William Butler Yeats (1865-1939) was an Irish poet, playwright, and politician whose work is characterized by its use of myth and symbolism. In this essay, we will explore the role of myth and symbolism in Yeats' poetry and examine the ways in which these elements contribute to the themes and meanings of his work.One of the most distinctive features of Yeats' poetry is its use of myth and folklore. Yeats was deeply interested in the myths and legends of his native Ireland, and he often drew on these sources for inspiration in his poetry. In poems like "The Second Coming" (1919) and "Sailing to Byzantium" (1928), Yeats employs mythic imagery and themes to explore deeper questions about the nature of existence and the human experience.
For Yeats, myth served as a way to connect to the deeper truths and universal themes of the human experience. He believed that myth was a powerful tool for understanding the complexities of the world and for finding meaning in life. As he wrote in his essay "The Symbolism of Poetry" (1900), "the symbols of poetry, like the symbols of all art, are the symbols of man's nature, and of the nature of the world he lives in" (Yeats and Symbolism 20).
In addition to his use of myth, Yeats' poetry is also notable for its use of symbolism. Symbols, like myths, are a way of representing deeper ideas and themes, and Yeats' poetry is full of symbolic imagery and allusions. For example, in "The Second Coming," the image of a falcon "turning and turning in the widening gyre" (Yeats and Symbolism 23) is often interpreted as a symbol of the breakdown of order and the rise of chaos.
Yeats' use of myth and symbolism is closely linked to his interest in the occult and the esoteric. Throughout his career, Yeats was a member of various occult societies and was deeply interested in the ideas of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. This interest is reflected in his poetry, which is full of references to tarot, alchemy, and other esoteric subjects.
In conclusion, the use of myth and symbolism is a central element of Yeats' poetry. By drawing on mythic and symbolic imagery, Yeats was able to explore the deeper themes and meanings of his work and to connect to the universal truths of the human experience. His use of myth and symbolism has contributed to his enduring popularity and has made him one of the most beloved and influential poets of the 20th century.
1. Yeats, W.B. "The Second Coming." 1919.
2. Yeats, W.B. "Sailing to Byzantium." 1928.
3. Yeats, W.B. "The Symbolism of Poetry." 1900. In The Collected Works of W.B. Yeats: Volume 1, edited by Richard J. Finneran, 20-25. New York: Scribner, 1996.
4. Yeats, W.B. and Symbolism. The Encyclopedia of Literature, edited by Miriam Van Scott, vol. 10, 2nd ed., Macmillan Reference USA, 2014, pp. 866-868.