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Yeats: The Man and the Masks

4.11 of 5 stars 4.11  ·  rating details  ·  161 ratings  ·  18 reviews
One of the most influential poets of his age, W.B. Yeats eluded the grasp of many who sought to explain him. His life was complex in both its outer and inner events. Yeats's mystical concerns, such as his involvement with spiritualism and construction of a transcendental world system in A Vision, coexisted and occasionally clashed with his active involvement in public affa ...more
Paperback, 336 pages
Published February 17th 2000 by W. W. Norton & Company (first published 1948)
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As in his later biographies of Wilde and Joyce, here too Ellmann uses his preferred approach of marrying biography to psychology in an attempt to discern and communicate Yeats’ motivations and thus his life trajectory. Such an approach is to some extent always required of a biographer, but one must also be aware that the psychological paradigms to which the biographer adheres must of necessity influence the conclusions that he reaches. The reader must always keep this in mind as he evaluates the ...more

Useful for understanding a little bit more about the human Yeats, rather than the august mage or dreamy star-gazer we see in so many other guises, both of his creation and by the free assumption of others.

It's also extremely good for the soul to see an artist one admires being kind of a drip: over-analytical and somewhat pathetic (his love for Maud Gonne didn't work out so well, even when it was kind of working), self-important verging on pretentious, an anguished wuss who valroized the "man
Sep 26, 2008 Jack added it
My Yeats obsession continues with Ellmann's book, first published in 1947 in close consultation with Yeats's widow George. The book was updated and reissued in 1982. Ellmann describes Yeats's life but is more interested in his work as a poet. Early Yeats is pictured as a Symbolist heavily influenced by Blake. This is placed in the context of his work on Irish folklore andhow tales of fairies and leprechauns reinforced Yeats's interest in the occult. He felt that ancient Irish lore, still widely ...more
Of the three biographies that I have now read by Mr. Ellmann (James Joyce, Oscar Wilde), this is probably the most interesting in that it shows the artist and his vision in constant evolution. Perhaps that was the nature of Yeats' life and work.

Furthermore, the book is more concise and less anecdotal. Once again, this is probably due to the life of Yeats in opposition to the more flamboyant Joyce and Wilde. Whatever the reason, this makes for a more precise study of an artist's vision and eveolu
Jan 20, 2012 Kathleen rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: poetry lovers
Shelves: biography, poetry
Yeats says gyre with a hard g. Sailing to Byzantium ("This is no country for old men...") is all about a bird. Byzantium, the other poem, is a description of how it is to make a poem. ("Those images that yet/Fresh images beget...") Yeats was miserable with love for Maud Gonne, who refused to marry him over and over. Thankfully, Yeats finally found a happy marriage and had two children. He lived in a refurbished castle, was enmeshed in the theater and politics and what seems to me today as crazy ...more
some angel unloaded this and “Eminent Domain” at Spoonbill. Do you have any idea how long I’ve yearned for cheap reading copies of these two? No, you don’t, but this adolescent fave holds up brilliantly even if the 1959 Faber edition I got has a green cover instead of the one where he looks like Morrissey in a black cape. Even if you haven’t read any of Yeats’s poetry, I can’t imagine you wouldn’t find every chapter fascinating, especially when Oscar Wilde invites him to Christmas dinner 1888 an ...more
This was pretty amazing. Published in 1948, Ellmann's dissertation on Yeats reworked. I learned so much, but the best thing was that the writing was lucid and comprehensible. Oh Yeats! Your wacky occult obsessions were more weighty than I thought! Also, you were wrong about fascism but right about a lot of other things that mattered more instead. I have a recording of Yeats reading "The Lake Isle Of Innisfree" and it is just about the best thing ever.
I wanted to learn more about Yeats and his work...this was touted as perhaps his best in-depth analysis of the psychology/life experiences/complexities that drove Yeats' writing through his lifetime. Very academic/interesting.
Elaine Campbell
This biography is not up to par with the author's biographical work on Joyce, considered to be one of the best biographies ever written, and with which I concur.

One of the reasons for this is that this book was written when Richard Ellman was much younger, and while he did have some funding in order to gather information worldwide, it was not near that which he received to write his work on James Joyce. Also, he had matured when the latter book was written; and had become more perceptive.

What is
Katie Dreyer
Richard Ellmann's biography of Yeats was very readable and well researched. I was fascinated by Yeats's troubled childhood, his relationship with his father, and his lifelong interest in the occult. Yeats's tragic, unrequited love for the actress Maude Gonne is also explored in detail. Ellmann focuses primarily on the development of Yeats's style and how his understanding of 'the mask' and the 'double man' shaped his poetry, prose, and plays. Although I sometimes wished Ellmann had gone into a b ...more
Grady Ormsby
Sep 15, 2013 Grady Ormsby rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: very patient people
After reading Yeats: The Man and the Masks by Richard Ellmann I think I better understand the poetry of William Butler Yeats. Mostly, though, I better understand why the poetry of William Butler Yeats is so difficult to understand. As I read, I kept handy a copy of The Collected Poems of W. B. Yeats edited by Richard J. Finneran. Whenever a poem was referred to in the biography, I'd read it from the collection. I also had my laptop at the ready to look up a wide range of political, mythological, ...more
Ellman can't really be bothered with the details of Yeats' life (his mother, for example, is barely mentioned), but instead focuses on how Yeats' always changing beliefs in some irrational mumbo-jumbo influenced his poetry. This would be a fair subject for a dissertation, but as a bio this book is pretty lacking. Ellman also gives short shrift to Yeats' earlier poetry, including much of his finest verse that he wrote when pining after Maud Gonne.
Markus Whittaker
LOVE IT. Got an old edition from Cooks Hill Books years ago when I was doing the HSC. My ex's Dad was heaps into Yeats and I guess I wanted to impress her and him. I've been slowly working my way through ever since. Obviously slower after we broke up. Irish poetry at it's best. England was so boring and dour in the late 1800s. This book made me realise how big a part the Irish and American's played in keeping the art of poetry alive, after the romantics all kinda died off young and dumb and full ...more
Terri Dowell-dennis
Put down half way through. It get laborious as it develops the nuances (and I do mean nuances) of how Yeats' style develops. May come back later.
Laura Fiorelli
Great biography of Yeats. Not quite as astonishingly, scarily thorough as Foster's, but elaborates on the Yeats mythology and provides a timeline of his life that illuminates his artistic and spiritual evolution.
Aug 30, 2007 Rachel rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Yeatseans
Very lively. More readable than Ellmann's biography of Joyce.
The late Professor Ellmann's brief biography of Yeats does not quite merit the appellation "definitive"--the "definitive" biographer of this most complex poet, playwright, politician, lover, father, occultist, true believer and skeptic, is Roy Foster. Ellmann's book focuses primarily upon 'Yeats the Poet', his dictum "myself I must remake", his poetic processes and evolution, and Ellmann thoroughly understands and explains them as no other literary critic does.

Ellmann's own style makes this part
Sarah Elizabeth
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Richard David Ellmann was a prominent American literary critic and biographer of the Irish writers James Joyce, Oscar Wilde, and William Butler Yeats. Ellmann's James Joyce (1959), for which he won the National Book Award in 1960, is considered one of the most acclaimed literary biographies of the 20th century and the 1982 revised edition of the work was similarly recognised with the award of the ...more
More about Richard Ellmann...
Oscar Wilde James Joyce The Norton Anthology of Modern Poetry The Norton Anthology of Modern & Contemporary Poetry, Vol 2: Contemporary Poetry Ulysses on the Liffey

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