Philip Whalen: Another one of the down poems (of W.B.Yeats) is the one that I was trying to find a while ago – [PW reads “The Witch” – “Toil and grow rich/What’s that but to lie/With a foul witch/And after, drained dry,/ To be brought/To the chamber where/Lies one long sought/ With despair?” – followed by “The Peacock” – “What’s riches to him/That has made a great peacock/With the pride of his eye?/The wind-beaten stone-grey/And desolate Three Rock/Would nourish his whim/Live he or die/Amid wet rocks and heather,/ His ghost will be gay/Adding feather to feather/For the pride of his eye”
PW: “That has made a graete paycock.. made a graete paycock.. made a graete paycock/With the proide of his oiye” – I guess Yeats didn’t have that thick an accent. I’ve heard recordings of his readings, and he didn’t have a terribly heavy brogue, because he had spent so much time in England, and one place or another.
He starts breaking out near this time, near the time of Responsibilities, into a whole new system of imagery and what-not. He gets hung up on the word, (just, simply, the word), “Byzantium”, and it, all of a sudden, opens up a whole magical realm to him. The first one of the poems, I guess, that gets into that noise, is called “The Magi” – [PW begins reading Yeats’ “The Magi”] – “Now, as at all times, I can see in the mind’s eye,/In their stiff painted clothes the pale unsatisfied ones/ Appear and disappear in the blue depths of the sky/With all their ancient faces like rain-beaten stones/ And all of their helms of silver hovering side by side,/ And all their eyes still fixed, hoping to find once more,/ Being by Cavalry’s turbulence unsatisfied,/The uncontrollable mystery on the bestial floor.”
AG: Some apocalypse there, actually, which builds.
He apparently had a number of, odd, let us say, religious experiences, or mystical experiences, or sudden wakenings in the middle of his everyday life (usually associated with some kind of reconciliation of opposites), or an experience of coldness or death or emptiness, or the loss of friends, so, there’s a celebrated poem called “The Cold Heaven”
Student: The what?
AG: “The Cold Heaven”. [Allen proceeds to read the poem – W.B.Yeats’ “The Cold Heaven”] – “Suddenly I saw the cold and rook-delighting heaven/That seemed although ice burned and was but more ice”… “..Ah! when the ghost begins to quicken/Confusion of the death-bed over, is it sent/Out naked on the roads, as the books say, and stricken/By the injustice of the skies for punishment” – That’s really sort of a cold, implacable objectivity – a shaft of objectivity that hits his brain. Also the reference here is to some similar texts that we’re studying here at Naropa. I suppose, either Theosophical, or Hindu, or perhaps even Tibetan-style, accounts of post-death experience. Anyway, he and his wife, I think, maybe from that time, or later on..
PW: It was later, much later.
AG: [turning to PW] Do you know anything about Macgregor Mathers and that circle, first of all?
PW: A little bit, yea, but not very much. Macgregor Mathers was a Scots madman who was studying ceremonial magic in Paris, where Yeats met him, and somehow they were cross-connected, or cross-introduced to the celebrated magician, Aleister Crowley. They had in London for a while this Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, that Crowley and all these people belonged to, and Yeats belonged to, and Maud Gonne was initiated in(to), and..
Student: Do you know the year that was?
PW: Oh, that would have been, like, in the late (18)90’s, or early 1900’s, early 1900’s, I think, like 1906 or so.
Student: That was the time of the early mystical…
PW: Yeah, yeah
Student: ..probably referred then to other things, magical stuffs..
PW: Yeah, right.
[Audio for the above can be heard here, starting at approximately twenty-five-and-three-quarter minutes in and concluding at approximately thirty-one minutes in]