W. B. Yeats pp 146-165 | Cite as

A Vision of Byzantium

  • Alasdair D. F. Macrae
Part of the Macmillan Literary Lives book series (LL)


From very early in his life Yeats was fascinated with systems of thought, orderings of ideas. The very sequence of events in his life appeared to some contemporaries as planned by him, and his life and art appear in retrospect as so intermingled that they form parts of a contrived pattern. He admired people who had devised comprehensive systems, people such as Plato, Dante, Boehme, Vico, Swedenborg, Blake, Goethe, and contemporaries such as Spengler, Toynbee and Henry Adams. However, he never seemed conclusively satisfied with his grand plans, and the question asked by the Syrian sceptic in the play The Resurrection recurs: ‘What if there is always something that lies outside knowledge, outside order? What if at the moment when knowledge and order seem complete that something appears?’ In a similar way, the final lines of The Words Upon the Window-pane, uttered in the voice of the long-dead Dean Swift, usurp the tidy explanation offered by rationalism.


Universal Symbol Idiom Meaning Literary Life Automatic Writing Grand Plan 
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  1. 1.
    Nietzsche, Thus Spake Zarathustra, translated by R. J. Hollingdale (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1961), pp. 331–2.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Alasdair D. F. Macrae 1995

Authors and Affiliations

  • Alasdair D. F. Macrae
    • 1
  1. 1.University of StirlingUK

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