Graduation Year

2008

Document Type

Thesis

Degree

M.A.

Degree Granting Department

English

Major Professor

Philip Sipiora, Ph.D.

Keywords

Apocalypse, Mythology, Religion, Poem, Spiritual

Abstract

Yeats and Eliot merit comparison because they wrote poetry that has been described as apocalyptic in the same historical period and in the same general geographic area but described entirely different visions. These particular works of Yeats and Eliot are appropriate because they represent two widely varying viewpoints on the causes, nature and desirability of what each author felt would be the coming apocalypse. Therefore, more can be learned by comparing the very different outlooks of the poems than by considering each poem separately. Yeats sees humanity as both the victim and the beneficiary of a series of inescapable historical cycles. He views the destructive pressures on civilization as coming from an outside agency. Yeats continues this theme in many of his poems, such as "Lapis Lazuli": "All things fall and are built again, / And those that build them again are gay," as well as other works (Yeats, Collected 291, l. 35-36). On the other hand, Eliot feels that the imminent apocalypse was a result of the decadence of civilization, a direct result of humankind's rejection of the God of the Anglican faith, a failure that implies a more personal responsibility. Since Eliot's view implies freedom of choice, he found that humanity held the ultimate responsibility for its own salvation or desolation. Eliot differs from Yeats in that he describes an entirely internal, spiritual destruction. In this paper, I examine Yeats' "The Second Coming" and Eliot's "The Hollow Men" as examples of completely different visions of the near future, demonstrating the need for a more adequate definition of the term "apocalyptic poetry." While two poems are much too small a sample for such a broadly based project, my study will point the way to a possible reassessment of the perhaps overly broad application of the term "apocalyptic poetry."

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