In the Seven Woods: Poems (1903) Background

In the Seven Woods: Poems (1903) Background

William Butler Yeats first began publishing collected volumes of poetry in the late 1880’s. He was still regularly publishing new and updated compendia until just a few years before his death in 1939. Scholars, academics, fellow poets and biographers are in virtually unanimous agreement that the first big turning point for Yeats as a poet came in 1930 with the publication of In the Seven Woods.

More than one overview of the verse of Yeats pinpoints the poems found in this assemblage as those representing the definitive moment when the author found his voice as a poet. This volume is typically assigned the position of being the first published book to represent what would come to be known as his “middle period.” With In the Seven Woods, Yeats took his first big leap toward tossing off the shackles of abstraction imposed upon the poet by his obsessive pre-Raphaelite Romanticism. Where there had once been a recognized fragility of technique and a hesitancy to establish an authoritative voice, these poems introduce the confident writer capable of shifting tones, elucidating a precision of emotion and unafraid to confront more concrete imagery and explore its multitude of possibilities.

The common vernacular which pervades through the imagery of “Adam’s Curse” is replicated elsewhere and manifestly stands out from the language used in previous collection. That poem and the title verse are often singled out as the early masterpieces of this period of Yeats’ career and a signpost of things to come.

Put more plainly, it might help to think of the place of In the Seven Woods within the context of the canon of Yeats in perhaps more relatable terms: the Beatles Think of the verse leading to the publication of this volume as if before this work his poems were the literary equivalent of Sgt. Pepper. With this work, Yeats produced his White Album: stripped of fanciful imaginative leaps, more grounded in a starker realism and—at least for some—more accessible.

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