P J Kavanagh

A Smooth Duet

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

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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.

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