Dreadful Sentiments

Tom Paulin

  • The Collected Letters of W.B. Yeats. Vol. I: 1865-1895 edited by John Kelly and Eric Domville
    Oxford, 548 pp, £22.50, January 1986, ISBN 0 19 812679 4

Towards the end of his inaugural lecture at the Collège de France, Roland Barthes observed that ‘the myth of the great French writer, the sacred depository of all higher values, has crumbled since the Liberation.’ In Ireland lately there has developed a liberating impulse to desacralise a national institution called YEATS and in a seminal pamphlet, ‘Heroic Styles: The Tradition of an Idea’, the country’s most significant and influential critic, Seamus Deane, has criticised the way in which an acceptance of ‘the mystique of Irish-ness’ can involve readers in the ‘spiritual heroics’ of a Yeats or a Pearse. The result is a belief in ‘the incarnation of the nation in the individual’.

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