Reviews related to A Vision

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The Irish Statesman

7 September 1929

pp. 11-12

AE [George Russell]



FEW POETS have been so bountiful to their biographers as Yeats. The intellectual biographer of the poet will never suffer for lack of matter about which he may speculate. Indeed, to understand the poet in his later phases one must have gone into the psyches’ own world, which the ancients fixed between earth and heaven, or have listened to the reveries of the dead, so remote from the normal is his thought; and the effort to interpret is made more difficult because he has invented a symbolism of his own. One would retreat from the effort but for the atmosphere of beauty which is inseparable from almost every motion of the poet’s mind. I read, allured by the cold, lazy dignity of the writing in the poet’s latest book, which he calls A Packet for Ezra Pound. I call it lazy writing because he tells me little in detail of the circumstance in which were set these psychic experiences. Yet, it may not be laziness at all, but some enchantment upon the intellect when it enters into the dream world, so that it loses the alert waking questioning habit, and it becomes dreamlike itself, for in dream we are never inquisitive, we suffer or endure or gaze in joy or terror at the pageant of which we are part. Once we are inquisitive the pageant dissolves and we wake. The most important part of this book is that which the poet has named Introduction to the Great Wheel, and in this he tells how the geometrical philosophy in his book, the Vision, came to be written. It is a collaboration between the dreaming consciousness of his wife and his own, with possibly other entities not of this plane of being. The poet speaks of them as if he believed they were external to consciousness, but when we enter into the dream world there is a dramatic sundering of the Ego, and while we dream we are persuaded of the existence of many people which, when we wake, we feel were only parts of our own protean nature. I do not suggest that these philosophic entities who communicated to the poet and his wife the substance of the Vision may be simply some submerged part of the soul, because I am sceptical of the possibility. I merely say that the poet has not given me enough material to decide. There is a great deal of confusion both in the thought of the Vision and in this later Introduction, and the poet is conscious of this. I do not complain about it, for all journeying into hitherto untravelled forests must be confused, and differ from travel upon beaten high roads. We shall probably come to an understanding of these psychic interactions between the consciousness of the poet and his wife, and whether the beings he speaks of were entities of another sphere, or the emergence into waking consciousness of some hitherto deep hidden portion of their own natures, by study of other books rather than the poet’s own narrative. There are many subtle minds pursuing truth into the deeps of being, many tentative and confused as Mr. Yeats is, but all contributing something to a psychology which will probably later become more luminous, and may make it easy for us to reach that ancestral wisdom which Keats said was in us all, so that we can drink that old wine of heaven, and come to that wisdom with ease where we now get blinded and lost in the search. I confess, while I find many things exciting in the Vision, I would like to re-write it, leaving out almost all that over precise movement of his cycles. The virtue of the soul is to be free, and Mr. Yeats’ spirits condemn us all to a cyclic progression, which is like the judgment of a mad dictator willing it that men should be imprisoned in one cell after another in a great prison, from which there is no escape, and in the imprisonments there is no justice only a kind of destiny willed by a divinity as indifferent as that Setebos brooded upon by Caliban. It is very dangerous to believe that life is becoming mechanised, for that mysterious mind within us may take the hint and dress up a complete philosophy of mechanisation for us, and if we accept it, we weave our own enchantment, build our own prison cell, enter it, lock ourselves in and throw the key out of the window. It is of much more importance to us to have experience than to have philosophies, and those who can tell us how to rise above ourselves into mid-world or heaven world are the only people in whose thought I have any profound interest. Philosophies of the universe are all very well, excellent intellectual exercises. But I know the moment I get out of that rational everyday mentality which enjoys such exercises, the moment I rise within myself and draw nigh to deep own-being all these philosophies vanish. Plato said, “If there be any gods they certainly do not philosophise.” This is my growl about the Vision and the Decline in the West, and Phase, and other attempts to show how God geometrises, though when I cannot have spiritual experience I turn to them and devour their chaff and find it excellent food for the waking consciousness. I cannot really review a book like this unless I write another book twice or thrice its length. I can only talk round and round it, making a springboard from which I might leap into the depths of the Vision if I had time, but these creatures the poet speaks of as the “Frustraters,” [sic] operate as a host against me, and while I would like to know the core of this philosophy I feel I must wait until I come to that intensity of being which, when we attain it, the sage Patangali tells us, will enable us to penetrate to the essential essence of anything, and comprehend it fully merely by directing our attention to it. Then I might know in a second what otherwise must take me many years. I will wait for that myriad instant, and be content with my half knowledge of what the poet means. I think with more delight upon two poems which he has inserted into his Packet than upon anything else in the book. It is possible that the poet had to go through all that hard intellectual labour of the Vision and his after study of philosophy to write the Tower, in which his verse achieved a new power and dignity. It is possible the Muse will forsake us unless we keep the intellect athletic, and she will reward us even if we forsake her and go mountain climbing if we return to her more athletic than when we left. Yes, I think after every book of poetry the poet should exercise himself in some hard intellectual labour before he begins to supplicate the Muse again. That dweller in the innermost will feel then we approach her with reverence, and will breathe on us the holy breath with a more intense flame than before.

A. E.

A Packet for Ezra Pound. By William Butler Yeats. (The Cuala Press, Dublin. 10/6).

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