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ISSN : 1226-4946(Print)
ISSN : 2288-5412(Online)
The Yeats Journal of Korea Vol.27 pp.53-78

Yeats’s Identity Discourse: Tragic Heroism and Culture in the Anglo-Irish Tradition

Park Mee-Jung


This paper examines the ways in which Yeats constructs and idealizes hisAnglo-Irish Identity. After bitter disputes over Synge's plays he realized theinsoluble opposition between the Irish Catholic and the Anglo-Irish, which meant hisfailure to unify Ireland through his Celtic Romanticism. He needed to make a newpoetics to justify his predicament and to form a new identity. He creates, in hisessays and poems, the identity and tradition of the Anglo-Irish from Burke throughSwift, Goldsmith, Parnell to Synge and Yeats, the intellectuals who tried toenlighten the native Irish people only to fail and be isolated from them. Accordingto Yeats, the reason the Anglo-Irish intellectuals had to meet the same fate inIreland is due to the ignorance and sectarian hate of native Catholic Irish people.Although the Anglo-Irish always become victims, their defeat is considered by Yeatsto be inescapable and even worthier than success in the reality where ignoranceprevails. This is the discourse of tragic heroism.
Yeats constructed the identity that is based on the dichotomy between the fewAnglo-Irish and the Irish people, by which he attributes culture to the one, andnature to the other. Here culture is supposed to be superior to nature and that senseof superiority rests on the ability to culturalize nature. Yeats connected the culturewith breeding which means being cultivated by discipline and education. In writing,it was through his poetics of mask, what he called “the sense of style,” that hecould overcome his rage and hate to the mass and futhermore transform them tothe higher virtues such as reason, manners and beauty.
As the poems dealing with the Anglo-Irish big house and the Thoor Ballyleeshow, in their tradition what they have inherited is a heroic spirit of overcoming and transforming the adversity each generation has faced. Some critics have assertedYeats shows de-mystifying recognition when he reveals his ancestors' illicit andunjust violence to the native Irish in the past. But we have to note that it finallyleads to justifying his Anglo-Irish violence, for he thought it had been transformedby their overcoming spirit and efforts into order and culture whereas the violence ofthe Irish mass resulted into disorder and chaos.
David Lloyd's opinion needs to be reconsidered in this regard. He praisedYeats's de-mystifying insights in some later poems and asserted, borrowing Paul deMan's terms, his writing is allegorical rather than symbolic. But in the poems hecited Yeats seems to be more interested in heroicizing and idealizing his Anglo-Irishidentity and tradition. Yeats's Anglo-Irish identity should be understood as anresponse to the changed reality and is formed by his peculiar writing orrepresentation.

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