The Bird Image in Yeats' Poems

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Jan. 30, 2011 The Symbol of Soul
—The bird image in Yeats’ poetry
The poetry of William Butler Yeats is permeated by symbolism and mysticism which are attributed to his manipulation of various images. The image of birds crowns among the imageries of his poetry and is endowed with the poets’ profound philosophies. The bird as the symbol of soul is a heritage of classical writings. In Golden Bough, Sir James Frazer comments on the subject, “Often the Soul is conceived as a bird ready to take flight. This conception has probably left traces in most languages, and it lingers as a metaphor in poetry” (33-34).Yeats’ adaption of the bird image, therefore, echoes the traditional and universal values, which facilitates readers to make sense of his otherwise obscure, complex and mysterious poetry. In light of Yeats’ gyre theory of the universe, a close study of Yeats’ poems respectively written in three stages of the poet’s life demonstrates the bird-soul symbolism in three transformed phases of the poet’s beliefs evolving from idealism, eternity to reincarnation.

1. Idealism of Early Yeats
It is obvious that the basic meanings of birds in Yeats’ writings are the ancient ones, standing for ideal paradise of soul filled with love, freedom as well as desire in Yeats’ early poetry. Yeats enjoys a very familiar relationship with legends and folklores since his childhood. Young Yeats observes in an early essay, “Folk-lore makes the souls of the blessed take upon themselves every evening the shape of white birds…” (qtd. Allen118). One of his early poems, The White Birds gives an evident testament to the poet’s personal expression in the image of white birds as he wishes he and his lover could transform into white birds to escape from social and political constraint into a fairyland and to...
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