BL. W. B. Yeats


66. Æ (George Russell). Review of The Winding Stair (30). Irish Statesman 13 (1930).

Includes the first suggestion in print that Yeats’s mature philosophy and verse may have been shaped in part by his study of Zen Buddhism, which Yeats would have known through the work of Suzuki (see D28). In discussion of A Dialogue of Self and Soul (30a), Æ notes the ‘acceptance of life’ in lines 43-48, and the consequent ‘sweetness flowing into the heart’ of the closing lines, and speculates about the source of the understanding in Zen: ‘It may have been from his study of the Zen philosophy that [Yeats] came to this acceptance. The Zen philosopher discovered the possibility of a Nirvana in this world very different from that mysterious cosmic Nirvana of the founder of Buddhism. It might come upon the soul in a second, that illumination which makes Earth and its creatures to appear spiritual, as St. Peter after a vision found nothing to be common or unclean. A Zen philosopher would have understood St. Peter, and he would have understood why the poet, looking at the Japanese sword bound with some silken embroidery, found, in these, symbols of conflict and love, of all that made human history, and would not surrender all that rich drama for the silence of the spirit. The acceptance, the harmony between the self and the world it is born into, brought that sweetness.’ Reprinted in The Living Touch (London: Macmillan, 1937). See also 113.





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