“Out of the quarrel with others we make rhetoric; out of the quarrel with ourselves we make poetry.”
- William Butler Yeats
Courtesy The Paris ReviewThoor Ballylee in County Galloway, once the home of William Butler Yeats.
On this date in 1865 was the birth of William Butler Yeats, of great poetry and proud Irishman fame. He also was co-founder, in his youth at art school, of the Dublin Hermetic Society, at which time he also became a passionate student of Irish mythology and folk stories, which would become evident in his poetry later.
In esoteric circles, he perhaps is best remembered—that is, aside from his occult poetry—as a co-author of the rituals of the Esoteric Order of the Golden Dawn. Prior to that, he had been a known member of the Theosophical Society, where study and synthesis of religion, philosophy, and science is pursued; Yeats proceeded into the Society’s then new Esoteric Section, which was devoted to concepts and practices of magic. Unsatisfied by the fruitless experimentation of that work, Yeats’ search for spiritual work continued. One brief biography on-line says:
|William Butler Yeats|
It was ninety years ago when Yeats was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. In his award ceremony speech, Per Hallström, Chairman of the Nobel Committee of the Swedish Academy, said of the poet:
The soul of nature was to him no empty phrase, for Celtic pantheism, the belief in the existence of living, personal powers behind the world of phenomena, which most of the people had retained, seized hold of Yeats’ imagination and fed his innate and strong religious needs. When he came nearest to the scientific spirit of his time, in zealous observations of the life of nature, he characteristically concentrated on the sequence of various bird notes at daybreak and the flight of moths as the stars of twilight were kindled. The boy got so far in his intimacy with the rhythm of the solar day that he could determine the time quite exactly by such natural signs. From this intimate communion with the sounds of morning and nighttime, his poetry later received many of its most captivating traits.
There isn’t much on the record to support any claim of Masonic membership for Yeats. He certainly kept company with Freemasons, MacGregor Mathers may be the best known. Researcher and author Marsha Keith Schuchard, speaking in 2010 at the Livingston Library, says:
When the Yeatses resided in Oxford in 1921, they may even have attended a Masonic lodge. If so, it would be an Écossais or Rose Croix rite, which admitted women. In 1987, when my husband and I were living in Oxford, the eminent Yeats scholar Richard Ellmann confided to me that he had discovered a note in which George Yeats mentioned their Masonic attendance. Unfortunately, Ellmann became terminally ill and could not locate the note among his voluminous papers. He wanted me to examine her note, because I had been helping him with information on Oscar Wilde’s earlier initiation into a Rose Croix lodge in Oxford.
In his poem Meditations in Time of Civil War, Yeats seemingly writes to tantalize the Masonic ear. Excerpted:
“Soon after writing these lines,” Schuchard says, “Yeats learned in November 1923 that he had won the Nobel Prize in Literature.”