Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


College of Humanities and Social Sciences



Thesis Sponsor/Dissertation Chair/Project Chair

David Galef

Committee Member

Jonathan Greenberg


This thesis will examine questions about how William Butler Yeats was influenced by his exposure to eastern philosophical thinking. Yeats's work prior to 1927, before his significant and rather esoteric tome A Vision, could classify him as a proto-Romantic, but it was his work after this where we see the influence of an eastern way of thinking. Specifically, this thesis will focus on Yeats's poetry from 1927 on, with references to some of his earlier work to demonstrate how Yeats had already discovered some of the basic tenets of eastern thinking without having studied it. The initial analysis will locus on the contributions Zen Buddhism and the Indian Upanishads and how Yeats developed his poetic philosophy around these contributions.

Outlined in A Vision is Yeats's rather esoteric artistic philosophy, detailing how one struggles between what one is and what one wants to be. Yeats's later poetry, written during his later years, takes up the challenge of trying to reconcile the Self and the not-Self. Following the initial analysis will be the integration of the philosophies of Zen Buddhism and the Upanishads in Yeats’s later poetry, specifically poems that feature a speaker in conflict with himself. Poems such as “Ego Dominus Tuus,” “A Dialogue of.Self and Soul,” as well as poems featuring a speaker on some kind of spiritual journey, such as “Sailing to Byzantium,” and “Byzantium.”

The development of this poetic philosophy and its application will also be explored, as it suggests an approach that enhances the more common analysis under a Western philosophical tradition. The benefit an Eastern philosophical approach is that w'e can see a poet struggling with the conflicting natures of the Self and the Soul, and who turns towards Eastern philosophy to reveal a system that facilitates a poetic philosophy that views death and life as mostly illusory, a poetic philosophy that echoes the Romantic movement that called for an awakening of the Soul. In his introduction to the never-published Scribner's Sons “Dublin Edition,” Yeats tells us that the first principle for a poet is that he is “part of his own phantasmagoria and we adore him because nature has grown intelligible, and by so doing a part of our creative power” (Essays 204). He goes on to explain: “’When mind is lost in the light of the Self,’ says the Prashna Upanishad, ‘It dreams no more; still in the body it is lost in happiness.’ ‘A wise man seeks in Self, says the Chadogya Upanishad, ‘those that are alive and those that are dead and gets what the world cannot give’.

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