Reviews of A Vision B

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9 November 1937

The Liverpool Daily Post

p. 4

O[liver] E[dwards]


Beyond the Normal

A VISION. By W. B. Yeats. London: Macmillan and Co. 15s.

      The documents for the vision are a series of automatic writings, and of utterances in sleep or trance, by Mrs. W. B. Yeats. They came to her in the years 1917 to 1920, and were recorded by her husband. He, in turn, had many supernormal experiences (sights, sounds and odours), some of which would usually be called telepathic. All this Mr. Yeats describes in his most lucid and delicate prose. He then sat down to edit his notes and to interpret the message. This, he is convinced, came from certain “communicators,” or “instructors,” on whose nature he does not pronounce; but of “popular spiritualism” he disapproves. The instructors, however, complained that they were often baulked, and their message marred, by “frustrators”—rogues who remind us in some measure of the Freudian “censors.” Mr. Yeats has always been a visionary, and we shall not ask him to think that the revelation simply rose up from the mundane experience, or under-mind, of the two recorders. Whatever its origin, it is offered as providing a great scheme of metaphysical and historical truth, and as such it asks to be judged.

      The question is whether it will ever admit of being judged at all, or described, or understood. The reviewer, who is baffled, wishes others better fortune. Summary is here impossible. One section, “The Great Wheel,” is filled with diagrams of intersecting cones, or “vortices,” which partly symbolise the distinction between subjective and objective. There is an array of terms, “Will” and “Mask,” “Creative Mind” and “Body of Fate,” “the four perfections” and “the four automatonisms,” which seem to be tossed about like jugglers’ balls. There follows a string of some twenty-eight “phases,” which are, it seems, to “classify every possible movement of thought and life.” They answer, moreover, to types of character, “the daimonic man,” “the Fool desiring his Mask,” and the like. “The Completed Symbol” and “The Historical Cones” are no less cryptic. These cones trace the course of history from 2000 B.C. to 1927 A.D., and the successive “phases” are fitted into them. Real persons, Plotinus, Donatello, Christ, whirl about together as in a dream. In the end, Mr. Yeats is loth to take his “periods” too literally; they are, rather, “stylistic arrangements of experience.” The names of many thinkers, Empedocles, Hegel, Spengler, flit over the page. But it is vain for the reader to be acquainted with the ordinary terms and issues of philosophy. The vision is self-enclosed, and the author rightly claims that it is unborrowed. We may fear that its meaning and its value will remain his own secret.

      Not that a writer like Mr. Yeats can ever leave us quite unsatisfied. In “The Stories of Michael Robartes and His Friends,” a revision of an earlier work, the drift is as dim as ever; but there is the race and lively movement of talk. The opening pages on the characters (and cats) of Rapallo, and on the converse with Mr. Ezra Pound, restore to us Mr. Yeats, the humorist and observer. And the poet, here at his best, is restored in the beautiful lines, written at Oxford in 1920, and now reprinted. “All Souls’ Night, an Epilogue” commemorates, to the sound of “the great Christ Church bell,” Miss Florence Farr and other friends departed. There are those in Liverpool who will remember Mr. Yeats discoursing in the Arts Theatre, and Miss Farr speaking his verses to the notes of her dulcimer; then suddenly, in her splendid pealing voice, breaking into the psalm “By the waters of Babylon.”

O. E.

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