Publication Date


Degree Program

Department of English

Degree Type

Master of Arts


This thesis is a study of the development of the symbolic system formulated by William Butler Yeats and his subsequent application of this system to his poetry, with special attention to the rose and the stone. To comprehend and thereby fully appreciate Yeats's poetry requires some knowledge of the forces working together to form the basis of his philosophy and symbolic system. These forces and the system form the subject of the first chapter. Foremost among the many influences are his Irish birth, his associates (among them his father, John Yeats; his uncle, George Pollexfen; John O'Leary; and Madame Helena Blavatsky and others), and the writings of such figures as William Blake and Plato. Yeats's view of the artistic function of the imagination and of the symbol and the development of his personal symbolic system are made clear in this chapter. Chapter Two focuses upon the rose and the stone as archetypal symbols. Much has been written concerning the symbolic rose, its historical development, and its application in art in general; therefore, the treatment of the rose in this chapter is primarily a review of Miss Seward's The Symbolic Rose. Apparently no scholar has considered the symbolic stone in depth. However, the second seotion of Chapter Two focuses upon its role in literature as fully as possible. The rose symbolism of Yeats's poetry is the subject of Chapter Three. Many scholars have commented upon Yeats’s frequent use of the flower in his work, but few attempt to pin down its various functions. Thus, this study is to some extent a review of previous scholarship. But all has not been said which should be and few critics have been as specific about the poet's intent as I hope to be. Few scholars, for whatever reason, have considered the stone symbolism so predominant in Yeats's work. I hope to illuminate the subject in Chapter Four of this thesis, following the same steps of development previously laid down for investigation of the rose. The most original aspect of this study is the function of the rose and stone in Yeats's symbolic system, including specific attention to the embodiment of the symbolism in specifio poems.


English Language and Literature