W.B. Yeats as a Romantic Poet

Although W. B. Yeats is a major modern poet and his poems are marked with modern human anxieties and crises, many of his poems contain romantic elements such as subjectivity, high imagination, escapism, romantic melancholy, interest in myth and folklore, etc. Influenced by the romantic poets, Yeats wrote many of his poems, especially his early poems, following the style that the Romantic poets followed. The poet felt so much influenced by the romantic poets that he characterized himself as one of the last romantics. A careful study of his poems will show that his poems that are written in romantic mode are as perfect in romantic qualities as those of Keats or Shelley.
“The lake Isle of Innisfree” is one of Yeast’s most famous romantic poems, containing almost all the romantic elements in it. It is a highly subjective and imaginative poem since the isle is not a real place situated anywhere in Ireland, rather an ideal land of romance. The poet has not only created the isle out of his imagination he has also imagined the beauties, sounds and comforts of the place. The isle is so peaceful and comfortable that the poet, tired of the tension and anxieties of town life, wishes to go there to get rid of the weariness of city life and to live alone in the close contact of nature. The place appears so beautiful, comfortable and peaceful to the poet that he decides to build a cottage there with clay and wattles. He also wishes to harvest his food from the isle by planting nine bean-rows and keeping a bee-hive there.

The poet reaches the peak of his romantic imagination when he visualizes peace dropping slowly in the isle from “the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings” and where “midnight’s all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow and evening is full of the linnet’s wings”.
The poet is so fascinated by the charms of the isle that he cannot keep him away from the place. Even when he is busy with his daily life or is standing on the roadway or on the pavements grey, he hears the lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore.
The poem thus contains the essential romantic elements like escapism, love for nature, imagination, subjectivity, dreaminess, romance of imaginary sounds and beauties, etc. Because of the presence of these qualities the poem puts the poet in the direct line of romantics with Keats, Shelley and Wordsworth.
“The Stolen Child” is another famous poem of Yeats containing romantic elements. The environment of Sleuth Wood in the lake is so dreamy that fantastic things happen here. There is a leafy island here where flapping herons wake and where the water-rats feel drowsy. The poet along with these herons and water rats walk in the lake all night dancing and mingling hands with the faeries. They leap to and fro in the lake water chasing “the frothy bubbles”. But the real world is not so beautiful and not so free from troubles and anxieties. “While the world is full of troubles/ And is anxious in its sleep”, the rocky highland of Sleuth Wood is full of delights and dreams. That is why the poet invites the peace seeking trouble stricken people to come to this place:
Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand
For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.

This poem reminds one of Wordsworth who often, tired of the cruelties of the harsh realities of time, liked to be lost in the lap of nature. Like Keats, Yeats in this poem wants to escape to a dreamy land where he thinks there are no troubles and human anxieties, and the fantasy that the poet creates in the poem out of his imagination places him next to S. T. Coleridge.

“The Wilde Swan at Coole” is another romantic poem of Yeats. The poet appears to be Wordsworthian in delineating the beauty of nature. The poet gives an impressive description of the lake at Coole Park. The poet finds fifty-nine swans perching on the stones of the lake in a beautiful, serene, calm and quiet atmosphere. This bewitching scene of the swans perched on the stones in the lake leads the poet to think of the high quality of life that the swans possess. The swans are beyond the harsh realities of human life while human life here is full of problems and troubles. The poet says of the swans:

Their hearts have not grown old;
Passion or conquest, wander where they will
Attend upon them still.

This contrast between the swans and the humans reminds one of the contrast made by Keats between nightingales and humans in his “Ode to Nightingale” where he says of the nightingale: “Thou are not born to death, immortal bird”. Like Keats’ nightingales, Yeats’ swans are not born to death. If an individual swan dies, the race remain and continue. Their hearts remain ever youthful and they can fly wherever they like. They are free and moved by the idea of passion and conquest. Unlike human beings, they are never touched by the onslaught of fever and fret and they do not have to face defeat and broken dream. In this way they become the symbol of immortality and fulfillment.

Like these early poems, some of his later poems also contain romantic elements. One such poem is “Sailing to Byzentium”. Like the lake isle of Innisfree, Byzentium is an ideal place. The poet completely frustrated and fed up by the decadence and degeneration of modern life escapes to the ideal world of Byzentium. This poem also reminds us of Keats’ “Ode to Nightingale”. Like Yeats, Keats frustrated and fed up by the harsh realities of life escape to the world of the nightingale.

Like the Romantics, Yeats had an intense interest in ancient myth and legend. He frequently uses the Greek, Medieval and Irish myths and legends in his poems which take the poet to the remote past. We also find in his poems the use of magic and Irish folkloric beliefs. For example, the use of numbers such as nine, nineteen, fifty-nine, has a magical overtone. In “The lake Isle of Innisfree” he wants to plant nine bean-rows; in “The Wilde Swans at the Coole” he sees fifty-nine swans. In Irish folklore the number nine is a lucky number.

The Romantic poems were subjective poems containing the poets’ personal views and ideas on different things. Many of Yeats’ poems reflect his own personal views and ideas on different things and many of his poems directly take the subject matter from his own personal life. “A Prayer for My Daughter” is one such poem in which the poet prays for some qualities to be possessed by his daughter. “Among the School Children” is another personal poem in which the poet becomes nostalgic wandering in his childhood days. Besides, his personal love with Maude Gonne and his frustration in love with her have been the themes of many of his poems. His bitter feelings about Maude Gonne’s attitude towards him also have romantic overtone.

In the light of the above discussion, we can say that W. B. Yeats is a poet of the romantic mode. His highly imaginative mind, tendency to escape to the ideal world to get rid of the cruel realities of time, love for nature, desire to pass time alone and to find comfort in the lap of nature, use of myth, legend, magic and Irish folkloric beliefs, expression of his personal views and ideas, incorporation of his personal sufferings and frustrated feelings—all these put the poet in the direct line with the Romantics.