Yeats, Socialism and Tragedy

Part of the Macmillan Studies in Anglo-Irish Literature book series


In his later years, despite having been when young a follower of William Morris, Yeats disliked both Utopian and Marxian socialism. In the thirties, this dislike placed him as variance with most of his artistic contemporaries. ‘The dominance of the Left in universities and literary London was powerfully sensed and widely accepted at the time; and by the end of the decade the Left was often felt to be in total possession,’ George Watson has written of the thirties, supporting the generalisation with a remarkable 1940 comment by George Orwell: ‘there is now no intelligentsia that is not in some sense “left” ‘.1 Many of Yeats’s friends and fellow-artists had markedly leftist sympathies: Sean O’Casey, Frank O’Connor, Ethel Mannin, Liam O’Flaherty, Constance Markiewicz and of course Madame MacBride and her daughter. Why did Yeats choose to resist the tide? What did he think socialism was, and why did he dislike it so intensely? The answers to those questions are less apparent in Yeats’s scattered remarks on socialism than they are in three decisions he made as an arbiter of the arts: the decision not to produce Sean O’Casey’s The Silver lassie at the Abbey, the decision to exclude Wilfred Owen from the Oxford Book of Modern Verse and the decision in the same anthology to identify the main movement in contemporary poetry not with Auden, Spender and Day-Lewis, but with W. J. Turner, Herbert Read, Dorothy Wellesley and Oliver St John Gogarty.


Happy Ending Modern Poetry Utopian Socialism Aerial Bombardment Tragic Hero 
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  1. 22.
    Harold J. Laski, Communism (New York: Henry Holt; London: Thornton, Butterworth, 1927) p. 61.Google Scholar
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Copyright information

© Paul Scott Stanfield 1988

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of NebraskaLincolnUSA

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