Irish poet William Yeats was one of the most representative figures of 20th century literature. His work is a fortunate gathering of nationalist, historical and mythological elements which, as Auden once said, constitute some of the ‘most beautiful of modern times.’

But Yeats also had a special interest in occultism and spiritualism. In 1890 he joined Golden Dawn, a secret society that practiced ritual magic. The society offered its members the instruction and initiation into this art in ten different levels; the last three levels were reserved exclusively for the magi (who were believed to be possessors of a supernatural wisdom and the length of their lives were supposed to be magically extended). Yeats was fascinated by the possibility of becoming a magus and he was convinced that his mind was capable of perceiving what lay beyond the limits of materialist rationalism.

Together with his wife, Georgiana Hyde-Lees —who also joined the society— he created an esoteric masterpiece named A Vision (1925; substantially revised in 1937). This volume gathers the written texts that resulted after exhaustively experimenting with the ‘automatic writing’ phenomenon, where the hand and the pen were used as unconscious instruments that the realm of the spirits would use to convey information. Yeats and Georgina produced almost four-thousand pages which he thoroughly studied and organized. This exercise resulted in an intricate symbolic system which also has geometrical, astrological, psychological, metaphysical and historical components; a model of the entire universe.

This article will not provide the reader with an absolute definition of the system, but simply, outline a modest map with some of the symbols the poet developed in his extensive treaty and it will also provide a microscopic panorama of the beauty and the mysticism that can be found encompassed in A Vision. Through the scarce knowledge of this cyclical system, perhaps some of the symbolic references can be discerned lying underneath its tardy poetry.

VManMoonQs

Yeats sustained that certain patterns, which he called gyres, existed: covered cones that represent the combinations of opposites within a personal and historical nature. One of these cones is represented by Concordia, unity; the other by Discordia, desire. Within this symbolism, the cone of Discordia (which he also refers to as the ‘antithetical tincture’) is our imaginative side, which is incessant, it separates one man from the next (which can also be understood on subjective terms, those of beauty). In turn, the cone of Concordia (also known as the ‘primal tincture’) is our detached, intellectual side, that which leads us back to the crowd we belong to (which can be understood on terms of objectivity or truth). To truly grasp the nature of the universe we need sobriety and detachment. ‘The antithetical tincture’, Yeats points out in A Vision, ‘is emotional and aesthetic, while the primary tincture is reasonable and moral.’ It is hard to separate these two since one is defined in relation to the other, however, because the antithetical one is the basis of life and humanity (opposing life after life and spiritual knowledge), Yeats, almost invariably, deals with the antithetic as the typical center of his endeavors, and the primal, despite its name, is forced to play a secondary role.

the-gyre-tr-henn2

This brilliant Irishman asserts that gyres came into being after the divine pregnancy of a mortal woman: first, the rape of Leda (the mother of Helen of Troy) by Zeus, later on, the immaculate conception of Mary (mother of Jesus). Yeats found a pattern that suggested that emblematic moments took place in the middle (during the half-thousand years) of every two-thousand year era. He thought these were moments of equilibrium, points in time when civilization reached moments of excellence as proof he quoted the splendor of Athens in 500 B.C, Byzantium in 500 A.D, and the Italian Renaissance in 1500 A.D.

colhgfont

He then created liaisons between these historical cycles and the 28-day lunar cycle, and asserted that physical existence continuously grows until it reaches its highest peak during the full moon (stage 15), which he described as the perfect beauty. In what remains of the cycle, the physical existence gradually decreases until it completely disappears into the new moon, which he described as the perfect truth, which is also the point where the cycle begins once again. He then added to this scheme by assigning particular stages to specific personality types; in this way, even if a person can experience stages 2 through 14 and 16 through to 28 during the course of their lives, a single stage can generally characterize the individual’s entire life. Most of these symbolic patterns (gyres, lunar stages) are an important part of the poems and the texts he wrote in the second half of his life.

.

Irish poet William Yeats was one of the most representative figures of 20th century literature. His work is a fortunate gathering of nationalist, historical and mythological elements which, as Auden once said, constitute some of the ‘most beautiful of modern times.’

But Yeats also had a special interest in occultism and spiritualism. In 1890 he joined Golden Dawn, a secret society that practiced ritual magic. The society offered its members the instruction and initiation into this art in ten different levels; the last three levels were reserved exclusively for the magi (who were believed to be possessors of a supernatural wisdom and the length of their lives were supposed to be magically extended). Yeats was fascinated by the possibility of becoming a magus and he was convinced that his mind was capable of perceiving what lay beyond the limits of materialist rationalism.

Together with his wife, Georgiana Hyde-Lees —who also joined the society— he created an esoteric masterpiece named A Vision (1925; substantially revised in 1937). This volume gathers the written texts that resulted after exhaustively experimenting with the ‘automatic writing’ phenomenon, where the hand and the pen were used as unconscious instruments that the realm of the spirits would use to convey information. Yeats and Georgina produced almost four-thousand pages which he thoroughly studied and organized. This exercise resulted in an intricate symbolic system which also has geometrical, astrological, psychological, metaphysical and historical components; a model of the entire universe.

This article will not provide the reader with an absolute definition of the system, but simply, outline a modest map with some of the symbols the poet developed in his extensive treaty and it will also provide a microscopic panorama of the beauty and the mysticism that can be found encompassed in A Vision. Through the scarce knowledge of this cyclical system, perhaps some of the symbolic references can be discerned lying underneath its tardy poetry.

VManMoonQs

Yeats sustained that certain patterns, which he called gyres, existed: covered cones that represent the combinations of opposites within a personal and historical nature. One of these cones is represented by Concordia, unity; the other by Discordia, desire. Within this symbolism, the cone of Discordia (which he also refers to as the ‘antithetical tincture’) is our imaginative side, which is incessant, it separates one man from the next (which can also be understood on subjective terms, those of beauty). In turn, the cone of Concordia (also known as the ‘primal tincture’) is our detached, intellectual side, that which leads us back to the crowd we belong to (which can be understood on terms of objectivity or truth). To truly grasp the nature of the universe we need sobriety and detachment. ‘The antithetical tincture’, Yeats points out in A Vision, ‘is emotional and aesthetic, while the primary tincture is reasonable and moral.’ It is hard to separate these two since one is defined in relation to the other, however, because the antithetical one is the basis of life and humanity (opposing life after life and spiritual knowledge), Yeats, almost invariably, deals with the antithetic as the typical center of his endeavors, and the primal, despite its name, is forced to play a secondary role.

the-gyre-tr-henn2

This brilliant Irishman asserts that gyres came into being after the divine pregnancy of a mortal woman: first, the rape of Leda (the mother of Helen of Troy) by Zeus, later on, the immaculate conception of Mary (mother of Jesus). Yeats found a pattern that suggested that emblematic moments took place in the middle (during the half-thousand years) of every two-thousand year era. He thought these were moments of equilibrium, points in time when civilization reached moments of excellence as proof he quoted the splendor of Athens in 500 B.C, Byzantium in 500 A.D, and the Italian Renaissance in 1500 A.D.

colhgfont

He then created liaisons between these historical cycles and the 28-day lunar cycle, and asserted that physical existence continuously grows until it reaches its highest peak during the full moon (stage 15), which he described as the perfect beauty. In what remains of the cycle, the physical existence gradually decreases until it completely disappears into the new moon, which he described as the perfect truth, which is also the point where the cycle begins once again. He then added to this scheme by assigning particular stages to specific personality types; in this way, even if a person can experience stages 2 through 14 and 16 through to 28 during the course of their lives, a single stage can generally characterize the individual’s entire life. Most of these symbolic patterns (gyres, lunar stages) are an important part of the poems and the texts he wrote in the second half of his life.

.

Tagged: , , , , , ,