Mortal Concern and it's Sensed Mystery in W. B. Yeats Poetry

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      Yeats’s poetry reflects his deeply felt conviction that man’s life is governed by a “system” which incorporated a cyclic progress through phases. The present generation, he felt, belonged to phase nineteen in which “the dramatic unity of being is no longer possible, for the being is compelled to live in a fragment of itself.” Man is forever trying to attain the ‘Unity of Being’ in which all conflicts co-exist harmoniously and the dance and the dancer are not separate. Human endeavor is one of the themes in Yeats’s poetry.

      Man is incomplete: he is torn in conflict but tries to be complete. Yeats himself, a shy, solitary dreamer by nature, desired to be a man of action to fulfill his nationalistic ambition. Thus, was born his theory of the mask. In its later development, this theory assumed the form of the antithesis between ‘self and anti-self.’ His desire was to expand his personality till it became merged in the larger personality of the common humanity, with the result that his emotions and experiences assumed the form of those sentiments which are familiar to the people. His passion was to mould multiplicity into unity of Being. Byzantium, to him, became the symbol of Unity where there was no conflict and no fragmentation. It is illustrated in Byzantium and Sailing to Byzantium. In Easter 1916 he speaks in admiration of those who were transformed by their action from routine drudgery, and then a “terrible beauty” was born. In Dialogue of Self and Soul, Yeats along with “self’ comes to the conclusion that living in the “fecund ditches” of life alone can lead ultimately to the realization of the Unity of Being.

      Man has to realize as he grows up into old age, when he is bereft of the power he once possessed, that even the apparent sadness is really a part of the cosmic joy. Civilizations rise and fall but in all the ruin and sadness there is gaiety: the tragic gaiety expressed by the old Chinamen in Lapis Lazuli. Man’s condition is such that he is incomplete, for life itself consists of conflict—between good and evil, beauty and ugliness, flesh and mind, body and soul. But man tries to achieve completeness, the Unity of Being. Thus the theme of much of Yeats's poetry is human endeavor.

University Questions

“Man is a being who is always incomplete and yet who is always partially transcending his incompleteness.” Discuss Yeats’s poetry as illustrating this theme.
“Yeats’s most central concern was with the mortal condition in its basic, sensed mystery.” Comment and illustrate from the poems you have read.

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