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[···..: '. , .. :. - .. . . .... . h·'. I ' ' I .1 • I .,, I • I' • ~ YEAT~ AND THE LANGUAGE ·oF SYMBOLJSM ' 1 . l JN reading any poem we have to know at least ._two .languages': · the language the poet is writing and·. the 'language 'of poetry itself. The former exists in the words the poet uses, the latter in the.images and ideas which those words express. And just as the _ words of alanguage_ are a ;set of verbal conventions, so the imagery of poetry is a set of symbolic con- , ventions: This set of symbolicconventions differs from a symbolic system, ' such as a .religion or a metaphysic, in being conc·erned, not with a - content~ ' ; but with a mode of apprehension. Religions, philosophies, and other -\ :,0 • I I· ·· I .;--·· symbolic systems are as a rule presented as doctrines; -poetic·symbolism is a -language. Sometimes a symbolic s'ystem, such as classical mythology3 may lose its ·doctrinal content and so becoi~·fe purely linguistic;· but this does not affect the distinction. So while poetry can be made of any account of spiritual reality because it is itself the language of spiritual reality, it does not follow that poetry represents something truer,-because broader, than religion or philosophy. The French language is a much -broader thing than 'the philosophy of Montaigne or Pascal, and we can learn Frenc~ without being converted to any Frenchman's views; but the Frenc~ language itself represents no truth. Just.as the teacher of a language is a grammarian ~ so dn~ of the functions of the literary critic is to be a grammarian of imagery, interpreting the ~, the cult of the hero turns1 out to be. a· cult of the death of the hero, an Eroica symphony with aJuneral march at its '·· heart..· ' HI · The language of early romantic symbolism is a Kantian language, by which I do not mean that it is founded on Kant, but t~at it implies a· popularized metaphysic with predominantly Kantian features. The r'omantic poet splits reality into a world of experien·ce arid a world of per-J ception,-·the former world, Kant's noumenon, being interpreted by poetry and. the latter or phenorp.enal world being· the only object of ·rational knowledge. The gap between rational and poetic ·knowledge accounts for the importance of suggestion and evocatio'n·in romantic ·art, and for the distrust _ of didactic qualities. For the poet a~ well as the reasoner, however}. nature is the vehicle of interpretation, hence nature to the poet is, as in Baudelaire's "Correspondances," a shrine of mysterious oracles; and in the darkness of the 'noumerial world, where there must yet be direct contact·with nature, we depend.iess on the expanded pupils of vision than on the twitching whiskers of feelip.g.·· ·. But as romantic art develops, popularized Kant becomes popularized Schope~hauer, and as the phenomenal world is the object of consciousness, the noumenal world tends to become associated with the sub-conscious, a. world -of will underlying the world of idea. Such a world of will, ,being ~ub-inoraf and suh-i.ntellectu~l, may from the point of view of consciousness be described as e':il and brutal, hence ·rom,an_tic art becomes infused with \ ·" ~:I ,·, I,'··, I' ' ' :- . '~ .. ,, . '.. f ' I 1 r I .·, .. I .. , !I. i I I ~ o ., _, " l, !..- ' · •I , I , ,I .. ~'· , , I 'l _.' ' • 1 "r ..' I , , - t, · , ..... . . ' :..:·) '; ;- I, • "'\., YEATS AND THE LANGUAGE OF SYMBOLISM· 9·I, •' ' . • ' \ I . all the symbols· of the "romantic agony": · sadism, Satanism, pessimism,, the cults of the beauty of pain, the religion of blasphemy, the curse of· genius, and, abo've all, the malignant grinning female, the Medusa, the Sphinx, La Gioconda, La Belle Dame sa.ns Merci, or whatever her n~me may be, who presides ·over so ma'ny romantic love-affairs, and has affected Yeats; relations with the beautiful Maud ~Gonne; The world as will is, of course; an essential part of the order o.f nature, hence it is really a hyperphysical wprld, and in no sense a spiritu?-1 one. . The romantic.conception'of the hyperphysical,world appeats in Freud)s· · psychological myth of a sub-conscious libido and a censoring consciousness ~ Freud himself has noted...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 1-17
Launched on MUSE
2015-07-01
Open Access
No
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