The Collected Letters of W B Yeats, Vol IV: 1905–1907 by John Kelly and Ronald Schuchard (ed) - review by P J Kavanagh

P J Kavanagh

A Smooth Duet

The Collected Letters of W B Yeats, Vol IV: 1905–1907


Oxford University Press 1192pp £95

Yeats was born in 1865 and it has taken four weighty volumes of his letters to get him to the age of forty. So with thirty-two years to go (he died in 1939) it looks as though there are at least four volumes to come and, if they are anything like as absorbing as this one, they are worth waiting for.

The interest is the more surprising because these three years show Yeats at his most practically distracted and harried. He is setting up the Abbey Theatre in Dublin, plotting for Ireland to get the Hugh Lane collection of paintings, haughtily overseeing his sister's press, the Dun Emer. He was also helping his beloved Maud Gonne to get a divorce from her drunken husband John MacBride. At the same time he was seeing his own first Collected Poems through the press. He is settling endless disputes in the theatre and outside it, meanwhile writing and rewriting his plays. The head spins, but is always steadied by the glorious footnotes, which would make a sizeable book on their own.

Often these occupy more of the page than the letters themselves, and they are always a delight to read. Take one example: Yeats felt that Irish actresses were too reserved to show passion, and so for his own Deirdre he hired London-trained Letitia Darragh, who despised her semi-amateur colleagues. Lady

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