"Call Back the Soul": Yeats, Ireland and the Aesthetics of Cultural Renewal in the Oxford Book of Modern Verse.

By Yeats Eliot Review

  • Release Date - Published: 2010-03-22
  • Book Genre: Language Arts & Disciplines
  • Author: Yeats Eliot Review
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"Call Back the Soul": Yeats, Ireland and the Aesthetics of Cultural Renewal in the Oxford Book of Modern Verse. Yeats Eliot Review read online review & book description:

In his selection of Irish writers, included in The Oxford Book of Modern Verse (1936), Yeats expresses his theories of the Irish poet's unique role in modern cultural renewal. He does so by applying the paradigm he created for Irish cultural nationalism to a grander scale. Yeats explains his paradigm in a speech before the Irish Academy of Letters, on 17 August 1937. Yeats, as Foster notes, "integrated the inevitable Ascendency triumvirate of WBY, Gregory, and Synge into the iconography of the Irish revolution and the 'people of Ireland"'(AP 596). In a poem composed for the occasion, "The Municipal Gallery Revisited," Yeats emphasizes that "the Ascendency is an essential part of the new Ireland" (AP 596) and, that together with rural Ireland, they can create a nation founded in aesthetic values that can redeem the Irish people. He writes, Brian Arkins explains the significance of the classical analogy: "Yeats writes of ... a type of life and art that is rooted in the ordinary experiences of human existence, 'in contact with the soil.' From this contact ... all their efforts were increasingly successful like those of the giant Anteaus, who, whenever he was thrown down, arose stronger than before through contact with his mother, the Earth" (89). Yeats believed in the power of the rural peasant and believed in the value of contact with the soil, but he also believed that such contact can only redeem the people of Ireland if its end is an artistic vision in an ascendancy ideal. As Donald Childs points out in Modernism and Eugenics, Yeats felt that the" modern world is degenerating ... because humankind is degenerating" (149). Thus, the aristocratic presence is essential for revitalization. However, Yeats would write that he has "noticed that clairvoyance, prevision, and allied gifts, rare among the educated classes, are common among peasants" ("OB" 238). Therefore, contact with the soil, with the peasant, and with myth and folk tradition is equally essential for renewal. He thought his brand of cultural nationalism could liberate the Irish people not only from the political bondage but from conflict and infighting. An aesthetic cultural renewal, according the Yeats, could also free the modern world from an abyss of degeneration and, as he wrote in the journal To-Morrow, "call back the soul to its ancient sovereignty" ("TAAW" 4).

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