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History lecture series – W.B. Yeats: Poetry, Politics and Easter 1916
November 24, 2016 @ 7:30 pm - 9:00 pm
Dr Stephen Reagan (Durham University)
24 November 2016 7.30pm Free
W.B. Yeats: ‘Poetry, Politics, and Easter 1916’
In 1896, W.B. Yeats wrote to a French translator of his work: ‘I want you to understand that I am an Irish poet, looking to my own people for the ultimate best audience & trying to express the things that interest them & which will make them care for the land in which they live’. He was, by his own reckoning, a nationalist writer, frequently quoting a famous saying of his Republican mentor, John O’Leary: ‘There is no great literature without nationality, no great nationality without literature’. Even so, the nature and extent of Yeats’s nationalist politics continue to be a matter of intense debate. This talk will consider some of the problematic distinctions between cultural nationalism and revolutionary nationalism in studying Yeats’s poetry and plays. It will claim that Yeats’s politics were mutable and ambivalent, but it will also argue that, artistically, his work gains stature from its own relentless self-questioning. The talk will open with one of Yeats’s very early poems, ‘The Lake Isle of Innisfree’, and it will close with what is perhaps his best known work: ‘Easter 1916’.