The notion of image at Yeats and TS Eliot

According to Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary , a suitable definition for image is “a copy of the shape of a person or thing, especially made in stone or wood”. In the artistic field, this word has the significance of a mental picture or idea. Of course, if we try to discuss about image, considering the modernist current, we would find ourselves in a great difficulty because for the first time in European tradition, the focus of art is not reality. Ezra Pound, in Gaudier-Brezeska, wrote that ”the image is not an idea”, emphasizing on the possibility that the image is more a sum of ideas. He uses the metaphor of ”vortex”, insisting that every image uses or is used to form a system, “a radiant node or cluster”. We must observe that Pound wants to sustain that an image proposes a new universal order: this is a clear modernist opinion. We can understand ambiguous word “vortex” in two ways: first of all, as an image that announces ambiguity in the text and secondly as a point in the history of ideas of a visual image.
Peter Childs in 'Birth, and Copulation, and Death' considers that for Eliot, modernism "is a literature [of what Eliot calls the] UNREAL CITY:a composite picture of urban life". In other words, we can consider that for Yeats the image is a figure which has another mechanism to function, a vortex where “ideas are constantly rushing”.The means of expression are different, as well as the ideas behind the text (of course, we are not talking about universal themes, like love, faith or patriotism). An explanation could be the different literary roots of the two poets: Yeats is more close to the 19th century tradition than Eliot. The definition of the image as representation of reality could be applied more in order to define Yeats's poetry. In his essay The Celtic Twilight, Yeats considers that he wanted to "create a little world out of the beautiful, pleasant and significant things of this marred and clumsy world". I consider that this quote is ambivalent and reveals what Ezra Pound calls "the vortex from which and through which, and into which, ideas are constantly rushing": the poetic richness which is present for both Yeats and Eliot, even if it is expressed in different manner.
We must ask ourselves to what extent the images manage to maintain an illusion of reality? Do we have a same idea, written in a different manner for the two poets? Or rather their approach is far more individual and they share only a minimum poetic heritage? How functions the tension between reality and art, considering the modernist current which appears in various artistic fields at the time?
In order to try to answer to this problem, I will try to find common themes for the two poets and then to see how the images manage to be "a radiant node or cluster". First of all, I will focus on the tension between division and unity. I will try to analyze some examples of images that I consider that are relevant to it. Then, I will explore the relationship between reality and fantasy taking into consideration other forms of discourse. I will try to deal with other examples from the artistic field and to emphasize that Eliot proposes a new theme: the urban one, recuperated by the postmodernist literature. At the end, I will focus on the functionality of the rhythm.
Division vs. unity.
A first tension present in both Yeats's and Eliot's imagery is that between division and unity. For Yeats the disorder is present in The Second Coming with the image of the vortex that sums up everything: "turning and turning in the widening gyre". The idea of dissolution would come in mind to a first lecture, but we must consider that this concerns more an implosion of the universe, until the moment of saturation: "things fall apart; the centre cannot hold". The theory of the vortex functions in this situation in two ways: first as a visual image and secondly, because Yeats follows an European tradition from this perspective. The reality for Eliot too is seen as a "a heap of broken images, where the sun beats" (The Waste Land, line 22) . We may consider these two quotes as two starting points for the modality in which the poets manage to see the reality.
By analyzing these two "definitions", we may think that they are talking pretty much about the same idea; from a general perspective, this could be a very comfortable point and probably not a relevant one. Still, if we take into consideration the opinion of Peter Childs about the context of creation, we will face a dichotomy. On one hand, Yeats sees the art as a mimetic act, whereas Eliot considers himself as a composer of the reality, where the poet is impersonal , relieved from personal emotions and feelings. Yeats, with his Romantic-type euphoria, can be situated on the opposite. If we would join the two definitions mentioned above, we would have the next phrase, which gives an alternative understanding. For Yeats "the things fall apart" and T.S.Eliot is building his world from fragments, from "a heap of broken images".
If we would transpose this at metaphysical level, we will notice that in both cases there is a strong need for spirituality, especially after the First World War. The esoteric orientation of both poets is a large subject and that stirs even today controversy in the scholastic field. We must consider that a large part of the intellectuality considered that Europe of the time was somehow mistakenly driven towards rationalism and they asked a new spiritual revival (for instance, Rene Guenon). Some clear images emphasize the idea of the destruction of the universe. For instance, "The river's tent is broken", reflects TS Eliot’s opinion about his times; in the same way, in the poem "September 1913", Yeats insists on the end of the nationalism as being a religion, even before the Great Conflagration: “And the living nations wait/Each sequestered in its hate”. He uses the image of the past heroes, but not as we would expect from the already existing literary cannon, where the hero sacrifices himself. The key to interpreting their role lays in the second stanza of the poem “September 1913” (lines 9-10). The pronoun “they” manages to comprise all the personalities under one word and the main attribution of the heroes is that they “were different”. This can be an aspect of the nostalgia of a Golden Age. The evocative image of the “the names that stilled your childish play” could be seen as the influential memory of the four Irish partisans present in the poem.
Reality vs. Fantasy.
We would be tempted to think that for both poets, there is no real reference; in fact, Yeats is more determined to consider the other forms of art too. John Dixon Hunt, in "Broken images: T.S.Eliot and Modern Painting" considers that Eliot concentrates very much on the power of the meaning of the word and less on the matter of how the same idea could be reflected in other artistic discourses. He uses references borrowed from other forms of art only as a mean, not as a purpose. Instead, Yeats borrows many Ancient Greek myths in order to present them as they are (“Leda and the Swan”). In the second case, the myth is the purpose of the poem itself.
For Yeats, the euphoric feeling is given by the nationalistic feeling. For instance, in “September 1913”, the feeling of sadness and the incapacity in front of history reaches the climax in the third stanza, by summoning the old heroes. This is a recurrent theme for the Romantic period, when poets from all Europe use the names of those who fought for the liberation of the nations. The image of O’Leary is very important in this poem because gives a clear historical and biographical reference. This national hero belonged to Yeats’s romantic conception of Irish nationality. The spatial reference “in the grave” makes reference to the funeral of O’Leary, where the poet could not attend. His death in 1907 seemed to be the last link with the Romantic ideals of 1848.
Times Literary Supplement, in its original review of The Waste Land considered that this poem “brings us to the limits of verbal coherence” and somehow gains the same status as Duchamp’s Nude, which draws the viewer to the limits of the artistic expression. Instead, Yeats is rather with turned with his face towards the past; in his poems, his main focus is especially on the high-culture models: the Greek heritage, the tradition and the nationalism. TS. Eliot is more focused on urban images and on the possibility of the aesthetics of the city. This tradition will be recuperated by the postmodernist movement.
Exploring the structure of the language.
Both Yeats and Eliot explore the power of the rhythm in poetry. This gives a specific euphony for several passages. For instance, in the poem ”Crazy Jane on God”, the stanza is composed using an alternation of the number of words: ”That lover of a night/Came when he would,/Went in the dawning light/(…)/All things remain in God”. For a naïve loud reading, this would be similar to a childish game. This element can be found in ”The Waste Land” in various places: “Twit twit twit/ Jug jug jug jug jug jug/So rudely for’d/Tereu”. This ternary rhythm, repeated in the second verse of this quotation, makes reference to a more licentious action. Still, this is only an example of how the two poets explore the structure of the language in order to give or suggest an image.
Yeats uses the repetition not only for euphemistic purposes, but also to emphasize some words that work as concepts or have unique characteristics. For instance, we have a fine mechanism in the line “things thought too long can be no longer thought”. First of all, the assonance of the consonant “t” (“things thought too”) gives a ternary rhythm, suggesting a gravity of the discourse. In this stanza, the modal “can” is used having an epistemic value and acts like a ‘mirror’ in the sentence, splitting the same two words: long and thought. While in the first part, ‘thought’ acts like an adjective, in the second part takes an active part in the verbal structure.
From this point of view, even though it expresses something rather different, a similar technique is used in the last part, in line 427 of the poem “The Waste Land”: “London Bridge is falling down falling down falling down”. The repetition, somehow musical, reminds either of a jazzy rhythm (the modernism brings to light new musical forms), either of a descendent tone. For the second hypothesis, we can observe that other repetitions occur often in this part and sometimes seem to be a mantric invocation: “o swallow swallow”, “data.dayadhvam.damyata.”, “shantih shantih shantih”.
To conclude, we must observe that the “methods” used by Yeats and Eliot are not very different. However, I consider that the imagery that draws the reader into the vortex, if we take into account Ezra Pound’s affirmation, functions in both cases, but in a different way. I consider that Eliot proposes new themes for the future, whereas Yeats rather sums up all previous heritage. The last one uses a discourse rather comfortable for the reader, but Eliot manages to force the limits of the language with his poem “The Waste Land”.

1. Cowie,AP(ed.), Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary of Current English, , Oxford University Press,1989.
2. Childs, Peter The Twentieth Century in Poetry: A Critical Survey,London, Routledge,1999,
3. Moody, A.D.(ed.), The Waste Land in Different Voices, Edward Arnold Publishers, London, 1974.

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