P J Kavanagh

A Smooth Duet

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


Oxford University Press 1192pp £95 order from our bookshop

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.

Sign Up to our newsletter

Receive free articles, highlights from the archive, news, details of prizes, and much more.

Follow Literary Review on Twitter

  • Last Tweets

    • The author 'seethes with contemptuous indignation at the shiny junk that an unregulated construction industry dumps… ,
    • 'The physical courage he demonstrated as a young man [...] gave way to intellectual power; radical thought, gifted… ,
    • 'While Jane Austen didn’t perhaps achieve the full recognition that she deserved in her lifetime, even then she out… ,
    • 'All I have is a voice To undo the folded lie, The romantic lie in the brain Of the sensual man-in-the-street And t… ,
    • 'You are interested in a particular subject; basic research hardens this interest into an obsession, after which th… ,
    • 'Keynes predicted that future generations would enjoy such an improved standard of living that they might work just… ,
    • 'Various dislocations ... emerge, iceberg-like, out of a troubled sea of unconscious motivation and confront Eisenb… ,