EP78circleWas W. B. Yeats an Irrealist?
Michael Colson
with an introduction by Marjorie Perloff

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The standard view is that W. B. Yeats was a great poet but his occult philosophy is a muddled assembly of incoherent ideas. Many critics have said that occult ideas which inform his great system of symbols, images, and metaphors detract from and even weaken his poetry. Thus, Yeats is not understood to be a serious thinker as other modern poets, such as T.S. Eliot and Wallace Stevens. But would we assert the same conclusion if Yeats held a coherent orthodox philosophy that could be untangled from his unorthodox beliefs? Michael Colson attempts to clarify Yeats’ coherent philosophy that informs his poetry. Yeats’ symbols, images, and metaphors were not confined to his poet’s mind alone or to words on the page but were derived from and extended into the world at large.
“In my view, Yeats was a serious thinker because he held a coherent metaphysical view called “irrealism.” This opposes three standard interpretations: (1) Yeats’s philosophy was inconsistent, incoherent, and irrational; (2) Richard Ellmann’s “Assertion without Doctrine View,” which holds that Yeats frequently made seemingly contradictory assertions, but didn’t believe any of them; and (3) Yeats’s orthodox beliefs were committed to Berkeley’s idealism. As I hope to show, critics have neglected important features of Yeats’s philosophy. As a result, we have reason to reevaluate his status as a serious thinker who held coherent philosophical views.”
MICHAEL COLSON earned a doctoral degree in English from the University of Southern California. He teaches English and Philosophy at Diablo Valley College and attends the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology in Berkeley. His areas of specialty include modern Irish poetry and the philosophy of Wittgenstein.


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