Given my own interest in astrology and mysticism, I’m surprised it’s taken me so long to discover Yeats. This collection of 15 of Yeats' most famous poems, including "The Second Coming" and "Easter, 1916," was a good place to start, although I need to read more on his philosophy as described in his book “A Vision” to fully benefit from reading his poetry.
In this anthology, my favourite is “The Second Coming.” A superb, haunting poem, Yeat’s description of “the widening gyres” resonated deeply. Taken in historical context, the darkness in the poem is understandable, if depressing, as there is always the hope that, no matter how far the falcon (humankind) flies from the falconer (the Divine) perhaps the centre *can* hold as the spiralling gyres of history widen and narrow, and the evolutionary cycles of mankind’s spiritual evolution wax and wane.
“Solomon and the Witch” was another poem I enjoyed in this first reading of Yeats’s work. When Sheba “cried out in a strange tongue/Not his, not mine," the potential of Love to transcend cultural differences leads her lover, the wise King Solomon, “he that knew/All sounds by bird or angel sung,” to contemplate how, when people are in love destiny (“Chance”) and free will (“Choice”) overlap and, as “lover tests lover,” there is the risk that the “bride-bed brings despair.” But the poem also offers the reader a glimpse of hope for, when “these two things…are a single light…burned in one” (when love unites differences), a “blessed moon last night/gave Sheba to her Solomon.” Finally, after the “appropriate pain” has tested the lovers, there among the debris of the struggle, “the crushed grass …and the moon wilder every minute,” silence descends and love offers a second chance. This poem cleverly reflects the difficult progression of love between a man for a woman, while hinting at the same struggle mankind must undergo to understand the mystical mysteries of a Divine Love.
Some readers who, like me, are reading Yeats for the first time may find the lack of notes in this collection frustrating. While some political notes may have helped with some references (for example, in “Sixteen Dead Men”) I found approaching the text without anyone else’s impressions influencing me refreshing.