A Plenitude of Poetic Discourse
Scholar-critic Marjorie Perloff knows the breadth of W.B. Yeats's poetry, from the folksy to the philosophical, from the personal to the political, and from the phantasmagoric to the idyllic. A Professor Emerita of English at Stanford, and a Scholar in Residence at USC, Perloff is also a fount of enthusiasm on Yeats--to listen to her is to become enraptured and curious. We are fortunate that Stanford professor Robert Harrison (Chair of the Department of French and Italian) had the wit record some of her knowledge and insight for his "Entitled Opinions" podcast, in an episode which includes both professors reading and discussing Yeats's work.
Sword and Self
Perloff also knows how to connect the Yeats biography to the Yeats oeuvre, down to an actual Samurai sword that he used as an image in his poem "A Dialogue of Self and Soul" (Minutes 17-25). She uses facts from his overflowing life as a poet, playwright, temporary radical, occult dabbler, mentor to Ezra Pound, midlife statesman, would-be superannuated stud, and late-in-life patriarch to explicate rather than reduce his poems.
Scansion and Meaning
Obsessed with sound in addition to meaning, Perloff scans like a savant, noting and explaining Yeats's trochees and spondees at will (don't worry--97% of what she says is fully accessible to the layperson). She also notes how Joyce inserted lines from Yeats's early poem "Who Goes With Fergus?" into Stephen Daedalus's head in Ulysses, in the scene where he walks along the beach at Sandymount and thinks: "and no more turn aside and brood upon love's bitter mystery" (Minute 10:15).
The Gorgeous Radical, The Easter Rising, and Nietzsche
Harrison and Perloff have selected an interesting and varied selection of Yeats's work, forgoing most of the anthologized predictables, encompassing poems that touch on Yeats's fruitless passion for Maud Gonne, his political journey, and his perpetual questing after the significance of life and afterlife. Perloff is so enthusiastic and motivated to elucidate the poet and the poems that you get the feeling she could go on for weeks. Nonetheless, this hour is a bounty in itself, even if some of the poems must be excerpted. (Here is a link to the entire text of Yeats's clear-eyed war poem, "Easter, 1916.")
Marjorie Perloff on W.B. Yeats, an "Entitled Opinions" audio episode recorded in 2006, hosted by Stanford University professor Robert Harrison. (The recording begins with Harrison reading Yeats's "The Leaders of the Crowd." He introduces Perloff at Minute 5.) The conversation lasts just over an hour, and unless you're already an expert on Yeats, it will leave you with plenty to ponder, and wonderful language in your head.
The Poet Reads His Own Poems
If you fancy hearing Yeats read Yeats, you can find some crackly but interesting links on The Yeats Society of NY's audio page.
(Although episodes of "Entitled Opinions" are podcasted on iTunes here, the Perloff/Yeats episode is currently only available on the Stanford site.)