Yeats and the Thirteenth Æon

  • Ron Heisler
Part of the Yeats Annual book series (YA)


THE RICHNESS OF YEATS AS A POETIC THINKER (which is far from being the same as the issue of his status as a mere common or garden thinker) is unquestionable. But it is a richness that fascinates as much by those aspects that remain resolutely opaque as by those territories of his mind which seem obligingly—or deceptively—transparent. Hitherto the chief eye-sore amid the ruinous landscape of Yeats’s obscurantist tendencies has generally been reckoned to be the concept of the ‘thirteenth cycle’ (alternatively called ‘sphere’,‘gyre’, ‘cone’ or ‘vortex’) which features so prominently in A Vision. The way in which this concept has flummoxed authority after authority has been a constant joy to Yeatsian critics huddled in the safety of the side-lines, who, without being capable of providing any adequate answers themselves, were able to appreciate the bafflement of great reputations.


13th Cone Walk Away Collective Acceptance Great Reputation Teaching Spirit 
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  1. 1.
    Graham Hough, The Mystery Religion of W. B. Yeats (Brighton: Harvester Press, 1984), p. 113. I am very grateful to Roger Nyle Parisious for several conversations on numerous, unacknowledged points in this article, especially those involving the tarot.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Richard Ellmann, The Identity of Yeats (London: Macmillan, 1954; rptd. Faber and Faber, 1964) p. 159. Ellmann withholds the basis for this remarkably specific statement from his readers. It is likely that the source of the remark is a conversation with Mrs Yeats (of which Ellmann had many, from 1946 onwards), but if so, it is not recorded here.Google Scholar
  3. 4.
    Harold Bloom, Yeats (New York: Oxford University Press, 1972) pp. 274, 206.Google Scholar
  4. 5.
    Ibid. pp. 185, 219, 220.Google Scholar
  5. 6.
    A critique of Bloom’s ahistorical assumptions about Yeats’s grasp of Gnosticism in his later books is provided in Warwick Gould’s review essay on The Anxiety of Influence, A Map of Misreading, Kabbalah and Criticism, Poetry and Repression, ‘A Misreading of Harold Bloom’, English, XXVI:124, (Spring, 1977), pp. 240–254.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. 8.
    George Mills Harper, ‘Yeats’s Occult Papers’ in Yeats and the Occult ed. George Mills Harper (Toronto: Macmillan of Canada, 1975) p. 6. I have not consulted those plentiful volumes and scraps still unpublished.Google Scholar
  7. 23.
    John Eglinton, A Memoir of AE (London: Macmillan: 1937), pp. 27. Though the name began as the diphthong or ligature ‘Æ’, ‘AE’ and later ‘A. E.’ became more common as his self-signatures.Google Scholar
  8. 24.
    Kathleen Raine, Yeats the Initiate: Essays on Certain Themes in the Work of W. B. Yeats (Mountrath: The Dolmen Press, 1986), p. 65.Google Scholar
  9. 25.
    Gerald Massey, Gnostic and Historic Christianity. A Lecture (1887). Articles by Massey turn up in The Theosophist III:3 (27) Dec. 1881. See also David Shaw, Gerald Massey: Chartist, Poet, Radical and Freethinker (London: Buckland Publications Ltd., 1995). Roger Nyle Parisious tells me that he once examined a copy of Massey’s Ancient Egypt the Light of the World: a Work of Reclamation and Restitution in Twelve Books (1907), heavily annotated, possibly by Æ among others. Yeats and Æ founded the Dublin Hermetic Society, Æ also joining the Esoteric Section of the London Theosophical Society-but after Yeats had left.Google Scholar
  10. 26.
    S.S.D.D., Egyptian Magic, No 8 in W. Wynn Westcott’s Collectanea Hermetica (London: Theosophical Publishing Co., 1896), reprinted with an introduction by Timothy d’Arch Smith (Wellingborough: Aquarian, 1982), p. 80Google Scholar
  11. 27.
    Stuart Curran ‘Blake and the Gnostic Hyle: A Double Negative’ in Nelson Hilton (ed.), Essential Articles for the Study of William Blake, 1970–1984 (Hamden, Conn.: Archon Books, 1986), pp 15–37.Google Scholar
  12. See also Peter J. Sorensen William Blakes Recreation of Gnostic Myth: Resolving the Apparent Incongruities (Lewiston, New York; Salzburg: The Edwin Mellen Press, 1995).Google Scholar

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© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 1998

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  • Ron Heisler

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