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A Vision–William Butler Yeats

Clair Wills, writing in the Times Literary Supplement, presents a review article that deals with Yeats, especially his later, most esoteric work. Most notably, he discusses Yeats’ collaboration with his wife George, whose talent for automatic writing provided the impetus for the 1926 A Vision, which appeared in a revised 1937 version as well.

Trying to read A Vision is famously impossible, like trying to interpret a constantly spinning orrery in one dimension. Still, it appears it did make sense to George and Yeats.

What was it with modernists that made them create art so self-involved and idiosyncratic as to evade comprehension by allĀ  but the author. Certainly Finnegan’s Wake would fall into this category as well as, arguably, the Benjy section of The Sound and the Fury. Of course, neither Joyce nor Faulkner claimed to have been given their words by spirits. Their obscurity was largely self induced.

Given the lyrical and dramatic power of Yeats other work, both before and after A Vision, the self indulgence of that work leaves a rather embarrassing blot of the record. At the same time that Harry Houdini ranged the world exposing fraudulent spiritualists, Yeats and Georgie either managed genuine contact with a great and bafflingly incoherent beyond or managed to defraud themselves.

Posted in Irish Literature, Modernism.

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