BL. W. B. Yeats


57. Yeats’s Vision Papers. 4 vols. Vols. 1 and 2 edited by Steve L. Adams, Barbara J. Frieling, and Sandra L. Sprayberry. Vol. 3 edited by Robert Anthony Martinich and Margaret Mills Harper. Vol. 4 edited by George Mills Harper and Mary Jane Hopper. Iowa City: U of Iowa P, 1992-2001.

The primary documents underlying Yeats’s symbolist system in A Vision (38), including his 1917-20 written queries to ‘familiars’, ‘controls’ and other spirits, and their ‘automatic script’ responses via the mediumship of Yeats’s wife (vols. 1 and 2), and 1920-22 ‘Sleep and Dream Notebooks’, ‘Vision Notebooks’, and Card File (vol. 3). As in A Vision itself, Japanese subjects are by no means central, but do intervene in a subsidiary way as the system unfolds. In addition to passages noted below, the materials include frequent references to Buddhism, the concept of the ‘dreaming back’ of the dead (see especially 13), Pound, and other subjects of indirect relation to this study (see indices). In addition, George Mills Harper’s Introduction (vol. 1, pp. 1-54) refers to an unpublished correspondence between Yeats and Waley (see D26), and cites a letter from Yeats to Waley of 24 November 1917. See also 56.

a. Automatic script, 5 January 1918 (vol. 1, pp. 202-08). After a lengthy exchange about the relation between ‘masks’ and ‘affinities of souls’ at different phases of the unfolding system, Yeats inquires to the ‘familiar’, Thomas of Dorlowicz, about Yeats’s own ‘spiritual training’. When Thomas ‘responds’ that Yeats must avoid ‘all public work’, Yeats specifically inquires about lectures and ‘the Noh plays’. Thomas’s response: ‘Noh all right—lectures if settled & not done at random from restlessness’.

b. Automatic script, Oxford, 17 January 1918 (vol. 1, pp. 264-71). Again the ‘familiar’ is Thomas of Dorlowicz, the topic of discussion the ‘persona of fate’. Yeats notes that Thomas has earlier mentioned Commedia dell’arte, and Thomas responds, ‘That is like the Noh partially a dramatisation of the soul’.

c. Automatic script, 24 August 1919. Yeats here is communicating—of course, as always in these materials with his wife as the medium—with the ‘control’ Ameritus, who after a question about whether or not passion can exist ‘in a drifting life’ encourages Yeats to spend more time on poetry and less on the automatic script, for, Ameritus contends, ‘I have also given you material for a Noh play’ (vol. 2, p. 387). The editors note that the play in question would be Calvary (17a).

d. Automatic script, Portland, Oregon, 21 March 1920 (vol. 2, pp. 534-36). Sato visited Yeats in Portland and presented him with the sword (see especially 21 and 48k) either 20 or 21 March 1920. Yeats recalls in a ‘Sleep and Dream Notebook’ written on or around 28 March (f) that Sato had visited earlier in the day before the automatic script of the 21st was undertaken, but he wrote to Dulac on the 22d of the ‘wonderful thing’ that happened ‘the day before yesterday’ (48k), and Sato himself years later recalled that he had visited Yeats ‘about the 20th of March in 1920’ (124g). Whichever day the visit took place, the script dated 21 March is largely about the sword. In the 28 March ‘Sleep and Dream Notebook’ Yeats sets the scene: ‘The day the Japanese gave me the old Japanese sword, the Japanese dined with us & after dinner I spoke to him of certain [of] our philosophic ideas. . . . After he went away & while George was getting out the script book for script of March 21, a voice said in clear loud tones “quite right that is what I wanted”. The script repeated this & said what I heard was by “direct voice”’. The 21 March script opens with this ‘quite right’, and continues with both Yeats’s written queries and the responses of the ‘control’ Dionertes exploring the significance and symbolism of the sword, allying it emphatically with ‘movement’, the moon (see also Meditations in Time of Civil War [21]), the sun, ‘subjective passion’, and birth. The script concludes with Dionertes imploring Yeats to use the symbol: ‘sword = birth / . . . / FISH [of which Yeats’s wife had dreamed] = CONCEPTION / . . . / you have got to begin to write soon / life should be ritual / Yes / Yes / . . . / possibly / suggestion / to kill softness / sword & fish’.

e. Automatic script, 24 March 1920. According to the dates of the script book no script was written on 22 or 23 March, but when on a train between Portland and San Francisco the work began again, aided by a Tarot pack, the unidentified ‘control’ returns to the symbolism of Sato’s sword (see 21), and allies it directly both with Yeats himself and with ‘the daimon’: the Tarot cards are dealt, but there are ‘no swords’, because, the control contends (vol. 2, p. 536), ‘swords indicate Eastern influence—that is lacking here / It looks like a failure’. But when the cards are dealt a second time the control is more pleased, writing to Yeats (spelling as in the text): ‘Yes Yes that is alright—much better Sword is yourself and the symbolism is complete—We wanted an eastern symbolically incarnation . . . The sword is the daimon / . . . / That which came from west to east returned to west / Now it must be the reverse / in the multitudinous avatar all symbolism of all people must go from / East to west & back to East’.

f. Sleep and Dream Notebook 1, Pasadena, 28 March 1920 (vol. 3, especially p. 9). See d above.

g. Sleep and Dream Notebook 7, 1 May 1921. The entry closes (vol. 3, p. 76) with an obscure reference to Sato. He has sent from Chicago a baby’s quilt, which Yeats notes, and then adds, ‘A guess is how did he know’. What it is that Sato ‘knew’ is not clear. A note Yeats added later indicates that the quilt was for his daughter, Anne, but this does not clarify the reference.

h. Vision Notebook 2, 27 November 1923 (vol. 3, p. 187). Yeats’s notes include reference to a ‘Japanese story of two lovers’, connected in a way that is not clear from the syntax with ‘meet[ing] those who are in dreamed event’. An editorial note suggests the reference is to Motomezuka (see D23), but that is not a play that focuses particularly on two lovers. More likely Yeats had in mind the lovers ‘dreaming back’ their passion in Nishikigi (BK8).





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