William Butler Yeats' transformations of eastern religious concepts

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Grimes, Linda S.
Thornburg, Thomas R.
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Thesis (Ph. D.)
Department of English
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This study addresses the issue of William Butler Yeats' use of Upanishad philosophy in his poetry. Although many analyses of Yeats' art vis-a-vis Eastern religion exist, none offer the thesis that the poet transformed certain religious concepts for his own purpose, thereby removing those concepts from the purview of Eastern religion. Quite the contrary, many of the analyses argue a parallel between Yeats' poetry and the religious concepts.In Chapter 1 this study gives a brief overview of the problem and proposes the thesis that instead of paralleling Eastern religious concepts, Yeats transformed those concepts; such transformations result in ideas which run counter to the yogic goal as expounded in the Upanishads.Chapter 2 summarizes yogic sources which help elucidate the concepts of Upanishad thought. Also Chapter 2 introduces various the critical analyses which present inaccurate conclusions regarding Yeats' use of Eastern religion.Chapter 3 explains certain Eastern religious concepts such concepts as karma and reincarnation and asserts that the goal of the discipline of yoga is self-realization.Chapter 4 discusses the poems of Yeats' canon which have been analyzed critically in terms of Eastern religious concepts and have erroneously been considered to parallel certain Eastern concepts. This chapter argues that Yeats' transformations resulted in an art which is chiefly based on the physical level of being, whereas the goal of yogic discipline places its chief emphasis on the spiritual level of being. Also it is argued that Yeats cultivated imagination, whereas the Eastern religious devotee cultivates intuition.Chapter 5 details the critical analyses which have erroneously argued the Yeatsian parallel to Eastern religion, showing how these critics have sometimes failed to understand concepts adequately and thus have misapplied them to Yeats' art.Chapter 6 contrasts Yeats' poetry with that of Rabindranath Tagore. Yeats failed to realize Tagore's motivation when Tagore referred to God. Yeats claimed that all reference to Cod was vague and that he disliked Tagore's mysticism. This lack of understanding on Yeats' part, I suggest, further supports the thesis that Yeats' use of Eastern religion constitutes transformations which do not reflect Upanishad philosophy but instead reflect a Yeatsian version of those concepts--a version which many critics have not clearly elucidated.