BL. W. B. Yeats

196. Doherty, Gerald. ‘W. B. Yeats and Zen: A Reading of Two Poems’. Young East NS 5/2 (1979): 5-15.

Much of the writing about the influence of Zen on Yeats’s writing finds the source of rather ordinary experience, in this case the ‘aimless joy’ of Demon and Beast (16) and the consciousness of a ‘world of illusion’ in Lapis Lazuli (40), in texts that at best Yeats knew in passing, when so many other sources—Herodotus, Paracelsus, Swedenborg, and Blake among them, but especially the Vedas, Patanjali, and Shri Purohit Swami—are possible, and equally or more compelling. Yeats’s very point in citing Zen when he does—and this is largely true of his references to the nô as well—is that what he understands of it exemplifies experience he takes to be universal, manifestations of the Anima Mundi (see 13); in his writing in the published record Zen is always an example and an effect, never a cause. Surely after 1927 he was moved by what he knew of Suzuki’s Zen, and no doubt one may point to effects of this in his poetry, but tracing his late mysticism to Zen ignores more profound influences. Doherty does not argue direct influence here, but his reading says more about his own understanding of Suzuki’s understanding of Zen than it does about Yeats’s poems. In a later work (220) Doherty is more careful in his claims, and more illuminating. See also 113.





Home | Top | Previous | Next

Previous | Next


Creative Commons License