W.B. Yeats's aesthetic philosophy in his earlier works
Du Toit, Marika Bella
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This dissertation investigates the development of W.B. Yeats’s aesthetic philosophy during his earlier career (1883 to 1907), particularly as it is presented in his prose writing and certain dramatic works of the period. Yeats is exposed to the folkloric tradition of Western Ireland from a young age while at the same time receiving a thorough education in the aesthetic philosophies of the Romantics, Pre-Raphaelites and French Symbolists. He finds the ideas regarding the ability of symbols to enlarge the imagination of the artist and his audience which these philosophies expound to be present in the folkloric tradition of Ireland. Yeats becomes involved with the nationalist cause of Ireland as a young man, and finds himself attracted to the prospect of contributing to Ireland’s struggle for independence on a cultural front. He chooses to apply his Romantic principles to art which draws on the shared folkloric tradition of Ireland in an effort to inspire cultural, rather than purely political, rejuvenation amongst his Irish audience. Yeats holds that art which only aims to serve political or moral ends often compromises its aesthetic integrity and he chooses to distance himself from such art, instead promoting an aesthetic ideal which values art for its inherent ability to communicate with an audience through the traditional symbols it encompasses. The artist is placed in the role of the bard and functions as the mediator who exposes the ancient truths that have been embedded in symbols through their traditional use. The poet must be able to create freely and without the pressure of serving a practical cause if he is to be successful in his cultural duty, and this too demands art to be valued autonomously as a force that has the potential to culturally invigorate a disenfranchised colonial Ireland. These ideas are honed during time spent in nationalist, occult, literary and theatre societies where different ideas and principles are unified with his early Romantic ideals to form an aesthetic which has the communicative and enlarging capabilities of art at its centre. The theatre in particular becomes a platform through which Yeats explores and expresses his own aesthetic ideals. This dissertation takes a historical and literary philosophical approach to establish Yeats’s aesthetic development from a traditional Romantic aesthetic to one that is thoroughly progressive and concerned with the autonomous value of Irish art.
- Humanities