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Halleck's New English Literature eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 491 pages of information about Halleck's New English Literature.

  “Oh, the gates of the mountain have opened once again
  And the sound of song and dancing falls upon the ears of men,
  And the Land of Youth lies gleaming, flushed with rainbow light and
    mirth. 
  And the old enchantment lingers in the honey-heart of earth."[1]

William Butler Yeats.—­One of the most talented and active workers in this Celtic Renaissance is William Butler Yeats, born in 1865 in Dublin, Ireland.  He came from an artistic family, his father, brother, and sisters being either artists or identified with the arts and crafts movement.  Yeats himself studied art in Dublin, but poetry was more attractive to him than painting.

He was greatly influenced by spending his youthful days with his grandparents in County Sligo, where he heard the old Irish legends told by the peasants, who still believed them.  He translated these stories from Irish into English and wrote poems and essays relating to them.  After reaching the age of thirty-four, he became engaged in writing dramas and in assisting to establish the Irish National Theater in Dublin.  In thus reviving Ireland’s heroic history, Yeats has served his country and his art.

[Illustration:  WILLIAM BUTLER YEATS.]

The Wanderings of Oisin (1889) is his best narrative poem.  Oisin, one of the ancient Celtic heroes, returns, after three hundred years of adventure, to find Ireland Christianized.  St. Patrick hears him relate that he had been carried by his immortal wife, Niamh, to the land of the Ever-Young,—­

  “Where broken faith has never been known,
  And the blushes of first love never have flown,"[2]

that he had battled for a hundred years with an undying foe, and that his strength had not waned during his stay on those immortal shores, although he had felt the effect of age when his foot again touched his native land.  The days of “gods and fighting” men are brought back in this romantic poem.  The battles, however, are not such gory conflicts as Scott and Kipling can paint.  Yeats’s contemplative genius presents bloodless battles, symbolic of life’s continued fight, and accentuates the eternal hope and peace in the land of immortal youth.

Among his shorter narrative poems, which show some of the power of The Wanderings of Oisin, are The Death of Cuchulain, The Old Age of Queen Maeve, and Baile and Aillinn.  Baille and Aillinn are the Irish Romeo and Juliet, each of whom hears from the baleful Aengus the false report that the other is dead.  Each lover unhesitatingly seeks death in order to meet the other at once beyond these mortal shores.  Yeats has also told simple stories in simple verse, as may be seen in The Ballad of Father Gilligan or The Fiddler of Dooney.

The most striking characteristic of Yeats’s work is the pensive yearning for a spiritual love, for an unchecked joy, and an unchanging peace beyond what mortal life can give.  These qualities are strikingly illustrated by such poems as Into the Twilight, The Everlasting Voices, The Hosting of the Sidhe (Fairies), The Stolen Child.  The very spirit of Celtic poetry is seen in these lines from The Lake Isle of Innisfree:—­

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