Symbolism in Painting

  • W. B. Yeats


In England, which has made great Symbolic Art, most people dislike an art if they are told it is symbolic, for they confuse symbol and allegory. Even Johnson’s Dictionary sees no great difference, for it calls a symbol ‘That which comprehends in its figure a representation of something else’; and an allegory ‘A figurative discourse, in which something other is intended than is contained in the words literally taken.’ It is only a very modem Dictionary that calls a symbol ‘the sign or representation of any moral thing by the images or properties of natural things,’ which, though an imperfect definition, is not unlike ‘The things below are as the things above’ of the Emerald Tablet of Hermes! The Faerie Queene and The Pilgrim’s Progress have been so important in England that Allegory has overtopped Symbolism, and for a time has overwhelmed it in its own downfall. William Blake was perhaps the first modern to insist on a difference; and the other day, when I sat for my portrait to a German symbolist in Paris, whose talk was all of his love for symbolism and his hatred for allegory, his definitions were the same as William Blake’s, of whom he knew nothing.


Fine Painting Natural Thing Divine Essence Modern Imagination Christian Symbol 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Copyright information

© Mrs W. B. Yeats 1961

Authors and Affiliations

  • W. B. Yeats

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations