William Butler Yeats has only been on my brain now for about 5 years. I had read bits of his poetry, and now have read most of it. He is certainly still resonant in our culture – quotations from his work are all over the place. And this last few weeks, the widening gyre is used constantly to explain the behavior of Congress, the problems in Syria and much else that is awry in the news and in the world.
The relevant lines from The Second Coming –
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart, the center cannot hold…..
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
To me, his poems fall away from the rigidly ruled and rhyming, and he becomes perhaps the first modern poet, reflecting and writing almost in a blog-like sense, of what is going on in that 100 years ago world, in Dublin and London and farther, in politics, in theater, in war, and especially in love.
Now I have dabbled with his biographies a bit – first being short pieces, and now with Richard Ellmann’s masterwork, and Brenda Maddox’ Yeat’s Ghosts (The Secret Life of W. B. Yeats). I enjoyed learning several years ago about his strong interest in the psychic / spiritual world, and his being one of the founders of The Golden Dawn and other groups. And of course most mentions of him bring up his long relationship with Maud Gonne, and then her daughter. He is also a Gemini, as am I, which informs strongly what I know of him.
Women loved him, chasing him, one might say. And he certainly loved them. He married late, begat two children, but never really refrained from his many relationships and affairs, many of which made their way, obliquely or clearly, into his poems.
His treatment of women and his neediness is one of the two spiraling trends bothering me. The other is his strong interest in the psychic, and yet his continuing questioning of how it works, and wanting to know all the left-brained details. His poems themselves, and the kinds of experiments he conducted, say to me that he was very psychic, but could not push that last veil out of the way, and admit to just knowing what he knew. Needing the facts, needing the proof, staying in the left brain is the best way never to get where you’re going.
The proof is always in what happens. If there is a statement made by an intuitive person, and the statement comes true minutes, days, weeks later – it’s amazing how some folk will turn themselves into pretzels not to believe that that was prophecy. Just because they cannot see how it was done. Needing to see how it was done is a trap that our left brain (and this culture) uses against us all the time.
We can believe in Jesus’ miracles, but not our own. Yeats missed a great deal by not being in himself, self-contained, and able to claim what he knew, claim his joy with it being dependent on another.
Makes me sad. I doubt that I will finish any of the biographies.