The Last Romantic : W. B. Yeats, Inspired by a Profound Romantic Urge



"Earth, receive an honoured guest:
William Yeats is laid to rest.
Let the Irish vessel lie
Emptied of its poetry."

W. H. Auden (1907 - 1973)



Like the romantic poets of the 19th Century, Yeats was also inspired by a profound romantic urge. He has also evinced in his poetry all the salient characteristics of romanticism, discerned in the poetical works of Wordsworth, Shelley, Keats and Coleridge. In perfect and close affinity with the Lake School of poets, he upheld the principles of humanism and love of nature.


The romantic movement of the 19th century which brought about a thorough change in the form and content of poetry was responsible for emancipating English Literature from the neo-classical rigidity and strictest norms. Indeed the romantic poets and specially the chief exponents of the romantic movement, namely Wordsworth, Shelley and Coleridge rescued poetry from the neo-classical artificiality. Subsequently W. B. Yeats is found to strike the very same note in the 20th Century English poetry, which despite its wide range and astonishing   variety, lacks the mellifluous lyricism of the romantics. It would, of course, be a travesty of truth to hold such view that the 20th century literature is artificial, flat, prosaic and jejune. 



But all the same it can be asserted without any fear of refutation that the modern English literature is characterized by a considerable dearth of romantic exuberance, subjectivity and love of nature. Literature of the present century is undoubtedly rich inasmuch as we find in it a mirror of the modern life— its variegated complexity and the modes of complications. But although it is a faithful reflection of life, it falls short of the emotive quality which constitutes the sine qua non of romanticism.


W. B. Yeats in the real vein of the romantics displayed almost all the qualities of romantic poetry.


In respect of the priceless gift of romantic imagination, he can be well compared with the true romantics. His poems are soaked in the qualities which comprise the residue of the essentially romantic values. In the critical parlance, the term ‘last romantic has very loosely been attached to him.


Wikipedia: William Butler Yeats
A careful analysis of his poetry would amply justify the term which is apposite and not at all unfounded. His poetry is marked by a plethora abundance of romantic features. First and foremost, his poetry is richly coloured by his great imaginative fecundity. His unbridled imagination may be evidenced by the plenitude of symbols employed in his verses. The symbols have mostly been culled from Irish national history and legends of remote antiquity. These have been used for objectifying and externalizing personal emotions. Yeats put the symbols so derived in curiously interesting texts, for giving vent to his complex thoughts and reflections. Secondly his poetry is marked by a deep-rooted humanism. This humanism enabled him to rise above the narrowness and myopia and to widen the horizon of his mind. As is the wont of the romantic poets Yeats too has a great fascination for beauty. He was a worshiper of beauty for beauty’s sake. His craving for the countryside, the idyllic charm of the pastoral landscape may be illustrated by his early poems. The captivating beauty of nature used to attract him and under the spell of its irresistible charm, he used to call others share it:

“Come away 0 human child

To the waters and the wild”.


He was haunted by the sheer beauty of nature. In ‘the Rose’ group of poems, the rose stands for beauty. Like Shelley, Yeats also had a great longing for beauty which is unattainable. His imagination was also lured away by the beautiful objects and the flora and fauna of nature. Thus his poetry contains exquisite natural vignettes. With the flawless precision of a painter, he limned the enchanting beauty of nature— the lakes and dales and gardens. His excellent poetic imagination loved to dwell upon the marvelous scenic beauty of the pastoral setting of Ireland. It would be pertinent to mention in the context that he exhibited a keen sense (almost like that of the Pre-Raphaelites) of colour. A close textual study would indubitably reveal that he emulated Keats in depicting nature.. More than any other romantic poet, Keats alone was capable of capturing the wild, sensuous aspect of nature. Yeats too in close resemblance with Keats painted the colourful and sensuous aspect of nature.


Moreover, the romantic poets exhibited a great fancy for the strange phenomena of this universe. The awe, wonder and mystery fascinated the romantic poets and. particularly Coleridge. Yeats too like Coleridge brought the fairies and elfin creatures in the magic world of poetry. Symbols like Hanrahan and Aedh bear eloquent testimony to Yeats’s a love for strange and. supernatural aspects of the world. Ireland is a strange place replete with the mysterious aspects of nature. Yeats was also greatly influenced by the strangeness and mystery of his country which have found a vivified expression in his poetry.


A strong spirit of nationalism constitutes another distinctive feature of the Romantic Movement which swept the English soil in the 19th Century. Wordsworth, the chief stalwart of the movement was greatly influenced by the national spirit. Yeats was also a devout patriot and had a great urge for nationalism. He played a pioneering role in the Irish national movement and inspired a host of other celebrities to plunge headlong in the said movement. He loved Ireland with all its strangeness and wonder. He was a veritable son of the soil.


Besides all these, the romantic poetry is pro-eminently lyrical in character. The subjective note is pronounced in the poetical works of almost all the romantic poets. Wordsworth s Lucy poems and the other lyrics of Shelley, Keats and Byron are some of the fine specimens of romantic lyric poetry. Yeats has also expressed his personal emotions through the medium of poetry. His poems are also equally subjective voicing forth the poet’s own feelings and sentiments—his love and longing for Maud Gonne, his wistful hankering for the spirit of the past, his concern for the old age, his whining and self-introspection, his likes and dislikes.