The current project that I am working on is focusing solely on the women within William Butler Yeats life. I had studied Yeats in Leaving Certificate but I honestly do not think I had fully matured at that stage to fully appreciate any type of Poetry, finding it hard to study at that age plus I am a very practical person in general.
What really made me fall in love with Yeats' work and history was stumbling across the permanent exhibition that is found in the National Library of Ireland. I highly recommend it to both tourists and natives alike, it has physical exhibitions that allow you to sit within Yeats study, within the backstage of Abbey Theater and within a Mediums haven, each have a TV playing footage about Yeats unique personality, his love of art and beauty, his infamous obsession with Maud Gonne, his atheist views that later transition to his deep belief into magic and the occult.
When Yeats first met Maud Gonne, he perceived her as an embodiment of his spiritual beliefs, he was attracted to her physically but he was mainly drawn to their shared unorthodox religious beliefs.
There are countless items that belonged to Yeats and his female counterparts found within the exhibition, which is an interesting topic to discuss at present as it was on the Six One RTE News a few weeks ago that Yeats iconic glasses have been sold at an auction for €10,000 in Kilkenny. Which I am kind of in a 50/50 state of mind about, what is the point of owning those glasses or any of Yeats possessions? I personally believe the glasses should be on display with his other possessions in the NLI or other Irish/ International museums that are dedicated to Yeats.
In Yeats' early poetry he underlines his hatred for the urban, ugliness and squalor of England in stark comparison to his love for the unspoiled and beautiful place that is Ireland where people would live in age old traditions and held on to the magical and time honored beliefs. Yeats was searching for spiritual and political answers, his poems were his connection to the spiritual world. He had studied Buddhism and Hinduism, while experimenting with Magic and attending seances. The experiences felt during these times affected the substance of his work but also what he perceived them to be.
When Yeats first met Maud Gonne, he perceived her as an embodiment of his spiritual beliefs, he was attracted to her physically but he was mainly drawn to their shared unorthodox religious beliefs. She also was a feisty advocate of physical force nationalism and would do everything in her power to hasten the overthrow of British rule. Gonne is the heroic symbol of his idealized Ireland. Which is expressed deeply in the poem "To the Rose upon the Rood of Time"; Yeats uses a capital R to describe the Rose he writes about, the Rose signifies not only the beautiful ancient Ireland but also his love object Gonne, the capital R gives a clear indication that this is an important word, a metaphor for Ireland and Maud.
"Sing of old Eire and the ancient ways:
Red Rose, proud Rose, sad Rose of all my days."
What struck me with Yeats, is the curiosity and awe he portrays in his writings towards females, a female worshipper some might say. Gonne was said to be aggressive and outspoken rather than quiet and submissive, while Yeats was known to be passive and dreamy rather than tough and hard-headed. These traits were very unusual especially in a strict gender role entrenched Ireland. Yeats earliest poetry depicted otherworldly heroes grown unhappy with dusty deeds but also feature women who were uncommonly powerful. The heroes growing unhappy shed light onto Yeats restlessness and unsatisfied expectations of the real world. In Tír na nÓg Niamh is the one to lead Óisin to the the land of Eternal Youth, a uncommonly powerful woman woman leading a man - an unconventional Victorian gender role.
Yeats befriends assertive and creative women, firstly it was Katharine Tynan to whom he complained to as early as 1887, he told her that women found in most contemporary poems by men had "essentially men heroines with no separate life of their own". Óisin left his life in Ireland to live in Tír na nÓg, a man abandoning an active life for a spiritual life. Yeats poetry depicts his envious preoccupation with outwardly powerful men, showing his hopes of leaving a monotonous life for a more meaningful and spiritual life. Yeats obsession with women could be borne from the fact that he had come to terms that he could not become this outward powerful man but maybe with a soulmate he could forge a unity and have someone mirroring his own conflicts. I don't know if this is exactly a healthy desire and reason for a relationship?
What struck me with Yeats, is the curiosity and awe he portrays in his writings towards females, a female worshipper some might say.
It is very clear in his work that Yeats has a love for the mystical world, mystics who meditate and practice cosmic oneness, magicians attempting to reach oneness and control energies by performing rituals, spells and symbols, all of these appealed to Yeats. He believed that symbols instill poems and with powers and magical incantations. These powers bring both poet and reader into a universal spirit. Yeats was capable of translating his passion for the mystical world through his countless writings on women. He used poetry to his advantage to represent his love for mysticism but also the cosmic magic of women. Yeats had joined the Order of the Golden Dawn in 1890, an occult that encouraged the pursuit of magical powers. He longed to believe in the after life and to connect with the souls of the other-world.
I have always felt curiosity towards religion and spirituality as a teenager, I had even considered studying it in third level, so Yeats dedication to it really caught my interest. This is the reason that I chose Yeats and his muses for my project, a subject that combines women and mysticism. Yeats had countless muses from Margot Ruddock, Ethel Mannin, Edith Shackleton Heald, Dorothy Wellesley, to the infamous Maud Gonne, her daughter Iseult Gonne, Olivia Shakespear and of course his final wife Georgie Yeats. After visiting his exhibition in the NLI, I was delighted that I felt such awe and inspiration towards Yeats, so much so that I wanted to create a project. A more welcome feeling than being told to think of a project idea on the spot in college or school. Its not a surprise that I wish to do a project on the women that Yeats mused over, after completing a thesis that examined and studied the waves of feminism, opening with gender roles studies in general and then transgender in general and in the media: Transgender - Orange is the New Black. I had also completed a photography project that explored the female body, the beauty held within it but also what it means to grow up, which could be seen as a slight mirroring to Yeats love for women, spirituality and his desire of living in the land of youth.
His intense interest in women was so strong that it can almost be seen as his religion. Poetry was indeed his way of communicating symbols to the world but women were his living proof that magic exists, thus his obsession with Gonne is so intense.
Throughout working on this project, its interesting to hear different peoples views on Yeats, one argument that is heard regularly is that Yeats would not have become a "someone" without his muse Maud Gonne. She had publicly stated this and that he should be thanking her for the heartbreak and turmoil felt whilst creating one of his most famous poems: Aedh Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven. Looking at it now, you could maybe pin Yeats as a man who adored the female but also the spirit world. His intense interest in women was so strong that it can almost be seen as his religion. Poetry was indeed his way of communicating symbols to the world but women were his living proof that magic exists, thus his obsession with Gonne is so intense.
So intense that he asks Maud's daughter Iseult Gonne to marry him after countless proposals to her mother. When Iseult refuses him, weeks later Yeats marries his Medium wife Georgie Yeats. Whom I first regarded as Yeats soulmate, a female who can talk to the spirits of the other-world. He wrote about her in his philosophy book Vision "My wife surprised me by attempting automatic writing". I soon learned that Georgie's first ever time doing automatic writing happened whilst on a dismal honeymoon where Yeats was still upset over Iseult's rejection. So I suspect she simply wanted to amaze him and draw attraction to her with mystical powers. But when I first heard of Yeats and Georgie's relationship I perceived it to be a important, real and on a level where they understood and felt the same way about the spirit world and afterlife. I like to ignore the fact that she mothered his two children and its has been said that Yeat's has had many the affair whilst married. Its more enchanting to believe her as his moon and to see her as a real clairvoyant. You could say that I se ethe world in a very rose coloured Disney filter.
I wonder would he be bombarding Gonne with Snapchats or WhatsApps? Or would his Instagram profile portray an alter ego, a strong and hardy male?
What I can't stop thinking whilst writing this blog post is imagining Yeats alive today with our Social Media's and instant communication. . . I wonder would he be bombarding Gonne with Snapchats or WhatsApps? Or would his Instagram profile portray an alter ego, a strong and hardy male? When you think of it in that way, Yeat's mystical love for Ireland and Women really looses its enchanting side, becomes somewhat tainted. It could be a 500 Days of Summer scenario with the unrequited love. So I shall continue to read his beautiful and unique poetic writings and keep the mental image of Yeats doing a macho Selfie in the gym out of my head. I will preserve the everlasting portrait of him as a respected romantic poet of Ireland and continue to work on my project with our shared love for symbolism, mythical world and the female power.
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