George ("AE") Russell: Some Letters to W. B. Yeats

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Dear W. B. Y -
I am not going to bother you about any derned thing this time but simply to tell you some things about the Ireland behind the veil. You remember my writing to you about the awakening of the ancient fires which I knew about. Well, it has been confirmed from other sources and we are likely to publish it. The gods have returned to Erin and have centred themselves in the sacred mountains and blow the fires through the country. They have been seen by several in vision, they will awaken the magical instinct everywhere, and the universal heart of the people will turn to the old druidic beliefs. I note through the country the increased faith in faery things. The bells are heard from the mounds and sounding in the hollows of the mountains. A purple sheen in the inner air, perceptible at times in the light of day, spreads itself over the mountains. All this I can add my own testimony to. Furthermore, we were told that though now few we would soon be many, and that a branch of the school for the revival of the ancient mysteries to teach real things would be formed here soon. Out of Ireland will arise a light to transform many ages and peoples. There is a hurrying of forces and swift things going out and I believe profoundly that a new Avatar is about to appear and in all spheres the forerunners go before him to prepare. It will be one of the [17] kingly Avatars, who is at once ruler of men and magic sage. I had a vision of him some months ago and will know him if he appears. America is on fire with mysticism just now and the new races are breaking the mould of European thought and psychics abound. Their light reflects itself in Ireland , and the path of connection has been seen. Now I wish you could come over to this county Sligo or wherever you like and absorb this new force. To me enchantment and fairyland are real and no longer dreams.

By the way I want to spend a week or ten days in the neighbourhood of Sligo this year to hunt up some old currents. Can you tell me some moderate priced hotel to put up at. I wish you could be there. I will start I think about the 4th or 5th of August. My holidays beginning then. Would there be any chance of your roaming about there for a while with me and talking over magic, the Celt, and the old country amid the ancient sites of the mysteries? Tell Weekes if you see him that he owes me a letter, also ask him for God’s sake to write his address clear. W. K. Magee and myself have spent maddened hours trying to distinguish between his 2’s and his 7’s. C. W. makes no difference. May the Opal Fire Kings have you in their keeping. Yours ever, Geo. W. Russell.

5 Seapoint Terrace
3rd April 1897

Dear Willie,
I came home last night big with radiant ideas and full of wrath over the priests. Ah wicked wizard, it will take me weeks to get together the "Will to do" you have dissolved in dream. There I have been trying to disentangle myself from the Enchanted World, and nerving myself for deeds, and you send up a spray of lovely colours to draw me away again into the byways where these shadowy beauties create only endless desire and there is nothing for the will to do. I must forgive you for many reasons, mainly for the stories of the Red One. Many things which I used to think were due in your work to a perverted fancy for the grotesque I see now in another way. [18] Your visionary faculty has an insight more tender than the moralist knows of. Just in the same way as [S. J.] O’Grady always seems to detect under the rude act the spirit of defiant and heroic manhood, so you unveil beneath excess and passion a love for spiritual beauty expressing itself pathetically in the life of this wayward outcast. That insight is indeed an ennobling thing to impart, and I suppose just because the highest things are the most dangerous you will find a number of people, who have not got your mental balance, using your visionary revelation of a hidden spirit seeking for beauty as justification and defence of passions which have no justification, except that they are the radiations of a spirit which can find no higher outlet. The Rosa Alchemica is a most wonderful piece of prose. Everything in it thought and word [sic] are so rich that they seem the gathering in the temple of the mind of thousands of pilgrim rays returning and leaving there their many experiences.

A book sustained at that level throughout would be one of the greatest things in literature. I notice a change in your lyrics. They are much simpler, more classic, and with a better feeling for the form of the idea, nothing of unnecessary beauty in them. You used to be carried away by every lovely fancy into side images which marred a little the directness and effect of the central plan. The little song in the Rose in Shadow is simply perfect. Long ago you would have said some beautiful thing, say about the sea or stars in this, which we would have forgiven for its beauty, but which would have destroyed the passionate intensity of the poem as a whole. Your art gets more perfect in these things. I suppose it is a necessity of your life that you must write these dreams in prose, but never forget that poetry is their proper language. They are there uncontested. When you put them into prose you invite opposition and argument, from which may the gods save us. I wish I could congratulate myself upon such a steady movement to mastery over my art as you. I write fitfully. Then one of your "moods" comes and afflicts me and tells me it is only working in shadows I am, and it is all worth[less] and so I lose heart in it all and get no further. I have vague ideas of trying a long poem but I am afraid I must wait for happier days. My new book The Earth Breath will I suppose be out sometime this spring as it has been set up in America . I think sadly of it though I don’t think there is anything really bad in it. It is too melancholy. This is a cursed disease Pryse left me as a legacy when he went to America . It did not make me unhappy long ago to remember [19] greater things but now it puts me in hell. I am afraid it would be a futile task to try consciously for the Celtic traditional feeling. A certain spirit of it I have but I am not Celt inside, not for many lives. I remember vividly old America and Chaldea , and sometimes as a mountain beyond lesser heights I get glimpses of the Dedanaan days but they lie behind tradition and history; all we know of them have come strained through the Bardic mind of fourteen hundred years ago and it is very inferior to the truth. It is no use writing of these things for a vision of great mystical beauty is not necessarily an inspiration to write beautifully about it. This I know well. Indeed as my perceptions widen I find my inspirations, my genuine ones, narrow to a few emotions of earth. Interpret this for me. When I knew comparatively little of the invisible and my blood was hot I wrote most spiritually. Now as I perceive more and feel less I feel more drawn to write of the ordinary human emotions. Here is a song of the later kind.

[‘On me to rest, my bird, my bird! .’, in "Celtic Christmas", Irish Homestead , 8 Dec. 1900 , p.19; rep. in Nuts of Knowledge , 1903, p.10, and Collected Poems , p.28.]

There is a certain songfullness about it, but whether it has any value I am in the dark. Here is another in which I want counsel.

[‘Could you not in silence borrow ..?’; printed in The Earth Bound , Oct. 197, p.82; rep. in Collected Poems , p.188.]

I think I would break any woman’s heart whoever happened to love me. She would find me elusive as the spirit itself. Perhaps it may be I am half a woman inside. My reviewers could never make out whether AE was he or she. Perhaps I am making reading or another life as in one of my verses a lover supposes a change of condition or sex.

[‘Your flight shall be in the height above , / My wings droop low on the lea; / For the eagle must grow a dove, my love, / And the dove an eagle be.’]

The best of all these recent verses is a poem on Blindness which Magee thinks is the best of all.

[‘Our true hearts are for ever lonely: / ...’; printed in The Earth Breath (1897), p.82; rep. in Collected Poems, p.188.] [22]

The fact is I have I believe inwardly passed out of love and cannot write any true love poems. I would like to get a little book of verses which would infect with this weariness in the midst of delight which is the beginning of the divine love. The sudden upstarting of the spirit from its bed of roses, the vanishing of desire as the loved eyes and lips yield themselves, all these things want expression. I think the best use to make of the weariness of llife is to impart it to our too lusty generation, so cheap in its affections, so proud like Le Gallienne information people in verse that they know pretty girls and often kiss them. I would make them sadder if they read me

[‘When we are desert leagues apart: ...’; printed in Earth Breath, p.47; rep. in Collected Poems, p.170.]

There I will cut this one short for you. It is too damnably melancholy. It would turn you grey inside to read. But I wish the Le Gallienne’s and the lusty poets of love, would not fall so readily into the bait of wide open arms. I think they never found a girl to love them until this life and they are still in the boyhood of the passion. You know now the kinds of poems you [22] will have to review if it falls your way. My poems have come out of a sad heart, Willie, and a desperate endeavour to shake myself from it must be the excuse for the longer ones you do not care for. Adios, dear Brother. May the Rose flourish. AE.

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