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Envisioning Ireland

W. B. Yeats’s Occult Nationalism


Claire Nally

Although W. B. Yeats is one of the most over-theorised authors in the Irish canon, little attempt has been made to situate his occult works in the political context of early twentieth-century Ireland. By evaluating the two versions of A Vision, published in 1925 and 1937, this book provides a methodology for understanding the political and cultural impulses that informed Yeats’s engagement with the otherworld. The author suggests that the Yeatsian occult operates very firmly within the political parameters of Irish nationalism, often as a critique of the new Free State, or as an alternative way of mythologising and inaugurating a new nation state. The occult, far from being free of all political considerations, registers the poet’s shifting allegiances, from the Celticism of the 1890s to his disenchantment with modern Ireland in the Free State.
Through close readings of Yeats’s manuscripts and his primary and critical works, including a close assessment of the frequently neglected dramatic texts, the author seeks to force a rethinking of the critical reception of the Yeatsian occult through contemporary theoretical developments in postcolonialism, subjectivity, national identity and textual instability.


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Chapter two Forging and Forgery: The ‘Giraldus’ Portrait in A Vision 81


Chapter Two Forging and Forgery: The ‘Giraldus’ Portrait in A Vision Both versions of A Vision present the dilemma of the colonial subject in asserting a uniform and univocal identity. As Connie Hood has remarked, ‘A Vision has become a modern palimpsest,’1 marked by revisions, ques- tions of authorship, identity and fictionalisations. In linking the fictional portrait of ‘Giraldus’ in A Vision with the historical figure of Giraldus Cambrensis, the current chapter posits Yeats’s interest in fragmented iden- tity, and relates this to his interpretation of the colonial intervention in Ireland, initially undertaken during the time of Henry I. Yeats maintained some of his own family, the Butlers, were part of the contingent of colonis- ers known as ‘Old English’, or Anglo-Norman: ‘The aristocratic “Butler” connection was inserted into most male Yeats names; its link back to the Norman dynasty of the Dukes of Ormonde was an important part of family lore.’2 Nevertheless, this particular assumption has proven difficult to corroborate.3 The mythologised or ‘forged’ element of Yeats’s identity is conspicuous even at this level, and is important in the context of his approach to Giraldus Cambrensis. As such, Yeats’s colonial inheritance is a submerged theme which recurs throughout both texts of A Vision. This is confirmed by Yeats’s Norman tower, Thoor Ballylee, which became for the poet a potent symbol for Anglo-Irish ancestry: 1 Connie K. Hood, ‘The Remaking of A Vision’, p. 66. 2 Foster, W. B. Yeats: A Life, vol. 1, p. 1. 3 Foster, W....

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