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Last Poems and Plays

New Poems, Last Poems and Two Plays

‘the death volume yeats

the last major collection of Yeats's poetry, which appeared posthumously in January 1940. The volume, which amalgamated the contents of the Dublin editions of New Poems (1938) and Last Poems and Two Plays (1939), formed a substantial gathering of work produced between 1936 and 1939; ‘The Black Tower’ and ‘Cuchulain Comforted’ were written in the last two weeks of his life, the latter forming what Seamus Heaney has called ‘a strange ritual of surrender, a rite of passage from life into death’. Other poems, notably ‘Beautiful Lofty Things’, ‘The Municipal Gallery Revisited’, and ‘The Man and the Echo’, intimate an awareness of death's approach in their qualities of retrospective summation, while ‘Under Ben Bulben’ offers the text of his epitaph: ‘Cast a cold eye | On life, on death. | Horseman, pass by.’ Among the other well-known poems in the volume are ‘Lapis Lazuli’, ‘Long-Legged Fly’, ‘News for the Delphic Oracle’, and ‘The Circus Animals' Desertion’. The magnificent complexity and concentration of which ‘The Statues’ is perhaps the best example is complemented by numerous memorably straightforward works in ballad forms, among them ‘Come Gather Round Me Parnellites’, ‘Roger Casement’, and ‘The O'Rahilly’; these and other poems constitute Yeats's most unequivocal affirmation of the heroic dimensions of modern Irish political history. The plays in the volume were ‘Purgatory’ and ‘The Death of Cuchulain’, both of which sustain the development of Yeats's dramatic verse in the new freedom and flexibility they exhibit.

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