Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Dr. Brian John


This study examines representations of thinking and consciousness in the poetry of W. B. Yeats and Wallace Stevens. This thesis is divided into two sections, "The Noetics of Form" and "The Noetics of Figure". Each section contains two chapters each on the poetry of Yeats and Stevens respectively. In the first section, I argue that the poetry of both Yeats and Stevens imitates a meditative mode of thinking. In Chapter One I explore Yeats's poetry as a dialectical mode of meditation. For Yeats, the process of containment is repeatedly undermined or postponed through an imitation of internal argument. His dialogues imitate an ongoing process of differentiation--a splitting of the objective and the subjective modes of thinking--in a struggle to enact containment through a transcendence or reconciliation of opposing lines of thought. In Chapter Two, I illustrate how Stevens's meditative poetry often imitates a process of thinking which is less determined and more observational than Yeats's. While there is still an implicit split between subjective and objective thought in Stevens' poetry, he more often imitates modes of thinking which recognize the co-dependency of human consciousness and objective reality, resulting in the imagined objective. Section II concerns the Noetics of Figure in the poetry of Yeats and Stevens, examining how their most dominant imagery represents a paradigm of human consciousness. In Chapter Three, I illustrate how Yeats's images suggest transcendence, a movement towards and beyond the margins of consciousness. I ground this discussion in Northrop Frye's view of images of ascent as being connected with an intensifying consciousness. Yeats's figures of mountains, trees, towers, and ladders represent consciousness, while his images of birds represent various forms of thinking within--and in an attempt to transcend--its limits. In Chapter Four, I look at Stevens's images of colour and shape as major noetic figures. These figures represent a movement towards the centre of human consciousness, and a model of consciousness as an ever-expanding container of reality. In my concluding chapter, I look at two late poems from each of the poets in order to illustrate the contrasts and comparisons between these paradigms of human consciousness. (Abstract shortened by UMI.)

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