Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Yvor Winters' early poetry, from 1920 to 1928, was written in free-verse; the aesthetic principles governing it centered on the image "purified" of conceptual content, and consisting of a "fusion" between the natural object being described and the poet's own mind. The result is a kind of naturalistic mysticism, destructive of judgements and evaluations of the conscious intellect. The early poetry also registers the effect of certain scientific theories on Winters' mind; these theories were mechanistic and deterministic in nature, and they turned Winters' world into one in which moral and intellectual values had no reality. Other themes that appear in the early poems are the absence, or non-existence, of God, the fear of death, and the apprehension that the ultimate nature of the universe might be demonic. In the late twenties Winters underwent an artistic and intellectual reformation in reaction to the free-verse and the stylistic violence which that verse finally degenerated into. He embraced a classicism that respected and acted upon the powers of the conscious mind. Writing in conventional meter and employing a style both imagistic and abstract, he wrote poems dealing with the possibility, and the realization, of moral control and intellectual order. His new poetics rested on the philosophical assumption that absolute truth exists. In order to safeguard that truth and save himself from subjective relativism, he was driven by what he viewed as philosophical necessity to a theistic position. He was influenced in this process by Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas. Only the existence of God could guarantee and validate truth and assure its independence of the human mind. Winters most reluctantly admitted theism. He had an instinctive fear of the supernatural; he was afraid the supernatural, its ineffability and absolute foreignness, would generate intellectual confusion in the human realm, which he wanted protected at all cost. Consequently, he defined God in the most intellectually respectful terms at his disposal. God becomes Pure Mind or Perfect Concept, existentially neutral and non-providential as far as the human is concerned. Such a "perfect mind" becomes the absolute standard by which everything is judged. We see the effects of this definition and the subsequent standard in Winters' view of the natural world, the body-soul composite in man, and the "giant movements" working in society at large. Since the natural world, as well as man's own body, does not participate in the reality of the Pure Mind, it was viewed by Winters with some distrust as a possible impediment to man's realizing his moral and intellectual good. Since Winters believed so much of modern society was noted for thoughtlessness, he viewed it suspiciously and recommended detachment and isolation as the means of saving oneself from moral and intellectual contamination. "To the Holy Spirit," a poem written in his late forties, summarizes all themes related to theism and is his most complete statement on the subject.
Finlay, John Martin, "The Unfleshed Eye: a Study of Intellectual Theism in the Poetry and Criticism of Yvor Winters." (1980). LSU Historical Dissertations and Theses. 3561.