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In the Journal which he started to keep at the end of 1908, the forty-three-year-old Yeats noted:
Though there are many factors influencing Yeats’s approach to personality (see, for instance, the Human Being), one of the tools which he used to analyse character, particularly his own, was astrology, and it offered a basis for introspection. He does not see it as a single factor, by any means; looking back to the same incident a month or so later, he was also brings in heredity, but then views the similarity and contrast with his sister Elizabeth’s character in astrological terms:
If Yeats had undergone Freudian psychoanalysis, its terms would certainly be relevant to his understanding of character and the psyche, but since his tool was astrology this has tended to be regarded rather more dismissively by critics. However, Virginia Moore’s The Unicorn (1954) was amongst the first critical works to give an account of how Yeats’s knowledge of astrology might have influenced ‘his self-diagnosis and strivings’ (220). More recently, Elizabeth Heine has published several examinations of Yeats’s horoscope, as well as the astrological presages in his relationship with Maud Gonne in her articles “ ‘W. B. Yeats’ map in his own hand’”, in Biography, “W. B. Yeats: Poet and Astrologer”, in Culture and Cosmos, and “Yeats and Maud Gonne: Marriage and the Astrological Record, 1908-09”, in the Yeats Annual, and the first one in particular gives a very clear introduction to the astrological elements in Yeats’s chart. Heine has also advised Ann Saddlemyer in her use of George Yeats’s horoscope in Becoming George, and her book Yeats’s Astrology is in preparation. Brian Arkins has written ‘Towards an Astrological Reading of Yeats’ in the Yeats Eliot Review.
When Yeats came to republish the early stories of ‘John Sherman’ and ‘Dhoya’ in the 1908 Collected Works, he noted that these stories had, ‘come to interest me very deeply; for I am something of an astrologer, and can see in them a young man. . . born when the Water-Carrier was on the horizon, at pains to overcome Saturn in Saturn’s hour, just as I can see in much that follows his struggle with the still all-too-unconquered Moon, and at last, as I think, the summons of the prouder Sun’ (JS&D 40). Yeats selects two salient features from the horoscope that are both noteworthy, the Ascendant in the first degree of Aquarius (), and the Moon’s () presence in Aquarius in the First House of the chart, which indicates the individual’s constitution and persona/personality. Aquarius rising indicates a desire to express oneself in original and independent ways, often going against the norms of society, while at the same time giving a preference for working with groups of like-minded people. The planet which rules the rising sign has particular significance, and in Yeats’s case, the traditional ruler of Aquarius is Saturn , which is found in the Eighth House, associated with inheritance, the investigation of hidden things and the after-life, in short ‘sex and the dead’, the ‘only two topics’ which he thought could ‘be of the least interest to a serious and studious mind’ (L 730; 1927), a good indication of the seriousness of Saturn’s influence, which is at its least negative in Libra and is well-aspected by other planets. The Moon and Saturn are also both involved in a Grand Trine with the Sun , (and Uranus , the modern ruler of Aquarius), where the planets are arranged in an equilateral triangle approximately 120° apart from the others, in an aspect called a trine, in which the energies represented by the planets are thought to flow together harmoniously. In selecting Saturn, Moon and Sun for mention, it is as if Yeats sees himself passing from the influence of the highest planet of the triangle, to the rising one, and finally to the Sun. His thinking here is also influenced by Theosophical or more general esoteric thought in which the Ascendant (and, by extension, its ruling planet), Moon and Sun represent three levels of being: the physical, the psyche, and the self (see Alan Leo and the Yeatses’ Charts), so that the progression is from the world of the ‘lower personality’ to the ‘personality’ and then to the ‘higher self’. The placing of these three crucial aspects of the individual in a Grand Trine would have been seen as positive for integrating his energies, an astrological form of ‘Unity of Being’. The Moon also receives more aspects than any other planet and Saturn is one of the highest planets in the chart, so that the Sun is potentially the least prominent of the three. The Sun , or selfhood, is far from weak, however, being placed in the Fifth House, which is regarded as linked to the Sun and associated with creativity, romance and children; it is in Gemini the sign of verbal communication and duality. The Sun is also in conjunction with Uranus , which is included in the Grand Trine, and Uranus was regarded in Yeats’s day as linked to the ‘higher’ aspects of Aquarius (see Alan Leo and the Yeatses’ Charts), so that Saturn was seen as the general ruler of the sign, but Uranus as a ruler if the individual was spiritually aware. While the conjunction with Uranus potentially links the Sun back to the Ascendant, holding it down, it would also be considered to facilitate the integration of the two energies and Yeats would certainly have been aware that the configurations of his horoscope were particularly auspicious. The Grand Trine is placed in the three Air Signs of Gemini , Libra and Aquarius , where mental energies and communication are put to the fore; the configuration is supplemented by an opposition between Jupiter and the Sun/Uranus conjunction, creating a kite-shaped figure. Though a Grand Trine is regarded as auspicious and creative, since the energies flow well, too much easy flow can indicate laziness or lack of direction and the kited version is generally considered more stable, giving a clearer sense of focus. In this case the stability is questionable, since Jupiter, in its own sign of Sagittarius and in the Eleventh House of intellectual projects, social associations and friendships, gives a tendency to restlessness, self-exploration, religious searching, but also benefit from friendships and associations (a fascinating, if partial, reading of ‘On a Picture of a Black Centaur by Edmund Dulac’, by Ernest Willbie, in the light of this Jupiter/Sun/Uranus configuration is available on Bill Sheeran’s pages on Irish Astrology). The erratic, unpredictable quality of Uranus underlines the potential instability, but in Yeats’s chart this is countered to some extent by Mercury’s position () at the nadir of the chart, the Imum Coeli, which indicates mental affinity and intellectual achievement associated with the home and with his roots. This conjunction is one of the closest aspects in Yeats’s chart, and Mercury, in its own sign as the ruler of Gemini, which also contains the Sun, is strong, also in trine to the Ascendant, blending intellect with the persona. It is not integrated with the other planets by aspect, and traditionally this indication is said to indicate that the energies involved are given heightened focus but are less readily expressed in the personality, and this is no doubt the interpretation that the Yeatses would have borne in mind. Recent writers have emphasised the element of focus and suggested that the least-aspected planet is in fact the key to the horoscope, representing the soul’s focus, particularly with reference to location (those interested in astrology should see Robert Couteau, The Role of the Least-Aspected Planet, and his examination of Yeats’s Mercury and Neptune). Certainly in Yeats’s case, it seems easier to make a case for the central role of his intellectual engagement with Irish nationhood, folklore, and with imaginative and occult interests, than to state that his mental energies were not expressed. In this theory the most-aspected planet is a source of confusion, lack of focus and habitual response, which in Yeats’s chart is the Moon, already emphasised by its position in the First House and intrinsically associated with habit and the rhythms of life.
Two of these aspects to the Moon are involved in a second polygonal configuration, a right-angled triangle formed with Venus and Mars , called a T-square. This is considered to indicate dynamic tension, which energises and gives strength; this one would indicate heightened sensitivity to feminine influence, tensions and disappointments in relationships, sexual passion and nervous strain. Venus is also part of the closest aspect in Yeats’s chart, but one that he would not have been aware of for most of his life – a conjunction with Pluto , but its link with obsessive, passionate love is too interesting to pass over entirely. Like Yeats, Gustav Holst was unaware of Pluto when he wrote his suite The Planets, where he labels Uranus the Magician and Neptune the Mystic and, though these are very much simplifications, of the ‘new’ planets which Yeats knew, Uranus is far stronger in his chart than Neptune , but this planet is still important. Neptune represents imagination, hallucination and transcendence as well as mysticism, though its position in the Second House, of money and possessions, may be related both to Yeats’s resourcefulness in husbanding his little money and chronic problems with getting it. Neptune also is in a trine aspect with Mars, which is said to strengthen the emotions and imagination, and even Yeats’s antagonist in the Golden Dawn, Aleister Crowley, commented that ‘The feeble, dreamy, almost imbecile W. B. Yeats has Mars and Neptune trine; but the combination gives him power in a shadow-world of his own’ (cited Heine, ‘“W. B. Yeats’ map in his own hand”’, n15). Mars and Neptune are also both in a wide trine with Yeats’s Midheaven, which signifies worldly achievement and career, and can therefore be seen as related to Yeats’s conviction of his poetic vocation. As significant is that Maud Gonne’s chart shows a conjunction of Mercury and Venus at this point too, and can therefore be linked with both the sexual passion of Mars and the illusion and dreams of Neptune. The imaginative and poetic contribution of Neptune is further developed by its quintile aspect with the Sun (72°); the quintile is held to indicate a creative combination of the planets involved, so that the imaginative force of Neptune is expressed with the Sun’s personal force. Mars is also in a quintile aspect to Saturn, again giving creative energy to the initiative of Mars and the structure of Saturn. For all this, the conjunction of the Sun and Uranus has more personal impact, and Yeats’s approach to the supernatural was very much that of the mage rather than the mystic.
In contrast, the position of Neptune in the chart of Georgie Hyde Lees or George Yeats, is very prominent, placed together with Pluto in the Seventh House. The Seventh House represents partnerships and partners, so is linked to the role of Yeats in her life, and to her marriage’s bringing her mediumistic gifts to the fore. These gifts which are also indicated by the position of Mercury and Uranus in the Twelfth House, but in conjunction with the Ascendant, a mind in touch with the subconscious and unusual exploration of the psyche. The negative aspects are emphasised by Neptune’s () square (or separation of 90°) to the Moon and Venus , the former in particular linked to a weakness with alcohol, though the positive link between the Moon/Venus and Uranus makes occult interests attractive and creative. The Sun is also on the starting point, or cusp, of the Twelfth House, and together with Saturn in the Eleventh House of society and friendship, may be linked to George’s preference to remain in the background and unwillingness to publicise her contribution to the System; Saturn’s trine to Neptune also helps to mitigate Neptune’s tendency to illusion or vagueness. The conjunction of the Moon and Venus is associated with artistic sense and charm, and their position in the Tenth House of public life may be associated with George’s quiet, firm grace in the role of the poet’s wife, while the placement of Jupiter in the Fifth House in Aries gives an abundant sense of fun and Mars in the Third House in Aquarius , indicates an active and unconventional mind, and its trine to Sun is a further indication of energy and enterprise. Like Yeats, one of the closest aspects in her chart is between Venus and Pluto, a square in her case, indicating again an intensity and depth of passion, though somewhat cooled by the placement of Venus in Virgo , a more analytical sign than Yeats’s Taurus Venus (). Though it was unknown in her youth, Pluto has particular relevance, since George’s Ascendant is in Scorpio which is now associated with Pluto, as well as the traditional ruler, Mars. Scorpio’s intensity and investigative bent can be linked to George’s interest in research and occult areas.
The Yeatses’ Charts according to Alan Leo
The essay "Shifting Sands" by Colin McDowell in the collection W. B. Yeats's "A Vision": Explications and Contexts, edited by Neil Mann, Matthew Gibson, and Claire Nally (Clemson University, 2012), provides useful further exploration of this subject.
This title is available for free download here or here from Clemson University Press (click here if seems the link may have changed). It is also accessible online via Liverpool Scholarhip Online and University Press Scholarship Online (simplest to search on "Yeats" and "Vision"; direct link functional April 2016), though this is by subscription or through a library.