The veils surrounding the twentieth century’s greatest poet, William Butler Yeats, come in such degrees of thickness and coloration that we shall probably never see the man plain. The title of one of the first major critical studies, Yeats: The Man and the Masks, by Richard Ellmann, addressed the questions of disguise and shifting identities—questions that have continued to engage commentators. Yeats’s early work planted so persuasively in readers’ minds a picture of the dreamer swathed in the mists of the Celtic Twilight that the conflicting reality of him as a man of the world, a shrewd man of business keenly aware of cash flow, has come as a surprise and even a betrayal of some readers’ images of him. Yeats went to his grave a convinced occultist and believer in the spirit world. Recent biography reveals that this mystic was also skillful at self-promotion, an experienced committee man, trenchant debater, and...

 
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