Yeats and Symbolism

Warwick Gould

in The Oxford Handbook of Modern Irish Poetry

Published in print October 2012 | ISBN: 9780199561247
Published online January 2013 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks of Literature

Yeats and Symbolism

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  • Literary Studies (20th Century onwards)
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W. B. Yeats's early poetry, particularly The Wind Among the Reeds (1899), is often considered ‘symbolist’. As the underlying poetic mode, symbolism brings forty-six pages of notes to sixty-two pages of poems in The Wind Among the Reeds. Yeats wrote an essay entitled ‘The Symbolism of Poetry’ in 1900 in response to Arthur Symons's The Symbolist Movement in Literature. Symons took his point of departure from Thomas Carlyle's remark in Sartor Resartus (1831): ‘It is in and through Symbols that man, consciously or unconsciously lives, works, and has his being...’. In another essay, ‘A Symbolic Artist and the Coming of Symbolic Art’, Yeats offers an unambiguous clue to his thought on symbolism. The essay was for The Dome of December 1898 on the work of Althea Gyles, the designer of the symbolical covers of The Wind Among the Reeds, The Secret Rose (1897), and Poems (1899).

Keywords: W. B. Yeats; poetry; symbolism; Arthur Symons; Thomas Carlyle; Althea Gyles; Wind Among Reeds

Article.  11311 words. 

Subjects: Literature ; Literary Studies (20th Century onwards) ; Literary Studies (Poetry and Poets)

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