Poetry and emotion

By Roy Foster

Yeats_lettersWB Yeats and George Yeats: The Letters, edited by Ann Saddlemyer, Oxford University Press, RRP£30, 624 pages

The marriages of poets rarely present an encouraging picture. Penelope Gilliatt once wrote one of her lacerating short stories about a poet’s wife in a Northumbrian cottage. She slowly sinks into despair at living with “his visions of moral order in biology and the superior integrity of sap, expressed in a thin precise style like the print of a hopping bird in snow”, until she finally reveals all in a television profile and they separate.

The real-life records of the partnerships embarked upon by Ted Hughes, Ezra Pound, Robert Lowell or TS Eliot (first time round) are hardly more encouraging. And few observers would have given much of a chance to the union between the 52-year-old WB Yeats and 24-year-old Bertha Georgie Hyde-Lees, when they emerged from London’s Harrow Road register office in 1917.

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