In a recent conversation with Seamus Heaney, I made the point that after Roy Foster's monumental biography of Yeats, any further efforts at biography had been well and truly silenced. The advent of Bill McCormack's book, Blood Kindred, made me think again.

Source: https://www.independent.ie/opinion/analysis/the-fascist-leanings-of-w-b-yeats-25976745.html

Can you help me with understanding the meaning of the bolded passage? Is the meaning that Foster's biography is so great and brilliant that any next try to write a new biography would hardly overcome the one written by Foster? If so, why the past perfect ("had been well and truly silenced") is used?


The conversation took place in the past. The writer is using reported speech ("I made the point that..."). When using reported (indirect) speech, tenses are shifted back so that e.g. past simple (e.g. "were silenced") in the original speech, about a past event, becomes past perfect progressive ("had been silenced"). Consider: The mayor says "I was stupid to believe that the bridge would be finished on time". The next day, a newspaper says "The mayor said that he had been stupid to believe that the bridge would be finished on time".

Reported speech

  • Thanks for your explanation but one note. I thought that the reported speech was as follows: I made the point: "Any any further efforts at biography will be well and truly silenced". That it was the conversation about the biography that can be written in the future. – bart-leby Feb 15 at 18:48
  • If the original speech was "Any further efforts at biography will be well and truly silenced", then it would be reported as ""Any further efforts at biography would be well and truly silenced" – Michael Harvey Feb 15 at 19:03
  • Yes, I know this rule. But in this case, I probably did not catch the meaning of the sentence. I thought that "further efforts" are the biographies that would be just written. So I would await the reported speech as you have just mentioned. – bart-leby Feb 15 at 19:42

I agree that from this context the Yeats biography by Roy Foster was considered great, and this was why other people did not have the ability to write any other biographies of Yeats- theirs would likely not measure up to Foster’s. I understand the bolded part to mean “any additional attempts at writing biographies of Yeats were unsuccessful prior to the time I spoke with Seamus Heaney.” The past perfect is used because it is a more distant past than the author’s conversation with Seamus Heaney. But sometime after having this conversation (more recently), the author discovered “Blood Kindred,” probably another Yeats biography that was just as good or better than Roy Foster’s biography.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.