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W.B. Yeats and Eavan Boland
While William Butler Yeats and Eavan Boland may be united by a common nationality and literary heritage, they are divided by almost a full century. Eavan Boland, as an Irish poet living after Yeats, has certainly been indebted to his influence. Ignoring such a debt would indeed be impossible, and Boland herself has even admitted to the importance of Yeats' Irishness to her:
There were great and wonderful Irish male poets, all of whom I found inspiring in different ways. It meant an enormous amount to me in a very tribal way that William Yeats was Irish. And I would have liked, I suppose, to include in that tribalism a woman as well.
The Stoicism of Love")
Boland here admits that she sees herself in a line of Irish poets and that she has a literally "tribal" kinship with other Irish poets. While, this may seem like a strange image for Boland to employ, one must remember the long and distinguished oral tradition of poetry in Ireland, in which poets told important stories from the history and culture of their people. Boland ultimately argues for the importance of this "bardic" tradition in Irish literature, arguing that it is the Irish national poetry's defining characteristic:
Irish poetry has a bardic history. The Irish bards lay down in darkness to compose. They wrote poems to their patrons that ranged from christening odes to the darkest invective. They were poets who were shaped by an oral culture...
Where Poetry Begins")
In arguing for this tradition of the Irish bardic poet, Boland, however, also gives an important and meaningful insight into how she sees the role of a poet -- particularly the Irish poet -- both in tradition and today. For Boland, part of the role of the poet within the Irish tradition is to tell the "tale of the tribe," which is the phrase Ezra Pound used to describe his epic poetic work, The Cantos (Bernstein). This idea of the poet as the speaker for the whole of the "tribe" can be seen in the poetry of William Butler Yeats as well.
It is interesting to note that, in his Nobel Lecture, "The Irish Dramatic Movement," William Butler Yeats chooses to assign the creation of modern Irish literature to a national political cause -- the death of the great Irish patriot and politician Parnell -- saying that "The modern literature of Ireland, and indeed all that stir of thought which prepared for the Anglo-Irish War, began when Parnell fell from power in 1891" (Yeats "The Irish Dramatic Movement"). Here we see the idea that the Irish poet serves to tell the tale of his tribe is reflected in Yeats assigning a national cause to the creation of an Irish poetic movement. In this gesture, Yeats suggests that the creative impetus for Irish literati was not personal inspiration in the romantic mode, but rather concern over a national, if not "tribal," state of affairs. Thus, the Irish writer, and the poet in particular, serves as the mouthpiece for the hopes and dreams of a nation and a culture. So for Yates, as for Boland, being an Irish poet has a cultural, national, tribal, and traditional element to it.
This fact can be seen through Yeats poetry as well. In his poems, Ireland and its history and folklore are some of his chief concerns. In his classic poem, "To Ireland in the Coming Times," Yeats demonstrates the manner in which his poetry serves as a reflection on the national character:
Know, that I would accounted be True brother of a company
That sang, to sweeten Ireland's wrong,
Ballad and story, rann and song;
Yeats "To Ireland in Coming Times")
Here, Yeats announces his own desire that he should be "accounted" among the number of poets who have previously added to the glorious tradition of Irish poetry. Here, he purposefully includes several traditional poetic forms, such as the "ballad" and the "rann," to make the tie between his more modern verse and Irish tradition more concrete. Moreover, he emphasizes the almost familial influence of the Irish tradition by stating that he wishes to be "brother to a company." And in the concluding lines of his poem, Yeats discusses the final significance of Ireland on his work:…[continue]
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