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23 January, 2021 09:52:53 PM
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W. B. Yeats: The search for the divine, soul, and the identity

Yeats favoured the role of magic in finding a solution for life. He would believe that human can attain such heights that can give him supernatural powers.
Mohammed Mohsin Miyan
W. B. Yeats: The search for the divine, soul, and the identity

W.B. Yeats had difficult time dealing with reality, love-relations, and the ideal. He would search a possible connection between supernatural and our very existence. The supernatural in Yeats’s poetry indicates mysterious power of magic; the abnormal projected as normal. The magic he is concerned with is indescribable in terms of science. He wants to find a remedy for the decadent culture, society and people through magic.

It is believed that he was also influenced by theosophy, which is a kind of assimilation of western and eastern philosophy. According to Blavatsky, “Theosophy holds that there is an ancient and secretive brotherhood of spiritual adepts known as ascended masters, who-although found across the world- are centered in Tibet. These masters are believed to have cultivated great wisdom and supernatural powers. Theosophist also believes in reincarnation, a part of Hindu religion.”

He had deep interest in mystic religion and the working of supernatural. Christian mysticism refers to three dimensions: “the biblical, the liturgical and the spiritual or contemplative.” In most cases, mystical experiences are defined by our cultural and historical backgrounds. Yeats had a rich cultural and folklore heritage. He was influenced by Gaelic legends because Irish culture really needed a religion that would fit their vision and aspirations. Irish people were deprived of true universal order. According to W. B. Yeats: “We are quick to hate and slow to love; and we have never lacked a Press to excite the most evil passion.”

He turned to spiritualism for the salvation of his people and culture. It is “based on the belief that the spirits of the dead exist and have both the ability and the inclination to communicate with the living. The afterlife or the spirit world is seen by spiritualists, not as a static place, but as one in which spirits continue to evolve. These two beliefs-that contact with spirits is possible, and that spirits are more advanced than humans-lead spiritualists to a third belief, that spirits are capable of providing useful knowledge about moral and ethical issues, as well as about the nature of God.”(Wikipedia)

In “Sailing to Byzantium”, the poet observes the futility of our existence:

The salmon-falls, the mackerel-crowded seas,

Whatever is begotten, born and dies.

Caught in that sensual music all neglect

Monuments of unageing intellect.

Here, in these lines the poet reiterates the meaning of life. Everything is working on design, essentially God’s design; the salmon will complete its life cycle and die, the mackerel will end its journey in the sea. We are so preoccupied with the transitory aspects of life. Our existence is determined by our sensual pleasure, not by the spirituality. We don’t seem to connect with the God while we are living. We are not mature enough to understand the game of the One (the God).

There is no way of redemption after we die. We are to seek refuse to God before we die. There have been a lot of civilizations before we came into existence. The Byzantium civilization reminds him of the pomp and pride the rulers enjoyed in their glory days. They all left this beautiful world leaving behind their acts of glory. The artifacts of the civilization reminds us the very facts of existence, the past, the present, and the future; all are bind together in believing the One (The God and his creation are irrevocably connected).

Yeats in his poem “The second Coming” claimed that he could connect with spirit and he had the supposed revelation from Spiritus Mundi, spirits of the world who control our lives and future. As he puts it: “Surely some revelation is at hand; surely the second coming is at hand.” Here the poet is expecting some kind of destruction, a sort of premonition. This is not the second coming of Jesus Christ. It is all about a rough beast that will annihilate the world; a pitiless human who is part beast, part man. This is a vision Yeats had while he was with his wife. The vision has the reflection of Swedenborg who would have similar revelation from the lord Jesus Christ.

Yeats favoured the role of magic in finding a solution for life. He would believe that human can attain such heights that can give him supernatural powers. He wants to compare this extraordinary human achievement with magic. There is certainly an analogy drawn in his poetry between spiritualism and magic. He believes that spiritualists can connect with supernatural and heal the natural. Most of the time, he is in search of that power which will bridge the gap between spirit world and the natural world. He needs the spell that would eradicate the problems of modern life.

In pursuit of perfection, Yeats is skeptical, ironic and mocking. He had a strong sense of censure of his culture, manners and attitude of Irish people. He has never been happy with his performance as a true patriot. He wishes to excel in his performance. He doesn’t want to be praised. He indulges himself in self-criticism of not doing enough for his country and people. In the poem, Are you Content?, he asserts his position: “But I am not content”.

The writer is Associate Professor, Department of English, Asian University of Bangladesh. E-Mail: [email protected]

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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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