Yeats's Iconography

Yeats's Iconography

Yeats's Iconography

Yeats's Iconography

Excerpt

THE AIM OF this book is to interpret what Yeats meant by the symbolism of five of his plays, Four Plays For Dancers and The Cat And The Moon ; also by that of a number of related lyrics. I should stress, once and for all, that I am concerned primarily with what the symbols meant for the poet himself; Yeats of course hoped that the 'words on the page' would work for him, and he also believed in a collective unconscious which would operate to suggest his archetypal meanings to all readers; but it can of course be maintained that communication fails. I myself doubt whether this ever happens; but I cannot prove this statement in a book not concerned with technique; and this is why I define my field as I have done. What Yeats believed his plays and poems to mean is a valid field for scholarship; and the meaning he attached is certainly the archetypal meaning, which is therefore my main preoccupation.

My previous book, Yeats And Tradition , explains Yeats's motivation in writing an archetypal poetry, and I must refer the reader to this for a detailed résumé of his theories of poetry and drama. Briefly, he thought that any symbol which at some time or other in the world's history had been a part of religion would retain for ever, through Anima Mundi, a peculiar depth and power of communication. Not every poem he wrote is fully symbolic, of course, but his great symbols will tend to derive from one or other of world religions and (since Yeats was a heterodox religious thinker) they tend to derive from Kabbalism, alchemy, Neoplatonism and the religions of the East, from Swedenborg and Boehme, at least as often as from the Christian tradition. Yeats himself saw no disparity between his several conventions: like Jung, he believed there were close symbolic correspondences between world religions, as would be natural if all emanated from the mind in contact with absolute truth; if, as he supposed, all creeds despite differences of dogma were basically at one. Even within a single poem, then, Yeats will juxtapose symbols coined from several distinct faiths . . .

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