William Butler Yeats - Quotations (9): A Vision and On the Boiler


Index File 1 File 2 File 3 File 4 File 5 File 6 File 7 File 8 File 9

John Sherman (1891)
The Countess Cathleen (1892) Land of Heart’s Desire (1894)
Kathleen Ni Houlihan (1902) The King’s Threshold (1904) Resurrection (1934)
A Vision (1925, rev. 1937) On the Boiler (1939)  

The Celtic Twilight ([893] 2nd edn., revised & enl. (1902; reiss. 1924, with notes).

Contents [pp.ix-x]

Introductory poems [‘Time drops in decay ...” [vi]; ‘The host is riding from Knocknarea ...’ (“The Hosting of the Sidhe”) [vii]; This Book [1]; A Teller of Tales [4]; Belief and Unbelief [8]; Mortal Help [12]; A Visionary [15]; Village Ghosts [23]; “Dust Hath Closed Helen’s Eye” [35]; A Knight of the Sheep [50]; An Enduring Heart [56]; The Sorcerers [61]; The Devil [69]; Happy and Unhappy Theologians [71]; The Last Gleeman [79]; Regina, Regina Pigmeorum, Veni [79]; “And Fair, Fierce Women” [97]; Enchanted Woods [101]; Miraculous Creatures [109]; Aristotle of the Books [112]; The Swine of the Gods [113]; A Voice [115]; Kidnappers [117]; The Untiring Ones [130]; Earth, Fire and Water [135]; The Old Town [137]; The Man and His Boots [141]; A Coward [143]; The Three O’Byrnes and the Evil Faeries [145]; Drumcliff and Rosses [148]; The Thick Skull of the Fortunate [160]; The Religion of the Sailor [163]; Concerning the Nearness Together of Heaven, Earth, and Purgatory [165]; The Eaters of Precious Stones [167]; Our Lady of the Hills [169]; The Golden Age [173]; A Remonstrance with Scotsmen for Having Soured the Disposition of Their Ghosts and Faeries [176]; War [183]; The Queen and The Fool [186]; The Friends of the People of Faery [195]; Dreams That Have No Moral [208]; By The Roadside [231]; “Into the Twilight” [poem, 235].

Note: above links to full-text version in RICORSO Library > “Irish Classics” > Yeats - index; see also shorter quotations - infra.

John Sherman[ & Dhoya] (London: T. Fisher Unwin 1891): ‘[...] As he went through the streets his heart went out to every familiar place and sight: the rows of tumble-down thatched cottages; the slated roofs of the shops; the women selling gooseberries; the river bridge; the high walls of the garden where it was said the gardener used to see the ghost of a former owner in the shape of a rabbit; the street corner no child would pass at nightfall for fear of the headless soldier; the deserted flour store; the wharves covered with grass. All these he watched with Celtic devotion, that devotion carried to the ends of the,world by the Celtic exiles, and since old times surrounding their journeyings with rumours of plaintive songs.’ (q.p.; quoted in G. J. Watson, ed., The Short Fiction of W. B. Yeats, Penguin 1995, Intro., p.xx.)

John Sherman and Dhoya (both 1891): John Sherman (Chapman & Hall Shakespeare head Press 1890): ‘... for love is based on inequality a friendship is on equality.’ (201.) [Old women taking geese to Liverpool market:] ‘Why are ye goin’ among them savages in London, Misther John? Why don’t ye stay among your own people - for what have we in this life but a mouthful of air?’ (p.207.) [John’s return to Ballah:] ‘Again his eyes gladdened, for he knew he had found his present. He would live in his love and the days it passed. He would live that his law might be fulfilled. Now, was he sure of this truth - the saints on the one hand, the animals on the other, live in the moment as it passes. Thitherward had his days brought him. This was the one grain they had ground. To grind one grain is sufficient for a lifetime.’ (pp.268-9.) ‘... an old day-dream of his - Inisfree. Its rocky centre, covered with many bushes, rose some forty feet above the lake. Often when life and its difficulties had seemed to him like the lessons of some elder boy given to a younger by mistake, it had seemed good to dream of going away to that islet and building a wooden hut there and burning a few years out rowing to and fro, fishing, or lying on the island slopes by day, and listening at night to the ripple of the water and the quivering of the bushes - full always of unknown creatures - and going out at morning, to see the island’s edge marked by the feet of birds.’ (p.255.)

The Countess Cathleen (1892): [The scene is laid in Ireland in old times:] SCENE I. (Mary/Teigue:) ‘What can have made the grey hen flutter so? / They say that now the land is famine-struck / the graves are walking.’ [3] ‘God and the Mother of God have dropped asleep [..; 4.]; what can be do but live on sorrel and dock, / And dandelion, till our mouths are green?’ [5] Countess: ‘and old grey castle’; Mary: ‘set among impassable walls’; Countess: ‘I lived all my childhood in that house’ [6-7]; Mary: ‘For my old father served your fathers, lady / Longer than books can tell - and it were strange / If you and yours should not be welcome here.’ [7] Countess: ‘I gave for all and that was all I had. / But look, my purse is empty. I have passed / By starving men and women all this day, / And they have had the rest’ [8] [Eastern merchants enter; 11]; ‘the Master of all merchants’ [12]; ‘we buy men’s souls / and give so good a price that all may live / In mirth and comforth till the famine’s down, / Because we are Christian men’ [15] Mary: ‘Destroyer of men’s souls, God will destroy you quickly [...] Nailed like dead vermin to the door of God.’ [15]; [Maeve on Knocknarea: 17-18]; Cro-Patrick [20]; [Aleel] ‘never was baptised’ [20]

The Countess Cathleen (1892) - SCENE II. Cathleen [after the theft of cabbages:] ‘There’s no soul / But it’s unlike all others in the world’ [21]; Shemus [lilting]: ‘There’s money for a soul, sweet yellow money.’ [22] Steward: ‘A hundred kegs of gold’ [23]; Countess: ‘Keeping this house alone, sell all I have, / Go barter where you please, but come again / With herds of cattle and with ships of meal.’ Steward: ‘God’s blessings light upon your ladyship. / You will have saved the land.’ [23]; Countess: ‘Come, follow me, for the earth burns my feet / Till I have changed my house to such a refuge / That the old and ailing, and all weak of heart, / May escape from beak and claw; all, all shall come / Till the walls burst and the roof fall on us. / From this day out I have nothing of my own.’ [24]

The Countess Cathleen (1892) - SCENE III. Aleel [visited by ‘angelical’ dream:] ‘he bid me call you from these woods ... For here some terrible death is waiting you’ [25]; Countess: ‘He bids me go / Where none of mortal creatures but the swan / Dabbles ... I cannot ... a night of prayer has made me weary’ [26]; Countess: ‘No, not angelical, but of the old gods, / Who wander about the world to waken the heart - / The passionate, proud heart - that all the angels, / ... would rock to sleep.’ [27]; ‘I have sworn ... to pray before this altar ... till Heaven has saved by people’ [27]; [Countess sends Aleel away; enter merchants: 27-29]; Merchants: ‘for a soul like yours, I head them say, / They would give five hundred thousands crowns and more.’ [31]: Countess: ‘How can a heap of crowns pay for a soul? / Is the green grave so terrible a thing?’ [31]’; Oona: ‘the treasure-room broken in’ [stolen: 32]

The Countess Cathleen (1892) - SCENE IV. [Peasants discuss gold]; Aleel: ‘Impetuous heart be still, be still, / Your sorrowful love can never be told, / Cover it up with a lonely tune, / He who could bend all things to His will / Has covevred the door of the infinite fold / With the pale star and the wandering moon.’ [35-36].

The Countess Cathleen (1892) - SCENE V. Merchants: ‘What has she in her coffers but mice?’ [37]; [Shemus [of Mary, now dead:] ‘There’s nobody could put it into her head / That death is the worst thing can happen us ... With all the lies that she had heard in chapel.’ [38]; ‘The scandalous book!’ [containing ‘sins’ of neighbours: 39]; Aleel: ‘Here, take my soul, for I am tired of it’; Shemus: ‘[...] His love for Countess Cathleen has so crazed him / He hardly understands what he is saying.’ [40]; Merchant: ‘We cannot take your soul, for it is hers’ [40]; ‘The name [of God] is like a fire to all damned souls’ [42]; Middle-Aged Man: ‘Give me my soul again’ [42]; Countess: ‘The people starve, therefore the people go / Thronging to you. I hear a cry from them / And it is in my ears by night and day, / and I would have five hundred thousand crowns / That I may feed them till the dearth go by. [...] I offer my own soul’ [43]; ‘Bend down you faces, Oona and Aleel; / I gaze upon them as the swallow gazes / Upon the nest under the eave, before / She wanders the loud waters. Do not weep / Too great a while, for there is many a candle / On the High Altar though one fall. Aleel, / Who sang about the dancers of the woods [47] / That know not the hard burden of the world, / [...] farewell ... The storm is in my hair and I must go. [dies; 47-48]; [Aleel breaks looking glass:] ‘I shatter you in fragments, for the face / That brimmed you up with beauty is no more’ [48]; [Moytura: 49]; darkness is broken by a visionary light [49]; Angel: ‘[...] Mary of the seven times wounded heart / Has kissed her lips, and the long blessed hair / Has fallen on her face’ [50]; Oona: ‘[...] I would die and go to her I love; / The years like great black oxen tread the world, /And God the herdsman goads them on behind, / And I am broken by their passing feet.’ (END).

The Countess Kathleen (1892): MARY: ‘For my old fathers served your fathers, lady, / Longer than books can tell - and it were strange / If you and yours should not be welcome here.’ (Collected Plays, 1960, p.7.) Countess Cathleen (preparing to buy back the souls of the peasants) ‘Come, follow me, for the earth burns my feet / Till I have changed my house to such a refuge / That the old and ailing, and all weak of heat, / May escape from beak and claw; all, all, shall come / Till the walls burst and the roof fall on us. / From this day out I have nothing of my own.’ (p.24). ‘The people starve, therefore the people go / Thronging to you. I hear a cry come from them / And it is in my ears by night and day, / And I would have five hundred thousand crowns / That I may feed them till the dearth go by.’ (p.43). ‘[T]he souls ... [43] have slipped out of our bond, because your face / Has shed a light on them and filled their hearts. (Ibid., 44.) ALEEL: ‘Demons are out, old heron.’ (p.46). ‘Oh that so many pitchers of rough clay / Should prosper and the porcelain break in two!’ (p.46.) Bend down your faces, Oona and Aleel! / I gaze upon them as the swallow gazes / Upon the nest under the eave, before / She wanders the loud waters. Do not weep / Too great a while, for there is many a candle / On the High Altar though one fall. Aleel, / Who sang about the dancers of the woods [47] / That know not the hard burden of the world, / Having but breath in their kind bodies, farewell! / And farewell, Oona, you who played with me, / And bore me in your arms about the house / When I was but a child and therefore happy.Therefore happy, even like those that dance. / The storm is in my hair and I must go.’ She dies; (p.48.) ‘A sound of wailing in unnumbered hovels, / And I must go down, down, I know not where’; ‘The Light of Lights / Looks always on the motive not the deed, / The Shadow of Shadows on the deed alone’. Also: Two nights ago, at Carrick-orus churchyard / A herdsman met a man who had no mouth, / Nor eyes, nor ears; his face a wall of flesh.’ (Countess Cathleen, Variorum Edn., ll.8-10, p.7; quoted in Una Kealy, “George Fitzmaurice”, PhD Diss., UU 2005, p.18.)

Countess: ‘Do not weep / Too great a while, for there is many a candle / On the High Altar though one fall.’(From death-speech of the Countess in W. B. Yeats, The Countess Cathleen, 1892; cited by James Joyce in “Drama and Life”, Occas. Writings, ed. Kevin Barry 2000, p.292 n.7.)

The Land of Heart’s Desire (1894): ‘Stay and come with me, newly-married bride, / For if you hear him you grow like the rest; / Bear children, cook, and bend above the churn, / And wrangle, over butter, fowl, and eggs, / Until, at last, grown old and bitter of tongue, / You’re crouching and shivering at the grave.’ (Yeats, Variorum Edition of the Plays, pp.205-06; for full text, see “Library”, Classics [infra].)

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Kathleen Ni Houlihan (London: A. H. Bullen 1902), first performed at St. Teresa’s Abstinence Assoc. Hall, Clarendon St., 2-4 April 1902; PLOT: Michael Gillane is called from his marriage to Delia Cahel by the Old Woman to fight for Ireland in the 1798 Rebellion in the West of Ireland]. ‘BRIDGET: ‘It is a wonder that you are not worn out with so much wandering’. OLD WOMAN: ‘Sometimes my feet are tired and my hands are quiet, but there is no quiet in my heart. When the people see me quiet, they think old age has come on me and that the stir has gone out of me. But when the trouble is on me I must be talking to my friends.’ BRIDGET: ‘What was it put you wondering?’ OLD WOMAN, ‘Too many strangers in the house.’ [The Plays, p.88.] BRIDGET: ‘Indeed you look as if you’d had you’re share of trouble.’ OLD WOMAN, ‘I have had trouble indeed. BRIDGET: ‘What was it put the trouble on you? OLD WOMAN, ‘My land that was taken from me.’ Peter, ‘Was it much land they took from you?’ OLD WOMAN, ‘My four beautiful green fields.’ Also, ‘If any one would give me help he must give me himself, he must give me all [...] [sings:] [...] For the death that [he?] shall die tomorrow [...] They will have no need of prayers / They will have no need of prayers’; ‘It is a hard service they take that help me. Many that are red-cheeked now will be pale-cheeked; many that have been free to walk the hills and the bogs and the rushes will be sent to walk hard streets in far countries; many that have gathered money will not stay to spend it; many a child will be born and there will be no father at its christening to give it a name. They that have red cheeks will have pale cheeks for my sake, and for all that, they will think they are well paid.’[She goes out; her voice is head outside singing:] ‘They shall be remembered forever / They shall be alive for ever, / They shall be speaking for ever, / The people shall hear them for ever.’ (Collected Plays, Macmillan 1960, p.86; Variorum Plays, p.229; quoted in Tuohy, Yeats: An Illustrated Biography, Macmillan 1976, p.102.)

Note: A revival performance of Cathleen Ni Houlihan was planned for Easter Week in 1916 but cancelled because of the Rising.

Kathleen Ni Houlihan (1902): THE OLD WOMAN (various speeches): I have travelled far, very far; there are few have travelled so far as myself, and there’s many a one that doesn’t make me welcome. There was one that had strong sons I thought were friends of mine, but they were shearing their sheep, and they wouldn’t listen to me. [...] Sometimes my feet are tired and my hands are quiet, but there is no quiet in my heart. When the people see me quiet, they think old age has come on me and that all the stir has gone out of me. But when the trouble is on me I must be talking to my friends. [...] Too many strangers in the house [...]. I have had trouble indeed [...] My land was taken froom me [...] My four beautiful green fields [...] Singing I am about a man I knew one time, yellow-haired Donough that was hanged in Galway [...] He died for love of me: many a man has died for love of me [...] There were others that died for live of me a long time ago [...] If anyone would give me help he must give me himself, he must give me all [...]. With all the lovers that brought me their love I never set out the bed for any [...]. I have my thoughts and I have my hopes [...] I have good friends that will help me. They are gathering to help me now. I am not afraid. If they are put down today they will get the upper hand tomorrow. I must be going to meet my friends. They are coming to help me and I must be there to welcome them. I must call the neighbours together to welcome them [...]. It is not a man going to his marriage that I look to for help [...]. Some call me the Poor Old Woman, and there are some that call me Cathleen, the daughter of Houlihan [...]. They are wondering that there were songs made for me; there have been songs made for me, I have heard one of them on the wind this morning [...] It is a hard service they have that help me. Many that are red-cheeked now will be pale-cheeked; many that have been free to walk the hills and the bogs and the rushes will be sent to walk hard streets in far countries; many a good plan will be broken; many that have gathered money will not stay to spend it; many a child will be born and there will be no father at its christening to give it a name. They that have red cheeks will have pale cheeks for my sake, and for all that they will think they are well paid.

Peter [to Patrick, laying a hand on his arm]: ‘Did you see an old woman going down the path?’ Patrick: ‘I did not, but I saw a young girl, and she had the walk of a queen’ [End].

The King’s Threshold (1904): ‘What evil thing will come upon the world / If the Arts perish? / The world that lacked them would be like a woman / That, looking on the cloven lips of a hare, / Brings forth a hare-lipped child.’ (Variorum Edition of the Plays, pp.264-65.)

The Cat and the Moon (1924; publ. 1926), Preface.: ‘[...] the soul realizing its separate being in the full moon, then, as the moon seems to approach the sun and dwindle away, all but realizing its absorption in God, only to whirl away once more: the mind of man, separating itself from the common matrix, through childish imaginations, through struggle ... to roundness, completeness, and then externalising, intellectualising, systematising, until at last it lies dead, a spider smothered in its own web.’ (Rep. in Explorations, London: Macmillan 1962, p.404; quoted in Bernard McKenna, “Yeats, “Leda,” and the Aesthetics of To-Morrow: “The Immortality of the Soul”’, in New Hibernia Review, 13, 2, Samhradh/Summer 2009, p.23.)

Resurrection (1934), Introduction: ‘Presently Oisin and his islands faded and the sort of images that come into “Rosa Alchemica” and “The Adoration of the Magi” took their place. Our civilisation was about to reverse itself, or some new civilisation about to be born from all that our age had rejected, from all that my stories symbolised as a harlet, and take after its mother; because we had worshipped a single god it would worship many or receive from Joachim de Flora’s Holy Spirit a multitudinous influx.’ (Explorations, p.393; quoted in G. J. Watson, notes to “The Adoration of the Magi”, in W. B. Yeats: Short Fiction, Penguin 1995, p.262.)

Resurrection (1934) - Introduction: ‘When I was a boy everybody talked about progress, and rebellion against my elders took the form of an aversion to that myth. I took satisfactioin in certain public disasters, felt a sort of ecstasy at the contemplation of ruin, and then I came upon the story of Oisin in Tir na nOg and reshaped it into my Wanderings of Oisin. [...]’ (Wheels & Butterflies, 1934, pp.101-02; quoted in Terence Brown, The Life of W. B. Yeats: A Critical Biography, Gill & Macmillan, 1999, reiss. 2001 pp.43-44.) [See further under Wanderings, &c., in Notes, infra.]

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A Vision (1925; 1937)

A Vision (priv. edn. 1925) - with port. of Giraldus from the Speculum Angelorum et Hominum [facing p.38 in A Vision (B) 1937], but resembling W. B. Yeats, and ded. epistle to “Vestigia” [Moina Bergson Mathers], sis. of Henri Bergson and wife of MacGregor Mathers; issued on 15 [var. 11] Jan. 1926 (rev. edn. 1937); in it the communicators’ or ‘Instructors’ tell him that they have ‘come to give him metaphors for poetry’ (Letters, ed. Wade, 1954, p.613.) Yeats revived Michael Robartes and had him travel among Judwalis in Middle East, where he learns the meaning of some symbols that he had earlier met with in reading a Latin work of Giraldus [Robartes: ‘I tried to identify my Giraldus with Giraldus of Bologna’ - ibid., p.40]; spends twenty years among them, and returns to communicate his new learning to Michael Aherne, who as a Catholic refuses to believe a system that challenges Platonic myth and Thomas Aquinas. (See Richard Ellmann, Yeats: The Man and the Masks, 1948, p.237ff.) Ideal phase is Unity of Being, shortly after the full moon (Phase 17), where Yeats himself is classified, along with Shelley, Dante, and Landor. Mrs Yeats and John Butler Yeats belong to Phase 19; Lady Gregory to Phase 24 (where codes dominate). Russell - though objecting - to phase 25 (‘some organised belief’.) Ezra Pound to phase 12, but later among the humanitarians at the later objective phases after Yeats saw him feed cats at Rapello (Ellmann, 1948, p.240)’ ‘I would prefer to stay out of Ireland until my philosophy is complete & then to settle there and apply its doctrine to practical life’ (Letter to Lady Gregory, printed as unpubl. in Ellmann, 1948, p.245.) Introduction to 2nd Edn.: ‘The other day Lady Gregory said to me: “You are a much better educated man than you were ten years ago and much more powerful in argument’ [Vision, B, 1937, p.8.] And I put The Tower and The Winding Stair into evidence to show that my poetry has gained in self-possession and power. I owe this change to an incredible experience [referring to his wife’s automatic writing]’ (A Vision, 1928, p.8; quoted in Ellmann, 1948, p.266.)

A Vision (priv. edn. 1925) [On the 13th Phase:] ‘It is that [13th] cycle which may deliver us from the twelve cycles of time and space. The cone which intersects ours is a cone in so far as we think of it as the antithesis of our thesis, but if the time has come for our deliverance it is the phaseless sphere, sometimes called the Thirteenth Sphere, for every lesser cycle contains within itself a sphere that is, as it were, the reflection or messenger of the final deliverance. Within it lives all souls that have been set free and every Daimon and Ghostly Self; our expanding cone seems to cut through its gyre; spiritual influx is from its circumference, animate life from its centre. [&c.]’ (A Vision, B, p.210-11; quoted in Jeffares, Commentary, p.328). Further: ‘The Thirteenth Cone is a sphere because sufficient to itself; but as seen by Man it is a cone. It becomes conscious of itself as so seen, like some great dancer, the perfect flower of modern culture, dancing some primitive dance and conscious of his or her own life and of the dance. [... &c.]’ (A Vision (B), p.240; quoted in Jeffares, Commentary, p.329, also 354.)

A Vision (1925) [“The Historical Cones”]: ‘[...] Each age unwinds the thread of another age had wound, and it amuses me to remember that before Phidias, and his westward moving art, Persia fell, and that when full moon came round again, amid eastward moving thought, and brought Byzantine glory, Rome fell; and that at the outset of our westward moving Renaissance Byzantium fell; all things dying each other’s life, living each other’s death.’ (A Vision, 1925 [A], p.183.) [Note: cf. ‘dying ... living’ here with ‘living ... dying’ - in Vision B, as infra.) [Cont.]

[Cont:] ‘After Phidias the life of Greece, which being antithetical had moved slowly and richly through the antithetical phases, comes rapidly to an end. Some Greek or Roman writer whose name I forget will soon speak of the declining comeliness of the people, and in the arts all is systematised more and more, and the antagonist recedes. Aristophanes’ passion-clouded eye falls before what one must believe, from Roman stage copies, an idler glance. (Phases 19, 20, 21.) Aristotle and Plato end creative system - to die into the truth is still to die - and formula begins. Yet even the truth into which Plato dies is a form of death, for when he separates the Eternal Ideas from Nature and shows them self-sustained he prepares the Christian desert and the Stoic suicide.’ (AV 271; quoted in David A. Ross, Critical Companion to William Butler Yeats: A Literary Reference to his Life, NY: Facts on File 2009, p.43 - available online.

[Cont. after paragraph-break:] ‘I identify the conquest of Alexander and the break-up of his kingdom, when Greek civilisation, formalised and codified, loses itself in Asia, with the beginning and end of the 22nd Phase, and his intention recorded by some historian to turn his arms westward shows that he is but part of the impulse that creates Hellenised Rome and Asia. There are everywhere statues where every muscle has been measured, every position debated, and these statues represent man with nothing more to cachieve, physical man finished and complacent, the women slightly tinted, but the men, it may be, who exercised naked in the open air, the colour of mahogany. Every discovery after the epoch of victory and defeat (Phase 22) which substitutes mechanics for power, is an eliminatin of intellect by delight in technical skill (Phase 23), by a sense of the past (Phase 24) by some dominant belief (Phase 25). After Plato and Aristotle, the mind is exhausted as were the armies of Alexander at his death, but the Stoics can discover morals and turn philosophy into a rule of life. Among them doubtless - the first beneficiaries of Plato’s hatred of imitation - we may discover the first benefactors of our modern individuality, sincerity of the trivial face, the mask torn away. Then at the last three phases of the wheel, a Greece that Rome has conquered, and a Rome conquered by Greece, must adore, desire being dead, physical or spiritual force. This adoration which begins in the second century before Christ creates a world-wide religious movement as the world was then known, which, being swallowed up in what came after, has left no adequate record. [...]’

A Vision (1925) [On the last gyre - 24th]: ‘A decadence will descend, by perpetual moral improvement, upon a community which may seem like some woman of New York or Paris who has renounced her rouge pot to lose her figure and grow coarse of skin and dull of brain, feeding her calves and babies somewhere upon the edge of the wilderness. The decadence of the Graeco-Roman world with its violent soldiers and its mahogany dark young athletes was as great, but that suggested the bubbles of life turned into marbles, whereas what awaits us, being democratic and primary, may suggest bubbles in a frozen pond - mathematical Babylonian starlight. When the new era comes bringing its stream of irrational force it will, as did Christianity, find its philosophy already impressed upon the minority who have, true to phase, turned away at the last gyre from the Physical Primary. And it must wake into life, not Durer’s, nor Blake’s, nor Milton’s human form divine - nor yet Nietzsche’s superman nor Patmore’s catholic, boasting “a tongue that’s dead” - the brood of the Sistine Chapel - but organic groups, covens of physical or intellectual kin melted out of the frozen mass. I imagine new races, as it were, seeking domination, a world resembling but for its immensity that of the Greek tribes - each with its own Daimon or ancestral hero - the brood of Leda, War and Love; history grown symbolic, the biography changed into a myth. Above all I imagine everywhere the opposites no mere alternation between nothing and something like the Christian brute and ascetic, but true opposites each living the other’s death, dying the other’s life.’ (A Vision, 1925 Edn.; p.213; quoted in A. N. Jeffares, W. B. Yeats: Man and Poet, London: Routledge & Kegan Paul 1949, p.203.)

Vide 1937 Edn.: “If we think of the vortex attributed to Discord as formed by circles diminishing until they are nothing, and of the opposing sphere attributed to Concord as forming from itself an opposing vortex, the apex of each vortex in the middle of the other’s base, we have the fundamental symbol of my instructors. [Two diagrams given here.] if I call the unshaded cone “Discord” and the other “Concord” and think of each as the bound of a gyre, I see that the gyre of “Concord” diminishes as that of “Discord” increases, and can imagine after that the gyre of “Concord” increasing while that of “Discord” diminishes, and so on, one gyre within the other always. Here the thought of Heraclitus dominates all: “Dying each other’s life, living each other’s death.”’ (A Vision, 1937, p.68.)

Note: Jeffares remarks, ‘The grim picture was not fully drawn until “The Second Coming”’ - and quotes - ‘In pity for man’s darkening thought / He walked that room and issued thence / In Gallilean turbulence.’ (Coll. Poems, p.240; Jeffares, idem.; quoted [in large part] in Foster, Life of Yeats, Vol. II, OUP 2003, p.290.)

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A Vision (1925) - On Byzantium: ‘I think if I could be given a month of Antiquity and leave to spend it where I chose, I would spend it in Byzantium a little before Justinian opened St. Sophia and closed the Academy of Plato. [i.e. 529-37 A.D.] I think I could find in some little wine shop some philosophical worker in mosaic who could answer all my questions, the supernatural descending nerar to him than in Plotinus even, for the pride of this delicate skill would make wahe was an instrument of power to Princes and Clerics and a murderous madness in the mob, show us a lovely flexible presence like that of a perfect human body. / I think that in early Byzantium, and maybe never before or since in recorded history, religious, aesthetic and practical life were one, that architects and artificers - though too, it may be, poets, for language had been the instrument of controversy and must have grown abstract - spoke to the multitude and the few alike. The painter and the mosaic worker, the worker in gold and silver, the illuminator of Sacred Books, were almost impersonal, almost perhaps without consciousness of individual design, absorbed in their subject-matter and that the vision of a whole people. They could copy out of old Gospel books those pictures that seemed as sacred as the text, and yet weave all into a vast design, the work of many that seemed the work of one, that made building, picture, pattern, metal-work of rail and lamp, seem but a single image, and this vision, this proclamation of their invisible master, had the Greek nobility, Satan always the still half divine Serpent, never the horned scarecrow of the didactic Middle Ages.’ (pp.190-91; quoted [in part] in A. N. Jeffares, A New Commentary on the Poems of W. B. Yeats, London: Macmillan 1984, “Sailing to Byzantium”; also in R. F. Foster, W. B. Yeats - A Life, Vol. II: “The Arch-Poet”, OUP 2003, p.288.)

A Vision (1925): ‘Personality is everywhere spreading out its fingers in vain, or grasping with an always more convulsive grasp a world where the predominance of physical science, of finance and economics in all their forms, of democratic politics, of vast populations, of architecture where styles jostle one another, of newspapers where all is heterogeneous, show that mechanical force will in a moment become supreme.’ (p. 206-07; quoted in R. F. Foster, W. B. Yeats - A Life, Vol. II: “The Arch-Poet”, OUP 2003, p.289.)

Note: Foster adds in a note that James Joyce may lie behind a subsequent reflection: ‘the modern novel is created, but even before the gyre is drawn to its end, the happy ending, the admired hero, the preoccupation with desirable things, all that is undisguisedly Antithetical disappears.’ (Foster, op. cit., 2003, p.718.)

A Vision (1925) - remarks on Ulysses: ‘I find at this 23rd Phase which is it is said the first where there is hatred of the abstract, where the intellect turns upon itself, Mr Ezra Pound, Mr Eliot, Mr Joyce, Signor Pirandello, who either eliminate from metaphor the poet’s phantasy and substitute a strangeness discovered by historical or contemporary research or who break the logical processes of thought by flooding them with associated ideas or words that seem to drift into the mind by chance; or who set side by side as in “Henry IV”, “The Waste Land”, “Ulysses”, the physical primary - a lunatic among his keepers, a man fishing behind a gas works, the vulgarity of a single Dublin day prolonged through 700 pages - and the spiritual primary, delirium, the Fisher Kind, Ulysses’ wandering. It is as though myth and fact, united until the exhaustion of the Renaissance, have now fallen so far apart that man understands for the first time the rigidity of fact, and calls up, by that very recognition, myth - the Mask - which now but gropes its way out of the mind’s dark but will shortly pursue and terrify.’ (pp.211-12; quoted in Foster, op. cit., 2003, p.289.) [See also Richard Ellmann’s comments on this passage in A Vision, in James Joyce [1959] 1984, p.596 - in Commentary, as supra.]

A Vision (1925) - the 24th Phase [‘where violent revolution is possible’]: ‘Unlike Christianity, which had for its first Roman teachers cobblers and weavers, this thought must find expression among those that are most subtle, most rich in memory ... among the learned - every sort of learning - among the rich - every sort of riches - among men of rank - every sort of rank - and the best of those that [290] express it will be given power, less because of that they promise than because of that they seem and are. This much can be thought because it is the reversal of what we know, but those kindreds once formed must obey irrational force and so create hitherto unknown experience, and that which is incredible. / Though it cannot interrupt the intellectual stream - being born from it and moving within it - it may grow a fanaticism and a terror, and at its first outsetting oppress the ignorant - even the innocent - as Christianity oppressed the wise, that that the day is far off when the two halves of man can define each its own unity in the other as in a mirror, Sun in Moon, Moon in Sun, and so escape out of the Wheel.’ (pp.215, end; quoted in Foster, op. cit., W. B. Yeats - A Life, Vol. II, 2003, pp.290-91.)

Note: Foster comments - ‘This [...] may stand as some kind of testament to WBY’s political expectations in the mid-1920s [...] The fact that he was writing in the Italy of Mussolini, whose sinister rally-cry about trampling on the decomposing body of the Goddess of Liberty WBY had himself quoted a year before, cannot be ignored: nor can his simultaneous plunge into reading seminal works of the Fascist movement. [...] The message of A Vision may be aristocratic as much as determinist, but it certainly expects “irrational violence” and totalitarian government to replace a decadent democracy.’ (Idem.)[ top ]

A Vision (London: Macmillan 1937; corr. edn. 1962), “A Packet For Ezra Pound” - ‘Introduction to a Vision’ [sects. XII-XV]. [Sect.] XII: I have heard my wife in the broken speech of some quite ordinary dream use tricks of speech characteristic of the philosophic voices. Sometimes the philosophic voices themselves have become vague and trivial or have in some other way reminded me of dreams. Furthermore their doctrine supports the resemblance, for one said in the first month of communication, “We are often but created forms”, and another, that spirits do not tell a man what is true but create such.conditions, such a crisis of fate, that the man is compelled to listen to his Daimon. And again and again they have insisted that the whole system is the creation of my wife’s Daimon and of mine, and that it is as startling to them as to us. Mere “spirits”, my teachers say, are the “objective”, a reflection and distortion; reality itself is found by the Daimon in what they call, in commemoration of the Third Person of the Trinity, the Ghostly Self. The blessed spirits must be sought within the self which is common to all. / Much that has happened, much that has been said, suggests that the communicators are the personalities [22] of a dream shared by my wife, by myself, occasionally by others - they have, as I must some day prove, spoken through others without change of knowledge or loss of power - a dream that can take objective form in sounds, in hallucinations, ill scents, in flashes of light, in movements of external objects. In partly accepting and partly rejecting that explanation for reasons I cannot now discuss, in affirming a Communion of the Living and the Dead, I remember that Swedenborg has described all those between the celestial state and death as plastic, fantastic and deceitful, the dramatis personae of our dreams; that Cornellus Agrippa attributes to Orpheus these words: “The Gates of Pluto must not be unlocked, within is a people of dreams”. What I have to say of them is in “The Soul in Judgment” [n.1] but because it came when my wife's growing fatigue made communication difficult and because of defects of my own, it is the most unfinished of my five books [i.e., of A Vision].’ Ftn. I: ‘It is now finished, but less detailed than I once hoped.’

Compare -

‘Some were looking for spiritual happiness or for some form of unknown power, but I had a practical object. I wished for a system of thought that would leave my imagination free to create as it chose and yet make all that it created, or could create, part of the one history and that the soul’s.

AV A, xi.

‘Some will ask if I believe in the actual existence of my circuits of sun and moon. Those that include, now all recorded time in one circuit, now what Blake called “the pulsation of an artery”, are plainly symbolical, but what of those that fixed, like a butterfly upon a pin, to our central date, the first day of our Era, divide actual history into periods of equal length? To such a question I can but answer that if sometimes, overwhelmed by miracle as all men must be when in the midst of it, I have taken such periods literally, my reason has soon recovered; and now that the system stands out clearly in my imagination I regard them as stylistic arrangements of experience comparable to the cubes in the drawing of Wyndham Lewis and to the ovoids in the sculpture of Brancusi. They have helped me to hold in a single thought reality and justice.’ [November 23rd 1928, and later.]

AV B 24-25

[Note: ‘Stylistic Arrangements’ becomes the title of Barbara L. Croft's study “Stylistic Arrangements”: A Study of William Butler Yeat's A Vision (AUP 1987) - available online.

Examination of the Wheel” - [sect.] I: ‘During the first months of instruction I had the Great Wheel of the lunar phases as prined at the end of this paragraph, but knew nothing of the cones that explain it, and though I had abundant definitions and descriptions of the Faculties at their different stations, did not know why they passed one another at certain points, nor why two moed from left to right like the sun's daily course, two from right to left like the moon in the Zodiac. Even when I wrote the first edition of this book I though the geometrical symbolism so difficult, I understood so little of it, that I put it off to a later section; and as I had at that time, for a reason I have explained, to use a romantic setting, I described the Great Wheel as danced on the desert sands by mysterious dancers who [80] left the traces of their feet to puzzle the Caliph of Baghdad and his learned men. I tried to interest my readers in an unexplained rule of thumb that somehow explained the world. [Figure: no title; para.] This wheel is every completed movement of thought or life, twenty-eight incarnations, a single incarnatoin, a single judgement or act of Thought. Man seeks his opposite or the opposite of his condition, attains his object so far as it is attainable, and Phase 15 and returns to Phase 1 again.’

[Ftn. ‘A similar circular movement fundamental in the works of Giovanni Gentile is, I read somewhere, the half-conscious foundation of the political thought of modern Italy. Individuals and classes complete their personality and then sink back to enrich the mass.’ p.81, n.1.]

Examination of the Wheel” - [sect.] II: ‘[...] The Four Faculties are not the abstract categories of philosophy, being the result of the four memories of the Daimon or ultimate self of that man. His Body of Fate, the series of events forced upon him from without, is shaped out of the Daimon’s memory of the events of his past incarnations; his Mask or object of desire or idea of the good, out of its memory of the moments of exaltation in his past lives; his Will or normal ego out of its memory of all the events of his present life, whether consciously remembered or not; his Creative Mind from its memory of ideas - or universals - displayed by actual men in past lives or their spirits between lives.’ (AV B [1937] 83; also quoted on Vision website, ed. Neil Mann - online.)

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A Vision (1937 [cont.]), Introduction [Sect.] XIII: ‘Some, perhaps all, of those readers I most value, those who have read me many years, will be repelled by what must seem an arbitrary, harsh, difficult symbolism. Yet such has almost always accompanied expression that unites the sleeping and waking mind. One remembers the six wings of Daniel’s angels, the Pythagorean numbers, a venerated book of the Cabala where the beard of God winds in and out among the stars, its hairs - all numbered, those complicated mathematical tables that Kelly saw in Dr. Dee’s black scrying-stone, the diagrams in Law’s Boehme, where one lifts a flap [24] of paper to discover both the human entrails and the starry heavens. William Blake thought those diagrams worthy of Michael Angelo, but remains himself almost unintelligible because he never drew the like. We can (those hard symbolic bones under the skin) substitute for a treatise on logic the Divine Comedy, or some little song about a rose, or be content to live our thought.’ (pp.23-24.)

Diagrams & illustrations in A Vision (1937)
    1. Portrait of Giraldus [by Edmund Dulac], p.39;
    2. Unicorn [Dulac], p.64;
    3. The Great Wheel [Dulac], p.66;
    4. ‘dying into each other’s life, living each other’s death’ [Heraclitus], [2] p.68;
    5. Time, Subjectivity, Space, Objectivity [cone/gyre], p.71;
    6. Primary & antithetical, 72;
    7. whirling opposites [concentric cones], p.74;
    8. C[reative] M[ask], Will, 75; Will, C.M., p.76;
    9. Mask, C.M., B[ody of] F[ate], Will [2], p.77;
    10. Primary and antithetical cones, [2] pp.78, 79;
    11. Tables of the Four Faculties, pp..96-99;
    12. the four principles, p.194;
    13. cone and diamond superimposed, p.199;
    14. Phase 15, p.200;
    15. double vortex, p.201;
    16. “The Historical Cones”, [p.266].

[Note: the titles given here are provisional as being drawn from the surrounding text. Figures in brackets indicate the number of diagrams in each set if more than one. BS.]

A Vision (1937 [cont.]), Introduction [Sect.] XIV: Some will associate the story I have just told with that popular spiritualism which has not dared to define itself, to go like all great spiritual movements through a tragedy of separation and rejection, which instead of asking whether it is not something almost incredible, because altogether new or forgotten, clings to.all that is vague and obvious in popular Christianity; and hate me for that association. But Muses resemble women who creep out at night and give themselves to unknown sailors and return to talk of Chinese porcelain - porcelain is best made, a Japanese critic has said, where the conditions of life are hard - or of the Ninth Symphony - virginity renews itself like the moon-except that the Muses sometimes form in those low haunts their most lasting attachments.

A Vision (1937 [cont.]), Introdcution [Sect.] XV: Some will ask whether I believe in the actual existence of my circuits of sun and moon. Those that include, now all recorded time in one circuit, now what Blake called “the pulsation of an artery”, are plainly symbolical, but what of those that fixed, like a butterfly upon a [24] pin, to our central date, the first day of our Era, divide actual history into periods of equal length? To such a question I can but answer that if sometimes, overwhelmed by miracle as all men must be when in the midst of it, I have taken such periods literally, my reason has soon recovered; and now that the system stands out clearly in my imagination I regard them as stylistic arrangements of experience comparable to the cubes in the drawing of Wyndham Lewis and to the ovoids in the sculpture of Brancusi. They have helped me to hold in a single thought reality and justice.’ [End; dated November 23rd 1928, and later.]

Note: The first and last sentences of the concluding section [XV] are quoted [and connected by an ellipsis] in Louis MacNeice, W. B. Yeats, 1941, p.117, citing A Vision, 1928 edn.)

A Vision (1937) - Book I, “The Great Wheel”: ‘When I wish for some general idea which will describe the Great Wheel as an individual life I go to the Commedia [83] dell’ Arte or improvised drama of Italy. The stage-manager, or Daimon, offers his actor an inherited scenario the Body of Fate and a Mask or rôle as unlike as possible to his natural ego or Will, and leaves him to improvise through his Creative Mind the dialogue and details of the plot. He must discover or reveal a being which only exists with extreme effort, when his muscles are as it were all taut and all his energies active. But this is antithetical man. For primary man, I go to the Commedia dell’ Arte in its decline. The Will is weak and cannot create a rôle, and so, if it transform itself, does so after an accepted pattern, some traditional clown or pantaloon.’ (pp.83-84; quoted in Hazard Adams, The Book of Yeats’s Vision: Romantic Modernism and the Antithetical Tradition, Michigan UP 1995, p.74.)

The Soul in Judgement” (pp.219-40) [...] - [Sect.] V. ‘The period between death and birth is divided into states analagous to the six solar months between Aries and Libra [ftn. - Phase 22; .. lasting until burial] The first state is called The Vision of the Blood and Kindred [...] It is followed by the Meditation [...] It is following the Meditation [that] The Spirit has its first vision and understanding of the Celestial Body, but that it may do so, it requires the help of the incarnate, for without them it is without language and without will. [...; 223] If there has been great animal egotism, heightened by some moment of tragedy, the Husk may persist for centuries [...] In the third discarnate state, a state I shall presently described, it may renounce the form of a man and take some shape from th social or religious tradition of its past life [...] It the Passionate Body does not disappear, the Spirit find the Celestial Body, only after long and perhaps painful dreams of the past, and it is because of such [224] dreams that the second state is sometimes called the Dreaming Back. [...]

[Sect.] VI: The true name of the second state [ftn: roughly Phases 23, 24, 25, on the wheel of the Faculties], that of Taurus, is [225] the Return [...] In the Dreaming Back, the Spirit is compelled to live over and over again the events that had most moved it; there can be nothing new, but the old events stand forth in a light which is dim or bright according to the intensity of the passion that accompanied them. they occur in the order of their their intensity and luminosity [...] In the Return, on the other hand, the Spirit must live through past events in the order of their occurrence, because it is compelled by the Celestial Body to trace every passionate event to its cause until all are related and understood, turned into knowledge, made a part of itself. [...] After its imprisonment by some event in the Dreaming Back, the Spirit relives that event in the Return and turns it into knowledge, then falls into the Dreaming Back once more. [...; cites ‘apparitions haunting places [as] the theme of the Japanese No drama’; ...] The more complete the Dreaming Back the more complete the Return and th more happy or fortunate the next incarnate. After each event of the Dreaming Back the Spirit [227] explores not merely the cause but the consequences of that event. [...] I have found a belief among Irish country people that the death of a father or a mother may sometimes bring good luck to child or family. Upon the other hand our actions affect the dead. [...; 228] It is from the Dreaming Back of the dead ... &c.’ [as infra.]

Dreaming Back [from “The Soul in Judgement”, VI]: ‘It is from the Dreaming Back of the dead, though not from that of persons associated with our past, that we get the imagery of ordinary sleep. Much of a dream’s confusion comes from the fact that the image belongs to some unknown person, whereas emotion, names, language, belong to us alone. Having kept a steady watch upon my dreams for years I know that so long as I dream in words I know that my father, let us say, was tall and bearded. If, on the other hand, I dream in images and examine the dream immediately upon waking I may discover him there represented by a stool or the eyepiece of a telescope, but never in his natural shape, for we cast off the concrete memory (lose contact with the Record as it affects ourselves) but not the abstract memory when we sleep.’ (A Vision, 1937, p.229.)

‘The second stage contains in additoin to the Dreaming Back and the Return what is called the Phantasmagoria, which exists to exhaust [...] emotion [...] if the life was evil, then the Phatasmagoria is evil, the criminal completes his crime [...;’ 230; ...]

VII: ‘At the end of the second state, the events of the past life are a whole can can be dismissed; the emotional and moral life, however, is but a whole according to the code accepted during life. [...] The Spirit is still unsatisfied, until after the third state, which corresponds to Gemini, called the Shiftings, where the Spirit is purified of good and evil. [...] The Spirit lives - I quote the automatic script - “The best possible life in [231] the worst possible surroundings” [...; quotes MacKenna’s translation of ‘the most beautiful of the Enneads’] It is followed by a state corresponding to Cancer which is said to pass in unconsciousness, or in a moment of consciousness called the Marriage or the Beatitude. It is complete equilibrium after the conflict of the Shiftings; good and evil vanish into the whole. it is followed by an oscillaiton, a reversal of the old life; this lasts until birth and death bring the Shiftings and the Marriage once more, a reversal not in knowledge but in life, or until the Spirit is free from good and evil. [ftn.: the reversals of The Shiftings [sic] and the Purification are reflected in the alternatoin between Sage and Victim '...; 233]

VIII: ‘In the Purification (corresponding to the sign Leo) a new Husk and Passionate Body take the plae of the old; made from the old, yet, as it were, pure. All memory has vanished, the Spirit no longer knows what its name has been, it is at least free and in relation to Spirits free like itself. [...] If its nature is is unique it must find circumstances not less unqie before rebirth is possible. It may stay in the Purification for centuries [...] But the Purification may require the completion of some syntheses left unfinished in its past life. [...]’

IX: ‘The sixth and final stage (corresponding to Scorpio) called the Foreknowledge must substituted the next incarnation, as Fate has decreed to it, for that form of perfection. The Spirit cannot be reborn until the vision of that life is completed and accepted. [...; 234] It cannot, however, without the assistance of the Thirteenth Cone affect life in any way except to delay its own rebirth. During its sleep in the womb the Spirit accepts its future life, declares it just.

X: ‘The Spirits before the marriage are spoken of as the dead. After that they are spirits, using that word as it is used in common speech. During the Dreaming Back, the Spirit is alone with its dream; during the Return in the presence of those who had a part in the events explored in the Dreaming Back; in the Phantasmagoria and in the Shiftings, of those summoned by the Thirteenth Cone and the Celestial Body respectively; in the Purification, of those chosen by itself.
 ‘In the Meditation it wears the form it had immediately before death; in the Dreaming Back and the Phantasmagoria, should it appear to the living, it has the form of the dream, in the Return the form worn during the event explored, and in the Shiftings whatever form was most [235] familiar to others during its life; in the Purification whatever form it fancies, for it is now the Shape-changer of legend [...] The Dreaming Back is represented upon th cone or wheel by a periodical stoppage of movement. [...] The more complete the expiation, or th eless the need for it, the more fortunate the succeeding life. The more fully a life is lived, the less the need for - or the more complete is - the expiation. Neither the Phantasmagoria, nor the Purification, nor any other state between death and birth should be considered as a reward or paradise. Neither between death and birth nor between birth and death can the soul find more than momentary happiness; its object is to pass rapidly round its circle and find freedom from that circle.’ [236]

XI: ‘All the involuntary acts and facts of life are the effect of the whirring and interlocking of the gyres; but gyres may be interrupted or twisted by greater gyres, divided into two lesser gyres or multiply into four and so on. The uniformity of nature depends on the constant return of the gyres to the same point. Some individuals are primary and antithetical to one another and joined by a bond so powerful that they form a common gyre or series of gyres. This gyre or these gyres no greater gyre may be able to break till exhaustion comes. We all to some extent meet again and again the same people and certainly in some cases for a kind of family of two or three or more persons who come together life after life until all passionate relations are exhausted, the cild one one life the husband, wife, brother or sister of the next. [...;’ 237; much about expiation follows - incl. examples from D. H. Lawrence; 238.]

XII: ‘Sometimes the bond is between an incarnate Daimon and a Spirit of the Thirteenth Cone. [...] Eli! Eli! Lama Sabacthani!? - and this state is called Victimage for the Ghostly Self, an is described as the sole means for acquiring a supernatural guide. [...; 239] The Thirteenth Cone is a sphere because sufficient to itself; but as seen by man it is a cone. [...] Only one symbol exists, tough the reflecting mirrors make many appar and all different.’ [240; End - followed by “The Great Year of the Ancients”.]

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A Vision (1937): ‘The approaching antithetical influx and that particular antithetical dispensation for which the intellectual preparation has begun will reach its complete systemisation at the moment when, as I have already shown, the Great Year comes to its intellectual climax. Something of what I have said it must be, the myth declares, for it must reverse our era and resume past eras in itself; what else it must be no man can say, for always at the critical moment the Thirteenth Cone, the sphere, the unique intervenes. (A Vision [B], p.263).

A Vision (1937): ‘A civilisation is a struggle to keep self-control, and in this it is like some great tragic person, some Niobe who must display an almost superhuman will or the cry will not touch our sympathy. the loss of control over thought comes towards the end; first a sinking in upon the moral being, then the last surrender, the irrational cry, revelation - the scream of Juno’s peacock.’ (A Vision [B], p.268.)

A Vision (1937) ‘[Robartes:] “Love contains all Kant’s antinomies, but it is the first that poisons our lives. Thesis, there is no beginning; antithesis, there is a beginning; or, as I prefer: thesis, there is an end; antithesis, there is no end. Exhausted by the cry that it can never end, my love ends; without that cry it were not love but desire, desire does not end. The anguish of birth and that of death cry out in the same instant. Life is no series of emanations from divine reason such as the Cabalists imagine, but an irrational bitterness, no orderly descent from level to level, no waterfall but a whirlpool, a gyre.”’ (“Stories of Michael Robartes and his Friends [...]”, II, in A Vision [B], 1937, p.40.)

A Vision (1937), Bk. IV, “The Year of the Great Ancients”, [Sect.] XV [on Giambattista Vico]: ‘When the automatic script began, neither I nor my wife knew, or knew that we knew, that any man had tried to explain history philosophically. I, at any rate, would have said that all written upon the subject was a paragraph in my own Per Amica Silentia Lunae, so ignorant a man is a poet and artist. When I came to summarise on paper or in speech what the scripts contained no other theme made me so timid. Then Mr. Gerald Heard, who has since made his own philosophy of history, told me of Henry Adams’ two essays, where I found some of the dates I had been given and much of the same interpretation, of Petrie’s Revolutions of Civilisation, where I found more, and then a few months after the publication of the first edition of A Vision a translation of Spengler’s Decline of the West was published, and I found there a correspodence too great for coincidence between most of his essential dates and those I had received before the publication of his first German edition. After that I discovered for myself Spengler’s main source in Vico, and that half the revolutionary thoughts of Europe are a perversion of Vico’s philosophy. Marx and Sorel have taken from Vico’s cycle, writes Croce, his “idea of the struggle of classes and the regeneration of society by a return to a primitive state of mind and a new barbarism” [ftn.] Certainly [261] my instructors have chosen a theme that has deeply stirred men's minds though the newspapers are silent about it; the newspapers have the happy counter-myth of progress; a theme as important perhaps as Henry Adams thought when he told the Boston Historical Association that were it turned into a science powerful interests would prevent its publication.’ (pp.261-62.)

Ftn: ‘I have read in an essay of Squire’s that Lenin studied The Philosophy of History at the British Museum.]

A Vision (1937), Bk. IV, “The Year of the Great Ancients”, [Sect.] XVI: ‘My Instructors certainly expect neither a “primitive state” nor a return to barbarism as primitivism and barbarism are ordinarily understood; antithetical revelation is an intellectual influx neither from beyond mankind nor born of a virgin, but begotten out of spirit and history.’ (p.262.)

[Cont.] XVII: ‘At the birth of Christ took place, and at the coming antithetical influx will take place, a change equivalent to the interchange of tinctures. The cone shaped like an ace of diamonds - in the historical diagram the cone is folded upon itself - is Solar, religious and vital; those shaped like an hour-glass Lunar, political and secular [... &c.; citing also Body of Fate, Mask, Will, Creative Mind, and “the man and woman of Blake’s Mental Traveller.] Before the birth of Christ, religion and vitality were polytheistic, antithetical, and to this philosophers opposed their primary, secular thought. Plato thinks all things into unity and is the “First Christian”. At the birth of Christ religious life becomes primary, secular life antithetical - man gives to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s. A primary dispensation looking beyond itself towards a transcendent power is dogmatic, levelling, unifying, feminine, humane, peace its means and end; an antithetical dispensation obeys imminent power, is expressive, hierarchical, multiple, masculine, harsh, surgical. The approaching antithetical influx and that particular anthetical dispensation for which the intellectual preparation has begun will reach its complete systematisation at the moment when, as I have already shown, the Great Year comes to its intellectual climax. Something of what I have said it must be, the myth declares, for it must reverse our era and resume past eras in itself; what else it must be no man can say, for always at the critical moment the Thirteenth Cone, the sphere, the unique intervenes.’ [Quotes “The Second Coming”: ‘Somewhere in the desert ... indignant desert birds.’; end sect.] (pp.262-63.)

A Vision - W. B. Yeats’s remarks (I): ‘On the afternoon of October 24th 1917, four days after my marriage, my wife surprised me by attempting automatic writing. What came in disjointed sentences, in almost illegible writing, was so exciting, sometimes so profound, that I persuaded her to give an hour or two day after day to the unknown writer, and after some half-dozen such hours offered to spend what remained of life explaining and piecing together those scattered sentences.  “No,” was the answer, “we have come to give you metaphors for poetry.” (‘Introduction to “A Vision” from ‘A Packet for Ezra Pound’ (1937), AV B 8; quoted on Vision web site compiled by Neil Mann [online]; accessed 4 July 2007.)

A Vision - W. B. Yeats’s remarks (II): ‘Yesterday I finished the book - for months past I have thought that I was within a week or so of the end but always I found something to rewrite; but now at last it is done & all that remains is for George to see that the corrected typed script is legible & so forth [....] I do not know what my book will be to others - nothing perhaps. To me it means a last act of defence against the chaos of the world; & I hope for ten years to write out of my renewed security.’ (Letter [to Edmund Dulac], 23 April [1925], in Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center [HRHRC], Univ. of Texas, Austin; printed in part as unpubl. in Richard Ellmann, Yeats: The Man and the Masks, 1948, p.294 [‘I do not know ... &c.’]; also in R. F. Foster, W. B. Yeats - A Life, Vol. II: “The Arch-Poet”, OUP 2003, p.280 and n.; also available on the Vision website compiled by Neil Mann [link]; accessed 4 July 2007.]

A Vision - W. B. Yeats’s remarks (III): a note on “The Second Coming”, written in 1919: ‘Robartes copied out and gave to Aherne several mathematical diagrams from the “Speculum” - squares and spheres, cones made up of revolving gyres intersecting each other at various angles, figures sometimes with great complexity. His explanation of these, obtained invariably from the followers of Kusta ben Luki is founded upon a single fundamental thought. The mind whether expressed in history or in the individual life has a precise movement which can be quickened or slackened but cannot be otherwise altered, and this movement can be expressed by a mathematical form. A plant or an animal has an order of development peculiar to it, a bamboo will not develop evenly like a willow nor a willow from joint to joint and oth have branches that lessen and grow more light as they rise and no characteristic of the soil can alter these things. A poor soil may indeed check or stop the movement and rich prolong and quicken it. Mendel has shown that his sweet-peas bred long and short, white and pink varieties in certain mathematical proportions suggesting a mathematical law governing the transmission of parental characteristics. To the judwalis as interpreted by Michael Robartes, all living minds have likewise a fundamental mathematical movement however adapted in plant or animal or man to particular circumstances and when you have found this movement and calculated its relation, you can foretell the entire future of that mind. A supreme religious act of their faith is to fix the attention on the mathematical form of this movement until the whole past and future of humanity or of an individual man shall be present to the intellect as if it were accomplished in a single movement. The intensity of the Beatific Vision when it comes depends, upon the intensity of this realisation. It is possible in this way seeing that death itself is marked upon the mathematical figure which passes beyond it to follow the soul into the highest heaven and the deepest hell. This doctrine is they contend not fatalistic because the mathematical figure is an expression of the mind’s desire and the more rapid the development of the figure the greater the freedom of the soul. The figure while the soul is in the body or suffering from the consequences of that life, is usually drawn as a double cone, the narrow end of each cone being in the centre of the broad end of the other. It has its origin from a straight line which represents now time, now emotion, now subjective life and a plane at right angles to this line which represents, now space, now intellect, now objective life and it is marked out by two gyres which represent the conflict as it were of plane and line - two movements which circle above its centre because a movement outward on the plane is checked and in turn checks a movement outward upon the line; and the circling is always narrowing or spreading because one movement or other is always the stronger. In other words, the human soul is always moving outward into the objective, or inward into itself and this movement is double because the human soul has consciousness only because it is suspended between contraries, the greater the contrast the more intense the consciousness. The man in whom the movement inward is stronger than the movement outward the man who sees all reflected within himself, the subjective man reaches the narrow end of a gyre at death which is always they contend even when it seems the result of an accident, preceded by an intensification of the subjective life, and has a moment of realisation immediately after death a revelation which they describe as his being carried into the presence of all his kindred, a [197] moment whose objectivity is exactly equal to the subjectivity of death. The objective man on the other hand, whose gyre moves outward receives at this moment the revelation not of himself seen - from within for that is impossible to objective man but of himself as if he were somebody else. His figure also is true of history and the end of an age which always recedes, the revelation of the character of the next age is represented by the coming of one gyre to its place of greatest expansion and of the other to that of its greatest contraction; a religious dispensation ending when the gyres return to the same point they set out from generally 2000 years before, though dispensations are said for mathematical reasons to vary in length. At the present moment the life gyre is sweeping out unlike that before the birth of Christ which was narrowing and has almost reached its greatest expansion. The revelation which approaches will however, take its character from the contrary movement of the interior gyre. All our scientific democratic fact-accumulating heterogeneous civilisation belongs to the outward gyre and prepares not the continuance of itself but the revelation as in a lightning flash that will strike only in one place and will for a time be constantly repeated of the civilisation that must slowly take its place. This is too simple a statement for much detail is possible, there are certain points of stress on outer and inner gyre, a division of each now into ten, now into twenty-eight, stages or phases. However in the exposition of this detail so far as it affects their future, Robartes had little help from the judwalis either because they cannot grasp the dates outside their experience or because certain studies seem to them unlucky. “‘For a time the power,” they have said to me”, writes Robartes ‘will be with us who are as like one another as the grains of sand but when the revelation comes it will not come to the poor but to the great and learned and establish again for 2000 years prince and vizier’, nor do any among them doubt that it will come for their wise men have marked it upon the sand and it is because of these marks made generation after generation by the old for the young that they are named judwalis, makers of measures or as we would say of diagrams.’ (Quoted in A. N. Jeffares, W. B. Yeats: Poet and Man, London: Routledge & Kegan Paul 1949, pp.197-98, with a prefatory reference to an unpublished note to “The Second Coming” written in 1919 in the possession of Mrs Yeats [ftn.]. The above is printed in the Variorum Edition of the Poems, p.825, and given in part in Richard Finneran, ed., W. B. Yeats: The Poems (1990, 1992)

Note also - Michael Robartes and the Dancer / “The Second Coming” (p.619). From A Packet for Ezra Pound (1929), incl. in A Vision (1937): ‘Some will ask if I believe all that this book [A Vision] contains, and I will not know how to answer. [...; &c.’; as supra.]

On the Boiler (1939): ‘The danger is that there will be no war, that the skilled will attempt nothing, that the European civilisation, like those older civilisations that saw the triumph of their gangrel stocks, will accept decay. When I was writing A Vision I had constantly the word “terror” impressed upon me, and once the old stoic prophecy of earthquake, fire and flood, but this I did not take literally. It was because of that indefinable impression that I made Michael Robartes say in A Vision: “Dear predatory birds, prepare for war, prepare your children and all that you can reach ... Test art, morality, custom, thought by Thermopylae, make rich and poor act so to one another that they can stand together there. Love war because of its horror, that belief have be changed, civilisation renewed. We desire belief and lack it. Belief comes from shock and it is not desired.’ (On the Boiler; quoted in R. F. Foster, W. B. Yeats - A Life, Vol. 2: “The Arch-Poet”, OUP 2003, p.630 [available online]; note also that this is the passage which Frank Kermode cited at the beginning of A Sense of the Ending (1966; rev. with new epilogue, 2000) - see under Commentary. available online] - all accessed 13.04.2015.)

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