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Lecture 16

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English 2307E
Krista Lysack

English 2307E Tuesday March 18 th Lecture 16 20 Century Modernists: Yeats and Eliot Yeats • Yeats spent some of his life in London, but most of it in Ireland (he was an Irish poet) • He wrote at a time when the Irish were figuring out their own formation and institution as a country (Yeats covers some of this in his poetry) Yeats’s Cosmology (A Vision, 1928) • Yeats had a wide range of interests (he was esoteric, a mystical thinker) • He drew from a wide range of beliefs and thoughts (eg. spiritualism – people gathering and trying to contact the dead, automatic writing – the spirit speaking to you and channeling the ability to write through your hands) • Yeats spent many years formulating a cosmology, a way to think about the entire world in space and time • 3 Stages of History: o Growth o Maturation o Decline • Yeats’ view of history is different from our traditional, linear view o He thought it was more cyclical (the stages repeat) • Gyre – Yeats uses this to describe the cyclical history o It is a way for him to visualize the way that history repeats o On the one hand, history is always repeating these stages, but each repetition is a little bit different (there is progress) o Every 2000 years, gyre changes direction (and at the end of 2000 years, there is a time of ‘maximum disturbance’) “The Second Coming” (Yeats) • We are not completely sure what is happening o Yeats had his own private system of myths and symbols o “Access of meaning” – the poem doesn’t have an obvious analysis • The title shows us the more prophetic aspects of Christianity o The “second coming” is a time that people look forward to in Christianity (a big apocalypse where Christ is said to return to earth to judge the people in the world and establish a kingdom on earth), but also dread • The poem is said to take place on the eve of the 2000 year gyre cycle (a time of apocalypse) o Everything will break loose, not being able to hold the center • Yeats places an importance on symbols – elites saw poetry as an expression of feeling o Falcon  The falcon is meant to resonate with the audience in the 1920’s, considering all of the upheaval following WWII and fascism in the 1930’s  The falcon doesn’t last long, but gives way to a larger observation • Things fall apart, innocence has drowned, the best people lack conviction and the worst are full of passion and intensity  The gyre is widening, leading to a period of maximum disturbance • This is linked to falconry – you send out the falcon, and call it back • Here, the falcon cannot hear the falconers, and communication is breaking down • When you release the falcon, you lasso it with a rope tied to its leg o Rough beast  The poem concludes with an observation that 2000 years since the birth of Christ, the rough beast is starting to shake  This is a revelation without a sense of disclosure  The Russian revolution took place a few years before the poem was written, and Yeats was opposed to Communism (the rough beast?)  The rough beast is strong and powerful, but there is something unnatural about it (fusing man and animal)  It may not refer to something specifically, but an acknowledgement that the future looks bleak (a future of barbarity, violence, an era of war…) th • The beginning of the 20 century saw the rise of fascism, WWII, the Holocaust • “Spiritus mundi” o This vast image is the rough beast o This thinking is similar to that of Carl Jung and the collective unconscious o The spiritus mundi is a storehouse of images, myths, and archetypes that tap into universal truths o No symbol is unique to a person, but draws from a larger human experience • This is an irregular poem o There are two uneven stanzas (one has 8 lines, the other is twice as long) o The rhyme scheme isn’t very systematic o The form connects to the theme (disarray, fracture) o It isn’t free verse, but it is a more loose and fractured form • Part of its strength is its affect – we can’t tie down its meaning in a precise way “Sailing to Byzantium” (Yeats) • Yeats uses a particular type of structure, ottav
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