The Corner

Anti-Modernists Near Defeat

When irrelevant moral qualities are invoked, the bar is about to close. Yeats’s honesty has nothing to do with his practice. He was honest in the only way that mattered: writing the best poetry he could, and changing his style–making it modern, in fact–as his muse led him.

If you quote “O My Captain, My Captain,” Whitman writes pure rhymes too. “Lapis Lazuli,” more representative of Yeats’s later years, has 28 rhymes. Nine are slant rhymes (done-in, Calimachus-rise); one, I was surprised to find, is a rock and roll rhyme (stem-again). The rest are pure . Romantic poets–the last great poetic generation before the moderns–did not write poems in which a third of the rhymes were slant. They forewent some beautiful, but untraditional, music thereby.

Your reader will be momentarily puzzled by Shakespeare if he is unfamiliar with Ovid and Plutarch, quarries for writers for a millennium when the Bard took up his pen. Anyone will be momentarily puzzled by Yeats who is unfamiliar with the minutiae of turn of the century Irish culture and politics, and with theosophy. That would be nearly all non-Irishmen, and nearly everyone.

Got me on Leda and the Swan.

But all this curvetting over Yeats was a sideshow to the ongoing Eliot wars. Whenever you reappear at the ford, Stranger Knight, you will find me with my lance at the ready.

Richard Brookhiser — Historian Richard Brookhiser is a senior editor of National Review and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.

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