Yeats's Mask - Yeats Annual No. 19
(visit book homepage)
Colophon: Pre-Half-Title, Half-Title, Title, Copyright, Dedication

© Warwick Gould, CC BY-NC-ND

The Mask before The Mask

Warwick Gould


VISIT A MAJOR EXHIBITION at a well-known gallery and you will find paper masks of historical characters enduringly popular in the gift shop. Watch a political rally or demonstration and masks worn by protestors fix, define and arraign the villains and reproject their grotesqueries back through global media. The essence of the mask is its ‘immobility’,1 its stillness, its capture of character through characteristic, in some ‘eternal moment’.2

Such simplicity is, however, far from what is variously implied by the term ‘Mask’ in the work of Yeats. Having developed the concept towards that of the Anti-Self until around the publication of Per Amica Silentia Lunae in 1917, he then italicized it as a technical term, the Mask of A Vision. Yeats claimed that his Instructors came to give him ‘metaphors for poetry’ (AVB 8), but A Vision elaborates many existing metaphors. The italics of Mask signify a distinction: and it is not one without difference.3 As he creates and whirls his terms together in an ‘arbitrary, harsh and difficult’ symbolic system, they change meanings (AVB 23). As Neil Mann says

‘The Mask that appears in A Vision, however, seems to have dwindled into a cipher circling the clock-face of the lunar phases along with the other Faculties, its function delimited by the System’s geometry. It retains enough of its former traits to give a sense of A Vision’s continuity with Yeats’s previous thought but is at root a different concept.’4

Yeats’s theories of the Mask have been readily and fruitfully applied to the themes and techniques of his poems, as well as in his theatre, in teaching his work. ‘The Mask’ (and here I mean that doctrine which reaches its apogee in 1918) has seemed to provide an entry-point accessible and fruitful – especially for undergraduates – to the more recondite speculations of A Vision via the mid-career foothills of Per Amica Silentia Lunae and certain poems. However, as our sense of Yeats’s life and thought has been thickened by the publication of his letters and the patient day-by-day filling in of the chronology of his activities, it becomes obvious that much previous criticism is compromised if it attempts to use the undifferentiated terminology of Mask/Mask as a skeleton key to unlock his work. A further difficulty is that ‘Things thought too long can be no longer thought’ (VP 564). The dominant influence of Richard Ellmann’s 1948 study Yeats: The Man and the Masks long after it was superseded (as he himself knew5) is a salutary reminder that until that sudden exhaustion of a ruling idea, overdue change can be hard to effect.

Anachronism is a problem compounded for a generation which has been encouraged to seek answers to the problems of literary texts via the application of post-structuralist literary theory. The allure of applying readings of A Vision back into texts before (say) those poems collected in The Wild Swans at Coole (1917) is dangerously anachronistic. Formulations of Mask doctrine before Per Amica are little studied but have their own integrity. The currency of the term obscures the origin of the thought and erases its unique character when it was at its most influential both as ethic and aesthetic.

My aim, then, is to trace the Mask to its root-tip and review the idea prior to its major exfoliation in Per Amica Silentia Lunae. Of the 647 ‘masks’ in the electronically searchable canon,6 247 fall in AVA and 248 in AVB. The remaining 152 usages fall very unevenly: 34 in Collected Plays, 32 in Memoirs, 29 in Autobiographies, 26 in Later Essays, nine in Essays and Introductions, six in Uncollected Prose 2, five in Explorations, five in Poems, three in The Secret Rose, two in Uncollected Prose 1, and one, very singular usage in Yeats’s preface to Letters to the New Island. The figures confirm an increasing reliance on the Mask as a technical term in the System, but many prior to 1918 may be ignored as objective descriptions of theatrical devices. I start with a brief anthology of Yeats’s remarks c.1908–9 as a vantage point from which to look before and after. The sudden flowering of statements about the Mask in his diary shows that that which had been long-meditated suddenly crystallized as an ethical and aesthetic doctrine during his rereading of his then recently published Collected Works in Verse and Prose. This is unsurprising.7 In the following remarks one discerns the confluence of several earlier lines of thought.


Identifying his ‘worst fault’ as a tendency to be detained by ‘petulant combativeness’, Yeats seems to have embarked on some disciplined ‘anger-management’.

It is always inexcusable to lose one’s self-possession. It always comes from impatience, from a kind of spiritual fright at someone who is here and now more powerful, even if only from stupidity. I am never angry with those in my power. I fear strangers; I fear the representatives of the collective opinion, and so rage stupidly and rudely, exaggerating what I feel and think ... Last night there was a debate on a political question at the Arts Club. I was for a moment inclined to use arguments merely to answer something said by one speaker or the other. In pursuit of the mask I resolved to say only fanciful and personal things, and so to escape out of mere combat. I did so, and I noticed that all the arguments which had occurred to me earlier were said by someone or other. Logic is a machine; one can leave it to itself; unhelped it will force those present to exhaust the subject. The fool is as likely as the sage to speak the appropriate answer to any assertion. If an argument is forgotten, somebody will go home miserable. You throw your money on the table, and you receive so much change. Style, personality (deliberately adopted and therefore a mask), is the only escape from all the heat of the bargaining, from all but the sight of the money changers (Mem 137–39, emphasis added; cf., ‘Estrangement’ 2, Au 461; CW3 341).

‘Mask’ seemingly springs into this 14 January 1909 entry on his old problem of Irish political rhetoric, but I will return to its submerged current of thought a little later.

‘To oppose the new ill-breeding of Ireland, which may in a few years destroy all that has given Ireland a distinguished name ... I can only set up a secondary or interior personality created by me out of the tradition of myself, and this personality (alas, to me only possible in my writings) must be always gracious and simple. It must have that slight separation from immediate interests which makes charm possible, while remaining near enough for fire. Is not charm what it is, perhaps, because it is an escape from mechanism? So much of the world as is dominated by the contest of interests is a mechanism. The newspaper is the roar of the machine. Argument, the moment acknowledged victory is sought, becomes a clash of interests. One should not, above all not in books, which sigh for immortality, argue at all if one is not ready to leave to another apparent victory. In daily life one becomes rude the moment one grudges to the clown his perpetual triumph.8

Having latched onto the Mask as a necessity in social and public life, Yeats began to apply it as a personal ideal after a crisis in his private life, his unhappy sexual consummation with Maud Gonne. On 23 January 1909 he wrote

It seems to me that love, if it is fine, is essentially a discipline, but it needs so much wisdom that the love of Solomon and Sheba must have lasted for all the silence of the Scriptures. In wise love each divines the high secret self of the other and, refusing to believe in the mere daily self, creates a mirror where the lover or the beloved sees an image to copy in daily life. Love also creates the mask.9

In the lecture ‘Friends of my Youth’ (9 March 1910) at the Adelphi Club, Yeats pondered the Rhymers’ Club’s escape from Rhetoric via what he called ‘personality’ and ‘personal utterance’ (YT 29–30). Adapting a nostrum from Goethe ‘“No man ever learned to know himself by contemplation. We learn to know ourselves by action only”’ (YT 31), he developed the equation between personality and the Mask.

Man knows himself by action only, by contemplation, never; and this mysterious thing, personality, the mask, is created half consciously, half unconsciously, out of the passions, the circumstances of life’ (YT 77).

The potential of a ‘secondary or interior personality’ was, however, ‘alas, to me only possible to me in my writings’ for writing remained for the moment more latent, but his perpetual reverie about authors and authorship was filled with it.

[between 23 and 28 Jan] There is a relation between discipline and the theatrical sense. If we cannot imagine ourselves as different from what we are and try to assume that second self, we cannot impose a discipline upon ourselves, though we may accept one from others. Active virtue as distinguished from the passive acceptance of a current code is therefore theatrical, consciously dramatic, the wearing of a mask. It is the condition of arduous full life. One constantly notices in very active natures a tendency to pose, or a preoccupation with the effect they are producing if the pose has become a second self. One notices this in Plutarch’s heroes, and every now and then in some modern who has tried to live by classical ideas, in Oscar Wilde, for instance, and less obviously in men like Walt Whitman. Wordsworth is so often flat and heavy partly because his moral sense has no theatrical element, it is an obedience, a discipline which he has not created. This increases his popularity with the better sort of journalists, the Spectator writers, for instance, with all who are part of the machine and yet care for poetry (Mem 151).

[On or after 26 Jan., [1909] All my life I have been haunted with the idea that the poet should know all classes of men as one of themselves, that he should combine the greatest possible personal realization with the greatest possible knowledge of the speech and circumstance of the world. Fifteen or twenty years ago I remember longing, with this purpose, to disguise myself as a peasant and wander through the West, and then shipping as a sailor. But when one shrinks from even talking business with a stranger, and is unnatural till one knows a man for months, because one underrates or overrates all unknown people, one cannot adventure far. The artist grows more and more distinct, more and more a being in his own right as it were, but more and more loses grasp of the always more complex world. Some day setting out to find knowledge, like some pilgrim to the Holy Land, he will become the most romantic of all characters. He will play with all masks.10... Comedy is joyous because all assumption of a part, of a personal mask, whether the individualized face of comedy or the grotesque face of farce, is a display of energy, and all energy is joyous. A poet creates tragedy from his own soul, that soul which is alike in all men, and at moments it has no joy, as we understand that word, for the soul is an exile and without will. It attains to ecstasy, which is from the contemplation of things which are vaster than the individual and imperfectly seen, perhaps, by all those that still live. The masks of tragedy contain neither character nor personal energy. They are allied to decoration and to the abstract figures of Egyptian temples. Before the mind can look out of their eyes the active will perishes, hence their sorrowful calm. Joy is of the will which does things, which overcomes obstacles, which is victorious. The soul only knows changes of state. These changes of state, or this gradually enlarging consciousness, is the self-realization of modern culture. I think the motives of tragedy are connected more with these changes of state than with action. I feel this but cannot see my way clearly. But I am hunting truth too far into its thicket. It is my business to keep close to the impression of the senses, and to daily thought. Yet is not always the tragic ecstasy some realization or fulfilment of the soul in itself, some slow or sudden expansion of it like an overflowing well? Is not that what we mean by beauty? (Mem 152–53)

Jan. 28 [1909]. The tragic mask expresses a passion or mood, a state of the soul; that only. (The mask of musician or of the dying slave.) The mask of comedy an individual. (Any modern picture.) The mask of farce an energy; in this the joyous life by its own excess has become superficial, it has driven out thought. (Any grotesque head.) Then these are connected in some way with the dominant moods of the three classes which have given the cradles, as it were, to tragedy, comedy, and farce: aristocracy, the middle class, and the people – exaltation, moral force, labour (Mem 153).

I think that all happiness depends on the energy to assume the mask of some other self; that all joyous or creative life is a rebirth as something not oneself, something which has no memory and is created in a moment and perpetually renewed. We put on a grotesque or solemn pained face to hide us from the terrors of judgement, invent an imaginative Saturnalia where one forgets reality, a game like that of a child, where one loses the infinite pain of self-realisation. Perhaps all the sins and energies of the world are but its flights from an infinite blinding beam (Mem 191).

In life courtesy and self-possession, and in the arts style, are the sensible impressions of the free mind, for both arise out of a deliberate shaping of all things, and from never being swept away, whatever the emotion, into confusion or dullness.11

‘Mask’ being typically clustered with such concepts as ‘discipline’ ‘self-possession’, ‘oratory’, ‘courtesy’, ‘style’, and ‘theatrical sense’, it now becomes possible to see the imperative for such a thing, implicit in this famous remark of eighteen months before. Such statements reflect a fin de siècle (indeed Paterian) fascination with the coincidence of aesthetics and ethics.


While the full context of writing about the Mask in the 1890s lies beyond my scope,12 it is worth recalling that by 1914 it was a matter of such commonplace as to merit casual recollection. In that year Yeats recalled of Olive Schreiner that ‘Twenty-five years ago ... she lived in the East End of London because only there could she see the faces of people without a mask. To this Oscar Wilde replied that he lived in the West End because nothing interested him but the mask’.13 As ever, Wilde’s conversation was but a dress rehearsal for his writing, and such sentiments appeared in ‘The Decay of Lying’. Wilde read the proofs to Yeats on Christmas Day, 1888 (Au 134–5; CW3 147) and therefore could have heard Wilde read ‘what is interesting about people in good society ... the mask that each of them wears, not the reality that lies behind the mask’.14 There are of course, numerous bold paradoxes about the Mask throughout the essays, which culminate with the last sentence of ‘The Truth of Masks’:

A Truth in art is that whose contrary is also true ... it is only in art-criticism that we can realize Hegel’s system of contraries. The truths of metaphysics are the truths of masks.15

There are, again as Wilde saw, Paterian answers to the problems posed by considering the aesthetic as a guide to the serious life. In the essay on ‘Style’, Pater, in fleshing out the idea that ‘“The style is the man”’, comes close to the idea of Mask in showing how expression is ‘the finer accommodation of speech to that vision within’.16 Style, then, is formative of behaviour, as Wilde saw, and not just in such well-known texts as The Picture of Dorian Gray. In ‘The Decay of Lying’ Vivian is bold enough to disclose ‘the secret that Truth is entirely and absolutely a matter of style; while Life – poor, probable, uninteresting human life ... will follow meekly after him ...’.17 The argument continues through various obiter dicta in the other Intentions essays and culminates in ‘The Truth of Masks’, but the best early statement is that of ‘The Artist as Critic’:

Use Love’s Litany and the words will create the yearning from which the world fancies that they spring. Have you a grief that corrodes your heart? Steep yourself in the language of grief, learn its utterance from Prince Hamlet and Queen Constance, and you will find that mere expression is a mode of consolation, and that Form, which is the birth of Passion, is also the death of pain.18

If Wilde could boast that he had stood ‘in symbolic relation’ to his time because he had ‘summed up all systems in a phrase and all philosophies in an epigram’,19 it was left to Yeats to turn the mask, an epigram, back into a system. But it seems more important to acknowledge that the Mask begins in a continual reverie about authorship. Yeats’s various remarks about literary style – its making, and its necessity – can be reconciled sometimes only with difficulty, but ‘the Mask’ is the practical tool and symbol whereby it is done. He remarks, for example, in ‘Ego Dominus Tuus’, ‘A style is learned by sedentary toil | And by the imitation of great masters’,20 having said elsewhere, and with approval in recalling a conversation with Synge, ‘Style comes from the shock of new material’.21 Yeats’s texts have within their field of allusion many of the ‘great masters’; he has learned from imitating.22 But behind literary style there is the more general field of human behaviour to be governed by style according to the fin-de-siècle sense that an ethic and an aesthetic might and indeed should be one and the same.


When in 1934 Horace Reynolds sent ‘a bundle of photographic copies’ of articles Yeats had published in American newspapers, Yeats ‘noticed’ that in later life he had ‘worked out with the excitement of discovery things known in my youth as though one forgot and rediscovered oneself’. Many of these had been learned in the Bedford Park Clubhouse theatre, through the production of plays which, with the inherent alienation of a ‘pastoral theme’, had helped Yeats to ‘avoid[] every oratorical phrase or cadence’ in reworking The Countess Cathleen.

My isolation from ordinary men and women was increased by an asceticism destructive of mind and body, combined with an adoration of physical beauty that made it meaningless. Sometimes the barrier between myself and other people filled me with terror; an unfinished poem, and the first and never-finished version of The Shadowy Waters had this terror for their theme. I had in an extreme degree the shyness – I know no better word – that keeps a man from speaking his own thought. Burning with adoration and hatred I wrote verse that expressed emotions common to every sentimental boy and girl, and that may be the reason why the poems upon which my popularity has depended until a few years ago were written before I was twenty-seven. Gradually I overcame my shyness a little, though I am still struggling with it and cannot free myself from the belief that it comes from lack of courage, that the problem is not artistic but moral. I remember saying as a boy to some fellow student in the Dublin art schools, “The difference between a good draftsman and a bad is one of courage”. I wrote prose badly ... [my] prose, unlike verse, had not those simple forms that like a masquer’s mask protect us with their anonymity (LNI, 1934, vii–xiii).

Yeats rebelled against the authorial anonymity which writing for W. E. Henley’s Scots Observer and ‘National Observer’ entailed, ‘in the puritanism of [his] twenties’. Taking a nationalistic stance, he sought nevertheless to exclude rhetoric and opinion as a ‘first discipline in creative prose’ (Mem 38). While he contrasted Lionel Johnson’s self-possession with his own ‘provincial ... clumsiness’, he quickly saw through Johnson’s poised self-creation by means of his faked, perfect dramaticules of imaginary conversations with his famous ‘puppets’ (CW5 90). Self-mastery came only slowly, but as Irish oratory and rhetoric yielded to his own self-possession, it became clear that its style in itself was but ‘high breeding in words and argument’ (E&I 253). For Yeats, the essence of Byron, Shelley, and Keats was not ‘character for its own sake’, but ‘the mask for some mood or passion, as in Byron’s “Manfred” and in his “Don Juan”’ with their ‘great types, great symbols of passion and of mood ...23 It had not been thus in Ireland, until ‘The Dublin Hermetic Society’ had started writing ‘many curious and some beautiful lyrics’ in c.1882 when ‘seven youths began to study European magic and Oriental mysticism’. Their main conviction, Yeats tells us, was

that the poets were uttering, under the mask of phantasy, the old revelations, and that we should truly look for genii of the evening breeze and hope for the final consummation of the world when two halcyons might sit upon a bough and eat once-poisonous herbs and take no harm ... These periodical meetings started a movement ...24


‘Old revelations’ under the ‘mask of phantasy’ reach their fin de siècle apogee in Rosa Alchemica, first published in The Savoy in April 1896, and gathered as the first of a triptych of occult stories as the culmination of The Secret Rose in 1897. Back into the penseroso life of a Dublin scholar and would-be alchemist comes the magus, Michael Robartes, who tries to seduce him into the Order of the Alchemical Rose with incantations to which selective quotation cannot do justice, and vision-inducing incense.

He had ... become in my waking dream a shuttle weaving an immense purple web whose folds had begun to fill the room ... ‘They have come to us; they have come to us’, the voice began again; ‘all that have ever been in your reverie, all that you have met with in books. There is Lear ... and he laughs because you thought yourself an existence who are but a shadow, and him a shadow who is an eternal god; and there is Beatrice, ... and there is the mother of the God of humility ... but she holds in her hand the rose whose every petal is a god; and there ... is Aphrodite ... I made a violent effort which seemed almost to tear me in two, and said with forced determination, ‘You would sweep me away into an indefinite world which fills me with terror; and yet a man is a great man just in so far as he can make his mind reflect everything with indifferent precision like a mirror.’ I seemed to be perfectly master of myself, and went on ... ‘I command you to leave me at once, for your ideas and phantasies are but the illusions that creep like maggots into civilisations when they begin to decline, and into minds when they begin to decay.’ I ... struggled hopelessly ... and I knew that I ... was conquered at last ... and as I was swirled along ... a multitude of pale hands were reaching towards me, and strange gentle faces bending above me, and half-wailing and half-caressing voices uttering words that were forgotten the moment they were spoken. I ... felt my memories, my hopes, my thoughts, my will, everything I held to be myself, melting away; then I seemed to rise through numberless companies of beings who were, I understood, in some way more certain than thought, each wrapped in his eternal moment, in the perfect lifting of an arm, in a little circlet of rhythmical words, in dreaming with dim eyes and half-closed eyelids. And then I passed beyond these forms, which were so beautiful they had almost ceased to be, and, having endured strange moods ... I passed into that Death which is Beauty herself, and into that Loneliness which all the multitudes desire without ceasing. All things that had ever lived seemed to come and dwell in my heart, and I in theirs; and I had never again known mortality or tears, had I not suddenly fallen from the certainty of vision into the uncertainty of dream ... I awoke to find myself leaning upon the table and supporting my head with my hands. I saw ... Michael Robartes watching me ... ‘I will go wherever you will’, I said, ‘and do whatever you bid me, for I have been with eternal things’ (VSR 132–36. Myth 2005 181–83).

This ‘eternal moment’ is based on an Aquinian doctrine found in Villiers de L’Isle Adam’s Axël, which Yeats had read before reviewing its première in Paris in 1894, with Maud Gonne translating for him: ‘Car l’éternité, dit excellemment saint Thomas, n’est que la pleine possession de soi-même en un seul et même instant’.25 It is fundamental to his subsequent re-applications of the phrase that here, in his first usage of it, it is associated with god-like heroes – Roland, Hamlet, Lear, Beatrice, Faust – who ‘are always making and unmaking humanity, which is indeed but the trembling of their lips’ from their mythic afterlives in the minds of readers.26 Yeats’s web of self-allusion provides his early sources for the idea of eternal self-possession.27 In the Summa Theologica (Part I, Quaestio 10), Aquinas tests the Boethian doctrine that eternity is ‘interminabilis vitae tota simul et perfecta possessio’,28 returning to the matter in the Summa Contra Gentiles (I, 15), in discussing God’s eternity, but it is in the quaestio referred to above that he draws from Boethius’s definition a distinction between aeviternity and eternity which, though never formulated as such by Yeats, comes close to the essence of his thinking. Yeats, as so often, has grasped and almost wilfully misinterpreted a central theological tenet in coming to philosophy via occultism, to formulate a key statement towards his eventual if somewhat mysterious idea of ‘Beatific Vision’ (CVA xii, CW13 xv, VP 824), and in AVA the ‘eternal moment’ occurs when the soul ‘com[es] into possession of itself forever in a single moment’ (CVA 73; CW13 61).

Mythologies (2005) allowed for easy comparison of a complex of Yeats’s associated ideas of the love of God for the uniqueness of the individual soul in its ‘eternal moment’, a state of eternal self-possession. ‘The Voice’ in The Celtic Twilight offers an entry point to what to Yeats seemed ‘the root of Christian mysticism’: ‘no human soul is like any other human soul, and therefore the love of God for any human soul is infinite, for no other soul can satisfy the same need in God’ (Myth 2005 46). Experiences behind the pensée recorded in Yeats’s as yet unpublished Visions notebook between 14 July and 20 September 1898 indicate that his experiences were probably ‘not true trance’ (unlike the experience imagined for Rosa Alchemica) its being ‘unusual’ for Yeats to experience ‘passive mysticism’, his ‘nature’ having been ‘shaped by thaumaturgy’ (Myth 2005 46; 261, n. 2; 262 nn. 5 & 6). Under the mysterious glamour of Robartes, Rosa Alchemica’s narrator travels to the Connemara coast by train

... it seemed to me I was so changed that I was no more, as man is, a moment shuddering at eternity, but eternity weeping and laughing over a moment; and when ... Michael Robartes had fallen asleep, as he soon did, his sleeping face, in which there was no sign of all that had so shaken me and that now kept me wakeful, was to my excited mind more like a mask than a face. The fancy possessed me that the man behind it had dissolved away like salt in water, and that it laughed and sighed, appealed and denounced at the bidding of beings greater or less than man (VSR 144; Myth 2005 183 & n. 44).

When the initiation ceremony – in essence an orgiastic, drug-fuelled dance with immortal presences – begins, the narrator as initiate is ushered in to the central chamber by Robartes, but not before an initial (and accurate) pre-vision of rejection.

I put my hand to the handle, but the moment I did so the fumes of the incense, helped perhaps by his mysterious glamour, made me fall again into a dream, in which I seemed to be a mask, lying on the counter of a little Eastern shop. Many persons, with eyes so bright and still that I knew them for more than human, came in and tried me on their faces, but at last flung me into a corner laughing; but all this passed in a moment (VSR 136–37; Myth 2005 188).

In the orgy, he drops out of a dance in the central hall, under a ceiling upon which is an ‘immense rose wrought in mosaic’, and stands, ‘watching the

coming and going of those flame-like figures; until gradually I sank into a half-dream, from which I was awakened by seeing the petals of the great rose, which had no longer the look of mosaic, falling slowly through the incense-heavy air, and, as they fell, shaping into the likeness of living beings of an extraordinary beauty. Still faint and cloud-like, they began to dance, and as they danced took a more and more definite shape, so that I was able to distinguish beautiful Grecian faces and august Egyptian faces, and now and again to name a divinity by the staff in his hand or by a bird fluttering over his head; and soon every mortal foot danced by the white foot of an immortal; and in the troubled eyes that looked into untroubled shadowy eyes, I saw the brightness of uttermost desire as though they had found at length, after unreckonable wandering, the lost love of their youth. Sometimes, but only for a moment, I saw a faint solitary figure with a veiled face, and carrying a faint torch, flit among the dancers, but like a dream within a dream, like a shadow of a shadow, and I knew by an understanding born from a deeper fountain than thought, that it was Eros himself ... a voice cried to me from the crimson figures, ‘Into the dance! there is none that can be spared out of the dance; into the dance! into the dance! that the gods may make them bodies out of the substance of our hearts’; and before I could answer, a mysterious wave of passion, that seemed like the soul of the dance moving within our souls, took hold of me, and I was swept, neither consenting nor refusing, into the midst. I was dancing with an immortal august woman, who had black lilies in her hair, and her dreamy gesture seemed laden with a wisdom more profound than the darkness that is between star and star, and with a love like the love that breathed upon the waters; and as we danced on and on, the incense drifted over us and round us, covering us away as in the heart of the world, and ages seemed to pass, and tempests to awake and perish in the folds of our robes and in her heavy hair. Suddenly I remembered that her eyelids had never quivered, and that her lilies had not dropped a black petal, nor shaken from their places, and understood with a great horror that I danced with one who was more or less than human, and who was drinking up my soul as an ox drinks up a wayside pool; and I fell, and darkness passed over me. I awoke suddenly as though something had awakened me, and saw that I was lying on a roughly painted floor, and that on the ceiling, which was at no great distance, was a roughly painted rose, and about me on the walls half-finished paintings. The pillars and the censers had gone; and near me a score of sleepers lay wrapped in disordered robes, their upturned faces looking to my imagination like hollow masks ... (VSR 145–48; Myth 2005 188–90)

This is an entirely new perspective on the hollowness and immobility of the mask. Its essential vacancy is seen as a human vessel to be filled and possessed by the whim of immortal presences, themselves fixed types of god or hero whose ‘trembling lips make and unmake humanity. Yeats calls these presences ‘the Moods’, a difficult enough concept and a separate topic for discussion of such books as The Secret Rose and The Wind Among the Reeds.29 Robartes is a magus, his temptation a thaumaturgical act (if not merely a drug-induced hallucinatory delusion: such is the element of the fantastic in the whole triptych). If the immortal presences can summon humans, so suitably inducted humans can summon immortal powers, a procedure we see attempted time after time with such women as Maud Gonne, Dorothea Hunter, and Nora Hopper in the rituals of the Celtic Mystical Order, a couple of years later.

What emerges from this whole two-way congress between the human questers and immortals – gods, spirits, archetypes – is that the Mask has now an occult purpose and function, but not yet a sense of the Anti-Self. And yet two of the heroes of these stories, the narrator and Owen Aherne, are divided men who, rejecting occult temptation, are held on the margins. They are not voteens but lead ‘threshold’ lives, praying best ‘in poor chapels’, held back from being ‘swept away’ as it were into the ‘indefinite world’.30 And the ‘splitting’ of Yeats into Aherne, Robartes and the triptych’s Narrator presages the monopolylogue with ‘principles of the mind’ in The Wind Among the Reeds, Yeats’s first attempt to ‘play with all masks’. 31

A harbinger of the occult mask might be found in Yeats’s powerful early criticism of a draft of Olivia Shakespear’s story, Beauty’s Hour, in 1894. Yeats discerned that the hero, Gerald, wanted ‘a slight touch more of definition’

Might he not be one of those vigerous fair haired, boating, or cricket playing young men, who are very positive, & what is called manly, in external activities & energies & wholly passive & plastic in emotional & intellectual things? I met just such a man last winter. I had suspected before that those robust masks hid often and often a great emotional passivity and plasticity but this man startled me. He was of the type of those who face the cannons mouth without a tremour, but kill themselves rather than face life without some girl with pink cheaks, whose character they have never understood, whose soul they have never perceived, & whom they would have forgotten in a couple of months.32

The thought, though not exactly developed, was evidently reapplied when Yeats wrote a now lost letter to Maud Gonne, c.20 March 1899 which, to judge from her reply, must have asked her whether she had adopted a mask (CL2 377). The question can be inferred from her reply of 22 March 1899, ‘No I do not think I wear a mask, & I do not think I am lonely though I am a little outside of life – & do not want to get back into life again’ (G-YL 104–05). There was every reason to ask such a question at this time, so soon after Yeats had learned of her double life, her two children, and her relationship with Lucien Millevoye, and after she had turned down his proposal of marriage. The ‘spiritual marriage’, which she proposed, seemed an attractive second best as they worked together on the plans for a Celtic Mystical Order, work which allowed him to reflect on the

Plate 1. Plaster cast of mask of W. B. Yeats by Kathleen Scott (née Bruce, later Lady Kennet), 1907. 17 1/2 in. (445 mm) high. Photograph courtesy and © The National Portrait Gallery, London. All rights reserved.

profound differences between them.33 If the lost letter belongs to a private dialogue in which the concept of the mask was being accorded an occult significance, then it is possible that such later summaries as the following passage from The Trembling of the Veil (1922) may have roots in this grim period.

As life goes on we discover that certain thoughts sustain us in defeat, or give us victory, whether over ourselves or others, and it is these thoughts, tested by passion, that we call convictions. Among subjective men (in all those, that is, who must spin a web out of their own bowels) the victory is an intellectual daily re-creation of all that exterior fate snatches away, and so that fate’s antithesis; while what I have called ‘the Mask’ is an emotional antithesis to all that comes out of their internal nature. We begin to live when we have conceived life as tragedy.34

If such is the case, then the sudden development of the metaphor into theories of behaviour and of creativity in the 1908–1909 journal is an outgrowth of the idea. Summing up the theatrical potential of the Mask in Certain Noble Plays of Japan (1916), Yeats traced a potential audience reaction to that stillness of theatrical masks in which ‘the fine invention of a sculptor ... a work of art ... the nobler for lacking curiosity, alert attention, all that we sum up under the famous word of the realists, ‘vitality’ is lacking. It is a reaction that takes us straight back to the mask as used in Rosa Alchemica:

It is even possible that being is only possessed completely by the dead, and that it is some knowledge of this that makes us gaze with so much emotion upon the face of the Sphinx or of Buddha.35

If an origin for the Mask is to be found in occult thought, then a remark by ‘J. J. N.’ in 1899 that he followed Yeats’s ‘occult maxim, “Lead your reactions, be not led by them”’ is intriguing.36 Nevertheless I cannot think of any specific GD sources for masks (as distinct from hoodwinks37) in ritual writings or teachings or in ceremonies, and if the mask does have a ceremonial occult source, it perhaps goes back to the Dublin Hermetic Society.


Around the period of the 1908–09 Diary masks of other sorts bore in on Yeats’s attention. A cast purporting to be Dante’s death mask – a souvenir, perhaps, brought back from Ravenna by Symons – hung on his wall in Woburn Buildings by June 1904.38 He had seen the Mask of Hathor at MacGregor Mathers’s house in Auteuil.39 In 1908 Edward Gordon Craig launched his periodical, The Mask, which served intermittently as a vehicle for his theatrical theories and designs until 1929, theories and designs which impinged on Yeats (who collected copies of it and wrote for it) in a number of ways. Kathleen Bruce’s bronze life mask of Yeats, done with inclusion in The Collected Works in Verse and Prose in mind though not reproduced in that shrine of Yeats’s permanent self-images, is found in Plate 1 of the present volume, and its making was a major preoccupation of the spring of 1908 (CL InteLex 851, 853 etc, 10 April 1908 and later). From c.1907 Yeats had worked on a tragedy, later emerging as The Player Queen, frustrated by the thought of ‘every player finding or not finding ... the Antithetical Self’ (VPl 761). By 17 August 1908, he dispatched a draft of ‘The Mask’, intended then as a lyric for that play, to its inspirer, Mabel Dickinson: the inspiration by then was ‘a couple of years’ old (VP 263; CL InteLex 1141).

Like Shelley’s magus, Zoroaster, who ‘[m]et his own image walking in the garden’,40 Yeats confronted himself in his own Collected Works in Verse and Prose in late 1908, and this provided the precise context in which and moment at which ‘The Mask’ came back in its new form to crystallize and to dominate his thinking. Amid a good deal of satisfaction with the fairly serviceable self-image he found there, the old itch to revise quickly asserted itself.

Dec. 13 [1908]. Have been looking through Collected Works, volume VII. I now see what is wrong with ‘Tables of the Law’. The hero41 must not seem for a moment a shadow of the hero of ‘Rosa Alchemica’. He is not the mask but the face. He realizes himself. He cannot obtain vision in the ordinary sense. He is himself the centre. Perhaps he dreams he is speaking. He is not spoken to. He puts himself in place of Christ. He is not the revolt of multitude. What did the woman in Paris reveal to the Magi? Surely some reconciliation between face and mask? Does the narrator refuse this manuscript, and so never learn its contents? Is it simply the doctrine of the Mask? The choosing of some one mask? Hardly, for that would but be the imitation of Christ in a new form. Is it becoming mask after mask? Perhaps the name only should be given, ‘Mask and Face’. Yet the nature of the man seems to prepare for a continual change, a phantasmagoria. One day one god and the next another. The imitation of Christ as distinguished from the self-realization of the ‘Tables of the Law’. What of it? Christ is but another self, but he is the supernatural self.


Between 23 and 28 January 1909, in the very period at which the word ‘Mask’; seems to pop so unexpectedly into his brooding over various aspects of his own behaviour and writing, Yeats had begun to project plans for yet more tinkering with The Adoration of the Magi.42 ‘Wisdom is a butterfly’, as he later wrote, ‘the crooked road of intuition’ is opposed to abstraction or a code of rules, and is opposed to dogma (VP 338, 827). But equally, ‘sincerity’ as an artistic ambition has its perils. Yeats’s practical experience in the theatre had shown him this, during a formative phase of his own play-writing and awakening sense of the possibilities of both masque as a form and masks as a device for theatrical estrangement. A letter to Mrs Patrick Campbell in 1901 must suffice here as example. While Yeats saw little merit in Björn Björnson’s Beyond Human Power in November 1901, he wrote to Mrs Patrick Campbell:

Your acting seemed to me to have the perfect precision and delicacy and simplicity of every art at its best. It made me feel the unity of the arts in a new way. I said to myself, that is exactly what I am trying to do in writing, to express myself without waste, without emphasis. To be impassioned and yet to have a perfect self-possession, to have a precision so absolute that the slightest inflection of voice, the slightest rhythm of sound or emotion plucks the heart-strings ... I happened to have in my pocket ‘The Revelation of Divine Love’, by the Lady Julian, an old mystical book my hand strayed to it all unconsciously. There was no essential difference between that work and your acting; both were full of fine distinction, of delicate logic, of that life where passion and thought are one (CL3 122, c.19 Nov, 1901).

Shortly after Yeats had reread himself in his own Collected Works in Verse and Prose, Synge’s death was followed by the grim episode of Yeats’s unsuccessful attempt to get a death mask of Synge. Synge’s brother, a member of the Plymouth Brethren, forbade such a move:

I went ... at the request of various people to get leave for a death mask to be taken with a view to a bust but the coffin was closed & the brother would not open it – a queer looking man in black clothes that did not fit, very pious I believe, & I think by his manner hating us all.43

Yeats never mentions the episode in the Diary, but its presence pervades its writing.44

For the last three months finding myself unable to do any kind of serious writing which required continuity of mood I have kept a diary philosophical and meditative. It is now quite a big book and has resulted in my being able to systemize my exasperations. It also contains the impressions made upon one, day by day, of the news of Synge’s illness and death. I don’t think anything I could have done would have made Synge’s family consent to the taking of the Death Mask. They are indeed a strange obstinate people, Plymouth Brothers, who probably hate everything he did ...45

By 1910 he was able to declare in ‘The Tragic Theatre’,

in mainly tragic art one distinguishes devices to exclude or lessen character, to diminish the power of that daily mood, to cheat or blind its too clear perception. If the real world is not altogether rejected it is but touched here and there, and into the places we have left empty we summon rhythm, balance, pattern, images that remind us of vast passions, the vagueness of past times, all the chimeras that haunt the edge of trance; and if we are painters, we shall express personal emotion through ideal form, a symbolism handled by the generations, a mask from whose eyes the disembodied looks, a style that remembers many masters, that it may escape contemporary suggestion; or we shall leave out some element of reality as in Byzantine painting, where there is no mass, nothing in relief, and so it is that in the supreme moment of tragic art there comes upon one that strange sensation as though the hair of one’s head stood up (UP2 388, emphasis added).

The mask thus becomes a device for estrangement, for alienation from selfhood, thereby to facilitate self-contemplation. A sampling of various pensées shows Yeats meditating on this theme. Augustus John’s etching (now frontispiece to AVB) ‘in a Birmingham gallery’ made Yeats ‘shudder[]’ at himself, depicted as

an unshaven, drunken bar-tender, and then I began to feel John had found something that he liked in me, something closer than character, and by that very transformation made it visible. He had found Anglo-Irish solitude, a solitude I have made for myself, an outlawed solitude (Ex 308).

Excluding portraiture, some recondite areas of self-discovery46 were available only through the arduous cultivation of style and the daring of the Mask, as in the 1910 essay, ‘J. M. Synge and the Ireland of his Time’:

how hard ... is that purification from insincerity, vanity, malignity, arrogance, which is the discovery of style. But life became sweet again when I had learnt all I had not learnt in shaping words, in defending Synge against his enemies, and knew that rich energies, fine, turbulent or gracious thoughts, whether in life or letters, are but love-children (E&I 318–19).

By 1911 and with the help of Craig, Yeats was planning to put the Fool of The Hour-Glass and the Blind Man from On Baile’s Strand into masks, a plan frustrated when there was no one to make a mask of leather.47 Craig insisted on seeing the finished masks. Yeats was ‘so anxious to get Masks’ because he ‘despair[ed] of getting good performances of my work under the conditions of the stage at present’. He sought to pay Craig for the design work by writing for The Mask, and to secure Craig’s designs ‘for the “Hour Glass” Fool’ and one ‘for the Blind Man in Bailes Strand’.48 He did not actually get masks in a play until the 2 April, 1916 charity performance of At the Hawk’s Well in London. By 5 March, he was excited about Dulac’s first mask, ‘a greek head and helmet with the look of something older, perhaps Egyptian. Cuchulain will be a wonderful figure, magnificent in face and in dress, and it is quite easy to speak in a mask. I put it on and recited in it. He had begun an old man’s mask for the other speaking character’ (CL InteLex 2879). On 2 April he wrote to John Quinn

I am tired out with the excitement of rehersing my new play in which Masks are being used for the first time in serious drama in the modern world. Ainley who is hero wears a mask like an Archaic Greek statue ... If ... Balfour & Sargent and Ricketts, & Sturge More & John & the Prime Minister and a few pretty ladies will come & see it ... I shall be happier than Sophocles I shall be as lucky as a Japanese dramatic poet at the Court of the Shogan.49


George Mills Harper’s edited collection Yeats and the Occult (1975) offered presentations of Yeats’s accounts of the automatic writing of Elizabeth (Bessie) Radcliffe in 1912–13, and the results of forensic investigations with Everard Feilding of the Society for Psychical Research into the allegedly bleeding oleographs in a church in Mirebeau in 1914.51 After surveying an immense amount of evidence, the ‘Preliminary Examination of the Script of E[lizabeth R[adcliffe]’ (finished on 8 October, 1913) reveals above all wariness with ‘spirits’ who came through in séances, each claiming to be the shade of a person whose life was recorded in standard reference works. While the essay comes down in favour of ‘the spiritistic hypothesis’ to account for ‘supernatural phenomena’, that was a position of which Yeats grew less certain, as he added revisions covering the possibilities of secondary and tertiary personalities, adding notes as late as 7 June 1914 (YO 134, 136–37, 146, 155, 171).

The essay on the bleeding oleographs is largely unrelated, but the reverence of the Abbé Vachère at Mass in Mirebeau Yeats finds moving rather than suspect, and he begins to see the alleged miracle – later tests at the Lister Institute ruled out human blood – as having a place

in spiritual drama ... I had felt the reverence one always feels in contemplation of the reverence of others, but now I tested my own beliefs by the intensity of those about me. I too had my conception of the Divine Man, and a few days before had schemed out a poem, praying that somewhere upon some seashore or upon some mountain I should meet face to face with that divine image of myself. I tried to understand what it would be if the heart of that image lived completely in my heart, and the poetry full of instinct full of tenderness for all life it would enable me to write, and then I wondered what it would be if the head awoke within my head, and here my understanding was less clear and my attention strayed to the Latin words of the Mass, returning presently to the hands, and trying vainly to discover their spiritual meaning. Thoughts out of the Kabbala and out of Swedenborg who has arranged the heavens as a vast man, the angels and the souls making the members of his body. I know that I prayed in my fashion ... (YO 187).

The poem which shortly shaped itself from this Mass in the Abbé’s private chapel on 12 May 1914, was ‘The Fisherman’, drafted on 4 June, 1914 (VP 347–48). Like Shelley’s Zoroaster again, the idea of the ‘face to face’ meeting with a ‘divine image of myself’ approaches one concept inherent in the Mask, yet crucially lacks the idea of an opposite or anti-self.

From 1897 through the next decade, one thing dominated Yeats’s joint work with Lady Gregory outside the Irish Literary Theatre, and that was the collecting of Kiltartan folklore. They had jointly planned a ‘big book of folklore’ of which much had been jointly drafted in the six folklore essays he alone had signed, but in the end Lady Gregory had continued alone to write it as Visions and Beliefs in the West of Ireland (1920), with various separately signed contributions by Yeats. His accompanying essay ‘Swedenborg, Mediums, and the Desolate Places’ was finished on 14 October 1914 and classifies the ‘many analogies’ [i.e., with Irish belief]

in modern spiritism ... [I] began a more careful comparison, going a good deal to séances for the first time and reading all writers of any reputation I could find in English or French. I found much that was moving, when I had climbed to the top story of some house in Soho or Holloway, and, having paid my shilling, awaited, among servant girls, the wisdom of some fat old medium. That is an absorbing drama, though if my readers begin to seek it they will spoil it, for its gravity and simplicity depends on all, or all but all, believing that their dead are near. I did not go there for evidence of the kind the Society for Psychical Research would value, any more than I would seek it in Galway or in Aran. I was comparing one form of belief with another ... and ... was discovering a philosophy. Certain things had happened to me when alone in my own room which had convinced me that there are spiritual intelligences which can warn us and advise us ... And yet I do not think I have been easily convinced ... I pieced together stray thoughts written out after questioning the familiar of a trance medium or automatic writer ... or arranged the fragments into some pattern, till I believed myself the discoverer of a vast generalization. I lived in excitement, amused to make Holloway interpret Aran, and constantly comparing my discoveries with what I have learned of mediaeval tradition among fellow students, with the reveries of a Neoplatonist, of a seventeenth-century Platonist, of Paracelsus or a Japanese poet. Then one day I opened The Spiritual Diary of Swedenborg, which I had not taken down for twenty years, and found all there, even certain thoughts I had not set on paper because they had seemed fantastic from the lack of some traditional foundation. It was strange I should have forgotten so completely a writer I had read with some care before the fascination of Blake and Boehme had led me away ... Nor should we think of spirit as divided from spirit, as men are from each other, for they share each other’s thoughts and life, and those whom he has called celestial angels, while themselves mediums to those above, commune with men and lower spirits, through orders of mediatorial spirits, not by a conveyance of messages, but as though a hand were thrust within a hundred gloves,52 one glove outside another, and so there is a continual influx from God to man. It flows to us through the evil angels as through the good, for the dark fire is the perversion of God’s life and the evil angels have their office in the equilibrium that is our freedom, in the building of that fabulous bridge made out of the edge of a sword (Ex 30–32, 38; CW5 47–48, 52).

Elsewhere, Yeats accounts for folklore collecting with Lady Gregory in a style detached and yet moving: the anecdotes recounted to them were, said Yeats’s view, ‘my obsession‘, ’but a part’ of a traditional experience which he had ‘discussed only too much elsewhere’ (Au 401).

Every night she wrote out what we had heard in the dialect of the cottages. She wrote, if my memory does not deceive me, two hundred thousand words, discovering that vivid English she was the first to use upon the stage. My object was to find actual experience of the supernatural, for I did not believe, nor do I now, that it is possible to discover in the text-books of the schools, in the manuals sold by religious booksellers, even in the subtle reverie of saints, the most violent force in history ... [N]either she nor those peasants were pagans. Christianity begins to recognize the validity of experiences that preceded its birth and were, in some sense, shared by its founders. When later she asked me to annotate and introduce her book, Visions and Beliefs, I began a study of ‘Spiritualism’ not only in its scientific form but as it is found among the London poor, and discovered that there was little difference except that the experience of the cottagers was the richer. Requiring no proof that we survive the grave, they could turn to what was dramatic or exciting and, though more ignorant than the townsmen, lacked vulgarity (Au 400–01).

The two streams of information, from Kiltartan and from Soho or Holloway could be further compared with evidence won with his fellow (and very middle-class) questers in the Society for Psychical Research, where what passed at the time as rigorous, quasi-scientific, sceptical experimentation and classification of a variety of experiences was carried on with a number of spirit mediums, or in the London Spiritualist Alliance, the séances of which he also attended. These were especially relevant, being sessions seemingly with believers in life after death and offering the best modern parallels to traditional belief and therefore of constructive significance.


On 9 May, 1912 at a séance of Mrs Etta Wreidt’s at W. T. Stead’s Cambridge House, Wimbledon, ‘a Spanish moor’ appeared. His ‘life is in Chambers’ Biographical Dictionary’, protested Yeats in the Radcliffe script, and therefore his appearance ‘supported the theory of some unconscious action of the mind’, the spirit control speaking overtly of the dictionary ‘to give me evidence of his existence’ (YO 146, 151, 170). This was Leo Africanus, and despite Yeats’s noting on a report of the séance, ‘First appearance of Leo’, he may actually have been coming back into Yeats’s life. ‘[S]hortly’ after Yeats had consulted Dr George Sigerson’s daughter, Bessy, on 11 December 1898, he had a séance in London with Charles Williams at which it seemed he had heard the medium to name ‘Leonora Arguite’. ‘Fifteen or twenty years later’ it seemed to Yeats that the name could have been ‘Leo Africanus’ who, indeed, claimed that he was

Leo my guide & seemed astonished that I had never heard of you. “I am Leo the writer” you repeated, & I would find you in the books or hear of you at Rome. You spoke too of your travels & said that you had been with me from childhood ... 53

The laborious summaries of séances in the PIAL notebook54record with ever greater precision the sessions with such mediums as Etta Wreidt and Felicia Scatcherd between 1909 and 1915 at which Leo Africanus came through in various guises. Yeats and Leo courted each other very warily, and the exchange of letters between them, written by Yeats in December 1915, edited in 1980 and reprinted in this volume offers in retrospect a reasonable summary of their previous encounters in séances. It is possible to be slightly more precise about certain details than were Harper and Adams given the subsequent discovery of so many more of Yeats’s letters (i.e., to the then living), but the bones of the story are well laid out in their edited transcript. Yeats’s letter to his then occasional mistress, Alick Schepeler, on 26 Dec. 1915 from Stone Cottage, tells us that he is ‘writing a letter to Leo Africanus, my “daimon” & reading Landor’.55 Leo Africanus (al-Hasan ibn Muhammad al-Wazzan) in fact had been

a Cordovan Moor who, from 1492 travelled in northern Africa and Asia Minor. Falling into the hands of Venetian corsairs, he was sent to Leo X at Rome, where he lived twenty years, and accepted Christianity, but returned to Africa and his old faith, and died at Tunis in 1552. He wrote (1526) an account of his African travels in Italian (first printed 1559 [as the Della descrittione dell’Africa]), long the source of information as to the Soudan.

Or so said the entry in Chambers’s Biographical Dictionary, where Yeats found him snugly between Leo III the Isaurian, Byzantine Emperor (717–741), and, two one-line entries away, Leonardo da Vinci.56 Yeats remained suspicious of mediums, audiences (including himself), and others who could summon controls and soi-disant ghosts from common reference sources.57 Rather than bother with Robert Brown’s 1896 Hakluyt Society re-edition of John Pory’s translation of 1600 to which this entry directed him, Yeats procured a copy of the 1600 translation itself.58

At the end of the exchange of letters, Yeats writes that:

I am not convinced that in this letter there is one sentence that has come from beyond. [sic] my own imagination but I will not use a stronger phrase. The morning I began it I found my mind almost a blank though I had prepared many thoughts. I could remember nothing except that I intended to begin with an analysis of the axiom that one could not seek an unknown cause, till one has exhausted the known causes. I wrote till I came to line — page — & finding that that page was but a plea for solitude I remembered that an image that gave itself your name said speaking through a certain seer that your mission was to create solitude. At one other moment I felt that curious check or touch59 in the mind that sometimes warns me, that a line of argument is untrue. Yet I think there is no thought that has not occurred to me in some form or other for many years passed; if you have influenced me it has been less to arrange my thoughts. I am be[ing] careful to keep my [style] broken, & even abrupt believing that I could but keep sensitive to influence by avoiding those trains of argument & deduction which run on railway tracks. I have been conscious of no sudden illumination. Nothing has surprised me, & I have not had any of those dreams which in the past have persuaded me of some spiritual presence. Yet I am confident now as always that spiritual beings if they cannot write & speak can always listen. I can still put by difficulties (YA1 38–39 & n. 89).

Thus does Yeats sit in judgement upon Leo. Roy Foster (whose excellent summary of the imaginary conversation misdates its drafting forward by a year) finds that ‘Leo Africanus’ ‘ends as irresolutely as it begins’.60 I find it subtly judicious. The revels now are ended, and the ‘light in the tower window’ (VP 377) is put out as a writer dismisses a character he has animated if not invented. The stroke of genius is the dialogic form, and at the same time in Stone Cottage, Yeats had Pound reading Landor to him. These letters are a stern imaginary conversation, in which Yeats writes his own position and serves to record what he projects as those of the traveller in an epistolary development of Socratic (or Wildean) dialogue. The arch ‘The Poet and the Actress’ conversation follows in 1916, as the practical and theatrical uses of the Mask are debated with an actress who only lightly masks Mrs Patrick Campbell, a dialogue which draws upon the completed but then unpublished poem, ‘Ego Dominus Tuus’ (YA11 123–43).

Séance, then, was a new dramatic mise-en-scène in which the poet could ‘play with all masks’. Weird and wonderful characters turn up as controls, the historical span is limitless; they might be deceitful, might be secondary personalities, nothing is definite, everything has possibility. But it is to Leo, self-confessedly ‘a brooding & braggart shade’,61 ‘sent to give you confidence & solitude’ (YA1 29 and below, 322), that belongs the master stroke of posing (or being postulated) as Yeats’s opposite. In a sense he completes the difficulty lingering from the occult stories, for neither Robartes, Aherne, nor any other Mask can make that claim. As such, he points the way forward to the renewed fictions of the Robartes set, the Menippean satura in both versions of A Vision. An Archdeacon Hare to Walter Landor, he provoked the fullest response: ‘I shall dine late; but the room will be well lighted, the guests few and select’.62 Studying oppositional writers, such as Landor, and Morris, steered Per Amica Silentia Lunae to Yeats’s deepest thoughts about authorship.63


Séance, like folklore collection, was an obsessive avocation for Yeats. A born writer, his poems came as the intermittent by-product of a consciousness which needed to experiment with (and issue in) many other forms. This can be seen in the period after 1908 as ‘play[ing] with all masks’, but on a formal level, poems begat prose and prose, poems – a relatively unstudied subject which could take its point of departure from Yeats’s clue ‘To some extent I wrote these poems as texts for exposition’, a passage which occurs in a 1922 retrospective concession that certain poems were obscure without access to the record of thought from which they had arisen, and/or to which they gave rise.64

Thus, when Michael Robartes and other named characters appeared in the titles and notes of The Wind Among the Reeds they emerged less as ‘actual personages’, from The Secret Rose and elsewhere in his writings to date, than as ‘principles of the mind’ (VP 803). The train of connexion is hugely important in the gradual evolution of the Mask, because it marks a conscious move from the employment of fictional characters to heteronyms which, while they might be antitypes of each other (as are Aherne and Robartes), are not necessarily anti-selves of the author, except as postulated (and changing) ‘principles of the mind’. And while letters of 1917 allegedly from Robartes to Aherne are quoted in the notes to ‘An Image from a Past Life’ and ‘The Second Coming’ in Michael Robartes and the Dancer (1920), we are not actually told the circumstances of his resurrection until the note keyed to ‘The Phases of the Moon’, ‘The Double Vision of Michael Robartes’, and ‘Michael Robartes and the Dancer’ in Later Poems (1922):

Years ago I wrote three stories in which occurs [sic] the names of Michael Robartes and Owen Aherne. I now consider that I used the actual names of two friends, and that one of these friends, Michael Robartes, has but lately returned from Mesopotamia where he has partly found and partly thought out much philosophy. I consider that John Aherne is either the original of Owen Aherne or some near relation of the man that was, and that both he and Robartes, to whose namesake I had attributed a turbulent life and death, have quarrelled with me. They take their place in a phantasmagoria in which I endeavour to explain my philosophy of life and death, and till that philosophy has found some detailed exposition in prose certain passages in the poems named above may seem obscure. To some extent I wrote them as a text for exposition.—1922 (VP 821).65

Prior to the notes to Michael Robartes and the Dancer, there is little published evidence of the huge body of interdependent work except for the obvious relation between the proem to Per Amica Silentia Lunae and its extended reverie. One must recall that at the time, ‘Swedenborg, Mediums, and the Desolate Places’ had not been published. The ‘Preliminary Examination of the Script of E[lizabeth R[adcliffe]’, ‘The Poet and the Actress’, ‘Leo Africanus’ and much else necessarily less finished or even in jottings or fragments lay unpublished in his lifetime, some even to this day.

So it is important to recognise that ‘Leo Africanus’ and ‘Ego Dominus Tuus’ were written at the same time, Yeats even spending the Christmas of 1915 (as we have seen), drafting ‘Leo Africanus’ in Stone Cottage and reading Landor (or having Ezra Pound do so for him).66 Dialogic form is the crucial ingredient of all these activities, in spirit investigations, in prose, in new poems, and in the relation between all of these activities, as the dating of ‘Ego Dominus Tuus’ reveals. First published in Poetry (Chicago) in October 1917 and The New Statesman November 17, 1917 (on which date it also appeared in the Cuala Press edition of The Wild Swans at Coole), it became the proem to Per Amica Silentia Lunae (published on both sides of the Atlantic on 18 January 1918) and was gathered into The Wild Swans at Coole (London: Macmillan, 11 March, 1919). However, a penultimate MS, entitled ‘The Self & the AntiSelf’ is dated ‘Dec 5. 1915’.67 In the two Per Amica publications, the poem is emphatically dated ‘December 1915’. With ‘Ille’ addressed by Hic68 as he traces magical shapes on the sands beside the Streamstown river, his lamp burning beside a book left by Michael Robartes, the date effectively declares ownership and habitation of Thoor Ballylee for ‘Ille’ from that date. The completed poem thus would seem to predate the purchase of Thoor Ballylee by over 15 months, but ‘The Self & the AntiSelf’ anticipates even the opening of negotiations for the purchase by ten months.

On 2 October, 1916, Yeats wrote to William F. Bailey from Coole:

For years I have coveted Ballylee Castle, on this property, or what was this property and which has now been bought by the C[ongested] D[istricts] B[oard]. It has got a tolerably good roof on it, good rough old Elizabethan chimney pieces, and I could restore it to some of its original stern beauty and have a place to keep my pictures and my books. At present it is worth nothing to anybody, and will soon become ruinous, and that will make the neighbourhood the poorer of romance. Now I want to know if I could get it from the Congested Districts Board. The tenant who had possession of it says he hears they are going to lock it up. He says also that a couple of acres have been kept with it, which would be useful to keep a few trees which are there now from being cut down. I might not be able to live there for some little time, but I should be sorry if I found it had been possible to get it and that it has slipped away. You would do me a great service if you would find out informally if such a purchase was possible. I need not say I could not give much for it, especially as I should have to lay-out money in doing it up ...69

Yeats had found an ‘asylum for his affections’ long before he actually possessed it. His first visit must have been between 20 June and c.15 November 1898, during which period he stayed at Coole and Tulira. He and Russell had spent time seeing visions in the nearby Lydacaun Castle, a similar Norman tower house, though uninhabitable. Ballylee, on the other hand, was occupied by Patrick Spellman, Master of the Loughrea Workhouse. Yeats returned there again in the summer of 1899 (Myth 2005 225–26), wholly absorbed in the lore and local memory of Mary Hynes as immortalized in the poetry of Antoine Raftery and collected by Douglas Hyde. He wrote ‘“Dust hath Closed Helen’s Eye”’ for The Dome (October, 1898), collecting it in the 1902 edition of The Celtic Twilight. In 1924 he added a note: ‘Ballylee Castle, or Thoor Ballylee, as I have named it to escape from the too magnificent word “castle” is now my property, and I spend my summers or some part of them there’ (Myth 2005 14–19). In the poem’s opening ‘Hic’ addresses ‘Ille’, unmistakeably the inhabitant of Thoor Ballylee:

Hic. On the grey sand beside the shallow stream

Under your old wind-beaten tower, where still

A lamp burns on beside the open book

That Michael Robartes left, you walk in the moon,

And, though you have passed the best of life, still trace,

Enthralled by the unconquerable delusion,

Magical shapes. (VP 367)

There is no explanatory note on Robartes, nor on his book. Yeats had killed him off in 1896: the Connemara temple is stormed by angry fisherfolk, and the narrator flees, leaving Robartes lying with the ‘hollow masks’ of the dancers, still in a drugged swoon on the dancing-floor (VSR 148–49; Myth 2005 190–91). Nor does the narrator rescue the vellum book which gives the history and rituals of the Order (while, as we have seen, in The Wind Among the Reeds he is merely a ‘principle of the mind’ rather than an ‘actual personage’).

In fact, the majority of the fictions of what Michael Sidnell, following Yeats’s comment about ‘The Gift of Harun Al-Rashid’ has grouped as the Robartes ‘set’ (VP 830; YO 226) were unpublished until Volume 4 of Yeats’s Vision Papers appeared in 2001.70 Those that were published as notes to poems indeed held ground for A Vision (1925). In that work, Menippean satura, or such learned play goes a step further, with yet further steps to come in A Packet for Ezra Pound and A Vision (1937). ‘Ego Dominus Tuus’ is proleptic, its ‘open book’ a text for ‘exposition’ in ‘An Alphabet’ and ‘Spiritus Mundi’, later published as Per Amica Silentia Lunae, a down payment on possession of the tower, an anticipation of habitation, all the more remarkable for seemingly preceding his courtship of Georgie Hyde-Lees.71

The formal potential was huge, as ‘principles of the mind’ were mastered in the self-division dramatized in the dialogue of ‘Hic’ and ‘Ille’. There had of course been the dialogic The Wanderings of Oisin (based on ‘The Dialogue of Oisin and Patrick’ and the equally dialogic ‘Lay of Oisin on the Land of Youths as he related it to Saint Patrick’72), earlier ‘conversation poems’ such as ‘Adam’s Curse’, the colloquy-within-narrative of ‘The Grey Rock’, or ‘The Two Kings’ (VP 204–06; 270–86), but it is in The Wild Swans at Coole that dialogic form comes back in a new way as a special projection via masks of ‘the dialogue of the mind with itself’ as Matthew Arnold had called it.73 Much as Yeats had misgivings about the self-doubts of modernity (and indeed its ‘modern hope’ of self-discovery and the ‘gentle, sensitive mind’, VP 367–68), his interest in the free play of ‘principles of the mind’ was now to be fleshed out with numerous traditional identities – ‘Shepherd and Goatherd’, ‘The Saint and the Hunchback’ – types classified in yet another conversation not written for another two and a half years, ‘The Phases of the Moon’ (written in July 1918), a dialogue between heteronyms he had invented, forgotten and resurrected, Aherne and Robartes. As they pass by the tower, declining to stop and preferring to imagine Yeats ‘crack[ing] his wits | Day after day’, Yeats, now in possession of ‘mysterious wisdom’ won through his marriage and its toil of automatic writing, has the last ‘laugh[]’ on these characters of his own creation, an entirely new vein of work having opened up (VP 377).

Both the almost fully drafted ‘The Self & the AntiSelf’ (dated ‘Dec 5. 1915’) and the almost fair copy on which that title has been changed to ‘Ego Dominus Tuus’ (dated ‘Dec. 1915’) site the disciplined, objectifying, internal debate ‘On the grey sands beside the shallow sea | Under your old wind-beaten Tower ...’. Yeats clearly wanted a single syllable at the end of the line, and either had not yet come to ‘stream’ or wished for some reason to occlude the location of the dialogue. Ballylee is c.15 km from the shallow Kinvarra Bay. And while there is indeed sand beside the Streamstown River at Ballylee, it does not have quite the scope for geomancy that one would find on a tidal sea-shore.

A tower, a light in the window, a mysterious book left by a magus, a seashore, geomantic drawings on the sand: the geography is of course phantasmagorical, but well before Yeats actually went to Ballyllee and the Streamstown river, such associations were beginning to form in his mind, and would continue to be rich inspiration to him right through to The Tower and The Winding Stair (see ‘A Dialogue of Self and Soul’, VP 470). A cluster of associations crystallises in ‘The Phases of the Moon’ (1918), where Yeats has Robartes speculate that he had ‘chosen’ Thoor Ballylee because of ‘Il Penseroso’ and ‘Prince Athanase’, and Samuel Palmer’s ‘The Lonely Tower’ etching which illustrates the former by alluding to the latter.

Robartes. ...

We are on the bridge; that shadow is the tower,

And the light proves that he is reading still.

He has found, after the manner of his kind,

Mere images; chosen this place to live in

Because, it may be, of the candle-light

From the far tower where Milton’s Platonist

Sat late, or Shelley’s visionary prince:

The lonely light that Samuel Palmer engraved,

An image of mysterious wisdom won by toil;

And now he seeks in book or manuscript

What he shall never find. (VP 372–73)

What Robartes has in mind is the following passage:

Or let my lamp at midnight hour,

Be seen in some high lonely tow’r,

Where I may oft outwatch the Bear,

With thrice-greatest Hermes, or unsphere

The spirit of Plato, to unfold

What worlds, or what vast regions hold

The immortal mind, that hath forsook

Her mansion in this fleshly nook:

And of those Demons that are found

In fire, air, flood, or under ground,

Whose power hath a true consent

With planet, or with element.74


His soul had wedded Wisdom, and her dower

Is love and justice, clothed in which he sate

Apart from men, as in a lonely tower,

Pitying the tumult of their dark estate – 75

In the ‘Prince Athanase’ fragment, the tower simile becomes actual. Prince Athanase is schooled by the elderly Zonoras, and his tower’s lamp may be seen from far out in the Balearic Sea ‘gleam[ing] from the turret, | ‘Piercing the stormy darkness like a star | Which pours beyond the sea one steadfast beam’ (Ibid, ll. 187–91). For Yeats, meditating on Shelley’s ‘Ruling Symbols’ in 1900, ‘half-ruined towers upon ... hilltops were ‘“towers of thought”’ (in Shelley’s own words: ‘“towers of thought’s crowned powers”’76) because Yeats thought it

hard ... to forget a symbolical meaning, I believe Shelley had more than a romantic scene in his mind when he made Prince Athanase follow his mysterious studies in a lighted tower above the sea.77

Yeats twice refers to the geomantic stanza describing Cythna’s reveries in The Revolt of Islam:

At a comparatively early time Shelley made his imprisoned Cythna become wise in all human wisdom through the contemplation of her own mind, and write out this wisdom upon the sands in ‘signs’ that were ‘clear elemental shapes, whose smallest change’ made ‘a subtler language within language’, and were ‘the key of truths which once were dimly taught in old Crotona’.78

Plate 2. The ‘Palatium Arcanorum’, frontispiece of Christian Knorr von Rosenroth’s Kabbala Denudata seu Doctrina Hebræorum transcendentalis et metaphysica atque theological etc., 1677. Photograph courtesy and © The British Library. All rights reserved.

Such declarations of a heritage as personal and as symbol-laden as the history of his own poetic knowledge are found right through until ‘Blood and the Moon’ (written in August 1927).


Blessed be this place,

More blessed still this tower;

A bloody, arrogant power

Rose out of the race

Uttering, mastering it,

Rose like these walls from these

Storm-beaten cottages –

In mockery I have set

A powerful emblem up,

And sing it rhyme upon rhyme

In mockery of a time

Half dead at the top.


Alexandria’s was a beacon tower, and Babylon’s

An image of the moving heavens, a log-book of the sun’s

journey and the moon’s;

And Shelley had his towers, thought’s crowned powers

he called them once.

I declare this tower is my symbol; I declare

This winding, gyring, spiring treadmill of a stair is my

ancestral stair;

That Goldsmith and the Dean, Berkeley and Burke have

travelled there. (VP 480–81, emphases added)

This cluster of ‘symbolical meaning’ went back at least to 1888 when Katharine Tynan presented Yeats with his Shelley. The ‘mysterious wisdom’ had been given ‘a local habitation’ by means of study of MacGregor Mathers’ translation of Knorr Von Rosenroth’s Kabbala Denudata, which must have led Yeats back to the 1677 edition in the British Museum, the frontispiece of which shows a neophyte approaching the ‘Palatium Arcanum’, by the shore of a turbulent sea.79 This frontispiece may itself have provided a visual source for the Temple of the Alchemical Rose on the shores of Connemara, where the ‘grey, leaping waves’, as of ‘some indefinite and passionate life, which has begun to war upon our orderly and careful days’ were ‘covering [the temple] with showers of white foam’.80 The point serves to show that while the history of Yeats’s sources for symbolical obsessions is a very old approach to his work, nothing really gets left behind. In Boehme’s word (and in modern magical doctrine) the imagination (and so for Yeats ‘imaginative possessions’, or the gathered symbol-hoard), ‘creates and substantiates as it goes’.81

Walking towards Urbino in 1907, Yeats glimpsed a ‘mediaeval tower’ that induced a vision of

an old man, erect and a little gaunt, standing in the door of the tower, while about him broke a windy light. He was the poet who had at last, because he had done so much for the word’s sake, come to share in the dignity of the saint. He had hidden nothing of himself, but he had taken care of ‘that dignity ... the perfection of form ... this lofty and severe quality ... this virtue.’82 And though he had but sought it for the word’s sake, or for a woman’s praise, it had come at last into his body and his mind. Certainly as he stood there he knew how from behind that laborious mood, that pose, that genius, no flower of himself but all himself, looked out as from behind a mask that other Who alone of all men, the countrypeople say, is not a hair’s-breadth more nor less than six feet high. He has in his ears well-instructed voices, and seeming-solid sights are before his eyes, and not, as we say of many a one, speaking in metaphor, but as this were Delphi or Eleusis, and the substance and the voice come to him among his memories which are of women’s faces; for was it Columbanus or another that wrote, ‘There is one among the birds that is perfect, and one perfect among the fish’?83

This poet of Yeats’s vision stands on the threshold of his tower. The liminality of the poet of Per Amica Silentia Lunae distinguishes him from the Saint, the Hero, and the Money-Changers of the ‘Chambers of Commerce and of Commons’ (Myth 332–33; CW5 9). Then there is Geomancy, or sand divination, on his mind at various points in his life and beautifully turned into an Arabian Nights travesty in ‘The Dance of the Four Royal Persons’, a commentary upon the poem ‘Desert Geometry, or, The Gift of Harun al Raschid’, otherwise known as ‘The Gift of Harun al Rashid.84 An experience with Lucy Middleton and George Pollexfen at Rosses Point which led to ‘Regina, Regina Pigmeorum, Veni’ first published in the 1893 The Celtic Twilight, includes the troubling phrase (over which he fretted again in 1914), ‘the sands of vision’ (Myth 2005 37 and 251, n. 11). ‘The Boy who would become Vizier’ in The Arabian Nights stands behind the geomantic experience envisaged at the opening of ‘Anima Mundi’.85

‘No mind can engender till divided in two’, Yeats reminds us in analyzing the minds of Keats, Shelley and Synge (Au 345; CW3 263), but the progeny is not merely the resultant work but also the mastery of the self. It is Yeats who banishes Robartes and Aherne after their exposition of ‘The Phases of the Moon’, and the order is issued from the commanding heights of his writer’s desk in the tower. In the voice of ‘Ille’, it is Yeats who trumps ‘Hic’ at the end of ‘Ego Dominus Tuus’ because ‘I seek an image, not a book’. The argument is over, self-discovery is ongoing.

I call to the mysterious one who yet

Shall walk the wet sands by the edge of the stream

And look most like me, being indeed my double,

And prove of all imaginable things

The most unlike, being my anti-self,

And, standing by these characters, disclose

All that I seek ...86

In exactly the same way, Leo Africanus, having been summoned for disputation, had been dismissed. It has not been the purpose of this article to take the Mask through its exfoliation in the system of A Vision. Beyond that system, however, lies Yeats’s great theme. Simply summarized, the Mask endures as the ‘First Principle’ of Yeats’s ‘A General Introduction for my Work’:

A poet writes always of his personal life, in his finest work out of its tragedies, whatever it be, remorse, lost love or mere loneliness; he never speaks directly as to someone at the breakfast table, there is always a phantasmagoria. Dante and Milton had mythologies, Shakespeare the characters of English history, of traditional romance; even when the poet seems most himself, when Raleigh and gives potentates the lie, or Shelley ‘a nerve o’er which do creep the else unfelt oppressions of mankind’, or Byron when ‘the heart wears out the breast as the sword wears out the sheath’, he is never the bundle of accident and incoherence that sits down to breakfast; he has been re-born as an idea, something intended, complete. A novelist might describe his accidence, his incoherence, he must not, he is more type than man, more passion than type. He is Lear, Romeo, Oedipus, Tiresias; he has stepped out of a play and even the woman he loves is Rosalind, Cleopatra, never The Dark Lady. He is part of his own phantasmagoria and we adore him because nature has grown intelligible, and by so doing a part of our creative power.87

If the phantasmagoria is a crowd of masks,

Memory is a series of judgments and such judgments imply a reference to something that is not memory; that something is the Daimon, which contains within it, co-existing in its eternal moment, all the events of our life, all that we have known of other lives, or that it can discover within itself of other Daimons (AVB 192; see also 193, 214, emphasis added).

In essence, it is memory of this order, in its ‘eternal moment’, memory of all he had read or written and rewritten and of what he done and not done, ‘perpetually coming up to Judgement’, that sent Yeats continually backward so as to take forward the realisations of the Mask.88 There should be nothing unexpected here, for Theatrum Mundi had always been at the heart of Yeats’s multivalent world view. ‘Man can embody truth but he cannot know it’, he wrote, trying to ‘put all into a phrase’, ‘“expression” is a part of “study”’. At his last – and writing – Yeats magnificently ‘embod[ied]’, and substantiated, his own best Masks ‘in the completion of [his] life’.89

1Who can forget the face of Chaliapine as the Mogul King in Prince Igor, when a mask covering its upper portion made him seem like a phoenix at the end of its thousand wise years, awaiting in condescension the burning nest, and what did it not gain from that immobility in dignity and in power?’ (E&I 226–27, first collected in Certain Noble Plays of Japan: From the Manuscripts of Ernest Fenollosa, chosen and finished by Ezra Pound, with an introduction by William Butler Yeats [Churchtown, Dundrum: Cuala, 1916], vii–viii).

2 A catch-phrase in Yeats, ultimately from St Thomas Aquinas via Villiers de l’Isle Adam, which is discussed below.

3 A similar distinction is insisted upon by Yeats in the italicization of the Daimon in sixty-nine places in A Vision (both versions). The issue is complicated, however, by sometimes uncapitalized and uniformly unitalicized usages of ‘Daimon’ from 1896 onwards, in thirteen places in essays, prefaces, his unpublished Autobiography (1916–7), Autobiographies (dating from 1922 and 1928), and in Pages from a Diary written in 1930. ‘Daemon’ is preferred in the twenty-two earlier usages of the word in Per Amica Silentia Lunae and ‘Swedenborg, Mediums, and the Desolate Places’. Yeats’s motto, of course, in the Order of the Golden Dawn, was ‘Demon est Deus Inversus’, ultimately taken from Madame Blavatsky’s The Secret Doctrine I, 99, and passim, esp. section XI, ‘Demon est Deus Inversus’ which opens with the remark ‘This symbolical sentence, in its many-sided forms, is certainly dangerous and iconoclastic in the face of all the dualistic later religions, or rather theologies, and especially so in the light of Christianity (1888 ed., p. 443). Madame Blavatsky uses ‘Daimon’ and ‘Daemon’ indifferently. See also CL2 52, n. 8 which comments that ‘Demon est Deus Inversus’ is an ‘early and occult expression of [Yeats’s] enduring belief that polarity and opposition are constitutive of a final unity’, a remark which points to the relation between a self and its Mask throughout his life.

4 See below, 168.

5 Ellmann conceded in a conversation in Oxford in late 1983 that the thesis of the book was flawed, especially that concerning the relation between Yeats and Michael Robartes and Owen Aherne in Ch. VI, ‘Robartes and Aherne: Two Sides of a Penny’. Recognising that the then recently reissued book (Penguin, 1979) continued to dominate approaches to the study of Yeats, he found it impossible to update – as he had done with his life of James Joyce – preoccupied as he was with completing his life of Oscar Wilde, and with so much new work going forward on the authorized life of Yeats, then being taken over from the late Leland Lyons by Roy Foster, and the editing of Yeats’s letters (in which I was involved).

6 The 1998 Chadwyck-Healey W. B. Yeats Collection is a highly unreliable guide, with a poor search engine which sometimes miscounts multiple usages on a single page. Checking is therefore ultimately an item by item process. The figures given above do not distinguish between overlap, e.g., between Memoirs and ‘Estrangement’ in Autobiographies. See Warwick Gould, ‘Yeats Digitally Remastered’, YA14 334–49. For usages in his letters, see below, 19, n. 32.

7 In 1926 he told Pamela Travers ‘oracularly’ that ‘“When I get an idea for a poem ... I take down one of my own books and read it and then I go on from there”. Moses explaining his tablets couldn’t have moved me more’. See P. L. Travers, ‘Only Connect’, The Openhearted Audience, ed. Virginia Havilland (Washington: Library of Congress, 1980), 9–11, also quoted in YA18 xxvi–vii.

8 Mem 142, cf., ‘Estrangement’, Au 463; CW3 342–43. The passages given here were in fact first published in 1911 in a short series of notes ‘about argument, for the argumentative drama presses upon you in England’ entitled ‘The Folly of Argument’, in The Manchester Playgoer (June 1911). With so much of his thinking being about authorship and style (in which conjoined subjects lay the current application of his thinking about the Mask to drama), Yeats prefaced this small gathering with the thought that, at ‘some crisis in our Theatre’s affairs, because I found that I could do no premeditated writing, I began a diary of casual meditations. Having no set form I could begin and end them when I liked, and as they were but for my own reading, it was not necessary to write them over again. The Diary is now a considerable book and I find I turn to it continually to find out my own settled opinions.’ See UP2 394–96.

9 Mem 144–45, cf., Au 464; CW3 343. ‘The Mask’, the first significant love poem to use the theme, was drafted after 8 August, 1910 (Mem 258–59) and published in The Green Helmet and Other Poems (Dublin: Cuala) on the last day of September, 1910. See VP 263.

10 Mem 151–52. In ‘Presences’ (November 1915), Yeats contrives to ‘play with all masks’ (VP 358).

11 E&I, 253. Dated ‘August 1907’ in ‘Poetry and Patriotism’ in Poetry and Ireland: Essays by W. B. Yeats and Lionel Johnson (Churchtown, Dundrum: Cuala, 1908), 9, and in CWVP8 (also Dec. 1908), 102.

12 Max Beerbohm’s The Happy Hypocrite (London: John Lane, The Bodley Head, 1897) would be an excellent point of departure for such a study. See A. Norman Jeffares, ‘Yeats’s Mask’, English Studies XXX, 6 (Dec., 1949), 289–98, collected in Jeffares’s The Circus Animals (London: Macmillan, 1970), 3–14, at 6. The whole subject may be pursued through the indices to J.

13 UP2 412. The context was the Poetry banquet in his honour in Chicago in 1914. Having opened with the allusion to Wilde’s memory of Schreiner, Yeats said: ‘After a week of lecturing I am too tired to assume a mask, so I will address my remarks especially to a fellow craftsman [Vachel Lindsay], whose ‘General William Booth Enters into Heaven’ had ‘a strange beauty’, and you know Bacon said, “There is no excellent beauty without strangeness”’. ‘Strangeness’ in Court Masque as a form was sought by Ben Jonson, and Bacon’s phrase to the effect that ‘excellent beauty’ required ‘high grave dignity and strangeness’ had filtered to Yeats via Pater and Poe and via Baudelaire’s ‘Le beau est toujours bizarre’. See CL2 448, n. 6; CW9 179 & 548; Ex 181.

14 See The Complete Works of Oscar Wilde, IV, Criticism: Historical Criticism, Intentions, The Soul of Man, ed. Josephine M. Guy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007), 80. Yeats owned Intentions in the Leipzig: Heinemann and Balestier, 1891 edition: see YL 2268.

15 Ibid., 228.

16 Walter Pater’s essay on ‘Style’ may be found in Appreciations (London: Macmillan, 1889, reprinted 1901), 5–38 at pp. 35, 16.

17 The Collected Works of Oscar Wilde, IV, 88–89.

18 Ibid., IV, 196. The idea is developed in later mss of ‘The Portrait of Mr W. H.’: ‘It is never with impunity that one’s lips say Love’s Litany. Words have their mystical power over the soul, and form can create the feeling from which it should have sprung. Sincerity itself, the ardent, momentary sincerity of the artist, is often the unconscious result of style, and in the case of those rare temperaments that are exquisitely susceptible to the influences of language, the use of certain phrases and modes of expression can stir the very pulse of passion ... and can transform into a strange sensuous energy what in its origin had been mere aesthetic impulse.’ The essay had been published as a story in Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine, July, 1889, but this passage was not published until 1921. See The Artist as Critic: Critical Writings of Oscar Wilde, ed. Richard Ellmann (London: W. H. Allen, 1970), 152–220 at 199.

19 See The Complete Works of Oscar Wilde, II, De Profundis, ‘Epistola: In Carcere et Vinculis’, ed. Ian Small (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), 95, 163.

20 VP 370. In the drafts, the idea is more complex. The ‘masters’ are ‘masters of our speech’ and their imitation is pursued ‘By writing and rewriting’. See ‘The Wild Swans at Coole’ Manuscript Materials by W. B. Yeats, ed. Stephen Parrish (Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1994), 284–85.

21 Mem 105; repeated in ‘The Bounty of Sweden’ (Au 531). The phrase may recall Pater: ‘the chief stimulus of good style is to possess a full, rich, complex matter to grapple with’ (Pater, Appreciations, op. cit., 16).

22 ‘A mask: that is what I needed’, says that ‘novice’ narrator, Umberto Eco. Narrating ‘about the Middle Ages’ compelled him to narrate ‘in the Middle Ages’, compelling the reading and rereading of medieval chroniclers ‘to acquire their rhythm and their innocence’, and therefore bringing with it the inevitability of intertextual echoes of earlier writers. ‘Books always speak of other books’ is of course one of the major themes of his novel. See Umberto Eco, Reflections on The Name of the Rose (London: Secker and Warburg, 1985), 19–20.

23 ‘Nationality and Literature’ (1893), UP1 270–71.

24 ‘A New Poet’, 1894, UP1 336.

25 Axël (Paris: Maison Quentin, 1890), 35; YL 2200. See Myth 2005 183, 372, n. 9; 384, n. 37; CW9 234–37. The latest editors of AVA, while drawing on my Review of A Critical Edition of Yeats’s A Vision (1925), ed. George Mills Harper and Walter Kelly Hood (London: Macmillan, 1978) in Notes and Queries, October 1981, N.S. Vol. 28, n. 5, 458–60 for clarification of the Aquinian source, cite only the 1925 H. P. R. Finberg translation for which, of course, Yeats wrote the introduction: see CW13 253, n. 148; YL 2201, whilst omitting any reference to Yeats’s earliest use of the phrase.

26 See VSR 133–34; Myth 2005 181–82; and, more generally on Yeats and Theatrum Mundi, Warwick Gould, ‘“A Crowded Theatre”: Yeats and Balzac’ in Yeats the European, ed. A. Norman Jeffares (Gerrards Cross: Colin Smythe Ltd., 1989), 69–90.

27 See Warwick Gould, Notes and Queries, October 1981, 458–60. The idea remains with Yeats: see, e.g., in On the Boiler where he remarks of the final triumph of the Will: ‘It has, as it were, thrust up its arms towards those angels who have, as Villiers de l’Isle Adam quotes from St Thomas Aquinas, returned into themselves in an eternal moment’ (CW5 247).

28 De Consolatione Philosophiae, V, 6.

29 A subject explored at some length in my Yeats International Summer School Lecture, ‘Yeats’s Fatal Book’, 2007.

30 VSR 172; Myth 2005 205. ‘William Blake and his Illustrations to the Divine Comedy’ affirms that beauty is ‘the one mask through which can be seen the unveiled eyes of eternity’ , E&I 139; CW4 103.

31 In a seminar at the Institute of English Studies, 2012, Oliver Soden contrasted monopolylogue in the public readings by Charles Matthews and Charles Dickens from the latter’s own work, with Eliot’s ‘interpersonality’ of ‘different voices’ in The Waste Land. For Ellmann’s later view on the absence of the narrator from his Yeats: the Man and the Masks see above, n. 4.

32 CL1 396–97, 6 August 1894. Olivia Shakespear took his advice and the story was published in the August and September 1896 issues of The Savoy. Yeats had also suggested a number of magical and mystical books for ‘Dr Trefusis’ in the story to read, including books by Jacob Boehme and St John of the Cross. There are 99 usages of ‘mask’ and 91 of ‘masks’ in the rather less easily searchable CL InteLex edition (the search tools do not discriminate between Yeats’s usages and those of his editors, and manual checking is essential). In extracting a few I concentrate on usages before c.18 August 1918, when letters to Iseult Gonne suddenly show that the system of A Vision is being developed (CL InteLex 3472).

33 ‘My own seership was, I thought, inadequate; it was to be Maud Gonne’s work and mine. Perhaps that was why we had been thrown together. Were there not strange harmonies amid discord? My outer nature was passive ... but I knew my spiritual nature was passionate, even violent. In her all this was reversed, for it was her spirit only that was gentle and passive and full of charming fantasy, as though it touched the world only with the point of its finger ... I, who could not influence her actions, could dominate her inner being. I could therefore use her clairvoyance to produce forms that would arise from both minds ... a spiritual birth from the soul of a man and a woman ... I believed we were about to attain a revelation’ (Mem 124–25).

34 Au, 189, first collected in Four Years (Churchtown, Dundrum: Cuala, 1921), 83.

35 The passage immediately precedes the words quoted above, n. 1.

36 See ‘Some Irish Men and Women, No 37 Mr. W. B. Yeats’ by ‘J. J. N.’, New Ireland, 21 January 1899. ‘J. J. N.’ is possibly James Joseph Nolan who was inducted into the Golden Dawn much later as ‘Justa Sequor’, on 31 May 1909 and who described himself as ‘Editor, 10 New Fetter Lane’. See R. A. Gilbert, The Golden Dawn Companion (Wellingborough: Aquarian Press, 1986), 173.

37 If an anachronistic reference can be excused, the ‘Introduction to the Neophyte Ceremony: God Forms and Stations in the 0 = 0’, one learns that in the uninitiated neophyte is ‘[t]hrice bound and hoodwinked’ and led by the Hierophant who represents his ‘Higher and Divine Genius, which in his blindness he cannot realize himself.’ See Israel Regardie, The Golden Dawn: A Complete Course in Practical Ceremonial Magic etc. (St. Paul, MN: Llewellyn Publications, 1986), 114.

38 See YA5, frontispiece, a reproduction of ‘W. B. Yeats in his study in Woburn Buildings’ from The Tatler, 157, 29 June 1904.

39 In her Flowering Dusk (Toronto: Longmans, 1945) Ella Young describes Mathers’s house: ‘The mantelpiece displays the richest collection of Egyptian treasures I have ever seen outside of a museum. A mask of Hathor fascinates me ...’ (105–06).

40 Percy Bysshe Shelley, Prometheus Unbound, I, 192–93, in The Poetical Works of Percy Bysshe Shelley, ed. William Bell Scott (London: George Routledge, 1880), 207. Yeats’s copy was presented to him and inscribed ‘... from his affectionate friend, | Katharine Tynan. | January 24th 1888’ (YL 1908).

41 Mem 138; VSR 267. I read this obscure note as suggesting that the ‘hero’ is not the narrator, that it is Aherne who must not seem the ‘shadow’ of Robartes, and who does sacrifice himself but not ‘among those for whom Christ died’ (Myth 2005 199; VSR 163).

42 ‘When I rewrite “The Adoration of the Magi” I see clearly that the message given to the old men must be a series of seemingly arbitrary commands: a year of silence, certain rules of diet, and so on. Without the arbitrary there cannot be religion – is the idea, because there cannot be the last sacrifice, that of the spirit. The recorder should refuse the care of the MS on hearing that it contains not wisdom but the supernaturally sanctioned arbitrary, the commanded pose which would make all definite. Mere wisdom would die, he knows, like any other living breath. The tree has to die before it can be made into a cross’ (Mem 147; VSR 163). For its later publication in Estrangement: Being some fifty thoughts from a Diary kept by William Butler Yeats in the year Nineteen Hundred and Nine (Dublin: Cuala, 1926) the passage is revised: thus instead of the recorder’s refusing ‘the care of the MS’ the passage reads ‘The old men should refuse to record the message on hearing’ (6).

43 CL InteLex 1122, to Lady Gregory [26 March 1909].

44 Only Estrangement: Being some fifty thoughts from a Diary kept by William Butler Yeats in the year Nineteen Hundred and Nine (1926) and The Death of Synge, and other passages from an old Diary (1928) appeared from the Cuala Press. The whole ‘Journal’ is in Memoirs (1972).

45 ‘The right place for such a bust is the Municipal Gallery, so it is necessary, as well as desirable ... that [Hugh Lane] choose the artist ... [I]n the absence of the death mask it may be better to content ourselves with a medallion ... of which the subscribers could get small replicas, but I propose to leave the whole thing to Hugh Lane, who is our expert (CL InteLex 1148, to John Quinn, 5–7 May 1909).

46 See, e.g., any context where Yeats reflects upon ‘the state of mind which is, of all states of mind not impossible, the most difficult ... because only the greatest obstacle that can be contemplated without despair rouses the will to full intensity’ (Au 194–95; see also 272–73). Achieving such a Mask can involve betrayal of the seemingly solid self in the discovery of other selves, the price also paid by the double agent, who betrays as ‘a tribute to our unlived lives’. See John le Carré, A Perfect Spy (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1986), 121–22.

47 ‘I am very much excited by the thought of putting the fool into a mask & rather amused at the idea of an Angel in a golden domino. [The Hour-Glass] I should have to write some words into the play. They fear to meet the eyes of men being too pure for mortal gaze or the like. Craig evidently wants to keep what is supernatural from being too inhuman. If the masks work right I would put the fool & the blind man in ‘Baile’s Strand’ into masks. It would give a wildness, & extravagance that would be fine. I would also like the Abbey to be the first modern theatre to use the mask’ (CL InteLex 1450, 21 October 1910). See Plays for an Irish Theatre (Stratford-upon-Avon & London: A. H. Bullen, 1913), xiv. A design of the Fool in his mask by Edward Gordon Craig appeared facing p. 65.

48 CL InteLex 1463, 19 November 1910. Yeats was also trying to persuade Bullen to include them in Plays for an Irish Theatre, and would even pay for their reproduction himself, but the plan for their use in the Dublin production did not come off (CL InteLex 1469, 5 December 1910. See also 1466, 1469, 1472, 1480, 1486–87, 1572; VPl 644–45).

49 Yeats enclosed a cutting from The Observer headed Masks on the Stage. New W. B. Yeats Play for a Charity’ which included the following ‘Lady Cunard has organised a performance at Lady Islington’s, for the Social Institutes’ Union for Women and Girls, of which the Countess of Ancaster is the President. It provides dinners for many thousand factory girls and munition workers ... Mr. Henry Ainley will act the hero, and Ito, the Japanese dancer, will take the part of the hawk’s spirit. Masks will be used for the first time in serious drama in the modern world. The masks and costumes have been designed and executed by Mr. Edmund Dulac. Mr. Henry Ainley will wear a mask resembling an archaic Greek sculptured face ... The performance is under the patronage of Queen Alexandra, who will be present’ (CL InteLex 2923).

50 ‘... I am in the place where the Daemon is, but I do not think he is with me until I begin to make a new personality, selecting among those images, seeking always to satisfy a hunger grown out of conceit with daily diet; and yet as I write the words ‘I select’, I am full of uncertainty not knowing when I am the finger, when the clay.’ (CW5 31–32).

51 See Arnold Goldman, ‘Yeats, Spiritualism, and Psychical Research’; George Mills Harper and John S. Kelly, ‘Preliminary Examination of the Script of E[lizabeth] R[adcliffe]’; George Mills Harper, ‘“A Subject of Investigation”: Miracle at Mirebeau’ (YO 108–29; 130–71; 172–89).

52 [Yeats’s note] ‘The Japanese Noh play Awoi no Uye has for its theme the exorcism of a ghost which is itself obsessed by an evil spirit. This evil spirit, drawn forth by the exorcism, is represented by a dancer wearing a “terrible mask with golden eyes”’.

53 YA1 23–24, and 313. The Bessy Sigerson notes are in his as yet unpublished ‘Visions’ notebook of the late nineties.

54 NLI 36,276 (2).

55 CL InteLex 2838.

56 Chambers’s Biographical Dictionary: The Great of all Times and Nations, ed. David Patrick and Francis Hindes Groome (London and Edinburgh: W. & R. Chambers, 1897, 1911), 584; YL 365. Chambers’s also has an entry on Yeats himself from 1897 onwards ‘favourably known as a poet’: see 990.

57 Yeats was ‘not at all impressed & thought Mrs Wreidt who is perhaps a ventriloquist of some kind looks up guides for her visitors in Chambers when [she] knows nothing of their [dead] friends & relatives’ (YA1 23 and below 313).

58 A geographical historie of Africa, written in Arabicke and Italian by Iohn Leo a More, borne in Granada, and brought up in Barbarie. ; Wherein he hath at large described, not onely the qualities, situations, and true distances of the regions, cities, townes, mountaines, riuers, and other places throughout all the north and principall partes of Africa; but also the descents and families of their kings ... gathered partly out of his owne diligent obseruations, and partly out of the ancient records and chronicles of the Arabians and Mores. Before which, out of the best ancient and moderne writers, is prefixed a generall description of Africa, and also a particular treatise of all the maine lands and isles vndescribed by Iohn Leo. And after the same is annexed a relation of the great princes, and the manifold religions in that part of the world; translated and collected by Iohn Pory, lately of Goneuill and Caius College in Cambridge (Londini: Impensis Georg. Bishop, 1600).

59 Cf., ‘We are always in contact with the phantom of Coleridge ... [w]ith souls who have almost as it seems in the words of St. Thomas “entered into the eternal possession of themselves as in one single moment”. The sense of contact, may perhaps come with any clearness & detail but two or three times, but afterwards there is always I think an occasional soft touch as it were, the sudden sensation of some one present, or at moments of difficulty a faint voice’ (from ‘Spiritus Mundi’, an unpublished draft of Per Amica Silentia Lunae currently being edited for publication in a later volume of Yeats Annual. See also CW5 19).

60 Life 2, 71 & ff., at 74.

61 ‘[Even] in this I am not wholly stable, for at times I am aware of a constraint upon my thoughts or my passion deepens because of one who is remote & silent & whom while I lived in Rome I was forbidden to call Mahomet’ (Ibid.)

62 A remark which of course gave rise to the closing lines of ‘To a Young Beauty’ (VP 335): see ‘Archdeacon Hare and Walter Landor’ in Imaginary Conversations, edited with biographical and explanatory notes by Charles G. Crump (London: J. M. Dent & Co., 1891, 1909), IV, 427 (YL 1081).

63 See, e.g., CW5 6–7; 15–16.

64 A Vision had been intended to make ‘possible’ a simpler poetry: ‘I need no longer write poems like “The Phases of the Moon” nor “Ego Dominus Tuus”, nor spend barren years ... striving with abstractions that substituted themselves for the play I had planned’ (CW13 lv; CVA xii).

65 The passage was slightly altered after A Vision (1925) had appeared: see VP 820–21. On 13 February 1922, Yeats wrote to Allan Wade of Robartes; ‘I have brought him back to life. My new story is that he is very indignant because I used his real name in describing a number of fictitious adventures, and that because I called my fictitious hero by his name, many people have supposed him to be dead. He lived for years in Mesopotamia, but when the war came there returned to England for a short time. In England he got into communication with a certain John Aherne, and through him got into correspondence with me, and finally conveyed to me, without quite forgiving me, the task of editing and publishing the philosophy which he has discovered among certain Arabian tribes. That philosophy now fills a very large tin box upon which my eyes at this moment are fixed, I am giving it to the world in fragments, poems, notes, and a Cuala volume [Michael Robartes and the Dancer, 1920]’ (CL Intelex 4068; L 676–77). More Robartes fictions appear in notes to such books as Four Plays for Dancers (London: Macmillan, 1921) The Cat and the Moon and Certain Poems (Dublin: Cuala, 1924): see VPl 566–67; 777–79, 789–91.

66 See John Kelly, A Yeats Chronology (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003), 183; CL InteLex 2831, 19 December 1915; 2838, 26 December 1915; 2844, 26 January 1916. On the last of these occasions, Yeats tells Lady Gregory of Landor’s ‘great occasional beauty but much repetition of a few dominant thoughts’. It also seems that Landor had obligingly turned up in a séance of Bessie Radcliffe’s on 15 July 1913 (YO 149).

67 ‘The Wild Swans at Coole’, Manuscript Materials, 298–99, 301, 305.

68 The ‘this man’/ ‘that man’ formulation, in this case a self-division, echoes William Morris’s use of ‘Haec’ (‘this woman’) and ‘Ille’ (‘that man’) as the speaker names in a song lyric found in ‘Ogier the Dane’ from his The Earthly Paradise (London: F. S. Ellis, 1868), 665–66, cf., Life 2, 30.

69 CL InteLex 3043. Further letters followed between Yeats and Sir Henry Doran, and others of the Land Commission, Dublin, on 10 November 1916 (3068); 27 March 1917 (3202, accepting price of £35.0.0).

70 Notes to poems ultimately depend on ‘The Robartes-Ahearne [sic] Dialogues’, including ‘The Discoveries of Michael Robartes’, drafted in 1918 as Yeats struggled to find an overall form for what became A Vision (1925): see YVP4.

71 Yeats and Georgie Hyde-Lees ‘probably’ met on 22 November 1915 and ‘may have discussed marriage’ (Kelly, A Yeats Chronology, 182). On 30 September 1917 George’s mother wrote that she had been ‘very much afraid that Mr Yeats meant to propose to my daughter in Nov [19]15’ and that she did not then ‘consider him free to do so’ (see John Harwood, Olivia Shakespear and W. B. Yeats [London: Macmillan, 1988], 157). Ann Saddlemyer thinks that 17, 21, or 22 November was ‘profoundly significant ... in occult terms, an initiatory moment’: see her Becoming George: The Life of Mrs W. B. Yeats (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), 80, 687. At the time, Yeats’s mistress was Alick Schepeler (CL Intelex 2808, 2816, 12 & 17 November 1915). The date in ‘Anima Mundi’ (9 May 1917), can suggest that the ‘stair’ is the winding stair of the tower: in fact the ‘gilded Moorish wedding-chest’ with its ‘barbarous words’ was at the time in 17, Woburn Buildings (CW5 32; Myth 366).

72 See Transactions of the Ossianic Society for the Year 1856, IV (Dublin: Ossianic Society, 1859) 3–63; 234–79.

73 See Arnold’s ‘Preface to the First Edition of Poems’ (1853) in The Poems of Matthew Arnold, ed. Kenneth Allott (London: Longman, 1969, 1979) second edition, ed. Miriam Allott, 654. Empedocles on Etna he found revealed ‘much that we are accustomed to consider as exclusively modern ... the calm the cheerfulness, the disinterested objectivity have disappeared; the dialogue of the mind with itself has commenced.’ Such ‘doubts ... discouragement’ were more characteristic of Hamlet and Faust, and excluded the poem on the ground that ‘no poetical enjoyment can be derived [when] ‘suffering finds no vent in action; in which a continuous state of mental distress is prolonged, unrelieved by incident, hope or resistance; in which there is everything to be endured, nothing to be done. In such situations there is inevitably something morbid, in the description of them something monotonous. When they occur in actual life, they are painful, not tragic; the representation of them in poetry is painful also’ (655–56). For Yeats’s endorsement and consequent omission of Wilfred Owen from OBMV, see E&I 336, 354, CW5 199, CW13 243, 255.

74 John Milton, ‘Il Penseroso’, ll. 85–96, as found in The Shorter Poems of John Milton, with twelve illustrations by Samuel Palmer, Painter and Etcher (London: Seeley & Company, 1889), 27, plate and description, 29–30: see also NC 173–75.

75 Percy Bysshe Shelley, ‘Prince Athanase: A Fragment’, ll. 31–34, in The Poetical Works of Percy Bysshe Shelley, ed. William Bell Scott (YL 1908). The facing page, 511, has been dog-eared.

76 ‘From those skiey towers | Where thought’s crowned powers | Sit watching your dance, ye happy Hours’: see Percy Bysshe Shelley, Prometheus Unbound IV, 103, Bell Scott edition, 250 and below, 43

77 The ‘sea’, like Shelley’s ‘rivers, caves and caves with fountains’ being ‘a very ancient symbol’: see E&I 86–87, 290–99; CW5, 66, ll 88 & ff., 9–10.

78 E&I 78, see also 86; CW5 60, see also 65. See the celebrated stanzas xxxi–ii, Canto VII, The Revolt of Islam, ll. 3091–3108.

79 For Yeats’s copies of S. L. MacGregor Mather’s translation of the Kabbala Denudata, see also, YL 1292, 1292a.

80 VSR 138, Myth 2005 184 & Pl 6; YO frontispiece and Pl. 2 of this volume.

81 See Myth 2005 394, n. 62; UP2 151; YL 209, cf., CW5 72.

82 Verlaine had lectured in Oxford in 1893 while Yeats was in Dublin: his translated words came to Yeats, probably via Arthur Symons, and perhaps in redacted form (CW4’s note are evasive). The remembered words were, for Yeats in 1906, a profound ethical and aesthetic turning point: see ‘The Tree of Life’ (E&I 270–72; CW4 197–99).

83 E&I 291; CW4 211–12, emphasis added.

84 CW13 10–12; CVA 9–11. See Warwick Gould, ‘A Lesson for the Circumspect: W. B. Yeats’s Two Versions of A Vision and the Arabian Nights’ in The Arabian Nights in English Literature: Studies in the Reception of The Thousand and One Nights into British Culture, ed. Peter L. Caracciolo (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1988), 244–80, at pp. 250–60.

85 See Myth 343; CW5 17, and Gould, ‘“A Lesson for the Circumspect”’, 245–46.

86 VP 370–71. Roy Foster thinks the ‘anti-self’ is a reference to Leo Africanus (Life2 31–32), but it seems to me that although the poem and the dialogue were written at the same time, Yeats’s search for an anti-self was a perennial stylistic necessity.

87 E&I 509, cf., ‘The arts are all the bridal chambers of joy. No tragedy is legitimate unless it leads some great character to his final joy. Polonius may go out wretchedly, but I can hear the dance music in ‘Absent thee from felicity awhile’, or in Hamlet’s speech over the dead Ophelia, and what of Cleopatra’s last farewells, Lear’s rage under the lightning, Oedipus sinking down at the story’s end into an earth ‘riven’ by love? Some Frenchman has said that farce is the struggle against a ridiculous object, comedy against a movable object, tragedy against an immovable; and because the will, or energy, is greatest in tragedy, tragedy is the more noble; but I add that ‘will or energy is eternal delight’, and when its limit is reached it may become a pure, aimless joy, though the man, the shade, still mourns his lost object. It has, as it were, thrust up its arms towards those angels who have, as Villiers de l’Isle Adam quotes from St Thomas Aquinas, returned into themselves in an eternal moment’ (CW5 247). The ideas in this further passage (from On the Boiler) hark back to those explored on 28 January 1909, in the Diary.

88 Amid the numerous examples of self-allusion which demonstrate Yeats’s dependence on the written in new writing, one passage in ‘Leo Africanus’ stands out: ‘And so I passed from dream crisis to crisis [,] the same dreams returning again & again, but some power that seemed from beyond my mind seemed working with them & changing their form & colour. At Rome I had seen Michael Angelo at work upon the scaffolding in the Sistine Chapel, & once I had been in his studio & watched him drawing from the model. The events in life & the earlier dreams were like that model but gradually were so changed, that [they] resembled more what I saw in Adam or Sybil when the scaffolding was taken away. But now in my state of waking I did not seem to wholly wake, for side by side with the streets of Fez, or desert I seemed to see another world that was growing in weight & vividness, the double of yours, but vaster & more significant. Shades came to me from [that] world & returned to it again. Some of them I recognized. Those who were dead a long time I recognized for the most part with difficulty some because they were handsomer & some because they were terrible to look at like some strange work of art’ (see YA1 31; and below 325). The relation between this passage as donnée and ‘Long-Legged Fly’ ll. 21–30 (VP 617–18) seems marked.

89 CL InteLex 7362, to Lady Elizabeth Pelham, 4 January 1939.