“Because a fire was in my head…” Art & Alchemy*

“The mystical life is the centre of all that I do and all that I think and all that I write.”William Butler Yeats

He was the first Irishman to win the Nobel Prize for Literature, a co-founder of Dublin’s Abbey Theatre, and a famed Nationalist and Folklorist. Considered by many to be the greatest poet of the 20th century, William Butler Yeats was also a 6th degree member of The Golden Dawn, a co-founder of the Dublin Hermetic Society and and life-long student of spiritualism and the occult.

The list of poets who studied and/or were inspired by esoteric traditions is long and illustrious, but few are as notable as Yeats; both for the quality and influence of his literary work, and the depth and consistency of his interest in the arcane.

Most are familar with The Second Coming, a profoudly unsettling poem clear in its allusion to mystical prophesy and the end of the Christian era.  Yet it was in the 1899 collection, The Wind Among the Reeds, that Yeats published his most overtly occult-influenced verse.  Ankhie’s favorite among these early poems is The Song of Wandering Aengus.

I went out to the hazel wood,

And caught a little silver trout.

Because a fire was in my head,

And cut and peeled a hazel wand.

And hooked a berry to a thread;

And when the moths were on the wing,

And moth-like stars were flickering out,

I dropped the berry in a stream

And caught a little silver trout.

When I had laid it on the floor

I went to blow the fire aflame,

But something rustled on the floor,

And some one called me by my name;

It had become a glimmering girl

With apple blossom in her hair

Who called me by my name and ran,

And faded through the brightening air.

Though I am old with wandering

Through hollow lands and hilly lands,

I will find out where she has gone,

And kiss her lips and take her hands;

And walk among long dappled grass,

And pluck till time and times are done

The silver apples of the moon,

The golden apples of the sun.

William Butler Yeats1899

* Art & Alchemy: Each Tuesday Weiser Books Blog will feature a poet, writer or artist whose work is influenced or inspired by the occult.  If you have a favorite, please leave a suggestion/comment here!

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