Symbolist Movement

Symbolist Movement

In a significant work by Arthur Symons, titled “The Symbolist Movement in Literature” (1899), he characterized the movement as a reaction against realism and naturalism and as an attempt to “spiritualize literature.” The term “symbolism” is specifically applied to the work of late 19th century French writers who reacted against the descriptive precision, the objectivity of realism and the scientific determinism of naturalism. The term was first used in this sense by Jean Moreas in Le Figaro (French weekly magazine) in 1886. Baudelaire’s sonnet, “Correspondences” and the works of Edgar Allan Poe were important precursors of the movement.

Symbolism emphasised the primary importance of suggestion and the evocation in the expression of a private mood or reverie, as employed by Romantic poets like Shelley and Blake. The techniques of the French Symbolists, who exploited an order of private symbols in a poetry of rich suggestiveness rather than explicit signification, had an immense influence throughout Europe and America on writers like T.S. Eliot, Yeats, Pound, Joyce, Virginia Woolf, Wallace Stevens, Ernest Dowson, Dylan Thomas, Hart Crane, ee cummings and others.

Symbolism became writer’s favourite in the Modern Age, in the decades after the WWI. Drawing symbols from religious and esoteric (difficult to understand) traditions and even inventing them, many of the major writers of the period made significant use of Symbolism in their settings, agents, actions, as well as in objects they refer to, as can be seen in Yeats’ “Byzantium” and “The Second Coming”, Dylan Thomas’ sonnet series “Altarwise by Owl-Light”, Hart Crane’s “The Bridge”, T.S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land”, Wallace Stevens’ “The Comedian as the Letter C”, James Joyce’s “Finnegan’s Wake”, William Faulkner’s “The Sound and the Fury” and other similar works.

Like Symbolist poets, Symbolist dramatists tried to speak of a higher existence than the temporal one, by dramatizing certain moments in human life when universal experiences were recognised and shared. They maintained that another reality, universal and eternal, resided in common symbols— such as the rose, whiteness and the sea— and could be revealed on the stage by the careful manipulation of the collective unconscious through the interweaving of the objective correlatives to abstract experience.

Maurice Maeterlinck, a Belgian playwright, wrote Interior (1896), The Intruder, (1891), and other short plays in which the moment of death was held transfixed on the stage long enough for the audience to recognize the common bond implied in their own morality. Similarly, in his “Blind” (1891), Maeterlinck showed how all humanity shares the failure to see or comprehend its purpose in the universe; the play deals with twelve blind persons lost in a forest, seeking a guide who does not appear.

Because by definition Symbolism was not interested in everyday life, it was a short-lived theatrical movement, although echoes of the philosophy can be heard in much of the subsequent realistic drama.






©2023 Md Rustam Ansari []


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