What kind of poet do you think Yeats is? Explain your answer with reference to some of his poems.

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Yeats in his prime was a poet with an incredible control over words and symbols, and he has been described by some critics as a "realist-symbolist-Metaphysical poet." Consider, for example, the ways in which symbols play such an important part in his work. Symbols such as spirals, that may take the form of winding stairs or spinning tops or "gyres" abound in his poetry written in the 1920s and 1930s, and it is clear that these become an expression of Yeats' philosophy and also a way in which he seeks to resolve some of the contrary forces that became such a focus for him in his earlier life. Note for example how the symbol of the winding stair works. Ascending a winding stair allows the repetition of familiar ground, but from a superior vantage point. The journey of life is both shown to be repetitive, but also progressive in this sense. Yeats uses such spiral images to explore the paradoxes that lie at the heart of conditions common to all humans, such as change and time, love and age and madness and wisdom. Note how these themes are explored in "The Winding Stair," which is perhaps the most famous of Yeats' poems which uses the symbol of a spiral staircase:

I am content to live it all again
And yet again, if it be life to pitch
Into the frog-spawn of a blind man's ditch,
A blind man battering blind men...

The symbol of the spiral staircase thus expresses the repetition in life but also the way that aging changes life. Yeats also in this quote presents his rather grim view on life as being "A blind man battering blind men," signifying his rather grim vision of what life is all about. Yeats is therefore a poet who is deeply symbolic, and who uses symbolism to express his rather oppressive vision of life and the nature of what it means to be human in the harsh world we find ourselves in.

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