Version classiqueVersion mobile
OpenEdition Books

The Living Stream

 | 
Warwick Gould

‘Mastering What is Most Abstract’: A Forum on A Vision

Yeats and the New Physics

Matthew M. DeForrest

Texte intégral

1When we consider the influences upon W. B. Yeats’s A Vision, we normally think of the humanistic inspirations: the literary, metaphysical, and philosophical sources that are regularly cited in analyses of his poetry. As Mary Colum points our in her ever-engaging autobiography The Life and the Dream, however, Yeats did not limit his interests and inspiration exclusively to the humanities:

  • 1 Mary Colum, Life and the Dream (Garden City: Doubleday & Company Ltd., 1947), 247-48.

…I found myself at a dinner party once beside Einstein. ... As I had never heard Einstein’s name until my hostess, Mrs. Untermeyer, mentioned it in the invitation, I was puzzled for topics of conversation, and proceeded to ask him pleasantly what he had invented. He countered, “Do you know enough mathematics to understand if I told you?” As I had retained in my memory some notions of the binomial theorem, a little trigonometry, with a smattering physics, and had so informed my hostess, she warmly declared to Einstein that I could, and we both pressed him to explain his invention, or theory, or whatever it was. He did actually tell us something about it, and we understood the unds, the seins, the habens and a few nouns—there weren’t many adjectives in Einstein’s discourse—and as he went on he threw back his head and laughed, and said “Mein schönen damen!... Ach, meine schönen damen!” However, on my next visit to Dublin, when Yeats started talking about the theory of relativity, which he thought was in some way related to his book, A Vision, I put a brake on his eloquence by telling him that Einstein had explained it all to me at a dinner party.1

2While there is no doubt that the most appealing part of Colum’s passage is the moment when she brings the great man and her sometime mentor’s explanation to a grinding halt by referencing the ultimate primary source, we also have a hint at a surprising source of inspiration for Yeats’s codification of A Vision: the then cutting edge theories of the New Physics.

  • 2 George Mills Harper, Yeats’s Golden Dawn (London: Macmillan, 1966), 7-8.
  • 3 Conan Doyle’s spiritualist works were familiar enough to Yeats for him to have alluded to his work (...)

3Perhaps we should not be so surprised that Yeats reached for contemporary scientific theories to try and understand what was being revealed to him through George Yeats’s mediumship—a system he characterized as ‘a form of science for the study of human nature, as we see it in others’ (CL InteLex 4744, 25 June 1925; L 709) Yeats had worked with the Society of Psychical Research to establish scientific evidence for supernatural events. Likewise, he had been asked to leave the esoteric section of Madame Helena Blavatsky’s Theosophical Society for taking an experimental approach to confirm the teachings of that group.2 Such scientific explorations of occult phenomena were part of the spirit of the age, as is evidenced not only by Yeats’s work but by the work of many others who anticipated a scientifically based confirmation of their beliefs, including Arthur Conan Doyle, the author of several works on spiritualism who was famously duped by faked pictures of dancing faeries.3

  • 4 Hupfeld, Herman, ‘As Time Goes By’, published in 1931 by Warner Brothers Music Corp., 1931). The L (...)
  • 5 ‘H.G. was surprised and gratified by the success of the story, but even in later years would be ge (...)

4Although not yet well known enough to be recognized by Colum in post-World War I New York, Einstein had already begun the ascent to fame that would make his name so much a household word that it along with terms from the New Physics—the series of discoveries which begin roughly with Einstein’s Theories of Relativity and continue through the initial development of Quantum Theory— would appear in the opening lines of ‘As Time Goes By’.4 Given the astonishing revelations made by Einstein and those who followed, it is unsurprising that discoveries such as the General and Special Theories of Relativity became familiar to the general public. Indeed, the basics of fourth dimensional theory—the idea that time follows length, breadth, and depth—had begun to penetrate the public’s consciousness at least as early as 1898, the year H. G. Wells’ The Time Machine was published—a book which Yeats is reported to have respected.5

  • 6 In 1922, the year before Yeats’s own Nobel Prize for Literature.

5By 1925, the year when A Vision was published, Einstein had won the Nobel Prize in Physics.6 His work on Relativity had also had almost a decade to impact popular culture and be part of the arguments in several of the books that Yeats read and, at times, annotated. Indeed, Yeats owned a copy of Einstein’s 1922 The Meaning of Relativity, which collected four of Einstein’s 1921 Princeton lectures, although Edward O’Shea’s A Descriptive Catalog of W.B. Yeats’ Library does not record evidence of Yeats’s marking it. Nor does Yeats appear to have marked J. W. Dunne’s An Experiment with Time, which examines the possibility that humans’ perceptual faculties extend into the fourth dimension and regularly refers to the New Physics. Yeats’s comments in a 4 December 1931 letter to L.A.G. Strong, however, reveal that he was wrestling with its content:

I did not mean my allusion to ‘right and left’ as a criticism of Dunne. I was merely suggesting an extension of his experiment. By ‘before and after’ I meant past and future, and these Dunne had investigated with his experiments, and by ‘right and left’ I meant the relationship in space, not in time, which I am most anxious that he or somebody else should investigate. I won’t go into the question now of the infinite observer, for I should have to look up Dunne again. I may perhaps write to you later about it. It happens to touch on a very difficult problem, one I have been a good bit bothered by. If I could know all the past and all the future and see it as a single instant I would still be conditioned, limited, by the form of that past and the form of that future, I would not be infinite. Perhaps you will tell me I misunderstood Dunne, for I am nothing of a mathematician (L 787-88).

6The publication date for Dunne’s work—1929—excludes it from consideration as a source for Yeats’s preliminary exploration of the New Physics—although it is early enough to have been a possible influence on his revisions of A Vision.

7The Descriptive Catalog, however, lists several likely sources for his initial attempts ‘to understand a little modern research into this matter.’ (CVA 175) The foremost of these is Lyndon Bolton’s An Introduction to the Theory of Relativity, published in 1921. This work, a significantly expanded Scientific American Eugene Higgins Prize winning essay, is written for the educated layman rather than a physicist. Bolton spells out in his opening remarks just how much education is required of his readers to understand his explanation:

  • 7 Lyndon Bolton, An Introduction to the Theory of Relativity (London: Methuen, 1921), pp. viii-ix.

To expect a non-mathematical treatment of Relativity is as reasonable as to expect a non-mathematical treatment of the Integral Calculus. At the same time, a very small amount of mathematical knowledge indeed is required for a general grasp of the subject. The mathematical knowledge assumed in this book is exiguously small. Einstein says that his book presumes a standard of education corresponding to that of a university matriculation examination. The present book, the writer thinks, requires less, nothing in fact beyond simple equations and Euclid I, 47 (the Theorem of Pythagoras). Wherever a proof is given it is written out in great detail, and this may at first sight give the impression of overmuch mathematics. This extreme detail may be unnecessary, but the writer felt that it was better to be on the safe side.7

8Despite this relatively low level of mathematics, Yeats clearly felt his own limited mathematical skills hindered his understanding of the material and states as much both in the above quoted letter to Strong and in a passage from the 1925 edition of A Vision under the heading ‘The Cones: Higher Dimensions’:

ONE of the notes upon which I have based this book says that all existence within a cone has a larger number of dimensions than are known to us, and another identifies Creative Mind, Will, and Mask with our three dimensions, but Body of Fate with the unknown fourth, time externally perceived.
When I saw this I tried to understand a little modern research into this matter but found I lacked the necessary training. I have therefore ignored it hitherto in writing this book (CVA 175).

9Doubtless this is due to the fact that Bolton’s work, while using only basic mathematics, stays within a purely mathematical realm. As such, it is aimed at a reader trying to come to grips with Einstein’s work—not someone who is in search of images for his poetry and plays. While Bolton repeatedly assures his readers that, while dealing with four or more dimensions is easy,

  • 8 Lyndon Bolton, 92-93.

All attempts to form a picture of a figure in a continuum of four or more dimensions are in the writer’s opinion futile. The mathematician is in no difficulty, for he is able to express by means of his formulae all properties relevant to his purposes without the necessity of forming a picture; a picture would not help him materially. But this resource is not open to those without mathematical training.8

10Despite Bolton’s warnings against the pursuit of images and his own admission of inadequacy, Yeats immediately launches into a discussion of dimensional theory as it applies to his system:

The difference between a higher and a lower dimension explains, however, the continual breaking up of cones and wheels into smaller cones and wheels without changing the main movement better than Swedenborg’s vortex, his gyre made up of many gyres. Every dimension is at right angles to all dimensions below it in a scale. If the Great Wheel, say, be a rotating plane, and the movement of any constituent cone a rotation at right angles to that plane the second movement cannot affect the first in any way. In the same way the rotation of the sphere will be a movement at right angles to a circumference which includes all movements known to us. We can only imagine a perpetual turning in and out of that sphere, hence the sentence quoted by Aherne about the great eggs which turn inside out without breaking their shell.
It seems that ancient men except the Persian and the Jew who looked to an upward progression, held Nietzsche’s doctrine of the eternal return, but if religion and mathematics are right, and time is an illusion, it makes no difference except in the moral effect (CVA 175-76).

11AlthoughYeats read and considered Bolton’s work, turning down the corners of pages 28, 146, and 160 (O’Shea 39), the absence of any recorded annotations on these pages or cross references to them in the card index Yeats kept for ordering his thoughts makes it impossible to assert with any certainty the full impact Bolton’s work had on the creation of A Vision. That Bolton had an impact, however, is certain, as is evidenced by a misquoted passage in the typescript of A Vision from the above mentioned page 160 of An Introduction to the Theory of Relativity (CW13 268). It is, however, possible to make some guesses as to the nature and type of some of this impact. The most tantalizing possibility comes out of the above quotation regarding dimensional arrangement as it applies to Yeats’s system: ‘Every dimension is at right angles to all dimensions below it in a scale’ (CVA 175). Yeats associates this arrangement with the relationship of different sets of gyres to one another, as is seen in the continuation of this passage and in his description of how the gyres of the mundane world (the gyres of the Faculties) and those of afterlife (the gyres of the Principles) are arranged in the 1937 edition of A Vision:

The wheel or cone of the Faculties may be considered to complete its movement between birth and death, that of the Principles to include the period between lives as well. In the period between lives, the Spirit and the Celestial Body prevail, whereas Husk and Passionate Body prevail during life. Once again, solar day, lunar night. If, however, we were to consider both wheels or cones as moving at the same speed and to place, for purposes of comparison, the Principles in a double cone, drawn and numbered like that of the Faculties, a line drawn between Phase 1 and Phase 15 on the first would be at right angles to a line drawn between the same phases upon the other (AVB 188).

12This superimposition matters: it has to do with what is being produced. The first set of gyres, the Faculties, is a graphical representation of three-dimensional space. With the superimposition of the gyres of the Principles, a model of four-dimensional space is created.

13The problem with attempting to create a graphical image of four-dimensional space, of course, is that it is physically impossible for us to do so accurately. Every dimension is naturally limited by itself and beings native to that dimension can only imagine or mathematically predict the description of higher dimensional objects. This is the fundamental reason Bolton labels the use of such graphical images as ‘futile.’ It is a problem that forms the core story of Edwin A. Abbot’s Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions, in which a two dimensional being tries to explain to his fellow Flatlanders what it is like to exist in three dimensions.

  • 9 Andrzej Duszenko, ‘The Theory of Relativity in Finnegans Wake’, in The Joyce of Science: New Physi (...)
  • 10 James Joyce, Finnegans Wake (London: Faber and Faber, 1939), 100.
  • 11 Salvador Dali, Crucifixion (Corpus Hypercubus), 1954. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

14Despite these challenges, individuals have continued to try and approximate such an image in order to explain, illustrate, and clarify the nature of four-dimensional space. Such images are collectively known as either tesseracts or hypercubes. The former is a term that would have been available to Yeats, as it was coined in Charles Howard Hinton’s A New Era of Thought, first published in 1888. Indeed, the term, as has been pointed out by Duszenko9 and others, was used by Joyce in his notoriously difficult work Finnegans Wake10 and appears in a slightly different form in Salvador Dali’s 1954 painting Crucifixion.11

15Yeats’s probable introduction to ‘tesseract,’ based on its presence in his library, is W. Whately Smith’s A Theory of the Mechanism of Survival: The Fourth Dimension and its Applications (YL item 1952). In this 1920 work, Smith explores the implications that four-dimensional theory has for a theoretical explanation for psychic powers and consciousness. In an appendix, he discusses how a four dimensional space is formed:

Any figure in a space of a given dimensionality generates a corresponding figure in the next higher space, by moving in a direction at right angles to any direction that can be drawn within itself.* Or, in general, space of any dimensionality generates by such movement the next higher space.

Thus, the lowest sort of space is space of zero dimensions, i.e., a mathematical point. If it moves a distance of one inch, it traces out a Line one inch long—that is to say a one space ‘figure.’ If this moves at right angles to itself for a distance of one inch, it traces out a two space figure, viz., a square of side one inch. If this again moves a distance of one inch in a direction at right angles to every direction that can be drawn within it, that is, in a direction perpendicular to itself, it traces out a cube of side one inch, i.e., a three space figure or ‘solid.’

We must, therefore, conclude, from analogy, that if the cube were itself to move, a distance of one inch, in a direction at right angles to every direction that can be drawn in our space—in the unknown direction, that is, of the fourth dimension—it would generate a ‘higher solid’ of side one inch. The higher solid thus generated is called a ‘Tesseract’ and its properties are quite well known.

  • 12 W. Whately Smith, A Theory of the Mechanism of Survival: The Fourth Dimension and its Applications (...)

*NOTE—The figures thus produced are not necessarily the strict analogues of the figures which generate them. For instance, a circle, moving in a direction perpendicular to itself, would generate a cylinder; whereas the three-dimensional analogue of a circle is a sphere.12

16In Smith’s description, we find perhaps the origin of Yeats’s abovementioned connections between the rotation of the gyres and the Phaseless Sphere of the Thirteenth Cone—a description, as shall be discussed more below, that Yeats maintained in his 1937 edition of A Vision (AVB 193). When considering the image of the tesseract on Yeats’s system, however, we must recall that Yeats’s initial circle— the line created by the paired movement of the individual Faculties, is sweeping out a three dimensional shape of a gyre rather than the two dimensional shape of a circle. As such, it forms a cone (or, rather, a set of paired cones) rather than a circle. In fact, in a deleted passage of A Vision [A], he specifies that ‘we may consider the full gyre itself half a rotating four dimensional sphere’ (CW13 268).

  • 13 The object in question, to remain consistent with the cone-shape of the gyres, should have larger (...)

17The four-dimensional movement of the gyres is the basis for Yeats’s explanation of the image of an egg turning inside out without breaking its shell, quoted in A Vision (1925) above and in the beginning of ‘Stories of Michael Robartes and His Friends’ (AVB 33). Because the line drawn by the Faculties does not form a circle, which would transform into a sphere and then into its four-dimensional equivalent, we have to consider how a cone in motion progresses into a four dimensional object which is related to an egg shaped object13 that can expand and contract within itself. In so doing, it is possible for the ‘inside’ of such an object to become its ‘outside’ without breaking the ‘shell’ of its outer surface, much as the inhabitants of Flatland cannot see within themselves but a three dimensional being can easily see inside of them.

18Despite the ease of describing how a tesseract is theoretically constructed, it cannot, of course, be constructed in three-dimensional space any more than one of the inhabitants of Flatland can construct a cube. It can, however, be approximated—especially if we keep in mind what we are looking at. If, for example, we consider a diagram of a cube, it appears to us like a three dimensional object. It is, of course, a two dimensional object, being limited to the surface of the page. It is, in reality, the shadow of a cube—the way a cube made up of tinker toys as opposed to solid surfaces would cast its shadow—much as the viewers in Plato’s parable of the cave would view the reality of a vase only as its shadow projected upon the wall. Our depictions of tesseracts, therefore, are the equivalent of their shadows projected onto our view of space. In this arrangement, the tesseract appears as a cube within a cube with the inner points of the larger cube connected by diagonals to the outer corners of the interior cube.14

19This structure bears an uncanny resemblance to both the verbal description of Yeats’s system as a series of gyres within gyres, but also to the physical structure of the image formed by the superimposition of the gyre of the Principles upon the gyre of the Faculties, as described in the above quoted passage (AVB 188).

20This is not the only way of constructing a tesseract, as it is explained later in Smith’s ‘Appendix’:

  • 15 W. Whately Smith, A Theory etc., 191-92. In this image, each line of the initial cube is shared by (...)

‘A tesseract, which is the four-dimensional analogue of the cube, is bounded by Eight cubes. It has Twenty-four plane square faces, Thirty-two linear edges, and Sixteen corner points.’
This may at first sight seem difficult to grasp.
In reality however, it is quite simple.
We have only to remember that the tesseract is generated by the movement of a cube, in a direction at right angles to every direction that can be drawn in the cube and that whenever a figure of a given dimensionality moves thus it generates a figure of the next higher dimensionality.
Thus every point in the cube will trace out a line, every line a surface, and every surface a solid, and, since the distance moved is equal to the length of the side of the cube, these surfaces will be squares and the solids will be cubes.15

21This structure is also inherent within the Yeats’s system, as it remains consistent with the idea of gyres within gyres.

22Yeats is clearly trying to imagine, both graphically and rhetorically, four-dimensional space. The Faculties, which are bound within time, exist in the first three dimensions. This limit is implicit within the description of the Body of Fate: ‘the series of events forced upon him from without’ (AVB 83). This forcing of events upon an individual implies a being bound within a linear progression of time rather than those like the Daimon, the entity controlling these events and shaping them out of ‘the memory of the events of his past incarnations’ (AVB 83), which are not so bound.

23This is further reinforced in the description of the Principles. Through the Husk and the Passionate Body, which are dominant in life, we are able to observe the Daimons involved in individual lives. When so perceived, these Daimons become ‘subject to time and space, cause and effect’ (AVB 189): this binding of these two Principles to three-dimensional space can also be seen in the depiction of the cones on p. 201. The half of the hourglass figure where the Husk and Passionate Body dominate is the half where the Faculties resolve themselves.

24The most clear cut example of the idea of Time as a dimension which can be moved through arbitrarily comes in the stages of the afterlife that require individuals to review events in different sequences—something that would be only possible to beings who are not subject to the limitations of three dimensional space. These states, all of which take place after the Faculties disappear. In these states, whether the Return, Dreaming Back, or Phantasmagoria, the individuals undergoing purgation are directed and overseen by the Teaching Spirits of the Thirteenth Cone—beings above time and space, as is seen in Yeats’s description of them and their realm:

The ultimate reality, because neither one nor many, concord nor discord, is symbolized as a phaseless sphere, but as all things fall into a series of antinomies in human experience it becomes, the moment it is thought of, what I shall presently describe as the thirteenth cone. All things are present as an eternal instant to our Daimon (or Ghostly Self as it is called when it inhabits the sphere), but that instant is of necessity unintelligible to all bound to the antinomies (AVB 193).

25These beings—the Daimons and Teaching Spirits—are outside of time and beyond the divisions inherent in the mundane world—the realm of time and space and the balanced antinomies.

  • 16 It is, however, possible to read the play as his attempt to understand his own past and purge his (...)

26Our understanding of Yeats’s poems and plays will only be complete when we take these difficult and, at times, all but impenetrable theories into account. As mentioned above, Purgatory has as its main action the ability of its two characters to view events in a past relative to the present of the play as the Old Man observes his mother attempting to purge herself of her attachments to life.16 When he considered these states, Yeats was not thinking in exclusively metaphysical terms. He believed that these states were part of a broader reality that included science and the rational as well as the irrational. In doing so, he maintained a stance that was consistent with A Vision —a world that balanced opposites. Here, the rationally and objectively scientific outlook is set in tension against the irrational and subjective world of the supernatural. Yet within the parameters of his system, these two outlooks were different views of the same thing and the coming recognition of the mathematical and scientific (as each turn of the gyre understood it) was consistent with past ages, as is hinted at in his speculation on what civilization preceded Homeric Greece:

...when in my ignorance I try to imagine what older civilization that annunciation rejected I can but see bird and woman blotting out some corner of the Babylonian mathematical starlight.i
i Toynbee considers Greece the heir of Crete, and that Greek religion inherits from the Minoan monotheistic mother goddess its more mythical conceptions (A Study in History, vol. i, 92). ‘Mathematical Starlight’, Babylonian astrology, is, however, present in the friendships and antipathies of the Olympic gods (AVB 268).

  • 17 Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1926, YL item 2258. I thank Wayne Chapman for providing me (...)

27Another source of Yeats’s inspiration regarding the New Physics, based on the type and amount of marginalia and his comments to Olivia Shakespear in letters dated 15 and 22 April 1926, is Alfred North Whitehead’s Science and the Modern World.17 Like Dunn, Whitehead is too late to have had an impact on A Vision (1925). Whitehead’s work did, however, have an impact on Yeats’s thinking as he revised his system for republication in 1937. Surprisingly, given Yeats’s interests in examining history for parallels with his Historical Gyres and with placing people into their proper phase, the inspiration he received does not come primarily from the first half of the book, which reviews the history of science and mathematics and the men and women who advanced these fields. Instead, Yeats focuses on the sections that examine Relativity and Quantum Theory.

  • 18 Whitehead, Science and the Modern World, 170.

28A number of the marginal comments and strokes in Yeats’s copy of Science and the Modern World, recorded by O’Shea in his Descriptive Catalog, make direct reference to the system of A Vision. The foremost amongst these is the idea of Unity of Being. In Yeats’s system, Unity of Being refers to the balance between and integration of the portions of any being, represented by the Faculties and/or Principles. Yeats found parallels between these and the portion of Quantum Theory that require, in Whitehead’s words, that ‘you must take the life of the whole body during any portion of [examined time]’ (emphasis Yeats’s). In the margin next to this passage, Yeats wrote, ‘Unity of Being.’18

  • 19 The annotations to this page (185) are not recorded by O’Shea except by implication, via the initi (...)

29The rules of Quantum Mechanics also provided Yeats with a rationale for the parallel but separate movements of the Faculties and Principles, which move on pairs of gyres set at right angles to one another (AVB 188). Although the two sets are active at different times—the Faculties from birth to death and the Principles from death to birth—they are symbolically present simultaneously within his system. This is not, however, necessarily a difficulty within a relativistic system, according to Whitehead, who states: ‘Now, in discussing the theory of relativity, we saw that the relative motion of two [objects] means simple that their organic patterns are utilising diverse space-time systems’ [emphasis Yeats’s].19 Thus, a person—the object here in question—can exist in multiple space-time moments, allowing for such purgatorial states as the Dreaming Back and the Phantasmagoria, which require that a person review their pasts before advancing on towards either their next life or into the Thirteenth Cone.

  • 20 Science and the Modern World (YL item 2258), 191.

30One of the more interesting marginalia in Yeats’s copy of Science and the Modern World is found at the top of page 191, where a series of single gyres, forming two connected hourglasses, is set above 3 dots placed at the widest point of the hourglasses. It is reasonably safe to assume that this is associated with the sentence which runs from the bottom of the prior page and underneath the diagram: ‘If it is considered as one thing, its orbit is to me diagrammatically exhibited by a series of detached dots.’20

  • 21 Strictly speaking, Phase One, being the most plastic of all phases, is least likely to adequately (...)

31The ‘it’ in question here refers to a theory of discontinuous existence—the idea that things could pop in and out of particular types of existence at the atomic and sub-atomic level as things moved between states of energy and matter. This theory is now regularly demonstrated in various particle accelerators. Yeats did not need such proofs, however. He found parallels with that idea in his own system, which indicated that things cyclically shift between states of formlessness to form and back again as they move through the phases of the Great Wheel. This can clearly be seen in the track taken by the single cone above, representing a shift from, for the sake of simplicity,21 Phase One (above the first dot) through Phase 15 (where the two cones meet) back to Phase One then again through Phase 15 and returning to Phase 1.

32This is not a simple abstraction in Yeats’s system. Single gyres connected at their points are used by Yeats in his discussion of the shifting between the Faculties and Principles. In particular, it is used to track the path of the Husk—the actual physical body—as it moves through life (the first gyre) then disappears at the point where the two cones meet, only to reappear at the beginning of the next incarnation, where the Cones meet at their base, above the dot marking the cyclical reappearance of the quanta described in Whitehead.

33All of this, of course, begs the obvious question: Why should we care? After all, if Yeats refers to this material only obliquely in A Vision—to the point of cutting the quotation from Bolton from A Vision (1925), why should we consider his commentary on Whitehead, Bolton, and others? The first reason has already been mentioned: The New Physics was part of the popular culture and was something Yeats would not have been willing or able to ignore. Nor, given his comments to Olivia Shakespear, was he interested in doing so. Rather, he revelled in the parallels:

The work of Whitehead’s I have read is ‘Science in the Modern World’ and I have ordered his ‘Concept of Nature’ & another book of his. He thinks that nothing exists but ‘organisms,’ or minds—the ‘cones’ of my book—& that there is no such thing as an object ‘localized in space,’ except the minds, & that which we call phisical objects of all kinds are ‘aspects’ or ‘vistas’ of other ‘organisms’—in my book the ‘Body of Fate’ of one being is but the ‘Creative Mind’ of another. What we call an object is a limit of perception. We create each others universe, & are influenced by even the most remote ‘organisms.’ It is as though we stood in the midst of space & saw upon all sides—above, below, right and left—the rays of stars—but that we suppose, through a limit placed upon our perceptions, that some stars were at our elbow, or even between our hands. He also uses the ‘Quantum Theory’ when speaking of minute organisms—molecules—in a way that suggests ‘antithetical’ & ‘primary,’ or rather if he applies it to the organisms we can compare with ourselves it would become that theory. I partly delight in him because of something autocratic in his mind. His packed logic, his way of saying just enough & no more, his difficult scornful lucidity seem to me the intellectual equivalent of my own imaginative richness of suggestion—certainly I am nothing if I have not these. (He is all ‘Spirit’ whereas I am all ‘Passionate Body.’). He is the opposite of Bertrand Russell who fills me with fury, by his plebean loquacity (CL InteLex 4863, 22 April [1926]; cf. L 713-14).

34There is also an indication in the letters of what Yeats was looking for in the material. On 4 March 1926, Yeats asked Olivia Shakespear ‘to read the part of my book called “The Gates of Pluto”—it is overloaded with detail & not as bold as I thought as it should have been but does I think reconcile spiritual fact with credible philosophy’ (CL InteLex 4843; cf. L 711-12). In his next letter to her, dated 15 April [1926], he writes:

… I stay in bed for breakfast & read Modern philosophy. I have found a very difficult but profound person Whitehead who seems to have reached my own conclusions about ultimate things. He has written down the game of chess & I like some Italian Prince have made the pages & the court ladies have it out on the lawn. Not that he would recognize his abstract triumph in my gay rabble (CL InteLex 4858; cf. L 712).

  • 22 NASA needs only Newtonian physics to send a man to the moon or put a satellite in orbit, but for a (...)

35If, therefore, modern philosophers must wrestle with science, Yeats believes that he must wrestle with the New Physics if his system is to have any significance for the modern world. The virtue of the New Physics was that it more accurately described the universe than the old Newtonian models, albeit a precision that is only necessary at the extremes of reality.22 Parallels between his system and the New Physics would lend gravitas to his revised system similar to that given with the parallels he drew between A Vision and older, established philosophical models.

  • 23 Matthew DeForrest, Yeats and the Stylistic Arrangements of Experience (San Francisco, London and B (...)
  • 24 W. H. Auden, quoted from The Permanence of Yeats 344 in Graham Hough, The Mystery Religion of W. B (...)

36Finally, Yeats’s view of the eternal figures significantly in many of his works—most notably ‘Sailing to Byzantium.’23 Likewise, his understanding of the cyclical nature of time becomes more complex once we realize that, as happens in Purgatory, time becomes something people are able to travel through. If pursuing the contemporary scientific conversation that addressed the same material he was considering led him to a greater understanding of the meaning of eternity, Yeats was intent on examining it—just as he was intent on determined to examine metaphysical and artistic sources of inspiration. With a clear acknowledgement of this more rationalist stand-point, we can perhaps move beyond the characterization of Yeats as ‘Californian’ and ‘embarrassing’24 and begin to appreciate not only the significant work that went into crafting A Vision but the thought and genius required to synthesize such a significant body of work into a unique philosophical system.

Notes

1 Mary Colum, Life and the Dream (Garden City: Doubleday & Company Ltd., 1947), 247-48.

2 George Mills Harper, Yeats’s Golden Dawn (London: Macmillan, 1966), 7-8.

3 Conan Doyle’s spiritualist works were familiar enough to Yeats for him to have alluded to his works in The Words Upon the Windowpane, although its should be noted that the sceptical John Corbet’s identification of ‘wild book by Conan Doyle’ (CPl 598) indicates that Yeats may have, like many at the time, considered Conan Doyle too accepting of all phenomena to be a credible witness.

4 Hupfeld, Herman, ‘As Time Goes By’, published in 1931 by Warner Brothers Music Corp., 1931). The Lyrics are cited as found on the website http://www.reelclassics.com/Movies/Casablanca/astimegoesby-lyrics.htm.

5 ‘H.G. was surprised and gratified by the success of the story, but even in later years would be gently astonished that people held it in such high regard. His peers at the time, including Jerome K. Jerome, Yeats, George Wyndham, and even Rudyard Kipling were quick, however, to recognize its quality: see Simon Wells’s ‘An Introduction to The Time Machine’ in H. G. Wells, The Time Machine (New York: Ace Books, 2001), xii. Yeatss’ opinion of Wells varied somewhat, given his recently collected (1934) ‘Should H. G. Wells afflict you’: see Ex 377.

6 In 1922, the year before Yeats’s own Nobel Prize for Literature.

7 Lyndon Bolton, An Introduction to the Theory of Relativity (London: Methuen, 1921), pp. viii-ix.

8 Lyndon Bolton, 92-93.

9 Andrzej Duszenko, ‘The Theory of Relativity in Finnegans Wake’, in The Joyce of Science: New Physics in Finnegans Wake. 26 July 2007: <http://duszenko.northern.edu/joyce/relativ.html>

10 James Joyce, Finnegans Wake (London: Faber and Faber, 1939), 100.

11 Salvador Dali, Crucifixion (Corpus Hypercubus), 1954. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

12 W. Whately Smith, A Theory of the Mechanism of Survival: The Fourth Dimension and its Applications (London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner 1920), 187-88. An animation of this sequence may be found at http://www.cut-theknot.org/ctk/Tesseract.shtm.

13 The object in question, to remain consistent with the cone-shape of the gyres, should have larger and smaller ends. Readers may be able to get a sense of the motion involved by watching the animation of a tesseract in rotational motion (titled ‘A 3D projection of an 8-cell performing a simple rotation…’ and/or ‘A 3D projection of an 8-cell performing a double rotation...’), available at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tesseract.

14 An image of this version of the tesseract may be found at: <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:Hypercube.svg>.

15 W. Whately Smith, A Theory etc., 191-92. In this image, each line of the initial cube is shared by three cubes, as may be seen at:http://www.cut-the-knot.org/Tesseract.shtmlknot.org/Tesseract.shtml.

16 It is, however, possible to read the play as his attempt to understand his own past and purge his associations with it. Once more, we have gyres within gyres.

17 Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1926, YL item 2258. I thank Wayne Chapman for providing me with photocopies of several pages of Yeats’s copy of Science and the Modern World with the marginalia I discuss here.

18 Whitehead, Science and the Modern World, 170.

19 The annotations to this page (185) are not recorded by O’Shea except by implication, via the initial description: ‘Very heavily marked and annotated through-out.’

20 Science and the Modern World (YL item 2258), 191.

21 Strictly speaking, Phase One, being the most plastic of all phases, is least likely to adequately represent the blip into reality of a physical body. Even so, it is traditional to attribute Phase One to the right hand side of any diagram in A Vision.

22 NASA needs only Newtonian physics to send a man to the moon or put a satellite in orbit, but for a brief nod to four-dimensional theory because it is necessary to include a time component when deciding on launch times and targets.

23 Matthew DeForrest, Yeats and the Stylistic Arrangements of Experience (San Francisco, London and Bethesda: International Scholars Publications, 1999), 89.

24 W. H. Auden, quoted from The Permanence of Yeats 344 in Graham Hough, The Mystery Religion of W. B. Yeats (Sussex: The Harvester Press, 1984), 6.

Acheter