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Chapter 6 - “They Had Changed Their Throats”

Testament and Time

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  11 April 2024

Gregory Castle
Affiliation:
Arizona State University
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Summary

In the sixth and final chapter, I consider the late poems and the curious prose work On the Boiler (1939), which includes the play Purgatory. I emphasize Yeats’s bardic sensibility, which is defined by relations of testament and bestowal and the double burden of witnessing the past and handing down bequests. Generational temporalities characterize the poetry in this period, inaugurated by the historical sequences in The Tower (1928). Yeats’s revivalist attitude toward time, future-oriented by way of a rectifying gaze cast on prior attitudes and achievements, continues to mature in the testamentary poems of this period, in which the modernist bard recreates, because he cannot sustain, a doomed Anglo-Protestant social order. These poems submit the heroes of the literary revival to new conditions of recognition, in which their greatness becomes an inheritance that Yeats, as their bardic representative, both announces and embodies in the world of his work. The antithesis of this inheritance can be found in On the Boiler, specifically in the play that concludes it, Purgatory. The play, Yeats’s last, is a Gothic distortion of the covenant at the heart of the testament. It subjects time and history, personal and cultural inheritance, to a withering critique that highlights both the intellectual pleasures and the potential dangers of the logic of misrecognition.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2024

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