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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 five Yeats’s ‘fanatic heart’: The Golden Dawn, Secrecy and Anti-Semitism 221


Chapter Five Yeats’s ‘fanatic heart’1: The Golden Dawn, Secrecy and Anti-Semitism In the initial composition of A Vision (A), Yeats was enjoined that ‘[it] must be mentioned to no one … you are sworn to secrecy.’2 The Instruc- tors and Mrs Yeats both felt the apparent need for the origins of the text to remain undisclosed, which in fact necessitated the ‘false’ introduction made by Owen Aherne: the claim was that Yeats’s occult theory of history was discovered by Michael Robartes in his encounter with the fictitious Judwali tribe,3 and also in the book Speculum Angelorum et Hominum by Giraldus, already discussed in detail in Chapter Two. This counterfeit prov- enance disguises the true origin of the text (Mrs Yeats’s automatic writing), but the text itself also provides a counter-influence: the Golden Dawn. In another ‘paratext’ (substituted in 1937 with ‘A Packet for Ezra Pound’), the dedication ‘To Vestigia’ appears.4 Of course ‘Vestigia Nulla Retrorsum’ was Mrs Moina Mathers’s Golden Dawn Motto.5 Golden Dawn influences, practices and personae haunt both versions of A Vision, as George Mills Harper comments: ‘the book was in effect an outgrowth of [Yeats’s] vision- ary meditation on the mystical philosophy of the Golden Dawn.’6 W. B. Yeats acknowledges this in the 1925 dedication when he states: 1 VP, 274, p. 506, ‘Remorse for Intemperate Speech’. 2 Vision Papers, vol. 1, p. 27, introduction. 3 AV (A), p. xviii. 4 AV (A), p. ix. 5 George Mills Harper, Yeats’s Golden Dawn, London: Macmillan, 1974, p. 316....

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