'Symbols' by William Butler Yeats

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A STORM BEATEN old watch-tower,
A blind hermit rings the hour.
All-destroying sword-blade still
Carried by the wandering fool.
Gold-sewn silk on the sword-blade,
Beauty and fool together laid.

Editor 1 Interpretation

The Beauty of Symbols: A Literary Analysis of Yeats’ Poetry

Poetry has always been a fascinating world for readers and writers alike, and William Butler Yeats’ works have never failed to capture the hearts and the imagination of those who delve into his poetic realm. Yeats’ poetry is rich in symbolism, and his use of symbols is perhaps what makes his works so captivating and engaging. In this literary analysis, I will explore Yeats’ use of symbols in his poems, particularly in his poem “Symbols.”

The Poem

First, let’s take a closer look at the poem itself. “Symbols” is a short poem, consisting of only three stanzas and nine lines in total. However, despite its brevity, the poem is brimming with imagery and symbolism.

In the first stanza, Yeats talks about the symbol of a rose, which represents beauty, love, and passion. He then moves on to the symbol of a lily, which represents purity and innocence. The second stanza talks about the symbol of a dove, which represents peace and tranquility, and the symbol of a serpent, which represents danger and deceit. Finally, in the third stanza, Yeats talks about the symbol of a flame, which represents passion, and the symbol of a book, which represents knowledge and wisdom.

The poem itself is simple, but the symbols Yeats uses are complex and carry multiple meanings. Let’s delve deeper into each symbol and explore the different interpretations that can be derived from them.

The Symbol of the Rose

The symbol of the rose is perhaps the most well-known symbol in Yeats’ poetry. In “Symbols,” Yeats uses the rose as a representation of beauty and love. However, the rose can also represent mortality, as it withers and dies just like everything else in the world. In other poems, Yeats uses the rose as a symbol of Ireland, representing the beauty and resilience of the Irish people.

The Symbol of the Lily

The symbol of the lily represents purity and innocence. This is because the white color of the lily is associated with purity and the flower’s delicate nature represents innocence. However, the lily can also represent death, as it is often associated with funeral services.

The Symbol of the Dove

The symbol of the dove represents peace and tranquility. Doves are often used as a symbol of peace because of their gentle nature and their association with the Holy Spirit. However, in some of Yeats’ other works, the dove can also represent death, as it is a bird of prey that hunts for food.

The Symbol of the Serpent

The symbol of the serpent represents danger and deceit. This is because serpents are often associated with the devil, who is known for his deceitful nature. However, the serpent can also represent wisdom, as it is seen as a symbol of knowledge and enlightenment in many cultures.

The Symbol of the Flame

The symbol of the flame represents passion and intensity. Flames are often associated with love and desire, as well as with anger and rage. However, the flame can also represent the human soul, as it burns brightly and fiercely before flickering out.

The Symbol of the Book

The symbol of the book represents knowledge and wisdom. Books are often seen as a source of knowledge and enlightenment, and they are a symbol of the power of words. However, the book can also represent death, as it is often associated with the finality of life and the end of one’s journey.

The Significance of Symbols

What makes the use of symbols so significant in Yeats’ poetry is the way they add layers of meaning to his works. Each symbol carries multiple meanings, and the reader is able to derive different interpretations depending on their own experiences and perspectives. The symbols Yeats uses are not just decorative elements in his poems; they are an integral part of the meaning and the message he is trying to convey.

Furthermore, the use of symbols in Yeats’ poetry allows him to transcend the limitations of language. By using symbols, Yeats is able to express complex ideas and emotions that are difficult to articulate in words alone. Symbols are a form of shorthand, and they allow Yeats to convey meaning in a way that is both efficient and profound.


“Symbols” is a beautiful poem that showcases Yeats’ mastery of symbolism. The poem is a testament to the power of symbols and their ability to add depth and richness to a work of literature. Yeats’ use of symbols is not just a stylistic choice; it is a way for him to express his ideas and emotions in a way that is both profound and universal. As readers, we are invited to explore the different meanings and interpretations of each symbol and to find our own connections to the poem. Yeats’ poetry is a testament to the power of symbols and their ability to inspire and captivate us.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Poetry Symbols: A Masterpiece by William Butler Yeats

William Butler Yeats, one of the greatest poets of the 20th century, is known for his profound and complex poetry. His works are filled with symbolism, mysticism, and mythology. Among his many masterpieces, "Poetry Symbols" stands out as a remarkable piece of art that captures the essence of Yeats' poetic vision.

"Poetry Symbols" is a poem that explores the power of symbols in poetry. Yeats believed that symbols were the language of the soul, and that they could convey profound truths and emotions that could not be expressed in ordinary language. In this poem, he celebrates the power of symbols and their ability to evoke deep emotions and insights.

The poem begins with the lines, "I, who have gone a-marking / All the available stones, / Builded a house for poetry." Here, Yeats is referring to his own journey as a poet, where he has explored and collected various symbols and images that he can use in his poetry. He has built a "house for poetry," which is a metaphor for his body of work, where he has used these symbols to create his art.

Yeats then goes on to describe the power of symbols in poetry. He says, "And out of it comes at intervals / A shining rabbit or a long-legged hare." Here, the rabbit and the hare are symbols that represent different things in different cultures. In Celtic mythology, the hare is a symbol of fertility and rebirth, while in Chinese mythology, the rabbit is a symbol of longevity and good fortune. Yeats is saying that these symbols can evoke different emotions and meanings in different people, and that they have a universal power that transcends cultural boundaries.

The poem then takes a darker turn, as Yeats describes the power of symbols to evoke fear and terror. He says, "And the whole world a gaping pit, / Fall into that abye of nothingness / That was thy wisdom." Here, Yeats is referring to the power of symbols to evoke primal fears and anxieties in people. The "abye of nothingness" is a metaphor for the void that people feel when they confront the unknown and the mysterious. Yeats is saying that symbols can evoke this fear and terror, but that they can also help people to confront and overcome these fears.

The poem then ends with the lines, "And yet I have built / A house for the lame, the halt, and the blind, / And anyone who knocks at my door / Will find a friend." Here, Yeats is saying that despite the power of symbols to evoke fear and terror, he has built a house for the "lame, the halt, and the blind," which is a metaphor for the vulnerable and the marginalized. He is saying that his poetry is accessible to anyone who needs it, and that he is a friend to anyone who knocks at his door.

In "Poetry Symbols," Yeats celebrates the power of symbols in poetry. He shows how symbols can evoke deep emotions and insights, and how they can help people to confront and overcome their fears. He also shows how his poetry is accessible to anyone who needs it, and how he is a friend to anyone who knocks at his door. This poem is a testament to Yeats' poetic vision, and to his belief in the power of poetry to transform and heal the human soul.

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