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W.B.Yeats: ‘The Tower’ – Analysis

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 heir 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 is 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 ith 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 interest turns from the outside world, partly disillusioned, to he greater ‘monuments of unaging intellect’ (Leavis pp 46).

There seems to be a continuity, a process of turning inward throughout many of The Tower poems, when the poet’s contemplation about what happens around him focuses on what happens inside of him, then shifts towards a more abstract consciousness. As Leavis remarks, ‘his implications… are very complex; he has achieved a difficult and delicate sincerity’, a refined level of meditation (pp 46). As Kenner (pp 138) notices, there is a dramatic progression through the volume, the two poles being thus ‘Sailing to Byzantium’ and ‘All Souls’

Night’. Since the arrangement of the poems is not chronological or random, but thematic, the argument stands that the individual poems cannot be treated as if independent, but within the context of each other. Kenner (pp 139) also adds that the ‘place to look for light on any poem is in the adjacent poems’. As the volume had been arranged by Yeats in an architectural manner, the poems should be relevant in sequence.

As all the poems of the volume cannot be examined shortly, the adjacent poems should be looked at in contrast to ‘The Tower’. The previous poem, Sailing to Byzantium’, occupies a prominent place in the volume. Within this overture, the poet deploys the themes spiralling in upcoming poems: in the first part, his country, its events and people; in the second, his painful state of mind set on aging; his myth and the afterworld in the third and fourth.

The Tower’, following upon, elaborates on the theme aging, goes on to evoking spirits and then concludes in making the poet’s testament in the last part. As for the dynamics and form, the first part shows the passion and pain of the poet, from the cry through desperation to self-scorn. The second part is a calmer introspection, continuing with the summoning of the ghosts of the tower, orderly put into evenly arranged stanzas, as if reading from a book of memories.

Then the third part shifts again from memories to present reality, building up the long will line upon line, as if clambering up the stairs of an imaginary tower of testament. In the last two stanzas, the poet seems to pause, look back at the way done, and in slow solitude, ‘make his soul’ for what has to come. In his Autobiographies, Yeats articulates his aim repeatedly, to form a tyle which relates to natural speech: ‘I learnt that occasional prosaic words gave the impression of an active man speaking. (Yeats pp 35)

His aspiration materialized in form of his original rhyme patterns, which strike the reader as unaccustomed and unexpected. Focusing on the rhymes and stanzas in ‘The Tower’: Yeats employs his off- rhymes and assonances, which are ‘upsetting the ear’s expectancies and fulfilling the emotional currents of meaning’ (Parkinson pp 131). As Parkinson remarks, many self-ironical, resigned and scornful statements often occur in off-rhyme.

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