The Symbolist Movement in Literature

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by Pericles Lewis


Symbolism, whose legacy in English literature is best illustrated by the work of William Butler Yeats, was influentially introduced to an English-speaking public by Arthur Symons, translator of Baudelaire and the Italian decadent Gabriele d’Annunzio. Symons wrote of symbolism as “an attempt to spiritualise literature” in his 1899 book The Symbolist Movement in Literature, which he dedicated to Yeats: “Description is banished that beautiful things may be evoked, magically; the regular beat of the verse is broken in order that words may fly, upon subtler wings.”[1][2]


  1. In Vassiliki Kolocotroni, Jane Goldman, and Olga Taxidoe, eds. Modernism: An Anthology of Sources and Documents. (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1998), p. 135.
  2. This page has been adapted from Pericles Lewis's Cambridge Introduction to Modernism (Cambridge UP, 2007), pp. 57-58.
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