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Yeats: The Man and the Masks

4.08  ·  Rating details ·  224 Ratings  ·  22 Reviews
Alternate Cover Edition can be found here.

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
Paperback, 336 pages
Published February 17th 2000 by W. W. Norton Company (first published 1948)
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Aug 25, 2010 rated it really liked it
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
Oct 12, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: lit-crit, biography, eire

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
Oct 05, 2009 rated it it was amazing
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
Sep 26, 2008 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
Apr 05, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 rated it really liked it
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
Dec 30, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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
Jan 23, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry
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.
Mattia Ravasi
May 27, 2015 rated it really liked it
A must-read for any Yeats' aficionado and a good biography that's never too factual, though it's too heavily based on the bogus theory that Yeats' poetry pre-1917 is mediocre and plain.

... That's his best stuff, people!
Aug 20, 2011 rated it liked it
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.
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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...