Comment on Yeats’ Use of Symbols

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The Lake Isle of Innisfree is a notable literary work by William Butler Yeats. A complete discussion of this literary work is given, which will help you enhance your literary skills and prepare for the exam. Read the main text, key info, Summary, Themes, Characters, Literary Devices, Quotations, Notes, to various questions of The Lake Isle of Innisfree.


Write a note on the symbols used by Yeats with references to the poem you have read.” 

Or Critically Comment on Yeats’ Use of Symbols. 

W. B. Yeats has been described as a symbolist. 

One of the most significant poets of 20th-century literature is W. B. Yeats (1835-1939). The idea of the symbol is prominent in understanding his poems. The French Symbolists influenced him, and he is also considered the most significant symbolist poet of the twentieth century.

Symbolism: A word has two meanings: “original and targeted”. Symbolism is the study of the targeted meaning of the words. For example, white is a colour that symbolically indicates purity; likewise, the dove is a bird but symbolizes peace.

According to the Cambridge Dictionary, “symbol is a sign, shape or object that is used to represent something else which means to represent a quality or idea”. The wheel in the Indian flag is a symbol of peace.

Purpose of Yeats’ Symbols in his Poetry: W. B. Yeats wrote an essay, “The Symbolism of Poetry,” published in 1900, in which he recounted the function of symbols in his poetry: “evocation and suggestion”. In the poem “Upon a Dying Lady,” Yeats himself says that he does not speak but only uses symbols that make the poem unique.

Prospects of Symbols in Yeats’ Poetry: Yeats’ poetry is full of symbols, and he is a symbolist from the artistic sense of the words, that’s why his symbols have multiple aspects or prospects.

The Aspect of the Total Mood: The symbol in Yeats’ poems serves as an aspect of total mood that conveys his symbols’ intellectual and emotional qualities. Because of the symbols’ total mood, he has repeatedly returned to specific images and symbols such as the stone, bird, tree, wind, sea, colours, etc. Besides, the title of Yeats’s poems is symbolic and allusive, too. “Easter 1916” and “The Second Coming” of the collection of poetry “Michael Robartes and the Dancer” are such poems.

Wherever green is worn,
Are changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.

Here, in these lines, green is an emotional symbol of the memory of the martyrs of the independent movement, and terrible beauty is an oxymoron-based intellectual symbol for freedom or good governance. So, the prospect of total mood signifies purity and sovereignty.

Unification and Perfection: For the conjunction of the real and the ideal, Byzantium has been used as unity and perfection. The poet means that a world of art can defeat the traditional concepts of birth, generation, and death and ultimately move to immortality.

It knows not what it is, and gathers me
Into the artifice of eternity.

These last two lines of the poem “Sailing to Byzantium,” included in the collection of poetry “The Tower,” clarify the poet’s decision of unification and perfection with ideality.

Supernatural Prospect: As we know, Yeats’ symbols have versatile aspects, and his creative faculty cannot be satisfied with only ritual and hypnotic symbols. He has been able to give his images of the occult deeply connected to the richness of man’s most profound reality with them. His famous poems “The Second Coming, A Prayer for My Daughter, No Second Troy,” etc. are replete with the occult aspect of symbols.

Indeed, some revelation is at hand;
Surely, the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi

Spiritus Mundi is the best emblem occult prospect to reform the world with a civilized governing system vanquishing anarchy and autocracy.

Magical Mystery: The most outstanding aspect of Yeats’ symbols is the magical mystery. It has been appreciated for the particular purpose of his poetry. In the poem “A Song of the Rosy Cross”, the poet means to say that his beloved has unusual beauty and he has an obligation or responsibility of suffering and pain, which he can find that for the archetype of perfect union, his suffering and pain in love help him for being more patient.

He measures gain and loss,
When he gave to thee the rose,
Gave to me alone the cross.

In conclusion, W.B. Yeats’ use of symbols is a hallmark of his poetry and plays, contributing to their depth and richness. While his symbols can be challenging and esoteric, they invite readers to explore themes of identity, spirituality, history, and the human condition. Yeats’ symbolism stays a subject of fascination and interpretation, making his works enduring sources of literary and intellectual inquiry.