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The poet as a mythmaker

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The poet as a mythmaker The poet as a mythmaker Presentation Transcript

  • WILLIAM BUTLER YEATS THE POET AS A MTTHMAKER 1865-1939 M O R T O N I R V I N G SEIDEN liu Great WfueC jtvmike SPECULUM ET HOM'NUM ' dence J .' ^ New York Cooper Square Publishers, Inc. 1975
  • To my Mother d the memory my Father C O P Y R I G H T 1962 by Michigan State University Pre; Reprinted by permission of Morton Irving Seiden Published 1975 by Cooper Square Publishers, Inc. 59 Fourth Avenue, New York, N . Y . 10003 Printed in the United States of America L i b r a r y of Congress Cataloging in l'iiMi«-<iit«ni l>„i, Seiden, Morton Irving, 1921- William Butler Yeats: the p o d .<•. n nn linn .1 • i 1865-1939. Reprint of the 1962 ed. pnlilr.1..I In Ml. ' University Press, East T.anMm' Bibliography: p. ] . Yonts, Willium Bull-', V , , | . I,'irr. lu I'i CrltiuUm mid inlnrpvcliiilnii i M•. 11. ... In. u i m . l»n5«)H.MHS4 li)74 ' I T •'. . i .n , i . I S B N ()-81M.()4l)l H Printed In U.S.A. by NOBLE O F F S E T P R I N T E R S , INC. New York, N.Y. 10003
  • PREFACE In w r i t i n g this book I have placed myself under an obligation to many people. M y debt to other writers, both critics and scholars, is so great that at certain moments I cannot remember all of its items. I n the Bibliography I have attempted to list as many of these items as possible; and i n this preliminary note I must express my g r a t i - tude, albeit i n general terms, to all those writers whose works I have used, perhaps too freely, and without whose help I could never have written this book. Like everyone who today attempts a study of Yeats' life and works, however, I am especially indebted to two authors, whose names I feel compelled to mention at once: Richard Ellman and Joseph Hone, the poet's biographers. I am under a very great obligation to Professor W i l l i a m York T i n d a l l , through whom almost twenty years ago I first became i n - terested i n Yeats' poetry and the occult tradition. As teacher, c o l - league, and friend, Professor T i n d a l l shared w i t h me his deep u n - derstanding of both subjects. W h e n later I decided to write this book, he both encouraged and guided me i n the early stages of my research; and afterwards he read the first draft of my manuscript, which he corrected and helped me to improve. Professors E l l i o t t V a n K i r k Dobbie and Maurice Valency gave me criticism of the greatest value. Professors Jean-Albert Bede" and Joseph Blau helped preserve me from inaccuracies of fact and e x - pression. I am grateful to Professors Richard V . Chase and Henry C. Hatfield for reading the book i n one of its early drafts, to Professor Roger Sherman Loomis for his help i n matters Celtic and medieval, and to Professor Roderick Marshall for correcting the pages on the Orphic Mysteries. M r . Leo James H i l l assisted me w i t h many textual analyses and, despite the pressures of his own work, went over more drafts of the manuscript than I have the courage to remember. I am very grateful to M r . W i l l i a m Bridgwater for giving me the advantage of his criticism and vast learning. Professor Andrew Chiappe was most generous i n his willingness to answer questions from his k n o w l - edge of Yeats; i t was through my conversations w i t h h i m that I first came to understand and appreciate Yeats' last poems. ix
  • PREFACE T h e librarians of Columbia University, Yale University, and the New York Public Library were extremely helpful. T h e Macmillan CONTENTS Company has allowed me to quote at length from Yeats' published works, of which i t holds the American copyright. Mrs. Barbara Clayman, Mrs. A n n Doane, and Mrs. Carol Trosch helped me i m - Preface ix measurably i n their typing of the manuscript through a l l its many Introduction 1 drafts. Professor Bayard Quincy Morgan went over the proofs w i t h painstaking care, and made a large number of invaluable suggestions. P A R T ONE: T H E QUEST FOR A F A I T H M y debt to my family and close friends is the greatest of a l l . I . Sources and Analogues: 1885-1914 13 I know that I shall never be able to determine its extent. They l i ' . I I . T h e Early Works: 1885-1918 54 tened to me when I had no subject for conversation other than Ycnu and his philosophy; and, when I was afraid that I might newt »<•(• I I I . The Myth 72 my work to its completion, they gave me the encouragement wliii li I I V . T h e M y t h Revised 103 needed desperately. V. T h e M y t h Evaluated 128 M o r t o n Irving Sriilrn March, 1962 P A R T T W O : A R T I F A C T S OF E T E R N I T Y New York City V I . Mythology and A r t 143 V I I . Psychological Conflict and H u m a n Types 174 V I I I . Nature Gods, Cycles, and Antinomies 195 I X . History and the Historical Process 233 X . Supernatural Poems 285 Notes 323 Bibliography 339 Index 3 5 5 x xi
  • Y E A T S : T H E P O E T AS A M Y T H M A K E R THE MYTH vinced that he had oversimplified human psychology; that, by not Aherne, the one an occultist and the other a neo-Thomist; b u t he making greater use of illustrations drawn from history and famous decided that the form was too difficult to handle and that, a l l things considered, i t would be more courageous for h i m to speak i n his biographies, he had weakened his argument; and that he had failed, own person. T h e dialogue, however, was not completely abandoned. as indeed he had, adequately to develop his mathematical s y m - W h e n i t was rewritten, i t became the i n t r o d u c t i o n to the first e d i - bolism. tion; and, when i t was expanded, i t became the "Stories of Michael Robartes and His Friends" i n the second. 164 Notwithstanding that i t is often lost i n unbelievable obscurity, I t was to remedy these faults that, d u r i n g the next six or seven A Vision is occasionally w r i t t e n i n a prose of simple beauty and c o n - years, he undertook to write A Vision. H e read widely, often r e - trolled eloquence. T h e book is replete w i t h gross misinterpretations reading books he had not examined for years. H i s wife, a somewhat of history and philosophy and w i t h an outrageously archaic s y m - learned woman w h o m he had married on October 21, 1917, p r o - bolism, astronomy, and psychological jargon; nevertheless, i t is p r o - vided h i m w i t h others; she translated for h i m books which he could foundly enriched, here and there, by its own imaginative truths. not read i n the original German or Italian; and she gladly explained A n d i n it there are, also, many empirically true statements, although to h i m his most difficult lessons. Since she was a medium and an we may sometimes have to redefine Yeats' terms i f we are to accept occultist, she encouraged h i m to believe even that his myth was them as either valid or sound. As i n Per Arnica Silentia Lunae, Yeats supernaturally inspired. A n d she gave h i m , most important by does not t u r n away from deliberate equivocation, such as the i n - far, the emotional security which made the task of creating a private furiating confusion of a literal w i t h a metaphorical statement; or myth less arduous than i t m i g h t otherwise have been. he may introduce ideas which he treats as absolutely certain w i t h inch words and phrases as "perhaps," " i t seems," " i t may be," " I A t last, i n his imagination the total patterns of his great book suggest." or " I t h i n k . " But, for the most part, he states his beliefs —A Vision—began to crystallize. Ideas long dormant came into w i t h directness and self-confidence—sometimes w i t h too much his consciousness. Syntheses and analogies fast revealed themselves confidence. H i s tone and style then become dogmatic; his c o n c l u - to h i m . Illustrations of doctrine came, as though spontaneously, i n t o sions, entirely arbitrary; and his reasoning or arguments, almost being. Theories once confused or imperfectly understood were, for naively deductive. the first time, easy to grasp. T h e development of Yeats' thought d u r i n g the years when he was A n d yet he never ceases to add to the impressiveness of the book. w r i t i n g A Vision can be traced i n certain essays which he then p u b - In spite of obvious omissions, A Vision is remarkably coherent and lished: the autobiographical fragments The Trembling of the Veil well-organized, comprehensive and elaborate. Yeats adorns i t w i t h (1922) and The Bounty of Sweden (1925), as well as the copious notes w h a t — a t least on the surface—appears to be a wealth of encyclo- to Michael Robartes and the Dancer (1920) and Four Plays for pedic learning. Characteristically untroubled by the most farfetched Dancers (1921). W e may t u r n , rather, to the great work itself. analogies, he cites as his authorities an astonishing number of major European authors from ancient Greece to the present. A n d i n the works of almost every major philosopher he can, through m a n i p - ulation, discover evidence that his most cryptic opinions are a b - III. solutely s o u n d . 155 Meanwhile, through a skillful use of metaphor THE MYTH and symbol, he transfigures his book—paradoxically and b r i l l i a n t l y — i n t o a dream which has been thoroughly schematized. A n d , true as only dreams can be true, i t is thus a fulfillment of his hope and, A Vision was privately p r i n t e d i n 1925 and sold only to sub- i n many i m p o r t a n t details, of ours. scribers. Yeats had originally undertaken to write the book as a 153 Platonic dialogue between two men, Michael Robartes and Owen B u t Yeats does not forget his debt to Gaelic t r a d i t i o n — h i s splen- 72 73 ~
  • YEATS: T H E POET AS A M Y T H M A K E R THE MYTH did, nationalistic ideal A> Vision, he tells us at one place i n the text, is "now an interpretation, now an enlargement of the folklore TfaSupter of the [Irish] villages." H e w o u l d have usjbelieve that the cycles 156 orSfuref Viiknu and antinomies of which he wjifeilaxe__ajy^c^ be thought of as <uU Itutina symbolized by the_dying and resurrected earth god of Gaelic nature myth. 1 6 7 A n d elsewhere, although he wryly substitutes Arabia for Ireland, he traces his central i m a g e — t h e Great W h e e l — t o an ancient r i t u a l dance around a circle marked out i n the e a r t h . 188 The ritual wheel dance, as Yeats explains i n another work, is a variation of a sacred rite i n w h i c h the Irish druids once celebrated the revolving seasons. Far more than i n any of his preceding essays, Gaelic 169 mythology is now indistinguishable from those philosophical sys- tems which, according to h i m , have their origins i n i t . Yeats' Ireland emerges from the b u l k of his writings, again, as the most important influence on European culture. A Vision, one of his cenotaphs, is no less a monument to the country of his b i r t h . Dedicated to Vestigia, probably Mrs. MacGregor Mathers, the 160 book is introduced by the story of Michael Robartes and Owen Aherne. Aherne, the neo-Thomist narrator, speaks about his recent meeting w i t h Robartes, an occultist, about Robartes' adventures i n the Orient, about their religious differences, and about their f r i e n d - ship w i t h the poet W . B . Yeats. B u t the purpose of the introduction tfat lift*. is not so much to give an entertaining narrative as to give a p r o - TluCuptfTmjiHtUH. found exposition. Aherne, rather than tell a story, reveals the sources and analogues of M r . Yeats' private m y t h : the speculations of Robartes; the Speculum Angelorum et Hominorum (sic), written by one Giraldus, a late sixteenth-century metaphysician; the oral tradition of a certain A r a b i a n tribe, the Judwalis; and a lost Jud- the volume: "What the Caliph Partly Learned," " W h a t the Caliph walis manuscript, The History of the Soul Between the Sun and Refused to Learn," "Dove and Swan," and " T h e Gates of Pluto," the Moon by Kusta ben Luka, a Christian philosopher at the court these essays loosely connected by recurrent themes and symbols. of Caliph H a r u n Al-Rashid, a man very much perplexed by ben Luka's teachings. 161 T h e i n t r o d u c t i o n is, of course, pure fable. I have read, I no (a) longer remember where, that Robartes and Aherne were the names of actual persons; b u t ben Luka, the Judwalis, and the Speculum I n " W h a t the Caliph Partly Learned," the first of the four essays, Angelorxim et Hominorum never existed; and the portrait of Yeats explains) and illustrates his most recent theories about human Giraldus, Yeats' frontispiece, is really a bad woodcut of the author. personality>(He classifies m e n — h e says very little about w o m e n — T h e poet's little fable, nevertheless, adds a touch of lightness and i n t o twenty-6ight~archetypes, each type symboUcally^ assocjafed ,withv mystery to his learned book. one of the twenty-eight spokes or lunar ph|twr*Sf"an imaginary Great Following the introduction" there are the four main essays of Wheel. T h e classification is made according~T6~T:lK^n^3vidliar^ 74 75
  • '' ' Y E A T S : T H E P O E T AS A M Y T H M A K E R ~ ] THE MYTH ^ f ' x< " last subjectivity or Objectivity^* words for which Yeats substitutes the s7i»borhT"a^tractid tincture and primary tincture. H i s explanations of objectivity and subjectivity, however, are not very clear. By subjectivity he appears to mean the ego, the exaltation of i n - diyi3ual_ comddusnessT""2ncTIHougfit""tEat looks inward. Quoting .from The Oxf6rd"~£hglish' Dictiim&iy, he~expiains objectivity as _ " . . . all that 'is presented to consciousness as opposed to ^conscious- ness of self, that is the objegt;.of perception or thought,"the non-ego, . ."" .""treating of outward things and events rather than inward ' t h o u g h t , T 7 7 t h e actual facts, not coloured by the opinions or feel- ings of the writer.' " i e i By explaining the terms ubjrctwily and sub- Thrtk x is South jectivity i n this manner, Yeats raises and liiil* lc> answer two very CfmpUu , CemjtCm important epistemological questions. Can we speak of a reality apart Subjectivity from men who apprehend? A n d can we describe the m i n d apart from that reality which the m i n d theoretically perceives!* It remains obvious, i n any event, that Yeats' new psychological dualism is a rationalization of an o l d antinomy, thatIJTTloTinlies and Aherne or that of John Sherman and W i l l i a m Howard: personality and character, imagination and intellect, the feminine or introspective 4& m1mTmd~Tfa£THa^ "As the moon revolves around the Great Wheel, it waxes and 8 wanes. A t the Fifteenth Phase, which is a full moon, subjectivity West is at its height; and at Phase One, the dark of the moon, life is Discovery cf Strength entirely objective. According to this scheme, Yeats informs us, all menjcan be classified; and, psychologically as well as morally, they r a n be both explained and understood. Souls-'pass around the Great Wheel i n many transmigrations, a l - though at Phases One and Fifteen—pure objectivity and pure sub- revolutions of the Great Wheel symbolize even waxing and waning j e c t i v i t y — t h e y are reborn as spirits. These rounds of incarnation desire, fluctuations i n thought, and states of poetic inspiration. B u t continue u n t i l , purified of sexual desire, the soul becomes an "ar- Yeats regards his Wheel as an image, predominantly, of a l l the row," abandons "the wheels of generation," and escapes into the rounds of human incarnation. rhythm, harmony, and fire -of A n i m a M u n d i . Movement around the I n A Vision t ' p q y " g Y " r *flP complicated than he v p a g r h 1 n f a m Great Wheel symbolizes also the twenty-eight stages or phases of an permitted iTto~be i n any of his earlier essays. N o t only is every mar^ i n d i v i d u a l lifetime: a m a n grows from the amorphous or ob- antithetical or primary b u t he is a combination of both tinctures jective state of childhood (Phase One) to the intense individualism though i n varying degrees: each lunar phase is_ conceived of of maturity (Phase Fifteen), and then sinks into the undifferentiated Yeats as a moon (subjectivity) superimposed on a sun (objectivity)' 1 mass of o l d age (Phase Twenty-eight), his second childhood. T h e the one waxing while the other wanes. Imtead'lff'IKe^intpIe' dua * Cf. C a r l Gustav Jung, Psychological Types, pp. 4 1 6 - 5 1 7 . Jung divides human ism of the self and the antiself, expounded m Per Amica Silenti beings into extroverts and introverts. His extroverts are very much like Yeats' objective men; and his introverts, like the latter's subjective men. L~u"n~ae~ and h,stranglrmerii, he now dlvl3eTTruman personality int. 76 " ~ *77 * " - ' -
  • Y E A T S : T H E P O E T AS A M Y T H M A K E R THE MYTH *"mui r a c u j l i e s ^ j j a u - e ^ i ^ Wheel as-^Mnfii^ngc^jpjTsjhes: Such Conflict) Yeats calls to our attention, is necessary for the exist- W i l l 'and^Masjgjind Creative M i n d and Body o f ^ a t e j ( ence of life Itself. O u t of psychological discord there emerge, for every h u m a n being, a consciousness of selfhood and a masterful i n - i. W i l l is the ego, "the~BfsT matter of . . . personality, dividuality. I n each human being's sublimation of c o n f l i c t — t h e ,' w h i c h the soul is classified a n d its phase fixed." 1 8 8 ' 2. M a s k is the antiself o r o p p o s k e o f the ' W i l l . It is "the imagr < l : > search for D a i m o n or M a s k — t h e creation and enjoyment of art w h a t w e w i s h toHbecoirife,"or of that to w h i c h w e give our rcvn- is made possible/ as are a l l the noteworthy achievements of men. ence." Yeats speaks, further, of two Masks, one True and I lu- 1 8 4 Civilization is a magnificent illusion which conceals from o u r other F a l s e , a d d i n g that the W i l l is free to choose either. eyes the agony /of life. g. C r e a t i v e M i n d is "intellect . . . [and] a l l the m i n d that is consciously But rife does/not fail to consider the importance—of--psyehologk constructive." I t m a y be, l i k e the Mask, either T r u e or False. c a l l r a r m ^ n x or, to use his phrase, Unity of Being. T h e conscious 1 6 5 4. B o d y of F a t e is t h e non-ego, reality d i v o r c e d f r o m personality, "thr physical a n d m e n t a l e n v i r o n m e n t , the c h a n g i n g h u m a n body, tlir and the urWonseious, the Four Faculties and the Four Principles, a n d stream of P h e n o m e n a as_this...affects a p a r t i c u l a r i n d i v i d u a l , all lluit the hermaphroditic impulses i n die individual must resolve.„their is forced u p o n us f r o m w i t h o u t , T i m e as i t affects s e n s a t i o n . " 180 energies i n terms of. one-another, w i t h o u t the yielding of the H a v i n g e x p l a i n e d the F o u r Faculties,_Ye>ts next considers them in conscious m i n d to be unconscious, the Faculties to the Principles, or ~tTTeir~relation to sevefal o t h e r d i v i s i o n s i n h u m a n p e r s o n a l i t y : - the the dorginantjto the b u r } e d j e x . c o n s c i o u s a n d u n c o n s c i o u s a s p e c t s o f t h e m i n d , t h e b i s e x u a l desires Yeats is of the opinion, however, that true Unity of Being is pos- in every individual," the psychological as o p p o s e d to the super* sible only for antithetical men, especially for those born at Phase n a t u r a l - - * D a o m o n , a i ^ ^ e ^ F x > u r Principles-: r Seventeen. A l t h o u g h he does not say as much i n A Vision, i n c i d e n t - ally, Phase Seventeen was the phase to which, he felt convinced, he 1. T h e F o u r P r i n c i p l e s a r e 5 u s k y Passionate B o d y , C e l e s t i a l Body, . _ a n d _ S p i r i t , c o r r e s p o n d i n g t 6 ^ a c h ~ o F t h e F o u r F a c u l t i e s , in which belonged and to which, as a result, he assigned h i m s e l f . Hence, 1688 they are i n n a t e . H u s k a n d Passionate Body, p u r e i n s t i n c t or the his w i l d claims here i n A Vision for men of Phase Seventeen, one b o d y a n d p ^ e ^ i e x u a r a e s t r e j are undifferentiated W i l l a n d Mask, must admit, are both arrogant and amusing, yet we are n o t u n p r e - C e l e s t i a l Body~OTd~Sp"int7 the i n d i v i d u a l ' s i m m o r t a l self and his pared for them. H e never achieved i n life that Unity of Being which abstract m i n d , a r e undifferentiated B o d y of F a t e a n d Creative he desperately sought or of which he often boasted; and so, he needed M i n d . I n o c c i i k _ J o r e Yeats' P r i n c i p l e s are_ the; essences.of Jtkeing, T h e y suggest, i n psychoanalysis, the I d . 1 8 7 the compensation of a mere dream. By rejecting his feminine or 2. C r e a t i v e M i n d a n d W i l l are the i n d i v i d u a l ' s conscious mind, lunar self because i t was too passive, moreover, he w o u l d create whereas M a s k a n d B o d y of F a t e are the u p p e r m o s t portions of his for himself a masculine or primary Mask, r e t u r n to that subjectivity u n c o n s c i o u s m i n d . T h e former h a v e m u c h i n c o m m o n , I t h i n k , with from which he could n o t escape, and idealize his personal neurosis. F r e u d ' s Superego a n d E g o ; the latter, w i t h h i s u n c o n s c i o u s mem- But i t would be a gross error to think of Yeats' psychological system ory. 1 8 8 • '• '' merely as a sublimation of personal conflict. As I have endeavored 3. T h e psychological D a i m o n , a n e m a n a t i o n f r o m its s u p e r n a t u r a l c o u n t e r p a r t , is b o t h the lowest p o r t i o n of the u n c o n s c i o u s mind to suggest, he regarded A Vision, i f mistakenly, as a book of deep r e l i - arYd^tfte"female s e x u a l i t y b u r i e d i n every m a n . M a n i f e s t i n g itself in gious and political significance. A t the same time, although his our dreams, it h e l p s to motivate o u r conscious behavior.. I t revei.ll meanings are not always clear, we may translate his symbolic m a - to lis the'most p r o f o u n d secrets of o u r being, b u t only t h r o u g h the chinery of Faculties and Principles into less archaic terms, n o t i n - mysterious l a n g u a g e ' o f symbols. A n d , because it acts t h r o u g h the frequently w i t h his help; and, having done so, we can then educe M a s k a n d the B o d y o f F a t e , Y e a t s m a i n t a i n s that"The" psychological D a i m o n can be p u r s u e d a n d w o n either t h r o u g h art or t h r o u g h the from his system much that accords w i t h the modern psychological women"~m"en love. A man's fate is his beloved, a n d art is the poet's view of human nature. Mask,.,,,. I t may be argued by many critics that Yeats' psychology is d e - In the m i n d of every i n d i v i d u a l , m e a n w h i l e , Daimon, Principles, terministic. To-avjery.great extent i t is: the phase,.at.which a man F a c u l t i e s , b i s e x u a l d e s i r e s , a n d a l l t h e a s p e c t s o f c o n s c i o u s and u n - is .born is..predeiexnua^J_Fj^lties, Principles, and D a i m o n have conscious t h o u g h t a r e i n p e r p e t u a l conflict. their respective phases, these predetermined by the W i l l ; the W i l l , 78 79
  • Y E A T S : T H E P O E T AS A M Y T H M A K E R THE MYTH contemplating the Mask, is controlled by destiny, psychological who has "an extreme desire for spiritual authority," lives solely, r 7 g e 5 ^ ; ' ^ ^ i £ £ T ^ g g ^ ' M i ^ [ :roniempjaring the Body of Fate, c J i n terms of r e n u n c i a t i o n . T h e Fool, whether good or malignant, 178 is"controlled by fate, cosmic..nece_ssity. A n d yet the determinism-out- is the man who has no W i l l of his own: "He is b u t a straw b l o w n lined i n A Vision, unlike that i n Per Amica Silentia Lunae, is really by the wind, w i t h no m i n d but the w i n d and no act but a nameless not an absolute. A man can still choose between his T r u e and his drifting and t u r n i n g , and is sometimes called ' T h e C h i l d of False Mask and between his T r u e and his False Creative M i n d ; and, God.' "I 7 7 A n d the Hunchback is a solitary man of physical ugliness when the phase of the i n d i v i d u a l is not that of his age, certain g r a t u i - and unmotivated evil: " H e commits crimes, not because he wants tous adjustments can, indeed must, be made. B u t not u n t i l the to, or . . . because he can, but because he wants to feel certain that second edition of A Vision d i d Yeats make a truly adequate attempt he can. . . . " 1 7 8 to solve the complex problem of free w i l l and determinism. Once T h e other archetypal men of whom Yeats writes are drawn from having committed himself to necessity, he longed to regain his lost the political and intellectual history of Europe, both ancient and freedom; and then he concluded thai only in a stoical opposition to modern. They include Socrates, Dante, Shakespeare, Blake, Goethe, fate can men w i n the dignity of heroic despair. Napoleon, Shelley, Balzac (a favorite of his maturity), Nietzsche, T h e most fascinating portion of "What the Caliph Partly and Parnell (whom he never ceased to admire), among others. Learned" is the second hall, in which he illustrates his various Yeats' Great Wheel is a k i n d of Who's Who of Western civilization. theories by explaining the k i n d of life possible at each lunar phase. Because written or contrived to illustrate a theory of psychology, A t Phases One and Fifteen human life is not possible. Here, as we his biographical sketches confront the reader w i t h certain obvious have seen, souls are reborn as spirits. One, because ". . . now . . . body climtiiliics. I n practice he never distinguishes satisfactorily between is completely absorbed i n its supernatural [or supersensual] e n - the characteristics of antithetical men and those of primary men. vironment," is a phase of "complete passivity, complete plas- 169 He thus fails to explain how or why primary men can be either ticity." " M i n d has become indifferent to good and evil, to 170 tuisloi taiic or democratic i n their political sympathies, solitary or t r u t h and falsehood; body has become undifferentiated, dough-like. gregarious, and religious or atheistical. N o r does he explain how ." 1 7 1". . . m i n d and body take whatever shape, accept whatever antithetical men can be essentially both reckless and self-disciplined, shape, is i m p r i n t e d upon them. . . . " 1 7 2 unconventional and yet ( i n their preferences) utterly traditional, r e a - Of the two phases of supernatural incarnation, Fifteen is the more sonable and yet quite illogical. He is also quite arbitrary i n selecting important. T h e "phase of complete beauty," self-possession, and 173 his examples of human types and, at the same time, i n the very absolute loneliness, Fifteen establishes the necessary l i n k between biographical details which he chooses to emphasize; and he stub- mythology and art. A t this moment the antinomies are resolved, bornly idealizes only antithetical men (or women) and usually c o n - and the images of poetry survive eternally. " T h o u g h t and W i l l demns all those belonging to the primary tincture. T h e n , i n spite are indistinguishable . . . ," and "contemplation and desire" are o f — o r perhaps because of—these flagrant inconsistencies, he i n - ". . . united i n t o one. . . . "1 7 4 "Chance [Body of Fate] and Choice dUcrlmliiatcly attributes to subjective men his own prejudices, [Mask] have become interchangeable w i t h o u t losing their identity. while It) primary men he attributes only those values which he As all effort has ceased, all thought has become image, because no categorically rejects. T h e latter men, as a rule, are gregarious, delight thought could exist if i t were not carried towards its own extinction, In Statistic* or in asceticism and prayer, are not very good-looking amid fear or i n contemplation. . . . " 1 7 S or tolerant, and support institutional religion. B u t the sensitive antithetical men and women are lonely and proud, as cultured as T o each of the remaining twenty-six phases Yeats assigns exam- they are imaginative, extremely handsome (even beautiful), and i n ples of archetypal m e n — a s many as five to a phase—, for w h o m he their deepest convictions both unconventional and aristocratic. then proceeds to write his l i t t l e character sketches. A few of these men are abstract types, like the Hunchback, Saint, and Fool of One wonders, too, on what basis Yeats assigns an i n d i v i d u a l to Phases Twenty-six, Twenty-seven, and Twenty-eight. T h e Saint, a particular phase. Socrates, of all things, is a Saint of Phase 80 81
  • THE MYTH YEATS: T H E P O E T AS A MYTHMAKER notion that everywhere i n the phenomenal universe, as in the Twenty-seven. Many of the groupings at specific phases are a Utile human m i n d , there are mirrored and remirrored the patterns of confusing: Shakespeare and Napoleon at Phase Twenty, and H e r - death and r e b i r t h and the opposites (or tinctures) which contain bert Spencer and Dostoievsky at Phase Twenty-two. Another diffi- each other. T h e essay, which is sometimes provocative, is extremely culty, and this may be a corollary of the last, is his failure to hard to follow and occasionally quite d u l l . We cannot always be answer the question of what causes individual differences within certain that we correctly apprehend his meanings or that we want a given phase. He suggests that variations among men of the same to; but there are a number of ideas which, w i t h o u t too great an phase result from the interaction of W i l l and Mask, the relation expense of effort, we can understand. between the soul and its earlier incarnations, and the individual's freedom of choice between his T r u e and False Faculties, as well as I n order to elaborate on his t w i n dogma of warring opposites and the effect had on the i n d i v i d u a l by his Daimon, by spirits in Allium cyclical movement, Yeats categorically employs, at the outset, the M u n d i , and by the age i n which he lives. But, merely suggesting artifice of analogy. He points to the complex patterns of death these things, Yeats perhaps wisely refuses to commit himself. and resurrection, whether literal or symbolic, which he observes in all human biography and psychological conflict, b u t mainly i n the A n d yet, i n spite of their weaknesses, the twenty-six character four revolving seasons and the Great Year of Plato and Ptolemy.* sketches are always interesting to read. Because he ignores the ex- T h e dying calendar year, he then concludes, is perpetually reborn ternal details of a man's life, Yeats writes often w i t h great sym- every spring i n its reincarnated self and opposite, while its anti- pathy, whether about the man's psychological conflicts, esthetic and nomies and tinctures of moon and sun, day and night, summer and moral values, or philosophical and religious opinions. His insights winter, and spring and autumn never cease to oppose and to unite into human beings, too, almost always are profound, like those into w i t h each other. A n d he concludes, too, that every thirty-six thousand Dante, Shakespeare, Spinoza, and Pascal: years—of the so-called Platonic Y e a r — t h e heavenly bodies return [Pascal] . . . substitutes for emulation an emotion of renunciation, and to a starting position, thus completing one circuit of the p h e n o m - for the old toil of judgment and acknowledgement of sin, a beating enal universe, while this Great Year also has its antinomies of upon his breast and an ecstatical crying out that he must do penance day and night and the four seasons, these characterized by the v a r y - that he is even the worst of men. He does not . . . perceive separated i n g tinctures of the stars and the zodiacal signs. lives and actions more clearly than the total life, for the total life has suddenly displayed its source. . . . he will use [intellect] but to serve T h e cyclical movements and the warring contraries both of a perception and renunciation. His joy is to be nothing, to do nothing Platonic Year and of a calendar year, he moreover explains, are to think nothing; but to permit the total life, expressed in its defined by his imaginary Great Wheel. A twenty-eight-phase lunar humanity, to flow in upon him and to express itself through his acts and thoughts. He is not identical with it, he is not absorbed in it, for cycle is the revolution and the antinomies of a twenty-four-hour day, if he were he would not know that he is nothing, that he no longer the twenty-eight days of a lunar month, the three hundred and even possesses his own body, that he must renounce even his desire for sixty days of a calendar year, and the twelve lunar months and the" his own salvation, and that this total life is in love with his nothing- four seasons. But, he adds, every Great Wheel is one lunar phase on ness. 179 a Greater Wheel, and i t simultaneously is divided i n t o and is part I t is because of passages such as this that we are w i l l i n g to forgive of other Wheels of varying magnitudes and lengths of time. ". . . obscurities or errors and, w i t h pleasure, return to A Vision. all things are a single form which has divided and m u l t i p l i e d i n time and space." Hence, Yeats' Great Wheel symbolizes, also, the 180 warring antinomies and the cyclical patterns of a Platonic Year, a l - (b) though now the units of time are considerably m u l t i p l i e d . A twenty- eight-phase lunar cycle, for the Platonic Year, covers about thirty- I n " W h a t the Caliph Refused to Learn," the second of the four * T h i s cycle was called by the medieval chronologers the Great or Mundane essays, Yeats takes up and elaborates on his doctrine of cycles, anti- Year and, in a modified form, is known nowadays as the Precession of the nomies, and eternal recurrence. But he also tries to prove valid his Equinoxes. 83 82 lit
  • Y E A T S : T H E P O E T AS A MYTHMAKER THE MYTH six thousand years; each l u n a r phase is one day of the Platonic Year, T h e geometrical symbol on which he concentrates is that of a each day a l i t t l e more than one hundred of our years; and any phase •/ gyre or w h i r l i n g cone or spiral, which at different times he de- or group of phases i n this l o n g year is equivalent, i n our calendar "*"senbes as a triangle, a perne or a spindle, and (the top of a gyre) a year, to one season or to the many centuries of a single m o n t h . wheel or a circle.* But, as a rule, he speaks of his symbolic cones I have, admittedly, simplified, perhaps oversimplified, Yeats' dis- as being, also, two interpenetrating pernes or gyres, one subjective i cussion of rebirth and antinomies i n nature. H e speaks i n detail, and the other objective—self-generating, w h i r l i n g around inside of for example, of a Greatest Y e a r — t h e Year of the entire phenomenal each other, revolving i n opposite directions, and alternately ex-; universe—, which of course has its respective Great Wheel and panding and contracting: lunar phases, day and night, and summer and w i n t e r . F r o m the 181 above remarks i t should be evident, at any rate, that he has here imposed a complex scheme not only on every aspect of human life b u t also on whatever the mind, his mind, is able to conceive. Meanwhile, Yeats proves his doctrine of rebirth and opposites valid by relying once again on a method of symbolic analogy. Because the heavens, the seasons, and human life (or thought) move or seem to move i n cycles and antinomic conflict, he argues that absolutely everything which exists i n the human spirit or history or nature must so move. B u t to support his doctrine he goes even further. T h e pre-established cycles and antinomies of the Platonic Year, he writes, impose their fixed contraries and cyclical patterns on a l l human life, all nature, and all history; and they predetermine the detailed movements of these patterns and contraries. A n d so, a l l These gyres, which have their obvious echoes i n the occult t r a d i t i o n phenomena are absolutely conditioned by the universe i n which and in Blake's Prophetic Books, here provide Yeats w i t h an excel- they function. Here, to be sure, Yeats comes dangerously close to lent opportunity to define through a'single image (among other abandoning even the slightest possibility of human freedom. Yet, things) all of the w a r r i n g antinomies. N o t only are the interpene- implicitly, he qualifies his argument: men can still choose between trating gyres antithetical and .primary, he tells us, b u t they are also their T r u e and False Faculties. I n fact, only the movements of nature male and female, fire and water, body and spirit (the u n i o n of which and history are absolutely predetermined—so much so, he maintains, is the Beatific Vision), as well as "beauty and t r u t h , value and fact, that we can easily prophesy the entire future of a civilization merely particular and universal, q u a l i f y and quantity, the bundle of by studying the heavenly bodies, their tinctures, and their shifting separate threads as distinguished from those that are still i n the positions. By k n o w i n g what is past or passing i n the heavens, we can pattern, abstracted types "and forms as distinguished from those know what is to come on the earth. T h e symbol by which Yeats sets forth these few doctrines is, i n a d - • T h t gyre or spiral looks l i k e a kind of spring, one end of which is narrower than the other; and, because according to A Vision all things reproduce and are _ | d i t i o n to that of the Great Wheel, the dying and resurrected earth thtlr opposite*,, i l is described by Yeats as two gyres. W h e n imagined as c o m - god of Gaelic and Orphic nature myth. But, i n most of the essay pletely solid, the gyre becomes a cone; and, when the cone is flattened out, it liecomes 1 triangle. A wheel or circle is j»..gyre or spiral or cone seen from the-1 1 " W h a t the Caliph Refused to Learn," he elaborately describes his top. And the wheel, when its sides have been very much thickened and its d i a m - theory i n terms of a cryptic geometrical symbolism. " H a v i n g the eter decrcmcd, is transformed into a spindle. Perne is a n Irish dialect word, sometimes spelled pern, pirn, pyrne, purn. It is denned by the E. D. D. ( I V , p. concrete m i n d of the poet, I am unhappy when I find myself among B»i) as • spindle, as the bobbin of a shuttle ("round which yarn or thread is abstract things, and yet I need them to set my experiences i n wound' J, I I i hihe'et, and as a fishing-rod. As Yeats tells us i n A Vision, these Images are • single image; and that image is a gyre, but a gyre looked at from order." 182 many points of view. 84 85 11l|lll|!1iH'iii|||||||iiiiummiiiiiinmii itiiiiiiiiiiii|i»iiii[[iiiiiiiiiii»iiiNH!!ff|»| mmmmiin mnnm mmiip mniiiiin"
  • Y E A T S : T H E P O E T AS A MYTHMAKER THE MYTH that are still concrete, M a n and Daimon, the living and the dead, they are described. ". . . that which we call the proofs of some and all other images of our first parents." 183 philosophy," he boasts i n " W h a t the Caliph Refused to Learn," "is But the most i m p o r t a n t fact about Yeats' interpenetrating gyres but that which enables i t to be b o r n . " 185 is that they alternately contract and expand. W h e n the ami (helical gyre or cone has expanded to the fullest, i t explodes and conn lids; the primary cone then begins to expand or widen and eventually (c) explodes, whereupon the antithetical again expands; and so on. It is for this reason that he conceives of his gyres or cones as having In "Move mill Swiin," "" the t h i r d of the essays, Yeats applies to 1 shifting tinctures, each of their positions corresponding to one nl iiiilveiiiiil lilMniy both his doctrine of recurrent cycles and a n t i n - ttie t w e n t y - e i j ^ u l u n a r phases; that the Great Wheel,""sih'cc lit I omic* mill hl<i *vmh"li*in the Great Wheel, lunar phases, and Wheels are gyres alid fcfnbody the shifting*^nctures, is"~a"escril>c<I Intel | ii-in-11 ulliiu gyies, l i e < tt 1 • make this application, one must by h i m as two interpenetrating gyres or a w h i r l i n g spiral; and thai keep in mind, only lieuiuse I I I N antinomies provide for the i m p l i c i t he finds i n his g y r e s — i n their contraction and their expansion—not identity ol mallei and liuuiiin thought, simultaneously, w i t h each merely the antinomies b u t finally the cycles mirrored and remit- other and with every moment, whether political or religious, i n space rored i n all life and spirit, i n all nature and history, and i n all pas and in lime. A t any rate, (hough dividing history into civilizations sion and thought. A n d , because the symbolic gyres are both circular mainly of two thousand years each, he imagines not only that a and self-generating, he identifies them, simultaneously, with the period of this duration is one cycle but that it embraces and is a Platonic Year, as well as w i t h other divisions i n time and spate, part of others. A two-thousand-year cycle, that is, simultaneously however large or small. They thus become his ideal image not only multiplies and divides itself by two, each consequent age or period of the cosmic order b u t also of that necessity indistinguishable from being, also, two interpenetrating gyres of a Great Wheel. the entire historical process and from the changing tinctures of From these several hypotheses he draws three conclusions. every civilization. A 1.) Epochs and civilizations of one, two, and four thousand years T h e limitations o£-fcfec essay are, I think, quite evident. I t is per- each are half antithetical (Phases Eight to Twenty-two on their r e - haps true that many things move i n recurrent cycles and move or spective Great Wheels) and half primary (Phases Twenty-two to function as antinomies. B u t there is no reliable evidence that such Eight on the same Wheels). 2.) Since history follows the complex movements characterize all phenomena, although appearances may patterns of death and rebirth, i t is no less True"tTia"f"antitKet'icar"aTlitl - sometimes suggest that they do. T h e Platonic Year is probably a primary cultures alternately recur. A n d 3.) Because" all GrearWEeels" fiction. A n d that men can prophesy their own future by studying are contained i n or contain others, any moment i n history is a m o - the heavens, that the heavens possess the actual properties of the ment of conflict on at least three levels (or Great Wheels) of cosmic human ego, and that i n any significant way the stars immediately being. influence history or human life—these are the speculations of a A l t h o u g h not so comprehensive as Yeats here deceives himself into delightful phantasy. believing, such schematizing of history, as these few remarks of mine Yet Yeats was pleased w i t h what he had created. T h e Platonic must demonstrate, is extraordinarily elaborate. A n d , because his Year made i t easier for h i m to face what i n an early poem he had theory of history accounts for the future as well as the past and the called "the cold and rook-delighting heaven." T h e interpenetrat- 184 present, he now has a method of prophecy far more convenient than ing gyres became—far more than the imaginary rose and the i m - that of mere stargazing. Hence, by determining the lunar phase of aginary m o o n — h i s archetypal symbol of the microcosm and the the present, he can confidently name the next phase, as well as the macrocosm alike. He too could be Faust or W i l l i a m Blake, c o n - new age which i t is to usher i n . I f Einstein sat at his desk and plotted templating eternity i n a simple diagram or observing infinity on a the nature of space and time, Yeats at his desk was able to compose sheet of paper. W i t h an almost naive enthusiasm he declared that the future itself! the very concept of his gyres proved true the mythology i n which His principal concern i n the essay is the cycle of two thousand 86 87 finin mn^miiinFrrniniiiiiiiiiFiriiiiiiiniiiiHfitiiiiiiiiiiinii-'rtiiiiiimi i ,
  • YEATS: T H E P O E T AS A M Y T H M A K E R THE MYTH years, although what he says of this cycle he attribute* to other This is the g y r e — o r Greatest Wheel or Greatest Y e a r — o f the divisions i n history as well. Shortly before and after its Phase One, he phenomenal universe, perpetually expanding and contracting, b u t tells us, this great cycle is confronted and destroyed by social or always exhausting itself so that, when the past returns, i t is of neces- political upheaval: by a straining or bursting of the primary cones. sity inferior to what i t once was. A n d beyond the gyres or Great A n d , i n every two-thousand-year cycle, a corresponding explosion Wheels of the entire physical universe, effecting indefinite v a r - takes place, also, both before and after antithetical Phase Fifteen, iations i n whole cultural patterns, imposing order and necessity o n but (he is quick to r e m i n d us) w i t h far less catastrophic results. P r e - civilizations and the Platonic Year, there is A n i m a M u n d i . Here is cisely why i n any civilization the Fifteenth Phase, pure subjectivity, the source of cosmic being, sending forth to be born b o t h souls and should explode less violently than Phase One, pure objectivity, institutions, not neglecting to call back into itself whatever i t Yeats does not say. W e can conclude only that his preference for sends forth, and continually realizing itself i n great nations, great antithetical men and civilizations must have prejudiced his mathe- families, and great art. matical disinterestedness. T h e essay "Dove and Swan" is largely an illustration rather than A t Phase One of a two-thousand-year cycle, i n the midst of the an exposition of Yeats' views on the h-sjP£J£al_£roc£ss. W h e n he a n - exploding gyres, there is a divine influx, the symbolic incarnation of alyzes the various details of a given culture, for instance, he classi- the deity at a moment of historical r e b i r t h : for example, Zeus—a fies them as antithetical or primary, although to a great extent he primary man but an antithetical god—appeared as a Swan; and the does so implicitly. H o l y G h o s t — C h r i s t as an antithetical man but a primary G o d — Like the characteristics of lunar or subjective men, the antithetical appeared as a Dove. B u t only at Phase Fifteen, i n the midst of details of a culture are those of which he approves and which, as a spiritual unrest, is there the stillness of spiritual perfection. A n d consequence, he proceeds to idealize. They include monarchical yet, because at Phase Fifteen no human life is possible, men can government, non-institutional religion, and i n varying degrees U n i t y enjoy that perfection only through a Unity of Culture: through art of Culture and U n i t y of Being; a literature at once classical, b e a u t i - i n which the natural and the supernatural arc indistinguishable ful, and obliquely mythological; an exaltation of the ego and of from each other; and through a splendid harmony of life and work the superior man; and the three moral excellences of self-discipline, w i t h religion, art, and morality. controlled recklessness as opposed to wanton spontaneity, and (as Every moment of a two-thousand-year cycle, moreover, plants opposed to nineteenth-century empiricism) passionate intellect. simultaneously the seeds of its passing and of its return. T h e past Like the characteristics of objective or solar men, the primary and the future are part of a perpetually revolving present. Every details of a culture are those which he despises and rejects. They age conceals the Mask which, eventually, must emerge as its reincar- are democratic or communistic government, either institutional r e - nated self and opposite. T h e present, which retains the germ of ligion or atheism, and anarchic individualism and fragmentary men; its antecedent self, differs from whatever i t may have been in another literature or art which is sentimental, ugly, and flagrantly didactic; time: i t consists of that antecedent self, but of much else besides. an exaltation of the non-ego or of mediocre achievement; and the N o moment is ever lost; and no cause is ever truly lost. T h e past, like three moral weaknesses of conventionalism, puritanical restraint, the future, is eternally w i t h us. Or, to borrow a metaphor from and unimaginative empiricism. one of his later essays, history, like the universe, is " . . . a great egg A n age is characterized by the tincture which predominates at that turns inside out perpetually without breaking its shell. . . . " 1 8 7 its lunar phase—the phase at which i t comes into b e i n g — , although Yet, i n the midst of his speculations about the two-thousand-year any age can combine i n itself the lunar and solar phases, subjectivity cycles, Yeats does not lose sight of a much larger pattern. Every and objectivity, and the antithetical and primary tinctures. Thus, i n civilization, he maintains, is but one phase on a Greater Wheel, this a monarchical society there may be a sentimental literature, the o p - i n t u r n but one phase on another, and so on. Hence, beyond the posite and cultural Mask of that society. T o Yeats, as I have said, a cycles and antinomies of history, there is a greatest gyre i n nature. historical moment is the product of innumerable warring opposites. 88 89 'i" ''•""ww^mmmimimmimmHm
  • THE MYTH YEATS: T H E POET AS A MYTHMAKER cause i t contains i t . " 1 9 6Early Byzantium and early Renaissance But, i n addition to his categorizing of the cultural antinomies, he Europe, least characteristic of the civilization of w h i c h they are writes of history i n terms of an elaborate geometrical scheme, ac- an integral part, thus achieved an ideal U n i t y of Culture, although cording to which he divides Western civilization since Homer into ideal u n i t y was realized especially i n sixth-century Byzantium, w h i c h epochs, each epoch w i t h its appropriate tinctures and lunar phases, i n time was closer to the antithetical civilization of classical its gyres and Great Wheels. antiquity. 1. T h e Classical Age, predominantly antithetical, is Phases. One 4. T h e year 1550, Phase Sixteen on the larger Wheel, marks the to Fifteen i n a four-thousand-year lunar cycle. T h e Christian Era, end of the early Renaissance; and the last period of antithetical a primary civilization, covers two thousand years or Phases Fifteen achievement possible i n our civilization at last draws to a close. T h e to One on the same Wheel. But the primary was already present in primary gyre of this large Wheel, as a result, begins to strain itself the antithetical. " [ I t ] . . . had been invoked by Anaxagoras when he towards an explosion. ". . . forms begin to jostle and fall i n t o c o n - declared that thought and not the warring opposites [of Heraclitus| fusion, there is as i t were a sudden rush and s t o r m . " 197 Christianity created the w o r l d . A t that sentence . . . the heroic life . . . began to having always preferred man divorced from the image of God, the pass away, and . . . imagination moved towards the divine man way was very early paved to the Reformation. A n d so, we are now and the ridiculous d e v i l . " 188 " U p o n the throne and upon the cross surrounded everywhere by the fanaticism of "the declamatory r e - alike the myth becomes a biography." 189 ligious sects and controversies," 198 as well as by the "order and 2. Beginning w i t h "the Galilean revelation," the years 1 A . D . to 190 reason" 188 of science, so that the supernatural gradually becomes 1050 A . D . and 1050 A . D . to 2000 A . D . are Phases One to Fifteen ami meaningless to mankind. Phases Fifteen to One on a primary Great Wheel of two thousand 5. T h e period from 1875 to 1927 is Phase Twenty-two of the years. O n this primary Great Wheel or gyre Phases Eight to Twenty- Christian cycle; the period from 1927 to 1965, Phases Twenty-three, two are mainly antithetical. B u t Phase Fifteen, the year 1050, is the Twenty-four, and Twenty-five; and the period from 1965 to 2000, height of the Christian synthesis. "God is now conceived of as some- Phases Twenty-six, Twenty-seven, and Twenty-eight. T h r o u g h o u t t h i n g outside man and man's handiwork. . . . " " N i g h t . . . fallfn] m this century and a quarter Yeats finds, even i n prophecy, signs of a upon man's wisdom now that man has been taught that he is continuous movement towards catastrophe—towards "anarchic nothing." 192 "Intellectual creation has ceased, but men have come violence w i t h no sanction i n general principles." Democracy and 200 to terms w i t h the supernatural. . . . " 1 0 3 ". . . all that is necessary science are being and are to be destroyed i n the fires w h i c h our to salvation is known, but . . . there is much apathy." There may 194 primary civilization k i n d l e d but cannot put out. As the gyres of be charity and pity, but there is not love: ". . . we say of H i m modern history widen and t u r n into the dark of the moon, "the o l d that He was love itself, and yet that part of H i m which made intellectual hierarchy" 201 w i l l go; men w i l l be ". . . set free from o l d Christendom was not love but pity. . . . " 1 9 B restraints"; 202and i n the midst of popular confusion false leaders 3. T h e years 1 to 560 and 1050 to 1450 are Phases One to Fifteen w i l l appear. T h e n w i l l come Phase Twenty-eight and an e x p l o s i o n — i n their respective one-thousand-year lunar cycles. A n d they are, a world-wide revolution, a darkness over all, a disintegration. " A also, Phases One to Eight and Fifteen to Twenty-two on the larger decadence w i l l descend. . . . T h e decadence of the Graeco-Roman primary Gr^at Wheel of the entire Christian Era. B u t on their w o r l d . . . was as great, b u t that suggested the bubbles of life turned smaller Wheels of one thousand years each, paradoxically, the dates i n t o marbles, whereas what awaits us, being democratic and primary, 1450 and 5 6 0 — t h e early Renaissance and sixth-century B y z a n t i u m — may suggest bubbles i n a frozen pond—mathematical Babylonian coincide w i t h Phase Fifteen, which symbolizes the full moon or starlight." 203 complete subjectivity. Hence, they define the most antithetical 6. A t the moment when the primary gyre explodes, there w i l l be a epochs of the whole Christian synthesis, more antithetical even than divine influx, a sudden revelation ". . . bringing its stream of i r r a - the year 1050, Phase Fifteen on the larger Wheel. " T h e greater tional force." A n d an antithetical civilization w i l l then return, the 204 number is always more primary than the lesser and precisely be- 9 1 90
  • Y E A T S : T H E P O E T AS A MYTHMAKER THE MYTH first two thousand years or Phases One to Fifteen on a Great Wheel culture admit of indefinite variation, he completely fails to d e m o n - of four thousand years. Kings w i l l again rule. " M e n w i l l no longer strate that observation; and he fails even when he analyzes i n detail separate the idea of God from that of human genius, human p r o - a given historical moment, whether a moment of achievement or not. ductivity i n a l l its f o r m s . " " I imagine new races, as i t were, seek- 206 One wonders, too, on what basis other than that of prejudice he ing domination, a w o r l d resembling but for its immensity that of idealizes social trends under the antithetical tincture, while he dis- the Greek tribes—each w i t h its own Daimon or ancestral h e r o — misses as unfortunate the entire history of Europe since the sixteenth the brood of Leda, W a r and Love; history grown symbolic, the century. M u c h that he w o u l d account for he leaves imperfectly biography changed i n t o a myth. Above a l l I imagine everywhere the explained or not explained at a l l : the classical revival d u r i n g the opposites, no mere alternation between nothing and something like early Renaissance; the opposition of fanaticism and atheism, democ- Christian brute and ascetic, but true opposites, each l i v i n g the racy and monarchism, and charity and brutality i n our primary other's death, dying the other's l i f e . " " [ T h e age] . . . w i l l be c o n - 206 Christian civilization; and the great intellectual achievements of the crete i n expression, establish itself by immediate experience, seek no "objective" Middle Ages. T h e universe may or may not be a self- general agreement, make little of God or any exterior unity, and i t exhausting gyre; but we can never know. His statement that, even i f w i l l call that good which a man can contemplate himself as doing different from and morally worse than i t once was, the past w i l l always and no other doing at all. I t w i l l make a cardinal t r u t h of return is altogether absurd: the p a s t — f r o m the stone age to the man's i m m o r t a l i t y that its virtue may not lack sanction, and of the second just gone—is irrevocable. A n d , again and again, one is met soul's re-embodiment that i t may restore to virtue that long prepa- by liis lapses into factual error or faulty interpretation. T h e Byzan- ration none can give and hold death an i n t e r r u p t i o n . " 207 tine Empire, even at its height, was never so magnificent as he b e - lieves it to have been. I t is not true that i n the German Parsifal T h e above summary of the essay "Dove and Swan," although I 208 ". . . there is no ceremony of the Church, neither . . . Mass nor have perhaps made i t too long, is by no means complete. B u t i t Baptism. . . . " Yeats has here transformed history i n t o a caricature 2 0 9 does suggest the remarkably systematic way i n which, like Vico and of itself. When he wrote the essay "Dove and Swan," as he was later Spengler, Yeats learned to confront the historical process. to con less, the sources of his information were for the most part T h e essay has, of course, a great many faults. I n spite of his Shakespeare's plays, Alexander Dumas' novels, a few popular e n - w r i t i n g ostensibly a universal history, Yeats confines himself to cyclopedias, and the works of art which he occasionally saw on 210 the West; he says absolutely nothing about prehistoric civilizations; his visits to Italian museums. He was no less influenced, i t is evident, he nonchalantly dismisses as unimportant till political, economic, by those occult views according to which, as time passed, he w o u l d and military movements or events; and he prefers to discuss as hiive the history of m a n k i n d completely remade. general trends only those few currents or traditions in philosophy or art i n which he is personally interested. There is no completely trust- I t is only too easy for us to point out his faults. "Dove and Swan," worthy evidence, as we know, that history goes forward in recurrent in spile of its weaknesses, is a very good essay, perhaps Yeats' finest, cycles of death and r e b i r t h ; or, if i t does, it is a presumption to whether in the controlled eloquence of his language or i n the p r o - assume that the gyres of cultural progress or decline are so fixed as fundity of his insights i n t o human culture. Notwithstanding his to make prophecy reliable.* Yeats implies as much when he ex- religious and political bias or ignorance, we cannot fail to admire plains, elsewhere i n A Vision, that Anima M u n d i effects, because i t much of his vision. Democratic individualism, the collectivistic predetermines, indefinite variations i n human institutions. I t is not state, and scientific speculation do not of themselves promise m a n - more, i f i t is not less, than prejudice which permits h i m to simplify k i n d an absolute good. Apart from an ennobling moral purpose, all cultural patterns i n terms of merely two antinomies, subjectivity as he tells us, they can be destructive of both civilization and h u m a n and objectivity. A l t h o u g h he asserts that the characteristics of a life. A n d the ideal society is one i n which men can enjoy a U n i t y of Culture, perhaps somewhat like that U n i t y of Culture which he * I n any event, by identifying the doctrine of historical cycles, which has been set forth by our best professional historians, with the doctrine of eternal r e c u r - finds or thinks he finds i n sixth-century Byzantium: rence, Yeats has almost reduced history to the art of fortune-telling. 9 2 93
  • 1 YEATS: T H E P O E T AS A M Y T H M A K E R THE MYTH I think if I could be given a month of Antiquity and leave to ipend . . . Mr. Ezra Pound, Mr. Eliot, Mr. Joyce, Signor Pirandello, . . . it where I chose, I would spend it i n Byzantium a little before either eliminate from metaphor the poet's phantasy and substitute a Justinian opened St. Sophia and closed the Academy of Plato. 1 think strangeness discovered by historical or contemporary research or . . . I could find in some little wine shop some philosophical worker in break up the logical processes of thought by flooding them with mosaic who could answer all my questions, the supernatural descend ing nearer to him than to Plotinus even, for the pride of his clelidilc associated ideas or words that seem to drift into the mind by chance, skill would make what was an instrument of power to Princes mid or . . . set side by side as in Henry IV, The Waste Land, Ulysses, Clerics and a murderous madness in the mob, show as a lovely flexible the physical primary—a lunatic among his keepers, a man fishing presence like that of a perfect human body. behind a gas works, the vulgarity of a single Dublin day prolonged I think that in early Byzantium, and maybe never before or since In through 700 pages—and the spiritual primary delirium, the Fisher recorded history, religious, aesthetic and practical life were one, mill King, Ulysses' wandering. 214 that architect and artificers—though not, i t may be, poets, for languiiw had been the instrument of controversy and must have grown abstini I D u r i n g the Renaissance and the M i d d l e Ages, when Western —spoke to the multitude and the few alike, jfhe painter and the mi>MIIit Europe tried to escape from medieval asceticism, literature and worker, the worker in gold and silver, the illuminator of Sacred Bonks painting became both transcendent and sensual, as though s i m u l - were almost impersonal, almost perhaps without the consciousness <il taneously to express the aspirations of a historical moment and that individual design, absorbed in their subject matter and that the vision of a whole people. They could copy out of old Gospel books moment's cultural Mask. Writers of courtly romance i n the twelfth those pictures that seemed as sacred as the text, and yet weave all into century ". . . separated wisdom from the monastery and, creating a vast design, the work of many that seemed the work of one, that M e r l i n , joined i t to passion." A n d d u r i n g the sixteenth century atB made building, picture, pattern, metal-work of rail and lamp, seem great I t a l i a n painters—Raphael, Michelangelo, and T i t i a n — d r e w but a single image; and this vision, this proclamation of their I n - visible master, had the Greek nobility, Satan always the still half divine on orthodox religion for their subject matter, b u t they " . . . Serpent, never the horned scarecrow of the didactic Middle Ages."" awaken[ed] sexual desire. . . . " " T h e meanings of history, for 2 1 Yeats, are revealed i n its imagination: i n the divine madness of its I t is always the possibility of human joy or achievement which he artisans and poets. champions, always the failure of men to raise themselves to their M u c h of the effectiveness of the essay "Dove and Swan" derives, highest powers which he elegizes. too, from his w r i t i n g of history as though i t were a drama. T h e A n d , because he avoids the study of history as "a reasoned con- clear divisions of each epoch, as he was again to suggest i n a diary flict of mechanical interests intelligible to a l l , " Yeats can penetrate 2 1 2 kept i n 1930, 217 provide the unities of time; the conflicting o p p o - i n t o the very spirit of an age, far more than can many a scientific sites, the unifying themes; and the biographies of great m e n — or more scholarly historian. Geography, philosophy, and religion, Homer, Plato, Christ, J u s t i n i a n — , the dramatis personae, the i n - along w i t h literature and art—these are the phenomena or subjects struments of that supernatural necessity through which history is through which, like Herder and Spengler, he examines an epoch, unfolded. As a drama, however imaginative, Yeats' theory or n a r - As Rome f e l l — w h e n men began to contemplate the non-ego—, rative of history thus personalizes the cosmic process and universal- sculptors drilled holes i n the eyes of statues: izes human thought or experience. History becomes biography; When I think of Rome I see always those heads with their world- both become m y t h ; and m y t h externalizes the p r i m o r d i a l concerns considering eyes, and those bodies as conventional as the metaphors of m a n k i n d . in a leading article, and compare in my imagination vague Grecian His drama of history also defines (if symbolically) a l l our human eyes gazing at nothing, Byzantine eyes of drilled ivory staring upon a vision, and those eyelids of China and of India, those veiled or half- hope: violence must give way to harmony; and social evil, to social veiled eyes weary of world and vision alike. 213 i good. Yet i t is another t r u t h , surely the more important, w i t h which he is preoccupied: the tragedy of history. W h e n the great age r e - T h e best works of James Joyce, Ezra Pound, T.S. Eliot, and L u i g i turns, its greatness has diminished. Moments of peace do not suf- Pirandello reveal the abstraction—"the spiritual primary d e l i r i u m " ficiently compensate for the exploding gyre. Men, the instruments — o f the ig2o's: of necessity, can have only an imperfect freedom. A l t h o u g h he is 94 95
  • Y E A T S : T H E P O E T AS A MYTHMAKER THE MYTH comforted by the illusion that great ages are reborn, he is more But Yeats' answers create as many problems as he would' have often saddened because of their passing: "Each age unwinds the them resolve. T o begin w i t h , he has so limited h u m a n freedom as thread another age has w o u n d . . . all things dying each other's life, to make ethical choice, i n terms of any metaphysical principle, a l - l i v i n g each other's d e a t h . " 218 Everywhere he discovers tension—the most meaningless. A n d he believes or seems to believe that, w h a t - warring a n t i n o m i e s — , i n which men frantically struggle to m a i n - ever their past deeds, all souls are eventually permitted to rejoice tain balance, yet always somehow struggling i n vain: i n Divine Love and Divine Charity. Hence, although he is never really definite, he does suggest that every s o u l — w h e t h e r of the s i n - A civilisation is a struggle to keep self-control, and in this it is ner or of the sinned against—must eventually escape from the cycles like some great tragic person, some Niobe who must display an almost of rebirth, afterwards sinking into the rhythm, harmony, and s p i r i t - superhuman will or the cry will not touch our sympathy. The loss of control over thought comes towards 11 i f end: first ;i sinking in upon ual fire of A n i m a M u n d i . A n d he explains good and evil, u n f o r - the moral being, then the last surrender, the irrational cry, revela- tunately, i n the most general terms. T h e good life is one i n which tion—the scream of Juno's peacock." " 1 the ego is celebrated; and the bad life is one i n which mere charac- ter is preferred to personality, and empirical reality to the imagina- T h a t is why Y'eats broods about his own troubled times. T h a t is tion, why he prefers always to consider the certain splendor of an i d e a l - ized past and less often the uncertain splendor of a terrifying f u - Yet, if we are left dissatisfied w i t h Yeats' attempt metaphysically ture. T h a t is why, whether contemplating antithetical or primary to justify moral conduct, the fault may be ours. Y'ears later, i n the civilizations, he writes w i t h a deep compassion for men. ". . . to die essay / / / Were Four-and-Twenty he was to redefine the Original into t r u t h is still to d i e . " 220 Sin as that suffering which is inextricably a part of human l i f e . 228 Men who thus sympathize w i t h other men w i l l not t h i n k i n terms of impossible, because unobtainable, moral absolutes. N o r are they (d) able, whatever their hauteur, to reserve for a few the privilege or the dignity of salvation. Charity, they know, surpasseth all under- I n the fourth and last of the essays, "The Gales of Pluto," Yeats standing and logic too. draws himself up into and studies the realms of supernatural vision. "The Gates of Pluto," like much of A Vision, is an elaboration " T h a t we may believe all men possess the supernatural faculties," on many themes expounded earlier i n Ideas of Good and Evil, he writes, " I wouiaTestofe to"the philosopher his m y t h o l o g y . " 221 "Swedenborg, Mediums, and the Desolate Places," and Per Amica But his most important concern i n the essay is a tlioioughly moral Silrntia Lunae. "While affirming personal immortality, Yeats now one. He asks himself two questions: how, beyond all the d i m i n i s h - plots w i t h the utmost care every experience of the soul between ing hopes and certain disasters of human life, he may allow mankind death and rebirth, the two trivial events i n its eternal history. A n d a tragic heroism and a victory over death; and how, in a d e t e r m i n - Anima M u n d i , i n which the soul survives after death, he now d e - istic universe from which he has removed a personal deity, he may scribes i n terms of a symbolism as concrete and involved as the one, uphold a metaphysical basis for ethical choice. His answers to the he applies to the whole phenomenal world; but he can do so merely* two questions, already suggested i n the last paragraphs of "Dove because, having accepted the cosmic antinomies, he again makes and Swan," are, on the surface, both convincing and adequate. the visible and the invisible universe indistinguishable not only* T h a t ". . . virtue may not lack sanction. . . ." and that human life from the human m i n d but also from each other. T h e essay, i n spite;; may not be without its magnificence, he would ". . . make a c a r d i - of these several facts, is the least original portion of his great myth. nal t r u t h of man's i m m o r t a l i t y . " 222 I f a man lives a virtuous or Most of what he propounds i n it he took over directly from the 1 good life i n this world, i n other words, he may be promised many writings of Blake and Swedenborg, from the occult tradition, and happy future lives; and his death can then be transfigured into his from seventeenth-century Cambridge Platonism. d i g n i t y — h i s refutation of the exploding gyres. T h e w o r l d of the spirit and the world of man, he imagines, are 96 97
  • Y E A T S : T H E P O E T AS A MYTHMAKER THE MYTH to each other as two interpenetrating gyres which, like all such scendent opposite, his destiny and wisdom, and the soul of a purified „ gyres, alternately expand and contract. Next, he imagines that i n dead person, presumably of the opposite sex. W h e n i t is motivated Anima M u n d i there are T h i r t e e n Spheres; and these he goes on to by the "GTTSstly Selt, i t makes itselTlmanifest or known through the characterize i n great detail. H e begins w i t h the argument that they psychological D a i m o n i n the i n d i v i d u a l s unconscious m i n d ^ J t is, are symbols of perfection, that they are Great Wheels, and that further, that which ". . . shapes the body i n the womb and i m - they are simultaneously cones, gyres, and cycles. A n d then he e x - presses upon the m i n d its f o r m . "227 plains the complex relation of these Spheres to one another. After describing A n i m a M u n d i and analyzing his terms, Yeats Except for the last, the T h i r t e e n t h , they exist i n transcendent time next takes u p one of his major themes i n the essay. Hejpeaks of the or supernatural years. T h e first Twelve Spheres, w i t h the entire peregrinations^L^ material for the IBP phenomenal universe, evolve towards and emanate from the last. visible universe. -——~ A n d the last, the T h i r t e e n t h Sphere or Cycle, is the greatest of all T h e soul, he calls to our attention, as a rule passes through six possible gyres, whether supernatural or natural, although i t is c o m - consecutive states of being or purgation: T h e Vision of the Blood pletely w i t h o u t past, present, or future. Yeats here describes the Kindred, T h e Return, T h e Shiftings, T h e Beatitude, T h e F o r e - macrocosm as consisting of Thirteen Spheres, probably, because he knowing, and T h e Vision of Friends. A n d at each of these states would suggest the archetypal cycles of Blake's Prophetic Books and of being i t has a singular experience, usually one which affects of occult lore. These cycles are traditionally symbols of God and the living. His Twelve Emanations, Christ and the Twelve Apostles, the r e - 1. The Vision of the Blood Kindred: Immediately after the in- volving heavens and the twelve signs of the zodiac, and an i m a g i - dividual's death, the Faculties dissolve into the Principles; and the nary year and its twelve lunar months. Four Principles abandon the corpse. T h e Passionate Body (sexual H a v i n g described the invisible realm through which the soul desire), to which the psychological Daimon gives the individual's escapes from the pains of reincarnation, Yeats proceeds to speak unconscious memory ("the Record"), emerges erect from the genitals. of the h u m a n soul and its two supernatural helpmates: the Gh.QS.tly T h e Celestial Body (that portion of immortal life which can be Self and the supernatural Daimon. ~~" separated away), along w i t h the individual's conscious memory, '''ir3y"thet^ou|fjlie''means that immortal part of every individual's emerges from the feet. T h e Spirit or soul (abstract mind) leaves the life which is separable from the body, yet capable of perception,, corpse through the head. A n d the Husk (instinct) remains behind feeling, and thought. Hence, u n t i l i t is freed from the cycles of in the body for a little while, afterwards sinking into A n i m a M u n d i , r e b i r t h — o r u n t i l i t escapes into the T h i r t e e n t h Sphere—, the soul where i t becomes one of the soul's material vehicles. T h e soul, can know b o t h time and place, apprehending w i t h i n and beyond accompanied by the Celestial Body and the Passionate Body, then itself sequences of emotions, ideas, and events. 224 As i n the past, endeavors to accept the fact of its mortal death, although at first i t Yeats uses the words "soul" .and " t h o u j ^ t / ' interchangeably. is unable to do so. For a very long period i t must pretend that i t is 2. T h e Ghc«tly__S_elf, which occupies the T h i r t e e n t h Sphere, is still alive, surrounded by its kindred and friends. what Blake and Plotinus call the archetypal ego* I t iob^.l!p.exnj.a-.. 2. The Return: W h e n i t has accepted the fact of its mortal death, nent selj^"2 JL'JZLJs the source~oT that which is unique i n every man, 2 the soul immediately enters into a second state of existence or b e - understanding by unique that which is one anef'cannot't>e analysed ing. I t now becomes luminescent, assumes a human shape, struggles infi3"-«nythkig-.«l^<'' T h e T h i r t e e n t h Sphere and the individual's 226 for self-knowledge, and relives one or more of its past lives. First, Ghostly Self appear b o t h to emanate from and to exist i n each other. it relives i n its unconscious memory the events which most affected 3. T h e supernatural D a i m o n , like the Ghostly Self, inhabits the i t d u r i n g one or all of its preceding incarnations; and these events T h i r t e e n t h Sphere. I t is, at the same time, the individual's tran- y appear to the soul i n the order of their intensity, whether intellec- * T h e precise phrase seems to be Yeats' own. B u t the~notion is clearly s u g - tual or emotional. Later, i n its conscious memory, i t lives through gested both in The Prophetic Books and in the Enneads: Blake speaks of "the Eternal Self"; and Plotinus speaks o £ "the individual's archetype." the events of one or more of its past incarnations i n the order of 98 99 UM IU 1
  • Y E A T S : T H E P O E T AS A M Y T H M A K E R THE MYTH their occurrence. As i t recalls the p a i n or the pleasure which i t may h i b i t the actions of human beings the consequences of whose present once have caused others, meanwhile, the soul experiences symbolic behavior may afterwards affect i t . hell or symbolic heaven. A n y soul thus reliving one or more of its 6. The Vision of Friends: After i t has been molded into human past lives can materialize itself; i t can be invoked and controlled shape by its transcendent Daimon, the soul finally enters into the by men skilled i n the art of magic; and i t can provide those men womb. For a moment i t may pretend or dream that i t is surrounded (as can its supernatural Daimon) w i t h sublime wisdom. Because by the kindred and friends of its coming incarnation; b u t i t must every man's unconscious m i n d borders on A n i m a M u n d i , the soul very soon forget that dream and whatever i t experienced i n A n i m a of a dead person can also enter into all our human dreams; b u t i t M u n d i . T h e n i t is born at one of the twenty-eight lunar phases. can enter especially i n t o the dreams of a loved one, and i t can do I f i t is reborn as a spirit at Phase One or at Phase Fifteen on the so whether i t was possessed by the loved one i n the latter's most Great Wheel, the soul at once becomes an intermediary between the recent incarnation or i n some other incarnation of long ago. living and the dead. Disembodied souls and human beings are u n - 3. The Shiftings: Under the influence of its supernatural D a i m o n , able to communicate w i t h each other directly. But, i n order for i t the soul next relives the opposite of its preceding life on the earth. to become such an intermediary, the soul must be reborn as a spirit Because i t is still capable of sexual impulse, i l can now realize a l l preferably at Phase One. O n the other hand, a soul reborn as a of its past unfulfilled desires. Because souls live in archetypal family spirit at. Phase Fifteen, because its pure subjectivity now gives i t far units, moreover, i t can even reproduce itscll by j o i n i n g its being more pain than joy, must inevitably suffer for the companionship entirely to that of another soul. .Souls born as a consequence of of human beings; hence, i t may become even an incubus or a suc- such a u n i o n — t h e y are called "urcous"—take the place, in mortal i n - cuba, sexually u n i t i n g w i t h human beings while they dream. M e n carnation, of those human,.beings who have escaped l i o m the cycles and women who are thus haunted by succubae or incubi, i f they of rebirth. • " .• '»,<,, arc i n any way imaginatively creative, w i l l endeavor to fulfill their aroused desires by painting a picture or by w r i t i n g a poem; and their 4. Ttig Beatitude.: This state is not to be contused with the Bea- works w i l l then become or w i l l then provide that sexual image tific Vision, which a soul can have only when i t lias entered into the which, flowing out from A n i m a M u n d i or their unconscious, they T h i r t e e n t h Cycle. I n the Beatitude the soul, now i n close c o m - are unable to possess i n l i f e . 229 But, like the souls i n the Beatitude, m u n i o n w i t h its Ghostly Self, is without a sense of time and place, souls reborn as spirits at Phase Fifteen may supply poets and artists completely forgets all of its past lives, and enjoys an ecstatic posses- w i t h other, not explicitly sexual, symbols; and these too may be sion of itself. I f i t has been purified of sexual desire, it remains for transfigured into poems or paintings of overpowering beauty. M e a n - a long time i n the Beatitude, eventually escaping into the T h i r - while, the dreams through which a soul reborn at Phase Fifteen can teenth Sphere, where i t w i l l survive eternally i n an absolute h a r - appeal to an individual human being are influenced immediately mony w i t h its D a i m o n and its Ghostly Self. Or, i f i t has not been by the individual's unconscious m i n d and by his Passionate Body purified, i t is compelled to enter into a fifth state of supernatural (his genitals) ; 2 3 0 but Yeats implies that i t is possible to find such existence. Souls i n the Beatitude help supply poets and artists, influence i n almost every dream. when the latter are most inspired, w i t h those beautiful images or T h e six states of supernatural being last for approximately a symbols which characterize only the greatest works of the h u m a n period of one hundred years. I n making one circuit of the Great imagination. Wheel, a soul can be reborn at a specific lunar phase four times, 5. The Foreknowing: Eager at last for rebirth, the soul next e x - occasionally less b u t never more. A n d all the cycles of a soul's i n - periences, as a kind of prophecy, all the events of its coming incar- carnations cover about thirty-six thousand years, the three hundred nation. W h i l e doing so, i t may become a "frustrator" or, as Yeats and sixty days of a Platonic Year. years later was to explain, what " i n modern psychology" is called " T h e Gates of P l u t o " is the least interesting of the four essays "the censor": 228 the soul may violently interfere w i t h or even i n - i n A Vision. Yeats' archaic supernaturalism, interpreted literally, is 100 tot
  • Y E A T S : T H E P O E T AS A MYTHMARER THE M Y T H REVISED i id more convincing or impressive here than i t is i n any of his other fini te future. Of such ennobling dreams is. the i m a g i n a t i o n of a prose works. B u t the m a i n shortcoming of the essay is that, on ils great poet made. , own terms, i t leaves far too much inadequately explained or not # explained at a l l : the relation between the Ghostly Sell and • * supernatural D a i m o n and the Four Faculties and Four Principles: the relation between sexual reproduction and souls which gen erate themselves asexually through cycles of death and rein it l i ; and the basis for Yeats' belief that a soul i n Anima M u n d i run Yeats' attitude towards A Vision, upon its completion, was strangely relive i n memory all of its past incarnations, especially since in the mixed. Although he was thoroughly pleased w i t h what he had Beatitude souls are supposed to lose every awareness of their pre- created, he recognized that his book had a great many faults. A m o n g ceding existence. N o r are we told anything about the metaphysical the more serious of these faults, he later confessed, were its obscu- significance of the two interpenetrating gyres which symbolize the rity or occasional vagueness, its incompleteness, and (paradoxically) natural and the supernatural universe; about the provision by its general lack of citations drawn from traditional a u t h o r i t y . 232 A n i m a M u n d i , which predetermines events i n the phenomenal For these reasons, soon after its publication he undertook to p r e - world, for human freedom; and about the essential characteristics ol pare a second edition. T h e new version was finished i n 1929; b u t matter, spirit, supernatural time, and the T h i r t e e n Spheres. When he kept i t from the press for about eight years, d u r i n g which time he wrote of the soul and of Anima. M u n d i , Yeats was forced to look he continued to make additions and changes. He wanted to give the upon the invisible, unfortunately, through "a needle's eye." " 2 1 w o r l d a sacred text which w o u l d include its Apocrypha. Yet we must once again pay tribute to his achievement. Although on its own terms i t leaves much to be desired, on its own terms "The Gates of P l u t o " is imaginatively—perhaps even p h i l o s o p h i c a l l y — IV. true. Because i t is remarkably self-contained, i t is its own excuse for THE MYTH REVISED being, while i t remains one of Yeats' many ways of exalting nature and the human personality to godhead. He makes k n o w n to us, moreover, his most profound insights into the imaginative life of I n order to prepare himself for the difficult task of rewriting A mankind. A n d , by a t t r i b u t i n g sexual desire to the souls i n Anima Vision, Yeats read widely. H e wanted more authorities—as many M u n d i , he (like Blake) correlates the spiritual life of mankind with as possible—who m i g h t help h i m both to clarify and further to physical energy, immortality w i t h sexual reproduction, and every substantiate what he already believed. Between the publication of poetic inspiration w i t h inspirations of love. A Vision i n 1925 and his death i n 1939, indeed, he read and studied more than he had read, perhaps, i n all the preceding years of his " T h e Gates of P l u t o " is an appropriate conclusion to Yeats' life. archaic mythology. By promising men immortality, by describing First he acquainted himself w i t h the works of a staggering n u m - A n i m a M u n d i i n concrete (almost anthropomorphic) terms, and by ber of philosophical historians; but he studied mainly the works p l o t t i n g every stage of the soul's journey between eternities, he of those men i n whose theories he found justification—great or offers both to himself a n d j t o rus reader, not only an embracing s m a l l — f o r his own lofty attitudes towards the historical process: the security but equally an ennobling dream. N o t only can the indi- historians Giambattista Vico, Edmund Burke, Henry Adams, A l - vidua! determine through the Great Wheel his relation to h i m - bert Sorel, Hermann Schneider, Flinders Petrie, Oswald Spengler, self, other men,TnTsToryTahd nature but he can now trace i n prospect and A r n o l d T o y n b e e . T h e metaphysicians whom or about w h o m 233 the history of his soul after death. M a n stands alone i n the: middle he read and w i t h w h o m he generally agreed were (among others) 6Tspace and time, the infinite and the eternal. Yet, at any moment, r lleraclitus, Empedocles, Bishop George Berkeley, Immanuel Kant, he is permitted the dignity of knowing his infinite past and his in- 103 102
  • Y E A T S : T H E P O E T AS A MYTHMAKER THE MYTH REVISED Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Sir A r t h u r Stanley Eddington, Benedetto h i t Swami's autobiography (An Indian Monk, 1932), to the a u t o - Croce, E d m u n d Husserl, John McTaggart, Gerald Heard, and A l - biography of the Swami's teacher (The Holy Mountain, 1934), and fred N o r t h W h i t e h e a d ; 234 and he reread Plato, Plotinus, Jacob to the Swami's translation of Patanjali's Aphorisms of Yoga (1938), Boehme and the Cambridge Platonists, Emanuel Swedenborg, and as well as to The Ten Principal Upanishads (1937), which Yeats Blake and Shelley (his Prometheus Unbound, of course). 235 and Shri Purohit translated i n collaboration. T h e y include, also, He again turned to the pages of the contemporary neo-Thomist his autobiographical fragments Pages from a Diary Written in 1930 literature of b o t h France and England, but with no greater e n - (1945) and Dramatis Personae (1936), the studies i n Wheels and thusiasm than he had had for that literature i n the past. H e read 280 Butterflies (1934) and Essays: 1931-1936 (1937), and On the Boiler or reread Cornelius Agrippa, Nicholas of Cusa, Jonathan Swift (his ( 939)- ] Discourse of the Contests and Dissentions . . . in Athens and Rome), But i t is not necessary, at least immediately, that we concern o u r - V l a d i m i r Soloviov, Pierre Duhem, "that most philosophical of selves w i t h these prose works. Because they touch upon a stupendous archaeologists Josef Strzygowski," Leo Frobenius, and (almost cer- number of metaphysical or mythological problems, they are almost tainly) Sigmund F r e u d . 287 formless; and, not infrequently, they are more difficult to read or H e undertook to read carefully, perhaps lor ilie hrsi time, the understand than the most obscure passages i n A Vision. Besides, i n philosophical opinions of those empiricists, rationalists, and neo- one of the two editions of A Vision Yeats discusses, at much fuller realists w i t h whom he continued to disagree: Sir Francis Bacon, Sir length, whatever of importance these essays set forth. Isaac Newton, Rene Descartes, John Locke, Got dried von Leibnitz, David Hume, Friedrich Hegel, Herbert Spencer, Bert rand Russell # (whose philosophy he described as "the scientific mousetrap which # # is baited w i t h British sentimentalism"), and G.E. Moore and L u d - wig W i t t g e n s t e i n . I n 1931, meanwhile, a friend, L.A.G. Strong, 238 T h e second edition pf A Vision was publicly printed by M a c m i l l a n introduced h i m to an I n d i a n Swami, Shri Purohit. T h i s was his and Company, London, on October 7, 1937, about a year and a first important contact w i t h the East since his meeting with Rabin- half before Yeats' d e a t h * Although he made only two or three dranath Tagore i n 1912. A n d because he was delighted w i t h the significant changes i n the basic conceptions of his myth, he very Swami, who was both a philosopher and a mystic, he began w i t h much revised and enlarged the book. A n d he added several details the latter's help to pore over the Vedas and the Upanishads, as well of extraordinary interest, some of them quite mystifying. I n place as the works of Patanjali. of the original dedication, " T o Vestigia," for example, he included W h e n we t h i n k of Yeats' readings d u r i n g the last fourteen years A Packet for Ezra Pound, which he had published separately i n of his life, we cannot fail to be impressed; and yet what he learned he certainly d i d not learn i n the precise or exact manner of the I n A Packet for Ezra Pound, a public letter to an o l d and close scholars or, as he would have said, the "logic-choppers. " " Even he 2 B friend, Yeats raises A Vision to the authority Of a supernatural was astonished and pleased by his growing store of knowledge. I t revelation: " I send you the introduction of a book which w i l l , when is no wonder that, as the years passed, he proudly thought of h i m - finished, proclaim a new d i v i n i t y . " Rapallo, where i t was r e - 241 self as "a much better educated m a n " than he had ever been.* 2 4 0 written, he elevates to a sacred shrine: "Descartes went on a p i l - grimage to some shrine of the V i r g i n when he made his first p h i l - osophical discovery, and the m o u n t a i n road from Rapallo to Zoagli T h e development of Yeats' mythology d u r i n g the last decade or seems like something i n my own mind, something that I have dis- so of his life can be traced, easily enough, i n certain essays which covered." 242 he then wrote. These essays include his introductions to Shri Puro- A Vision, Ihe goes on to say, is based on "an incredible experi- * A posthumous edition of the 1 9 3 7 text was published in 1 9 5 6 ; it includes * Yeats attributes this complimentary phrase to Lady Gregory; but it is clear all "xhe author's final revisions"; but in the present study, I think, it requires that he agreed with her judgment. no comment. 104 105
  • Y E A T S : T H E P O E T AS A MYTHMAKER THE MYTH REVISED nice." 248 O n the afternoon of October 24, 1917, four days after his marriage, his wife surprised h i m by practicing automatic w r i t i n g . seances had been a hoax. Mrs. Yeats had realized that, after From the early part of 1919 u n t i l the middle of 1920, d u r i n g periods their marriage, her husband thought entirely too often about the of visionary sleep, she practiced automatic speaking, which lie ihen very beautiful M a u d Gonne; and, having become jealous, she had transcribed. Georgie Hyde-Lees Yeats was a mediuml Spirits had wanted to draw his attention to herself, even i f on his (metaphysi- come from A n i m a M u n d i i n order to inform the poet, through I lis cal) terms. D i d Yeats, deceived or not deceived by his wife, b e - 248 wife, of certain profound mysteries, which they would have h i m lieve i n (let us say) the objective or external reality of his spirits? incorporate i n t o a religious system—A Vision. T h e i r purpose, iliey His very refusal directly to consider the problem, i n A Packet for announced, was ". . . to give . . . [him] metaphors for poetry." 244 Ezra Pound, suggests to me that he d i d not. B u t that he had at least this k i n d of disbelief is supported, I think, by his explicit or his As evidence of his incredible experience, there survive "some half-explicit statements as well. fifty copybooks of automatic script, and . . . a much smaller number of books recording what had come i n sleep." 245 He was eager in H e explains, i n a characteristically roundabout way, that much mention the books and Mrs. Yeats' seances i n the introduction of A Vision was borrowed from his favorite authors: to the first edition of his essay, b u t to do so was not possible: I h a d once k n o w n B l a k e as thoroughly as h i s unfinished confused ". . . my wife was u n w i l l i n g that her share should be known. . . . " - "4 P r o p h e t i c Books permitted, a n d 1 h a d r e a d S w e d e n b o r g a n d B o e h m e , He therefore ". . . invented an unnatural story. . . , " of Michael 2 4 7 a n d my i n i t i a t i o n i n t o the " H e r m e t i c Students" h a d filled my h e a d Robartes and Owen Aherne, of Giraldus and the Speculum A var- w i t h C a b a l i s t i c imagery. . . iorum et Hominorum, and of Kusta ben Luka and the Judwalis. Hut He admits that not a few of (he (liciues and symbols i n A Vision he has prevailed upon his wife, at long last, no longer to hide her "maYT^fouric^ poetry and prose—for example, powers from the w o r l d ; and so, he now takes the opportunity to i n - i n Per Amica Silentia Lunae, which he had published weeks before form his many readers, along w i t h Ezra Pound, how his myth truly his wife started to practice automatic: writing: originated. Sometimes w h e n m y mind strays buck to those first days I r e m e m b e r What, we may ask ourselves, can or should we make of this odd that B r o w n i n g ' s Paracelsus did not o b t a i n the secret u n t i l h e h a d declaration? D i d Yeats believe i n spirits or d i d he not? I f he be- w r i t t e n his s p i r i t u a l history at the b i d d i n g of his B y z a n t i n e teacher, lieved, then i n what way? D i d his wife have a supernatural experi- that before i n i t i a t i o n W i l h c l m M c i s t e r read his o w n history w r i t t e n ence, or was she only pretending? Questions such as these, like any by another, a n d I c o m p a r e my Per Amica to those h i s t o r i e s . 250 question about Yeats' supernaturalism, are more easily stated than answered. We have always to consider, first, the nature of his rela- He points out that, after the spirits had visited h i m , but especially tion to the whole of A Vision; and that relation is so c o m - after the publication of A Vision i n 1925, he began to read w i t h plex as sometimes to defy analysis. When w r i t i n g of spirits i n A enthusiasm i n philosophy, history, and religion: Packet for Ezra Pound, moreover, he speaks w i t h deliberate obscu- T h e n I took d o w n from my w i l e a list of w h a t she h a d r e a d , two or rity. H e is paradoxical, inconsistent, tantalizingly vague or allusive, three volumes of W u n d t , part of Hegel's Logic, a l l T h o m a s T a y l o r ' s and ironic; and his irony works i n two directions at once. He is Plotinus, a L a t i n w o r k of P i c o d c l l a M i r a n d o l a , a n d a great d e a l of ironic because he disbelieves, while he obviously proclaims his faith. m e d i a e v a l mysticism. . . . 1 r e a d a l l of M a c K e n n a ' s i n c o m p a r a b l e t r a n s l a t i o n of P l o t i n u s , some of it several times, a n d went from He is ironic because, while proclaiming his lack of faith, he insists P l o t i n u s to his predecessors a n d successors, whether u p o n her list or that he believes. But, w i t h A Packet before us, there are a few m a t - not: 251 ters which we can take up immediately. D i d Mrs. Yeats have a supernatural experience, or was she only A n d i n A Vision, we may observe, he pays far less homage to his v i s i t - pretending? Less than ten years after the poet's death, she clearly ing spirits than to those men who wrote their best works long before suggested to A . N o r m a n Jeffares, one of his biographers, that her they ever left the temporal w o r l d for A n i m a M u n d i . Meanwhile, towards the close of A Packet, he calls our attention, however i n - 106
  • Y E A T S : T H E P O E T AS A MYTHMAKER THE MYTH REVISED directly, to the fact that his spirits are not to be confused w i t h the Henry More, they believe that a bird's instinct i n b u i l d i n g nestl ghosts of "that popular spiritualism which has not dared to define proves that the human soul is i m m o r t a l . Michael Robartes, "that itself." " 2 2 inspired m a n , " explains to his friends that i n sexual u n i o n the 259 I t w o u l d nevertheless be inaccurate to say that Yeats, i n one way antinomies b o t h originate and resolve themselves: or another, d i d not believe i n the r e a l i t y — o r i n a r e a l i t y — o f his "Death cannot solve the antinomy: death and life are its expression. spirits. His wife might have perpetrated a hoax; but, assuming that We come at birth into a multitude and after death would perish into he knew, he d i d not care. She might have given back to h i m , d u r i n g the One did not a witch of Endor call us back, nor would she repent her moments of seance, his o w n thoughts or the fruits of her wide did we shriek with Samuel: 'Why has thou disquieted me?' instead of reading; but, i n his quest for a mythology, that deception d i d not slumbering upon that breast." 200 matter. "The marriage bed is the symbol of the solved antinomy, and were more than symbol could a man there lose and keep his identity, but he A n d so, when w r i t i n g of his spirits, he describes them w i t h a falls asleep. That sleep is the same as the sleep of death." 261 passionate conviction that they do somehow exist. But precisely how or i n what way they exist Yeats does not tell us, although he Robartes next goes on to speculate about personal immortality; but makes a few bold suggestions. T h e y are, he writes, hallucinations he does so, as Yeats ironically said i n a letter to a friend, ". . . w i t h or nightmares or dreams or products of "a dream shared" by h i m an energy & a Dogmatism & a cruelty I am not capable of i n my and by his w i f e . 258 Hence, they are "[an] expression that unites the own person." 262 sleeping and waking m i n d . " Even on these terms, it is true, 2 5 4 Not only does Robartes prophesy the coming of war i n our time he both accepts and rejects the supernatural messengers. But for 8(15 but he urges a world-wide revolution so that, through cataclysm, our the most part he accepts them. He reminds us, unequivocally, that primary civilization may be destroyed and faith renewed: they do not appeal to reason and that, as the very symbols by which "Dear predatory birds, prepare for war, prepare your children and the m i n d can know itself, they are not supposed t o . T h e i r haunts, 2 M all that you can reach, for how can a nation or a kindred without war like those of a l l human thought and a l l symbols and of our dreams become that 'bright particular star' of Shakespeare, that lit the roads and "the muses," are "those low haunts" of the unconscious and in boyhood? Test art, morality, custom, thought, by Thermopylae; the imaginative l i f e . 257 make rich and poor act so to one another that they can stand together there. Love war because of its horror, that belief may be changed, I f i t were now possible to argue w i t h h i m that such spirits do not civilisation renewed. We desire belief and lack it. Belief comes from exist, Yeats w o u l d certainly be left untroubled. He knows or sus- shock and is not desired. When a kindred discovers through appari- pects that they are, ultimately, the only way by which mankind can tion and horror that the perfect cannot perish nor even the imperfect ever understand the non-ego, since (so far as he is concerned) the long be interrupted, who can withstand that kindred? Belief is renewed continually in the ordeal of death." 263 non-ego and the ego, reality and dreams, and the conscious and the unconscious are gyres which i m p l y each other. Or, as lie is content Robartes is then reprimanded by Owen Aherne, the neo-Thomist, to point out, "We can (those hard symbolic bones under the skin) who is his antiself: "Even i f the next divine influx be to kindreds substitute for a treatise on logic the Divine Comedy, or some little why should war be necessary? Cannot they develop their character- song about a rose, or be content to live our thought." ' '* Let us pass 2 1 istics in some other way?" But Robartes refuses to answer. Instead, 264 on. helputs an egg into a box and says good-by to his friends, "one after The "Stories of Michael Robartes and His Friends," which comes the other." "3 5 after A Packet for Ezra Pound, is a retelling of the introduction to T h e main portion of the book, which follows the "Stories of the 1925 text of A Vision; but the introduction has been expanded Michael Robartes and His Friends," consists of five essays and not, into a witty and somewhat cryptic phantasy. T h e protagonists of like the original edition, of four. " T h e Great Wheel," the first of the "Stories" announce that i n a violent act of adultery, as i n the the essays, is a reprinting of " W h a t the Caliph Partly Learned"; mythical rape of Leda by Zeus, there is symbolized the fall of ,an only the title has been changed. " T h e Completed Symbol," an e n - old civilization and the b i r t h of a new one. Like Chateaubriand and tirely new essay, is based on those pages i n "What the Caliph Re- 108 109
  • Y E A T S : T H E P O E T AS A MYTHMAKER THE M Y T H REVISED fused to L e a r n " i n which Yeats originally explained his geometrical the Eleusinian Mysteries and Gaelic heliolatry, i n occultism, i n the symbolism. " T h e Soul i n Judgment," the t h i r d essay, is a complete works of Blake and Shelley, and i n Platonic and neo-Platonic p h i - rewriting of " T h e Gates of Pluto." "The Great Year of the Ancients" losophy; and, having recognized his miscellaneous sources, we then is a long study of the Platonic Year and primitive nature myth, all have no trouble i n distinguishing between his farfetched analogues too briefly touched on i n " W h a t the Caliph Refused to Learn." "Dove and those which are probably sound. But i n the revision of the book, and Swan," the fifth essay, remains practically unchanged, except except when he repeats his previous scholarship, he fails to clarify that, for an u n k n o w n reason, Yeats now eliminates from it his and frequently he distorts the relation, as he now understands prophecy of disaster i n our time. A n d the book closes w i t h a two- the relation, between A Vision and the rest of human culture; page epilogue, "The End of the Cycle," not included in the first and everywhere i n the book, so far as these last matters are c o n - edition and concerned w i t h a few deductions about the T h i r t e e n t h cerned, he unconsciously reveals his awkwardness to us i n two Sphere of A n i m a M u n d i . rather amusing ways. H e does not always make the necessary d i s - tinction between the sources and the analogues of his book. A n d T h e five essays, w i t h the introductory and concluding sections, many of his new analogues are explained categorically, even when have all the excellences of the first edition, b u t many of the weak- he expatiates on subjects of which (it seems) he has little k n o w l - nesses too. A l t h o u g h he tries to simplify his mythology, Yeats re- edge and less understanding. Such problems as these are worth c o n - mains unnecessarily (or necessarily) vague, equivocal, and obscure. sidering i n detail. Throughout his life, because of his synthesizing He makes an attempt to be more comprehensive here than he was mind, Yeats attached great importance to the origins of A Vision. i n any of his former essays. Yet, again o m i t t i n g much, he solves few of the problems which he raised earlier; and he raises and ignores innumerable others. N o r does he make a genuine attempt to correct his flagrant errors i n interpreting history, philosophy, and the b i o g - raphies of famous men, although i n A Packet for Ezra Pound he He never ceased to believe that every cultural achievement i n the apologizes for not doing so. The errors, he has to admit, fill h i m West originates primarily i n Gaelic myth; but, shortly after his " w i t h shame." 260 meeting w i t h Shri Purohit Swami, he somewhat qualified his ardent H e is as categorical as ever in stating his opinions; and he c o n - Celticism. T h e Swami had informed him that, of ancient religions tinues to rely on the most archaic symbols and astronomy, psycho- surviving i n t o the twentieth century, Hrahmanism undoubtedly is logical machinery and supernaturalism. Often, merely to make A the oldest. Yeats, not against his w i l l , was convinced, although he Vision impressive, he adds almost indiscriminately to the n u m - had now to reconcile the Hindu's argument with his own first persua- ber of his learned authorities; or he boasts that a specific idea or sion. H e d i d so, without consulting the new anthropologists, by symbol came to him from his supernatural instructors. W i t h a self- adding to his views on comparative religion three new postulates: assurance incredibly hard to explain, moreover, he continues to look H i n d u i s m is the world's most ancient religious faith; this faith was, everywhere for analogues to his mythology; and sometimes he gives at one time, indistinguishable from Celtic heliolatry; and the l o f t - the impression that, i n revising the book, he was not reluctant to iest wisdom of modern Ireland and modern Europe can be traced, invent analogues (or even sources) when none could be easily found. should we discover its fountainhead, to Celtic legend, through C e l - Yeats had named his analogues and sources i n the first edition. I n tic legend to the mystery cults of ancient Egypt and Greece, and the second he tried to make his myth a k i n d of gloss to the whole finally to the primitive myths of I n d i a . B u t i n his evaluation of 267 of human culture. the historical process Yeats made age a correlative of sanctity. Hence, while acknowledging that Frazer had made Christianity seem u n - (a) desirable,268 he would assert that the West must rediscover its lost spiritual values only i n Celtic heliolatry, or, since all three have exactly the same origins, i n Greek mythology or i n H i n d u I n the first edition of his myth, once we know the early history of lore. his thought, we can without difficulty recognize Yeats' sources i n 110 1I I
  • Y E A T S : T H E P O E T AS A M Y T H M A K E R THE MYTH REVISED H e of course understood that a rediscovery of primitive religion work alone. Both he and I had symbolized a.difference between Greek must take a long time and that, d u r i n g this time, Europe must be and Roman thought by comparing the blank or painted eyes of Greek statues with the pierced eyeballs of the Roman statues, both had de- gradually prepared for its spiritual awakening. H e was eager to scribed as an illustration of Roman character the naturalistic portrait announce to the world, i n addition, that underlying u n i t y which heads screwed onto stock bodies, both had found the same meaning he believed to exist not only between Greek or Irish mythology and in the round bird-like eyes of Byzantine sculpture, though he or his H i n d u i s m but also between all three of these religions and A Vision. translator had preferred "staring at infinity" to my "staring at I n t o A Vision and into other late essays, accordingly, he incorporated miracle."278 several analogical studies of his myth and the myths of ancient But I cannot look u p o n The Decline of the West as a compendium Greece, ancient India, and pre-Christian Ireland. His hope was merely of analogues to A Vision. Rather, I t h i n k of i t , along w i t h that the trade edition of his great book might be widely read; and Hinduism, as one more system of thought from which Yeats clearly he hoped that his mythology, which he ardently described as a borrowed ideas and symbols, metaphors and opinions. H e hints as universal faith, might i n time take the place of political theories, much when, i n the revision of his essay, he attributes to his super- religious beliefs, and metaphysical systems which, he argued, no natural instructors the necessary " l i n k " between himself and 2 7 4 longer functioned. 269 Spenglcr, while several paragraphs below he speaks of his instructors Thus, i n his introduction to Patau jali's Aphorisms oj Yoga he as "the personalities of a dream shared by my wife, by myself." 275 writes that the Hindu's mystical experience is i n no way q u a l i t a - D u r i n g moments of seance Mrs. Yeats was able to supply her hus- tively different from the Cell's dieam ol T i i n a n o g , experiments i n band, it appears, w i t h many echoes of her wide reading. Possibly psychical research, or any imaginative Insight like the insights i n with the aid of his wife's "unconscious memory" the poet, who knew A Vision—into the nature ol leullly.*"" And in A Vision itself he no German, could read The Decline of the West years before the now explains that the states of moral being to which H i n d u theolo- book was translated. gians refer have their analogues i n his desitiplion of the moral periods of the soul after death. Here i l l A Vision he explains also 271 that i n both the Vedas and the Upanishads one may come upon analogues to his entire symbolic machinery ol cycles and lunar Yeats' later inability (or refusal) to differentiate i n A Vision b e - phases, of antinomies and tinctures, of gyres and Platonic Years. 272 tween the sources and the analogues of his thought is curious i n - B t — a n d I should very much like to stress this p o i n t — H i n d u i s m u deed. Yet that inability never holds our attention so much as does provided Yeats w i t h few i f any immediate analogues to A Vision. his wholly analogical approach to almost everything he has to say. We may recall that Madame Blavatsky and A. P. Sinnett, leaders Not only are his major analogical studies quite farfetched; but, i n i n the Theosophical Movement, had based their theological doc- making them, he simply refuses to admit that the differences b e - trines almost completely on H i n d u philosophy and mysticism. tween two philosophical doctrines may be as important as—perhaps T h r o u g h Theosophy, w i t h which he was quite familiar, H i n d u i s m more important t h a n — t h e i r superficial similarities. A n d too often w a — s i i t remains—one of his most important and most obvious a n c he is concerned only w i t h the most superficial similarities between sources. A Vision and the doctrines of other men, whose opinions, as a r e - I n 1926, shortly after he had published the first edition of his sult, he frequently distorts. essay, Yeats read i n translation Spengler's The Decline of the West. There is no writer who, i f he accepts a cyclical view of historv, T h e book very much impressed h i m , because he thought that he does not demonstrate to Yeats that by analogy his interpretation of had found i n i t many other analogues to his synthetic myth: history is altogether sound. I n a matter such as this, however, i t is not always easy to follow either his premises or his cryptic a r g u - When in 1 9 2 6 the English translation of Spengler's book came out, some weeks after A Vision, I found that not only were [my] dates . . . ments; but a few of his most important observations are rather the same as his but whole metaphors and symbols that had seemed my clear. A n d these observations may best be understood, I think, by 112 "3
  • Y E A T S : T H E P O E T AS A MYTHMAKER THE MYTH REVISED our turning first not to A Vision but to his long introduction to the play The Words upon the Window-Pane (1934). I n that i n t r o d u c - Plotinus, K a r l Marx, A l b e r t Sorel, Henry Adams, Flinders Petrie, tion Yeats emphasizes, though not too carefully, the major differ- and Pierre D u h e m . 281 ences between the historical cycles of Giambattista Vico and those of We may summarize briefly Yeats' remaining analogical studies of Jonathan S w i f t . Swift, he there explains, thought that historical 276 his archaic m y t h ; for i n these remaining studies his analogies are flux is directed by the antinomies of a class struggle, while be so farfetched as to be almost infuriating. Frobenius and Spengler, thought also that history moves i n great cycles from a golden age he asserts, ". . . discovered . . . i n Africa, the Cavern, symbol of the to chaos and back again, and from a harmony of the One (the ruler), nations m o v i n g westward, the A l t a r at the centre of radiating the Few (the privileged classes), and the Many (the populace) to the roads, symbol of the nations moving eastward." A n d he concludes 282 tyranny of the Many, the Few, and finally the O n e . But Vico, 277 that their A l t a r is his antithetical tincture; and their Cavern, his Yeats goes on to say, described history as moving from barbarism to primary t i n c t u r e . B u t I have been unable to find this odd n o t i o n 283 a golden age and then to disorder again, from a matrix in which clearly stated either i n Spengler's The Decline of the West or i n social classes are w i t h o u t any identity to a culture i n which strong Frobenius' The Heart of Africa, the only one of Frobenius' works rulers emerge, while he attributed the movements of every civili/a which Yeats seems to have r e a d ; and at no p o i n t i n A Vision does 284 tion to the complex rhythms of the human m i n d . * 2 7 8 Yeats explicitly identify his antithetical and primary tinctures w i t h Having made these distinctions between the two cyclical views nl the geographical movements of any nation, whether i n Africa or not. history, Yeats next points out his preference. H e maintains, but not Leibnitz regarded the p r i m o r d i a l forms of matter as a conglomera- too accurately, that his own theory of historical development or cle tion of monads. 285 A n d he described every monad both as a nucleus cline has much more i n common w i t h Swift's theory than with of force and as a microcosm n o t only of the phenomenal universe b u t Vico's. A n d he also tells us that, like Swift, he conceives of history also of the human m i n d . Leibnitz' monads resemble nothing at a l l as moving from the harmony of a golden age, his Phase Fifteen In in A Vision. B u t Yeats, though rejecting Leibnitz' metaphysics, i n - a one-thousand-year lunar cycle, to the cataclysm of a social revolu sists that the monads very much resemble his supernatural Dai- tion, his Phase Twenty-eight on a Great Wheel of two thousand mons. 286 years. Croce analyzed human life i n terms of four activities or Four But i n A Vision, for no apparent reason, Yeats neglects the very Moments. These Four Moments are the knowledge of concrete p a r - distinctions which i n his other essay he says must be made between ticulars and the knowledge of abstract universals, the active p u r - the views of Swift and those of Vico. He even forgets about Swllt suit of ethical or unselfish ideals and the active pursuit of economic altogether. A n d he categorically redefines Vico's age of barbarism or self-centered pleasures. A n d Yeats compares Croce's Four 287 as the golden age, which he describes as "'the regeneration of Moments w i t h his Four Faculties, w i t h which, I am convinced, 288 society by a r e t u r n to a primitive state of m i n d and a new barbar- they have less than nothing i n common. ism.' " T h e n , by relying on a completely specious analogy, he cot 2 7 9 I n the Enneads269 Plotinus refers to Three Existents (Being, M o - relates the Viconian age of historical barbarism w i t h his age of super- tion, and Stability), which he calls the irreducible substances or natural influx, that divine revelation i n which every cycle of two forms of the physical universe and which, he says, are emanations thousand years must b e g i n . A n d afterwards, w i t h a similar dis- 280 from an Authentic A l l . A n d he divides the Authentic A l l , which is regard for detail, he proceeds to allow for no essential (or analogi- transcendent to the physical universe, i n t o Three Hypostases: the cal) difference between his own theory of history, as outlined here One (or the Good), which is the One Authentic Existent and the i n A Vision, and the cyclical theories advanced not only by Vico unknowable Absolute or First Cause; the Nous, which is an emana- but also by historians and philosophers so different as Plato, Cicero, tion from the One and is its T h o u g h t ; and the Soul, which is an emanation from the Nous and is the Creative Principle of the * B u t Vico was far more interested in the theory that every nation paiscn (In phenomenal world. Nowhere i n the Enneads does Plotinus refer cycles) through three major periods: the Divine, the Heroic, and the H u m a n . to Three Authentic Existents; but not only can Yeats find Three 114 "5
  • Y E A T S : T H E P O E T AS A MYTHMAKER THE M Y T H REVISED Authentic Existents i n the Enneads but, having found them, he are avowedly scientific—symbolizes all the archetypal patterns i n proceeds to correlate them w i t h three of his metaphysical abstrac- human thought, human feeling, and human society. A n d from these tions: the Celestial Body, the Spirit and the Ghostly Self. Of course, 290 premises he inferred that traditional or occult wisdom embraces when rewriting A Vision, Yeats may really have had i n m i n d P l o t i - every primordial theme i n which poetic inspiration begins. nus' Three Existents (Being, M o t i o n , and Stability) or his Three Hypostases (the Authentic One, the Nous, and the Soul) or some indefinable synthesis of b o t h the Hypostases and the Existents. But (b) Yeats' three metaphysical abstractions have nothing whatsoever i n common w i t h either of these neo-Platonie trinities—except the Eager both to enlarge on and to clarify the framework of his myth, number three. A n d their having the number three i n common Yeats incorporated into A Vision an astonishing amount of ency- hardly justifies his attempt to correlate Plotinus' metaphysical sys- clopedic learning, not all of i t immediately relevant to the m a i n tem w i t h his own. design of the book. He discusses, for example, the distinctions to be B u t throughout his many analogical studies in A Vision Yeats made bet ween Hegelian negatives and the contraries of W i l l i a m emphasizes in particular his whirling gvres. A n d he repeatedly i n - Blake:* forms us, until he litis almost weailrd us with the repetition, that I I I I M ! never r e a d H e g e l , but my m i n d h a d b e e n f u l l of B l a k e f r o m his gyres—and all the rest ol his «eomeliic al symbols—are a l l the boyhood up and 1 saw the w o r l d as a c o n f l i c t — S p e c t r e a n d E m a n a t i o n gyres of every philosophical system In the world, including the sys- — a n d c o u l d d i s t i n g u i s h between a contrary a n d a negation. " C o n - tems of Heraclitus,* Empetloclrs, ( i l i e t u , Mat robins, Descartes, and traries are positive," wrote B l a k e , "a negation is not a contrary," " H o w great the g u l p h [sic] between simplicity a n d insipidity," a n d a g a i n , (of a l l things!) Flaubert.*"" , " T h e r e is a place at the bottom of the graves where contraries are equally tine." I had never put the conflict i n logical f o r m , never thought w i t h Hegel d i a l the two ends of the see-saw are one another's negation, n o r I t would not be rewarding to dwell overlong on Yeats' strange that the s p r i n g vegetables were refuted w h e n o v e r . 292 preoccupation w i t h the sources and analogue* of A Vision. Nor Race, he tells its, is the moral law which helps to predetermine both would i t be very rewarding, with respect to Midi matters, to try to the antinomies and the cycles in the historical process: "When I look prove Yeats wholly right or wholly wrong, Philosophically, one must in history for the conflict or u n i o n of antithetical and primarv, I suppose, i t was b o t h careless and unwise of him to identify those sym- seem to discover that conflict or u n i o n of races [or cultures] stated bols, ideas, and systems of thought in which lie perceived a general by Pen ic and Schneider as universal l a w . " * * 203 similarity. T h a t much is clear. But he was not a philosopher. A n d , from his point of view, there could be no error in the identifying • T h i s distinction is neither accurate nor just, since Hegel does appear to have preferred antinomies to mere negatives. (Cf. Windelband, op. cit., pp. 5 3 0 , of his sources and his analogues with each other. Nor could there 5G1), RjjH, On-if,, passim.) be any error, he believed, i n his correlating as analogues explicitly **l>iirlng the lust ten years of his life, Yeats became quite interested in eugenics, riithenic.i, and all kinds of theories of race; and in the pamphlet On different symbols, myths, and religions. He held firmly to the con- the Boiler, though in a superficial way, he discusses these three subjects at viction that all human culture originates in an archetypal faith, length. Hut In A Vision he says little or nothing about either race or racial conflicts. He u«c» words like "nationality" and "race" interchangeably, yet says whether I n d i a n , Greek, or Celtic. He took it for granted that every almost nothing nboul the connection between race and the historical process. valid d o c t r i n e — a supernatural doctrine as opposed to those which And he never adequately tells us precisely how his primary and antithetical tinctures represent all the races of the world, the complex struggles and m i g r a - * I t is a little surprising that Yeats does not write far more than he does of tions of these different races, and the manner in which moments in historv are Heraclitus, whose style and emphasis on the antinomies often remind us of the consequence of such racial migrations and struggles. O n the other hand, to passages out of A Vision. T a k e , for example, the following, which is a fragment give him some credit, his brief paraphrases of the views held by Petrie and from the latter's works: "One and the same thing are the living and the dead, Schneider are surprisingly accurate. (For the sources of Yeats' paraphrases of the waking and the sleeping, the young and the old; the former change and the views held by Petrie and Schneider, see the following: Flinders Petrie, The are the latter, the latter change in turn and are the former." (Charles M . Bake- Revolutions of Civilization, p. 123; and Hermann Schneider, The History oj well, ed., Source Book in Ancient Philosophy, p. 33.) World Civilization, 1, pp. vii-viii.) 116 117
  • Y E A T S : T H E P O E T AS A M Y T H M A K E R THE MYTH REVISED Before rewriting A Vision, he had carefully read (or had had his of a nature god like Dionysus, who figured prominently i n the wife read to h i m , since he knew little French) Pierre Duhem's Le Eleusinian Mysteries. Systeme du Monde. Duhem, who had a monistic conception of the H e wonders, too, whether the stories told about Julius Caesar, physical sciences, believed that physics should be "representational," whose important role i n history he never doubts, were ever taken not "explanatory." H e therefore rejected all molecular, atomic, 284 over by folk tradition, altered by "the religious party of the Sybil," and electronic theories of the universe; he spoke rather of sucli and equated w i t h ancient tales of a nature festival. Indeed, Yeats' 301 things as "energetics" and "uniformities"; and he translated the interest i n nature m y t h and the ritual murder, we learn from A whole science of modern physics into something like a metaphysical Vision, was never so strong as i t was d u r i n g the last ten or fifteen phantasy. Needless to say, Yeats accepted Duhem's wild theories; 295 years of his life. M u c h that the scientific historian looks on i n the and i n the fourth section of "The Great Year of the Ancients" lie ancient w o r l d as empirical fact or t r u t h , he was convinced, must be paraphrases, i n part, volume one of Duhem's b o o k . 296 regarded instead as a m i x t u r e of fact and primitive myth. Pagan I n the manner of Blake and the occultists, whose doctrine of cor nature gods became a Christ or a Julius Caesar, who i n t u r n became resjDondences he again echoes, he expounds the notion that Fast an embodiment of the flux i n nature. A n d solar phenomena and and West, alternately, are to each other as ego and Mask, as the the ritual murder, he added, symbolized and continue to symbolize antithetical tincture and the primary tincture, and as feminine and all cycles, wherever these cycles may be, whatever they may be, and masculine sexuality; while, again like Blake and the occultists 297 however they may have come into being. He proved his conviction and like the archaeologist Josef Strzygowski (whom he discusses at true, paradoxically, w i t h examples drawn from Greece and Rome, length),* he demonstrates how both history and art may be analyzed not Ireland; nevertheless, his nationalism remained intact, for he or explained i n terms of the four compass points and the human had come to regard Ireland as the heir of classical a n t i q u i t y . 302 faculties. 298 He returns to the theme of primitive nature myth. W i t h a con- viction more forceful than he reveals i n any of his other essays, he (c) insists that primitive religions, among which he includes Chris- tianity, always originate i n a r i t u a l murder; and i n every sacred rile W h e n he was rewriting A Vision, Yeats made several far-reaching such as this, he maintains, ancient peoples used to celebrate the sun additions to his archaic myth. For the last time i n his life, he u n d e r - rise and sunset, the waxing and waning seasons, and the revolutions took to explain i n detail the whole complex relation between of the Platonic Y'ear. "Christ," he writes, "rose from the dead at 299 the phenomenal universe and all the realms of supernatural vision. a full moon i n the first m o n t h of the year, the month that we have Or, to be more precise, he now made the attempt (a difficult one, to named from Mars the ruler of the first of the twelve [zodiacal] be sure) to analyze completely the seven antinomies of the individual signs." 1 take Yeats to mean that the life and the death of Christ 300 self and the archetypal ego, man and God, freedom and d e t e r m i n - must have been transfigured by myth u n t i l , dramatized through ism, life and death, the material universe and A n i m a M u n d i , time pagan rituals, they became indistinguishable from the life and death and eternity, and the Many and the One. He had tried to explain these antinomies i n the first edition of "Yeats' discussion is based on Strzygowski's Origin of Christian Church Art. the book, b u t quite unsuccessfully. N o t only had he removed God Strzygowski was not the occultist Yeats would make him out to be. He was a brilliant archaeologist interested in certain technical problems in the history from the universe b u t he had provided for an almost absolute d e - of architecture. But, paradoxically, in the Origin of Christian Church Art he terminism; and he had failed to state adequately i n what source does approach both architecture and its history in terms of the human person- even a m i n i m u m of human freedom may ultimately originate. ality and of four cultures, each culture associated with one of the four main corners of the earth. A brief quotation may illustrate his method and his point Once he had stated that man had created these antinomies; b u t 303 of view: " I can regard Christian art as only one of the attempts to create a that observation, although he continued to believe i t , could hardly new spiritual unity by the contact of the three Aryan worlds, Western, Eastern, and Northern, with Semitism." (Josef Strzygowksi, Origin of Christian C/turch be of much help. I t was much too metaphorical; and i t was p h i l - Art, p. 11.) 118 "9
  • Y E A T S : T H E P O E T AS A MYTHMAKER THE MYTH REVISED osophically much too vague. A n d d u r i n g the 1920's, while c o m - thoroughly divorced from an institutionalized non-ego. T h e omis- posing " T h e Gates of P l u t o " essay, he had simply not understood sion, as a result, was to trouble h i m very much throughout the late the seven antinomies very well; hence, he had been obliged either twenties and the early thirties, so much so that, i n r e w r i t i n g A to define his terms incompletely or to avoid a discussion of them Vision, he finally l u r e d God i n t o his mythology and back i n t o his altogether. private universe. Yet his delight i n p a r a d o x — a n d i n the antinomies B u t i n the second edition of his sacred book, though still not w i t h particularly of man and God and of nature and A n i m a M u n d i — • the greatest possible success, he found i t considerably easier to deal may help to obscure both his meaning and his purpose. w i t h each of these seven antinomies. He now imagines that the l a t - I have stated that, before he began to rewrite A Vision, Yeats had ter are, to begin w i t h , a single contrary; and that contrary he r e p - had nothing to say about God. B u t that statement is not altogether resents as the one opposition of life and death. He next, projects the true. Even i n the first edition of the book, we must remember, he one contrary of life and death and the six remaining contraries or had given his T h i r t e e n t h Sphere, perhaps unknowingly, several a t - antinomies i n t o his symbol of the interpenetrating gyres. T h e n , by tributes of an archaic deity. T h e Sphere is transcendent to and i m - means of these gyres, he proceeds to represent and dramatize every manent i n the phenomenal universe; i t is occupied by Daimons and conflict i n the macrocosm and the microcosm alike. " T o me," as he by Ghostly Selves; and i n i t there survive a l l those souls which wrote to a friend i n 1938, " a l l things are made of the conflict of two have escaped from the cycles of rebirth. B u t what he had once done states of consciousness, beings or persons which die each other[']s perhaps unconsciously he tried, as the years passed, to do c o n - life [and] live each other['js death. T h a t is true of lile X.- death t h e m - sciously. I n Pages from a Diary Written in 1930, for example, he selves." * A n d i n A Vision he has the following to say: "Only one 30 was explicitly to use the w o r d " G o d " — a n d for the very first t i m e — symbol exists [the interpenetrating gyres], though the tcllccting m i r - when analyzing the innate character of his T h i r t e e n t h Sphere. 306 rors [of A n i m a M u n d i and the human mind] make many appear T h a t use of the word is remarkable, although i t is hardly surprising. and all different." But, here i n A Vision, he does not rely for an 805 Yeats had removed God from his private universe; but, like many explanation of the seven antinomies merely on his symbolic gyres. men desperate for a religious faith, he had done so only while he He realizes that for h i m to do so would be a gloss simplification of could somehow hold onto H i m . T h e significant step i n his restora- his entire philosophical system, however convenient that, simplifica- tion of God to myth, however, was not to be taken u n t i l he rewrote tion m i g h t be. A n d so, w i t h painstaking care he proceeds to analyze A Vision. Under the influence of the occult tradition, neo-Platonic the complex ideas—but especially man and Clod, tnnllrr and human and H i n d u metaphysics, and Bishop Berkeley's philosophy, he was freedom—which his interpenetrating gyres symbolically define. at last able to give his T h i r t e e n t h Sphere the attributes of thought and ieeling, self-consciousness and perception, and b o t h an aware- ness of and a superiority to good and evil; and he could eventually U n t i l he began to rewrite A Vision, Yeats had never been very say of it that, by being a l l things, containing all things, and o r i g i n a t - much interested i n the idea or the existence of a God. T r u e , d u r i n g ing all things, i t is "sufficient to i t s e l f . " Yeats' T h i r t e e n t h Sphere, 307 the 1890's and shortly afterwards he had occasionally made reference if less attractive or personal than either Jehovah or Christ, has not to H i m — i n The Secret Rose and i n Ideas of Good and F.vil—as that a few traits i n common w i t h each. Yet, as we contemplate his T h i r - N o t h i n g which is beyond matter, the human spirit, and A n i m a teenth Sphere, we may prefer to think of its likeness—albeit a M u n d i . But, while at work on Per Amica Silrntia l.unae and the superficial likeness—rather to Blake's God, to Madame Blavatsky's first edition of his sacred book, he had completely removed God God, to the Hindu's One or Nirvana, and to the Kabbalist's A i n from the universe. T h i s last fact is quite extraordinary since, i n Soph Aour. Or we may now t h i n k of i t — m o r e accurately, p e r h a p s — almost all of the essays written from 191.] to 1925, he had very as his ideal image not only of the human m i n d but also of cosmic much wanted to identify God w i t h the image of man. He had energy and the natural w o r l d . wanted, as of course i n A Vision itself, to celebrate only antithetical human beings and religious systems; that is to say, men and creeds 120 121
  • Y E A T S : T H E P O E T AS A MYTHMAKER THE M Y T H REVISED H o w to explain the relation between God and man was more though w i t h a slight modification, i n t o the main patterns of his difficult for h i m , especially since he wanted both to render as myth. identical and to distinguish between his T h i r t e e n t h Sphere and the His T h i r t e e n t h Sphere and his Ghostly Selves, thoroughly e x - h u m a n personality. I n his diary notes of 1930 he wrote that a " l e v e l - plained i n terms of Berkeleyan and neo-Platonic metaphysics and l i n g pantheism" could i n no way satisfy h i m : i t completely denies somehow Indistinguishable from each other, now become i n the the i n d i v i d u a l ego. 308 B u t the deists, he complained i n the diary, symbolism of A Vision "the universal Self" of H i n d u philosophy. remove God much too far from the human consciousness; ' and l,m These several relations Yeats fails to work out systematically; b u t 817 Bishop Berkeley, he went on to say, was much too equivocal when he does succeed i n doing what he very much wants to do. H e trans- he distinguished between God's power and man's. 810 forms A Vision i n t o a personal faith i n which, without a loss of their I n the second edition of his archaic myth, on the other hand, identity, men are metaphorically exalted to and then u n i t e d w i t h Yeats tells us that he considers Plotinus superior to Plato, "the first the image of God. A n d God, though independent of both matter Christian," because Plotinus preferred the archetypal ego to Plato's and the human m i n d , is explained, paradoxically, as a synthesis of archetypal Ideas, which are b u t emanations from i t . A n d yet Yea Is 3 1 1 both. Despite the fact that He functions through both, again para- does make i t perfectly clear that, i n all likelihood, Plotinus cared doxically, H e looms as the absolute idealization of the psychic life far less for the archetypal self than for the supernatural realm in of mankind. T h e origin and the measurement of the entire p h e - which that self is contained. N o t that Yeats, although he still r e - 312 nomenal universe, Yeats implies, are to be sought i n the imagination jects pantheism and deism, completely abandons either Berkelcyan of the poet and the non-poet alike. H u m a n beings either are or can or neo-Platonic metaphysics. Berkeley's God, he now asserts, is very be the very gods they w o r s h i p .818 much like his T h i r t e e n t h Sphere; and his Celestial Body, Spirit, 313 and Ghostly Self he equates w i t h what he calls (if mistakenly) Plotinus' "Three A u t h e n t i c Existents." 314 I n none of his late essays does Yeats have anything to say about What, we may ask ourselves, does Yeats have to say i n A Vision the obvious similarities between the neo-Platonic doctrine of the about the physical universe or about its relation to A n i m a M u n d i ? archetypal ego, by which he was profoundly influenced, and his own I n Ideas of Good and Evil, w r i t t e n years before he began to read doctrine of the Ghostly Self. Perhaps, as he wrote those late essays, widely i n philosophy, he had said that matter is b o t h the visible the similarity escaped his attention. Or perhaps he thought that, i n thought (or spirit) of the universe and an emanation from an A b - formulating his doctrine of the Ghostly Self, he had discovered his solute W i l l ; and he had concluded that, i n order for them to c o m - most reliable sources and analogues only i n the archetypal ego de- municate w i t h A n i m a M u n d i or the supernatural, men must rely scribed by Blake, by Madame Blavatsky and A.P. Sinnett, and by on dreams or on self-induced trances, as he often d i d . 8 1 9 But during the Kabbalists of the Golden D a w n . 316 the next twenty years or so, as he reached out for a self-discipline But, while rewriting A Vision, Yeats had still to explain the r e l a - and an acceptance of the passionate life, he was to repudiate that tion between God and man; and, as we have seen, Plato, P l o - notion. H e was to assert, instead, that men can communicate w i t h tinus, and Bishop Berkeley gave h i m very little help. For this the supernatural not only through their dreams or trances b u t also reason he again returned to H i n d u philosophy. "The individual through their observations of and delight i n the physical or material self, eater of the fruit of action," i t is pointed out i n the Upanishads, world; and, he was quick to add, he now preferred the latter w a y . 820 "is the universal Self, maker of the past and f u t u r e . " H u m a n per- 310 Still later, i n the first draft of A Vision, he maintained that both sonality is unique, the H i n d u believes; yet i t is one w i t h God; and, A n i m a M u n d i and the phenomenal universe are i m p l i c i t i n , emanate i n certain moments of intense contemplation, i t becomes aware not from, and evolve towards the T h i r t e e n t h Sphere, from which they only of its unity w i t h Divine Power b u t also of its own identity. are somehow indistinguishable. But, i n that first draft, he d i d fail Here was a statement of the relation between God and man to analyze, at least fully, all the different ways by which m a n k i n d which Yeats could and i n time d i d accept. I t fitted conveniently, might communicate either w i t h the T h i r t e e n t h Sphere or w i t h 122 123
  • Y E A T S : T H E P O E T AS A MYTHMAKER THE MYTH REVISED A n i m a M u n d i itself. N o r d i d he even try to cope w i t h so difficult a ceives when man does n o t . Yeats forgets, • too, that elsewhere in 325 problem as the essential characteristics of the visible and the invisible A Vision he provides for the independent emanation of the phe- realms of cosmic being. These several omissions he tried to remedy nomenal universe from his God of the T h i r t e e n t h Sphere. The i n the second edition of the book. natural and the supernatural are to each other as two interpenetrat- I n the second edition of A Vision, as he analyzes the physical ing gyres. universe and its relation to Anima MundrrYcTtTTfrrns fpx^hdp—to_ Perhaps these errors (or paradoxes) are not very important. We ri1s~G6a"of the T h i r t e e n t h Sphere. Because the T h i r t e e n t h Sphere have always to keep i n m i n d that Yeats' God embodies, although He is l i k e Berkeley's G o d — a t least i n its having consciousness and is indistinguishable from, nature, A n i m a M u n d i , and the archetypal t h o u g h t — , he believes that every object i n nature and Anima M u n d i egos of all human consciousness. Hence, however else we may want is, like the whole of mankind, an idea i n the m i n d of an omnipresent 10 regard the matter, his assertion that the human m i n d contains and omniscient d e i t y . But, as he analyzes the relation of nature 321 the whole of reality must remain but one more of his many attempts to A n i m a M u n d i , Y'eats does not concern himself merely w i t h a 10 celebrate the human imagination over the non-ego. I t is perhaps belief i n the divine idea of the worluV He TrlCS'TO w p l a i r r n o w T i n Yeats' fullest expression of that humanism which is rooted i n , yet is the l i g h t of such a belTefTTnahkind can communicate with invisible superior to, a thoroughgoing supernatural faith: a humanism powers and so live^ the goo'dor EappyTite7" ~" ' " ~ * ™ towards which he strove for most of his life. L i k e Blake, Yeats FronTnis belief i n ifiie divine idea of the world, he thus draws understood that men are what they behold. two moral inferencesyjrle insists that we m i n i not seek out the^ superivatufaTor A n i m a M u n d i or God by means only of our dreams or, for that matter, by means of any philosophical system which w o u l d repudiate the physical or sensubusTife of mankind". A n d , as a In the final pages of the book—in the section called "The corollary, whatever his past admiration for ootli Plalo and Plotinus, End of 1 lie C y c l e " — Y e a t s t a k e s u p a n d considers the last of his i n the 1937 edition of his m y t h Yeats makes his last break w i t h these m a j o r problems. H e writes about h u m a n freedom and predestina- men and their philosophical idealism. They too much separated the t i o n . N o t o n l y d o e s h e n o w t r y to e x p l a i n w h e r e t h e r e o r i g i n a t e the physical w o r l d from the human consciousness, he remmds us; and, possibilities of free c h o i c e for the individual but he also imposes he reminds us, also, that they too much exalted i h e s o u l over the l i m i t s o n t h e d e t e r m i n i s m o r q u a s i - d e t e r m i n i s m of h i s p r i v a t e u n i - body, the spiritual w o r l d over nature, and death over life. W i t h such verse. men and their philosophies, he tells us, he w i l l no longer have any- All freedom of c h o i c e , he says i n t h e s e l a s t p a g e s , comes from t h i n g to do. Instead, he says, he must celebrate the whole p h e - G o d , t h e T h i r t e e n t h S p h e r e ; b u t h e is e x t r e m e l y v a g u e a n d so con- nomenal universe, which he now thinks of as helng thoroughly fuses u s as s o o n as h e t r i e s to d i s c u s s i n d e t a i l the e x t e n t of this divine7 A n d soTwhiie relying^onceagain on BerTteTcyan t physics r n e a human power: and H i n d u theology, Yeats goes on to encourage us to pursue the . . . 1 d r a w myself u p into the symbol [A Vision itself] a n d it seems as abstract or the universal through the concrete and the particular, if I should k n o w all if I c o u l d but b a n i s h . . . m e m o r i e s a n d find mystical experiericeTarid the divine through sexual ecstasy, and the everything in the symbol. gyres of A n i m a M u r i d i through tKe~prTei*8F flic phvsicul w o r l d . 322 Hut n o t h i n g c o m e s — t h o u g h this m o m e n t was to r e w a r d me for a l l " B u t , i n declaring tils new humanism, Yeats goes even further; my toil. P e r h a p s I a m too o l d . Surely something w o u l d have come w h e n 1 meditated u n d e r the d i r e c t i o n of the C a b a l i s t s . W h a t discords and, as he does so, his entire metaphysical system begins ( I think) w i l l drive E u r o p e to that artificial u n i t y — o n l y dry or d r y i n g sticks to totterl Hg_jisserts_that therels; absolutely no r e a l i t y — n e i t h e r time c a n be lied into a b u n d l e — w h i c h is the decadence of every civilisation? nor space nor o b j e c t ^ j p a r t from the human consciousness. His _ 828 H o w w o r k out u p o n the phases the g r a d u a l c o m i n g a n d increase of authority for this strange view, as he suggests i n a diary note~of the the counter movement, the antithetical m u l t i f o r m influx: 1930's, is Berkeley. B u t here i n A Vision Yeats forgets that Berke- 824 S h o u l d J u p i t e r a n d S a t u r n meet, ley was of another opinion: he was of the opinion that God per- O w h a t a crop of m u m m y wheat! 124
  • Y E A T S : T H E P O E T AS A MYTHMAKER THE M Y T H REVISED Then I understand. I have already said all that can be said. The versus determinism is insoluble, I t h i n k that he too must have been particulars are the work of the thirteenth sphere or cycle which is in every man and called by every man his freedom. Doubtless, for it can unconvinced. Men are the victims and the instruments of necessity. do all things and knows all things, it knows what it will do with its They can only pretend that they are free. own freedom but i t has kept the secret. 826 # A t first glance Yeats appears to have introduced into A Vision, if * * at its conclusion, an antiself or Mask to his entire mythology. 11 is T h e second edition of A Vision, Yeats thought, was superior to the God of the T h i r t e e n t h Sphere, i n W h o m there are the Ghostly first; yet he was no more b l i n d to its faults than he had been to Selves, is independent of the determinism which emanates from those of its predecessor. I have already mentioned that i n A Packet H i m ; and men, w h o are one w i t h God, can presumably share in for Ezra Pound he apologizes for his factual errors. Here, too, he 328 God's freedom. Yet, u p o n rereading the above quotation, we sud- confesses that he has omitted much; that he has not been so d e - denly realize that Yeats holds his thesis so ambiguously as to resolve tailed or systematic when w r i t i n g about A n i m a M u n d i as he had almost nothing. T h e T h i r t e e n t h Sphere can both ". . . do all things. hoped to b e ; and that, though not deliberately, he has employed 329 . . ." and, i t seems, influence only "a few particulars." ". . . what must seem an arbitrary, harsh, difficult symbolism." 330 Yeats was of course aware of this confusion, one which is perhaps H e was made uneasy, moreover, by his T h i r t e e n t h Sphere, which inevitable i n any attempt to solve the difficult problem of free w i l l paradoxically acts through malevolent s p i r i t s . I n a late essay on 331 versus determinism. I n Pages from a Diary Written in 1930, for i n - Shelley, Yeats argues that Prometheus Unbound fails as a d r a - stance, he wisely points out that the relation between human matic poem because Shelley, unwittingly, makes Demogorgon not power and its l i m i t a t i o n defies all human understanding. Men and a beneficent, but a demonic God: God, he there explains, are each other's freedom and fulfillment; men are free because they are one w i t h God; they are predestined Demogorgon made his plot incoherent, its interpretation impossible; but act as though they were free; and any emphasis on the one or it was thrust there by that something which again and again forced him to balance the object of desire conceived as miraculous and super- the other possibility is merely a social convention: a consequence human, with nightmare. * 88 of popular superstition and nothing m o r e . When interpreted i n 327 the light of these statements, Yeats' final remarks i n A Vision on I t may perhaps be observed that Yeats' G o d — a malevolent c o n - free w i l l neither extend nor l i m i t the powers of human choice. Men troller of human freedom—also introduces "nightmare" i n t o his can still choose between their T r u e and False Faculties, to be sure; plot. 383 B u t I prefer to compare the T h i r t e e n t h Sphere, rather, w i t h nevertheless, one suspects that, even as men do so, they are not free Blake's Urizen, who is Nobodaddy, God the tyrant-father. of a God i n W h o m freedom and l i m i t a t i o n are inextricably one. I n any event, pleased w i t h the book though he may have been, Yeats' final reaction to A Vision was one of annoyance and despair. T h e ambiguity remains. God controls " a l l things"; and He seems I t was his "public p h i l o s o p h ^ M i e wrote to a friend i n 1938, not to influence only "a few particulars." B u t we can easily recognize his "private pMlosopllTr'' * T h e latter was still to be w r i t t e n ; b u t he 33 Yeats' preference, however obliquely i t may be set forth. T h e w o u l d have to wait a few years u n t i l he better understood i t . H a v - message w i t h which A Vision concludes is his cry of defiance against ing devoted more than half his life to the thinking, planning, or a universe much too big and impersonal for mankind, though one w r i t i n g of his mythology, Yeats ended his life dissatisfied w i t h what which all our human illusions must stoically accept and oppose. he had created. 335 T h e individual, whose image is God and who symbolically creates the whole temporal world, has the freedom of a supernatural agency. T h i s is an ennobling cry; and i t reaffirms, i n the m i n d of a poet, human dignity. B u t , alas, we shall have to remain unconvinced by it. Remembering Yeats' observation that the problem of free w i l l 126 127
  • Y E A T S : T H E P O E T AS A MYTHMAKER THE MYTH EVALUATED oncile Bishop Berkeley's metaphysics w i t h Celtic heliolatry,. mys. ticism w i t h the symbols of an archaic geometry, and (somewhat like V. Santayana) both scientific naturalism and modern psychology with Platonic idealism.* THE MYTH EVALUATED Yeats was not a theologian. " M r . Yeats' supernatural w o r l d , " complains T . S. Eliot i n After Strange Gods, "was the w r o n g super- W h e n d u r i n g the ig2o's and logo's Yeats spoke of A Vision, he r e - natural world. I t was not a w o r l d of real Good and E v i l , of holiness ferred to i t sometimes as a philosophy and sometimes as a sophisti- and sin, b u t a . . . lower mythology. . . . " 8 3 S W e may perhaps d i s - cated religion. B u t more often than not he described the book as a approve of the severe note i n M r . Eliot's statement, as well as of mythology: a restatement, i n the twentieth century, of primitive r e - his suggestion that Yeats' supernaturalism is inferior to his. B u t we ligion.3 3 8T h a t decision was intelligently made, shall have to agree that i n the m a i n his criticism is sound. Yeats was obviously not a systematic philosopher. Whatever the Yeats employs i n A Vision the language of a sophisticated r e - excellences of A Vision, the book does l,n k the completeness and ligion; but he writes of such concepts as God, heaven, and the soul precision, the consistency and logic, and the objectivity and literal- without any religious fervor and w i t h o u t what he himself once ness of a thoroughgoing metaphysical synthesis. Besides, Yeats a t - called "moral faith." A n d , unlike the true theologian, he fails to tempted to h o l d i n the book, as in his lile, a position which is p h i l - place some idea of G o d — h i s T h i r t e e n t h Sphere—at the very center osophically impossible. He was, for the most part, a monist and of his complex opinions. U n l i k e the true theologian, he does not both a spiritualist and an idealist. But, since he wanted to reconcile consider w i t h undisguised exactness either the character of that God innumerable systems of thought, he tried to be also a dualist and or the doctrine that God is the p a t h — t h e only p a t h — t o happiness (surprisingly) a materialist. i n this w o r l d and to salvation i n the next. Yeats explains i n A Vision that all things, im hiding the body But, however t h i n the line which separates p r i m i t i v e m y t h from and the soul, are opposites which contain each other; yet he writes religion and philosophy, A Vision is, to a large extent, a mythopoeic of the body and of the soul as though they wete separable. He a p - faith. W h e n he writes about history and human life or about trans- pears to have been convinced that matter is cosmic thought made migration and the revolving seasons, Yeats avails himself of a n a r - visible; nevertheless, there are i n A Vision occasional statements i n rative technique; and, as we have been told by the anthropologists, which he alludes to matter as the ultimate reality and to thought every p r i m i t i v e myth is i n the form of a story. His protagonists, as one of its complex manifestations. 1197 Not that symbolically or whether men i n the temporal w o r l d or disembodied spirits i n A n i m a emotionally or intellectually one may not hold what seem to be M u n d i , he elevates to heroic stature and to mythological symbols contradictory opinions. One may do so i f one is a poet, especially a and abstractions of every man and of every s o u l . 889 A n d because, student of Blake, b u t certainly not i f one wants to be a systematic like most of the mythic heroes of ancient Greece or Ireland, they philosopher. have lunar or solar properties, he indirectly transfigures them into A l l this is not to say that Yeats was wrong and that the philosopher nature deities. is right. Yeats looked at the world i n the manner of a poet, not i n As i n primitive myth, so i n A Vision we come u p o n the p r i m o r d i a l the manner of a scientist; he remade whatever he saw i n his own image of a dying and resurrected earth god, whose recurrent death image; through that image he elevated what he saw to antinomies; and resurrection symbolize the cycles and opposites by which every and, i n the midst of twentieth-century disorder, he thus tried to detail i n the physical universe and i n the other w o r l d is supposed to hammer his thoughts into unity. I know of no modern philosopher * We must also remember that Yeats, eager to lend universal validity to his who would dare to boast that he is a consistent disciple both of a intuitions, was less interested in original philosophical thinking than in the Democritus and of a St. Thomas Aquinas. But W i l l i a m Butler Yeats, compiling and synthesizing of what he read; and that in his system he is con- cerned far less with an explanation of the nature of things than with the sym- although he had l i t t l e use for St. Thomas, could symbolically rec- bolism of a psychological drama. 128 129
  • Y E A T S : T H E P O E T AS A MYTHMAKER THE MYTH EVALUATED be motivated. Like p r i m i t i v e myth, A Vision consists of i n n u m e r - also, as he knew, the word "belief" is one which for the twentieth able literary and folk traditions. I t is concerned less w i t h moral century has become difficult, almost impossible, to define. "Some redemption than w i t h the arranging and interpreting of all human w i l l ask i f I believe all that this book contains," he wrote i n 1929, experience. By explaining b o t h the literal and the subjective r e - "and I w i l l not know how to answer. Does the w o r d belief, used as lations among things, i t postulates, though sometimes by c o n - they w i l l use i t , belong to our age, can I think of the w o r l d as there fusing myth w i t h metaphysics, the supernatural unity which under- and I here j u d g i n g i t ? " 840 lies a l l the apparent diversity i n nature. A n d to the potential Yet i n A Vision—both e d i t i o n s — a n d i n other essays of the 1920's hierophant i t offers a description of heaven at once irrationally and '30's he does carefully explain the attitude w h i c h he finally concrete, naively sexual, and personally meaningful. assumed towards his myth. Occasionally, to be sure, he explains that But, even as a p r i m i t i v e myth, A Vision falls quite short of attitude by means of flagrantly ambiguous statements, as though he achieving Yeats' purpose. One of the most i m p o r t a n t prerequisites w o u l d share w i t h his readers the uncertainty of his o w n m i n d . T h u s , of a mythology is that i t be a public faith. I t must originate i n and throughout the " b i g book." when introducing a long passage on belong to the mores or customs of an ethnic group, a group the A n i m a M u n d i or lunar cycles, he employs such phrases as the f o l - aspirations of which the poet or priest or mythmaker ingenuously, lowing: " I seem to discover," "when I wish for some general idea," though metaphorically, defines. A Vision, although Yeats would "my imagination [is] . . . haunted," " I do not know," "various never have agreed to such a charge, is not a public faith at all. I t is fancies pass before my m i n d , " "neither 1 nor my wife knew, or entirely too obscure and sophisticated, too opinionated and i n t e l - knew that we knew," " I try to imagine," "these symbols can be lectual, and much too autobiographical and obliquely encyclopedic. thought of," and " [ i t ] is considered" or " i t is assumed." B u t he is 841 A n d i t is too much removed i n its archaic symbolism and ideas less uncertain than one might suppose. Most of the statements by from the historical moment d u r i n g which i t was written. U n l i k e which he explains his attitude arc boldly direct. T h e y are, also, p r i m i t i v e myth, furthermore, i t is less a narrative than an exposition. astonishingly empirical. Or, as we may say, i t is essentially undramatic, Yeats' emphasis being Out of his many years of occult and metaphysical speculation, on symbolism and contemplation and not on action or the literal Yeats emerged at the end of his life as a man of his age, whatever his performance of a sacred r i t u a l . contempt for that age and whatever his innumerable divergences I n addition, whatever his concern w i t h the image of a dying and from i t . T h e religious scepticism which his father had early i n - resurrected earth god, as a rule he makes only indirect reference to culcated i n h i m he never quite abandoned. " A m I a mystic," he that image; and, u n l i k e the ancient mythmakers, he provides for a wrote i n 1938, " — n o I am a practical m a n — I have seen the raising d e i t y — h i s T h i r t e e n t h S p h e r e — i n no way associated by h i m , at least of Lazarus 8 the loaves & fishes 8 have made the usual measure- c c directly, w i t h nature festivals or a r i t u a l murder. B u t these several ments plummet, line, spirit level 8 have taken the temperature, b u t c criticisms suggest only that Yeats d i d not altogether realize his p u r - [by] pure mathematic." A n d so, having created a miracle, Yeats 842 pose. I do not think that they deny the predominantly mythological went on to explain i t away; and he d i d so almost always on the basis conception of his book. I f i n its effect not quite a primitive myth, of a scientific principle. Hence, although A Vision must i n - A Vision is ( i n a last analysis) the mythology of a poet steeped i n evitably remain his private synthesis, a modern empiricist can find ancient lore and i n the sacred legends of Gaelic heliolatry and, I i n the book very little which is not credible. think, the Eleusinian Mysteries. There is i n A Vision—and I must speak about this matter at the o u t s e t — a great deal to which Yeats allows an empirical validity: his moral judgments both of men and of periods i n history, for example. A t the same time, whenever he considers an unempirical D i d Yeats believe i n A Vision} T h e question is, perhaps, the most o p i n i o n which he has advanced, he cogently redefines his terms. T h e searching that we may now ask about the book and his relation to moment of revelation i n which a civilization is b o r n becomes " . . . an it. N o t "only are there many ways of believing i n any dogma b u t intellectual influx neither from beyond m a n k i n d nor b o r n of a 130 13 1
  • Y E A T S : T H E P O E T AS A M Y T H M A K E R THE MYTH EVALUATED virgin, b u t begotten from our spirit and h i s t o r y . " A mystical e x - 843 whether i n his explanations he is w r i t i n g about A Vision i n p perience is the "transfiguration of sexual desire"; a seance is the 344 ticular or about subjective systems i n general. B u t his ambiguity dream i n which two or more people can share; and an evil spirit 346 understandable. I t is not always possible for men, whether au is that which is "the 'censor' i n modern psychology." 846 biographical poets or not, to discuss themselves i n entirely cand A l t h o u g h he writes i n A Vision that the supernatural universe is terms. Yet, once we bring to his m y t h our closest attention, Yen but pure thought, he qualifies his argument—both in A Vision and meanings are always clear; so that, without our misinterpreting hi in the essay "Louis Lambert" ( 1 9 3 7 ) — b y referring to a theory held we can profitably apply whatever statements he makes about subjl by not a few twentieth-century physicists: both matter and the h u - tive philosophy i n general not only to A Vision b u t to an analysis man m i n d are reducible to waves of electrical energy. A n d c o n - 847 its origins i n his life and m i n d . tinually he aids our interpreting or reinterpreting of his Faculties, He approaches the supernatural and its complex manifestation Daimons, and Four Principles i n the light of modern psychological throughout the book, as though they were m e t a p h o r s — i n the poe theory. Each of these terms he correlates, throughout // Vision, w i t h "Byzantium" (1932) he calls them "images"—of h u m a n desire, aspects or symbols of conscious awareness, unconscious apperception, human dreams, and of the human i m a g i n a t i o n . God, the Ghostl 853 and varieties of sexual cxpcrieiu e. IUH Sell, and the supernatural Daimon—these abstractions he regar How did Yeats react to his qiiasisolipsism, to his elaborate doc- as svmbols the purpose of which is to exalt both nature and ma trine of cycles and antinomies, and to his archaic supernatural kind. In much the same way, he so writes about his quasi-solipsis machinery? These concepts caused him very much trouble. H e was that one cannot help calling i t a fiction—however magnificent—f simply unable to believe that they define events or truths independ- the reasserting of i n t u i t i o n against logic, poetry against science, a ent of the h u m a n mind, although he ol ionise wunted to. ". . . i f religious belief against atheism. A n d he inevitably uses words 1: 354 sometimes, overwhelmed by miracle as all turn must be when i n the "spirit" or "soul" and "intellect" or "thought" interchangeably. 8 midst of i t , I have taken such [concepts] . . . literally my reason has Whatever exists, he tells us, is part of an antinomy; b u t he sa soon recovered. . . . "3 4 B that the antinomies, whether i n nature or i n Anirrfe M u n d i . a He knew that the universe, which lie described as a mirror of themselves svmbols. A n d he adds, i n the manner of Blake and t* human thought, is accessible to our understanding only as we project occultists, that ". . . all these symbols can be thought of as syml our minds beyond us, impose our thoughts on what we see, and then of the relations of men and women. . . . " Moreover, i n all t" 3 5 6 contemplate the objects of our apprehension as though they were cosmic cycles of death and rebirth, once again like Blake and t* i m p l i c i t i n frameworks of knowledge. Such frmnewoiks he called occultists, he finds images of waxing and waning desire, of sexu "stylistic [or symbolic] arrangements of experience comparable to union, and of "the b i r t h of symbolical children."* 3 5 7 the cubes i n the drawing of W y n d h a m Lewis and to the ovoids i n But, as he explained away his miracle, Yeats could still h o l d on the sculpture of B r a n c u s i . " I n this way, as he rescued himself from 350 it. I n the very subjectivity of his m y t h he perceived its universali mere phantasy, he obliquely described his final altitude towards A and its t r u t h . He pointed to its innumerable analogues i n the occ" Vision; b u t he was quick to add that his book differs from and is tradition. He insisted, as i n the pamphlet On the Boiler, that superior to other "stylistic arrangements." ". . . there are many unconscious m i n d , which he designated as the origin of his myth, symbolisms and none exactly resembles mine." 861 not different from the unconscious minds of other men, since Having admitted the subjective origins of his mythology, i n A our minds border on A n i m a M u n d i . He was convinced that 3 5 8 Vision and elsewhere he also explains the psychological meanings are compelled to know reality through the symbols of their though implied by his occult symbolism. Yet only too often his explana- 352 and dreams: and so, he argued that m a n k i n d can know and und. tions appear strangely impersonal, as i f he does not want to relate * Hence, white not committing himself, Yeats almost forces us to conclu them directly to the origins of the sacred book i n his own conscious that A Visian originated as a sublimation of sexual conflict; that sexuality p vides a unifying motif for the essay; and that, beyond this motif, there are * or unconscious m i n d . Often i t is not easy to determine, as a result, metaphors mainly of a poet's dream. t . ' 132 Art 6 I / I * V*
  • Y E A T S : T H E P O E T AS A M Y T H M A K E R THE MYTH EVALUATED stand* the phenomenal w o r l d only symbolically. M e n are what they quently as important as—perhaps even more i m p o r t a n t t h a n — : behold, he would say; or, more significantly, men can be the i n - their similarities. The human m i n d perhaps embodies all nature; struments of but they cannot know truth. A n d A Vision he chose to but i t also does not! A t the same time, A Vision may set f o r t h — t o iliink of as both a public and a private phantasy or dream or sym- all intents and purposes—a political and religious ideal, one of bolism which he had merely schematized. 358 inordinate value to Yeats; yet, as he said, the book is mainly a There are difficulties here, to be sure. Yeats forgot that there are psychological drama. A n d that drama, although i t may describe many ways of apprehending reality; that one mistakenly can fall both his m i n d and ours, must remain (after all) his own personal back on analogues to prove almost anything, even falsehood; and statement and nothing more; and w i t h that statement, to the that, i n a sophisticated society, the value of a myth or a religion or extent that we psychologically differ from h i m , we shall have to a philosophy consists i n its author's objectivity or, as both Freud disagree. But these fallacies i n his reasoning can perhaps be and Santayana have said, i n its author's attempt to limit the sub- exaggerated; and i t is worth remembering that, i n his more sober jective meanings of his symbolism. There were moments, never- 360 moments, he rarely ceased to be i n all matters of philosophical theless, when Yeats frankly admitted that his system is but one of importance a very wise sceptic. many possible•ways of knowing, imposing an order on, and com A Vision was, i n any event, the occult faith to which Yeats held trolling nature. 361 almost u n t i l the end of his life. " I w i l l never think any thoughts A l l analyses of Yeats' complex attitude towards A Vision lead, but these, or some modification or extension of these," he informed ultimately, to the central paradox i n his thought. T o that para- Ezra Pound; "when I write prose or verse they must be somewhere dox I have already made a number of references; but there may be present though not i t may be i n the words; they must affect my some value, I think, i n my drawing together at this point the judgment of friends and of events. . . . " a 0 2 many issues which i t involves and i n my commenting on those issues and their significance to h i m . Yeats believed that, according to his mythology, the human m i n d projects itself outward, r e - makes the universe i n its own image, and thus i n a very i m - Of every advantage which Yeats gained from the w r i t i n g of portant sense contains nothing -fcut itself. But, since he feared A Vision I am unable to speak. The relation between poet and solipsism even more than scientific empiricism, he also pointed myth is, i n part, too subtle for analysis. But there are a few a d - out that, so far as he was concerned, the human m i n d can do these vantages which force themselves repeatedly on our attention. Be- things only because there is a reality external to i t ; and both this cause i t was an expression of his inner life, the myth enabled h i m external reality and the human mind, he added, embody each to achieve a unification of sensibility, to discipline that sensibility, other. Yet they embody each other, he said, only because they and to come to terms w i t h himself. W i t h the help of his myth are made out of the same primordial substance. Hence, although he could look on humanity and the universe i n his own exalted he continued to regard his myth as a psychological drama, Yeats image; and then he could control and reshape what he saw because was able to maintain that i t both explains and describes the lie had made i t . A Vision helped h i m to set i n order and to inter- external world. Hence, he insisted that, by having at least this pret everything he knew. A n d i t gave traditional sanctity and k i n d of validity, i t could be an important guide to all human justification to whatever he believed, to his troubled personality, problems, psychological or political or religious: Hence, too, he and even to itself. very much hoped that i t m i g h t — h e sometimes believed that i t Yeats was, on his own terms, an antithetical or subjective man. would—effect a complete regeneration of the contemporary scene. But when he referred to matter, sexual passion, and reason as T h e fallacy i n his reasoning is, I think, embarrassingly clear. being indistinguishable from the opposites which they i n v o l v e — I n his identifying of the human mind w i t h the physical universe, spirit, imagination, and feeling—, he made i t considerably easier on the basis of their sharing i n the same primordial substance, he lor himself to wear his Mask of objectivity and the primary again failed to realize that the differences among things are fre- tincture. He could thus attain or pretend that he could attain *34 135
  • Y E A T S : T H E P O E T AS A M Y T H M A K E R THE MYTH EVALUATED religious faith through i n t u i t i o n , the harmony of dreams through Who does not feel the pity . . . in Synge, and know that it is* insepa- a conscious delight i n the material world, or divine through earthly rable from wisdom? I n the works of Synge there is much self-pity, ennobled to a pity for all that lived. . . . S6T love. I n his own eyes he became, owing to his myth, poet and priest, mythmaker and prophet, and modern scholar and ancient Lady Gregory, because she thought life "a code of personal c o n - magus, while he transfigured himself, i n the same breath, into a k i n d d u c t , " was a woman of Phase Twenty-four: 368 of authority on history and human life, on nature and the soul, and The code must rule, and because that code cannot be an intellectual on the past and the future. choice, it is always a tradition bound up with family, or office, or trade, W i t h the help of A Vision Yeats saw himself identified w i t h always a part of history. I t is always seemingly fated. . . . s 6 9 universal history; but he was also set free from the nineteenth- A n d George Russell (A.E.), although he vehemently disapproved, century idea of linear progress, from modern mechanism, and was put at Phase Twenty-five, the phase at which the human w i l l from what he called a decadent Christianity. "" Because he was 11 rejects every non-institutional religion for "some organized belief." 370 assisted by a mere diagram of two interpenetrating gvies, he found I n 1924 and again i n the early i93o's Yeats wanted to organize a it easier than ever before to contemplate the known and the u n - revolutionary political party i n Ireland. T h e ideals of the party known, both what his heart possessed and what it desperately longed were to be based on A Vision, especially on his celebration of the to have, and both his cosmopolitanism and his allcciion for Gaelic past, monarchical government, and the immortality of the soul. history and tradition. A n d he could now demonstrate to his own ". . . thought," he optimistically said, "is nothing without satisfaction, also, that through tight iranon men t a n prove the action. . . . " But the action—political or religious—which Yeats 8 T 1 existence of any desired uiiriii le; that In the Philistine twentieth wanted to encourage through A Vision, fortunately, was never r e a l - century men might yet have codes by width lit know and judge ized. Even i f i t represents i n part the longings of mankind, Yeats' moral excellence; that myth, philosophy, and leligiott. as well as myth belongs to the recesses of history, to political dogmas best literature and science, might yet be tallied by the poetic imagina- forgotten, and to a quasi- or an archaic supernaturalism best no tion to their ancient unity; and that in an age ol science and longer believed i n , at least not i f belief must lead to action. anxiety it is possible for men to have the dignity of hope, even i f that hope must be tragic. He availed himself of A Vision when i n the essays of his last years he reinterpreted the Irish character (the Protestant and the Catholic Because he wanted to prove to the world that he was not acting elements in national life), Irish literature and art (the Anglo-Irish in vain, he also endeavored, half in self-mot ket y, half in high Pre-Raphaelite Movement and the Literary Renaissance), and Irish seriousness, to allow A Vision as much practical application as history, but notably recent events like the Easter Rebellion of 1916, theory. A n d so, he assigned himself to Phase Seventeen on his Great the Black and T a n Troubles, and the Irish Civil War;* and i n the W h e e l — t h e phase of Dante, Shelley, and Landor, the phase of "a tragic m i n o r i t y . " But he just as eagerly assigned to their respective 304 • These three events, because frequently mentioned in Yeats' poetry, require phases not only his many friends but his enemies as well. brief comment. T h e Rebellion-of 1 9 1 6 broke out when Sinn Fein decided to fight openly against British conscription in Ireland and, simultaneously, to p r o - George Moore, who had written facetiously of Yeats in his auto- claim an Irish Republic. T h e Black and T a n Troubles ( 1 9 1 8 - 2 1 ) marked a period of complete subversion in Ireland. Despite the failure of the Easter biography, belonged to Phase Twenty-one: Rebellion, In ICJIH Sinn Fein again declared national independence in the face of English Parliamentary opposition; and violence broke out on both sides. T h e [ T h e m a n of this phase] . . . w i l l parade a n imaginary na'ivctc', even English government tried to restore order through the use of two police forces: b l u n d e r i n his work, encourage i n himself stupidities of spite or s e n t i - the Auxiliaries, recruited from soldiers who had fought on the Allied side, and the hated Black and Tans, named partly after the colors of their uniform, partly ment, or commit calculated indiscretions simulating impulse. " a( 1 after the colors of a famous foxhunting pack. T h e Irish Civil War (1921-23) took place between the "moderates." who in their treaty with England had Synge was a man of Phase Twenty-three, at which the individual agreed that Ireland should join the Commonwealth of Nations, and the "irrec- oncilables," who insisted upon complete national independence. (Cf. Camille is "audacious, joyful, i r o n i c a l , " but at which he may still have 300 Bourniquel, Ireland, pp. 61-75; Walter Phelps Hall, A History of England and both wisdom and pity: the British Empire, pp. 2 6 8 , 8 6 7 ff., 9 0 4 ff.) 136 137
  • Y E A T S : T H E P O E T AS A M Y T H M A K E R THE MYTH EVALUATED essays, w i t h the help of A Vision, he stressed always his own relation an older generation of gracious manners • (a generation represented in each of these things. The essays include The Trembling oj the by sons and their loving mothers) and a younger generation of 372 I'ril, Pages from a Diary Written in 1930, Dramatis Personae, and vulgar manners (one represented by irresponsible sons and their On the Boiler, as well as those collected i n Wheels and Butterflies "harlots"). 373 and Essays: 1931-1936. Ireland, Yeats moreover explained, is held together both by a But, when he wrote these late essays, Yeats was concerned with bundle of cultural or raxial images, the sylriFoTTOf its half-fcjTgOtten far more than his own role i n Irish history. W i t h the help of nature myths, and by its Eternal^Serfrsinec nations Or countries too A Vision, he would take that history and completely mythologi/.e have their archetypal egos; and i t is indistinguishable, he added, it. The history of Ireland thus became, as he thought or wrote from the minds of its people, as these minds border on Anima about i t , a tragic drama. The great Irish politicians and statesmen M u n d i and flow through one another. But he felt that perfect unity — m e n like Jonathan Swift, Wolfe Tone, Robert Emmet, Edmund for the country had been achieved only i n the distant past. Or, Burke, Henry Grattan, Charles Stewart Parnell, John O'Leary, because he desperately tried to account for the failure of literary and Kevin O'Higgins—became the dramatis personae, the tragic and political idealism i n modern Ireland, he argued that i n his heroes i n the bitter play of Irish nationalism. But Yeats regarded lifetime such unity or perfection was not possible. Both the country each of these heroes, i n addition, as an archetypal man of one or and the age had passed that lunar phase at which a people can another imaginary lunar phase. A n d England, which he both loved enjoy a harmony of all their cultural endeavors. and despised, was his arch antagonist; yet so too was Irish Philistin- He looked forward to a time, nevertheless, when the people of ism. Ireland, inspired by their cultural Mask, would hammer into unity The tragic crises were, ironically, almost every event of public their past, present, and future; their Protestant, Catholic, and importance since the death of Parnell i n 1891; but every tragic Gaelic traditions; their best achievements in labor, art, and religion; event became, i n his eyes, an embodiment of his Great Wheel and and the best selves of Barbarian, Philistine, and Populace. True, he its cycles of rebirth. A n d , because he believed that historical cycles sometimes urged reform and denounced the present fragmentary are crystallized mainly i n the growth and development of great age, i n the hope that he might thereby encourage the Irish people nations, Yeats also referred to the patterns of death and rebirth to find their cultural Mask immediately. But he remembered, just i n Irish culture as though they were mirrors of the whole world; as often, that history lies under the rule of necessity; that reform and he referred to all the complex patterns of European history can take place only as part of the cosmic process; and that social as though they were, at best, reflections of Ireland. Hence, by inter- change without the miracle of a spiritual regeneration of a people preting the history of the one—Ireland or E u r o p e — , he attempted is utterly meaningless.The image oL an Irish Utopia whichJteats to interpret or to pass judgment on the future, the past, and the held he thus held as a splendid vision: i t was one more. of_his many present of the other. mythological symbols of huxaanperfextibility_and human perfection, W i t h his thought centered on A Vision, furthermore, Yeats ex- T h e present moment i n Ireland embraced each of its antecedent plained the growth of nations i n terms of racial (or cultural) phe- selves; but the greatest moments i n the past were now awaiting nomena; and these racial (or cultural) phenomena he explained their rebirth i n rfre;ta was on the brink i n terms of an impressive number of cosmic and psychological a n t i - of transmutatioji_into a symbol of its own ideal past. ". . . we wait nomies. But he so dwelt on these antinomies that they became for until uie^qrid^changes . . . and an hieratical [sic] society returns Ireland the warring opposition of ancient and modern traditions, nrx} i w o i i g ^jj^jnS^t-pntiry T has decreed i t but because what is of aristocratic collectivism and democratic individualism, and of so overwhelming cannot SeTestfairied.:" 37r Protestant bigotry and Catholic fanaticism. They became the o p - T h e moment of change was to be ushered in by a cataclysm—the position, no less, of moral men like Parnell and practical men like exploding gyre, "the greatest, perhaps the most dangerous revolu- O'Connell. A n d they became, too, the opposition of what he called tion in thought Europe has seen since the Renaissance." But Yeats 3748 138 !39
  • Y E A T S : T H E P O E T AS A M Y T H M A K E R THE MYTH EVALUATED hated warfare, at least what he called the anarchic warfare of the wore actual masks. I n this way he was completely surrounded by lower and middle classes. A n d so, with A Vision before h i m , he his symbols; and he could at last imagine that he had brought the deceived himself into believing that the next world conflagration very cosmos into his study or garden or theater; or, more important, must be directed by great leaders, that a golden age would then that he had given a dramatically objective expression to his loftiest come to Ireland and the rest of the world, and that the new age dreams. would ennoble human life, although that age too must eventually Above all, because he was a poet rather than a philosopher or pass away: historian or reformer or prophet, Yeats made use of A Vision— When a civilisation ends, task having led to task i i n i i l everybody was its symbols and its themes—in his poetry. bored, the whole turns bottom upwards, Nietzsche's "tninsvaluation o £ values." As we approach the phoenix nest the old classes, with their power of coordinating events, evaporate, the mere multitude is every- where with its empty photographic eyes. Yet we who have hated the age are joyous and happy. The new [antithetical] discipline wherever enforced will recall forgotten beautiful faces.*™ T h e above quotation, i f taken as a prophecy of the ici.io's or the 1950's, is very disquieting, indeed. But, when interpreted as a prophecy of the decades yet to come, it admonishes "the mere multitude" without leaving them much room lot hope.* Meanwhile, i n his desire to give A Vision as much practical a p - plication as theory, Yeats did not employ his myth only as a device for explaining his own life and the lives of his li icntls, the con- temporary political scene, and the whole course of Itish history. He attempted to draw the symbols of his archaic inyih, also, into his private life, so that he might give them a significance sit once literal and immediate. A t T h o o r Ballylee, a medieval house which he had purchased i n 1915, his winding staircase became the great gyre of history; and his tower, a lunar phase of perfect unity, the: Thirteenth Sphere, and all subjective thought. A sword given to h i m by a Japanese friend by the name of Junzo Sato** became a symbol of the crescent moon and, thus, of the primary tincture; the piece of brocaded silk i n which the sword was wrapped, a lunar phase of exquisite beauty; and the rose he planted i n his garden, Phase Fifteen on the Great Wheel and a supernatural incarnation. He even wrote p l a y s — N o h dramas—for actors who, under his direction, * From the above remarks, at any rate, it should be clear that Yeats was no more realistic in his treatment of political problems in Ireland or in the whole of the twentieth-century world than he was when writing in A Vision about universal history. His insights, again, are brilliant, but they make the facts, though not always, seem irrelevant. ** Yeats met Sato in Portland, Oregon, sometime during 1 9 2 1 . In exchange for the sword, to which he occasionally refers in his poetry, he dedicated to Sato his Noh play The Resurrection. 140 141