English Literature » Notes » Yeats as a Romantic Poet
William Butler Yeats (young)

Yeats as a Romantic Poet

William Butler Yeats, especially in his earlier poetry, was one of the most important romantic poets, who exerted a great influence on his contemporaries as well as successors. Though, in his later poetry, the modern tradition which he used was opposite to romanticism, however, there is enough in Yeats’ poetry which is unmistakably romantic.

W B Yeats in his early poetic stage believed in the theory of “art for life’s sake”. But in the nineties, he became the advocate of “art for art’s sake”. Influenced by the French Symbolist and the English Aesthetes he started writing “pure poetry”, free from all the exterior decorations.

Escape from the realities of life is one of the major romantic qualities. Yeats was a greater escapist than Keats and unlike Keats he does not want to come back into reality. Yeats’ early poems made him very popular in the English middle class who wanted to escape from the ugliness and crudity of the industrial civilization. So Yeats was able to carry his readers into a kind of Celtic Twilight. In “Sailing to Byzantium” the poet disgusted with realities of life wishes to escape:

Once out of nature I shall never take
My bodily form from any natural thing,

Self-revelation is another romantic trait in Yeats’ poetry. Like Romantics, he also wrote deeply personal poetry revealing his spirit, thoughts, feelings and so on. In “Easter 1916”, he remarks on various persons who had been close with him in his life. In “The Tower”, he is able to sublimate his loss of Maud Gonne. He says:

Does the imagination dwell the most
Upon a woman won or woman lost?

Love for mythology is both a modern and a romantic trait. Yeats, like Keats, was deeply in love with mythology. His early poems are bound in Irish and Greek mythology. Many of his poems frequently refer to Helen of Troy, Leda, Zeus, Aphrodite and Byzantium. There are dolphins, nightingales, mythological beasts, sphinx-like figures and fairy figures. He loves to go into the world of Byzantium. He says:

And therefore I have sailed the seas and come
To the holy city of Byzantium.

A sense of melancholy is a common subject in most of the romantic poets. A kind of lamentation on the disappearance of the good things is found in most of the romantic poets. This sense of melancholy is also found in Yeats’ poetry. He was in love with Maud Gonne but could not win her. So, all through his life, he suffered from his sense of melancholy. He says in “The Wild Swans at Coole” and feels himself defeated:

I have looked upon those brilliant creatures,
And now my heart is sore.

Another Yeats’ romantic trait is nostalgia for the old Ireland, Maud Gonne and his past. Yeats feels nostalgic in his poem “Among School Children”. He says:

I dream of a Ledaean body, bent
Above a sinking fire,

Love for nature is one of the major Romantic traits. It is no exception regarding Yeats. His love for nature can clearly be seen in “The Wild Swans at Coole”. He sees calmness even in winter.

The trees are in their autumn beauty,
The woodland paths are dry,

Yeats used a rich imagery in his poetry. He was never fully liberated from the 19th century romanticism despite his denial of romantic diction and romantic imagery. In his early poems he uses the vague and beautiful images of flowers, stars, birds, and mythical figures to escape from the ugliness of his age. But in his later poetry he uses horrible the realistic images like the image of the rough beast, as Yeats says, is:

 a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight:

Yeats stated writing under the influence of Keats. In his early poems, there are many references and parallels to the poetry of Keats. Influenced by Keats, he wishes to escape into an ideal world of Byzantium and to transform into a “golden bird”:

To set upon a golden bough to sing
To lords and ladies of Byzantium

The faculty of Love, too, is regarded as a romantic theme. Yeats wrote a large number of love-poems, but all of them cannot be regarded as romantic. The romantic poets exalt and glorify love. But Yeats’ love is a grand and sublime passion. The early work of Yeats does contain a number of love-poems. His poem “Her Praise” begins with the idea that:

She is foremost of those that I would hear praiseda