Kathleen Raine, Yeats the Initiate: Essays on Certain Themes in the Work of W. B. Yeats [1986] (NY: Barnes & Noble 1990)

[Source: Available online; accessed 23.04.2015; available online.]

Chap. V: Yeats’s Debt to Blake
Raine’s account of the enthusiasm about Blake among the artists at Bedford Park, ‘amounting almost to a cult, shared by the group as a whole’, when Yeats was growing-up there. (Raine, Yeats the Initiate: Essays on Certain Themes in the Work of W. B. Yeats [1986], NY: Barnes & Noble 1990, p.82.)

Chap. VI: From Blake to A Vision
If I treat Yeats’s indebtedness to Blake as if this were that of a scholar it is not in order to deny that he had also made contact with that “other” mind which had given Blake his mandala of the Four Zoas and the City of Golgonooza, but Blake’s system undoubtedly gave Yeats the ground-plan of his own. The basic structure of A Vision is already to be found in the Ellis and Yeats commentaries. Yeats was to write, in his Introduction to the second version of A Vision, of the “arbitrary, harsh and difficult symbolism” that “has almost always accompanied expression that unites the sleeping and the waking mind.” (V, II, 23.) he instances “Cabala”, the complicated mathematical diagrams of Dee and Kelly, the diagrams in Law’s Boehme which Blake thought “equal to Michelangelo” [sic] but “remains himself almost [111] unintelligible because he never drew the like”. No reader of A Vision can complain of any lack of complicated diagrams, and the young Yeats did his best to draw Blake’s diagrams for him.

Any student unfamiliar with Blake and with the esoteric tradition and hoping to find in the Ellis and Yeats commentaries an easy introduction, will find only explanations of the obscure by the more obscure. Yet the same student, rereading this commentary in possession of such knowledge, will discover it to be by far the most significant yet written in its grasp of the nature and import of Blake’s symbolic thought. Of the Ellis and Yeats commentaries the sections on the symbolic system are known to have been written by Yeats, though the authors state that nothing was written by either without consultation. We also know that the introductory essay entitled “The Necessity of Symbolism” is Yeats’s work and in this important essay he formulates Blake’s (and his own) challenge to the view that natural and spiritual things are of the same order:

All such solutions according to him [Blake], arise from the belief that natural and spiritual things do not differ in kind; for if they do so differ, no mere analysis of nature as it exists outside our minds can solve the problem of mental life. This absolute difference may be described as the first postulate of all mystics. [EY, 1, 236.]

Yeats supports his works with a long quotation from Swedenborg: whoever, says, Swedenborg, cannot distinguish between the exterior and interior faculties of man “cannot be acquainted with the difference between the spiritual world and the natural, or between the spirit of man and his body.” Because the materialist sees “continuous” where he should see “discrete”, this distinction, th efirst essential to the udnerstanding both of Blake and Yeats, eludes his comprehension. (pp.111.-12.)

[On Urizon (reason), Los (intuition), Luvah (feeling), and Tharmas (sensation):] The Four are sometimes called the “four faces” of Albion (the collective being of the Englsh nation). Blak also describes them as rulers of th efour directions of inner space, and as “unverses” or “suns” “They are the Four Zoas in that stood around the Throne Divine” whch are, Blake says, “in every man.”

Blake described several mandala structures but drew only [113] one, an extremely important one in this context; it occurs in the poem Milton and depicts the four “universes” or Zoas as spheres touching one another and intersected by an egg-shaped structure which occupies the central space, the “mundane shell” or world-egg. [113-14].

Four Universes round the Mundane Egg remain Chaotic, / One to the North, named Urthona: One to the South, named Urizen: / One to the East, named Luvah: One to the West, named Tharmas: / They are the four Zoas that stood around the Throne Divine. [M. 19, K 500] (114).


Yeats combines Plato with Boehme when he writes that the Holy Spirit “wakes into being the numberless thought-forms in the great mirror”: “God looking into this mirror, ceases to be mere will, beholds Himself as the Son, His love for His own unity, His self-consciousness, and enters on that eternal meditation about Himself which is called the Holy Spirit.” [EY, 1, 247.] (Raine, 118.)

[..] Blake’s Zoas become not so much universes as polarised fields of mutual attraction and repulsion, anticipating Yeats’s own quaternity, in A Vision, of paired opposites: Will (Blake’s Luvah) and Mask (Blake’s Tharmas) - feeling and its object - Creative Mind (Urizen) and Body of Fate (Los) - thought and its object. The emphasis with Yeats is on the polarity of the pairs, and is already foreshadowed in the Blake commentary:

[Quotes WBY:] The Will looks into a painted picture. The Creative Mind looks into a photograph, but both look into something which is the [Raine, 120] opposite of themselves. The picture is that which is chosen, while the photograph is heterogeneous. the photograph is fated, because by fate is understood that which comes from without, whereas Mask is predesined, Destiny being that which comes to us from within. [V I, 15.]

Yeats’s Mask corresponds to Blake’s tharmas, called the “demon of the waters” [...] (121) diagram from AV, 1925, 13.