Reviews of A Vision B

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The Irish News

8 November 1937

p. 3

C. E.



“The Shoemaker Should Stick to his Last”

A Vision. By W. B. Yeats. (Macmillan & Co., tLd. [sic]; 15s net.)

    Mr W. B. Yeats is deservedly highly esteemed as a poet and a dramatist but his latest publication is a definite exposition of the old saying that “The shoemaker should stick to his last.”

    He has had a revelation. One can safely predict that it cannot upset the progress of the world. Thus it came about. His wife some years ago discovered that she had the gift of “automatic writing.”

    This was discovered when the whole matter was being treated as a “joke.” Perhaps adventurous young people may take warning from what followed. The automatic writing began to take shape as a series of messages from disembodied spirits whom the poet now calls his instructors. A different prefix might be less poetic but more true.

    The poet and his wife began to build up out of these messages a nebulous system which seemed to promise a surprising revelation. Soon Mrs. Yeats began to go into subconscious states during which she amplified the automatic writing by spoken messages from the “instructors.”

    And out of these messages the poet has compiled a system of philosophy (if you dare call it that) which is a strange mixture of astrology, transmigration, fatalism, spiritism, and every other will-o’-the-wisp that men, blind to the light of divine revelation, have ever followed to their destruction.

    One has neither time nor patience to analyse this wonderful “system.” It is so wonderful that it even explains the rise of great men of the ages.

    But a book of this kind coming from the hand of a man of Mr W. B. Yeats’s position in the world of letters is dangerous, because the foolish may think that eminence in poetry and drama is a sign of eminence in philosophy and metaphysics. Moreover its obvious sincerity is an added danger.

    None but a fool would attempt to impugn the good faith of Mr. Yeats in the matter. Let it be confessed that this book moves the reader to a profound pity for the writer. The significance of the whole thing becomes apparent from the poet’s own description.

    In addition to his “instructors” there were other beings whom he calls “frustrators.” These interfered with the continuity of the revelation and made it unintelligible. Let me quote a significant passage.

    “For the same reason they asked me not to read philosophy until their exposition was complete. Apart from two or three of the principal Platonic Dialogues, I knew no philosophy . . .

    “Because they must, as they explained, soon finish, others whom [sic] the Frustrators attempted to confuse us or waste time. Who these Frustrators were or why they acted so was never adequately explained, nor will be unless I can finish ‘The Soul in Judgment’ (Book III. of this work), but they were always ingenious and sometimes cruel. The automatic script would deteriorate, grow sentimental or confused, and when I pointed this out the communicator would say ‘From such and such an hour, on such and such a day, all it frustration’ . . . but had I not divined frustration he would have said nothing . . . and a Frustrator doubtless played upon my weakness when he described a geometrical model of the soul’s state after death which could be turned upon a lathe . . . One said, as though it rested with me to decide what part I should play in their dream, ‘Remember, we will deceive you if we can.’” (The italics are the reviewers’ [sic].)

    There were other signs and wonders—flashes of light, strange perfumes etc., etc. Out of a conglomeration of rubbish arises the conviction that there is more in the poet’s vision than its intrinsic nonsense, and a memory of R. H. Benson’s cats on the roof came to me — a vivid impression of a personal feeling as urgent as their instinct to fly from something which, though understood not, was for that reason all the more repulsive.

C. E.

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