Reviews related to A Vision

enlarge this window                      close this window


18 September 1929

pp. 512-13

Seán O’Faoláin


Mr. Yeats’s Trivia

    A Packet for Ezra Pound, by William Butler Yeats. Dublin: the Cuala Press. 10s. 6d.

FROM his winter retreat at Rapallo, where he walks of nights, argues and doubtless quarrels a little with Mr. Ezra Pound comes this little book from Mr. Yeats’s pen. Its chief content is a new introduction for that portion of the book called A Vision which goes by the name of The Great Wheel. A Vision is a strange unphilosophic attempt to explain the characters of men and their fated composition, and their effect on and recurrence in history. It appeared originally in a limited expensive edition with a fantastic preface purporting to explain how the documents on which it is based came into the hands of Mr. Yeats—an account he here confesses to be a mere story: it had many geometrical figures and was written in a difficult and often unintelligible symbolism. Yet it was of the utmost interest to lovers of Yeats’s poetry and many could see in it the struggles of a man, who had never read philosophy, who had never practised lucidity in prose, to explain in another medium those thoughts which are constantly to be found at the back of even his earliest verse.

    It is not difficult, for instance, to trace the doctrine of the anti-self, as described there, to lines of great and simple beauty in such early books as The Wanderings of Oisin, and it will be an interesting task some day for the biographer of the poet to follow the development of that embryonic thought through the years up to its description, at last fully realized, in the pages of the rewritten Vision. For Mr. Yeats is evidently rewriting that volume, and here explains why it was so arcane and so unexplicit: if the new preface is to be believed the book originated in his wife’s successful attempt at automatic writing, the messages later coming by speech in sleep. Much of what was said and written baffled the poet and confused him when he came to write the book but now, though still under the influence of his other-world messengers, he says he will publish only what he understands.

    On the whole it becomes evident that this somewhat artificial connection with spirituality has not benefited Mr. Yeats’s work, whether in prose or in verse. In his earliest verse there was an air of the other world that was far more charming and far more persuasive, nor is it at all evident that the poetry of his later years which derives from this reasoned doctrine of the communion of heaven and earth is really, as the poet believes it is, of a toughter [sic] or more passionate fibre. The poetry of The Wild Swans at Coole, the poetry of a lost love and a seared life, is as passionate as any poetry in the Vita Nuova, but it may well be questioned if the obscure private symbolism of The Cat and the Moon, let us say, is not the product of an easy sentimentality, a sort of play-acting with the hard work of poetry. It would be hard to blame readers if they felt that they had exchanged the charm and sorrow of the quite early poems for the lines of an entirely charmless, unsorrowing, befuddled old poseur. There is a great gap between spirits and spirituality, and none of Mr. Yeats’s spiritistic verse has succeeded in bridging it.


enlarge this window                      close this window

Return to Index of Reviews

Site map