This is the first of a many-volumed collection of the letters of William Butler Yeats, perhaps the most unreservedly acclaimed modern poet in the English language. Almost half the letters in this superbly edited volume have not been previously published. Although there are some letters from his boyhood, the great bulk of them span the years 1887 to 1895 when Yeats was in his twenties and working passionately for the cause of Irish literature and his own career as a poet and man of letters.
These early letters are filled with business-the business of recovering and encouraging Irish literature and, at the same time, forwarding his own career. As such, they are not deeply reflective or self-conscious but filled with the ambition and enthusiasm of a young poet with great plans. Many of the letters are perfunctory in the sense that they merely seek or communicate information.
Interspersed throughout the letters, however, are references to the great concerns of Yeats's youth and entire life.
Chief among those is his concern to engender in the Irish people an appreciation for their cultural past and an enthusiasm for a new Irish literature in the present. These letters are full of what came to be known broadly as the Irish Literary Revival, a diverse movement whose aims are fairly summarized in a letter Yeats wrote to a Dublin newspaper in 1895:Our "movement" . . . has denounced rhetoric with. . . passionate vehemence. . . . It has exposed sentimentality and flaccid technique. . . but, at the same time, it has persuaded Irish men and women to read what is excellent in past and present Irish literature, and it has added to that literature books of folk-lore, books of history, books of fiction, and books of verse. . . .