The poetry of William Butler Yeats is underscored by a fundamental commitment to philosophical exploration. Yeats maintained that the art of poetry existed only in the movement through and beyond thought. Through the course of his life, Yeats' aesthetic vision was in flux; it moved and evolved as well. His poetry reflects this evolution. The need to achieve totality, a wholeness, through art would become his most basic aesthetic philosophy. His poetry dwells on separation only to eventually present a sense of unity. It is in this manner that Yeats is able to do what few philosophers and poets have ever done: reconcile reason and sensibility. This paradox present in his aesthetic ideal protects his poetry from stagnation and keeps his art alive. Yeats had the courage "to explore the fundamental entanglement of life and art" (Garab 56).
One of Yeats' first aesthetic statements was in "To The Rose Upon the Rood of Time", written in 1889. Eternal beauty, the red rose, thrives on sacrifice. It is hung upon the cross of time, possibly a symbol of self-sacrifice. In the first stanza,
Yeats seems to want a fusion with this archetypal beauty. "Come near me, while I sing the ancient ways:" (Yeats 71). The second stanza, however, qualifies this desire. The poet wants to be able to appreciate common aspects of life. Distance is needed for him to preserve this appreciation. One can find beauty in the commonplace, but the rose is ultimately a "higher" form of beauty, a model for aesthetics that "the weak worm hiding down in its small cave" cannot achieve (Yeats 72).
Yeats' desire for the timeless beauty embodied in the rose increased...
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Garab, Arra M. Beyond Byzantium: The Last Phase of Yeats' Career. Dekalb Illinois: Northern Illinois University Press, 1969.
Houghton, Walter E. "Yeats and Crazy Jane: The Hero in Old Age,", XL, 4 (May, 1943), University of Chicago Press. Rpt. in. The Permanence of Yeats. James Hall and Martin Steinmann Ed., New York: Collier Books, 1961.
---. Modern Poems. Richard Ellman and Robert O'Clair Ed. New York: W.W. Norton and Co., 1989.
Nietzsche, Friedrich. Beyond Good and Evil. Walter Kaufman trans. New York: Vontage Books, 1989.
Yeats, William Butler. Wheels and Butterflies. New York: Macmillan Co., 1934.
Zwerdling, Alex. "W.B. Yeats: Variations on the Visionary Quest." Rpt in Yeats: A Collection of Critical Essays. John Unterecker Ed. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice Hall, Inc., 1963.
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