|Symbolism as a Code for the Universe:
According to Yeats, art gains its power through the use of symbols.
Symbols are more than just images or characters that stand for an abstract idea or
principle. Instead, they are an emotional and "spiritual" language the
poet uses to communicate truths that cannot be stated in a propositional form. Yeats
was concerned with making a myth to live by. Here are some of Yeats' main ideas:
1) Symbols have energy due to "preordained or long
associations" (e.g., the cross, the dove, the hawk, blood). In other
words, people tend to associate certain meaning and emotions with objects that have been
meaningful to people over long periods of time. In particular, Yeats is borrowing
from the C. G. Jung's notion of a collective unconscious, which Yeats in "The Second
Coming" refers to as the Spiritus Mundi, the "World Soul," a kind
of collective, psychic vat of humanity's memory out of which symbols rise and return.
2) The emotions of a text exist only in formal expression.
Individual emotions are too fleeting to be clearly expressed in a text. They are, instead,
experienced by being associated with certain symbols. In other words, the emotions
we experience when we read a literary work are the result of associations..
3) Symbols, therefore, are both intellectual and emotional.
4) Such symbols exceed our attempts at ethics or science. They
cannot be reduced to certain propositional statements. Symbols contain a deeper,
Take one of the three poems we have read by Yeats and list all the
symbols in the poem. Next, ask yourself what emotions you tend to associate with
these. Lastly, ask yourself what Yeats is implying by the use of these symbols.
Do you experience the same ideas and emotions when you put the symbols into your
own words? Why or why not?