Ann Saddlemyer, Becoming George: The Life of Mrs W. B. Yeats (Oxford: OUP 2002), Chap. 6: “Forest Row” [ pp.105-33] - extracts.

[...] The early automatic writing devoted considerable time to the relationship between the spiritual and the mateiral world, inner and outer nature, process and concept. The psychological polarities of the “primary” or daily self and the “antithetical” self, the “point of vortex” - which would soon become the “funnel”, the the “gyre” (Willy did not like the word “spiral”( - all so essential to the entire philosophy, are present from the beginning. Not just words but drawings, tables, and diagrams appeared on page after page, providing the basis for the “more than mathematical” structure Yeats would incportorate in A Vision. (p.118).


At the beginning, however, it was necessary to sort out some personal matters. It is clear from the first surviving script of 5 November that the roles of Maud and Isuelt had already been discussed and would have to be understood before progress could be made not merely on the system but with Willy’s creativity. Fascination with his own obsessions took up many sittings before sense was made of twenty years of barren passion for Maud Gonne, his ammbivalent feelings towards Iseult, and, increasingly important as the full significance of George’s relationship with the Communicators became clear, the happy chance in choice of wife. [...] (p.118.)

[The] “sixth sense”, the sexual, became increasingly important as the Yeatses explored and developed the concept of a balanced relationship between creativity and sexuality, leading to that secular Holy Grail, Unity of Being. This, as the script prescribed, required “complete harmony between physicalbody intellect & spiritual desire - all may be imperfect but if harmony is perfect it is unity”, adding cryptically that the physical was necessary for “sensuous desire emotional desire spiritual desire”. Month after month the same message reappeared: “What reveals the new” “Equaal balance - that is also why equal balance in sexual iintercourse is not tiring - but it must be in both” “equal instinct & emotion” (3 Sept 1918 & 25 May 1919; Yeats’s Vision Papers, Vol. II, pp.41 & 289.) Years before John Butler Years had written to his eldest sone, “If only the fates would send him a very affectioate wife who would insist on being visibly and audibly loved - insist on it with tears and anger - she would be like Aaron’s rod striking the rock in the desert.” George’s automatic writing had become that rod.

[ ...]

What did they themselves believe? “Overwhelmed by miracle as all men must be when in the midst of it” (Intro., A Vision, B.), Yeats was by nature and inclination receptive to the conviction that in the trace state such revelations could occur. He had, after all, decided that “the ER case” had finally proved spirit identity. What Elizabeth Radcliffe’s scripts and his many sitting with other mediums had not offered was [126] “speculative power, or at any rate not equal to the mind’s action at its best . [it is] only in speculation, wit, the highest choice of the mind that they fail”. (Journal, July 1913; Reflection by Mr Yeats . transcribed by Curtis Bradford, Cuala 1970, pp.51-52.) There was no question of the scripts provided by George lacking such qualities. Nor was there any doubt that these powers were doubled by the “Wisdom of Two”. Yeats’s note to his poem “An Image from a Past Life”, which is based on a shared dream he and George experienced at Ballylee, offers one explanation: “No mind’s contents are necessarily shut off from another and in moments of excitement images pass from one mind to the other with extraordinary ease, perhaps most easily form that port of the mind which for the time being is outside consciousness . The second mind sees what the first has already seen - that is all.” (Quoted in Jeffares, W. B. Yeats: Man and Poet, p.210.) / The concept of thought transference or mental telepathy [coined by Frederic Myers] had been a major concern of the Society for Psychical Research ever since its founding. [.] (pp.126-27.)

Although George rejected what she referred to as ‘the old psychic research theory of the “subconscious”', she did believe that memory was a large part of all psychic phenomena; but she also insisted that discarnate beings appeared at séances. (GY to WBY, 24 Nov. 1931.) Neither she nor Willy appears to have doubted this link between telepathy and belief in an external consciousness. Their ghostly Instructors informed them that the process of automatic handwriting bore in fact some resemblance to telepathy in that both were mechanical; unlike the Anima Mundi which drew upon dream images, “The automatic faculty is a machinery & not a reservoir . it selects from memory in conscious waking states.’ (Ftn., cf. Script of 15 Jan. 1919: ‘The images from automatic are of the present life in its relation to the unity of self & the physical unity’; Yeats’s Vision Papers, Vol. III, p.65.)

[.] they and their Instructors continued to insist that their experience was different - distinguishing it from séances they had attended, articles they had read, examples they had heard of. On the other hand they believed that dreams were messages from the spiritual state; like astrology, dreaming might provide what could not be explained by telepathy. When a letter arrived from John Quinn after George dreamt of the same subject, Willy triumphantly announced: “This dream proves (like much else) that people explain by telepathy what telepathy has nothing to do with. No telepathy could have told George that your letter was about to arrive.” (30 Oct. 1920; concerning JQ’s tonsillitis.) By the time he wrote the second version of A Vision, Yeats had come to the conclusion that his and George’s knowledge, combined with help and encouragement from their personal daimons, may in fact have invented the entire system.

[Quotes from A Vision, B, Intro.:] “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. [.] 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 of a dream shared by my wife, by myself, occasionally by others - they have ... spoken through others without change of knowledge or loss of power - a dream that can take objective form in sounds, in hallucinations, in scents, in flashes of light, in movements of external objects.” ('A Packet for Ezra Pound, XII’; In A Vision [1937], pp.22-23; here p.129 [Saddlemyer’s ellipsis].)

But like George he never entirely gave up his belief in discarnate spirits, explaining one day to a startled Lady Gregory, “I believe there are emanations that communicate with me, giving knowledge now, but sometimes sent by the beings that exist somewhere outside us, to seek knowledge. In séances they give foolish answers because of want of knowledge; they are sent as questioners.” (1 Nov. 1924; Lady Gregory, The Journals; ed. Daniel Murphy, Gerrards Cross: Colin Smythe 1978, Vol. I, p.600.) He was somewhat less open, understandably, in print, but in 1928, having told the true story - against her wishes - of George’s automatic script, he went as far as he could: “Some will ask if I believe all that this book contains, and I will not know how to answer. Does the word belief, used as they will use it, belong to our age, can I think of the world as there and 1 standing here to judge it. 1 will never think any thoughts but these, or some modification or extension of these; when I write prose or verse they must he somewhere present though not it may be in the words; they must affect my Judgment of friends and of events.” ( A Packet for Ezra Pound, p.32-33; note var. from ‘A Packet . &c.’, in A Vision, XV, p.24f.]

Few who later came to know George Yeats personally would doubt her honesty. (p.130.)


Although I am reluctant to claim what is commonly thought of as mystical powers for George Yeats, it would appear that, in her entranced state, something did indeed “grasp her hand”. That something was akin to the ecstatic state in which, as Northrop Frye describes it, “the real self, whatever reality is and whatever the self is in this context, enters a different order of things from that of the now dispossessed ego.” and ‘all the doors of perception in the psyche, the doors of dream and fantasy as well as of waking consciousness, are thrown open.” ( Words with Power, pp.82-83.) So slender is the thread between this and the normal state that anything might disrupt concentration, which would explain in part the script’s frequent annoyance with Willy’s insistent questioning and persistence in pursuing one line of thought. While still in the Ashdown Forest Hotel the control insisted, “when you are doubting we begin to doubt too”, and later, “I don’t like you misdoubting script as it upset [sic] the communication. Much better not ask for facts No No but never for veryfactions [sic]’ (Yeats’s Vision Papers , Vol. I, 61 & Ibid., II, 454; here p.131.)


[Quotes W. B. Yeats to William Barrett:] ‘I think one should deal with a control on the working hypothesis that it is genuine. This does not mean that I feel any certainty on the point, but even if it is a secondary personality that should be the right treatment. The control believes that it is present for a purpose & is tortured by the feeling that it cannot carry out this purpose because we doubt its existence. As all experiments increase that torture by seeming a part of our doubt, they should be given up so far as that control is concerned, until it has regained tranquillity. In fact the control should be treated as a doctor would treat a nervous patient.’ (20 Dec. 1917; quoted in Harper, The Making of Yeats’s “A Vision”, S. Illinois UP 1987, Vol. I, p.75; here p.131.)

By 1952 George was prepared to admit to Virginia Moore that while in the beginning they did believe that the messages were “spirit-sent, and therefore [131] proof of communion between the living and the dead’, they later saw them ‘as a dramatised “apprehension of truth” .. from their own higher selves.’ (Moore, The Unicorn, p.277-78, 364.)

[.] her personal choices were influences by what she had to do to help the marriage and “perfection of the work”, and in this way she differed most obviously from his previous muse: Maud had grown disillusioned with the Golden Dawn and replaced it with the Castle of Heroes which she fervently believed in but would not commit herself to; Georgie provided revelation itself. Here was not to be merely a spiritual, but a mystical marriage. Willy exulted in one of his almost daily letters to Coole [i.e., to Lady Gregory:

”A very profound, very exciting mystical philosophy - which seems the fulfilment of many dreams and prophecies - is coming in strange ways to George and myself. It began of a sudden when things were at their worst with me, and just when it started came this curious message from Bessie Radcliffe ‘they departed with the rewards of divination in their hands.’ It is coming into my work a great deal and makes me feel that for the first time I understand human life . I live with a strange sense of revelation and never know what the day will bring. You will be astonished at the change in my work, at its intricate passion.’ (4 Jan. 1918 [postmark 7 Jan.], Wade, ed., Letters, London 1954, p.643-44.)

Whether you choose to call the extraordinary phenomenon that occurred in Ashdown Forest subconscious direction, cross-dreaming, extrasensory perception, subliminal consciousness, split subjectivity, telepathy, clairvoyance, channelling, psychic transcription, “faculty X”, “Mind Energy” [e.g., Colin Wilson, et al.], or plain hocus-pocus, the results are obvious. Clearly there were strong psychological advantages and equally strong emotional benefits to the role Georgie consciously chose to play in selecting automatic writing as her creative medium: as they worked out the system of what could become A Vision, George’s place in Willy’s affections was assured and heir marriage forged with a confidence and trust in each other’s frank responses which would last until death. More than that ‘friendly, serviceable & very able’ domestic partner he had hoped for, she was immediately established as the voice of truth, and for the rest of their lives together would continue to serve as unquestioned extension of his senses. If poetry was the essence of his creative genius, then the automatic writing, whether consciously initiated or not, became the essence of hers. In helping provide those metaphors for poetry, might not the poet in turn have become her form of creation?

Where got I that truth?
Out of a medium’s mouth,
Out of nothing it came,
Out of the forest loam,
Out of dark night where lay
The crowns of Nineveh.

[End chap.]

Note further:
When [Richard] Ellmann returned to Ireland in June 1946 their discussions continued; George was frank in her response to his interpretations and surprisingly forthcoming about her own life. she thought he was too sceptical about A Vision, but, although she obviously reread the automatic script in order to answer some of his questions, refused to let him study the notebooks himself, with her customary dismissive phrase, “That is too personal.” (Ellmann in conversation with Saddlemyer, 1985; here p.622.)

Saddlemyer notes that she deposited the manuscripts of the plays of Yeats in the National Library of Ireland for use by David Clark and further: ‘Once he asked her something about the Vision manuscripts, and was “most startled when she snapped back, ‘Oh, I don’t give two pins for all that.’ Then, realising what she had said, ‘I mean, it’s the poetry that’s important.’” (Unpub. memoir; Saddlemyer, p.625.)

To Kathleen Raine, who had not published for some time, she said ‘I was WBY’s rabbit-bolter’ (p.625.)

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