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Theosophical Encyclopedia

Yeats, William Butler

(1865-1939). One of the great poets of the twentieth century who was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1923. He joined the Theosophical Society (TS) in 1887 and became a member of the Dublin Lodge in Ireland. His works were deeply influenced by theosophy and his mystical pursuits.

Yeats was born at Sandymount, a suburb of Dublin, on June 13, 1865. Much of his boyhood and youth was spent with his grandparents in Sligo (Sligeagh) in Ireland. This country, redolent of folklore and supernatural legend, had a strong effect on Yeats which is reflected in his poetry. In 1917 he married Georgie Hyd Lees who was a spiritualist medium, and they lived in a tower on the Irish coast.

Looking at Yeats’ development in spiritual and esoteric dimensions, we note that he edited The Poetic Works of William Blake (1893), which led him to study the basis of Blake’s ideals in SWEDENBORG, BOEHME and the Neo-Platonists. Yeats joined the Order of the Golden Dawn about this time, but there is no evidence that he was a particularly active member. His esoteric knowledge was widened when he made contact with Helena P. BLAVATSKY with whom he formed a close association during her stay in London. Encouraged by Blavatsky, Yeats studied Indian spiritual literature and later collaborated with an Indian, Shree Purohit Swami, on a translation of ten of the Upaniads (1937). We can find the results of this study emerging in the poems, The Secret Rose, The Tables of the Law and The Adoration of the Magi. Yeats was unusual in that he produced some of his greatest poetry between the ages of 50 and 75 years! We can suggest therefore that his best poetry was not the result of youth’s wild frenzy, but of a progressive spiritual evolution.

In addition to his considerable output of poetry, Yeats wrote a number of plays which were staged at the celebrated Abbey Theater in Dublin. In 1922 he was appointed a member of the Senate of the Irish Free State.

In his autobiography Yeats frequently refers to Blavatsky, whom he described as a “sort of female Dr. Johnson, impressive . . . to any man or woman who had themselves any riches.” He readily conceded that Blavatsky helped him develop his mental powers and leadership ability. He died in France on January 28, 1939.

P.S.H.

 

 

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