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Abstract

In the era of #MeToo and #SayHerName, internet “callout culture,”1 Trumpism, Brexit, and an unprecedented global crisis of forced displacement—all abundantly represented in various forms of media—many college students are endlessly tuned-in to the most recent culture wars. Why and how do we teach W. B. Yeats today? I studied Yeats’s “Leda and the Swan” (1924) in college as a poem about myth, centered on an epistemological question: “Did she put on his knowledge with his power[…]?” My students today consider it a “rape poem.” We celebrate the centennial of Yeats’s even-more-famous “The Second Coming” (1919), a poem I studied as a prophetic revision of the Christian apocalypse for the post-World War I moment. My current students worry about Yeats being sacrilegious and exemplifying cultural appropriation with his use of stereotypical imagery of the Middle East. Did I even recognize that the poem was set in the Middle East when I was in college? I have long acknowledged that my students teach me as much as I teach them, and that literature’s power and relevance become evident as it impacts subsequent generations in different ways.

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