Use of Symbols in Yeats's Work, A Vision Essay

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Use of Symbols in Yeats's Work, A Vision

In his 1901 essay "Magic", Yeats writes, "I cannot now think symbols less than the greatest of all powers whether they are used consciously by the masters of magic, or half unconsciously by their successors, the poet, the musician and the artist" (p. 28). Later, in his introduction to A Vision, he explains, "I put the Tower and the Winding Stair together into evidence to show that my poetry has gained in self possession and power. I owe this change to an incredible experience" (Vision p.8). The experience he goes on to relate is the preliminary stage of the composition of the work itself. In A Vision, however, Yeats exhibits his poetic power as well, along with his knowledge of
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He then adds numbers to the symbol, corresponding to the phases of the moon, and is able to use them to designate every possible action of thought or life. He places these in a circular shape. "The whole system," Yeats writes "is founded upon the belief that the ultimate reality, symbolized by the sphere, falls in human consciousness... into a series of antinomies" (Vision p. 187).

The Byzantium poems are a prime example of the antinomies at work in the individual mind of man. In many of his poems, Yeats idealizes Byzantium, as a symbol of unity in spiritual and everyday life. He writes "I think that in early Byzantium, maybe never before or since in recorded history, religious, aesthetic and practical life were one, that architect and artificers... spoke to the few and the multitude alike. The painter and the mosaic worker, the worker in gold and silver, the illuminator or sacred books, were almost impersonal, almost perhaps without the consciousness of individual design, absorbed in their subject-matter and that the vision of a whole people" (Vision p. 279). "Sailing to Byzantium" expresses Yeats' longing to become a part of Byzantine art, to return to life as a golden bird, who transcends the temporality of the natural world. However, he is
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