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Writer Profession in Yeats’ and Woolf’s Works Essay

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Updated: Feb 1st, 2021

William Butler Yeats’ Literary Works

In Yeats’ A General Introduction for My Work, first written in 1937, the poet spoke of what he perceived to be the current canon of literary criticism and his own beliefs about culture and poetry. He not only wrote of his own body of work but also touched on others by way of comparison and unity, seeing all as some type of literary composite. This essay showed him to be the strong Irish nationalist he was, and also emphasized his strong attitude toward the employment of Gaelic and Celtic folklore throughout viable Irish literature.

He also touched on the significance and meaning of symbolism in the national literature. He even attributed the folkloric tradition to the regional song. He contended that although some contemporary poets felt that present-day songs were the current folk’s art and inspiration for other art forms, Yeats believed that one should go back as far as classical roots, such as mythology. He was convinced he could show such derivation. (Yeats 2053)

His famous 1923 poem, Leda and the Swan, a sonnet that itself borrowed from classical Greek roots, is one such example. The narrative of the verse is of the lovely Leda who was violated by Zeus in the form of a swan, and who then bore Helen and Clytemnestra. The poem itself is fairly graphic. During the sexual climax, Yeats portends the future of their union.

The broken wall, the burning roof, and the tower And Agamemnon dead. (Yeats 2210)

Lastly, although Leda and the Swan is a violent verse, it yet retains beauty and sublimity. The imagery is stark yet artistic. Leda is noted as being “the staggering girl” with a “helpless breast,” and “loosening thighs.” Whereas, the swan is observed as being “feathered glory.”

Hence, the poem is at once aggressive and also passive. (Yeats 2210)

Virginia Woolf’s Literary Works

Next, in Virginia Woolf’s A Sketch, she describes the mundanities of everyday life. She utilizes the metaphor of “a kind of nondescript cotton wool”, and the reader is left feeling that the writer does not feel vital and completely alive and vital going about the activities of daily life. However, Woolf observes that her art transforms her. She feels that “behind the cotton wool is hidden a pattern”, and that in her art she can communicate this effectively. her vocation as a writer is to discover and communicate it. (Woolf 2214)

This particular essay of hers is largely introspective. She speaks of her mother, long gone, and then says, “ For the present when backed by the past is a thousand times deeper than the present when it presses so close that you can feel nothing else when the film on the camera reaches only the eye.”

Then in her Professions for Women, penned in 1931, she states that she had to liberate her mind to write. She speaks of killing the angel, referring to a famous poem known as The Angel in the House, authored by Coventry Patmore. This verse, which detailed the then-popular Victorian mores and values of the time, was in direct contravention to the mindset that Woolf felt she needed to shed, to pursue her art. Woolf maintained, “…that to depend upon a profession is a less form of slavery than to depend upon a father.”

One of her last comments in this particular selection, which perhaps is very characteristic of her mindset and the times she grew up in was the following: “Why are women…so much more interesting to men than men are to women?” (Woolf 2216) Certainly, this was Virginia Woolf. A woman for sure, but at artist first and foremost!

Therefore, Woolf’s statements are cautionary, even today. Not only should contemporary females scrutinize their accomplishments, but they should also be mindful of their psyches, and never leave their well-being up to others, a most dangerous act!

Bibliography

Woolf, Virginia. “A Sketch of the Past” The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Gen. ed. M. H. Abrams. Assoc. ed. Stephen Greenblatt. 7th ed. Vol. 2. New York: Norton, 2000. 2218-2225.

Woolf, Virginia. “Professions for Women” The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Gen. ed. M. H. Abrams. Assoc. ed. Stephen Greenblatt. 7th ed. Vol. 2. New York: Norton, 2000. 2214-2217.

Yeats, William B. “From Introduction [A General Introduction for My Work] “ The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Gen. ed. M. H. Abrams. Assoc. ed. Stephen Greenblatt. 7th ed. Vol. 2. New York: Norton, 2000. 2053.

Yeats, William B. “Leda and the Swan.” The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Gen. ed. M. H. Abrams. Assoc. ed. Stephen Greenblatt. 7th ed. Vol. 2. New York: Norton, 2000.

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IvyPanda. (2021) 'Writer Profession in Yeats' and Woolf's Works'. 1 February.

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