An Overview of A Vision

This page presents an overview of Willam Butler Yeats and A Vision, and is especially intended to give background for those who may not know much about either the poet or A Vision itself. Those who are already familiar with Yeats, but are less clear on the contents of A Vision, should skip to the section on A Vision. Those who have some knowledge of both may find the Summary interesting, and will find the more reflective Introduction on another page.

The following summaries may seem to over-generalise many aspects and to be over-simplistic: they do and they are. Many qualifications and details should be added to complete the picture, but that is for another place and further reading. If you are coming to this site, however, with little or no knowledge of Yeats and his work, these paragraphs aim to give a brief overview of the man and his place in literary history, as well as to give a sense of where a work such as A Vision comes from.


W. B. Yeats

George Yeats

A Vision

Contents

Summary

A Brief Chronology


W. B. Yeats

William Butler Yeats (1865-1939; name pronounced "Yates") is one of the most significant poets in the English language of the twentieth century. In fact his career spans both the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth centuries and one of the remarkable things about him as a writer is the breadth and variety of his work, as well as his continued development as a poet during his life. Few poets continue to produce work which maintains their highest level of achievement through into old age, but Yeats is one of these, and many would argue that the work of his later years represents a more significant achievement than that of his earlier years, though this is not to compare like with like.

Though his reputation rests primarily upon his lyric poetry, he was also a dramatist, story-writer and essayist, and he was associated intimately with the cultural and political life of his country, Ireland. When he was a young man, Ireland was a part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland but there had been a growing movement for independence through the nineteenth century. In his early twenties WBY became associated with the Irish Republican Brotherhood, most notably one of its leading figures, John O’Leary, while his fervour was also heightened by his love for Maud Gonne, an ardent and active nationalist. At the same time he was developing his interest in the supernatural and occultism, first through the Theosophical Society and later through the Golden Dawn. The two strands were not separate, although not always compatible, and meet in WBY’s interest in Irish folklore and various schemes of Celtic mysticism. Throughout his life WBY was able to make a (usually meagre) living from literary pursuits, which, in his youth, included books of Irish folklore and an edition of William Blake’s poetical works (see the Chronology below).

Yeats’s contribution to the nationalist cause was most significant in literary areas, especially in the founding of the Irish National Theatre Society and in the management of the Abbey Theatre in Dublin. His poetry also reflected his commitment to the cause of independence, initially through mythical and folkloric motifs and a celebration of the traditional culture; as he moved towards a more modernist sensibility, his poetry became more overtly political, and dealt with events in Ireland in poems such as ‘Easter 1916’ and ‘Meditations in Time of Civil War’. In 1922 he was appointed to the Senead (Senate) of the new Free State (viz AV B 26-27). In his later years, he was drawn towards some of the elements of fascism, notably its often mystical nationalism and inherent élitism, but he never became involved in the movement as such.

Yeats’s interests in the supernatural were always an important element in his poetic inspiration, in particular in his approach to symbolism. The best-known poems of Yeats’s early period celebrate a semi-mythical Irish landscape that is often haunted by the Sidhe [/shee/, fairies] or the Tuatha de Danaan [/tooa de danan/, pagan gods], such as ‘The Lake Isle of Innisfree’, ‘The Stolen Child’ or ‘The Song of Wandering Aengus’; his love for Maud Gonne, such as ‘When You are Old’ or ‘He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven’; or an oneiric, mystical vision, such as ‘The Secret Rose’ or ‘The Valley of the Black Pig’. A recurrent symbol is that of the Rose, in which Ireland, Maud and vision meet along with other elements. Though a traditional image, the Rose had particular meanings for WBY because of its place in the Rosicrucian (Rose+Cross) symbolism of the Golden Dawn. For him symbols were more than a poetic tool, tapping into a vast reservoir of collective experience, which he termed at various stages the Great Memory, Anima Mundi (the World Soul), and the Record, none of which is, however, quite the same as the other.

Yeats’s poetry develops significantly during his life, with a period of the most rapid change during the years from 1910 to 1920. Among the many factors involved, three stand out: his friendship with Ezra Pound, his marriage to Georgie Hyde Lees, and the advent of the ideas of A Vision. Through Pound he was brought into contact with what became known as modernism, as well as Oriental art and thought. Georgie, one of the best friends of Dorothy Shakespear, Pound’s wife, brought much to him emotionally and personally (see below), not least, a new system of thought through her decision to attempt automatic writing. Over five or six years the Yeatses engaged in frequent sessions, where WBY would ask questions and, while Georgie was in a trance-like state, her hand would write answers (see below). These answers were attributed to a variety of controlling spirits and, as the script built up, it outlined a complex, esoteric system of thought, centred on cycles of change, which WBY spent years turning into a formal exposition, A Vision.

Few of the underlying ideas in this system were actually new to Yeats’s thinking, though almost all of the surface detail was (see below). However, it provided an impetus for a new burst of creativity, which was largely sustained through the rest of WBY’s life. Although he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1923, the two collections of poetry which are generally regarded as his finest single volumes, The Tower and The Winding Stair, appeared in 1928 and 1933 respectively. Yeats himself noted that ‘I put The Tower and The Winding Stair into evidence to show that my poetry has gained in self-possession and power. I owe this change to an incredible experience’, the communications by automatic writing (AV B 8). Many of the poems of this later period are based to a greater or lesser degree on the ideas of A Vision, and almost all of the most celebrated poems show its influence, including ‘The Second Coming’, ‘A Prayer for my Daughter’, ‘Among School Children’, ‘Sailing to Byzantium’, ‘Byzantium’ and ‘Under Ben Bulben’.


George Yeats

Like WBY, Georgie Hyde Lees (1892-1968) was a student of esoteric and occult matters and her interests embraced astrology and Renaissance Hermetism, including the works of Pico della Mirandola. According to her recollection they first met in May 1911 and he sponsored her joining of the Golden Dawn in 1914; they talked of marriage in late 1915, in such a way that Georgie regarded it as an engagement, while WBY apparently did not, since he later proposed again to Maud Gonne and then her daughter, Iseult. He proposed properly to Georgie on 26 September 1917 and they were married shortly after her twenty-fifth birthday on 20 October 1917. She became known as George after her marriage, possibly for numerological reasons associated with the change of surname (removing the ‘I’ changes the number equivalent of the name). She was almost thirty years his junior and the marriage started inauspiciously, particularly since WBY was racked by doubts that he should have married Iseult Gonne. In order to break the bad mood and to allay her husband’s doubts, George, who either knew or guessed their origin, decided to bring in ‘external’ confirmation that he had made the right choice. She suggested that they attempt some automatic writing, which was in fact far from automatic, as she obliquely but very deliberately wrote that WBY had made the right decision. As she told Virginia Moore later, what followed was, however, a complete surprise to her and she felt her hand ‘seized by a superior power’. This started three years of sessions of automatic writing, often daily, where WBY was the questioner and George the medium or interpreter; these were followed by rather less frequent ‘sleeps’ where George would speak from a trance in sleep (see Automatic Script). George herself understandably tired of the sessions, though WBY’s enthusiasm continued. The birth of their children, Anne in 1919 and Michael in 1921, gradually helped to reduce the commitment of time, and the system began to reach a form of completion.

The material produced in these sessions was fragmentary and disordered, but provided the basis for a vast, all-encompassing esoteric description of ‘reality’ and system of thought, much of which was presented in the two versions of A Vision. George can certainly be seen morally as a joint author of A Vision, although she had no wish for her part to be known, and legally the copyright resides in the form of words, which are WBY’s, except for a few places where he quotes the Script directly.


A Vision

On the afternoon of October 24th 1917, four days after my marriage, my wife surprised me by attempting automatic writing. What came in disjointed sentences, in almost illegible writing, was so exciting, sometimes so profound, that I persuaded her to give an hour or two day after day to the unknown writer, and after some half-dozen such hours offered to spend what remained of life explaining and piecing together those scattered sentences.  ‘No,’ was the answer, ‘we have come to give you metaphors for poetry.’

‘Introduction to “A Vision” ’ from ‘A Packet for Ezra Pound’ (1937), AV B 8

Yeats started work on the first exposition of the system within a month of the start of the Automatic Writing in 1917 and continued working on it until 1931. Over ten years were therefore dedicated to this work, although the Communicators had said that the purpose of the Script was to give him metaphors for poetry. Whatever the commitment to working on the System, however, it does not seem to have impeded his poetic and dramatic production.

The first version was ready in April 1924, when Yeats wrote to Edmund Dulac, who provided the book’s illustrations:

Yesterday I finished the book — for months past I have thought that I was within a week or so of the end but always I found something to rewrite; but now at last it is done & all that remains is for George to see that the corrected typed script is legible & so forth. . . . I do not know what my book will be to others — nothing perhaps. To me it means a last act of defence against the chaos of the world; & I hope for ten years to write out of my renewed security.

23 April [1924], University of Texas, Austin

He started reworking the material very soon, however, and in February 1931 he wrote to Olivia Shakespear, an old friend and one-time lover: ‘I have really finished A Vision — I turn over the pages and find nothing to add’ (L 781). This was to be part of a new Edition de Luxe, published by Macmillans, which never came to fruition, and the revised version was finally published independently in 1937 (1938 in the US).

The revisions are significant and the major differences are outlined on The Two Editions. The following description is based on the second version, which must be regarded as closer to Yeats’s final thoughts on the subject, but much of it applies to both versions. The description of the contents uses Yeats’s own terminology, with links to their treatment on other pages, and is followed by a brief summary in more standard terms, as close as is possible.

One preliminary point must be made: the System of A Vision presupposes reincarnation.

Contents

A Vision (B) (1937) is divided into two introductions and five sections, with two poems.

    • The first Introduction, ‘A Packet for Ezra Pound’, is itself divided, giving observations about Rapallo and modernism before passing to an account of the genesis of A Vision and the circumstances surrounding its development, and then some claims about it addressed to Ezra Pound.
    • The second Introduction is fictional, ‘Stories of Michael Robartes and his Friends: An Extract from a Record Made by his Pupils’ (see The Fictions). These stories centre around Michael Robartes, the supposed discoverer of the System, and a group of young people who become his followers.
      • The poem ‘The Phases of the Moon’, a dialogue between Michael Robartes and Owen Aherne, appears as a prologue. In it, Robartes outlines to Aherne the twenty-eight incarnations represented by the phases of the Moon.
  • The first section of the book proper is entitled ‘The Great Wheel’ and is divided into three parts.
    • ‘The Principal Symbol’ sets out the fundamental principles of the System, in particular the gyres, their representation as double cones, and the opposition of the primary and antithetical Tinctures; it also sketches out the Four Faculties of the human being.
    • ‘Examination of the Wheel’ explores the gyres’ representation as a Wheel or circle, specifically that of the Phases of the Moon. It gives some general observations about the cycle entailed, and a series of rules concerning the Faculties, their True and False forms, and a set of tables showing the disposition of the Faculties in each incarnation, as well as certain characteristics and categories, including those of the Four Quarters of the Wheel.
    • ‘The Twenty-Eight Incarnations’ gives individual treatments of each of the twenty-eight typical incarnations, symbolised by the Phases of the Moon. These include two Phases where the incarnation is not physical, the extremes represented by the New Moon and the Full Moon.
  • ‘The Completed Symbol’ introduces the spiritual counterparts of the Faculties, which are the Four Principles, and the individual’s anti-being, the Daimon. Unlike the Faculties, the Principles are seen to survive death, and two of them form the core of being which reincarnates. Yeats envisages twelve cycles of twenty-eight incarnations each, typically reaching completion in a Great Year of 26 000 years. Yeats also introduces the figure of the Thirteenth Cone, which represents the idea of the divine within the System.
  • ‘The Soul in Judgment’ deals with the process of the After-Life, or more correctly the period between two incarnations, which is divided into six major stages. The first three stages are involved with recognition of the life lived, exploration of its experiences, emotions and relationships, then transvaluation. In the fourth stage the soul sees the eternal perspective, before preparing for the coming incarnation in the final two stages.
  • ‘The Great Year of the Ancients’ gives a theoretical and historical treatment of the Great Year defined by the Precession of the Equinoxes. It adumbrates Yeats’s treatment of the Historical Cycles in the next section.
  • ‘Dove or Swan’ looks at the application of Yeats’s gyres as Historical Cycles within the Great Year, in periods of 2000 and 1000 years. It looks specifically at the 2000 years before the birth of Christ, and then, in more detail, the 2000 years following. It contrasts the annunciation to the Virgin Mary, symbolised by the Dove of the Holy Spirit, with the myth of Leda, who was raped by Zeus in the form of a Swan, and sees them as representing the key moments starting the two eras.
      • ‘All Souls’ Night’ serves as an epilogue to work. Yeats summons the spirits of friends who have died and with whom he can share his ‘mummy truths’.

Summary

  • All things are subject to a cycle of changes, which can be regarded as bi-polar, passing from a state of objectivity to one of subjectivity before returning to objectivity again. This can be seen as a form of oscillation, or a circuit around a wheel, and divides experience into the two halves of objectivity and subjectivity.

    • Under the term objective can be taken all that is collective, unifying, and which involves the individual being absorbed in something greater than itself, be that nature, society, God.
    • Under the term subjective can be taken all that is individualising, separating, pluralist and which involves the individual being differentiated as itself.
  • Between the two poles, there are stages which represent varying proportions of objectivity and subjectivity, and directions of movement towards either objectivity or subjectivity. Human life falls between the poles, since the extreme states are abstract.

  • The System is fundamentally humanistic and amoral. It deals almost exclusively with human experience and the human condition. The divine features, but is marginalised and seen as relevant only to part of the objective half of the Wheel. The individual soul is the focus, but more in terms of earthly experience and the series of reincarnations, which are the basis of the System, than in terms of spirituality. The spiritual is largely the province of the after-life.

  • Human life is intrinsically subjective, the after-life intrinsically objective. However, the soul passes through a series of objective lives, then a series of subjective lives, then again objective and so on.

  • Within the System completeness of experience is seen as the goal and the fortune of a subsequent life is determined by having exhausted experience in a given incarnation and the after-life that follows it, rather than by good or evil deeds.

  • The order of incarnations is largely immutable, with the nature of contiguous incarnations changing gradually; there may be repetitions, because of incompleteness, and small jumps, if a life has been lived and understood very fully.

  • In a given incarnation the nature of the goal in life is determined first and foremost by whether it falls in the objective or subjective part of the cycle. If it is objective, then the purpose is to recognise reality and to conform with the external world. If it is subjective, then the purpose is to sustain the inner dream and to follow it regardless of external pressure.

  • All humanity must pass through the same Phases, if you are in an objective incarnation you have been and will be in subjective ones at the appropriate stage, and vice versa. Therefore individual self-expression is important, but so is tolerance and allowing others to fulfil their own expression. Imposing what is right for you on others is tyranny, and imposing the values of others or of previous lives will lead to failure: if objective principles are retained during subjective lives then the life will not be lived adequately, and vice versa.

  • The role of the after-life is to reach an understanding of the previous incarnate life, to absorb the understood experience on a spiritual level, and then to prepare for the following life.

  • The world goes through cycles as well as the individual soul. There are several cycles of varying length in operation at any one time.

  • The current stage of the world is objective on several levels, so that the subjective is marginalised. However, there will shortly be a reversal, so that one of the major cycles will move into a subjective stage. This will enable the subjective to regain some prominence.



A Brief Chronology

1865 (June 13, at 10.40 pm) William Butler Yeats born in Dublin, the eldest child of John Butler Yeats, a lawyer turned painter, and Susan Yeats, née Pollexfen.
1867 (July) The Yeats family moves to London.
1868-71 Family holidays in Sligo.
1872 (July) Susan Yeats takes WBY and her other children to her parents’ house in Sligo, in the west of Ireland, for two years.
1874 (October) The family returns to London.
1881 (Summer) The family returns to Ireland, living in Howth, near Dublin
1884 (May) WBY enrolls at Metropolitan School of Art, Dublin
1885 (April) First poems published in the Dublin University Review
(June) Founds Dublin Hermetic Society with AE (George Russell) and Charles Johnston.
WBY meets Douglas Hyde, Katharine Tynan and John O’Leary.
1885-1886 WBY attends his first séance; arrival of Mohini Chatterjee to help found Dublin Theosophical Lodge
1886 (April) Leaves Metropolitan School of Art
(October) Mosada, A Dramatic Poem, is published privately
1887 (April) Returns with family to London
(May) Visits Madame Blavatsky, who has just arrived in London.
WBY first meets MacGregor Mathers (Samuel Liddle Mathers).
1888 WBY meets George Bernard Shaw at William Morris’s house, and Lady Wilde, Oscar Wilde’s mother. (September) Fairy and Folk Tales of the Irish Peasantry (ed.) published.
(November) Joins the Esoteric Section of the Theosophical Society
(December) Christmas Day with Oscar and Constance Wilde in London.
1889 (January) The Wanderings of Oisin and Other Poems is published. WBY meets Maud Gonne.
1890 (January) Maud Gonne has a son, George, by her lover Lucien Millevoye (WBY unaware). WBY founds Rhymers’ Club with Ernest Rhys.
(March) WBY initiated into the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn
(October) WBY asked to resign from Esoteric Section of Theosophical Society.
1891 (March) Representative Irish Tales (ed.) is published.
(August) WBY proposes to Maud Gonne for the first time but is refused. MG’s son dies.
(September) WBY and John O’Leary organise meeting of Young Ireland League to unite various literary societies.
(October) Death of Charles Stewart Parnell.
(November) John Sherman and Dhoya (short fiction) is published.
1892 (May) Irish Fairy Tales (ed.) is published; Irish Literary Society founded in Dublin, with its inaugural meeting in August.
(August) The Countess Kathleen and Various Legends and Lyrics is published.
(October 16 at 8.25 am) Bertha Georgie Hyde Lees born at Fleet near Aldershot. Her birth-certificate gives 17 October, but she always celebrated her birthday on 16th.
1893 (January) WBY enters the Second Order of the Golden Dawn.
(January/February) The Works of William Blake (ed. with Edwin Ellis) is published.
(November) The Poems of William Blake (ed.) is published.
(December) The Celtic Twilight (stories) is published
1894 (March) The Land of Heart’s Desire is produced in London.
(August) Maud Gonne’s daughter by Lucien Millevoye, Iseult, is born.
1895 (March) A Book of Irish Verse (ed.) is published.
(August) Poems is published
1896 (February) WBY takes rooms at Woburn Buildings in Bloomsbury, London. He begins an affair with Olivia Shakespear.
(August) WBY meets Lady Gregory at Tillyra Castle, Galway, home of Edward Martyn, a cousin of George Moore.
(December) WBY meets J. M. Synge in Paris.
1897 (April and June) The Secret Rose and The Adoration of the Magi (stories) published.
(July) WBY stays at Coole Park, Galway, Lady Gregory’s house. He discusses the foundation of a Celtic Theatre with Lady Gregory, Edward Martyn, and George Moore.
1898 Working on ‘Celtic mysticism’, with Maud Gonne and members of the Golden Dawn. (December) WBY and Maud Gonne contract a mystical marriage.
1899 (February) WBY visits Maud Gonne in Paris and proposes marriage again, and is refused again.
(April) The Wind Among the Reeds (poems) is published.
(May) The Countess Cathleen is performed as the first production of the Irish Literary Theatre in Dublin
1900 (January) The death of WBY’s mother, Susan.
(March) Protest riots in Dublin at Queen Victoria’s Jubilee visit to Ireland, Maud Gonne involved.
(April) Mathers sends Aleister Crowley to seize Golden Dawn headquarters but WBY and others manage to repel him.
1901 (October) Diarmuid and Grania, originally planned with George Moore, is produced in Dublin.
1902 (August) WBY meets John Quinn and, at some point in summer, James Joyce.
(April) Cathleen Ni Houlihan is produced, with Maud Gonne in the title role.
(October/November) The Pot of Broth is produced by Irish National Theatre Society.
(November) Where There is Nothing published
1903 (February) Maud Gonne marries John MacBride, who had fought against the British in the Boer War
(May) Ideas of Good and Evil (essays) published.
(August) In the Seven Woods (poems) published.
(November) Leaves for first lecture tour in USA, returning following March.
1904 (June) Where There is Nothing produced by Stage Society.
(December) The Abbey Theatre opens with On Baile’s Strand.
1905 Theatre business dominates.
1906 Theatre business and lecturing.
1907 (January) J. M. Synge’s The Playboy of the Western World opens at the Abbey to riots.
(March) Death of John O’Leary.
WBY’s father settles permanently in New York
1908 (January) Fays resign from the Abbey company
(Spring) Affair with Mabel Dickinson
(September-December) WBY’s Collected Works published by Shakespeare’s Head in 8 volumes
(November) Mrs Patrick Campbell in Deirdre in Dublin and London
1909 (March) J. M . Synge dies.
1910 (August) WBY granted Civil List pension of £150 per annum
(Septmeber) George Pollexfen dies.
(December) The Green Helmet and Other Poems published.
1911 (April) Meets Ezra Pound in Paris
(September) WBY accompanies Abbey Players on tour of USA
(May) Meets his future wife, Georgie Hyde Lees, for the first time
1912 (November) The Cutting of an Agate (essays) published
1913 (October) Poems written in Discouragement published
(November) Rents Stone Cottage in Ashdown Forest, Sussex, with Ezra Pound as secretary
1914 (January) Leaves for USA lecture tour
(May) Responsibilities (poems) published
(July) Home Rule Bill for Ireland passed but suspended because of European situation
(July) Georgie Hyde Lees joins the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, with WBY as sponsor
(August) First World War begins
1915(January-February) At Stone Cottage with Ezra and Dorothy Pound (May) Hugh Lane, Lady Gregory’s nephew, drowned when S.S. Lusitania is torpedoed in the Atlantic
(December) Refuses a British knighthood
1916 (March) Reveries over Childhood and Youth (autobiography) published
(April) At the Hawk’s Well, the first of his Noh dramas, produced in London
(April) Easter Rising in Dublin
(May) Execution of leaders of Easter Rising, among them John MacBride
(July-August) WBY visits Maud Gonne in Normandy, where she again refuses his proposal of marriage; he also discusses marriage with her daughter, Iseult.
1917 (March) WBY buys Thoor Ballylee, a Norman tower near Coole Park in Galway
(August) Proposes marriage to Maud Gonne’s daughter Iseult and is refused
(September) Proposes marriage to Georgie Hyde Lees and is accepted
(October) Marries Georgie Hyde Lees. Honeymoon in Ashdown Forest. Georgie, now known as George Yeats, begins automatic writing.
(November) WBY and GY move to Stone Cottage. Automatic writing almost daily; first drafts of Michael Robartes dialogues (see Fictions and Michael Robartes and Owen Aherne)
(November) The Wild Swans at Coole is published
(December) In London, but leave for Sussex because of zeppelin raids; Yeats meets Sir Edward Denison Ross to discuss Arabic for Michael Robartes dialogues (see the Judwalis)
1918 (January) WBY and GY move to Oxford
(January) Per Amica Silentia Lunae (essay) published
(January) Robert Gregory, Lady Gregory’s son, killed in action in Italy
(May-September) Yeatses in Galway to supervise restoration of Thoor Ballylee, ready in September; automatic writing continues throughout
(September) Yeatses rent Dublin house from Maud Gonne
(November) End of First World War
(December) In the General Election, Sinn Fein wins a majority of seats in Ireland but does not sit at Westminster and sets up Dáil Éireann (Assembly of Ireland), at the first meeting of which, in January 1919, Ireland’s independence is declared
1919 (January) Two Plays for Dancers
(February) Daughter, Anne, born in Dublin
(June) Gives up London rooms at Woburn Buildings
(Summer) At Thoor Ballylee; automatic writing continues
(October) Civil unrest in Ireland
1920 (January) Yeatses leave for USA for lecture tour; automatic writing continues
(August) GY has miscarriage
(Autumn) Guerrilla war in Ireland intensifies
1921 (February) Michael Robartes and the Dancer (poems) published
(July) Truce in Ireland
(Spring-Summer) Moves within Oxfordshire; almost no automatic writing, but ‘sleeps’ continue
(August) Son, Michael, born at Thame in Oxfordshire
(October) Four Plays for Dancers published
(December) Anglo-Irish Treaty signed in London, for the establishment of the Irish Free State
(December) Four Years (autobiography) published
1922 (January) Dáil Éireann ratifies Treaty, leading to civil war in Ireland
(February) J. B. Yeats dies in New York
(March-September) At Thoor Ballylee, while civil war rages; sleeps coming to an end, working on A Vision
(July) WBY receives Honorary degree from Trinity College, Dublin
(October) The Trembling of the Veil (autobiography) published
(December) WBY appointed to the Irish Senead (senate)
1923 (April) End of the Civil War
(November) WBY awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, which he receives in Stockholm in December
(November) Plays and Controversies (plays and essays) published
1924 Working on A Vision
(May) Essays published
1925 Working on A Vision
(January-February) In Italy, where he finishes ‘The Gates of Pluto’ and ‘Dedication’ for A Vision
1926 (January) First version of A Vision published by T. Werner Laurie (see Reviews)
(February) Sean O’Casey’s The Plough and the Stars opens at Abbey Theatre to riots
(November) Autobiographies (collection of earlier autobiographical writings) published
1927 (November) Yeatses winter in Algeciras, Seville and Cannes. WBY ill with congestion of the lungs, and in ill health for much of the rest of his life
1928 (February) The Tower published
(June) O’Casey’s The Silver Tassie rejected by Abbey Theatre
(September) WBY resigns from Senead
(October) The Winding Stair (poems) published
(Winter) In Rapallo, revising A Vision, drafts first version of ‘Seven Propositions
1929 (June) A Packet for Ezra Pound published (see Reviews)
(Summer) Last visit to Thoor Ballylee
(Winter) In Rapallo, revising A Vision
1930 (Autumn) At Coole
1931 Finishes revising A Vision, though the revised version is not published for six years
(June) Delivers bulk of MS material for proposed ‘Edition de Luxe’ to Macmillans
(September) Makes first radio broadcast for BBC in Belfast
(Autumn-Winter) Lady Gregory in decline, WBY often at Coole
1932 (Winter-Spring) At Coole
(April) Broadcasts for BBC from London.
(May) Lady Gregory dies
(July) Moves to last Irish home, Riversdale at Rathfarnham, near Dublin
(October) Starts on last US lecture tour
(November) Words for Music Perhaps (poems) published
1933 (July-August) WBY involved with fascist Blueshirts in Dublin
(September) The Winding Stair and Other Poems, bringing together the poems from The Winding Stair (1929) and Words for Music Perhaps and Other Poems (1932), is published
(November) Collected Poems published
1934 (April) Undergoes Steinach operation (vasectomy) for rejuvenation
(November) Wheels and Butterflies (essays and plays) published
(November) Collected Plays published
1935 (July) AE (George Russell) dies
(November) A Full Moon in March (plays) published
(December) Dramatis Personae (autobiography) published
(December) In Majorca, working on translation of Upanishads with Sri Purohit Swami
1936 (January-April) WBY collapses, GY summoned to Majorca; WBY makes slow recovery
(November) WBY’s Oxford Book of Modern Verse causes controversy
1937 (April) The Ten Principal Upanishads published
(October) Revised version of A Vision published by Macmillan (see Reviews)
(December) Essays 1931-1936 published
(December) Bunreacht na hÉireann (Constitution of Ireland) adopted, replacing Irish Free State with Éire.
1938 (May) New Poems published
(August) First production of Purgatory at the Abbey Theatre. WBY’s last public appearance
(October) Olivia Shakespear dies
(November) Yeatses leave for South of France
1939 (January) WBY dies at Cap Martin, buried at Roquebrune.
(July) Last Poems and Two Plays published
(September) On the Boiler published
(September) Second World War begins
1941
1945
1948
1949
1953
1968
Coole Park pulled down
End of Second World War
WBY’s remains brought to Drumcliff, Sligo
The Republic of Ireland Act establishes Éire as a republic
Maud Gonne-MacBride dies
George Yeats dies

The primary source here is John Kelly’s A W. B. Yeats Chronology. There is also a version of this at the start of each volume of the Collected Letters (of which John Kelly is the general editor); the listing is detailed for the years covered by the individual volume, and more general for the other years.

A detailed web-based chronology appears on the Princess Grace Irish Library’s website. See also Sam McCready’s website.


Introduction

Gyres and Geometry

Terminology

The Human Being

Life and the After-Life

The Historical Cycles




Abbreviations

Bibliography


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last revised: 07/12/04