Yeats was to explore several more sides of himself, and of Ireland, before his Last Poems of 1938-39. Many are difficult, some snobbish, others occult and spiritualist. As Brendan Kennelly writes, Yeats "produces both poppycock and sublimity in verse, sometimes closely together." On the other hand, many prophetic masterworks are poppycock-free--for example, "The Second Coming" ("Turning and turning in the widening gyre / The falcon cannot hear the falconer; / Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; / Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world...") and such inquiries into inspiration as "Among School Children" ("O body swayed to music, O brightening glance, How can we know the dancer from the dance?"). And at his best, Yeats extends the meaning of love poetry beyond the obviously romantic: love becomes a revolutionary emotion, attaching the poet to friends, history, and the passionate life of the mind.
Though this edition has been reset and revised, the changes are not as shocking as the 1984 edition, which included 100 extra pages of notes, changes in language and punctuation, and, most significantly, a redefinition of the Last Poems. Richard Finneran has had the courage to reorder the poems according to notes that Yeats made shortly before his death. Readers may be surprised to find that "Under Ben Bulben," the poet's powerful and self-mythologizing epitaph, no longer ends the collection, as it has for more than 30 years. In its place they will discover the wistful "Politics": "How can I, that girl standing there, / My attention fix / On Roman or on Russian / Or on Spanish politics..." Yet devotees of either ending will agree that this is a truly necessary volume--indeed, one of the few. As Seamus Heaney writes, "All readers of Yeats will need this book; when they open it they will feel a surprise like that experienced by St. Brendan the Navigator and his crew when they disembarked upon an island that turned out to be the back of a dormant sea monster."