SECRET YEATS AND THE IGNORED ARCANA
In the extravagantly magical/mystical life of Yeats, astrology was major and arguably this strangely secret public figure is insufficiently understood without factoring in this aspect of the esoteric. The poet frequently cast horoscopes or, because he hated the maths, got his maternal uncle George Pollexfen to do it for him, and he was always noting transits to his pattern (terrible argument tonight under Mars square moon; Venus to Mars, meeting Maud Gonne today etc). Yeats’ affinity for astrology is obvious – he even had the planet of astrology, Uranus, conjunct his sun if widely, but then this same Uranus exactly trined the also astrology associated asteroid Urania. Even so, it was mainly for practicalities of life and some basic decision making that Yeats had recourse to horoscopes.
Had Yeats accepted that the pattern of a natus also and even especially speaks for the unconscious, inspiration and thus art, he might have been less confused and confusing in his curious understanding and core doctrines of the self and much more. However it’s also true that on the best reading for his times, what Yeats most needed to know, (similarly to critics and biographers subsequently!), would remain largely hidden. That includes even as regards his relation to the modern Ireland he helped define. Possibly the only meaningful item of information he obtained from the disillusioning séances he attended was to be told his horoscope was “incomplete”.
It was. For purposes of understanding the mind of a notable literary/historical figure, perhaps few horoscopes read along standard lines would seem more “incomplete”. But today more information is available, not least because such factors as Pluto, Chiron and the name, place and concept asteroids can all be added to the picture and they prove remarkably descriptive and informative. It is for example impossibly correct that for the man who so long desired marriage and family yet who married past fifty only to come within days to the painful realization he’d made a serious mistake, should have his Part of Marriage conjunct the wounded healer factor, Chiron. The marriage only worked, survived and was “healed” one might say, after the pair managed to collaborate on their mediumistic project of The Vision. But there is much more to say.
I have long admired Yeats’ work, not just for some very fine specimens of poetry and drama – even if some of the early and late material is a bit dated or just weak – but his invaluable critical capacity to summarize across the too long fragmented Irish/Celtic tradition which he helped save, revive and popularize. Yeats was not just a poet and dramatist but an important prose writer of many ideas. Nevertheless what appears to be the truth about Ireland’s unofficial poet laureate is not as reassuring as one might wish. It raises questions, and I mean more seriously so than, at the gossip level, how much his otherworldly visions may have owed to hashish and mescalin imported from Paris rather than the collective Celtic unconscious most of us, even including co-workers like Lady Gregory, may have supposed. Yeats, the poet and theorist of the mask, tended to show people the face he knew they wanted to see!
What concerns me is more radical. And the personal interest I bring to it, and whose reasons will become clear by the conclusion where I ask what is poetry today, is linked to my own poetic and dramatic work published this month, New Poems and Two Celtic Dramas amzn.to/1eJXHGC. This is material closer to at least elements of Yeatsian tradition than majority literary trends current within Ireland today. (Perhaps it helps to be outside Ireland in this generation to cultivate a certain type of vision!). First however, I will briefly describe main features of Yeats’ natus as it would be known to the poet and then describe the more acute and disconcerting truth, secrets in effect, that a modern reading can supply.
BASICS OF THE NATAL CHART
Yeats was born in Sandymount Dublin on June 13th 1865 at 10.40 pm. This means he was a divided, intellectually curious, multi-tasking Gemini with eccentric, independent, often rebellious Aquarius rising at 0 degrees. There is more than one type of Gemini and ascendant signs physically modify any sun sign, but Yeats still strongly corresponded to the textbook typical Edward Snowden image of the Gemini, tall, slim and intellectual looking. The poet’s birth time seems more or less correct. His career/destiny Midheaven at 4 of philosophical Sagittarius is on what is called a strong, “critical” degree. And the fact that at birth the Part of Fortune falls exactly on Gemini’s “ruler”, Mercury, the planet of writing and writers, itself in Gemini its sign of rulership and in its natural house the third too, all augurs well for the data of a celebrated writer and indefatigable conversationalist. For that matter so too does the Part of Soul conjuncting the rising. Yeats is about nothing if not the colours and intuitions of “soul” as against the para-intellectual directions of spirit. So the birth time appears correct.
Since the moon was rising for Yeats in Aquarius at 19 degrees (a reason he always regarded himself as “lunar” not “solar”) this strengthens any Aquarian input and personal style as well as inclining him to be either dominated by or associated with women as we know he was. Also, not only could Yeats prove astonishingly, ultra-Aquarian eccentric on occasions such as cutting up a fur coat in order not to disturb the magic sleep of a cat lying on it, but he was oddly accident prone in Aquarian style – like scoffing a box of cough drops mistaking them for regular sweets and sending himself to sleep for 30 hours as a result. His spelling and punctuation could be amazingly idiosyncratic for a writer, and it’s odd he could never master French despite often visiting France and even dying there.
The fact that the ruler of this Aquarian rising, Uranus, falls in writerly Gemini widely conjunct Yeats’ natal Sun (the core self) further entrenches the eccentricity of style at the same time as it promises great originality of personality and/or creativity (his love of the avant-garde in theatre and design was notable) especially from within the creative fifth house. (Shelley, Yeats’ early model, likewise had Sun conjunct Uranus in the fifth house so he would naturally stir Yeats, especially as Shelley’s Sun/Uranus conjuncts Yeats’ own Mars in Leo).
Yeats’ Gemini Sun trine Saturn in the arts and genteel society sign of Libra shows Yeats can get somewhere through great effort, but also good patronage like that of Lady Gregory and the tea heiress Annie Horniman; also that he can live long enough to do so unlike one of his siblings who died young. Jupiter in Sagittarius inclines to religion, philosophy, the kind of big generalizations Yeats directed upon Ireland – unlike his father who was intended for the church, Yeats admitted to be unable to live without some kind of religion.
Mars in spectacular, dramatic Leo in Yeats’ unions house promises plenty of argument and problems with associates, spouses or long term lovers. Very much so as Mars stands in affliction square to a close, obsessive, Venus/Pluto conjunction in fixed, immovable Taurus. Though Yeats wouldn’t have known of Pluto unless in his latter years, the combination describes especially the lifelong obsession and frustration with the fiery, theatrical Maud Gonne, an image of Ireland itself/herself – Ireland, by tradition at least, has always been under Taurus though Gonne herself wasn’t. (Gonne was a Sagittarian which means she could dominate, as she certainly did, in the sector of Yeats’ career and destiny. But as the tormented Venus/Pluto falls in the 3rd of writing, Gonne and love’s frustrations can be much written about personally and also nationalistically as a Cathleen ni Houlihan image). I should perhaps mention that we arguably only know Yeats’ poetry because of the (seventh house) agency and original support, including financial, for the poetry and its publication by the retired Fenian John O’Leary (b 23 July 1830). O’Leary’s sun at 0 Leo falls exactly on Yeats’ seventh house cusp of agency. Moreover O’Leary’s 23 degree Venus in Gemini falls conjunct Yeats’ sun so that he really liked and favoured the poet who would later suitably write of him, “Romantic Ireland’s dead and gone, it’s with O’Leary in the grave”.
To be mystical, one normally needs something in the 4th, 8th or 12th houses which will reflect the types of mysticism. Yeats only, but importantly, had Saturn (and itself exalted in Libra) in his eighth of sex and mysteries, (i.e. the occult). Yeats’ mysticism does in fact incline to the occult or sexual/tantric. Saturn here can make for a lot of structuring or ritual in the realms of the erotic. Saturn could nonetheless also indicate some sexual frustration which Yeats had an admitted fair share of despite his many affairs, and/or Saturn could reflect the sheer effort of attempting union with especially the elusive Gonne via astral means (which apparently Yeats was able to do in the form of a serpent!). We also know that in old age (Saturn) Yeats underwent the Steinach operation (apparently a partial vasectomy) to release more libido. But it worked (Saturn helpfully trine Sun) even if it proved a bit embarrassing. Such are the main, visible features of a horoscope Yeats would recognize. But what of the rest of the data that the poet didn’t know and which almost better describes but also rather betrays him?
WHAT YEATS DIDN’T KNOW
At first glance the new information is satisfying, especially if we pose it a question the traditional data can’t quite answer like: was Yeats fated to be the poet, voice and revealer of specifically modern Ireland to itself?….The answer is yes and the efficiency of the supplementary data to demonstrate just that should be proof to the uninitiated that it reliably works. The asteroid Yeates (interpretation of asteroids follows sound not spelling) conjuncts the asteroid Ireland and The Part of Revelation. These three factors then fortunately trine asteroid Poesia (Yeates at 22. Pisces conjuncts The Part of Revelation at 21 Pisces and Ireland at 20 Pisces, which trines Poesia at 19 Cancer). Then too, Erato (traditional muse of specifically lyric poetry) rises at 15 Aquarius (a world point, helpful for fame) loosely conjunct the poet’s rising moon – asteroid aspects don’t exceed 2 degrees unless as here to sun or moon.
Erato itself is closely and surely significantly conjunct at 16 degrees to Lugh, traditionally the versatile Celtic Mercury who the gods of Ireland made the chief ollamh (poet) of the land. This tells us what seems true: Yeats’ Ireland lyric poetry is more notable than the dramatic. And much of the lyric output is linked to an atavistic, ultimately pagan worldview (Yeats the descendant of clergymen would write of “my unchristened heart”) which reckons to speak, and is mostly accepted as speaking, for all Ireland. But since the 19 degree moon is favourably exact to Prometheus at 19 Aries, we can also appreciate why for Yeats, Shelley’s Prometheus Unbound provided his virtual call to the bardic role and why he rated it not just good poetry but truth-in-itself, something to rank with world scriptures, a strange and significant point to which we can return.
In view of things said later, I should stress that the muse Erato can be taken as the equivalent of Yeats’ all-powerful “daimon” without which he believed no true poetry could be written. The “daimon” could however only possess and inspire if one had assumed the “anti-self” or “mask”. Yeats’ concept of “mask” is interesting because the first house in which Erato is found is always the house of at any rate the persona, the filter or mask for the core will and personality of an individual’s sun sign. However, Yeats’ poetic “anti-self” is an awkward, misleading word (much Yeatsian jargon is confused not least because he was bound not to reveal secret society principles). Essentially it designates the unconscious as opposed to everyday consciousness. But ‘anti-self’ can get combined with theories of the (astral) mask because in the rituals of the Golden Dawn and its Isis-Urania temple, Yeats learned to reach unconscious planes invoking spirits while wearing the appropriate god mask which obviously would seem the antithesis of the human. With the “anti-self” concept (which might also be involved with orgasm and the sex magic Yeats didn’t discuss) we can see how Yeats is going to trap readers and even confuse himself because modern psychological astrology would not allow that the unconscious has anything to do with the first house energies in which the nearest thing to Yeats’ daimon resides.
It seems no accident that many of Yeats greatest poems as in The Tower are about simply himself and his various roles and masks rather than unconscious deeps! We can also see that asteroid Memoria (i.e. memory but also the ancient world equivalent of the unconscious or Yeats’ “Great Memory” or “Great Mind”) is not in aspect to Erato. Instead it afflicts the writer’s Mercury and his IC angle (base of chart).Small wonder Yeats is going to make poetry amid conflict, misdirecting himself as regards inspiration and arriving at any “anti-self” closer less to the unconscious than to precisely an opposite of the self in terms of roles, an opposite with which he struggles like Jacob with the angel.
If you enter the unconscious to mine inspiration, you do so via your 4th, 8th or 12th houses. These are untenanted by any planets for Yeats – except for Saturn which, though planets as opposed to asteroids are symbolically multivalent, by tradition has been the devil symbol. And Saturn is at very least the archetype for any fear. Yeats, whose name in magic is devil associated, reaches the “anti-self” through precisely fear. Admittedly at the planetary level (as opposed to the mentioned levels of houses) the moon just by itself enjoys some traditional associations with the unconscious as opposed to the consciousness of sun. This is one reason that Yeats’ own “masks” tend to be golden and glittering or yellow reflecting things solar, or complete silvery lunar to rouse unconscious energies. Even so, Yeats’ moon by being in the non-mystical first house and in a masculine (i.e. extravert) sign, is poorly placed to assist him in strivings towards sublime oppositions or magical unions of conscious with unconscious. This may also be the reason Yeats was so reliant upon women – he wanted or needed them to do his mental and symbolic work for him!
I at first wondered why Yeats’ crucial Poesia should be in his 6th house (even though I maintain it’s in the same house for Shakespeare) as opposed to somewhere obvious like near his destiny/reputation Midheaven as for the career poet Rilke. However the 6th house is not just work (and Shakespeare apparently regarded his labours in dramatic poetry as a bit beneath him, a kind of money spinning venture allowing him to become a big property owner) but the house of any “practical magic” i.e. magical operations. Magic was Yeats’ mysticism, but magic is very much what a lot of Yeats’ poetry aimed to be, whether readers realize it or not. Many poems like Wandering Angus are evocations, symbolizations, active dreamings along occult society lines. And note too that the Shakespeare of at least The Tempest, seems to identify his poetic labours with a species of magic, “but this rough magic I here abjure” etc.
Yeats however never abjured any magic. Magic was his religion. The Part of Occultism exactly conjuncts the cusp of his ninth house of religion/philosophy. Suitably for this, if possible Yeats would have founded full blown Celtic rites at Key Lodge, Galway and he certainly put much work towards that. Like many readers, aware how haunting and beautiful the long slow twilights of Yeats’ western Ireland could be, I managed to overlook how Yeats’ obsession with “The Celtic Twilight” was less poetic than a reflection of the principle that druid rituals to raise power were performed in hour before sunrise. Yeats is all about bringing back the light of the god Lugh! Significantly Yeats’ Part of Race Consciousness at 24 Aries conjuncts the Part of Religion at 24 Aries. Accordingly he even maintained it was essential to experience Ireland rather than Judaea as a, or the, holy land, an idea which has a touch of pagan Nazi love of die Heimat and unsurprisingly Yeats had a brief flirtation with the Nazis. That his aim for a new Celtic religion did not fully succeed is involved with the fact that Saturn opposes these factors from 23 Libra. In this case forces of tradition (Saturn) oppose it.
WHAT DID YEATS BELIEVE (BEYOND THE SACREDNESS OF IRELAND)?
To the extent that Credo at 20 Gemini (near to Yeats’ sun at 22) trines his lyrics-associated moon at 19 Aquarius we might say women and poetry constitutes Yeats’ “truth”; but real poetic truth for Yeats began with Shelley and not least because Shelley was Promethean. Shelley’s Prometheus and The Witch of Atlas also seemed after a fashion so magical they were the inspiration for even Yeats’ fellow Society of the Golden Dawn member, Alistair Crowley, the Satanist who (though no great truth teller) accused Yeats of being a demonologist who used black magic against him. In turn Yeats accused Crowley himself of being a disgusting person who used black magic.
But why did both Yeats and Crowley find such inspiration in Shelley? Shelley was self-described and often thought of as an atheist, but he admitted to belief in an immanent Spirit of Nature and he was chiefly against the Christian God. He had invoked the Devil while still at Eton. Prometheus Unbound is effectively Shelley’s response to Milton’s Paradise Lost with Prometheus as a kind of do-good devil, a Lucifer light challenging God. Seeing that Yeats called Prometheus Unbound a scripture, we notice that at Yeats’ birth asteroid Shelley at just 1 Scorpio opposes Isa (Ar Jesus) at nearly 1 Taurus, while in parallel to this the Christ asteroid at 19 Taurus is square Yeats’ lyrical moon. This is not a person who much likes Christ and Christianity and he indicates as much in many places like the conclusion to The Magi who are left “unsatisfied with the mystery of the bestial floor” and in the dance drama Calvary which assures us God has not died for the white heron (meaning Yeats himself who in one of his last poems insists he wants no conventional sign, i.e. the cross, on his gravestone at Drumcliffe where his ancestors were buried). We should take this more seriously than many critics do. Susan Johnston-Graf’s important study (W.B.Yeats: A Twentieth Century Magus, 2000) seems correct to maintain the occult side of Yeats is insufficiently known, understood or acknowledged by scholars of Christian or Jewish background who finish up giving Yeats’ occultism a secular humanist reading it shouldn’t have.
If Yeats really had any feeling for Christ and Christianity as some Christian critics imagine, it is unlikely he would have taken as his first lover the strange and some said decadent Olivia Shakespear whom Ezra Pound declared “hated Christ like the devil” or let Nietzsche, the author of Der Antichrist and radical critic of leading Christian values become a major influence. We know Yeats declined to attend church with the fairly devout Irish Anglican Lady Gregory during his extended residences with her at Gort. More to the point, he surely would not have associated with Maud Gonne, a woman who admitted to having sold her soul to the devil (though she did feel some remorse about it when her father died shortly after the event!). Later after a pragmatic conversion to Catholicism to marry someone from whom she soon separated, Gonne reckoned to work with Yeats to unify Christianity with paganism having decided the devil was simply England.
Gonne is the model for Yeats’ drama The Countess Cathleen who, surrounded by predatory demons, sells her soul on the behalf of the Irish peasantry, a Shelleyean sort of good diabolism. This odd, Faustian style drama was the first offering of the Irish Literary Theatre aiming to change the face of Irish national culture. It would be hard to describe just how mad the real life, but by all accounts stunningly beautiful Gonne was, and how much she drew Yeats into her madness which in a lucid moment he confessed to Lady Gregory would be sufficient to have her locked up. Despite despising marriage and apparently sex too, unbeknown to the besotted Yeats she had an illegitimate child by a French lover, a child which died and which she then tried to get reincarnated by having occult sex with the father in front of the child’s tomb. (Regrettably there are no asteroids for either Maud or Gonne). Even Yeats’ attitude towards Christ is however only an aspect of a wider negative feeling about God and religion about which I feel the chart is fairly graphic in line with the fact that at the Golden Dawn Yeats assumed the remarkable name DEDI or Demon est Deus Inversus (the Demon/Devil is God inverted). The initiate name seems involved with Yeats belief in Blakean, Gnostic notions of Good needing Evil. What does the horoscope show?
YEATS AND GOD
There are two deity asteroids Theotes (Godhead) which is more like Trinity and there is Bhagwat which is in effect Lord as in Bhagwat Gita (Song of the Lord). Both of these are notably afflicted for Yeats. Bhagwat at 25 Virgo is in affliction square both to Jupiter, the planet of religion (and some of us would say the Bethlehem Star), at 24 Sagittarius and Yeats’ natal sun at 22 Gemini while Theotes at 28 makes square to Uranus at 29 Gemini. This suggests more than enough tension and oddity in the outlook. If there is a planet of God as biblically understood it is unquestionably Pluto. Since this planet can symbolize both creation and destruction and on the human plane obsession and hatred, its inharmonious conjunction with Yeats’ Venus belongs with lines like, “Hatred of the soul can bring the soul to God”. Except that it never especially did so for Yeats himself for whom God is at best a symbol of the All that embraces Good and Evil (hence Yeats’ name in magic circles). God is not any creator or end for Yeats. In typical Gemini fashion he prefers journey to arrival, and can thus feel free to describe God in many ways, none definitive, unless possibly as “The Great Mind” – but including if need be as demonic energy. At this point we come across the real problem, the vital question regarding Yeats’ beliefs and identity. Was he, as Crowley would have it, a Satanist? Was Yeats himself merely bragging when he told the artist Beardsley that he had been much taken up with and studied what he called “diabolism” in certain occult circles in Paris? (R.M.Foster. W B Yeats, A Life, p, 158).
YEATS AND THE DEVIL
The evidence for at least some degree of attachment to “diabolism” or Satanism seems clear enough since we find that Lucifer at 20.16 Pisces is conjunct both Yeates and Ireland. Granted that on a matter so controversial one needs what any astrologer would look for in such a case which is some back-up (after all, there are many asteroids and all must be somewhere so they are not automatically significant for everyone!) but we do have this. There are two devil asteroids as there are two deity asteroids. They are Lucifer which seems to represent Satan as St Paul’s deceptive “angel of light” and Satan as darkness which is Malin (Fr. Devil) of which presently. There is however a possible, “sort of” third devil asteroid and it is Sethos, Greek for the Egyptian devil god Set or Seth. Sethosat 19 Pisces is conjuncting Yeats’ Lucifer at 20 Pisces. This obtains more significance in light of something else. Yeats (like the Golden Dawn) was quite taken up with Egyptian symbol and ritual – in the famous and rather sublime Second Coming poem Yeats pretty well identifies his second Christ/Antichrist with Egypt through a sort of Sphinx or Sekhmet solar figure. Suitably, therefore, Aigyptios (Egypt) at 23 Aquarius fortunately trines Yeats’ Saturn at 23 Libra in his mysteries-linked eighth house, while in the other direction his Aigyptios is favourably placed towards his beliefs-signifying and determining Jupiter at 24 Sagittarius.
Beyond Ireland Yeats believed in some kind of light from Egypt (“Swear by what the sages spoke/Round the Mareotic lake”) as did Crowley who received his essentially Satanic Book of the Law for the coming (Aquarian) era while in Egypt. And though she represented no secret occult orders, for what it’s worth the late Catholic seeress, Jeane Dixon, who notoriously claimed the Antichrist was born under Aquarius in 1962, maintained much of that individual’s youth was passed in Egypt. So if we follow the astrologer’s law of sensitive degrees, we could ask in heaven’s name what vibe might Yeats have been in touch with in this vision poem of an avatar seeing that the alleged birth time of Dixon’s false prophet shows that person’s moon at the same fated 23 Aquarius? Moreover if this person actually exists, Yeats’ relation to him is between astonishing and sinister. On the Pied Piper’s birth chart Yeates falls at 18 Sagittarius i.e. in favourable aspect to in one direction the prophet’s Venus at 18 Aquarius (he can love this person) while in the other it makes favourable trine to the nodes at 18 Leo (planets in the degree of the nodes have something fated in terms of connection). Before we dismiss this as purest coincidence, let’s note that Nietzsche, himself author of Der Antichrist, has an exact Nietzsche asteroid in agreement to the 9 degrees of the avatar’s power and authority Pluto. There may even be, given Yeats’ visionary anticipations of an avatar, a further subtle message in the fact that the poet’s Sethos falls at 19 Pisces. I believe as per my Testament of the Magi ( http://amzn.to/19v1jJf ) this degree is very provably that of the Bethlehem Star. Thus Yeats unconsciously (prophetically?) places Egypt, the new era and Antichrist against Christ and Sethos on what is in effect the chief degree of the Christian revelation and era.
YEATS AND AN OCCULT IRELAND
Yet with even this I digress because what is more immediately relevant here is that having determined there seems to be some kind of identification of Yeats with the demonic, we find that his Lucifer at 20.16 is to the minute of a degree exactly conjunct Ireland at 20.16. I believe this could be linked to a certain ideological identification of Yeats with Mme Blavatsky and her theosophy that influenced the Golden Dawn. (Yeats even described the Russian Blavatsky as like a wise old Irish peasant woman which I imagine recommended her to him!). Blavatsky taught (shades of Shelley’s Prometheus again) that the true ruler of the world is the light-bearing, heroic Lucifer. This could well mean that Yeats would assume Lucifer, perhaps identified with god of light, Lugh, was the true hidden ruler of Ireland for any invocation purposes. In a roundabout, unintended way Blavatsky was of course correct. The NT acknowledges that the devil is currently “the prince of this world” (Joh 14:30) and declares, (as most Christians never do lest it seem to compromise divine omnipotence), that the world has been given over to the forces of evil. Christ’s incarnation is a major stage in combating that – the devil offers Christ the world as the final temptation. The difference is that Blavatsky, like Shelley and almost certainly Yeats, regarded Lucifer’s rule as beneficent. DEDI Yeats probably believed that Lucifer is just God/”The Great Mind”/”The Condition of Fire” seen through another lens amid the endless perning of gyres, turning of ages and incarnations.
The destructive, often hate-bearing, sold soul Maud Gonne who for years was willing to birth Ireland in violence, took Yeats in directions he wouldn’t otherwise have chosen. Gonne, though she managed to mellow somewhat, was in many respects Yeats’ own Lucifer Light and Devil Dark together. Provided Lucifer was, so to speak, politically supreme, there was room of sorts for Christ and Christian mysticism more spiritually – the later Yeats could even allow for the notion of a future Irish druidic Christ, and when he talks about nations needing prophet, priest and king he can even sound like a kind of Christian; but this merely reflects the way he always lets good and evil merge. Nevertheless the 0.59, i.e virtually 1 degree Isa (Jesus) asteroid in Ireland-associated Taurus makes opportunity aspect to Malin at 2 Cancer, the sign, if any, of paganism and polytheism. I should say that Yeats just never bothered about any form of truth that didn’t seem “visionary” or symbolic. Not only can his sign of the Twins be notoriously dark/light, a Dr Jeckell and Mr Hyde because its intellectualism dissociates easily, but we do find asteroid Lie, at 9 Pisces conjunct the poet’s Part of Boredom and Indifference. To discover the truth in the ordinary sense whether practical, philosophical or theological was almost too much trouble to a person like Yeats who found common reality a bore. Sometimes just superficial in a way most common under the air signs he was usually unburdened by what he was teaching and the energies he was possibly releasing….Except in one major case. A séance could unnerve him and attendance at one in January 1895 seems to have been definitive for much subsequently and it was years before he would consult mediums regularly for mundane guidance.
YEATS IN POETRY AND THE ASTRAL LIGHT
It was at a séance that Yeats was suddenly jerking and shuddering uncontrollably in ways that frightened those in attendance like Kathryn Tynan and are suggestive of something akin to kundalini experience or possession by a spirit. We have echoes of the kind of experience, but in a more positive light in the poem The Cold Heaven, where the poet describes himself as “rocking to and fro riddled with light”. I don’t have a chart for this but plainly it would have something to do that month with transiting Jupiter in Gemini conjuncting and setting off the “electrical” natal Uranus. Jupiter trine Uranus in specifically fire was in evidence in Pentecost AD 30 when the Spirit fell on the disciples. But if Yeats was, let’s say, mildly rather than madly possessed by a spirit (his Discoveries portray him as already hearing voices and under certain “influences” from an early age), that would only be consistent with his early established belief that a poet was essentially someone possessed, a go-between earth and heaven and revealing messages accordingly. The Yeatsian experiential reality (as opposed to the convoluted theory!) was that daimonic/poetry experiences were, at best, of lightning and hence Uranus. The reason that in later life Yeats bought and assumed residence in the Tower of Thoor-Ballylee was because, practically, he associated true sudden inspiration as akin to the lightning of the lightning struck Tower of the Tarot card archetype. He also knew from the Cabbala of the Golden Dawn, loosely based on elements of Jewish mysticism, that lightning descended from the height of the God/Mind/Higher Self dominated Tree of Life for those who knew the right keys, symbols, deity names and vibrations, these being much associated at the Golden Dawn with Isis-Urania.
It is beyond present scope, but I would insist as per certain statements in my Puer Poems one of whose offerings is itself based on the structure of the “Tree” which links the names of God in a pattern, that the three highest nodes from which any lightning descends in fact correspond to the Trinity. Astrologically the Trinity can be symbolized by Pluto (the Creator), Uranus (the Holy Spirit) and Neptune (Christ). Yeats and Golden Dawn magicians who made alternative, less convincing astrological correspondences with the Hebrew divine names were not receiving from the Spirit but at the Isis-Urania temple spiritist energies related to the Urania representing whatever, which exactly trines Yeats’ Uranus, or perhaps in Yeats’ case the light energies the ancient Celts associated with Lugh. Any Uranian lightning for members of The Golden Dawn was also the “astral light”. Through Eliphas Levi and the French Occultism that also influenced him, Yeats obtained the notion that the astral Light is the vehicle of magic and inspiration. It can be variously God’s power, the awaited Holy Spirit of the coming age and the Edenic Serpent’s power all in one field.
YEATS AND MODERN IRELAND
But if Yeats (most of the time) didn’t care what he was doing and remained largely agnostic about who or what the spirits he invoked truly were, there are reasons why we, and I, might have some reason to care. The first point concerns the nature of Ireland and the second the perennial nature and meaning of poetry. Like it or not, modern Ireland inherits something from Yeats. I am certainly not suggesting modern Ireland should not have come into being, but the when and how of its doing so seems a little dubious and national self-understanding of the process to some extent the product of the Yeats/Gonne (mis)alliance, their symbol formation and policies. And we may recall that the English originally dismissed the Easter Rising as “a poet’s revolution”, just more Irish theatre and show. Granted that Yeats himself, who was more implicitly than overtly political, did not take part in the uprising whose immediate leader was the poetic and mystical Padraic Pearse with his loosely Christian theories of sacrifice. However, Gonne, though she hated Socialists along with Jews, had some history of stirring Pearse’s co-revolutionary, the socialist James Connolloy into action. Overall, what took place on April 24th 1916 was in many respects the effects of a Yeats/Gonne cultural revolution that was building for years. Stephen Gywnn famously observed after a performance of Cathleen-ni-Houlihan he wondered “if such plays should be produced unless one was prepared for people to go out to shoot and be shot”. Yeats if not Gonne did have a few twinges of conscience as in The Man and the Echo where he asks, “Did that play of mine send out/Certain men the English shot?”.
Revolutions are of Uranus……Yeats’ poetic birth moon at 19 Aquarius was exactly conjuncted by Uranus in Aquarius that Easter of 1916. The Venus of the day was fortunately trining it. Neptune was degree exact semi-sextile (any meetings of mind) to Yeats’ Uranus so he can glamourize the revolution – which he did. Mercury had just passed conjunction to his Venus/Pluto (it’s the basis of his famous poetic reaction “a terrible beauty is born” Venus being beauty and Pluto being the terrible!). And though Mars representing conflict at the time was at 16 Leo (rather than Yeats own 12, itself one of the reasons he did not actively engage in the revolution), what was happening was nonetheless very much in his spirit. And his spirit and values would endure.
If we look at the absolute foundation of modern Ireland, i.e. its complete, final republican rupture with England (April 18th 1949 at 12 am), a decade after Yeats death, we find Jupiter (religion/beliefs) at 0 Aquarius, the degree of Yeats’ rising. The novelty and eccentricity of this position, especially as it trines Saturn in Eire’s religion house gives, I believe, long term (Saturn) promise that despite the nation’s conservative, enduring, sad and bachelor signifying moon in Capricorn, entrenched traditional values and Catholicism would not be so secure. Instead, as has happened, they would considerably succumb to disillusion, scepticism and revolt. There would be a quiet revolution in many cases prompting return to a sort of Yeatsian style paganism. Uranus at foundation time at 27+ Gemini was conjunct Yeats’ 29 degree Uranus and asteroid Yeates was conjunct Eire’s Mercury (its writing, its thought patterns).
However, more significantly for permanently linking the poet to the life and arts of the nation, Eire’s sun and Venus in Aries exactly conjuncts Yeats’ 27 Libra/Aries nodal axis. But as one might suspect, the contact is not altogether fortunate or inspiring in the right way – one thinks for example how much the design and feeling of Samuel Beckett’s depressing nihilistic dramas owes to such as Yeats’ drama Purgatory. It is always the North Nodes which point the way forward and to what is best for person or entity, Eire’s 27 Aries falls on Yeats’ backward looking South Nodes. A little more positively, the one time “Isle of the Saints’ rising sign is 5 degrees of (religious) Sagittarius itself conjunct Yeats’ destiny and reputation Midheaven which was 4 Sagittarius. Ireland will always be thought of as religious even if it isn’t very notably so and it will always be somewhat Yeats country as to tourists it very much is. Taken all in all, I can imagine that those of charismatic persuasion or Catholics re-instating exorcism might think that the almost perpetually unfortunate, economically vulnerable, population haemorrhaging Ireland, could use a few banishing rituals at sacred sites where Yeats tried either to call down the gods or to confirm their fairy rule – even the unusually down-to-earth Seamus Heaney could say of Yeats “Reading Yeats, I can feel at times a transmission of dangerous force”. With that thought in mind what I will explore in conclusion is the question of what poetry is and does because for me that becomes a personal and oddly Yeatsian question.
YEATS AND THE IDEA OF POETRY TODAY
This month I have published New Poems and Two Celtic Dramas. The sometimes polemical poems have sundry themes but the dramas are based on the Welsh Mabinogion legend of Branwyn and various Irish legends of Oengus the love god and also Graine and the Fenian men. I think it can honestly be claimed and claimed as simple fact, not boast, and as something anyone reading the material could be hard put to dispute, that though I belong to no occult societies, since 1949 (or even 1916) no poet or Protestant claiming Irish nationality will have been closer to the spirit of Yeats and many (though by no means all) of his interests. In the interim as in Seamus Heaney’s to my mind ghastly The Vision (it leaves me feeling claustrophic and a bit queasy!) “imagination” has been downplayed in favour of an overwhelming, sometimes vulgar earthiness. And even the quasi-Yeatsian 1916 revolution, which was a revolution of consciousness as much as politics, is just a little bit mine to do something literary with because Ireland at my birth was conjunct the fatal Easter’s 16 degree Leo Mars, itself conjunct my almost 16 degrees Mars. When at the beginning of my writing career I wrote rather combatively on The Irish Nation, I was as unaware of this celestial tie-in as Yeats was of so much else in his chart. Whatever revolution of consciousness Yeats aimed at, I, spontaneously and broadly somewhat take up again, and even when not in specifically poetry have done so in prose as in works like Temple Mysteries and Spiritual Efficiency ( http://amzn.to/Xz9L7X ) which effectively assume a hidden occult order of reality and which in their way are expressive of a Yeatsian ideal – “love for the Unseen”.
I could perhaps hardly help going in the direction taken. Mercury and Venus again in the house of writing, Uranus again in late Gemini, Jupiter again in Sagittarius (which with the Leo Mars makes for a somewhat similar emphasis upon the hieratic, the priestly, prophetic role etc), the Neptunes of both on an axis and unsurprisingly too I find, even Catullus. So… here we go again, except that now it’s poetry in itself, not specifically Irish poetry,that chiefly concerns me . After all, I don’t live in Ireland and for perhaps that reason have not been generously treated by anyone in literary Ireland for whom it seems I am merely someone outside and beyond, perhaps even a kind of inconvenient truth safely dismissed in the way I properly mock in my satirical Catullus Redux (http://bit.ly/1ci1WMX ).
POETRY AND SOME “MAGICAL” SYNCHRONICITY
New Poems and Two Celtic Dramas marks a new departure for me after nearly a quarter century’s poetic silence. I had abandoned poetry with the offerings of Puer Poems ( http://amzn.to/11i5hkI )because of the endless, sometimes quite hostile rejections which not even broadcast of a poetic drama on the ABC could overcome. But while, as I thought, I had abandoned poetry for good in disgust, there was a touch of relief that accompanied it too. Poetry and its effects had also begun to puzzle me in certain areas, especially in the way described in the introduction to Puer Poems. There, and citing a peculiar experience surrounding one of my poems, I perceive possible justification for the most traditional bardic/druidic notions that Yeats picked up and ran with, namely poetry as magic and spell à la Prospero or even as the Bible has it, “Death and Life are in the power of the tongue” (Prov 18:21). Poet and poetry as the druids assumed can bless or curse. In modern times and outside Ireland both Ted Hughes and Robert Graves would have at any rate the curse associated with their work.
A lot of modern poetry is “ekphrastic”. It describes objects to offer possible epiphanies – even if these are often told in flat, bald tones which depart from almost all previous poetic tradition stretching back into the night of time. It’s poetry for the agnostic, materialistic society Yeats abhorred, as I do myself. Traditional/classic poetry, even if it’s blank verse, has rhythm and aims to memorably compress certain ideas. The combination of rhythm and compression and then its repetition seems capable of assisting trance or creating something like thought forms or situations. (Modern exorcists for example find that many possessions can be traced back in the first instance to the psychic wound opened up by parents or associates just repeating to a child that they are ugly, worthless and so on). If Shakespeare was a Prospero, it is notorious that many actors are highly superstitious about “a certain play” (Macbeth) because of the amount of bad energy or ghosts its incantatory verse seems to generate in performance.
As recounted in Puer Poems, I presented what would become the first poem of that collection to a fairly celebrated Australian stage and TV actor as a present. Included were references to typical features of the Puer archetype with which I associated the actor in question so that I wrote “and if he fell he’d bleed and bleed”. Within days of presenting the poem the actor happened to switch to a leading role in the play Blood Brothers and not long after that was hospitalized because there was blood all over the place either in some dressing room fight with another actor (now internationally famous star of screen Russell Crowe), or something that occurred on stage where the future star was reckless – it has never been clear to me which since I have heard and read different stories. I don’t say I “caused” the fiasco, and it’s possible my timing was purest coincidence, but at very least it looks like there was what Jung would call a significant “synchronicity”. It was as though I had timed, declared or released effects of the Puer archetype. Moreover it wasn’t as though there hadn’t been people to have experienced my poetry of entities that I didn’t believe in, as though I believed in them and that they were somehow real. The thought leaves one feeling a bit more cautious or responsible about literature and its potential to influence. A lot of art, I don’t say all, seems occult either in its generation or effects, or both. The world of Yeatsian poetic stands somewhere between celebration of things Celtic and (magical) imposition upon the culture with any distancing being purely aesthetic as in the admirable experiments with Noh drama. My own effort to achieve a needed distancing for especially the Celtic material of the dramas is through letting the characters establish certain understandings about the culture, history and psychology within which they exist. They are not all Yeatsian heart and emotion but intellect.
SO WHAT IS POETRY TODAY?
So what do I think poetry is? Of course it’s not one thing and some it will always be just entertainment like nursery rhymes or more seriously devoted to the history and myth of the people as in ballads. There is a variety of forms and functions. However, “serious” or “classic” poetry I do believe is “magic” or “mysticism” to the extent it is transcendent of the everyday. Its words, its rhythms, its different organization of language defamiliarizes us with common existence, encourages us to imagine different things, ideas, situations, perhaps begin to do so through a degree of participation in the different reality itself. The movement into the other plane can be either through a hearing or a seeing. Some classic poetry like Shakespeare’s is highly auditory, others as in much Latin verse and Ovid is highly visual; either way one goes beyond in a way that prose which belongs with the ordinary movements, observation and memories of life doesn’t.
In some respects poetry is, or borders, philosophy as witness Lucretius, Dante and in his way Yeats; but if poets have offered philosophy it is more like the work of the pre-Socratics who open minds towards the more developed schemes of the philosophers working with reason in prose rather than imagination and creative imagery. Poetry’s “magic” can be prophetic – much biblical prophecy is delivered in poetry rather than prose – but its messages can also be perennial, drawing us back into the essential and eternal underlying or overseeing our existence. At this point in time I should say that Auden was correct in looking forward to a return of “high style” which is to say a more transcendent poetry. It is time to say goodbye to modern or even post modern experiments in poetry and return to the art as the wisdom and vision which, no matter how much we may criticize and reject his particular beliefs, the legacy of Yeats represents and which no contemporary poet should disdain to follow.
My poem Under Parnassus: An Under Ben Bulben Variation can be found at http://bit.ly/1wdsnwa