The Symbolism of Poetry

  • W. B. Yeats


Symbolism, as seen in the writers of our day, would have no value if it were not seen also, under one ‘disguise or another, in every great imaginative writer,’ writes Mr. Arthur Symons in The Symbolist Movement in Literature, a subtle book which I cannot praise as I would, because it has been dedicated to me; and he goes on to show how many profound writers have in the last few years sought for a philosophy of poetry in the doctrine of symbolism, and how even in countries where it is almost scandalous to seek for any philosophy of poetry, new writers are following them in their search. We do not know what the writers of ancient times talked of among themselves, and one bull is all that remains of Shakespeare’s talk, who was on the edge of modern times; and the journalist is convinced, it seems, that they talked of wine and women and politics, but never about their art, or never quite seriously about their art. He is certain that no one who had a philosophy of his art, or a theory of how he should write, has ever made a work of art, that people have no imagination who do not write without forethought and afterthought as he writes his own articles.


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© Mrs W. B. Yeats 1961

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  • W. B. Yeats

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