Freeing the Sign

Tina Cabrera


While the meaning of symbols in Yeats's poetry depends upon their relation to other objects and symbols within the poem in which they appear, they often seem to retain a fixed, stable meaning across all of his poetry. For instance, although in one poem the moon's changeability figures prominently, while in another, its eclipsing power is emphasized, the moon still retains the feminine aspect in both poems. When we turn to other poems in Yeats's oeuvre containing the symbol of the moon, we see it continues to evoke the feminine and all the traits typically identified with the feminine gender. Considering our understanding of the sign or symbol as functioning on the relational level, how is it that a specific meaning gets consistently attached to an arbitrary object like the moon? Does the fact that this happens mean that individual symbols possess their own distinct evocation, as in a stable fixed meaning? What are the implications if this is the case? I argue that much more than understanding the way that symbolism functions in Yeats' oeuvre is at stake here. If the meaning of symbols such as the moon is indeed fixed in Yeats, than we rightfully question whether this is the case beyond Yeats, that is, if the moon is a stable, universal sign for the feminine rather than being merely arbitrarily so. If so, this would further imply that the deeply rooted dual gender ideology that in part depends upon this configuration of moon as feminine and sun as masculine is not just an artificial construct but a Universal one. If we move beyond Yeats's work and into the function of the moon as symbol in other cultures, we can determine whether the moon really is a fixed, stable symbol of the feminine, and if not, whether it can be re-configured to take on new meanings, freed from perpetual association with gendered ideology.


symbolism;Yeats' poetic symbols;Proustian signs;Deleuze's study of signs/

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