Yeats and the Occult

Seamus Deane

  • The Mystery Religion of W.B. Yeats by Graham Hough
    Harvester, 129 pp, £15.95, May 1984, ISBN 0 7108 0603 5
  • Yeats, Eliot, Pound and the Politics of Poetry by Cairns Craig
    Croom Helm, 323 pp, £14.95, January 1982, ISBN 0 85664 997 X
  • Yeats. Poems 1919-1935: A Selection of Critical Essays edited by Elizabeth Cullingford
    Macmillan, 238 pp, £14.00, July 1984, ISBN 0 333 27422 9
  • The Poet and his Audience by Ian Jack
    Cambridge, 198 pp, £20.00, July 1984, ISBN 0 521 26034 5
  • A New Commentary on the Poems of W.B. Yeats by A. Norman Jeffares
    Macmillan, 543 pp, £35.00, May 1984, ISBN 0 333 35214 9
  • Poems of W.B. Yeats by A. Norman Jeffares
    Macmillan, 428 pp, £17.00, August 1984, ISBN 0 333 36213 6

The first three of the four chapters in Graham Hough’s book were the Lord Northcliffe Lectures in Literature given at University College London in February 1983. The audience was general and the lectures were pitched accordingly. Yet all Yeatsian specialists will profit from this book and the ‘radical simplification’ of Yeats’s occult philosophy which it so lucidly achieves. Professor Hough takes Yeats’s beliefs seriously, but is neither a dévot nor sceptic. He demonstrates the ‘ancient lineage’ of the claims of the modern occultist fraternities, suggesting an analogy between the world of late Antiquity in which these beliefs first crystallised into recognisable forms and the period between 1890 and 1939 in which they underwent a revival. Against this background, enriched by the contributions of modern scholars from Denis Saurat to Frances Yates and Gershom Scholem, there emerge the first outlines of Yeats’s spiritual biography. As Professor Hough rightly remarks, this remains to be written. Should it ever be completed, this short book will be among its most important harbingers.

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