Reviews of A Vision B

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The Church of Ireland Gazette

4 February 1938

p. 77



The review takes a number of books in series, reviewing The Farm at Lough Gur, by Mary, Lady Carbery, from accounts by Mary Fogarty, which contains much folklore, such as banshees, fairy doctors, “giants and ghosts, saints’ wells and fairy thorns”. It concludes, “Paganism in religion is by no means extinct in Ireland”, and then comes to A Vision. Apart from the first paragraph here, the piece is less a review than a meditation.

If there were a Poet Laureate for Ireland there can be no doubt that Mr. W. B. Yeats is the man for the post, and accordingly it is with no common delight that we welcome a revised and amplified version of “A Vision” (Macmillan : 15s.) which in its new form will meet with at least as many admirers as in its old. Book I. gives us the great wheel with the main spokes as the principal symbol, the examination of the wheel, and the twenty-eight incarnations; Book II. gives the completed symbol; Book III. the soul in judgment; Book IV. the great year of the ancients; and Book V. concludes it with dove or swan. The only way to do justice to a noble piece of work is to read it and to re-read it, and the oftener it is read the more beauty and the more meaning disclose themselves. A. E. wrote: “I am unable in a brief space to give the slightest idea of its packed pages, its division of the faculties of man, the will, the creative genius, the mask and the body of fate and their lunar gyrations, or of its division of the transcendental man, the demoniac nature and its cycles and their relation to our being, or of the doctrines of the after-life. Almost any of its crammed pages would need a volume to elucidate its meanings. It is possible it may be discussed feverishly by commentators a century hence, as Blake’s prophetic books—so ignored, so unintelligent [sic] a hundred years ago—are discussed by many editors in our time.” These strong words of praise are not a whit too strong, and we warmly endorse them.

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    It is very fortunate for us that the poet sees fit to tell us the genesis of his great work. Part of it was thought out in All Souls’ Chapel, Oxford, and part in St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin. We note that Mr. Yeats seems to have derived most from both buildings when empty of worshippers. It is a plea, if plea were required, for the opening of our churches more on week days that they are. Sometimes in a sacred building we have felt what Newman felt, “Never less alone than when alone.” Between the genius of solitude and the solitude of genius there is an intimate connection. Schopenhauer draws attention to the fact that he describes a genius as one whose centre of gravity lies in himself. The solitude of genius is the inevitable outcome of its enforced submission to the unwritten laws of the genius of solitude. Yet the record of the solitary bears melancholy witness to the cruel disabilities under which they have lived, and we suspect that Mr. Yeats himself could bear similar testimony. He has been never less alone than when alone, and his introduction to his poem stirred us to the very depths of our nature.

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    In his “Dialogue Between Nature and a Soul,” Leopardi compels the soul to refuse the offer of the highest gifts of genius on account of the inevitable suffering connected with them. Lassitude and desolate feelings appear in the lives of two thinkers so unlike as Coleridge and J. S. Mill. Goethe exhibits this with insight, and Mr. Yeats will understand the lines of the German poet:

Who never ate his bread with tears,
    Nor through the sorrow-laden hours,
Sat nightly face to face with fears,
    He knows you not, ye heavenly powers.

No doubt Dante was able to stand four-square to the world, but how many other men of genius have been able? We wish Mr. Yeats would answer this question. The genius is generally alone, comforted by the Alone. Dante stood alone, pondering his poem in the sylvan solitudes of Fonte Avellana. St. Paul, after his experience on the road to Damascus, spent over a year in the solitudes near Mount Sinai, a spot hallowed by the retirement to it of Moses and Elijah.

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    It is noteworthy that the profoundest book St. Paul wrote, the Epistle to the Ephesians, and the greatest work of uninspired religious genius, the “Pilgrim’s Progress,” were written in jail. Mohammed meditated his message on the mount above Mecca, and Cervantes wrote the saddest book in world in the seclusion of a prison. Marcus Aurelius lived in self-denying holiness, with little conscious support save from his own lonely heart. St. Augustine felt that in the chamber of his friend Alypius, “I was alone even in his presence.” It is, of course, possible to be alone in a crowd, for the crowd, in fact, to intensify the feeling of loneliness. Michael Angelo lived among the creations of his brain, heedless of the feet that passed by his studio. The world approved of him, but what cared he for its approval? Mr. Yeats, too, has lived among the creations of his brain, notably of “A Vision,” heedless of the feet that passed by his study. The world now approves of him, but what cares he for its approval? He cares for the approval of men like A.E., of course, but he cares for little else in the way of approval.

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