Making the Void Fruitful: Yeats as Spiritual Seeker and Petrarchan Lover - cover image


Patrick Keane

Published On





  • English

Print Length

270 pages (xii+258)


Paperback156 x 19 x 234 mm(6.14" x 0.74" x 9.21")
Hardback156 x 22 x 234 mm(6.14" x 0.88" x 9.21")


Paperback1142g (40.28oz)
Hardback1530g (53.97oz)



OCLC Number





  • D
  • DS
  • DSC


  • LIT000000
  • LIT014000
  • LIT004120


  • PR5907


  • William Butler Yeats
  • poetry
  • twentieth century
  • Ireland
  • the occult
  • T. S. Eliot
  • W. H. Auden
  • life
  • death
  • close reading
  • eroticism
  • Muse
  • Maud Gonne
  • plays
  • poems
  • Petrarch
  • Romantics
  • spirituality
  • Blake
  • Nietzsche
  • Donne
  • the thinking of the body
  • Anglophone literature

Making the Void Fruitful

Yeats as Spiritual Seeker and Petrarchan Lover

  • Patrick J. Keane (author)
Shedding fresh light on the life and work of William Butler Yeats—widely acclaimed as the major English-language poet of the twentieth century—this new study by leading scholar Patrick J. Keane questions established understandings of the Irish poet’s long fascination with the occult: a fixation that repelled literary contemporaries T.S. Eliot and W.H. Auden, but which enhanced Yeats’s vision of life and death.

Through close reading of selected poems, the first section of Making the Void Fruitful assesses Yeats’s spiritualised treatment of corporeal themes, exploring sex and eroticism as the expression of a duality inherent to his ontological and supernatural convictions. The power-producing tension in Yeats’s work is not only intellectual but emotional. At its vital centre is his Muse: the beautiful political firebrand, Maud Gonne, whose activist Republican politics he considered his one real rival. Through close engagement with the poems and plays she inspired, the second section explores Yeats’s complex relationship with Maud, an obsessive and unrequited love which he sublimated and transformed into the greatest body of Muse poetry since Petrarch, in whose tradition of spiritualized eroticism Yeats, perhaps the last of the great Romantics, was consciously writing.

Shaped by the conviction that no modern poet exceeded Yeats in animating the enduring themes of love and spirituality through poetry, this book emphasises the influence, of Blake, Nietzsche, and John Donne, on what Yeats called ‘the thinking of the body’. Grounded firmly in the textual materiality of Yeats’s oeuvre, this book will be of interest to researchers and students of W.B. Yeats, as well as to those in the fields of Anglophone literatures and cultures, and philosophy.


*Keane is a superb reader, observant of detail, sensitive to form, and always alert to the complex conversation through which a writer like Yeats finds his place in a tradition. *

Terence Diggory

Professor Emeritus of English, Skidmore College and author of Yeats & American Poetry: The Tradition of the Self


Having written on Yeats before in the insightful and wide-ranging Yeats's Interactions with Tradition, Keane is learned in both the tradition of English poetry and the poetry of W. B. Yeats....We have yet to absorb what Yeats achieved in his poetry. Keane is helping us move towards an intelligent absorption in an age that is increasingly resistant to the truth of how the spiritual and the erotic, the sacred and the profane, continue to intersect....Keane places Yeats in the line of Donne, Dryden, Pope, Blake, Keats, and Shelley...When Keane does bring in Irish history or Irish writers like Seamus Heaney and Swift to bear on his argument, he does so with depth and insight....[In discussing Yeats's cryptic poem, 'Fragments',]. Keane ably shows that Yeats, the Post-Romantic Modernist, inverts Pope's celebration of the Newtonian worldview by making darkness rather than light the source of mystical knowledge.

Literature & History, vol. 31, no. 2, 2022. doi:10.1177/03061973221140088

Full Review


  • Patrick Keane

3. The Seeker

(pp. 37–50)
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Preface to Part Two

(pp. 107–110)
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8. Poet and Muse

(pp. 111–122)
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