Reviews of A Vision B

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Poetry Review

March-April 1938

pp. 123-141

H. T. Hunt Grubb


This long review is footnoted by the page. For this reason, rather than changing the numbering of the footnotes, the page numbers are include in square brackets. The note should also be visible if you place the cursor on the reference number without clicking.

Hunt Grubb refers to hearing Yeats talk about the System before reading A Vision and, for instance, uses the early term ‘Creative Genius’ rather than the book’s ‘Creative Mind’. The review, however, continually promises slightly more in terms of insight than it finally gives.


I HAVE had the pleasure of reviewing on various occasions works in both poetry and prose by W. B. Yeats, but in order to do justice to his latest book,—that is to explain as far as possible its highly complex system of philosophy,—I have found it necessary to study its contents very deeply; and even if I were thoroughly conversant with all the complexities of the geometrical philosophy he had embodied in A Vision (Macmillan, 15s.), and furthermore having to take for granted that a certain percentage of readers are unacquainted with such profundities,—although some may take a passing interest in esoteric lore,—I would have to limit my observations to within—comparatively speaking—a small space.

    Not having previously read A Vision in its original issue, for private circulation some years ago, has made this present undertaking all the more difficult, and now Messrs. Macmillan and Co., Ltd., have brought out a handsome revised edition containing additional matter, and with illustrations. In my previous article on the Poems and Plays in THE POETRY REVIEW, I gave details as to the sources from whence some of W. B. Yeats’s best known poems derived their inspiration, but the fresh source from which has emanated such cryptic knowledge was even more evanescent than any mythical or pseudo-historic basis, and thus throws a light upon his intuitive faculties, or else, as he explains they were details conveyed to him, and also to his wife, by those discarnate beings whom he calls his “instructors.”

    Nevertheless the work contains what I consider to be a glorified nucleus of arcane philosophic principles whose expansion would fill volumes with transcendental knowledge, that is unless one happens to be so prejudiced as to regard those products of what could be named his own intellectual activities as mere “ben trovato,” otherwise “nebulous moonshine.” At the same time we must admit that there is a more or less hypothetic region regarded by many advanced thinkers to-day as “the borderland of science,” or rather I should say those concepts of what may transcend [124] ordinary phenomena, and yet if anybody had the temerity to place these propositions in any form of category with the most advanced scientific observations a generation or more ago, such a thing would have been considered tantamount to lunacy, or else sacrilege, by the scientific faculty. Yet psychical research has discovered certain phenomena tending to prove if not actually, the existence of discarnate minds, as it has evidence to the effect that there is something which is akin to mind, and this has been named a “psychic factor,” and in order to form a temporary mind this amorphous intelligence must unite with a physical brain.

    This is not a pleasant notion for serious contemplation, but I am inclined to take this conception from an agnostic standpoint, although I hold with a scientific writer who considers the view taken of the psychic conjunction with the living brain more credible than the so-called demoniacal possession. Nevertheless it can be generally admitted that his “instructors,” to have communicated such a magnitude of abstruse philosophy, must be extremely intellectual, and as they say in W. B. Yeats’s native country “all there,” whereas that composite mentality of nondescript entities may be regarded as no good at all.

    A Vision, although written by a poet, is devoted to the philosophic conception of the analogy between the cyclic progression of the human ego, that is the soul, in twenty-eight incarnations, and the eight and twenty phases of the moon during its revolution in the synodic month, and he has further taken as a symbol the passage of the sun, moon and planets along the imaginary path through the zodiacal constellations, thus making a period of about 26,000 years of our reckoning, and in the spiritual light a single day may be one of several generations. This is the Great Year of the Ancients, the Anno Mundi, in which a thousand years of Spiritual Ecstasy may seem only a day; a beautiful idea so perfectly expressed by Longfellow in his poem The Legend of Monk Felix, 1 that saintly character, who whilst listening to the song of a bird was so entranced that a hundred years had passed him by. W. B. Yeats’s [125] poem, The Wanderings of Usheen, is based on the same theme.

    This philosophy of life and death, which he has called a phantasmagoria, he made the subject of a poem, The Phases of the Moon, and which I briefly dealt with in my previous article. This poem is reprinted with All Soul’s Night [sic] in the present work. I will now go more fully into the scheme of this poem in which two personages are introduced, viz. Robartes and Aherne, both of whom figure in others of his poems, also in his prose works, notably Rosa Alchemica and The Tables of the Law, and it consists of a dialogue between the two.

    These are not persons, however, but symbols,1 and are as Æ said of his Rosa Alchemica, “images of phantasy,” and these images he changed to what objective objects symbolized, and to him they do not exist for themselves but are only shadows of the unseen. He believes with Æ, that the Anima Mundi, “The Memory of Nature,” associates symbols with certain events, moods and persons, and whatever the passions of men have gathered about them become a symbol in that great memory. William Blake calls such images “the bright sculptures in Los’s Halls”; Æ also contended that this memory can be evoked by symbols, as did Blake who held that all events, all love stories renew themselves from those images. One is reminded of Walter de la Mare’s Henry Brocken. It has been suggested that his symbolism was adapted from Gerard de Nerval, Stéphane Mallarmé, Verlaine and other French symbolists.

    Robartes is a symbol of the mind, and it points in particular to the Poet’s mind, and not being a student of magical tradition, I do not understand what the symbol of “fire reflected in water” means; nor do I know what symbol Aherne represents.


    In the poem the two symbolic personalities as friends had been tramping the country road and it is evidently very late at night. Aherne listens as they reach a bridge; he hears a sound. There is a tower near at hand, and a man is within: he is evidently reading books of wisdom on account of a light being seen in his window. Robartes says:

And the light proves that he is reading still.
He has found, after the manner of his kind,
Mere images; chosen this place to live in
Because, it may be, of the candle light
From the far tower where Milton’s platonist
Sat late, or Shelley’s visionary prince:
The lonely light that Samuel Palmer engraved,
An image of mysterious wisdom won by toil;
And now he seeks in book and manuscript
What he shall never find.

Aherne advises Robartes to ring at his door and tell him that all his life’s labour

Will scarcely find for him a broken crust
Of all those truths that are your daily bread;
And when you have spoken take the roads again?
        *     *     *     *     *
Sing me the changes of the moon once more;
True song, though speech: mine author sing it me. [sic]

Then at Aherne’s request follows an account of the philosophy in verse, spoken by Robartes whom Aherne addresses as author.

    I will not tax my reader’s patience or intelligence by giving even an epitomized account of what occupies pages and pages of the book, viz., the soul through each phase of its development, that is twenty-eight incarnations in accordance with twenty-eight phases of the moon, the light part of the moon in varying degrees being the symbol of the subjective and the dark portion in like manner being that of the objective,—also the Celestial Body, the four faculties which man had made in past and present lives, then the Will, the Creative Genius, the Mask and the Body of Fate, how subjectivity separates man from man, whilst objectivity brings all back to the mass where they began.

    Yet despite wheels within wheels, complexity following [127] complexity, the building up of the whole system of primary and antithetical amounts to a wonderful mechanism no part of which appears to be out of place.1

    In this geometrical symbolism he has employed Phase No. 1 the moonlight [sic] night as that of complete objectivity; it is the phase before the first crescent appears, and therefore all is dark. Within it human entities become instruments of supernatural manifestation, and they transact any purpose imposed upon them. According to psychical investigations these have temporary bodies composed of an organized plastic material drawn from living bodies, and are thus enabled to manifest themselves to us as they appeared when in the flesh. These shapes are dominated by an intelligence in the same manner as our bodily organisms are ruled by our minds, and their activities display both will and intention similar to living beings.

When all the dough has been so kneaded up
    That it can take what form cook Nature fancies,
The first thin crescent is wheeled round once more.

I heard W. B. Yeats once declare that such etheric, or I should say ectoplasmic bodies,2 are composed of what he termed “plastic dough,” and that all knowledge becomes instinct and faculty. I have also been informed that may rich and worldly minded people who have “passed over” prefer to remain in a sort of counterpart of their earthly life when they go through the same routine of luxurious living rather than progress in higher planes of being. Or else as he wrote of Thoor Ballylee:
                    for centuries,
Rough men-at-arms, cross-gartered to the knees
Or shod in iron, climbed the narrow stairs,
And certain men-at-arms they were
Whose images, in the Great Memory stored
Came with loud cry and panting breast
To break upon a sleeper’s rest
While their great wooden dice beat on the board.

Phase 15, the full moon, is what he calls the phase of complete subjectivity, which is a phase of entire beauty, and where every beloved image has bodily form, and every bodily form is loved. This love being the highest attainment of the intellect and has nothing of desire implies effort, and although there is still separation from the loved object, love accepts the separation as necessary to its own existence. This is then the “Land of Heart’s Desire”

Where beauty has no ebb, decay, no flood,
But joy is wisdom, Time an endless song.

He states in A Vision that as we approach Phase 15, personal beauty increases, and at Phase 14 and Phase 16 the greatest human beauty becomes possible, and he thus wrote of womanly beauty:

O cloud-pale eyelids, dream-dimmed eyes
The poets labouring all their days
To build a perfect beauty in rhyme
Are overthrown by a woman’s gaze
And by the unlabouring brood of the skies:
And therefore my heart will bow, when dew
Is dropping sleep, until God burn time,
Before the unlabouring stars and you.


A woman’s beauty is like a white
Frail bird, like a white sea-bird alone
At daybreak after stormy night.    * * *
How many centuries spent
The sedentary soul
In toils of measurement
Beyond eagle and mole,
Beyond hearing or seeing,
Or Archimedes guess,
To raise into being
That loveliness.

In a note to his play The Only Jealousy of Emir, [sic] he says:

        “Objective natures are destined to be always ugly, hence the disagreeable appearance of politicians, reformers, philanthropists, scientists,” and to which might be added financiers, usurers, company promoters, pugilists, and so on.

    The Rose is symbol of spiritual love as well as supreme beauty, also intellectual beauty, and was once regarded as a symbol of the sun. Thus the Poet dreams as did Dante of [129] Beatrice, or like Rudel the troubadour who set out upon a pilgrimage to gaze at last upon the beauty of the Lady of Tripoli,1 which the singers of Provence had exalted in heavenly music, and who he had never seen. Yeats wrote of another of equal beauty, thus:

And him who sold tillage and house and goods,
And sought through lands and islands numberless years
Until he found with laughter and with tears
A woman of so shining loveliness
That men threshed corn at midnight by a tress,
A little stolen tress.

Being does not fade in passing on to other states of existence, but the shade is said to fade out at last. The shade appears to correspond to the psychic factor, but the Celestial Body which is spiritual attains a spiritual state between earthly lives of which the surroundings as well as the aptitudes of early earthly lives are experienced and displayed:

He grows younger every second
That were all his birthdays reckoned,
Much too solemn seemed
Because of what he had dreamed,
On the ambition that he served
Much too solemn and reserved.
Jaunting, journeying
In his own dayspring     * * *
At some old whitethorn root
He’ll practise the shepherd’s flute,
Or on the close-cropped grass
Court his shepherd lass.

and so on back to years of infancy.

    He names this “dreaming back,” which can also have very unpleasant associations, and quotes from a modern poem about “a beloved ghost,” whom another poet saw reflected in a looking-glass, and thinking herself unobserved was powdering her face in order to save her beauty from decay. Years ago I was told by a student of the occult, that in one or other of the earth’s encircling planes, which is constituted of that protyle substance out of [130] which all material elements and forms in course of ages had granulated, and thus formed atoms, there is a region he named “Vanity Fair” where, as he explained it to me, feminine leaders of fashion, and their followers, can set off their charms in the most magnificent and becoming apparel,1 as well as adorn their perfect and immaculate forms with precious stones of splendour and brilliance beyond human conception. But there is a very unhappy “snag” connected with that supersensory world, and that is on account of there being no personalities present to admire, or what may be still worse any of those entities they come into contact with turn out to be hopelessly indifferent to any allurements, as there are far more important issues at stake.

    I must confess that this revelation aroused within me a sense of humour, for being a callous male I failed to realize such a dreadful prospect. Probably he attributed my sudden risibility to honest doubt, and he was not far wrong.

    This nevertheless may be a much exaggerated instance of what W. B. Yeats puts forward in explaining how memories of events which took place during a previous life upon earth come in the form of dreams to the daimon, that is the ultimate self, and he holds that those events, or combinations of circumstances during life, had been shaped as it were by intuitive recollections, yet unknown to the ego, of circumstances that had surrounded it whilst inhabiting the flesh when living upon earth, perhaps centuries previously.

    That former existence may have been a short and a merry one when amidst splendour and luxury in the zenith of their beauty, or else one or other may have grown old, and still lives in her youth once more:

Pendant in passion, learned in old courtesies,
Vehement and witty she had seemed to glide
To some intrigue in her red shoes,
Her domino, her panniered skirt copied from Loughi,
The meditative critic.

And of her he might also have written as he did upon the lady of old distinguished grace when she was dying:

When her soul flies to the predestined dancing-place
. . . . . let her come face to face,
Amid the first astonishment, with Grania’s shade
All but the terrors of the woodland flight forgot
That made her Dermuid dear, and some old cardinal
Pacing with half-closed eyelids in a sunny spot
Who had murmured of Giorgione at his latest breath—
Aye and Achilles, Simor, Babar, Barham all
Who have lived in joy and laughed into the face of death.

and besides those beauties of old-time who had ever joyed in the dance, where those fair daughters of dreams and of stories who in the Poet’s imagination had charmed with their vivacity and lustrous eyes, kings, courtiers and warriors amidst the long Celtic twilight, with dim shadowy queens upon their jewelled thrones, such as the golden Maeve, “divine to many thousand eyes” and

She could have called over the rim of the world
Whatever woman’s lovers had hit her fancy,

and like other queens, who were counselled by Danaan gods from glittering realms of faery, and those phantoms from the past as he wrote “cleave the waters of sleep, and come to us from Eden on flying feet,” such as Deirdre the Celtic conception of fair womanhood, Etain who was crazed by love for Baile, Niamh “with love-lorn face,” the Aphrodite of Irish myth, Grania[1] beloved of Diamuid, and others. [sic]

    And there were those fair women too, with creative poetic minds to whom came dreams wherewith to beautify the world, and they between birth and death had, as did Sappho and others, vied with any man, and their spontaneous utterances telling of strange and beautiful things were oftentimes sad-voiced and sweet, for what their waking souls imagined were pre-natal memories of noble characters and wonder deeds of goodness, they having found these realities in some bygone historic era, which had flashed through their minds during unexpected moments of exaltation.


    Beauty in womanhood was to him in his early days that quality as having reached the highest pinacle [sic] of excellence, and he made it a mystical acquisition to his many excursions amidst the realms of faerydom where the spirit of his poetry in glowing phrases revealed to the mind a magical world, when he had changed many sad olden stories to burdens of song, and made tender or tragic semi-material images seem as if they had arisen from the borderland of dreams.

    Thus his imagination bore him far away back into that far remote past when Helen herself had lived, and “in her sight was Elysium, her smile was heaven; her voice was enchantment,” and he wrote of her who was the World’s Desire, “that she of all other women was the most touching in her romantic beauty” when amidst those perilous early years a sound continually rang in her ears of armed men, with

The broken wall, the burning roof and tower
And Agamemnon dead.

In her succeeding phase, the next turn of the wheel, she still possesses her ancient beauty, yet wanders alone, still her past languorous movements have changed to power and responsibility, and her whole life becomes an image of unified energy in its antithesis to when it had been made noble by irresponsible simplicity, and who spoke of Hector in tears, “grief-ful Helen1 has no friend now that thou art gone.”

Why should I blame her that she filled my days
With misery, or that she would of late
Have taught to ignorant men most violent ways,
Or hurled the little streets upon the great,
Had they but courage equal to desire?
What could have made her peaceful with a mind
That nobleness made simple as a fire,
With beauty like a tightened bow, a kind
That is not natural in an age like this,
Being high and solitary and most stern?
Why, what could she have done being what she is?
Was there another Troy for her to burn?

Was it she who by her beauty gathered great crowds from the slums, and spoke of “Mother Ireland with a crown of stars above her head?”

    My memory travels back to the evening when I listened to W. B. Yeats deliver a lecture before the Theosophical Society in Dublin on “The Phases of the Moon,” which was valuable to me insomuch that it gave me a key to what otherwise might have proved to be a far more difficult undertaking. He opened a packet and took out a chart of the moon in its varied phases, as applied to his philosophy of metempsychosis, which was in a slightly damaged condition and he apologized for its having been torn, and began by saying, “My Persian,” and while he paused for a second or two, I visualized a Persian attendant in oriental costume, but when he mentioned claws, not finger nails, from which he had rescued it only barely in time I awoke to the fact that it was his pet Persian cat had torn it, and which animal figures in one of his prose writings. I remember how his wife was as well conversant as himself with all the intricacies of this almost uncanny philosophy, and she once set him right where he had made a slip.

    He spoke of his “instructors” as if they were real living people; he called them “my friends,” and mentioned as well how he had in mind to issue an edition of a book upon the subject with illustrations engraved on wood by using the graving tools that had been handled by Albrecht Dürer.

    There is one strange detail in particular in A Vision where the author draws attention in a footnote to William Blake’s poem The Mental Traveller, which no commentator has been able to explain satisfactorily, and yet after a careful study of that portion of A Vision he calls “The Completed Symbol,” one certainly obtains not only an inkling, but a perception of the poem’s extraordinary symbolism, and assuming that the concepts are purely the result of intensified imagination, is it not very peculiar that one form of cryptic philosophy should provide as it were a key to another of equal complexity, and furthermore that the two individuals should have lived in different centuries? [134] It would indeed take a separate article in order to go deeply into their correlation.

    What led up to the writing of the book was no doubt W. B. Yeats’s study of mysticism in his youth, and he also studied and dabbled in magic, but nothing bordering on the Black Art, or Satanism.

    It was a mysticism entirely his own which I have endeavoured to fathom, having read his Rosa Alchemica containing what Æ called the images of phantasy. His study of alchemy1 was not, I take it, what is popularly know by that word, that is changing the baser metals into gold, but philosophically speaking, what is in all bodies known as the “prima materia” a spiritual principle, and an infusion of this immaterial substance into natural things, and which when tinctured, would change bodies into souls, and weariness into ecstasy; the doctrine being that all human beings without being aware of the fact are weary, and he longed for some power, an essence, that would bring about a dissolution of all mortal things.2 Tinctures from this point of view occur very frequently in his philosophic scheme set out in A Vision.

    There is an interesting point I must draw attention to, and that is in later Brahman [sic] theology a tendency was displayed to connect the souls of the departed with the waning and waxing of the moon, and in one of the Upanishads it is stated that all who leave the world go directly to the moon, and which we must regard as the moon at the fall, and how by their lives its waxing crescent is increased, and by its waning it brings them to second birth; and it was a doctrine of the Manichæan sect, third century A.D., that the souls of men rise after death from the twelve [135] signs of the Zodiac in symbols of light, one of the two principles, viz. light and darkness; and the sun and moon were likened to ships, the moon the smaller ship carried the burden of souls for fifteen days and the sun the larger for fifteen days, making the twenty-eight crescents the full moon and the moon during complete occultation. According to the ancient doctrines soul and body are united, but the compact is unequally binding upon either one or the other, for the soul by its own nature aspires to freedom, but the body even “when an immortal passion breathes in mortal clay” holds it in fetters whilst “our hearts endure the scourge,” and it is only death that can dissolve the partnership. But alas! for those who eternal freedom is the heart’s desire, and even “when the flaming lute-thronged angelic door is wide” that compact must again be renewed, and it may be only after a short while, or perhaps a thousand years.

    Plato wrote of the souls having to pass out of the underworld, after a long and tedious journey from a gap in the earth, or cave, and others from the heaven-world who described enjoyments and sights of marvellous beauty. All save those unfortunate souls who were condemned to Tartarus had the selection of what they would become during the next unity of soul with body and thus the wheel of birth continues to revolve alternating between post-mortem existence and a fresh incarnation round the wide circle of necessity.

    In Virgil’s Aeneid Book VI there is an episode on the same theme where in a fourth dimensional space or locality, heroes who had died in the Trojan war exist simultaneously with kings and consuls of ancient Rome, and all are awaiting the time when they will reach the borders of day, and pass back through the Ivory Gate, or the Gate of Horn, to where deep in the forest are the waters of Lethe, or forgetfulness.

    The belief in metempsychosis was held by the Chaldeans whose history extends so far back as to be lost in the mists of antiquity, and Egypt, which has been called “the timeless”, took this doctrine from anterior civilizations.

    It was also a doctrine held by the Celts, whose conceptions [136] of the three worlds, according to W. B. Yeats, are supposed to have given Dante the plan of the Divina Commedia; he himself has written concerning an Irish mythical hero:

I have drunk ale from the Country of the Young
And weep because I know all things now:
I have been a hazel tree and they hung
The Pilot Star and the Crooked Plough
Among my leaves in times out of mind:
I became a rush that horses tread:
I became a man, a hater of the wind,
Knowing one, out of all things, alone, that his head
Would not lie on the breast or his lips on the hair
Of the woman that he loves, until he dies:
Although the rushes and the fowl of the air
Cry of his love with their pitiful cries.

Aengus Master of Love would not grant him this boon until his next life upon Earth.

    When lecturing on the Great Wheel, W. B. Yeats introduced an additional hypothesis to which he refers in his book, and that is based upon the conception that some souls would drop behind or some run ahead, which may shorten or lengthen the whole in succeeding circles and so on and on as each circle becomes smaller so that the entire system becomes a cone or spiral and in the course of thousands of years the circle becomes that of one individual forming an apex; and then he went still further by stating that it would restart, that is to say, wheels or gyres increasing in size from point of contact so as to form an inverted cone point to point, and when the great circle is again reached the system begins all over again. I will not enter however into any further prolixities.

    He describes the manner by which the so-called communications came to his wife, he would ask them various questions, and she in automatic writing would set down the answers on paper.

    The unknown communicator at first took his theme from W. B. Yeats’s essay called Per Amica Silentia Lunae where the author draws a distinction between the perfection that is from a man’s combat with himself, and that which is [137] a combat with circumstances, and the communicators built up an elaborate classification of men according to their more or less complete expression of one type or another, that is man’s combat with himself, the subjective, and the other his combat with circumstances, the objective, and that hypothetic entity supported the classification with a series of symbolisms unknown to his wife, and himself. I need not go into further details, except one interesting point, and that is that she would at times talk in her sleep and upon receiving a signal he would write down whatever she said, or replies to his questions, and in this manner the work was completed; also that the communicators (sic) had drawn up their symbolic map of European history some days before the publication of the first German edition of Decline of the West, which I had the good fortune to come across in a public library about two years and a half ago, and which, although it is as Yeats wrote, “founded upon a different philosophy” gives the same years of crisis, and draws the same general conclusions.

    After hearing Yeats deliver his lecture on the Phases of the moon I reread his poem under the same title, and found it to be quite intelligible, but what flashed through my mind upon hearing its explanation was the thought,—and the same idea occurred to George W. Russell (Æ)—that it displayed a tendency towards the horrible doctrine of predestination, and he wrote that it is always possible for a man to rise above his stars, and I believe, as he did, in Free Will.

    The whole conception of A Vision, as the title denotes, is dreamlike, indeed some people might call it a nightmare procession of beings born into this world in order to carry out a predestined purpose, possibly being the result of whatever had been done, or left undone, during a former existence, 1 also predestined, and thus back and back; [138] whilst on the other hand progression is both acted upon and predestined; and what is eventually in store does not by any means appear inviting, even when the phase of complete objectivity is reached.1

    This phase appears to me like the dreaming back to an age of innocence, for hunchback, saint and fool are the last crescents, they having no active intelligence, so that they obey obscure subconscious fantasies, while at their best they would know all wisdom if they could know anything, and so on. He had written elsewhere that there is a certain wisdom which the fool has acquired from supernatural sources, that he knows all things but is afraid to repeat what is known to himself, for if he did that power would be taken away.

    In his play The Hour Glass, the Poet has made the fool wiser than the wise man, for the fool has intuitive knowledge given him by the Angel.

    Typical of each phase of the lunar revolution, in order to illustrate such a correlation with a phase of human life he gives examples of men and women both living and dead, and in this wise several personalities are grouped together in a single phase, and that does not strike one as successful in many instances.

    Personally I have not taken the trouble even to guess at which of the grooves of the Great Wheel I am in at present, although it might be interesting to know, and I think the same would apply to most people; but in whose company we shall next find ourselves would be still more interesting to discover.

    If I take for my present life at random say Phase 17 as my creative mind is subjective truth, as I am when writing articles or reviews most particular in regard to facts, then in the next phase I shall be in company with Goethe and Matthew Arnold whose works I have always appreciated, especially Goethe; but I will have to wait for a very long period to elapse before I am once again in the same company with my late friend Æ; but meanwhile [139] I shall have the consolation of meeting Bernard Shaw, Shakespeare, Flaubert, Synge and probably Queen Victoria. I repeat that this whole conception is nothing more than a dream, for he is a poet of dreams. “The Shadowy Waters” was the outcome of a dream, and so was “Cathleen ni Hoolihan,” as well as many of his poems, especially The Cap and Bells.

    A critic has thus written “at his best, Mr. Yeats has a command of sweet sonambulistic language unequalled by any writer in our generation.

But I being poor have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

    Samuel Butler in Erewhon showed that individuals are wrapped in transparent veils which, if torn off, would display their voluntary illusions, and Bernard Shaw has done the same thing in his plays. The antithetical phase such as the Creative Mind and Body of Fate enforced emotion, enforced intellectual action, and so on, is illustrative of this in A Vision.

    A Vision, notwithstanding its many complexities, is without doubt an amazing book, and anybody who takes the trouble to devote a little time to its study will be amply rewarded. The two chapters name “The Great Year of the Ancients” and “Dove and Swan” [sic] are richly strewn with his historic affirmations and astrological lore, and written in his most engaging style, being quite dissimilar to the more or less characteristic manner he had previously adopted in his many prose works, but none the less attractive; for his entire conception, mental or extraneous, of the Great Wheel of History, where salient incidents as well as prominent characters, are taken in periodic succession over a couple of millenniums1 in accordance with astrological reckonings, is altogether an undoubtedly marvellous achievement.

    This then is the Poet’s dream concept of the immortal part of man, that Divine emanation which in far remote æons [140] first had entered the initial circle of transmigration including this world, where it had time after time undergone unlimited trials, endless struggles, and before it lay the great hope of final atonement.1

    In the Earth-world the ancient religions including that of dogmatic Christianity, located their hells, although in the early Christian Church their material fires were taught as symbolical of the torments of conscience; but it was during the dark ages of ignorance, cruelty and superstition that such horrors became a fixed tenet, the outcome of perverted imagination born out of fear of warring devils where in may instances the death of the body was concerned. It was William Blake, the mystic, who wrote:

Why should Punishment weave the veil with Iron Wheels of war
When Forgiveness might weave it with Wings of Cherubim.

W. B. Yeats too had cooler judgment:

The heavy boughs, the burnished dove
That moans and sighs a hundred days:
How when we die our shades may rove,
When eve has hushed the feathered ways,
With vapoury footsale among the water’s drowsy blaze,

and of their terrible warnings which men of old believed had come to them for the dead in dreams:

Have not old writers said
That dizzy dreams can spring
From the dry bones of the dead?
And many a night it seems
That all the valley fills
With those fantastic dreams.
That overflow the hills,
So passionate is a shade.

    At the end of the book there is a poem,—there are only about four altogether,—he has named “All Souls’ Night,” [141] which is beautiful in many respects, and there is one stanza where he refers to a lady who before her death had taught native children at a school in some foreign land, and this refers to the same philosophy:

Before the end much had she ravelled out
From the discourse in figurative speech
By some learned Indian.
On the soul’s journey. How it wheeled about
Wherever the orbit of the moon can reach,
Until it plunge into the sun.
And there, free and yet fast,
Being both Chance and Choice,
Forget its broken toys
And sink into its own delight at last.


1 [page 124] I think that the same story is contained in The Gesta Romanorum. Return to text.

1 [page 125] W. B. Yeats declared in one of his books that directly a symbolism has possessed the imagination of large numbers of men, it becomes, as he believed, an embodiment of disembodied powers and repeats itself in dreams and visions, age after age. Æ found this to be strangely true, and I gave an account of one very remarkable instance in The Occult Review as well as Æ’s recollections of past incarnations. Thus Aedh which is the Irish for fire, that is fire burning by itself, and it is also the myrrh and frankincense that the imagination offers continuously before all that it loves. Return to text.

1 [page 127] The Poet I fancy discovered his geometrical symbolism, as in his early use of symbols when writing poetry, had an aesthetic aspect like Silvester, the mathematician, who saw all the colours of the rainbow in a page of algebra. Return to text.

2 [page 127] The late Dr. Crawford, of Belfast University, showed me and some others, photographs of ectoplasmic rods taken by the glow from oxysulphide of calcium, being invisible in any specific, or ordinary light. Return to text.

1 [page 129] Both Swinburne and Browning here made this incident a subject for their poetry. Return to text.

1 [page 130] These clothes are illusionary, but the force exercised to produce such an illusion is a mystery. It is said that in the psychic world illusionary garments are always to be obtained by the act of willing, for purposes of identification. Return to text.

1 [page 131] Pronounced Grawnia. Return to text.

1 [page 132] According to Herodotus Helen, after she had left her husband King Menelaus, did not reach Troy with Paris as their ship was driven ashore on the Egyptian coast, where King Proteus detained the real Helen, and it was only a phantom of that old world beauty was carried off to Troy, and the real Helen was discovered by her husband and taken back with him after the Trojan war. Return to text.

1 [page 134] According to legend the fallen angels “who saw the daughters of men that they were fair, and took them wives of all that they chose,” taught the laws of alchemy to those women they married, these instructions being recorded in a book called Chema. The text from the Book of Genesis gave Byron the foundation for his dramatic poem Heaven and Earth. Return to text.

2 [page 134] In one of his books W. B. Yeats draws an analogy between the arts and the labour of the alchemists, each being an attempt to condense out of “the flying vapour of the world an image of human perfection for its own and not for art’s sake,” and the Alchemists were called artists in their day. Also that “we live with images, that is our renunciation, for only the silent sage or saint can make himself [i]nto that perfection.” Return to text.

1 [page 137] Aldous Huxley considers the Indian notion of Karma, the Buddhist conception of the quality of actions, that is the law of cause and effect as applied to the doctrine of reincarnation, helps us to explain the existence of the many cases of what we consider undeserved suffering. Poets have made the doctrine of reincarnation a subject for poetry, particularly G. D. Rossetti [sic], W. E. Henley, Andrew Lang, and the present Poet Laureate [John Masefield], whose poem A Creed was inspired by the notion of Karmic law. Upon several occasions I have heard [from] Æ how he could remember pre-natal events, which may have been his own imagination. He declared that those memories of the past were attained by his system of concentration. Return to text.

1 [page 138] I remember a lady who was present inquired of the Poet which Phase he was in during his present term on Earth, and he pointed to the chart without any hesitation, and as well as I can remember it was either Phase 24 or 25. Return to text.

1 [page 139] Twelve such wheels or gyres constitute a single great year or cone of twenty-six thousand years. Return to text.

1 [page 124] Origen, one of the early Christian Fathers, who had studied Plato and Pythagoras, gave offence because he believed in the pre-existence of the soul, final restoration and the plurality of worlds. I have always been interested in this Pythagorean doctrine, and I first read of it in one of Dumas’ novels when a boy. It principle character was that arch-charlatan who called himself Cagliostro, and who was said to have been beloved by the ladies, being reported to have discovered a mixture that would make ugly women beautiful. He is the guest of a nobleman, and in the course of conversation tells his host how a certain general was killed in a famous battle, and on being asked how he got the information he replied “I was that general,” or something to that effect. Return to text.

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