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Our Secret Discipline: Yeats and Lyric Form

Helen Vendler, Author
Helen Vendler, Author . Harvard Univ. $35 (428p) ISBN 978-0-674-02695-7
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One of the world's most respected poetry critics, and a Harvard professor, Vendler began her career with a short book about W.B. Yeats's prose and plays (Yeats's Vision and the Later Plays ). This new monumental study of the technical (and, ultimately, emotional) accomplishment in Yeats's poems represents something close to a life's work: it will surely attract international attention. Like Vendler's The Art of Shakespeare's Sonnets , this volume looks at the way a great poet put individual poems together, and at why “the formal shapes of a temporal art” work as they do. A preliminary chapter looks at form, proportion and meter in three famous poems; later installments consider the progress of the “series of technical investigations” in his sometimes airy, incantatory early verse; the “efforts to combine high and low” speech that marked his ballads; his anxious, and finally majestic, Irish transformations of the originally English-and-Italian sonnet; and his metamorphosis of the eight-line stanza (ottava rima) into a fit motor for the masterpiece “Among School Children.” Vendler's careful book will likely advance the way experts see Yeats, but she also speaks to all the readers who care about the Irish Nobelist's body of poetry, which looks more complex, and more delightful, through Vendler's lens. (Nov.)

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