The Yeats Reader: A Portable Compendium of Poetry, Drama, and Prose
by W.B. Yeats
― W.B. Yeats, "The Second Coming", p 80
I have enjoyed the poetry of William Butler Yeats for many years as evidenced by my well-worn copy of his Complete Poems. But there is more to enjoy when considering this protean author for throughout his long life, William Butler Yeats produced important works in every literary genre, works of astonishing range, energy, erudition, beauty, and skill. His early poetry is memorable and moving. His poems and plays of middle age address the human condition with language that has entered our vocabulary for cataclysmic personal and world events.
"O body swayed to music, O brightening glance,
How can we know the dancer from the dance?"
("Among School Children", p 105)The writings of his final years offer wisdom, courage, humor, and sheer technical virtuosity. T. S. Eliot pronounced Yeats "the greatest poet of our time -- certainly the greatest in this language, and so far as I am able to judge, in any language" and "one of the few whose history is the history of their own time, who are a part of the consciousness of an age which cannot be understood without them."
The Yeats Reader is a comprehensive single volume that demonstrates the full range of Yeats's talents. It presents more than one hundred and fifty of his best-known poems plus eight plays, a sampling of his prose tales, and excerpts from his published autobiographical and critical writings. In addition, an appendix offers six early texts of poems that Yeats later revised. Also included are selections from the memoirs left unpublished at his death and complete introductions written for a projected collection that never came to fruition. These are supplemented by unobtrusive annotation and a chronology of the life.
Yeats was a protean writer and thinker, and few writers so thoroughly reward a reader's efforts to essay the whole of their canon. This volume is an excellent place to begin that enterprise, to renew an old acquaintance with one of world literature's great voices, or to continue a lifelong interest in the phenomenon of literary genius.
The Yeats Reader edited by Richard J. Finneran. Scribner Poetry, 2002