William Butler Yeats's 'The Symbolic System' of William Blake

By Antonielli, Arianna | Estudios Irlandeses - Journal of Irish Studies, Annual 2008 | Go to article overview

William Butler Yeats's 'The Symbolic System' of William Blake


Antonielli, Arianna, Estudios Irlandeses - Journal of Irish Studies


Abstract. The theosophical systems formulated by great poets, such as William Blake and William Butler Yeats, represent a personal idiosyncratic actualization of an ancient repertoire of magical symbols and occult visions. This study wants to focus the attention on the philosophical, mythical, and esoteric syncretism that W. B. Yeats drew from William Blake's symbolical system. A fundamental step of Yeats's deep investigation into the Blakean 'vision' was given by his monumental work, written together with Edwin John Ellis, on Blake's poetic and pictorial production, completed in 1893 with a three-volume edition entitled The Works of William Blake, Poetic, Symbolic, and Critical. This work, published in London by Bernard Quaritch, deeply influenced Yeats's symbolical and imaginary system, determining its subsequent development up to its codification in the volume of A Vision. With WWB, Yeats was able to systematize for the first time his own thought, giving unity to his Weltanschauung and his poetry. Following this hypothesis, I concentrated on Yeats's and Ellis's numerous analyses dedicated to Blake's mythological and symbolical corpus and, in particular, I examined the last chapter of the first volume of the Quaritch edition. This chapter, entitled "The Symbolic System", constitutes an unquestionable link between Yeats the reader and scholar of Blake, and Yeats the poet and follower of Blake.

Keywords. Cosmology, fall, mysticism, mythology, magic, occultism, symbolism, vision

Resumen. Los sistemas teosoficos formulados por grandes poetas, tales como William Blake y William Butler Yeats, representan una personal e idiosincrasica actualizacion de un antiguo repertoire de simbolos magicos y visiones ocultas. Este estudio centra su atencion en el sincretismo filosofico, mitico y esoterico que W. B. Yeats concibio partiendo del sistema simbolico de William Blake. La profunda investigacion llevada a cabo por Yeats sobre la 'vision' de Blake avanzo crucialmente con el monumental trabajo, escrito conjuntamente con Edwin John Ellis, que fue completado en 1893 tras la edicion de tres volumenes bajo el titulo: La obra poetica, simbolica y critica de William Blake. Este estudio, publicado en Londres por Bernard Quaritch, influyo profundamente en el sistema simbolico e imaginario de Yeats, determinando el desarrollo posterior del mismo hasta llegar a su codificacion en el volumen Una Vision. Con Las obras de William Blake, Yeats logro sistematizar por primera vez su propio pensamiento, y dio unidad a su Weltanschauung y a su poesia. Basandome en esta hipotesis, me he concentrado en los numerosos analisis de Yeats y Ellis dedicados al corpus mitologico y simbolico de Blake y, en particular, he analizado el ultimo capitulo del primer volumen de la edicion de Quaritch. Este capitulo, titulado "El sistema simbolico", constituye la incuestionable conexion entre el Yeats lector e investigador de Blake, y el Yeats poeta y seguidor de Blake.

Palabras clave. Cosmologia, la caida, misticismo, mitologia, magia, ocultismo, simbolismo, vision

Grant me an old man's frenzy. Myself must I remake Till I am [...] William Blake Who beat upon the wall Till Truth obeyed his call; (W. B. Yeats, An Acre of Grass)

The theosophical, philosophical, mythical and symbolic system created by William Butler Yeats certainly represents a personal idiosyncratic actualization of an ancient repertoire of magical symbols and occult visions. A fundamental step in Yeats's formulation of his own system was his first (1) deep investigation into the Blakean 'vision', culminating in 1893 with a three-volume work on Blake's poetic and pictorial production, written together with Edwin John Ellis and published in London by Bernard Quaritch: (2) The Works of William Blake, Poetic, Symbolic, and Critical. Edited with Lithographs of the Illustrated "Prophetic Books" and a Memoir and Interpretation by Edwin John Ellis and William Butler Yeats. …

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