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The poet Louis MacNeice’s pioneering critical study of W. B. Yeats was undertaken in 1939, shortly after the death of Yeats, and published early in 1941, in time of war – as an attempt to disentangle MacNeice’s own feelings about the elder poetic statesman and compatriot, but also to investigate the reality of poetry at a historical moment when its uses seemed most tenuous.
As Richard Ellmann remarked: ‘MacNeice’s book on Yeats is still as good an introduction to that poet as we have, with the added interest that it is also an introduction to MacNeice. It discloses a critical mind always discontented with its own formulations, full of self-questionings and questionings of others, scrupling to admire, reluctant to be won. Yet mistrust of Yeats is overcome by wary approval, in a rising tone of endorsement’.
MacNeice’s study succeeded in delineating those aspects of Yeats that remain central to discussion of the poet today.
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