W B Yeats – on his philosophy

W B Yeats 1885 – 1939 … a symbolist (Ezra Pound) … W  B Yeats the most cited name in The Oxford Illustrated History of Ireland.

Here are some words from Yeats on his philosophy and thinking on poetry.

‘A poet writes always of his private life’ … the autobiographical component transmuted by storytelling, fantasy, symbol and also history. I would tend to agree with this in that everything we say and write defines us in some way or other.

Yeats claimed that ‘all sounds, all colours, all forms … evoke indefinable and yet precise emotions … because an emotion does not exist until it has found an expression … poets, painters, and musicians … are continually making and unmaking mankind’

In an essay on the philosophy of Shelley’s Poetry he wrote …

‘It is only by ancient symbols, by symbols which have numberless meanings … that any highly subject art can escape from the barrenness and shallowness of a too conscious arrangement, into the abundance and depth of nature’.

He believed there to be emotional and intellectual symbols … often personal … a product of an external force … evoking the shared human mind and memory (similar in ways to Jung’s collective unconscious)

In poetry it is symbolism that has the power to move people. I would argue that it is the association invoked by the symbolism that develops an emotive response by the reader.

He was certain that ‘imagination has some way of alighting on the truth that reason has not’

… and also intuition (my comment)

‘Symbolism began with the first words uttered by the first man, as he named every living thing; or before then in heaven when God named the world into being’

From Symons – The Symbolist Movement in Literature 1900

Concerning his basic philosophy … Yeats’ three famous beliefs …

1 … that the borders of our mind are ever shifting and that many minds can flow into one another … and create or reveal a single mind, or single energy.

 2 … that the borders of our memories are as shifting, memories are part of one great memory, the memory of Nature herself.

 3 … that this great mind, memory can be invoked by symbols.

From ‘Magic’ essays and introductions’ … dated 1901 pp. 33,60

Those with a positive outlook might equate the essence of such a single mind to be that of beauty, of order, of joy, of healing, and of course love itself … and for the religious a spiritual communal dimension. Any intuitive thoughts?

Yeats also had an association with the occult …and I think this may have influenced Ted Hughes in his experimentation at university.

Yeats had an image for Ireland based on an agrarian society with few politician and tradesmen and a dominant class based on the landed gentry.

Other References:

Critics on Yeats – Readings in Literary Criticism ISBN 0 04 801012 X
The Twentieth Century in Poetry – Peter Childs ISBN 0 415 17101 6

God is not Nature, Nature God
But Nature product of the same
That from itself a God became
Of beauty beyond any name

Your word in my ear ...

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