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Use of Symbols in Yeats's Work, A Vision Essay

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Use of Symbols in Yeats's Work, A Vision


In his 1901 essay "Magic", Yeats writes, "I cannot now think symbols less than the greatest of all powers whether they are used consciously by the masters of magic, or half unconsciously by their successors, the poet, the musician and the artist" (p. 28). Later, in his introduction to A Vision, he explains, "I put the Tower and the Winding Stair together into evidence to show that my poetry has gained in self possession and power. I owe this change to an incredible experience" (Vision p.8). The experience he goes on to relate is the preliminary stage of the composition of the work itself. In A Vision, however, Yeats exhibits his poetic power as well, along with his knowledge of mysticism and affinity for symbology to illustrate the behavior of the forces of human consciousness and history. He ties these two cycles together into the overarching symbol of the work: the Great Wheel. This is a symbol that Yeats uses not only to explain the cycles of one individual's life, but also through the same motions, to explain the cyclical movement of the centuries, and the conjunction of certain historical events. When asked about the factual reality of his cosmological descriptions, he replies that they are "purely symbolical ... [and] have helped me to hold in a single thought reality and justice" (Vision p.25). Though to a large extent obscure and complicated, these symbols are paramount to an understanding not only of the ideas contained in A Vision, also the thought process Yeats conveys in much of his poetry.

The Great Wheel consists of and contains two opposing gyres, the primary and the antithetical, objectivity and subjectivity, which turn in opposite directions, the two...


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...mary vein, men worshipping idols of far away deities, or return to its antithetical predecessor, in which man's idols seen as are actual living beings captured in myth. Eventually, he resigns himself to not knowing for certain what the future of mankind will be. He concludes "The particulars are the work of the thirteenth sphere, which is in every man and called by every man his freedom. Doubtless, for it can do all things and know all things, it knows what it will do with its own freedom, but it has kept the secret" (Vision p. 302).


Works Cited:

Adams, Hazard. The Book of Yeats's Vision. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1995.

Yeats, W.B. A Vision. New York: Macmillan, 1956.

Yeats, W.B. The Poems. ed. Richard J. Finneran. New York: Macmillan, 1990.

Yeats, W.B. "Magic". Essays and Introductions. New York: Macmillan, 1961. pp. 28-52.


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