Yeats and Symbolism
Born in 1865, William Butler Yeats was an Irish poet and playwright and one of the twentieth century’s foremost literary masters. Yeats is partly credited with the Irish Literary Revival and was awarded a Nobel Prize in Literature. Even though he rejected Christianity, Yeats was spiritual; he developed a unique, philosophical belief system that emphasized fate, historical determinism, and the notion that history is cyclical; Yeats eventually began using the image of a gyre to represent his spiritual canon. Yeats believed that the era he lived in was the end of the Christian-Cycle of the world and the beginning of the Human-Cycle. Much of Yeat’s inspiration was derived from mythologies, mysticism, and the occult of Ireland and other cultures, Christianity included; other inspiration, in his later years, developed from the Irish Rebellion, the Russian Revolution, World War I, and other political matters of his era. Much of the symbolism Yeats uses draws heavily from his metaphysical beliefs; he used well-known symbols to get his point across as well as cryptic and ambiguous symbols to keep his works relevant throughout time. In the poems “The Second Coming” and “Sailing to Byzantium”, Yeats uses symbolism to make poignant, haunting statements on the contemporary issues of his time involving society and human existence that, by his own design, are still relevant today.
In the poem “The Second Coming”, Yeats is waxing poetic over the chaos created by war and political strife. His belief in historical determinism is hinted at with the line “Turning and turning in the widening gyre”. It’s also a reference to his cyclical beliefs in that, the conclusion of one era is the beginning of the next, which is strengthened by the next line: “The falcon cannot hear the falconer,” an allusion that can be construed as the worker-classes ignoring their rulers. Put together, these two lines symbolize the wars and revolutions that plagued Europe during...
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