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Science in Modern PoetryNew Directions$
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John Holmes

Print publication date: 2012

Print ISBN-13: 9781846318092

Published to Liverpool Scholarship Online: June 2013

DOI: 10.5949/UPO9781846317743

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date: 11 December 2018

‘Accidental Variations’: Darwinian Traces in Yeats's Poetry

‘Accidental Variations’: Darwinian Traces in Yeats's Poetry

(p.151) Chapter 9 ‘Accidental Variations’: Darwinian Traces in Yeats's Poetry
Science in Modern Poetry

Rónán McDonald

Liverpool University Press

This chapter examines how Darwinism impacted the works of W.B. Yeats, whose poetic philosophy is resolutely opposed to scientific thinking and materialism. Yeats' approach to history opposes the gradual, protracted, incremental change over vast swathes of time on which Darwin based his theory. Yeats believes that flashes of pre-lapsarian existence are regained through intense imaginative creativity. However, Yeats' views are mercurial and the intellectual coordinates of his poetry continually shifting. While he repudiates Darwinism on one level, that of accident and surfaces, he appropriates it on another, that of struggle, conflict and change. Yeats' early interest in scientific naturalism, his late advocacy of eugenics and a persistent strain of Darwinian natural history throughout his poetry combine to indicate a deep ambivalence rather than a simple antagonism in his attitude to Darwin.

Keywords:   W.B. Yeats, Charles Darwin, Darwinism, scientific thinking, materialism, evolutionary biology

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