This book was not what I expected from the title, but neither was it less than I expected. Rather than a discussion on good and evil as conditions of the human soul, this was a collection of essays about art written during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. (See titles below)
Some discussions were perhaps more relevant during the time the essays were written, but most of Yeats’ thoughts could, with a little effort, be applied to today’s world. His thoughts on symbolism versus allegory, art as “the theatre of commerce” versus art as a “great Passion” and the essays on William Blake are marvellous.
Underpinning his thoughts is Yeats’ fascination with spiritual mysticism and, for me, this adds a layer of meaning to his words that speaks to my soul of things Divine and Eternal; he touches on the great mystery of what makes great art rather than popular art by comparing the artistic life with the spiritual life of the religious mystic. This was both inspiring and comforting, and reminded me of why I continue to write the stories and poems that I do.
IDEAS OF GOOD AND EVIL was not always an easy book to read; it requires concentration, as the style does reflect that of Yeats’ own era, but the insights and wisdom that imbue Yeats’ work with both magic and passion make the effort worth it.
Essays included in “Ideas of Good and Evil” by W B Yeats:
What is 'popular poetry'?
Speaking to the psaltery
The happiest of the poets
The philosophy of Shelley's poetry
William Blake and the imagination
William Blake and his illustrations to the Divine comedy
Symbolism in painting
The symbolism of poetry
The Celtic element in literature
The autumn of the body
The body of Father Christian Rosencrux
The return of Ulysses
Ireland and the arts
The Galway plains
Emotion of multitudes