation of Yeats' ‘An Acre of Grass’

 

 

Ans: ‘An Acre of Grass’ belongs to the last phase of W. B. Yeats' prolific poetic career. Both in its theme and in its style, the poem reveals a number of features that characterize Yeats' last poems. These last poems are marked by an unusual degree of simplicity and straightforwardness which is not to be found in his most celebrated works. ‘An Acre of Grass’, along with a few others of Yeats' last poems is endowed with a kind of deceptive simplicity that belies the rich complexity of the ideas expressed in them. The product of a mellowed age and temperament, these poems appear to have done away with all kinds of meretricious ornamentation. And yet, here and there we come across a phrase, a symbol, a metaphor that immediately transports us to that mystic world that the poet so often used to conjure up in many of his earlier poems including The Rose, The Tower or Sailing toByzantium.

 

 

‘An Acre of Grass’ is both a lament over and a rebellion against the frailties of old age. The poet is now a broken man with all his keen intellect and imagination dimmed and blunted by age. Banished from a life of vigorous enterprise and activities, his entire world now consists of books and pictures. The first two stanzas of the poem are pervaded with a note of dejection and despair which may well remind the reader of Coleridge's Work without Hope. Another of Yeats' last poems, The Circus Animal's Desertion is also pervaded with the same note of melancholy. But while The Circus Animal's Desertion ends on a note of defeat and dejection, the final two stanzas of ‘An Acre of Grass’ boldly reveals the poet's firm determination to revive within himself his former poetic gifts.

 

The second stanza clearly reveals his bitter realization that his present quiet and stagnant life can yield nothing in terms of poetic creation. He feels that his weak and 'loose imagination' cannot 'make the truth known'. So he longs for 'an old man's frenzy' which would enable him to regenerate his drooping spirits once again.


 He urgently aspires for that spark of frenzy that had inspired a Timon, a Lear, a Blake, and a Michelangelo. He would then be able to penetrate the mysteries of things 'till truth obeyed his call'.The element of self-pity which saturates so many of Yeats' shorter poems is conspicuously present in the first two stanzas of ‘An Acre of Grass’. But here it assumes a more controlled and dignified character than elsewhere. There is a touch of Yeats' celebrated mysticism in the final two stanzas, but this mysticism is neither as complex nor as abstract as that found in many of his most celebrated poems.

 

 

‘An Acre of Grass’ is frankly devoid of all meretricious ornamentation. But there are a few symbols and imagery that may remind us of what is best in Yeats' earlier and more well-known works. The old house 'where nothing stirs but a mouse' most effectively expresses the utter loneliness of old age. The 'rag and bone' image at once reminds us of the 'foul rag-and-bone shop' in The Circus Animal's Desertion. The imagery of 'the dead in their shrouds' and 'an old man's eagle mind ‘could easily occur in some of Yeats' best poems. The poet's urgent longing for an old man's frenzy sounds almost like an incantation and easily reminds the reader of the last lines of Kubla Khan. And, the indomitable will for a spectacular regeneration echoing through the last two stanzas compellingly suggests the image of the phoenix.

 

‘An Acre of Grass’, along with a few others of Yeats' last poems, is remarkably free from that proverbial obscurity that Yeats' poetry has so often been charged with. Here there is no complexity of symbol or imagery obscuring the meaning and halting the smooth flow of ideas. The poem poses no problem of interpretation and there is no uncertainty of meaning except perhaps in the last line which might be differently interpreted by different readers. The lines flow with easy grace, and the rhyming couplet at the end of each stanza facilitates this graceful movement. Here and there we may come to notice the rugged force of an essentially Celtic mind, mellowed now not merely by age and experience, but by a lifelong devotion to the Muses as well.

 

Q. 3 . What features of Yeats' poetry are revealed in The Acre of Grass?
OR
Would you consider An Acre of Grass to be a typical specimen of Yeats' last poem?

 

 

Ans. Yeats' long and prolific poetic career may be described as a great adventurous pilgrimage -----  a long, tortuous journey with many wonderful twists and turns. Thus his long poetic career may be seen as an organic whole comprising of so many phases, each of which has its own characteristic features. Any major poem of Yeats thus reveals certain features of that particular phase to which it belongs. There are, of course, certain important poems like The Rose and The Tower which have a composite character i.e., they reveal certain features that characterize several phases of Yeats' poetic career. But this is not the case with most of the poems belonging to the final phase.

 

‘An Acre of Grass’, along with most of its companions in the Last Poems are marked by certain features of their own, but they do not generally reflect the major features of Yeats' earlier poems. Thus, while attempting to judge ‘An Acre of Grass’ as a typical specimen of it would be pertinent to inquire what particular the Last Poems, features of the earlier phases of Yeats' poetry are not to be found in this poem.

 

 

To begin with, the youthful romanticism of Yeats' earliest poems is conspicuously absent in ‘An Acre of Grass’ and nearly all its companions in The Last Poems. At the same time the easy charm and the smooth grace of style which the young Yeats derived from the Pre-Raphaelites are not to be found in these poems. The philosophical preoccupations and complex symbolism of the middle phases are not to be confronted here. Gone are those complex and elaborate images which had once led some critics to brand Yeats' poetry as 'obscure'. Some traces of Yeats' special brand of mysticism may be found in some of the last poems, but this is not the case with An Acre of Grass.

 

An Acre of Grass is both a lament over and a rebellion against the frailties of old age. The poet is now a broken man with all his keen intellect and imagination dimmed and blunted by age. Banished from a life enterprise and activities, his entire world now consists of books and pictures. The first two stanzas of the poem are pervaded with a note of dejection and despair which may well remind the reader of Coleridge's Work without Hope. Another of Yeats' last poems, The Circus Animal's Desertion is also pervaded with the same note of melancholy. But while The Circus Animal's Desertion ends on a note of defeat and dejection, the final two stanzas of An Acre of Grass boldly reveal the poet's firm determination to revive within himself his former poetic gifts.

 

   

Thus self-pity is one of the common features of the last poems. But this self-pity is of a more virile and more aggressive character than what is to be met within many of Yeats' earlier poems. The poet's repentance over the loss of his former poetic gifts is a recurring theme in the last poems. And often there is a change of mood, as in An Acre of Grass, from despair to determination. In this poem, the poet is more occupied rather with himself than with the outside world, and this is one of the characteristic features of the last poems. In the true spirit of the last poems, An Acre of Grass is frankly devoid of all meretricious ornamentation. But there are a few symbols and imagery that may remind us of what is best in Yeats' earlier and more well-known works. The old house 'where nothing stirs but a mouse' most effectively expresses the utter loneliness of old age. The 'rag and bone' image at once reminds us of the 'foul rag-and-bone shop' in The Circus Animal's Desertion. The imagery of 'the dead in their shrouds' and 'an old man's eagle mind' could easily occur in some of Yeats' best- poems. The poet's urgent longing for an old man's frenzy sounds almost like an incantation and easily reminds the reader of the last lines of Kubla Khan. And, the indomitable will for a spectacular regeneration echoing through the last two stanzas compellingly suggests the image of the phoenix. But, perfectly in keeping with the spirit of the last poems, the imagery in An Acre of Grass has a rugged primitive grandeur rather than the blooming exotic beauty of Yeats' earlier images.

 

 


An Acre of Grass  BY:  William Butler Yeats

Picture and book remain,

An acre of green grass

For air and exercise,

Now strength of body goes;

Midnight, an old house

Where nothing stirs but a mouse.

 

My temptation is quiet.

Here at life's end

Neither loose imagination,

Nor the mill of the mind

Consuming its rag and bonc,

Can make the truth known.

 

Grant me an old man's frenzy,

Myself must I remake

Till I am Timon and Lear

Or that William Blake

Who beat upon the wall

Till Truth obeyed his call;

 

A mind Michael Angelo knew

That can pierce the clouds,

Or inspired by frenzy

Shake the dead in their shrouds;

Forgotten else by mankind,

An old man's eagle mind.



About the Poem: An Acre of Grass


An Acre of Grass is to be found in Yeats' Last Poems. This volume includes the poems written from 1936 till the poet's death in 1939. These poems lack the complex structure and gorgeous imagery of his earlier poems. They are much simpler in style and expression, and often enough, they reveal the poet's angry impatience with his own failing powers. But he is not a man tamely to accept his fate. He speaks in a rebellious tone about his failing artistic inspiration. He is eager to get back his creative powers. An Acre of Grass and quite a few others of these last poems seem to suggest that the poet is despairing. But here and there in these poems, we come across some firm assertions which seem to point in the opposite direction. And, in keeping with the changed tone and texture of these poems, the imagery and phraseology also undergo a radical change. And yet, the poet speaks with a certain dignity and authority that cannot but evoke a sense of awe and reverence. A battle is going on in the poet's mind between his failing powers and his determination to regain his artistic inspiration.

 


SUMMARY of An Acre of Grass 

The poet has grown old. For him, life's activities now consist of reading books and seeing pictures. He is weak and he feels lonely. The stirring of the mouse in the old house seems to emphasize his utter loneliness. [stanza-1]

He has now reached the last phase of life. All he now aspires for is a quiet rest. His power of imagination now flags and his feeble mind wanders. Great thoughts and lofty ideas now seem to lie, beyond the reach of his old and weakened mind which is now powerless to unveil the essence of things. [stanza-2]

But he still wishes to 'remake' himself. So he prays for an old man's frenzy. He desires to possess the superhuman energy of a Timon, a Lear or a Blake so that he could see into the essence of things and unveil the truth that lies beyond appearances. [staza-3]

He wishes his mind were as clear and as penetrating as that of Michael Angelo whose daring imagination rose to dizzy heights of artistic excellence. Such a mind, the poet feels sure, can even rouse the dead from their cold slumber. Unless he is granted this boon, he will surely be forgotten by mankind. [stanza-4]


An Acre of Grass by W.B. Yeats Summary and Line-by-Line Explanation

stanza-1

 

Picture and book remain......air and exercise-

 

The phrase 'an acre of green grass' is used here in a strictly symbolic sense. There is no question of the poet's 'taking exercise in a green grassy plot of land measuring an acre', though such absurd interpretations are to be found in some books. The poet clearly says that now in his old age, pictures, and books are to him what an acre of green grass is too young people. Thus, the acre of green grass stands here as a symbol of freedom and entertainment. Burdened with the cares of age, the poet now finds joy and solace only in books and pictures, as his weak health bars him from all other kinds of entertainment.

 

 

Air and exercise -----Symbolize joy and comfort and entertainment. Now the strength of their body goes-age has made him weak.

 

Midnight, and old house-- Aptly describes the fate of an old man who has none to care for him 'Midnight' with its associated connotation of darkness and silence, deepens this sense of utter desolation.

 

Stirs moves. ---- Where nothing stirs but a mouse-The stir of the emphatically brings out the utter loneliness of the old man. Midnight, and old

 

 

Midnight, and old ---- but a mouse- ----None of these are to be taken in a literal sense. All these symbolically refer to the sapping of the poet's creative powers. Life has become a meaningless burden to him as his poetic imagination has deserted him. [The stir of the mouse may remind the reader of Walter de la Mare's poem Alone.].

 

Stanza - 2

Temptation-eager desire, preference ---- My temptation is quiet--- in his old age the poet is inclined to prefer a sedentary life, avoiding all busy activities. But the use of the word 'temptation' clearly indicates that he is not happy with the state of things. He is unwilling to submit to the lure of a quiet life. Here, too, the word 'quiet' should not be interpreted in a strictly literal sense. Here 'quiet' really refers to a life of spiritual and intellectual stagnation, a life devoid of creative inspiration. While old age gradually drives him to that barren life, his poet's soul rebels against such a miserable degradation of the mind.

 

  

At  life's end during the closing years of life. Loose imagination-

 imagination that has lost its vitality; senile, impotent imagination. Mill of the mind-The mind is compared to a mill (most probably to a grinding mill). The mind is a mill because; it draws its raw materials from the experiences of life and processes them into thoughts and ideas.

 

But, like the word 'temptation' in the first stanza, the word 'mill' also seems to have a negative connotation. 'Mill' probably refers to a mind whose faculty of imagination and intellect has been dulled. The poet feels that his mind has now been reduced to a sort of mechanical device which can create nothing new or original. Consuming using up.

 

rag and bone-here is startling imagery, typical of the last poems. Such images, including this one, present some difficulties in interpretation. Here 'rag and bone may easily refer to the trouble and worries of the flesh, especially in old age. But the word 'its' clearly indicates that these are the 'properties' of the mind. Thus 'rag and bone more probably refer to thoughts and ideas. And, the very connotation of the phrase suggests that the poet considers them trivial and worthless. This interpretation tallies quite nicely with the general trend of thought flowing through the entire poem.


 Can make the truth known:  this line must be read together with the previous three lines. The word 'neither' and 'nor' lends a negative sense to 'can make' so that the line really means cannot make the truth known.

 

Neither lose imagination......the truth known-the poet's imagination has now lost its magic power. It is no longer strong, vivid, and compact; it is now loose and scattered, and impotent. Such an image can neither grasp the truth nor convey it to others. Similarly, the mind, having lost its creative powers, has now been reduced to a mere machine that dwells only on the petty, commonplace things of life. Thus this mind is also incapable of knowing the truth.

 

Stanza - 3

Grant me --- give me; allow me to have; possess me or fill me with. The word 'grant' need not necessarily mean that this is a prayer to God. More likely, it is an urgent and desperate call to the poet’s own inner self.

  

A frenzy a state of uncontrolled excitement. But the poet here thinks of the wild excitement which accompanies all artistic creation. The poet is keen on regaining that verve and energy which marked his earlier creative career as a poet. The word 'frenzy' may remind the reader of the concluding lines of Coleridge's Kubla Khan.

  

Myself must I remake -----The poet is determined to regain his former astistic self. He would fight relentlessly against the burden of old age, and once again, rouse in himself that creative impulse that has now deserted him.

 

Till I become-Until I am raised to the level of; until I can acquire the power and energy of

Timon ---- Timon lived in Athens in the 5th century B.C. The ingratitude of his friends had turned him into a misanthrope. Timon's story is to be found in Plutarch's life of Antony. Shakespeare's Timon of Athens is based on the story of Timon's life. The figure of Timon has been used here as a symbol of superhuman energy and determination.

 

Lear ------- King of Britain. The hero of Shakespeare’s famous plays King Lear. Driven mad by the unkindness of his two elder daughters, he finally attains redemption through penitence and suffering. In the present context, the poet probably thinks of Lear's burst of fury and his frenzied accusation of ingratitude in the storm scenes of King Lear.

 

 William Blake (1757-1827)-Blake was a poet, artist, and engraver rolled into one. A mystic in his approach to life and its problems, he broke away violently from the conventional modes of contemporary poetry and poetic diction. He has been acclaimed by many critics as one of the precursors of romanticism. The strange unconventionality of his ideas had shocked many of his illustrious contemporaries so that some of them considered him 'insane.' His poetry is marked by a force that is almost elemental and an originality that is almost oppressive. It is this aspect of his poetry that Yeats probably has in mind in the present context.

 

 

Who beat upon......obeyed his call-This is obviously a reference to the tremendous power and penetration of Blake's poetry. Yeats probably thinks here of the profound mystic faith that lies at the root of the rich symbolism in Blake's poetry.

 

 

Stanza - 4

Michelangelo (1475-1564) ----- a great Renaissance artist, architect, sculptor, and poet of Italy. He was the chief designer architect of St. Peter's Church. His Last Judgment is one of the most famous pictures that had been painted by Renaissance artists.

 

 

Knew--possessed :  That can pierce the clouds-which can see through the appearances of things and thus reveal their true essence. Inspired by frenzy ----- in a fit of creative impulse and energy.

 

Shake the dead in their shrouds----Perhaps there is a veiled reference to the construction of St. Peter's Church which is said to have been built on the tomb of St. Peter. Yeats may also be thinking of the tomb of Pope Julius II, which was also built by Michelangelo. Symbolically, this is a reference to the highest kind of creative impulse that makes the impossible possible.

 

Forgotten else by mankind ----- The poet feels that, unless he can 'remake' himself, he will be forgotten by posterity.

An old man's eagle mind ------It is rather difficult to reconcile this line with the overall meaning of the poem. It is quite logical to read the phrase 'eagle mind', as a metaphorical expression for the keenly perceptive mind of an old man. But in the second stanza, the poet has spoken about his old, weak, and wandering mind. So it is difficult to see what he exactly means when in the last line he speaks of 'an old man's eagle mind. The following could be a probable interpretation of this somewhat enigmatic line.

 

The eagle has a keen sight which enables it to locate its prey even at a great distance. At the same time, it has strength and speed enough to capture that prey. Without that strength and speed, its keen sight would be of no avail. The aged poet has an 'eagle mind' i.e., he has wisdom and insight born out of his lifelong experience. But this wisdom and insight remain unproductive since they are not accompanied by the strength, enterprise, and determination that should go with them. (That is why he prays for the superhuman strength of a Timon and a Lear). Thus, in spite of his wisdom and insight (i.e., in spite of his having an eagle mind) he would be forgotten by the world unless he can inspire himself with 'an old man's frenzy'.




EXPLANATIONS:  W.B. Yeats An Acre of Grass


1.

 Picture and book remain

An acre of green grass

For air and exercise,

Now strength of body goes;

Midnight, an old house

Where nothing stirs but a mouse.

 

 

The quiet tone of these opening lines of An Acre of Grass very effectively prepares the ground for what is to come in the third and the fourth stanzas. The real message of the poem is to be found in the last stanzas while the first two stanzas as a necessary background which helps us, by means of contrast, to realize the full impact of this message.

‘An Acre of Grass’ is both a lament over and a rebellion against the frailties of old age. The poet is now a broken man with all his keen intellect and imagination dimmed and blunted by age. Banished from a life of vigorous enterprise and activities, his entire world now consists of books and pictures. The first two stanzas of the poem are pervaded with a note of dejection and despair which may well remind the reader of Coleridge's Work without Hope. Another of Yeats' last poems, The Circus Animal's Desertion is also pervaded with the same note of melancholy.

  

The poem derives its title from the fine imagery of an Acre of Grass. The phrase 'an acre of green grass' has been used here in a strictly figurative sense. There is no question of the old poet's taking exercise on a plot covered with green grass, though such an absurd interpretation is not entirely uncommon. The poet clearly states that, now in his old age, books and pictures are to him what an acre of grass is to young people. Thus the acre of green grass stands here as a symbol of freedom and entertainment. Burdened with the cares and frailties of old age, the poet now finds joy and solace only in books and pictures as his weak health bars him from all other kinds of entertainment. The imagery of the old house with nothing but a mouse stirring in it most effectively expresses the utter loneliness of old age.

 

 

 

2. 

My temptation is quiet' Here at life's end

Neither loose imagination Nor the mill of the mind

Consuming its rag and bone,

Can make the truth known.

 

 

The note of despair and dejection running through these lines from Yeats An Acre of Grass very effectively prepares the ground for what is to come in the third and the fourth stanzas. The real message of the poem is to be found in the last two stanzas while the first two stanzas serve as a necessary background that helps us, by means of contrast, to realize the full impact of this message.

  

The poet clearly declares that, now at the end of his life, his one single wish is to live a quiet life. This observation perfectly agrees with the figurative connotation of 'an acre of green grass' in the first stanza. But the following lines bring in an infinitely melancholy note of dejection and despair. The poet is now a broken man with all his keen intellect and imagination dimmed and blunted by age. These lines are pervaded with a note of dejection and despair which may well remind the reader of Coleridge's Work without Hope. Self-pity which is one of the common features of the last poems is conspicuously present in these lines.

 

The language of these lines is quite in keeping with the simple, bare diction of the last poems. The rag-and-bone image, so often repeated in Yeats' poems, is neither complex nor elaborate. But the image of the mind consuming its rag and bone startles the reader with its shocking unconventionality. This rather unconventional imagery has a typically modern flavour that may remind the reader of that particular brand of poetry pioneered by Pound and Eliot.

 

 

3.

Grant me an old man's frenzy,

Myself must I remake

Till I am Timon and Lear

Or that William Blake

Who beat upon the wall

Till Truth obeyed his call.

 

‘An Acre of Grass’ is both a lament over and a rebellion against the frailties of old age. The poet is now a broken man with all his keen intellect and imagination dimmed and blunted by age. Banished from a life of vigorous enterprise and activities, his entire world now consists of books and pictures. The first two stanzas of the poem are pervaded with a note of dejection and despair which may well remind the reader of Coleridge's Work without Hope. This note of despair and dejection running through the first two stanzas of the poem very effectively prepares the ground for what is to come in the third and the fourth stanzas. The real message of the poem is to be found in the last two stanzas while the first two stanzas serve as a necessary background which helps us, by means of contrast, to realize the full impact of this message. Thus here is a sudden change of mood in the poem from despair to determination, and the lines quoted here clearly indicate this change.

 

The poet urgently wishes to remake himself. He wishes in himself the great poetic inspiration of his youthful days. He feels that his weak and 'loose imagination' cannot 'make the truth known'. So he longs for an old man's frenzy' which would enable him to regenerate his drooping spirits once again. He urgently aspires for that spark of frenzy which had inspired a Timon, a Lear, a Blake and a Michelangelo. He would then be able to penetrate the mysteries of things 'till truth obeyed his call'. The imagery used in these lines admirably matches the idea expressed. The image of William Blake beating upon the wall till truth obeyed his call has something primitive, something elemental in it. The references to Timon and Lear effectively serve to strengthen this sense of primitive force and elemental grandeur.


Notes:

Timon-An Athenian of the 5th century B.C. had been turned into a misanthrope by the ingratitude of his friends. Here the figure of Timon serves as a symbol of elemental passion and energy.

 

Lear-King of Britain, the hero of Shakespeare's famous tragedy King Lear. Driven mad by the unkindness of his two daughters he finally attains redemption through penitence and suffering. In the present context, the poet may be thinking of Lear's outburst of fury and his frenzied accusation of ingratitude in the storm scenes in King Lear.

 

Blake-One of the precursors of romanticism, Blake William violently broke away from the conventional modes of contemporary poetry and poetic diction. His poetry is marked by a force that is almost elemental in character and an originality that is almost oppressive.

 

 

4.

 A mind Michelangelo knew

That can pierce the clouds'

Or inspired by frenzy

Shake the dead in their shrouds ;

Forgotten else by mankind,

An old man's eagle mind

 

‘An Acre of Grass’ is both a lament over and a rebellion against the frailties of old age. The poet is now a broken man with all his keen intellect and imagination dimmed and blunted by age. Banished from a life of vigorous enterprise and activities, his entire world now consists of books and pictures. The first two stanzas of the poem are pervaded with a note of dejection and despair which may well remind the reader of Coleridge's Work without Hope. The note of despair and dejection running through the first two stanzas of the poem very effectively prepares the ground for what is to come in the third and the fourth stanzas. The real message of the poem is to be found in the last two stanzas while the first two stanzas serve as a necessary background which help us, by means of contrast, to realize the full impact of this message. Here in these final lines of the poem, that urgent message has been delivered with a force and energy that has something elemental bout it.

 

The poet urgently wishes to remake himself. He wishes in himself the great poetic inspiration of his youthful days. He feels that his weak and loose imagination' cannot 'make the truth known'. So he longs for 'an old man's frenzy' which would enable him to regenerate his drooping spirits once again. He urgently aspires for that spark of creative frenzy which had enabled Michelangelo to see into the very essence of things.

 

The image of Michelangelo shaking the dead in their shrouds directly refers to the mysterious process of artistic creation. The lines quoted here sounds almost like an incantation and might easily remind the reader of the concluding lines of Kubla Khan.

 

Note:

Michelangelo----- A great Renaissance artist, architect, sculptor and artist. He was the chief designer architect of St. Peter's Church. The poet might be thinking here of Michelangelo’s construction of the tomb of Pope Julius II.

 

 

W. B. YEATS‘s  Life and Works

 

W. B. Yeats was born near Dublin in 1865. He was educated in London but returned to Ireland in 1880 and soon began his literary career. In 1891 he became a member of Rhymers' Club, of which Ernest Dowson (1867-1900) and Lionel Johnson (1867-1902) were also members. After 1890 he began writing plays. As an ardent follower of Irish National Movement, he did much to assist in the creation of a national theatre. In 1923 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature. He died in the South of France in 1939 and his body was reinterred in Ireland in 1948.

The works of Yeats' early period are Wanderings of Oisin (1889), Poems (1895), The Wind Among the Reeds (1899) and The Shadowy Water. His early lyrics are remarkable for their simplicity of style and melodic beauty. The Lake Isle of Innisfree is one of the best-known of his early lyrics. His early work was influenced by the Pre-Raphaelites and Celtic legends. Tired of the sordid materialism of the age, Yeats sought to escape into the fairyland, and looked for his themes in Irish legend and the simple, elemental impulses of man's primitive nature.

 

Between 1900 and 1910 Yeats produced little poetry. During this period he was devoted to drama and philosophical and literary essays. The Green Helmet and Other Poems (1910) and Responsibilities are realistic He shows a philosophical and mystical bent of mind. The Wild Swans a Coole (1919) shows definite signs of maturity. In The Tower (1928) and The Winding Stair and Other Poems (1933) he successfully writes on philosophical themes with a compact precision of style and a great command of rhythm and language. His last two collections are New Poems (1938 and Last Poems (1939). Yeats' later poetry is characterized by stark naked realism, even brutality, and coarseness. In keeping with modern realist trends, there is a greater and greater approximation to speech rhythms and colloquial diction.


In his old age Yeats came in contact with the great Indian mystic, Purohit Swami. He was influenced by Indian philosophy. He helped the Swami to translate the Upanishads and Patanjali's Yogsutra. His last poems The Black Tower and Under Ben Bulben evince the influence of Indian thought, especially of The Bhagvadgita.

 

Characteristics of Yeats' Poetry

(1) Mysticism: Yeats was a mystic, a visionary, and a dreamer by temperament. He felt himself an alien in a world dominated by materialism, industrialization, rationalism, science, and technology. He resorted to "imaginative mysticism which is the essential attribute of Celticism." Indian thought also influenced his mysticism. In a general introduction to his work, Yeats wrote: "A poet writes always of his personal life, in his finest work out of his tragedy, whatever it be, remorse, lost love, or mere loneliness." In the words of Edward Albert: "Like so many of his contemporaries, Yeats was acutely conscious of the spiritual barrenness of his age, and his whole artistic career is best seen as an attempt, at first to escape from the sordid materialism which he found on every hand, and later to formulate a new positive ideal which would supply his spiritual needs." He discarded scientific reasoning and trusted imagination. He tried to revive the primitive impulses of human life. He believed in fairies, magic and superstitions. His later thought was much influenced by his study of Indian and other mystical philosophies and the excursion into spiritualism. "Convinced of the immortality of the soul, he saw in man a dual personality, made up of 'Self which is the product of man's social training, and "Anti-Self", which is constantly struggling against self to find freedom in the world of the spirit. Between the world of spirit and the world of reality, he found a bridge in poetry.'


 (ii) Romanticism: Yeats has been called the "last of the Romantics." He admired imagination, individualism and the golden future as much as Blake did. He also wrote lyrics like romantics and his theme was love and loveliness. So far he was a romantic. But Yeats also evinced a strong sense of awareness that man's possibilities might not be limitless. This was the classical and Christian viewpoint. He insisted on stateliness, courtliness, orderliness and control as criteria for judging past, present and future. These were classical qualities. He was the last romantic who sang of "traditional sanctity and loveliness." Like Wordsworth, he spoke of ordinary humanity. The element of song was also there. His images were illumined by his subject. He wove his symbols subtly and effectively. He was the poetic spokesman of modern sensibility.

Yeats' early poetry is romantic, escapist, and heavily overhung with a Pre-Raphaelite tapestry. It is a world of Celtic twilight, of vague uncertain lights, and the imagery used is equally vague and subdued in color. His later poetry is realistic. It is the expression of modern sensibility and the style assumes terseness, precision, and sublimity, Profundity of thought accompanies simplicity of form.

 

  

(iii) Symbolism: Yeats is regarded as one of the chief exponents of the Symbolist Movement in England. He employs simplicity and elementary in his early poetry. The "rose" is a recurrent symbol in some of his early poems. The Rose of the World is a symbolical poem in which the 'rose' symbol is brilliantly used. In it Yeats adroitly blends Classical and Celtic mythologies. The poems in The Wind Among The Reeds are tenuously symbolic and are very different from the lush romantic descriptions of his earliest poetry as well as from the tapestry quality of many of the poems of The Rose. In his later poetry, his symbols became more complex, personal, and individual. His well-known symbols are the moon, the swan, the tower, the winding stair, Byzantium, etc. The use of the same symbol to denote a variety of things makes his poetry obscure to some extent; for example, the tower may represent an intellectual refuge or the soul's yearning for the world of the spirit. Yeats expresses his sensations, his visions and mystic experiences through symbols. Edward Albert remarks about his symbolism: "Yeats' philosophy is often expressed through a carefully devised system of symbols, some purely. private, others are drawn from his study of philosophy or his reading in the works of French symbolists, or of earlier symbolical poets, particularly Blake and Shelley. By means of them, he succeeds in expressing those emotional experiences which he felt to be otherwise incapable of poetical communication, but sometimes they serve only to accentuate the obscurity of his poems.”

  

 

(iv) His Artistry: Yeats was an accomplished poetic artist. His poetic art and his mastery of language and rhythm grew steadily throughout his career. His early style shows the influence of Pre-Raphaelite aestheticism, and it is sonorous, languid, sentimental, and romantic. His early poetry has an exotic character. The imagery is arranged in pairs of contrast. Man and nature, the human world and the fairy world, the domestic and the adventurous, the transient and the eternal are paired against each other. As his poetic career advanced, his expression became more concentrated, and his poetry combined magic and dignity, perfect command over rhythms and the assured use of imagery. It was the cultivation of a graceful yet muscular style, at once colloquial and formal, at once boisterous and serious, prophetic and worldly, that enabled him to write poetry matching it in its impact on the reader of the rigorous humanity of its conception. Yeats skilfully used the traditional verse forms, modified sometimes to suit his own needs. His rhythms approximate ordinary speech but the music of his verse is of the highest quality. His style is compact and closely woven. Each word is used with a calculated effect.


As a metrical artist, Yeats experimented with a variety of stanzas and verse forms, but he avoided the verse libre and other technical innovations of his day. He used traditional metres and stanza forms with consummate skill. Yeats had a Donne-like command over stanza structures and made his stanza patterns correspond with the movement of thought and emotion.

 

  

(v) Yeats' Place: Yeats may not be a Shakespeare or a Milton, but he must certainly rank with the greatest poets of all times. David Daich writes about his place in English poetry: "Yeats was, without doubt, the most remarkable poetic genius in English of his time, and one of the great English poets. He absorbed all his age had to offer him. Yet he did so wholly in his own way. If his career illustrates the history of English poetry in his life that is not because he is ever like any other poet of his day, for, except, in his earlier phase, he never is. His voice is always his own. It is haunting and magical and fascinating and sometimes terrible." Praising Eliot's poetic greatness Eliot writes that Yeats "was one of those few where history is the history of their own time, who are a part of the consciousness of an age which cannot be understood without them." This is a very high position to assign him.


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