Yeats, Eliot, and The Idea of Tradition

Edward Larrissy

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, Eliot, and The Idea of Tradition

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  • Literature
  • Literary Studies (20th Century onwards)
  • Literary Studies (Poetry and Poets)


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The poetry of T. S. Eliot tells us something about W. B. Yeats's relationship to critical and aesthetic tendencies that were operative in Ireland, Britain, America, and continental Europe from the 1890s onwards. The two Irish poets both felt the need to respond to the innovations of French symbolism, especially as interpreted by Arthur Symons in The Symbolist Movement in Literature. A problem shared by Yeats and Eliot was that of relating what is, in its essentials, a modern picture of the mind to tradition. This chapter compares the views of Yeats and Eliot with respect to tradition, first looking at romanticism, focusing on what idea of romantic poetry is being promoted and how it is linked to nation. It then examines the implications of ‘country spiritism’. The chapter concludes by reflecting on the idea of culture in Yeats and Eliot based on the former's comments on Henry Grattan and John O'Leary.

Keywords: poetry; W. B. Yeats; T. S. Eliot; tradition; culture; Ireland; symbolism; romanticism; country spiritism; Arthur Symons

Article.  8746 words. 

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

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