But there are also many of his poems that I love that I probably wouldn't enjoy as much if I didn't know what almost everything is intended to mean and how they connect with his life. For example, I would have been baffled by the middle portion of "Circus Animals' Desertion" if I didn't know they referred to his plays (which I haven't read), or that the Leda in "Among School Children" referred to Maud Gonne.
But an example of a poem in which the meaning really has nothing to do with my enjoyment is the strange "On a Picture of a Black Centaur by Edmund Dulac:"
YOUR hooves have stamped at the black margin of the wood, Even where horrible green parrots call and swing. My works are all stamped down into the sultry mud. I knew that horse-play, knew it for a murderous thing. What wholesome sun has ripened is wholesome food to eat, And that alone; yet I, being driven half insane Because of some green wing, gathered old mummy wheat In the mad abstract dark and ground it grain by grain And after baked it slowly in an oven; but now I bring full-flavoured wine out of a barrel found Where seven Ephesian topers slept and never knew When Alexander's empire passed, they slept so sound. Stretch out your limbs and sleep a long Saturnian sleep; I have loved you better than my soul for all my words, And there is none so fit to keep a watch and keep Unwearied eyes upon those horrible green birds.
There is some pretty intense music going on here. For example, the nearly double beat of "black margin" echoes the open 'a' sound of "stamped," surrounded by the double 'oo' sound of "hooves" and "wood." In the next line, the simplicity of saying "call and swing" after having to say "horrible green parrots" is fantastic. It's a poem I've loved to read because of the music, and how the words feel in my mouth, but I really have no idea what it's about. I mean, each line is intelligible, and presumably Yeats is writing this after having seen a painting by Dulac, and if he says he's been grinding "old mummy wheat," I'm fine with that.
Recently, though, curiosity got the better of me, and I read up on what this poem is supposed to actually mean. None of it was terribly interesting, although apparently the scene Yeats describes was an amalgamation of two different paintings, and there's a lot of connection to some occult friends of his. All very boring and almost disappointing that the fantastic imagery here could be dismembered as belonging to occult friends, paintings A and B, etc.
It's strange how meaning works in relation to music. It's even the case in opera -- there's a nonobvious connection between meaning of the music, and the literal meaning. I suppose that is how Callas could deliver fantastic performances even when she fudged up some of the words!