In the winter of 2020, we began this course, only to be interrupted shortly by Covid. Yeats’s poems explore social, political, and artistic issues in such a way as to help us understand and survive the crises we face today. There is no better example of his relevance than the ubiquitous lines from “The Second Coming”: “The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.” These lines often appear in editorials and cartoons, parodied, truncated, but useful still. Most importantly, throughout his poetic career Yeats sought and found ways to face down adversity and chaos, in disciplined and care-full poems. Frost, Yeats’s contemporary, once said that poetry offered “a momentary stay against confusion.” Yeats’s legacy is far from momentary; it continues today to counteract the threat of chaos.
We will read selections, early and late, from The Collected Poems of W. B. Yeats, edited by Richard J. Finneran, in the Scribner Paperback Poetry series. Before the first class, I will email a list of poems to be read.
Instructor John Ward has been professor and chair of Kenyon College (Gambier, Ohio) English Department and has served as Dean of Centre College (Danville, Kentucky). He earned his B.A. from Amherst College and Ph.D. from the University of Virginia, and has taught courses in 18th- and 19th-century British literature and the history of the British novel. He has published on 18th- and 19th-century British works, as well as those of Vachel Lindsay and Robert Lowell.
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