W. B. Yeats and the Artifice of Eternity

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W. B. Yeats and the Artifice of Eternity. BBC Radio 3, 7 June 2015. BBCiPlayer

As with other material reviewed for Radio Drama Reviews, this Radio 3 "Sunday Feature" is not a drama per se, but deserves to be considered as a dramatic piece. With the help of various guests, Theo Dorgan explored the reasons why Yeats continues to be regarded as a great poet, 150 years after his birth. Sometimes he is relegated to the margins of being an "Irish poet," a footnote to the so-called canon of English Literature: when I studied this subject as an undergraduate more than three decades ago, we looked at "Easter 1916" as part of an "Introduction to English Poetry" course, a classic piece of intellectual colonization that befalls many a great Irish writer, including Beckett, Joyce and (most obviously) Oscar Wilde.

This program took Yeats out of the hands of the curriculum planners and considered him on his own terms both as a political writer responding to the important questions of the day, as well as a great poet who could transform the humdrum and everyday into something transcendent. It is often said that great poetry speaks across time and space; this is certainly the case with Yeats, whose words often resist explanation by critics and journalists alike. He appeals to the soul as much as the intellect; this was amply illustrated in Jim Norton's readings of his poems. Even if listeners don't really want to take too much notice of what Dorgan's guests said about him, they can enjoy the experience of having Yeats's poems read aloud.