In search of a common myth: Influences of mysticism and occultism in W. B. Yeats's ``A Vision''

Date of Completion

January 1991


Literature, Modern|Religion, General|Literature, English




The central purpose of this dissertation is to prove three main points concerning Yeats's A Vision: first, that Yeats developed his system out of his occult research and studies in mysticism, particularly the works of Helena Blavatsky, in which the major symbols and ideas of A Vision originate; second, that Yeats's approach was syncretic, and that he tried to incorporate in one system all the parallel elements that he had found in various metaphysical theories. In this effort, he was greatly influenced by Theosophy, which also attempted to make out of the oldest metaphysical doctrines a harmonious and unifying whole; third, that much of Yeats's imagery and symbolism is traceable to A Vision, so without a deep knowledge of "the system," their real significance and meaning cannot possibly be understood.^ The first chapter will explore the general occult and mystical elements and sources that influenced Yeats, and will give a brief history of his involvement with occult societies. This chapter will further examine the "Stories of Michael Robartes and his Friends," because they introduce the major themes and symbols of A Vision.^ The second chapter will consider "The Phases of the Moon," and "The Great Wheel." Yeats's conception of the twenty-eight phases and the "Four Faculties" will be examined and traced to various occult sources.^ The third chapter will treat "The Completed symbol," and "The Soul in Judgement." Both of these sections of A Vision deal with the nature of the human soul, its different principles, and its progression after death.^ The fourth chapter will explore both "The Great Year of the Ancients," and "Dove and Swan," since they deal with common themes: the cyclical movement of human history, and the rise and fall of civilizations.^ The fifth chapter will consider Yeats's metaphysical theory as a whole, particularly his view of good and evil. This exploration of Yeats's theory will provide a new assessment of Yeats's philosophy of life.^ The conclusion will stress a few essential points concerning Yeats's metaphysical theory. ^