Friday, September 13, 2019

Pronouncing Michael Robartes and the gyre

I am asked with some regularity about two pronunciation questions that seem to nag at readers of later Yeats, neither of them to do with Irish names or recondite terms such as 'congeries', all of which can be checked relatively easily. (Apparently it's 'con-jérry-ez', by the way, with elements of variation.)

The questions are: How do you pronounce the name Robartes? And is the 'g' of  'gyre' hard or soft?

Though it has been a while since I learnt that the surname Robartes is generally pronounced as two syllables with the stress on the first, being a variant spelling of Roberts or Robards, I still find it hard to shake a preference for the pronunciation that I first adopted of three syllables with the stress on the second (a little like Pilates as opposed to Pontius Pilate). I don't think that there are any recordings of Yeats reading a poem that names him (U Penn has, I think, as full an archive as is possible from the few extant recordings), nor have I come across any record of what he said, but I accept that robarts is probably the best pronunciation.

The problem is a little different with 'gyre'. Here, the standard accepted pronunciation for the word is with a soft 'g', and it is given by the dictionary as jīr (I'm using Chambers). Many Irish accents, like most Scottish and US accents, would normally pronounce a retroflex 'r' at the end — /dʒaɪɹ/ or /dʒɻ /— while most English and some New England accents would have an open ending— /dʒaɪə/ .

However, Richard Ellmann states that the whirling symbol 'was a spiral, which Yeats preferred to call a gyre (and pronounced with a hard "g")' (Yeats: The Man and the Masks, p. 231). Although he gives no reason for this statement, he had probably heard it from George Yeats's own lips.* (Apparently Lewis Carroll also expected a hard 'g' for 'gyre' in 'The Jabberwocky', as the basis for this word, 'gyroscope', was pronounced with a hard 'g' in his day.)

Further confirmation comes from a typescript that Yeats dictated, where the word is misspelt as 'guyers', which indicates that the typist heard a hard 'g'. The word has been corrected in later occurrences.
NLI MS 36,272/24, p. 7

 (A similar instance elsewhere has the seventeenth-century theosophist Jakob Boehme typed up as 'Burmah'.)

Listening to Yeats's own readings of poetry, for instance 'The Lake Isle of Inisfree', the final 'r' sounds of 'there' and 'core' are strong, so that if one wants to follow what Yeats himself said, it would probably be /gaɪɻ / .

But do we adopt Yeats's pronunciation? Even if it goes against our own accent or region?  

How should the falcon and falconer of 'The Second Coming' be pronounced—long or short 'a'? with or without an 'l' sound? (fawk'n is a traditional pronunciation, as is fol-kon, but făl-kon has become general nowadays).
Does the philosopher George Berkeley echo London's Berkeley Square (barkly) or California's Berkeley University (birkly)? 
How close did Yeats intend a rhyme such as 'work' and 'clerk' to be in 'At Galway Races'? ('clerk' rhymes with bark in most British accents, but the rhyme implies clurk).

Do we keep an early-twentieth-century pronunciation in the twenty-first century? We know that Wordsworth and Byron rhymed water and matter, while Pope rhymed line and join. Do we keep the rhyme in order to preserve the internal sound patterns and music—and risk sounding ridiculous—or do we accept that time and place may erode some of these sound elements?  

As neither 'Robartes' nor 'gyre' is in any danger of being misunderstood if we pronounce it either way, we may prefer accepted standard usage or to heed what Yeats himself said, but there is nothing to stop our Robartes being trisyllabic if we choose and our gyres from being soft.


*Note (added May 2023): Curtis Bradford, in his article 'George Yeats: Poet's Wife', confirms that she would have been the source: 'Her verbal memory was astonishing and, in spite of the difference of sex and hence of vocal quality, I found her by far the most convincing imitator of Yeats talking or reading poetry.... She could always suggest the right Yeatsian stress: 'My fànatic hèart"; recollect Yeatsian peculiarities of pronunciation: "B zàn ti um", "gyres" with a hard "g", "gyrate" with a soft, "demesne" as though spelled domain, and so on.' (written in 1955; published in The Sewanee Review, 77: 3 (Summer, 1969), 385-404, at 398; ).



Thursday, September 5, 2019

Plotinus and "A Vision", Part I

An important element of Yeats's understanding of the spiritual elements of the system, including the Principles and the Thirteenth Cone, came through his reading of Plotinus. Yeats read The Enneads as they came out in the translations of Stephen MacKenna, an Irish nationalist and great friend of John Millington Synge. Yeats had a copy of the first translation, Plotinus on the Beautiful (YL 1594, WBGYL 1606), which appeared from A. H. Bullen's Shakespeare Head Press in 1908, the same year as his own Collected Works. The Medici Society started to publish translations of the Enneads in order in 1917 (see YL 1589-93, WBGYL 1601-5)—the copy of Vol. 1 in the Yeats's library has George Yeats's bookplate (she already had copies of Thomas Taylor's early nineteenth-century selected translations.) The Yeatses also bought Dean Inge's Gifford Lectures on Plotinus in 1919 (YL 954, WBGYL 964).

By the time that A Vision A appeared, the first three volumes of MacKenna's translations, containing the first four Enneads, had been published. Yeats refers specifically to Plotinus's hypostases in "The Four Principles and Neo-Platonic Philosophy":
I have not considered the ultimate origin of things, nor have my documents thrown a direct light upon it. The word Anima Mundi frequently occurs and is used very much as in the philosophy of Plotinus. I am inclined to discover in the Celestial Body, the Spirit, the Passionate Body, and the Husk, emanations from or reflections from his One, his Intellectual Principle, his Soul of the World, and his Nature respectively. The Passionate Body is described as that which links one being to another, and that which rescues the Celestial Body from solitude, and this is part of the office of the Soul of the World in Plotinus. As actually used in the documents Anima Mundi is the receptacle of emotional images when purified from whatever unites them to one man rather than to another. The 13th, 14th and 15th cycles are described as Spheres, and are certainly emanations from the Soul of the World, the Intellectual Principle and the One respectively, but there is a fundamental difference, though perhaps only of expression, between the system and that of Plotinus. In Plotinus the One is the Good, whereas in the system Good and Evil are eliminated before the Soul can be united to Reality, being that stream of phenomena that drowns us. (AVA 176, CW13 143-44)
Yeats's schema is therefore relatively clear:  the three supernatural cycles or Spheres are seen as expressions of Plotinus's three hypostases, The One, The Intellectual Principle, and The Soul of the World. There is a more tenuous relationship to the Four Principles, and this also presents the perennial problem of adapting a trinity to a quaternity or vice versa (one that he had encountered when writing on The Works of William Blake), but Yeats introduces a fourth term that probably owes as much to his work on Blake as reading of Plotinus: Nature. (In the WWB, Yeats had treated Nature as the mirror of the Holy Ghost, see

It is difficult from this simple set of correspondences to say how clear an idea Yeats actually had of Plotinus's hypostases or how far he saw the parallels as going.  Part of the attraction of Neoplatonism in this context appears to be that it enabled Yeats to include elements of the automatic script that dealt with the Christian Trinity but within a form of pagan language. Plotinus's philosophy is eminently primary in most respects—"Plotinus' ecstasy" is after all the "ecstasy of the Saint" (AVA 215, CW13 177)—but his vision retains enough of antithetical Greek paganism to make it palatable to Yeats. The Trinity of Christian faith is given as the One (the Father), the Nous, Logos, or Intellectual Principle (the Son), and the Soul of the World (the Holy Ghost). While Yeats, writing as himself, identifies his Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Cycles beyond physical incarnation with Plotinus’s hypostases (AVA 176, CW13 142–43), he has the  character of Owen Aherne identify them with the Christian Trinity (AVA 236, CW13 194).

Importantly, though, Yeats continued his study of Plotinus as he rewrote A Vision. Stephen MacKenna wrote to his patron Ernest Debenham in October 1926 reporting his pleasure at an article by AE and added:
Another little encouragement: Yeats, a friend tells me, came to London, glided into a bookshop and dreamily asked for the new Plotinus, began to read there and then, and read on and on till he'd finished (he really has a colossal brain, you know), and now is preaching Plotinus to all his train of attendant Duchesses. He told my friend that he intended to give the winter in Dublin to Plotinus. (Journals and Letters of Stephen MacKenna, 235)
What appears in the drafts of the late 1920s certainly shows increased attention given to Plotinus and his thought. (Continued in Part II.)

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Confessions of an English Literature student

I was lucky to have many great teachers at school and university, but one of the most important for me was Stephen Gill at Lincoln College, Oxford. His academic interests were communicated with passion and they included George Eliot, Elizabeth Gaskell, and D. H. Lawrence, novelists of realism and social commitment. But foremost, at least in my impression, was his expertise in and love of William Wordsworth. He could quote with facility from throughout Wordsworth's work, but did so most frequently from The Prelude. It no doubt helped that he had been one of the joint editors of the Norton parallel text of the two full versions of that epic, along with its earlier proto-type.

     I'm aware that certain passages have half-consciously informed my reading of some themes in Yeats's A Vision. Such associations are probably inevitable for the Eng. Lit. student, sometimes because they reflect perennial concerns and sometimes they are just capriciously personal connections. I hope that these examples will resonate for others as well as for me and that they have illuminated my reading of Yeats, not sidetracked it.

     Two in particular stick in my mind. The first is the account of crossing of the Alps in Book VI of The Prelude, where Wordsworth addresses the power of Imagination which is compared to "an unfather'd vapour", showing the "invisible world" in flashes, intimating that:
Our destiny, our nature, and our home
Is with infinitude, and only there;
With hope it is, hope that can never die,
Effort, and expectation, and desire,
And something evermore about to be. (The Prelude [1805], VI: 538–42)*
This final line in particular seems to me to intimate something of the divine nature that Yeats imagines in the Thirteenth Cone, or rather in the Sphere—that all being and becoming tends to "infinitude",and that if the goal were ever reached it would be a stasis. Certainly this passage also seems to echo Yeats's conception of the nature of life—that, as spirits reflected into time and space, the goal is the timeless and spaceless, but that effort and desire driving us on is more important than the goal (in contrast to Buddha's Four Noble Truths, which aim to eliminate striving and desire).
[And this recalls, in turn, T. S. Eliot's Burnt Norton, with its vision of "the still point of the turning world" and the statement that "the world moves / In appetency, on its metalled ways / Of time past and time future"—that word "appetency" being a slightly more pedantic but precise and concise version of hope/effort/expectation/desire/becoming. Such chains of association are probably also inevitable for the Eng. Lit. student.]

    The second passage is connected and, as I copy it here, even more connected than I had probably realized. In Book II, Wordsworth writes of "the visionary power" imparted by his solitary communion with nature and the "fleeting moods / Of shadowy exultation", because:
                … the soul,
Remembering how she felt, but what she felt
Remembering not, retains an obscure sense
Of possible sublimity, whereto
With growing faculties she doth aspire,
With faculties still growing, feeling still
That whatsoever point they gain, they yet
Have something to pursue. (The Prelude [1805], II: 334–51)**
I cannot but recall this passage when I read Yeats's description of the basis of the Faculties in terms of incarnations, "the four memories of the Daimon or ultimate self", such that:
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. (AVB 83, CW14 61–62)
Yeats places the memories of exaltation (or sublimity) within the framework of reincarnations, so that the sublime moments of former lives are distilled into the Mask of this life, the goal and focus of our being or Will, but always with the sense that the goal is more important for the direction that it gives than for the possibility of actual attainment. Will is the appetent Faculty, moving always towards Mask, seeking and desiring it. Importantly, the actual memories of past lives are unimportant as the essence is contained within the current Faculties, and it is not "what [the soul] felt" but "how she felt" that matters.
[And this recalls, in turn, the close of Alfred Tennyson's poem "Ulysses", where an ageing Odysseus, chafing at life on Ithaca after his return, proposes a final voyage to his companions:
              ... my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.
Tho' much is taken, much abides; and tho'
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are:
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.]

All these are connected by the importance of striving and thus with the physical world of the tinctures and Faculties, which only "mirror reality but are in themselves pursuit and illusion" (AVB 73, CW14 53). In a draft, Yeats writes that "the Principles are value and attainment, the Faculties process and search" (cited ARGYV 96) but the Faculties are the tools or interfaces by which the Principles interact with the world and may attain the value that they represent.

In the section on crossing the Alps, Wordsworth is close to Yeats's beloved Shelley in seeing the Alps as  symbols of "The everlasting universe of things..." ("Mont Blanc"). The scene of the mountains, waterfalls, winds, and sublime nature are seen as "Characters of the great Apocalypse, / The types and symbols of Eternity, / Of first and last, and midst, and without end" (The Prelude [1805], VI, 570–72). These intimate the world of the Principles, in the final objective spiritual reality of Thirteenth Cone:
But the 13th Cone, enters in some measure into all Spirits we must then expect some image of it in all things. Primar[il]y it is in those things which Blake called in Heaven & Hell too great for the eye of man. It is there where the painters & poets find it, storm, the starlit sky, spring abundance...

The 13 Cone is reflected in those parts of external nature uncontrolable by us—sea, sky, growth & so on. As an internal experience the 13th Cone is the spiritual reality [that] transcends experience, but is touched by all at the highest moment.… We enter in the Beatitude an experience that can only enter our embodied experience when symbolized by all that is most tremendous in nature… 
(Yeats, 1930 Diary)
Maybe Yeats and Wordsworth have more in common than may appear at first glance.

There do not seem to be any good recordings of The Prelude readily available. The following links should take you to the relevant passages in a reading of the complete poem. They are less than ideal as they give the 1850 version of the poem and are read by amateurs of varying strength.

*Book VI: "Imagination... like an unfathered vapour..." 

**Book II: "I deem not profitless those fleeting moods of shadowy exultation..."

Friday, August 23, 2019

A note on the Golden Dawn

It is common nowadays to use "Golden Dawn" to refer to all the orders that share the bulk of the original Golden Dawn material, starting from the Cipher Manuscript "discovered" by William Wynn Westcott and most of it assembled or created by Samuel Liddell MacGregor Mathers.

We have books, blogs, web sites, tarot packs, and modern versions that blazon the name, including George Mills Haper's Yeats's Golden Dawn. However, during Yeats's lifetime "Golden Dawn":

(1) was never used outside their own circle and was almost always presented as unexplained initials "G. D." or "G∴ D∴";
(2) was properly applied only to the "outer" part of the order (the inner was the Order of the R.R. & A.C.—variously expanded as Rosae Rubeae et Aureae Crucis or Rubidae Rosae et Aureae Crucis, both meaning "red rose and golden cross");
(3) was dropped in 1902 following the scandalous Horos court case* and replaced with M.R. (the German Morgenröthe, "dawn", lit. "morning redness"); and
(4) disappeared when the renamed order dissolved over the next few years into several schismatic groups, including the Stella Matutina, the successor group that WBY was involved with into the 1920s.

     Confusion can arise if all the successors are referred to casually as "Golden Dawn", so that Charles Williams's involvement with the Fellowship of the Rosy Cross can be conflated with Dion Fortune's involvement in the Alpha et Omega or George Yeats's in the Stella Matutina.

     A fuller form of the name now widely used is the “Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn,” but Nick Farrell, who has both scholarly authority and practical interest in the history of the order, maintains in his biography of MacGregor Mathers, King over the Water,† that:
the Golden Dawn was never called the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn (HOGD). That name was invented by Regardie for his book. The First Order was called the Golden Dawn in the Outer (GDO) although on some letterheads it was called the Esoteric Order of the Golden Dawn. Hermetic Order does appear on some letter heads and course material but it was never the Order's name.
(King over the Water, 17, [referring to this blog posting].)

     Certainly the form of "Order of the G. D. in the Outer" is what appears on Yeats's invitation "To initiate you"—where he was also told to "Ask for Mr Mathers, & the Hermetic Students' Meeting", and the "Hermetic Students" was the name that Yeats used for the group in his autobiographical writing (Au 575, CW3 453):
The invitation to WBY's initiation (pasted into NLI MS 36,276/2). Though his autobiography  states that he joined “in May or June of 1887” ( Au 183, CW3 160), the order was not formed until 1888 and the date here is 7 March 1890. Click on the image for a clearer version.

As Farrell indicates, course material kept by WBY and his uncle George Pollexfen contains ownership plates with “Hermetic Order of the G. D.,” often with the “G. D.” overwritten with “M. R.” (i.e., "Morgenröthe").¶

Click on the images for clearer versions (though still poor resolution—apologies).

     In the end, however, it seems impossible to fight for too much accuracy over a name that was possibly even hazy to those who used it at the time—when we only ever use initials, they take over from the full name. Though it entails major caveats, less explanation is required and it is almost accurate to say that Georgie Hyde Lees joined the Golden Dawn on 24 July 1914, sponsored by W. B. Yeats (Saddlemyer, Becoming George, 66-68).

      The name "Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn" is probably a modern invention, but is succinct and has become standard. In a similar way Yeats's project for "Celtic mysteries" at the Castle of Heroes in Lough Key are often now referred to as the "Celtic Mystical Order", a term that had no currency at the time (see Collected Letters 2, 663-69), .

 * For the Horos case, see chapter 1 of R. A. Gilbert's, The Golden Dawn Scrapbook: The Rise and Fall of a Magical Order (York Beach, ME: Samuel Weiser, 1997).

† Nick Farrell, King over the Water; Samuel Mathers and the Golden Dawn (Dublin: Kerubim Press, 201); see also Mathers' Last Secret (revised): The Rituals and Teachings of Alpha et Omega (Rosicrucian Order of the Golden Dawn, 2011).

¶ See items passim in groups NLI MSS 36,276–36,280, listed in National Library of Ireland's Collection List No. 60, “Occult Papers of W. B. Yeats”, compiled by Peter Kenny.

Friday, May 10, 2019

We Die into Our Imaginations

I recently came across a provocative speculation about the growing literature on near-death experiences, their relation to "vision", and the relationship of vision to art. This is from a professor of philosophy and religion, Jeffrey Kripal, reflecting on such a near-death experience recounted by Elizabeth Krohn. This seems to me particularly relevant to Yeats's A Vision and his art in a number of ways, so that I will quote at greater length than I normally would.
The modern near-death accounts are made possible in their increasing number and depth by the advances of biomedical technology, which can “pull us back” from further and further into the death process. This might look like a minor observation, but it has major implications for how we think about the near-death literature as a whole. What we have in the near-death stories, after all, is essentially a new mystical or visionary literature made possible by new biomedical technology....
     The English expression “to have a vision” is very helpful here, as it can mean two very different things. First, it can name a more or less passive process. “To have a vision” in this sense is to be given something, as in a dream. But the same phrase can also name a process that is much more active, that is about creating and projecting something and then working toward actualizing that projected vision in the future. Here, “to have a vision” is to make something actual that was previously only potential. As such, it is more akin to writing, directing, and then projecting a movie. When I refer to the modern near-death literature as a visionary literature and write of our vision-work here, I intend both meanings: something is received or revealed, and then something is created out of the gift. I mean to suggest that these revelatory visions of our own deeper nature are also projects that we must engage with and act on; that these need our attention and intention to fulfill their purpose; and that they are finally about us changing us.
     We can think of the entire history of religions in this way. We can think of it all as a long series of science fiction movies—with the scenes painted on the walls (of the caves, of the churches, of the temples), and all of it inspired by countless and quite real supernatural special effects (like precognition and auras). For thousands of generations, we have been born and then died into these running science fiction movies, changing the scenes and stories as we go, largely unconsciously and gradually, but sometimes dramatically and, seemingly, all at once.
     Not surprisingly, the religions have always known something of this, if in a largely implicit, unconscious, or at least unexpressed way. This is why they have so richly supported and funded the arts, not for art’s sake, but for the vision’s sake. They understood very well that it is the image and the story that ultimately define a community’s worldview and religious experience. We do not have to share any of those values or beliefs (that is, we do not have to believe their movies) to see that they may well have been on to something very important, namely, that it is the image and the arts that largely determine what we see and what happens to us in the death process and in the afterlife, at least in the “near-death” zones from which we sometimes return.
     In short, we die into our imaginations, be these psychological, cultural, or religious. We die into our own personal and collective art....
     If any of this is close to the truth, and I think it is, the conclusion is as obvious as it is shocking: if we want better death experiences, it would do us well to make better art. If we want to be in a better science fiction movie “there,” it would serve us to make better science fiction movies “here.” Toward this same end, we might even decide to take up the modern near-death literature and create new art, i.e., new meditation and prayer practices out of it. We might use this literature and these reports to imagine what death might be like for us, or better, what we might want it to be like. By doing so, we could take more responsibility for our own visionary displays and work with them, as in a lucid dream, here and now before we die. We could not just “see visions.” We could also “have a vision”; that is, we could possess a vision of the future and consciously act on it as our project. We could decide for ourselves which paintings we want to die into.
     If we were really smart, we would also create practices that taught us that none of these forms of the imagination are literally true, that they are all “ours.” We might then seek the artist behind all the art, the projector behind all the movies. We might even wake up from our own dreams of life and death, however real they might seem at the moment.
Jeffrey J. Kripal, Professor of Philosophy and Religious Thought at Rice University,
Elizabeth G. Krohn, Changed in a Flash (Berkeley: North Atlantic Books, 2019).
     Yeats's descriptions of the "bardo", the states existence between death and rebirth, in A Vision include differing levels and kinds of dream state, particularly in the first part where the soul deals with understanding the foregoing life. One in particular, which he calls the Phantasmagoria, is connected with "those among the dead who imagine themselves 'surrounded by flames and persecuted by demons'" and to the ghost in a Noh play who cannot stop believing herself "surrounded by flames" (AVB 230–31, CW14 168). All, however, take place within a construct where the enveloping dreams are created out of the soul itself and the community it is part of, both the "timeless and spaceless community of Spirits which perceive each other" ("Seven Propositions"), and also the community of our earthly life, particularly at the level of culture, art, and religion.
     Kripal suggests that artists contribute to the afterlife experienced by their society by forming the individual and collective imagination, which Yeats also suggests in poems such as "The Tower", where he states:
I mock Plotinus' thought
And cry in Plato's teeth,
Death and life were not
Till man made up the whole,
Made lock, stock and barrel
Out of his bitter soul, 
Aye, sun and moon and star, all, 
And further add to that
That, being dead, we rise, 
Dream and so create
Translunar Paradise.
I have prepared my peace
With learned Italian things
And the proud stones of Greece,
Poet’s imaginings
And memories of love,
Memories of the words of women,
All those things whereof
Man makes a superhuman
Mirror-resembling dream. (VP 415, CW1 198–99, 2nd ed. 202)
Plato bans the artists from his republic because they create only lies or imitations of the true forms, but Yeats sees the artists as giving access to those forms, even if what is created is "a superhuman / Mirror-resembling dream" that reflects ourselves back to ourselves. Life and death are both included in the human visionary act, created from the imagination of the "bitter soul". In A Vision A, Yeats goes as far as to suggest that "time and space [are] the work of our ancestors", in the sense that the souls of the dead who do not reincarnate and "have found an almost changeless rest" are responsible for the "least changing things" in the universe, represented by the "Fixed Stars" (AVA 158, CW13 128) or the translunary world of traditional thought, while the living and the reincarnating dead create together the sublunary world. But Yeats's thought is fixed on the "Translunar Paradise" he will create through the art of Renaissance Italy and classical Greece, love poetry and memories.  
     In "Sailing to Byzantium" his inspiration is Byzantine mosaics and he asks the "sages standing in God's holy fire" to "be the singing masters of my soul" and to help form his existence once he is no longer "fastened to a dying animal" (VP 408, CW1 193, 2nd ed. 198). He asks them to "gather me / Into the artifice of eternity", recognizing that eternity is experienced through the artifice created by the soul and its song.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

A Reader's Guide to Yeats's "A Vision"—Update and Discount

 A Reader's Guide to Yeats's "A Vision" is available now from Amazon in the US and in the UK, with slight savings, but also with good previews of the early chapters. They use the e-book version, which includes colour in a few of the diagrams. 
Click here for a link to the full flyer
Discounts of 30% are available by ordering directly from—
Liverpool University Press, with the code: LUP30
or Oxford University Press (in the US and the Americas), with the code: ADISTAS

Thursday, February 14, 2019


My friend from Asia has powers and magic, he plucks a blue leaf from the young blue-gum
And gazing upon it, gathering and quieting
The God in his mind, creates an ocean more real than the ocean, the salt, the actual
Appalling presence, the power of the waters.
He believes that nothing is real except as we make it. I humbler have found in my blood
Bred west of Caucasus a harder mysticism.
Multitude stands in my mind but I think that the ocean in the bone vault is only
The bone vault’s ocean: out there is the ocean’s;
The water is the water, the cliff is the rock, come shocks and flashes of reality. The mind
Passes, the eye closes, the spirit is a passage;
The beauty of things was born before eyes and sufficient to itself; the heartbreaking beauty
Will remain when there is no heart to break for it.

Robinson Jeffers

Friday, February 8, 2019

A Reader's Guide to Yeats's "A Vision"

A Reader's Guide to Yeats's 'A Vision' has just been published.

JUST PUBLISHED by Clemson University Press
a new introduction to the context and system of A Vision


1 Overview: The Book of A Vision
2 Genesis: Making and Remaking A Vision
3 Background: Antecedents and Assumptions
4 Presentation: Gyres and Geometry
5 Spirits: Determinism and Free Will
6 Being: Human and Divine
7 The Faculties: Action and Pursuit
8 The Principles: Reality and Value
9 The Daimon: Opposition and Essence
10 The Divine: One and Many
11 The Circles of Life: Wheels and Rebirth
12 The Twenty-Eight Incarnations: Lives and Phases
13 After Life: Understanding and Preparation
14 History: Cycles and Influx
15 Reframing A Vision
Appendix: People in Phases

The cover art is by Jaff Seijas.

With 39 diagrams. An associated glossary of terms and a bibliography are available here.

A Reader's Guide to Yeats's 'A Vision' by Neil Mann is published by Clemson University Press.
Orders are already shipping from Liverpool University Press for Europe—copies have arrived in Limerick!—and will shortly be available in North America through Oxford University Press.

There is also an e-book available through Liverpool University Press and, at current exchange rates, the sterling price is lower than the dollar equivalent in the United States, though still ridiculously high. The format is PDF and some of the diagrams contain colour for added contrast. Unfortunately the endnotes are not hyperlinked.

Amazon lists the book, but apparently does not have any stock and will not ship for some time. For Europe, copies are best ordered from Liverpool University Press.

An essential book for anyone starting out to read A Vision .... a must-have book for the serious reader of A Vision.     —    Colin McDowell

This is research-led teaching at its very best. As the "one deep student" of A Vision, Neil Mann is the perfect companion, and his is a lucid, patient, and uncompromising guide to Yeats's book of such strangeness, candor, and compelling dignity.     —    Warwick Gould

Neil Mann provides here a long-needed companion to W. B. Yeats's strange and fascinating text A Vision, to which he will bring a much-deserved wider audience. That for each subject addressed, Mann provides an overview followed by an array of further detail means that A Vision will become more luminous both to new students of Yeats and lifelong devotees. We are fortunate to have such a skilled and knowledgeable Vision scholar as Mann elucidating both the workings of Yeats's system itself and its centrality to his poetry.     —    Catherine E. Paul

One hundred years after the first months of the "miracle" that led W. B. Yeats to write A Vision, one of the twentieth century's most difficult treatises has found its first thoroughly reliable and enjoyable guide. In Neil Mann's elegant and comprehensive book, Yeats's "unexplained rule of thumb that somehow explained the world" is explicated without having its essential wildness tamed. Mann is one of the world's most knowledgeable scholars of A Vision, and he has given us a clear and readable book that is a model of balance and erudition. Specialists and general readers of Yeats will turn again and again to this guide with relief and pleasure. Thanks to all spirits that it is here!     —    Margaret Mills Harper

Sunday, January 6, 2019


Today is the Feast of Epiphany, commemorating the arrival of the "wise men from the east" in Bethlehem, bearing gifts of "gold, and frankincense, and myrrh" (Matthew 2:1–11). This story is given in the Gospel of Matthew, while most of the other elements—no room at the inn, the manger, and of the adoration of the shepherds—are drawn from Luke (the ox and the ass are later additions to the legend). Though many of us have become used to the fusion of the two—mainly through the hymns or readings associated with Christmas and the tradition of the nativity scene or crèche—in art, most of the old masters represent the adoration of the shepherds and the adoration of the Magi (kings or wise men) separately.

Sandro Boticelli, The Adoration of the Magi, ca. 1480, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D. C.
Yeats takes these two adorations as archetypes. In the notes to The Wind Among the Reeds (1899), he characterizes three speakers of the collection's poems:* "'Michael Robartes' is fire reflected in water", "Hanrahan is fire blown by the wind", "Aedh ... fire burning by itself". Yeats then goes on:
To put it a different way, Hanrahan is the the simplicity of an imagination too changeable to gather permanent possessions, or the adoration of the shepherds; and Michael Robartes is the pride of the imagination brooding upon the greatness of its possessions, or the adoration of the Magi; while Aedh is the myrrh and frankincense that the imagination offers continually before all that it loves. (Variorum Poems, 803)
The Wind Among the Reeds (London: Elkin Matthews, 1899)

Yeats says that "It is probable that only students of the magical tradition will understand" the elemental attributions, and it is clear that he is drawing upon symbolism that includes the astrological fire, associated with intuition and imagination, while water is associated with emotion and air with intellect. He links Hanrahan and Robartes further to the idea of possession—a more earthy association, but imaginatively as much the possession of learning—and to the idea of two different revelations: the unexpected angel appearing to the shepherds in their fields, opposed to the studied revelation of the star that leads the wise men to Judea, where it is then related to written prophecy. Neither revelation is better, and though the unburdened spontaneity of the airy imagination might seem superior, the dedicated mission of the Magi is an important part of the mystery too. What the shepherds may have gained by simplicity of heart, the Magi have gained through great learning, but both have arrived at the same truth.

Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, The Adoration of the Shepherds, 1668, Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia.

Yeats wrote his own story "The Adoration of the Magi" at much the same time (1897), and his three old brothers from the western islands of Ireland have qualities of both the shepherds and the Magi. Simple countrymen, they are inspired by a voice to visit Paris, in search of a place where they finally find a dying prostitute. The god Hermes speaks through one of them and tells them to bow down and hear “the secret names of the immortals” that “the immortals may come again into the world” (Variorum Secret Rose 168var; see Mythologies 2005 424n13), and the dying woman appears to give the secrets of religious mysteries, such as those Yeats was attempting to create at Lough Key: “she told them the secret names of the immortals of many lands, and of the colours, and odours, and weapons, and instruments of music and instruments of handicraft they held dearest; but most about the immortals of Ireland and of their love for the cauldron, and the whetstone, and the sword, and the spear, and the hills of the Shee, and the horns of the moon, and the Grey Wind, and the Yellow Wind, and the Black Wind, and the Red Wind” (VSR 170var). When Yeats revised the story in the 1920s, while he was writing the first version of A Vision, instead of these revelations of these ancient secrets, the dying whore gives birth to a unicorn, though the birth is unseen and supernatural and recounted by Hermes.
Georges Lallemand, The Adoration of the Magi, c. 1624, Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia.

The revelation comes differently, but the import is ultimately the same—the advent of a new religious dispensation, which is first glimpsed by those who have the gift of grace or the result of preparation.

When Yeats looked back on his days in the Golden Dawn of the 1890s, he recalled:
We all, so far as I can remember, differed from ordinary students of philosophy or religion through our belief that the truth cannot be discovered but may be revealed, and that if a man do not lose faith, and if he go through certain preparations, revelation will find him at the fitting moment. I remember a learned brassfounder in the North of England who visited us occasionally, and was convince that there was a certain moment in every year which, once known, brought with it "The Summum Bonum, the Stone of the Wise." But others, for it was clear that there must be a vehicle or symbol of communication, were of the opinion that some messenger would make himself known, in a railway train let us say, or might be found after search in some distant land. (AVA x–xi, CW13 liv)

*Four names actually feature in the poems' original titles—Mongan is the fourth—alongside "the Poet"; these were later changed to a generic "He..." or "The Lover...".