|Irish Poet and dramatist. He underwent initiation in the Magical Society the Golden Dawn, choosing the magical motto "Demon Est Deus Inversus" (The Devil is the inverse side of God). Yeats' activities in the Golden Dawn were at their peak in l900-1901 when he took command of the Isis-Urania temple in London at the time that the magical organization was experiencing a crisis. McGregor Mathers, the titular head of the order, was asserting his authority from Paris when, in April of l900, he sent Aleister Crowley to London to seize the lodge and extract oaths of allegiance to Mathers. Crowley was to expel anyone who would not be brought into line. Yeats confronted Crowley at the door of the London temple at 36 Blythe Road, prevented him from seizing the building and with the help of the police, banished Crowley back to Paris.
Yeats' lifelong unrequited love was Maude Gonne. When his proposal of marriage was spurned, first by her and later by her daughter, he finally, with a push from Lady Gregory, wed Georgie Lees . Four days into his marriage, he proclaimed himself to be as miserable as he had ever been since the marriage of Maude many years before. His misery gave birth to some poems.
At that time, however, the new wife had a forced experience of automatic writing. Profound though disjointed sentences spewed forth. An unidentified voice said that she was to provide Yeats metaphors for his poetry. Yeats likewise could communicate with the disembodied being. The communicator came to the Yeats' in sleep as well as in wakefulness. The automatic writing and speech during sleep was accompanied by a strange phenomena. A whistling noise alerted Yeats that a "communicator" was ready to come while Georgie slept. Servants at the other end of the house could hear the "whistling ghost." Yeats therefore asked the "communicator" to announce his presence by another sign. Various scents were then sent to announce the impending presence.Over four hundred sessions were held between October l917 and June 1921. (See book: A Vision. Also: W.B. Yeats by A. Norman Jeffares)
By the late l930's, Yeats' health was beginning to deteriorate, a kidney problem being diagnosed. However, his mind was active and he was writing poetry the last week of his life. On 21 January l939 he completed his poem "The Black Tower." He was at this time in France. In the next few days signaled a marked deterioration in his health and some wandering of speech, but by evening he had regained his alertness and gave his wife corrections for some of his poems. The following day he needed morphia for bouts of pain. Breathing was labored. He died on 28 January, l939. Because of the war, the body could not easily be transported back to Ireland and it was not until l948 that his bones met their final resting place in Sligo, Ireland.
Yeats' poem The Second Coming seems predictive of the horror of World War !! . It could also have been written yesterday, its sense of doom applying equally to our own day: For we also are unable to detect "the center" - and when is the last time than anyone has witnessed innocence?
THE SECOND COMING
Turning and turning in the widening gyre,
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in the sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its low thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?
Yeats' poem THE CIRCUS ANIMAL'S DESERTION, writen near the end of his life, speaks powerfully about the poet's loss of inspiration. Throughout his life, Yeats needed a driving energy. He found his inspiration, variously, in his love for Maude Gonne, in Ceremonial Magic, in his theatrically created heroine the Countess Cathleen, in his Visions, in his work for the Irish Theatre, and in other facets of his life as well. At a less grand level, this could be any of us, crawling around from one garbage can to the next to keep those neurons firing, to give us the stimulation and adrenaline to keep muddling along. But finally for Yeats it wouldn't work any more. His Circus Animals no longer did their tricks. And here is the realization that the things we fill our plates with to try to keep on keeping on are no more material than dreams which we choose to allow to enchant us. We don't even want to ask How these dreams start ("Old kettles, old bottles...old bones, old rags...." ) No. Don't even go there. As we grow older, maybe the phantasy capacity declines.
THE CIRCUS ANIMALS' DESERTION
I sought a theme and sought for it in vain.
I sought it daily for six weeks or so.
Maybe at last, being but a broken man,
I must be satisfied with my heart, although
Winter and summer till old age began
My circus animals were all on show,
Those stilted boys, that burnished chariot,
Lion and woman and the Lord knows what.
What can I but enumerate old themes?
First that sea-rider Oisin led by the nose
Through three enchanted islands, allegorical dreams,
Vain gaiety, vain battle, vain repose,
Themes of the embittered heart, or so it seems,
That might adorn old songs or courtly shows;
But what cared I that set him on to ride,
I, starved for the bosom of his faery bride?
And then a counter-truth filled out its play,
The Countess Cathleen was the name I gave it,
She, pity-crazed, had given her soul away,
But masterful Heaven had intervened to save it.
I thought my dear must her own soul destroy,
So did fanaticism and hate enslave it,
And this brought forth a dream and soon enough
This dream itself had all my thought and love.
And when the Fool and Blind Man stole the bread
Cuchulain fought the ungovernable sea;
Heart-mysteries there, and yet when all is said
It was the dream itself enchanted me:
Character isolated by a deed
To engross the present and dominate memory.
Players and painted stage took all my love,
And not those things that they were emblems of.
Those masterful images because complete
Grew in pure mind, but out of what began?
A mound of refuse or the sweeping of a street,
Old kettles, old bottles, and a broken can,
Old iron, old bones, old rags, that raving slut
Who keeps the till. Now my ladder's gone,
I must lie down where all the ladders start,
In the foul rag-and-bone shop of the heart.
One might want to walk down the street where Yeats lived while in London. Who knows? One of his Circus Animals just might appear. You might get a flash of what it felt like to BE Yeats, as he turned down his cobblestone street late on a foggy, rainy night, returning home from the theatre or from a meeting of the Golden Dawn. And if anyone would have a ghost around to haunt their former abode, it would be William Butler Yeats.
Upper Woburn Place in London is a street which teems with tourists and others. It is near the Russell Hotel and Russell Square--keep walking up Upper Woburn. Right near St. Pancras Church, there is a turnoff called Woburn Walk. The delectable scent of an Indian Restaurant is at the far end. In this block-long Victorian thoroughfare, one will see the plaque on the wall marking the flat which Yeats occupied.