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Home » » Symbolism in Modern English Poetry

There is a trend in modern literature to have recourse to the use of certain things or elements to represent or mark certain aspects or matters. The particular thing is the 'symbol ' that,  out of its apparent form or sense, carries a deeper meaning. Thus, ' a rose' may well be used to indicate beauty,  'white ' of 'purity '. These symbols may be used to indicate beauty and purity respectively. Similarly,  any other element may be dexterously exploited symbolically by an author to express his or her point of view or a certain shade of life, of course in a highly sophisticated manner. This trend is popularised as symbolism. This is a distinct feature, particularly in modern English poetry. The English poetic recourse to symbolism is remarkably patent in Eliot's The Waste Land, his Ariel Poems, and a good many poems of W.B. Yeats.

Symbolism definitely leads to intricacy, but,  at the same time, this proves engaging in the communication or manifestation of certain poets or elements in a distinctly sophisticated manner. Such a symbolic manner enhances the impressiveness and the literary quality of the work concerned. 

The symbolic Movement in Modern English poetry appeared as a sort of protest against the excessive romanticism of Georgian poetry in the early years of the twentieth century. Of course, actually, the symbolic movement started at the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth century. The chief exponents of the movement were the poets of France,  England, and even America. A good many poets started using symbols in their writing to express the complexity of modern life and society,  in a world,  lost in mechanism and commercialism. 

The eminent modern English poets who are noted for the symbolic trend in their poetry are, as indicated, W.B. Yeats and T.S. Eliot. They are found to use this technique as an instrument to give out their study and review of the contemporary reality of modern society. The chief representative of the symbolist movement in English poetry is definitely Yeats. His poetry stands highly as the ideal specimen of modern symbolic English poems. A variety of emotions and situations are effectively presented by him Through a multitude of indirect statements and apt symbols. Through his use of symbols, the imagery becomes a part of symbolic art. In many of his poems, he is found to have used symbols like 'Swan', 'Byzantium ', 'Goose', Second Coming'. 'Towers', and so on. His visions and expressions are equally animated with symbols. 

Next to Yeats stands T.S. Eliot the master of the symbolist technique in modern English poetry. His source of inspiration is mainly French symbolist writers. His deft use of artistic symbols unifies his poetical sensibility and extends his creative vision. The symbolic implication of his poetry often exposes the basic idea that he wants to convey in his poetry. His masterpiece The Waste Land brings out the decadence as also the barrenness of modern life. He has used here profusely unconstitutional symbols and symbolic imagery to convey the picture of a desolate country and a vision of despair in the modern world. His other poem 'Prufrock' equally presents his unconstitutional use of symbols. His description of the evening as 'A patient etherized upon a table ' is definitely a deeply meaningful and touching symbolic expression. In the Hollow Men, his other poem, the same representation of the decadent state of modern life is equally brought out through the symbol of 'Deadland', 'Cactus land'.

Symbolism is also marked in some later poets like Auden, Spender and Dylan Thomas,  Hughes's animal poems, and Philip Laskine's poems like At Grass are also symbolic in effect.

As a matter of fact,  symbolism forms a necessary part of the intricacy as well as the rarity of modern English poetry. This is definitely instrumental to the distinction of the poetry of this age from its predecessors. 


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