William Butler Yeats, one of the modern poets, influences his contemporaries as well as successors, such as T. S. Eliot, Ezra Pound and W. B. Aden. Though three common themes in Yeats’ poetry are love, Irish Nationalism and mysticism, but modernism is the overriding theme in his writings. Yeats started his long literary career as a romantic poet and gradually evolved into a modernist poet.
As a typical modern poet he regrets for post-war modern world which is now in a disorder and chaotic tuition and laments for the past. Yeats as a modern poet is anti-rationalist in his attitude which is expressed through his passion for occultism or mysticism. He is a prominent poet in modern times for his sense of moral wholeness of humanity and history. Yeats is regarded as the seed of modernism. He is intensely aware of man in history and of the soul in eternity. Yeats is a representative modern poet and presents the spirit of the age in his poetry.
For this, he uses myth, symbolism, Juxtaposition, colloquial language and literary allusions as a device to express the anxiety of modernity. After the World war-I people got totally shattered and they suffered from frustration, boredom, anxiety and loneliness. Yeats has used different type of landscape to symbolize the spiritual and psychological states of modern man. “The Second Coming” is a superb example of Yeats’ modernism as in this poem Yeats portrays the modern chaotic and disordered condition after World War I and the poet tends to escape from this situation. Turning and turning in the widening gyred/ The falcon cannot hear the falconer;’ Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;’ Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,” Then, a powerful expression of Yeats’ agony facing old age appears at the beginning of “Sailing to Byzantium”: “That is no country for old men. The young/ In one another’s arms, birds in the tress/ Those dying generations – at their song. ” In “Among School Children” he considers himself a comfortable scarecrow. The heart becomes ‘comprehending, unfortunately attached to a ‘dying animal’. In “The Tower”, Yeats calls the aged body an ‘absurdity.
In the poem “A Prayer for My Daughter”, Yeats wishes to his daughter some abstract elites with which she will be able to face the upcoming challenges of future. Actually, his prayer is for all people of future generation. In “Easter 1916”, his sense of humanism is seen which is another modern trait in literature. The horrible effects of war cast a gloomy shadow on the poetic sensibility of the modern poets. He feels even for his rival. “He had done most bitter wrong / To some who are near my heart,” His use of symbols is another modern trait in his poetry which is complex and rich.
He is the chief representative of the Symbolist Movement. He draws his symbols from Irish folklore and mythology, philosophy, metaphysics, occult, magic, paintings and drawings. Several allusions are compressed into a single symbol. His symbols are all pervasive key symbols. ‘The Rose’, ‘Swan’ and ‘Helen’ are his key-symbols. Symbols give ‘dumb things voices, and bodiless things bodies’. Thus, Yeats is one of those celebrated modern poets, who flourished in the beginning of the twentieth century and created their own style of poetry in order to show their dissatisfaction with the world.