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. Yet it was the foundation of an enduring and loving partnership, which anchored his life until his death 22 years later, and it famously also brought him new insights and a new kind of collaboration through psychical research. The importance of Yeats’s marriage to his poetry has come more and more clearly into focus with the publication of full and authorised biographies, using a great hoard of family letters as well as Yeats’s correspondence with his vast range of friends and acquaintances, slowly appearing in immaculately edited volumes from Oxford University Press under John Kelly’s general editorship.
more from Roy Foster at the FT here.