William Butler Yeats Questions and Answers

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"William Butler Yeats is essentially a poet of symbols, using an elaborate symbolic system of his own devising"; discuss.

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All poetry essentially uses symbols to encapsulate and condense universal truths into a concise observation.  The entire Jungian approach to psychology/anthropology is based on a universal understanding of a set of symbols – sun, night, tree, star, etc.  What makes Yeats’ symbology unique is the way he finds personal incidents in his life that serve as individual symbols for him, which his poetry then transforms into an understanding of the way the world works for the reader.  For example, the “widening gyre” of the falcon’s flight (obviously a personal memory for Yeats) becomes a symbol for the breakdown of order in the Irish sociopolitical system of his time.  Again, the “wild swans of Coole” from his childhood become a symbol for the need for companionship and natural order.  Many of his personal symbols have over the years become more universal – the “wild beast” “slouching toward Bethlehem” has become a world-wide symbol for the fear of an impending doom, even a collapse of Western culture.  Finally, consider Yeats’ personal incident when he saw a coat on a coathanger; as an adult, he sees that hollow figure as a symbol of the body without a soul. 

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