Symbols in Yeats’s poetry
A symbol is a person, place, object, or activity that represents something beyond itself. A flag, for example, often serves as a symbol of national heritage and patriotism. In literature, a symbol takes its meaning from its context. The symbols in Yeats’s poetry often convey major ideas about life, death, and rebirth. One of his most important symbols involves Byzantium, ancient capital of the Eastern Roman—or Byzantine—Empire. Yeats once commented, “Byzantium was the center of European civilization and the source of its spiritual philosophy, so I symbolize the search for spiritual life by a journey to that city.” Other symbols that figure prominently in Yeats’s writing include water, gold, birds, and beasts. As you read the following poems, consider what these and other symbols might represent.