The four great twentieth-century anglophone poets are, in my reckoning, Eliot, Graves, Pound, and Yeats, followed by Auden, Cummings, Frost, MacNeice, and Ransom. (Stevens and Williams do not speak to me.) Interestingly, the top four had in common the need for a system of belief on which to hang their work and, to a certain extent, their life. For Eliot, this was Anglo-Catholicism; for Graves, the cult of woman as the White Goddess and his various wives and mistresses. For Pound, it became fascism, with its skewed political, racial, and economic notions. Yeats espoused, along with an aristocratic elitism, various forms of occultism, culminating in spiritualism and automatic writing.

Out of fear of mortality and a cognate quest for immortality, Yeats delved into various mythologies, and also created his own. The universe had to involve a system, deducible from history and astrology. Hence his postulation of an Anima Mundi, gyres (cycles),...


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