Yeats, Philosophy, and the Occult

BookYeats, Philosophy, and the Occult

Yeats, Philosophy, and the Occult

Clemson University Press


December 19th, 2016

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Yeats, Philosophy, and the Occult is a collection of essays examining the thought of the Irish poet W. B. Yeats and particularly his philosophical reading and explorations of older systems of thought, where philosophy, mysticism, and the supernatural blend. It opens with a broad survey of the current state of Yeats scholarship, which also includes an examination of Yeats’s poetic practice through a manuscript of the original core of a poem that became a work of philosophical thought and occult lore, “The Phases of the Moon.” The following essay examines an area where spiritualism, eugenic theory, and criminology cross paths in the writings of Cesare Lombroso, and Yeats’s response to his work. The third paper considers Yeats’s debts to the East, especially Buddhist and Hindu thought, while the fourth looks at his ideas about the dream-state, the nature of reality, and contact with the dead. The fifth essay explores Yeats’s understanding of the concept of the Great Year from classical astronomy and philosophy, and its role in the system of his work A Vision, and the sixth paper studies that work’s theory of “contemporaneous periods” affecting each other across history in the light of Oswald Spengler’s The Decline of the West. The seventh essay evaluates Yeats’s reading of Berkeley and his critics’ appreciation (or lack of it) of how he responds to Berkeley’s idealism. The book as a whole explores how Yeats’s mind and thought relate to his poetry, drama, and prose, and how his reading informs all of them.

By “the occult,” we refer generally to ancient modes of thought involving a worldview with supernatural and magical dimensions, and including elements such as astrology and spiritualism. It also relates to elements of the nineteenth-century fusion of science and spirituality in Theosophy, embracing some eastern beliefs, such as reincarnation, and philosophies, such as Yoga and Vedanta.


‘The book concludes with two appendices... consolidating the book’s position at the cutting edge of the ‘archival turn’ in Yeats studies and new modernist studies more generally.’
The Year’s Work in English Studies

Author Information

Matthew Gibson is Associate Professor of English Literature at the University of Macau. He is the author of 'Yeats, Coleridge and the Romantic Sage' (Macmillan, 2000) and 'Dracula and the Eastern Question: British and French Vampire Narratives of the Nineteenth Century Near East' (Palgrave Macmillan, 2006). He is presently completing a new monograph for the University of Wales Press, called 'Nineteenth Century European Gothic: Vampires, Doubles and the French Revolution'. Neil Mann works as an editor, translator, and teacher, and as an independent scholar, specializing in the works of W. B. Yeats, particularly his esoteric interests and A Vision. He is one of the readers who is simultaneously frustrated and fascinated by A Vision and the system that W. B. Yeats and his wife, George, elaborated through years of occult experiment and personal research. In 2002, he created the website as a resource for those seeking to understand this work better, and this book is the result of some forty years of engagement with A Vision, Yeats's work as a whole, and the background of nineteenth-century spirituality.

Table of Contents

Table of Contents
Section TitlePagePrice
List of Figures and Table9
1 “Something Intended, Complete”: Major Work on Yeats Past, Present, and Yet to Come31
2 Ghost, Medium, Criminal, Genius: Lombrosian Types in Yeats’s Art and Philosophy77
3 “Born Anew”: W. B. Yeats’s “Eastern” Turn in the 1930s103
4 W. B. Yeats, Dream, Vision, and the Dead127
5 Yeats, the Great Year, and Pierre Duhem191
6 The Morphological Interaction of the Four Faculties in the Historical System of W. B. Yeats’s A Vision245
7 Yeats and Abstraction: From Berkeley to Zen271
I Annotations in the Writings of Walter Savage Landor in the Yeatses’ Library309
II Yeats’s Notes on Leo Frobenius’s The Voice of Africa (1913)325
Index 347