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Symbols for Yeats Were Conduits to a World of Platonic Forms

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Alan Mastou

topic-statements.

“In resolving his inherent contradictions in an equally ambivalent world, Yeats writes introspective poetry with universal significance.”

“In his fundamental search for truth, emotional repose and intellectual fulfillment, Yeats encounters conflict and quarrels within himself that find release in poetic expression.”

 

“Symbols for Yeats were conduits to a world of platonic forms.”

“Every poem embodies a schematization of his way of living and seeing.”

“Through his strongly individualized poetry, Yeats sought evidence that an ideal world existed in an age that was fairly complacent about actuality; he wanted to show that current faith in reason and logic ignored a far more important human faculty, the imagination.”

“Yeats inculcates an arrant subjectivism in his poetry to convey an invariably iconoclastic message.”

“His themes are most clearly the general ones of life and death, love and hate, man’s condition and history’s meanings.”

“In a career that spanned the Victorian and modern worlds, Yeats demonstrated how a poet can reflect the various concerns of his age while maintaining a distinctive voice”

“Yeats poetry arises out of an inherent antithesis between skepticism and the need for belief, between reason and the imagination.”

“Yeats strived to achieve a poetic system that could unite the real and the ideal.”

“The oscillation between the ideal world or art, beauty and the spiritual and the opposing pull of the real world shape Yeats’ thought and poetry.”

“Yeats’ poetry is profoundly concerned with the friction between inner conciousness and external event.”

“Recognition of the literary, biographical, intellectual cultural and historical contexts enriches any reading of Yeats’ poems.”

“Identity for Yeats was a question of incessant conflict and re-construction.”

“Self for Yeats is never merely personal; it always links with wider cultural and political formations.”

“Yeats’ poems often build into themselves an awareness that self-quarelling is the mainspring of poetic creativity.”

“Self persues its opposite in order to obtain a wholeness that eludes it.”

“Yeats dwells on a convergence of opposites.”

“Yeats speaks across time, culture, space, gender and beliefs: it contains and expresses timeless truths which are valued by human beings universally.”

Poems set for Study

Wild Swans at Coole

Analysis

Themes/Concerns: Mortality/mutability. (“Alls changed since I first made my count.”)

Preoccupations: Time and change, Love, Old Age.

Main ideas: The persona contrasts himself with 58 swans, who give the illusion of immortality. (“their hearts have not grown old.”)

Tone: Weary, despondent and disillusioned. “Heart is sore.”

Point of View: First person. (“I” and “my” etc.) Contributes to the solemn, solitary tone.

Symbolism: Swans are symbols of power, grace, beauty, tranquility and immortality.

Yeats’ Philosophies: Gyres. “Wheeling in great broken rings.” Yeats is the primary gyre of mortality, juxtaposed with the anthetical gyre of immortality and timelessness created by the swans.

Poetic Techniques: Repetition: Prolongs imagery and emphasises ideas. Repitition of ‘ing’ prolongs wheeling image, while repititon of ‘still’ emphasises a balance between calmness and eternity.

Biographical Reading.

No author, but biographical critics include Ellman, Jeffares.  

Explanation: This poem was written in October 1916. Yeats is rememvering the first time he visited Lady Gregory and stayed at COole Parke in 1897. At this time he was grieving over the fact that Maude Gonne had refused his proposal of marriage. He wrote at that period: “I was involved in a miserable love affair… My health was giving way, my nerves had been wrecked.” (Dramatis Personae, 1935)

        19 years later, back at COole park, he was again at a point of crisis in his relationship with Maude. Her (estranged) husband, John MacBride had just been executed in May by the British Military for his part in the eaester 1916 Irish rebellion. Now that Macbride was dead, Maude could remarry. She refused Yeats’ proposal. Yeats even turned his intentions to her adult daughter, Iseult. Everything about the swans contrasts with Yeats own situation.

Values implied in this type of reading: Poetry is a medium for personal confession and purgation.

  • Poem of contemplation, reminiscence and preparation
  • STANZA ONE: “Trees are in their autumn beauty…” – Indicating promise, but awareness of death and cycle of life: spring, summer, AUTUMN, winter
  • STANZA TWO: “I have looked upon those brilliant creatures, and now my heart is sore…” – Yeats has visited the area 19 times now; before this visit, it was a source of rejuvenating fruition for him just by watching him, but now everything has changed
  • STANZA THREE: “All’s changed since I, hearing at twilight…the bell-beat of their wings…” – Yeats had a different reaction to the splendour of the swans, but with age and sorrow ailing him, he can no longer emulate his youthful delights.
  • STANZA FOUR: “Lover by lover…companionable streams…passion or conquest, wander where they will…” – Yeats highlights the graceful qualities of the swans, which have left him – the piece was written after Maud Gonne rejected WB for the second time; therefore, Yeats both juxtaposes and relates.
  • The swans are gyrating in this poem, with Yeats allowing himself to diminish emotionally and physically: “…when I wake some day to find they have flown away?”
  • CRITICAL READING by DONALD STAUFFER (1949, ‘On the Wild Swans at Coole and the swan image of Yeats’): A poem that can be read on many levels: a) aesthetically pleasing, or b) technically interesting
  • 1 – structure is found in antithesis between the swans and their beholder, and between the beholder at present and 19 years ago 
  • 2 – a pattern is built in contrast between moods: since only man feels such contrasts, the found antithesis is between transient man and eternity
  • 3 – the contrast between masculine and feminine line endings – hard and soft, respectively – two pairs of half-rhymes, and rhythm of unanalysable lines add to a technically brilliant poem
  • 4 – contrasting ideas of WANDERING and PERMANANCE
  • 5 – for Yeats, watching/hearing the swans is a process of self-maturing; the swans do not change their clamorous qualities, or paddling/climbing – unlike Yeats, “passion and conquest” serve the creatures, rather than driven characteristics
  • 6 – anything in Yeats’s work takes on more significance if his views beyond the text are known
  • 7 – “wheeling in great broken rings’, Yeats brings back his adoration of the gyre to focus introspectively

Easter 1916

Analysis

Main Ideas: Illuminates Yeats’ inner turmoil as he presents a paradoxical assessment of the nationalist uprising of 1916 and its consequences.

Preoccupations: Time and change, Love.

Point of View: First person. Speaks directly to reader. Intensely personal and intimate.

Poetic Techniques: Oxymoron (“terrible beauty”) Establishes amibuity.

                        Anonymity of the victims in the second stanza.

Form: Elegy. Establishes a solemn tone and reverence for the victims.

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