Prolegomena: The Myth of “The Definitive Edition”

  • Richard J. Finneran


Items 209 and 210 in Allan Wade’s A Bibliography of the Writings of W. B. Yeats, describing the two-volume Poems issued by Macmillan, London, in the autumn of 1949, are headed by the magisterial phrase “The Definitive Edition”.1 As this study will demonstrate, the 1949 Poems was in fact defective in contents, in ordering, and in text. Moreover, we shall see that for Yeats’s poems a truly “Definitive Edition” — in the common sense of the term — will always remain elusive. At the same time, the present volume will argue that the revised edition of The Poems is an improvement upon the earlier texts and thus an appropriate gesture towards that archetypal, hence mythical, “Definitive Edition”.2


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  1. 2.
    W. B. Yeats, The Poems, rev. edn., ed. Richard J. Finneran (New York: Macmillan, 1989).Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    The Macmillan Archive in the British Library has been described in William E. Fredeman, “The Bibliographical Significance of a Publisher’s Archive”, Studies in Bibliography 23 (1970) 183–91; and Philip V. Blake-Hill, “The Macmillan Archive”, British Museum Quarterly, 36, nos 3–4 (Autumn 1972) 74–80.Google Scholar
  3. 5.
    Charles Morgan, The House of Macmillan (1843–1943) (London: Macmillan, 1943) p. 223. The quotation is doubtless from Yeats’s letter of 8 September 1932 to Thomas Mark (see Chapter 2, note 15).Google Scholar
  4. 6.
    As noted in Letters to Macmillan, ed. Simon Nowell-Smith (London: Macmillan, 1967) p. 22, “Thomas Mark (1890–1963) joined Macmillans in 1913 and, after some years as secretary to the board, was appointed a director in 1944. He retired in 1959, but continued as literary adviser to the firm — and as guide, mentor and friend to many of its authors — until his death.” Mark was involved with Yeats’s texts as late as the 1962 revised edition of A Vision. See Connie K. Hood, “The Remaking of A Vision”, Yeats, 1 (1983) 66.Google Scholar
  5. 10.
    Curtis Bradford, “The Order of Last Poems”, Modern Language Notes, 76, no. 6 (June 1961) 515–16.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. 11.
    Curtis Bradford, Yeats’s ‘Last Poems’ Again, Yeats Centenary Papers 8 (Dublin: Dolmen Press, 1966). In Yeats at His Last, New Yeats Papers 11 (Dublin: Dolmen Press, 1975), Stanley Sultan reasserted Bradford’s thesis but offered little new evidence.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Richard J. Finneran 1990

Authors and Affiliations

  • Richard J. Finneran
    • 1
  1. 1.University of TennesseeKnoxvilleUSA

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