by Pericles Lewis
William Butler Yeats’s great poem “Among School Children” (1928) embodies his conception of the almost magical powers of the image or symbol: “O chestnut tree, great rooted blossomer, / Are you the leaf, the blossom or the bole? / O body swayed to music, O brightening glance, / How can we know the dancer from the dance?” As Frank Kermode points out, the symbol bridges the gap in modern life between mind and body; it is the embodiment of an idea, and more than that, of a spirit. Like the dancer, whose body is fully involved in the dance, a form of labor which appears effortless, or like the tree, organic unity of leaf, blossom, and bole, the symbol makes no distinction between body and mind; it fully embodies its meaning. Yeats’s symbolism had grown ever more personal and idiosyncratic later in his career, even while his poetry addressed contemporary and political matters more explicitly.
- ↑ This page has been adapted from Pericles Lewis’s Cambridge Introduction to Modernism (Cambridge UP, 2007), pp.58-59.