W.B.Yeats:’The Tower’ – Analysis

Yeats seminar paper

There have been numerous critical approaches to Yeats’s poetry, influenced by his political, aesthetical, and personal views. Scholars have thoroughly examined the context and philosophy of his work, and often left the text, the body of poetry untouched (Cullingford pp 9). Nevertheless, a reader faced with a task of analysis, feels the urge of finding out about Yeats’s particular images and symbols, in order to be able to grasp the intention and meaning of his poetry.

The symbolist poet embodied a number of images drawn from different sources, threw a different light at them or – at least partly - transformed their meanings according to his poetical needs. In his Essays and Introductions, Yeats defines the importance of symbols, thus underlining his own preference for them. According to him, inherent and arbitrary symbols both evoke the Great Memory, the collective unconscious of the race, and ’associate them with certain events and moods and persons’ (Yeats pp 26), a theory later elaborated on by Jungian psychology, based on scientific research. Yeats’s symbols substitute concepts (Brooks pp 65), a fact that he was both accused of and praised for. Brooks also states that ’instead of breaking science and poetry completely apart, (he) has preferred to reunite these elements [...]fused in a religion’, thus creating an own personal myth (pp 65). Yeats himself revealed a youth memory, thinking ’Hammer your thoughts into unity’(pp 37) which he aimed to achieve by getting at a ’single conviction’. By exchanging concepts for symbols, the clarity yet complexity of ideas appear in the poems in a way that reflect the poet’s esoterical and mystical ideas. This unity reveals itself in the recurring images and circulating themes throughout his poetry.

When he wrote about imitation of art in a letter to his father, he said ’ it often uses the outer world as a symbolism to express subjective moods. The greater the subjectivity, the less the imitation’ (Yeats pp 40). He went on to state:’The element of pattern in every art is [...]the part that is not imitative [...]an intensity of pattern that we have never seen with our eyes.’(pp 40). For Yeats, objects of the world thus become symbols in his poetry, to act as a type of background for his highly subjective way of art.

Among the symbols he used during his later period, the tower seems one of his personal favourites. Besides the fact that he bought an old Norman tower and spent much time in it, two of his books were named after this particular symbol, The Tower and The Winding Stair and Other Poems, many of which poems deal with, mention, or refer to it. It can be said that, amongst others, the tower image occupies a central place in his later poetry.

Biographies often mention the fact that Yeats had long wanted to buy the tower, and when he finally managed to, it had a major influence and inspiration on his poetry as well. One of the reasons of his fascination with Thoor Ballylee was that the village had close associations with Blind Rafterty, the renowned 18th century poet, who in turn praised Mary Hynes, ’the shining flower of Ballylee’, both of whom also appear in ’The Tower’.

Yeats himself clearly defined the tower – his tower, or tower as image - in ’Blood and the Moon’(II) as his own personal emblem, saying:

… I declare this tower is my symbol; I declare

this winding, gyring, spiring treadmill of a stair is my ancestral stair;…

thus leaving no doubts for the reader about the importance of this object. The poet’s love for this building is sung ’rhyme upon rhyme’ (I.). He also reminds us of the parallels between him and other owners of Alexandria, Babylon, and also Shelley – a poet having a different emblem but apparently sharing the tower symbol.

The Tower, written in 1925, ’was hidden beneath the flesh of a poetry which was deeply rooted in the actualities of time and place’ (Cullingford pp 11), displays the poet’s isolation and dignity during the turmoil of events. This image was called ’hard symbolic skeleton’ by Yeats, hinting at his long preoccupation with it both in his poetic and personal life. In the volume, his