Yeats Now: Echoing Into Life
a Yeats Companion
W.B. YEATS believed that lyrics can ‘take on a second beauty, passing as it were out of literature and becoming life’. By focusing on Yeats’s most memorable lines of poetry, Joseph Hassett reveals new ways of enjoying a body of work that speaks to the twenty-first century in this Yeats companion.
For example, ‘The Stare’s Nest by my Window’ is informed by the circumstances in which it was written. Locked in his tower amid the violence and uncertainty of civil war, Yeats felt ‘an overmastering desire not to grow unhappy or embittered, not to lose all sense of the beauty of nature’. Finding the perfect metaphor for a necessary balm, he spotted an empty bird’s nest and ‘began to smell honey in places where honey could not be’. The poem’s plea – ‘O honey-bees, / Come build in the empty house of the stare’ – addresses readers in any state of physical or emotional isolation.
This book is an enriching Yeats companion to the work of one of the world’s great poets. Its iconography – portraits, photographs, book designs, manuscript letters – illuminates the poems and the life. Its continuing dialogue with writers past and present, from Joyce to Beckett, Heaney and others, offers up an enduring harvest of wisdom for our age.
‘Joseph Hassett has written two powerful and insightful books on W.B. Yeats but this is something new. In a personal, quizzical, imaginative testament he ranges through Yeats’s thought and writings, showcasing and discussing a series of ringing statements, suggestions and aphorisms that evolve into a kind of vade mecum or guide to life. The subjects cover love, anger, friendship, politics, violence and the competing claims of perfecting the life, or the work. The result reminds us that though Yeats claimed the only subjects of interest to an enquiring mind were sex and the dead, his own capacious and enquiring intelligence continued – to adapt his own words – ‘ravening, raging and uprooting that he may come/Into the desolation of reality’. Hassett’s commentary on Yeats’s life and thought is sharply perceptive throughout: empathetic, humorous, and reflecting his own deep immersion in the extraordinary and enduring canon of Yeats’s work. Yeats believed that ‘a poet’s life is an experiment in living’, and Hassett’s book extracts and distils the rich outcome of that experiment. It is a work of personal engagement that will strike a chord with everyone who cares for Yeats, and anyone who loves poetry.’–ROY FOSTER
‘Hassett seeks always to restore the full poetic and personal context to many famous lines. … The result is one of the most beautiful and enjoyable books on Yeats ever to call forth the skills of a gifted designer [a]nd of a true critic …’
‘Hence the exactitude of the title Yeats Now. He may be a poet for all time, but his wisdom is surely needed in our time.’
‘Part of its charm is Joe Hassett’s gift for brief, pointed, surprising comparisons – with Joyce and Beckett – which have the effect of amplifying Yeats’s lines; but it engages us also by the ways in which his deft quotations seem to encourage the reader to link a line from the poetry with one remembered from the prose.’
‘Lucky Yeats … in having an interpreter as relaxed, authoritative and tender as Joseph Hassett.’
‘subtle and often illuminating study of what we can learn from Yeats … and how we can let his words echo in our own lives’
‘Hassett’s lively gleanings of Yeats’s wisdom, arranged in categories such as Marrying, Working, Making Your Soul and Facing Death, are a delight to read, reminding us once again, as if needed, of Yeats’s hard- won and lapidary insights into the nature of life, death, love and friendship.’
‘Hassett is an uncommonly acute and insightful reader of poetry, highly attuned to the noise made by the poem. He hones in on how Yeats’s words echo through many of the poems of his successors …’
‘thought-provoking … a fresh, accessible look at the shimmering legacy of WB Yeats in all its wonder and poise’
‘This is a handsome and stylish book, both in looks and, more importantly, in its capacity to appreciate the magic of William Butler Yeats’s poetry.’
‘an accessible book, almost a “Companion to Yeats”-type book, offering non-scholar and scholar alike an array of richly-illustrated frames of reference that further illuminate the poet’s work.’
‘I can’t think of a more inspiring way to fill the unforgiving minute than to read this book, to be renewed and invigorated by Yeats’ relevance today – Now – and to rediscover the nobility of his poetry, the endurance of his hope.’