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Yeats and Taoism (1): to Maria Motxobe Legarreta.

This essay explores the connections between some of the metaphysical beliefs reflected in the work of W. B. Yeats and the main ideas of Taoist philosophy, paying particular attention to the links between Yin Yang theory and the system of the Gyres developed by Yeats. A brief introduction to the principles of Taoism will be followed by an exploration of A Vision, Yeats's s central philosophical work, which began to take shape in 1917. This will be followed by a brief mention of some examples of Yeats's s work which predate the development of his Gyre theory but suggest the use of related ideas. Two poems written at the time of the composition of A Vision will be considered then in some detail--'An Irish Airman foresees his Death' (written in 1918) will be analyzed in relation to Taoism's approach to mortality, and 'The Second Coming' (written in 1919) will be considered in the light of the connections between Yin Yang theory and Yeats's historicism. This will be further followed by some suggestions of other elements in the work of Yeats that are reminiscent of Taoist imagery and beliefs, focusing on his poetry. Then, a conclusion will be drawn, bringing together all the issues addressed in the essay. Throughout, references will be made to sources of Taoist influence available to Yeats, with an emphasis on the main Taoist texts: Lao Tzu's Tao Te Ching and Chuang Chou's Chuang Tzu.


Taoism is the far-eastern school of philosophy that has been more influential in the West. Its main ideas are centered round a universal energy or life-force, known as Tao, as well as an appraisal of softness, humility, frugality, and indifference to the affairs of the world. Taoism is also associated with the belief in a balance (moral and physical) of interlocked opposites that generate each other through their constant motion. This last idea is connected to the Yin Yang school of thought, which predated Taoism but seems to have been partly absorbed (or adapted) by Taoist philosophy. No specific writings from the original Yin Yang school are extant, (2) but popular perception in the West tends to equate Taoism and Yin Yang theory. Although this is not accurate, (3) it suggests that fin fang theory may have been introduced to Europe through Taoist texts such as the Tao Te Ching, a text from about the third century BCE (4) which remains the single more translated book from Chinese. (5)

The word Tao, most often translated as 'the way [of the world]', refers as we have seen to a universal life-force or energy. On the other hand, fin and Yang originally referred respectively to the sunless and the sunny sides of a mountain, (6) and later came to be associated with pairs of opposites such as female and male, cold and hot, soft and hard. The original concept of Yin Yang possibly developed to encompass every thing and being in existence, as well as its manifestations; each thing and being, in this system, is one side of a binary. By the time the idea is incorporated into the Tao Te Ching, the mere acknowledgement of universal opposites seems to have transformed into a theory about their interaction. According to this view, in terms of physics Tao can be seen as the essential substance, and Yin fang as the description of its properties. However, the main concern of the Tao Te Ching is not science (in the sense that early Greek philosophy can be said to be science), but human behavior, set in harmony with nature. As summarized by D C Lau:

The movement of the tao is described as 'turning back'. This is usually interpreted as meaning that the tao causes all things to undergo a process of cyclic change. What is weak inevitably develops into something strong, but when this process of development reaches its limit, the opposite process of decline sets in and what is strong once again becomes something weak, and decline reaches its lowest limit only to give way once more to development. Thus there is an endless cycle of development and decline. (7)

This notion can be applied as a guide to personal conduct, as a metaphysical theory, and as an explanation (and therefore prediction) of historical developments.


Yeats's system of the Gyres would appear to have been modeled in the conjunction of Tad and Yin Yang just described. Yeats explained his system in two books: _A Vision--An Explanation of Life Founded Upon the Writings of Giraldus and Upon Certain Doctrines Attributed to Kusta Ben Luka (1925), and the revised, 1937 edition of that text, A Vision (rpt. 1962). According to Yeats, the concept originated when:

On the afternoon of October 24th 1917, four days after my marriage, my wife surprised me by attempting automatic writing (...). The unknown writer took his theme at first from my just published Per Amica Silentia Lunae. I had made a distinction between the perfection that is from a man's combat with himself and that which is from a combat with circumstance, and upon this simple distinction he built up an elaborate classification of men according to their more or less complete expression of a type of the other.

(A Vision [1962], pp. 8-9)

This classification was eventually ordered upon a scheme of correlations of personality types to the phases of the moon. Later, a related but somewhat different design was 'communicated' through the automatic writing: (8)

[O]n December 6th [1917] a cone or gyre had been drawn and related to the soul's judgment after death; and then just as I was about to discover that incarnations and judgment alike implied cones or gyres, one within the other, turning in opposite directions, two such cones were drawn and related neither to judgment nor to incarnations but to European history. (A Vison (1962), p. 11)

The Gyres are described by Yeats as a system made of "a series of unresolved antinomies (...) [which] must find its representation in a perpetual return to the starting point." (9) This is symbolized as two interlocked cones, "the apex of each vortex in the middle of the other's base." (10) As each gyre diminishes, its opposite increases until it has reached its limit and then begins to decrease in turn. Each interlocked gyre is also referred to as a 'tincture'--one tincture being primary or objective, and the other being antithetical or subjective. Each gyre is also subdivided into two opposing impulses. (11) Much like Yin Yang theory, the Gyres can be applied to every aspect of reality, be it physical or moral. (12) Strikingly, in addition to the concordance of ideas behind both systems, the diagrams associated with them are also matched, as Yeats's gyrating cones can be seen as a picture in profile of the Yin Yang's ground plan.


A Vision does not acknowledge any awareness of the Tao Te Ching or of any other source of Taoist thought. Yeats did not keep any Taoist texts in his personal library, but his interest in philosophy and theosophy must have brought him in contact with Taoist beliefs at some point. Both the 1925 and the 1937 edition mention a string of thinkers and traditions connected to ordering systems in any way similar to the Gyres. The list that emerges is staggeringly comprehensive: Anaximander, Pythagoras, Heraclitus, Parmenides, Zeno, Empedocles, Plato, Aristotle ... all the way to Marx and Nietzsche, are mentioned at various points in relation to symbolic strife, antinomies, dialectic, cones, vortexes, and spirals developed or adapted by them. (13) In my view, the evidence of the exhaustive research undertaken by Yeats, and his failure to mention Taoist thought and Yin Yang theory, do not prove his ignorance of them, but rather suggest that he must have been aware of both and chose to omit his sources for some unknown reason.

Even if we assume that the 1925 version of A Vision was created ex-nihilo, with a series of communicators simply dictating 'alien' material, the failure to mention Taoism in the subsequent, revised version of 1962, is quite simply astonishing. Translations and commentaries of Taoist texts were widely available in Europe at the time, and had attracted the keen interest of occultist circles--with which Yeats had a considerable involvement. The following fragment from the Tao Te Ching, from a 1894 edition (already following a long line of translations) published by the Indian Section of the Theosophical society, is one of many examples uncannily attuned to the Gyre system:
   When the word speaks of Beauty as being beautiful,
      ugliness is at once defined.

   When goodness is seen to be good, evil is at once

   So do Existence and Non-existence mutually give rise
      to one another; as that which is difficult and easy,
      distant and near, high and low, shrill and bass,
      preceding and following. (14)

Yeats did describe the Gyres as "[a] system of symbolism, strange to my wife and to myself, [which] certainly awaited expression." (15) He also explained his frustration at not being able to cross-reference the findings when the communicators "asked me not to read philosophy until their exposition was complete." (16) But this invitation to read A Vision as revelation has to be qualified. On the one hand, Yeats acknowledged at a later stage that his understanding of the Gyres had improved upon studying the books read by his wife George before the experience. (17) On the other, his own input in the 'discovery' of the system went well beyond the task of editing the automatic scripts. It is crucial to keep in mind that, in addition to the reference to Yeats' s work at the first session, the communicators had generally spoken only in answer to his questions. (18) In the light of this, it seems safe to conclude that the couple's combined theoretical knowledge, their experiences, and their interests, determined at least in part the development of the system of the Gyres. (19)

The focus of this essay is on W. B. Yeats's work, which certainly shows signs of a blueprint for the Gyre system preceding his 'discovery' by over twenty years. Kathleen Raine has pointed out that in Yeats's commentaries of Blake's prophetic books, which he co-edited and published in 1893, Yeats to an extent rewrites Blake's system as if to harmonize it with that described in A Vision. He does this by emphasizing, on the one hand, "two pairs of opposing energies in dynamic interplay" and, on the other, a rotating movement--neither of which are apparent in the original writings by Blake. (20) Both additions point to the characteristic structure and motion of Yin and Yang. (21) Yeats's drama certainly shows a recurrent interest on interdependent antinomies predating the publication of A Vision. In 1914, Yeats's play The HourGlass had already presented, in the hourglass of the title, two locked cones that symbolically suggested the protagonist's switch from objective science to subjective religion, and literally determined the switch from life to death. (22) But even earlier, in Yeats s play of 1904 On Baile's Strand, the personification of a dyad united by strife had already been explored in Conchubar and Cuchulain. (23)
   Conchubar. (...) You are but half a King and I but half;
   I need your might of hand and burning heart,
   And you my wisdom. (24)


   We are one being, as these flames are:
   I give my wisdom, and I take your strength. (25)

In this play, as in the Gyre system, one side of the binary can not exist without the other--the inevitable outcome being that the surviving murderer must also die.

The same fate awaits the protagonist of Oscar Wilde's 1894 play Salome, (26) a text built around interlocked opposites which caused a commotion alter its opening. Katsuhiko Shiota interprets the images of moon and platter in Wilde's play as mirrors that reflect Salome's antithetical self, Ioakaan. (27) In an important passage of A Vision, Yeats declares the following:

When revelation comes athlete and sage are merged; the earliest sculptured image of Christ is copied from that of the Apotheosis of Alexander the Great; the tradition is founded which declares even to our day that Christ alone is exactly six feet high, perfect physical man. Yet as perfect physical man He must die, for only so can primary power reach antithetical mankind shut within the circle of its senses, touching outward things alone in that which seems most personal and physical. When I think of the moment before revelation I think of Salome (...) dancing before Herod and receiving the Prophet's head in her indifferent hands, and wonder if what seems to us decadence was not in reality the exaltation ['exultation' in the 1925 version] of the muscular flesh and of civilisation [sic] perfectly achieved. (28)

In this context, it is crucial to remember that Yeats wrote a number of plays in which a beheading--the climax in Salome--did not obliterate the voice of the victim. (29) This can be seen perhaps as an attempt to develop the symbolic erasing of interlocked binaries (in Wilde's play), into an illustration of the unexpected survival of a diminished side of the binary (as in the Gyres or Yin Yang), who will eventually reassert its power soon after its ostensible 'fall'.

It is probable that Yeats's interest in antithetical impulses and characters was encouraged by his reading of Wilde. (30) Not only was Wilde familiar with Taoism, but Taoist thinking had an enormous impact on his political ideas and his approach to art. The influence is particularly noticeable in the Taoism-soaked 'The Critic as Artist' (1890), (31) and 'The Soul of Man Under Socialism' (1891), (32) but it can also be traced in other works. For example, his prose poems, which have often puzzled reviewers, seem to be modeled on the meditative tales--often presented in dialog form- of Chuang Chou's Chuang Tzu (written around 300 BCE), the second most important text in the Taoist canon. Yeats's poem 'The Saint and the Hunchback' (w. 1918), also reads like a latinised version of a story from the Chuang Tzu. (33) Even if Yeats was not aware of this text, he was certainly familiar with the delight in paradox typical of Taoist literature, also characteristic of Chuang Chou's book. One of Wilde's prose poems, 'The Doer of Good' (1894), would appear to have inspired Yeats's Calvary (1920), a play protagonised by antithetical personalities with includes, like Wilde's counterpart, a striking scene where a resurrected Lazarus confronts Christ to bitterly complain about his fate. Consider the following fragment from the Chuang Tzu:

Master Ch'ang-wu wonders: "How can I know that wanting to live is not delusion? How can I know that aversion to death is not like a homeless waif who does not know where to return? (...) How do I know the dead do not regret having longed for life at first?" (34)


What from a Western perspective seems a shocking approach to death, (35) is, from the point of view of Taoism, in keeping with an awareness of the necessary, natural motion of Yin and Yang. The rage of Lazarus is comparable to the rage of the enlightened Taoist who realizes that he or she is obstructing the flow of tao. The Taoist school has no concept of god, or afterlife; (36) for Taoism, death is simply the return to nothingness. The Chuang Tzu includes, among its most celebrated formulations, the notion that death and life are two interlocked modes of reality. The text offers a fictionalized account of Confucius who, bewildered at Taoists, exclaims:

"They consider life an excess growth and consider death to be excision of the growth. If people are like that, how can it be known which takes precedence, life or death?" (p. 111) (37)

For one who understands tao, ultimately neither life nor death takes precedence. Consider also the following fragment from the Tao Te Ching, of particular interest because of the significance of the number 'thirteen' in A Vision, where it is linked by Yeats to the unfathomable divinity symbolized by the 'thirteen sphere': (38)
   Men go forth from life and enter into death.
   The gates of life are thirteen in number.
   The same are the gates of death.
   By as many ways doth life pass quickly into death.
   And wherefore?
   It is because men strive only after the sensuous life.
   It has been said that one who knows how to take care
      of his life may go through the country without
      providing against the rhinoceros or tiger; he may
      even go into the thick of a battle without fear of the
      sword. (39)

This idea is central to Yeats's poem 'An Irish Airman Foresees His Death' (pub. 1919, written 1918), further suggesting that he may be indebted to Taoism--in this case, to its distinctive approach to mortality. Both an Irish man and an Air man, the speaker understands that hollowness is a sine qua non of solidity, and viceversa. "In balance with this life, this death", he says, echoing Heraclitus. (40) Chuang Chou had put it in the context of the ever-changing tao: "No one lives longer than one who dies in childhood; a man who lives eight hundreds years is young. Heaven and earth are born with us; all beings are one with us". (41) The difference between both states dissolves in the background of nature, for, as Yeats puts it, "[m]an has created death." (42)

In 'In Memory of Major Robert Gregory' (1918), which was also inspired by the death of the same man, the 'unity' of the poem, in one commentator's words, "replaces Gregory's fragmentary corpse." (43) By contrast, the formal simplicity of 'An Irish Airman Foresees his Death' carries a message of emotional self-effacement, linked to harmony with an underlying principle--which is also the impetus behind Taoism. This central idea transcends its containment in a poem that becomes itself a flying machine, a moving dot in the immeasurable and amoral conflict of revolving reality. Jahan Ramazani sees 'An Irish Airman Foresees His Death' as an anomaly within the context of Yeats's elegiac poetry, which tends to "[heighten] the competition usually concealed within the form" to turn the poem into brazen self-elegy. (44) Seen from the perspective of Taoism, this poem is not an elegy, but a celebration of anonymity, even expendability. As a result, any presumption of authorial privilege is also obliterated. (45)

The airman of Yeats's poem is less like a stoic philosopher considering suicide, or a samurai warrior taking control of his fate, and more like a Taoist, whose indifference in the face of imminent death grows from a deep understanding of nature. (46) If a soldier at war seems an unlikely character for a Taoist parable given the school's emphasis on passivity and gentleness, it is worth considering briefly two important channels of Taoist influence into Europe. Leo Tolstoy was largely responsible for popularizing the ostensible paradox of the usefulness of non-action in the West, a doctrine which was to have an enormous impact on political activism in a number of key conflicts in the 20th century. As both Yeats and Wilde must have been aware, Tolstoy explicitly acknowledged the influence of the Tao Te Ching on this aspect of his thinking. (47) Taoist insistence on passive endurance is certainly not meant as strategical political struggle through provocation, but neither is it meant to assist the perfecting of military tactics, as in one of the most stunning developments in the history of Taoism, Sun Tzu's The Art of War. This text, widely read in Europe from the nineteenth century to the present day, claimed that "to win one hundred victories in one hundred battles is not the acme of skill. To subdue the enemy without fighting is the supreme excellence", and proceeded to describe effective leadership and military strategy in Taoist terms. (48) The pliability of Taoism, and its ability to permeate Western thought while remaining undetected, is further evidenced by Wilde's astonishingly inventive and radical reworking of The Art of War in "The Critic as Artist." (49) If Wilde's essay could be appropriately retitled 'The Critic as Taoist', Yeats's poem may be aptly renamed 'An Irish Taoist Foresees his Death.'


'An Irish Airman Foresees his Death' may be about inner peace, but most of Yeats's poems deal with the difficulties in resolving conflicts, be it individual or collective. Although an emphasis on personal balance is central to Taoism, its concerns extend to the affairs of the world with a radicalism unparalleled in ancient philosophy. Much of the Tao Te Ching is devoted to socio-political, economic, and cultural matters. In this text, war is abhorred, formal education dismissed, financial gain rejected, and those in power are memorably advised to govern "as we cook small fish, without much business." (50) In the light of this, it may seem unlikely that a considerable number of Chinese rulers would have employed Taoist sages as advisors, and yet this was the case from the middle of the second century BCE to 1280 CE. (51) To some, one of the attractions of Taoist Yin Yang theory was that it seemed to suggest the possibility of predicting the future. The inexorable rotation of opposites offered a blueprint to events in the past, present, and future, that encouraged the development of divination methods and occultism partly inspired by Taoist thinking. (52)

Belief in a periodical reversal of collective priorities allows for 'educated guesses' about future historical developments, as well as unrecorded periods in the past. (53) It is this belief which enables Yeats, for example, to suspect that around 1000 BCE the Greek were "barbaric"--on the basis that Homer, whom he associates with "a desire for civil order," followed that period. (54) Arguably, Yeats's most important application of the Gyre system is as an interpretation of historical changes, which he explains in the section of A Vision entitled 'Dove or Swan,' (55) and which pervades his work. (56) In the words of Joseph M Hassett, the turn of the gyre of history "could not come quickly enough for Yeats. [He was a] subjective artist born into an objective era." (57) Yeats's attitude, as Hassett notes, is exemplified in his comment of 1936:

A vague hatred comes up out of my own dark (...); in four or five or in less generations this hatred will have issued in violence and imposed some kind of rule of kindred (...); all I can do to bring it nearer is to intensify my hatred. (58)

The anger in this fragment is the opposite of the self-possession that a Taoist aspires to. However, the strategy of gently pushing the revolving wheel of opposites, in order to restore balance, is attuned to Taoist thinking. In fact, this is the standard practice for the enlightened person who witnesses or experiences an unsupportable tension. In a parable from the Chuang Tzu, for example, a butcher explains to a king how to apply awareness of tao:

[W]henever I come to a knot, I see the difficulty to doing it. I am careful to remain alert, with my gaze steady. Moving slowly, I exert a very slight force, and the knot has come apart, like earth crumbling into the ground. Then I stand there with my cleaver, looking all around and pausing over the satisfaction in this. Then I clean off the cleaver and put it away. (59)

In the poem 'The Second Coming' (pub. 1920, w. 1919), Yeats's s cleaver is applying some additional pressure onto a Gordian knot, a center that "can not hold" which is nothing other than an axis mundi. (60) So confident is Yeats in the incantatory power of words, that he uses it here to summon a beast that will rip apart the present to reveal the next layer in the onion-like sphere of the world. (61)

It would be simplistic to set the dark energy released in this poem in opposition to the resigned clarity of 'An Irish Airman foresees his Death.' For one thing, in Yeats's s work violence can not be just equated to devastation. (62) If an anti-colonial rebellion generates "a terrible beauty," (63) and a crumbling civilization can not help but shiver "into the premonition of some perfection born out of itself," (64) a similar case may be made for the apocalyptic upheaval of 'The Second Coming': more than an orgy of destruction, the imagery of the poem should be seen as a description of the violence of birth.
   Mere Anarchy is loosed upon the world,
   The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
   The ceremony of innocence is drowned. (65)

In this context, it is crucial to remember that circular historicism is merely concerned with alternation. What distinguishes Yin Yang and Yeats's s Gyres from other theories is that an antithetical element is always growing inside a dominant one, eventually bursting out to reinitiate the cycle. 'The Second Coming' in general, and the lines just quoted in particular, are reminiscent of Virgil's fourth Eclogue, which is also known as 'The Messianic Eclogue' because, like Yeats's poem, it severs the umbilical cord of a new era. (66) But if the eclogue has often been interpreted by Christians as a prophecy of the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem, Yeats's updated version, like a revolving door, turns the savior's entrance into an exit. Underlying this, 'The Second Coming' enacts another reversal: in Nietzschean fashion, traditional morality is re-read as narcotic automatism. 'Twenty centuries of stony sleep/(...) vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle' (67) refers, in the context of Yeats's cyclical historicism, to the suffocating grip of Christianity onto the West. (68)

Another important connection between Yeats and Taoism is that, like the turning Gyres, in a sense Yin Yang is a-moral. Its motion is inevitable, the 'birth' of a Yin or a Yang element is unselfconscious, and the process is therefore essentially devoid of moral content. (69) The Chuang Tzu advises that "to praise the good and repudiate the evil is not as good as forgetting them both and becoming the Way [Tao] itself." (70) And neither should the terror in 'The Second Coming' be understood in moralizing terms, because it is a terror in the face of the Sublime. (71) A concept developed by Edmund Burke, the Sublime causes astonishment tinged with horror, but also "admiration, reverence and respect". (72) Yeats himself explicitly linked the beast in his poem "with laughing, ecstatic destruction." (73) And it is worth noting that Mircea Eliade sees the devaluation of the present that characterizes cyclical theories as an expression of optimism. (74)

As one commentator has pointed out, Yeats's interest in linking opposites amounts to an obsession, traceable not just in his favored themes, but also in titles, structure, and sentence construction. (75) Yeats's distinctive imagery may be added to the list. The striking choice of the Egyptian sphinx as the offspring heralding a new age may have been inspired by the relationship between Kleopatra VII of Egypt and Anthony, who were contemporaries of Virgil. (76) This would emphasize a connection with the cataclysmic union of East and West often alluded to in A Vision. (77) The complexity of the associations in Yeats work, which enables him to often point in contradictory directions at once, is perhaps best symbolized in this 'slouching' half lion, half human creature. The figure, announced in 'The Second Coming' as if by thunderous trumpets outside the new Jericho, in fact returns to hunt many Yeats poems in a number of incarnations. (78)


If we strip Yeats's poem of its paraphernalia, the underlying philosophical belief--the premise to the poem--is, as we have seen, akin to the cyclical motion of tao. However, the near-eastern imagery used in the 'The Second Coming', as well as its tone, is unquestionably alien to Taoist literature. Despite this, Yeats's iconography is often reminiscent of the recurrent store of images in Taoism, particularly in his use of the tree, the hollow, the archer, the heron, and the female, which deserve to be briefly considered in turn. (79) The tree is a central metaphor in Taoism, where it stands for harmony with tao, as well as the self-sufficiency and moral integrity that express this oneness. (80) Yeats's second poem in the sequence of 'Vacillation' (written in 1931-32), for example, could sit comfortably in a Taoist compilation were it not for the reference to Greek mythology:
   A tree there is that from its topmost bough
   Is half all glittering flame and half all green
   Abounding foliage moistened with the dew;
   And half is half and yet is all the scene;
   And half and half consume what they renew,
   And he that Attis' image hangs between
   That staring fury and the blind lush leaf
   May know not what he knows, but knows not
   grief. (81)

Taoist insistence on the value of the 'hollow' is unparalleled in ancient philosophy, and it is astounding to find a similar emphasis at various points in Yeats's work. For example, in his poem 'The Stare's Nest by my Window' (w. 1922, p. 1923), where he asks nature to fill in the space cleared out by humans, (82) or in the opening to his play Purgatory (1939): "Half-door, hall door, / Hither and thither day and night, / Hill or hollow, shouldering this pack, / Hearing you talk." (83) Compare this to Lao Tzu on the emptiness of doorways in relation to tao:
   The thirty spokes of a carriage wheel, uniting at the
      nave, are made useful by the hole in the centre where
      nothing exists.
   Vessels that are moulded from the earth are useful by
      reason of their hollowness.
   Doors and windows are useful to a house by being cut
   A house is useful because of its emptiness.
   Existence therefore is like unto gain, but Non-existence
      to use. (84)

The image of the 'archer' also recurs in Yeats, most notably in his likening of beauty to "a tightened bow" in "No Second Troy' (w. 1908, p. 1910). (85) The Chinese bow bends outwards, and the archer must invert its curvature when aiming, which makes it an appropriate metaphor for the tension between Yin and yang. (86) See for example the following fragment from the Tao Te Ching:
   Like the bending of an archer's bow is the Tao of
   It brings down that which is high and raises up that
      which is depressed.
   It takes away where there is excess, and gives where
      there is deficiency.
   The Tao of Heaven makes all things equal. (87)

Since ancient times, herons and cranes are "symbols of longevity" in China, as Yeats notes in his poem 'Lapis Lazuli' (88) The Heron is part of Yeats's fauna, and it's given a central role in plays dealing with mortality such as Calvary (1920) or The Herne's Egg (1938). (89) In his last years, Yeats produced a number of poems concerned with old age that showed disappointment or defiance. (90) If Yeats was familiar with Taoism, he shows no signs of having profited from the sound, practical advice of its sages in this regard. (91) Taoist texts emphasize the cultivation of softness to ensure that the length of the life-cycle will reach its utmost potential. The following is the most widely quoted of many fragments dealing with the subject in the Tao Te Ching, which Yeats seems to echo on a number of occasions:
   Man at his birth is supple and tender; in death he is rigid
      and strong.
   It is the same with everything.
   Trees and plants in their early growth are lissom and
      soft, but at their death they are withered and tough.
   Thus rigidity and strength are the concomitants of
      death; but softness and gentleness companions of
      life. (92)

The consistent praise of suppleness in this text extends to the softness associated with women and children. As a consequence, both males and females are advised to cultivate their 'femininity' in the Tao Te Ching, which claims that: "He who, having experienced the masculine nature, preserves in himself the feminine, will become a universal channel." (93) This approach to gender division, based in the necessary universal balance of opposites in every individual, is also relevant to the work of Yeats. His poems and plays often present figures that disrupt the typical gender binary in the west, and repeatedly use male-female pairings in symbolic terms. (94) In Taoism, ultimate reality is androgynous, not because biological sex is relevant to tao, but simply because tao is all-encompassing, so there is nothing that it can not be.

Despite these and other indications of the influence of Chinese culture in Yeats's s work, his mentions to the Far East are, more often than not, dismissive, or emphasizing its strangeness. (95) In Yeats's poem 'The Statues' (pub. 1939, writ. 1938), for example, the speaker compares Greek classicism (and by extension, the European heritage) favorably to "all Asiatic vague immensities." (96) The closest Yeats comes to begrudgingly admitting a debt is by presenting the 'other' as base Yin to his glorious Yang. A remarkable turning of the East/West gyre, concerned with the Gyres themselves, is enacted by him in the second poem of 'Nineteen Hundred and Nineteen' (w. 1920-21, p. 1921):
   When Loie Fuller's Chinese dancers enwound
   A shining web, a floating ribbon of cloth,
   It seemed that a dragon of air
   Had fallen among dancers, had whirled them round
   Or hurried them off on its own furious path;
   So the Platonic Year
   Whirls out new right and wrong,
   Whirls in the old instead;
   All men are dancers and their tread
   Goes to the barbarous clangour of a gong. (97)

Even more astonishingly, poem V in the same sequence appears to be a 'review' of the Tao Te Ching, as the speaker talks about mocking the great, the wise, and the good--a sarcastic summary of Lao Tzu's book. The poem ends with a call to:
   Mock mockers after that
   That would not lift a hand maybe
   To help good, wise or great
   To bar that foul storm out, for we
   Traffic in mockery. (98)

When considering Yeats's work in connection to Taoism, it is also crucial to remember that many texts in the school's cannon, as well as much Taoism-inspired literature, are in fact poetry. The Tao Te Ching itself is partly written in prose, and partly in verse. (99) Michael Hartnett's unusual version of the Tao Te Ching may tip the balance on lyricism over conceptual force, (100) but translators do not attempt to approximate to the rhymes of many segments in the book, with the notable exceptions or Arthur Waley's and Ursula le Guin's readings. (l01) However, English versions do generally strive to reproduce a poetic rhythm. At many points, Yeats's poems seem not just uncannily attuned to Taoist beliefs, but also to the stylistic features of the Tao Te Ching as they appear in translation. For example, in his poem 'The Gyres' (pub. 1938, writ. 1936-37), the speaker asserts:
   Things thought too long can be no longer thought
   For beauty dies of beauty, worth of worth. (102)

      This echoes the Tao Te Ching, which states that:

   When nature is about to withhold a thing, it is first
      certain to increase it.
   When about to weaken, it is certain first to
      strengthen. (103)

   The same concept, through the same medium,
      with the same rhythm.


Joseph M Hassett points out that the most obvious early source for Yeats's Gyres is Empedocles, (104) whose surviving fragments have been consistently interpreted by commentators in relation to a cyclical view of history. (105) However, Yeats applies the theory of the gyres to elements only tangentially associated to historical changes. The Tao Te Ching, which is much longer and more substantial, and far more ambitious in scope, applies Yin Yang theory in much the same way. As we have seen, Yeats's A Vision, as well as a number of examples from his poetry and drama, reflect not only Yin Yang theory, but also other concerns and stylistic features associated with Taoist philosophy. Yeats could have come in contact with Taoism through a variety of sources, the most likely of which is the work of Oscar Wilde. A first hand knowledge of the main Taoist ideas can not be discounted, and it may be appropriate to mention that, following a series of spiritualist seances in a monastery in the Lao Shan mountains in China (known as the 'Island of the Blessed'--perhaps in itself another source of inspiration for Yeats), a Taoism-inspired book was produced by automatic writing at turn of the nineteenth century. As Richard Wilhelm noted with glee, the book records one particular session at which Lao Tzu himself was explaining his ideas, when "he suddenly interrupted himself and declared that he had just been called to London (Lun) in England (Ying), where they needed him; he would, in due course, return to continue his teaching." (106)

Yeats's connection to Taoism, if such there was, seems to have informed some of his most characteristic views right to the end of his career. In fact, the final verses of 'Under Ben Bulben' (w. 1938, p. 1939), where the poet considers his own imminent death, read like a Taoist's epitaph. (107) They rework an earlier poem from 'Vacillation' (1932), in three stanzas which could represent an acknowledgement of the three texts by Chuang Chou, Sun Tzu, and Lao Tzu which remain, to the present day, the most popular sources of Taoist ideas in the West:
   A rivery field spread out below,
   An odour of the new-mown hay
   In his nostrils, the great lord of Chou
   Cried, casting off the mountain snow,
   'Let all things pass away'

   Wheels by mild-white ashes drawn
   Were Babylon or Niniveh
   Rose; some conqueror drew reign
   And cried to battle-weary men,
   'Let all things pass away.'

   From man's blood-sodden heart are sprung
   Those branches of the night and day
   Where the gaudy moon is hung.
   What's the meaning of all song?
   'Let all things pass away.' (108)


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Rose, H. J. A handbook of Latin Literature--From the Earliest Times to the Death of St. Augustine. London: Methuen, 1936.

[Tzu, Lao] Lao-Tze. The Book of the Path of Virtue: or a Version of the Tao-The-King of Lao-Tze, the Chinese mystic and philosopher: with an introduction and essay on the Gao as Presented in the Writings of Chuang-tze, the apostle of Tao-Tze [sic]. Madras: Indian section of the Theosophical Society, 1894.

--. Lao Tse. Tao Te Ching. [Translated from the Chinese into Spanish, with a commentary, by Carmelo Elorduy]. Madrid: Ediciones Orbis, 1983.

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Yeats, W. B. A Vision--An Explanation of Life Founded upon the Writings of Giraldus and upon certain Doctrines attributed to Kusta Ben Luka. London: T. Werner Laurie, 1925 [in George Mills Harper and Walter Kelly Hood editors, A Critical Edition of Yeats's A Vision (1925), London: Macmillan, 1978].

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(1) Romanisation of Chinese words in the essay will follow the Wade-Giles system rather than the Pinyin system. Although the second, introduced by Chinese scholars, is doubtless more appropriate in other contexts, the spellings in the Wade-Giles system would have been more familiar (in its many variants) to Yeats and his contemporaries, and have been favored for that reason. In the Pinyin system, Taoism is spelled Daoism, Tao Te Ching is spelled Dao De Jing, Lao Tzu is spelled Lao Zi, and Chuang Tzu is spelled Zhuang Zi.

(2) Despite this, Yin Yang theory has had a lasting influence in a staggering variety of fields, from martial arts (Aikido), to cooking (macrobiotic diet), to design (Fen Shui).

(3) D. C. Lau has argued that to consider cyclical change the central idea of the Tao Te Ching is a misreading, partly explained by the, in his view, multiple authorship of the text: "... if change is cyclic and a thing that reaches the limit in one direction will revert to the opposite direction, then the concept is both useless and impracticable. It is useless, if both development and decline are inevitable, since the purpose is in the first instance to avoid decline [an important idea in the text]; and impracticable, if it advocates that we should remain stationary in a worl[d] of inexorable and incessant change. As [the] precept of holding fast to the submissive seems central to the teachings in the [Tao Te Ching], it is the cyclic interpretation that has to be given up". (See D. C. Lau, 'Introduction' to Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching, [D. C. Lau trans.]; London: Penguin, 1963, pp. xxiii-xxiv. This text will be referred to in subsequent notes as 'Lao Tzu, [D. C. Lau trans.]'). Michael Hartnett's extraordinary version of the Tao Te Ching in fact omits any reference to Yin Yang (see [Lao Tzu/Michael Hartnett], "Tao", in Michael Hartnett, Collected Poems--Volume 2; Dublin: Raven Arts Press, 1986).

(4) Traditionally thought to have been written in the sixth century BCE. Recent scholarship places its composition at the beginning of the third century BCE. (See D. C. Lau, 'The Problem of Authorship', an appendix to Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching [D. C. Lau trans.], op. cit., p. 90).

(5) Richard Wilhem, in the prologue to his own extremely popular version of the text, first published in 1910, admitted that the production of yet another translation for the Europe, an public was difficult to justify. See Richard Wilhem, Preface to 'The Dao De Jing' (in Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching--The Richard Wilhelm Edition, [translated from the German by H. G. Oswald]; London: Penguin Arcana, 1989. This text will be referred to in subsequent notes as 'Lao Tzu [Richard Wilhelm trans.] ".

(6) In 1925, Yeats describes the opposing objective and subjective impulses in his system in related terms: "Under the Sun's light we see things as they are, and go about our day's work, while under that of the Moon, we see things dimly, mysteriously, all is sleep and dream (W. B. Yeats, A Vision; London: Macmillan, 1962, p. 14. This text will be referred to in subsequent tnotes as 'Yeats, A Vision (1925). When a quoted fragment appears in both editions of A Vision, only the reference from the later text will be given.]

(7) D. C. Lau, in the 'Introduction' to Tao Te Ching [D. C. Lau trans.], op. cit., p. xxiii. (See Lao-Tze [Lao Tzu], The Book of the Path of Virtue: or a Version of the Tao-The-King of Lao-Tze, the Chinese mystic and philosopher." with an introduction and essay on the Gao as Presented in the Writings of Chuang-tze, the apostle of Tao-Tze [sic] [translated, and including an introduction and commentary by, Walter R. Old]; Madras: Indian section of the Theosophical Society, 1894. All quotes from the Tao Te Ching in the essay are from this edition, which will be referred to in subsequent notes as 'Lao Tzu, [Walter R. Old trans.]'.

(8) Automatic writing sessions, followed later by trances during which spoken communication took place, were recorded from 24 October 1917 to 21 March 1924.

(9) Yeats, A Vision (1962), op. cit., p. 195.

(10) Ibid., p. 68.

(11) A further subdivision of opposites is incorporated into the Gyres (perhaps in order to match this system to that based on the phases of the moon). It consists of 'Four Faculties': Will (will/desire or character, without direction), Mask (the wished--for personality/ object), Creative Mind (thought or reason), and Body of Fate (the phenomenological world). This subdivision will not be considered in detail in this essay.

(12) Yeats mentions that Swedenborg, like himself, believes that "[a]ll physical reality, the universe as a whole, every solar system, every atom, is a double cone" (A Vision (1962), p. 69)

(13) Related non-European traditions are also mentioned, such as ancient Persian mythology and, interestingly, Indian Mahayana Buddhism and Japanese Zen Buddhism, two schools of thought often seen as related to Taoism. According to Stuart C. Hackett, they "share the phenomenal illusionism and absolute monism of classical Taoism" (in Stuart C. Hackett, Oriental Philosophy; Madison: The University of Wisconsin Press, 1979, p. 113). However, both schools "go beyond the main thrust of classical Taoism by attempting an intricate and detailed dialectic through which, using the ultimate principles of conceptual reason (especially the principle of self-contradiction), they purport to show that the realm of differences apprehended through such principles violates its own standard of meaningfulness by being riddled with the very sort of contradictions which reason refuses to accept". ( Ibid., p. 113).

(14) Lao Tzu, [Walter R. Old trans.], op. cit., p. 1. In the' Introduction' to his version of the book, Walter R. Old explains that: "The text of the present work has been adopted after careful reading of the several translations extant, aided by such intuitions as have arisen from familiarity with theosophical and mystical speculations." (Ibid., p. iv)

(15) Yeats, A Vision (1962), op. cit., p. 9.

(16) Ibid., p. 12.

(17) "[I]did expect to find somewhere something from which their symbolic geometry had been elaborated, something used as they had used Per Amica Silentia Lunae. (...) Although the more I read the better did I understand what I had been taught, I found neither the geometrical symbolism nor anything that could have inspired it except the vortex of Empedocles" [Yeats, A Vision (1962), op. cit., p. 20]

(18) See Ibid., pp. 10-11.

(19) In this light, it is striking that W. B. Yeats, after claiming in 1962 that most of the previous edition of 'A Vision' "fills me with shame" [Yeats, A Vision (1962), op. cit., p. 19], then attempts to place some of the blame for its failure on his wife, whose abilities he belittles [Ibid., pp. 19-21].

(20) Kathleen Raine, From Blake to A Vision; Dublin: The Dolmen Press, 1979, pp. 20-21.

(21) Raine notes that "Jung's concept of 'sychronicity' (based upon the Chinese Book of Changes) somewhat resembles Yeats's view"--but she does not pursue the connection further (Ibid., p. 55). The 'Book of Changes', or I Ching, is a text soaked in Yin Yang theory on the fringe of the Taoist canon.

(22) In fact, a sketch of the application of the turning of the Gyres to human history can be discerned in the play: "First Pupil. We have chosen the passage for the lesson, Master. 'There are two living countries, one visible and one invisible, and when it is summer there, it is winter here, and when it is November with us, it is lambing-time there. (...) // Wise Man. Were it but true, 'twuld alter everything / Until the stream of the world had changed its course, / And that and all our thoughts had run / Into some cloudy thunderous spring / They dream to be its source--/Aye, to some frenzy of the mind; / And all that we have done would be undone, / Our speculation but as the wind". (W.B. Yeats, The Collected Plays; London: Macmillan, 1952, pp. 301-303)

(23) Like the later Diarmuid and Dervorgilla in The Dreaming of the Bones (1919), Judas and Christ in Calvary (1920), or Congal and Aedh in The Herne's Egg (1938).

(24) Yeats, The Collected Plays, op. cit., p. 260.

(25) Ibid., p. 263.

(26) Originally published in French in 1893.

(27) I am grateful to Katzuhiko Shiota for sharing his insights in a number of conversations that helped shape this part of the argument in the essay. Mr. Shiota sees the 'mirrors' in Salome in connection to the immortal Dorian, in Wilde's novel The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891), who also has an anti-self in his aging portrait. The 'inverted mirror' is a recurrent metaphor in both editions of A Vision. For example: "The Principles are the Faculties transferred, as it were, from a concave to a convex mirror, or vice versa" [A Vision (1962), p. 187]. See also: "... the Gyre or cone of the Principles is in reality a sphere, though to man, bound to birth and death, it can never be so, and that it is the antinomies that force us to find it a cone. Only one symbol exists, though the reflecting mirrors make many appear and all different" [Ibid., p. 240]. For the 'painting as mirror' in A Vision, see the following: "The Will looks into a painted picture. The Creative Mind looks into a photograph, but both look into something which is the opposite of themselves" [Yeats, A Vision (1925), op. cit., p. 15; Yeats, A Vision (1962), op. cit., p. 86].

(28) Ibid., p. 273; Yeats, A Vision (1925), op. cit., p. 185.

(29) See A Full Moon in March (1935) and The King of the Clock Tower (1935).

(30) Melissa Knox, 'Reading Yeats Between the Lines,' in Yeats Eliot Review, summer 2001, volume 17, issue 3, (pp. 18-27), p. 20. Melissa Knox claims that, besides Maud Gonne, "[t]he other figure in [Yeats's] life who inspired the same interest and admiration was Oscar Wilde" (Ibid., p. 25). Yeats gave Wilde as an example of one of the personality types described in A Vision--Phase Nineteen, 'The Assertive Man'. It is easier to see the portrait as a caricature brimming with hate, than as a tribute to one of his masters: "I find in Wilde (...) something pretty, feminine, and insincere, derived from his admiration for writers of the 17th and earlier phases [personalities], and much that is violent, arbitrary and insolent, derived from his desire to escape" (Yeats, A Vision (1962), op. cit., p. 150).

(31) Chuang Chou, the other main thinker in Taoism and the attributed author of the Chuang Tzu, is mentioned in 'The Critic as Artist' (Oscar Wilde, 'The Critic as Artist', in Ibid., p. 1044).

(32) Lao Tzu is alluded to (although not named) in 'The Soul of Man Under Socialism' (Oscar Wilde, 'The Soul of Man Under Socialism,' in Ibid., p. 1087). The description of the soul of man under Socialism is in effect a resume of the qualities of the enlightened Taoist, as listed in the Tao Te Ching, and using the exact same phrasing: "It will be a marvellous thing--the true personality of man--when we see it. It will grow naturally and simply, flowerlike, or as a tree grows. It will not be at discord. It will never argue or dispute. It will not prove things. It will know everything. And yet it will not busy itself about knowledge. It will have wisdom. Its value will not be measured by material things. It will have nothing. And yet it will have everything, and whatever one takes from it, it will still have, so rich will it be. It will not always middling with others, or asking them to be like itself. It will love them because they will be different. And yet while it will not meddle with others, it will help all, as a beautiful thing helps us, by being what it is. The personality of man will be very wonderful. It will be as wonderful as the personality of a child." (Ibid., p. 1084).

(33) See 'The Saint and the Hunchback' (in Yeats, The Poems, op. cit., p. 218), and 'Once there was a hunchback ...' (in [Chuang Chou], 'Chuang Tzu', in The Essential Tao; [translated from the Chinese, with a commentary, by Thomas Cleary]; New York: Harper Collins, 1993 'Chapter' 5, segment 5, p. 102. This text will be referred to in subsequent notes as 'Chuang Chou'). See also the hunchback in 'The Phases of the Moon' (w. 1918) (in Yeats, The Poems, op. cit., p. 216). In relation to Yeats and Sun Tzu, the connection is not as obvious as in the case of Wilde, but it is worth noting that The Art of War offers much advise on the use of banners and drums in the battlefield. This is introduced by a quote from a Book of Military Administration: "As the voice cannot be heard in battle, drums and gongs are used. As troops cannot see each other clearly in battle, flags and banners are used." (Ibid., p. 35). See also the following: "For, although the men of Wu and Yue hate one another, if together in a boat tossed by the wind they will cooperate as the right hand does with the left." (Sun Tzu, The Art of War, op. Cit.., p. 47). Compare the previous to the celebrated "A woman's beauty is a storm-tossed banner" ('Desert Geometry of the Gift of Harun Al-Raschid' [1923] included in Yeats, A Vision (1925), op. cit., p.127), as well as to the numerous references in Yeats to a drumming sound outside the range of vision, such as: "Through light-obliterating garden foliage what magic drum?" (in 'What Magic Drum' [1935], in Yeats, The Poems, op. cir., p. 337).

(34) Chuang Chou, Op. cit., p. 78.

(35) Excluding the Stoic school. It has been suggested that Taoist beliefs (particularly a certain indifference to the affairs of the world also noticeable in Buddhism) could have influenced the Stoics, and, through Augustin's incorporation of their thinking into his work, the Christian church. (See Carmelo Elorduy's 'Introduction' to Lao Tse [Lao Tzu], Tao Te Ching, Madrid: Ediciones Orbis, 1983, pp. 92-93)

(36) Tao is not a deity, but a universal principle. In fact, the speaker in the Tao Te Ching declares: "Tan is without limit; its depth is the origin of all that is. / It makes sharp things round; it brings order out of disorder; it obscures brilliantly; it is wholly indifferent. / I know not who gave it birth. It is more ancient than God." (Lao Tzu, [Walter R. Old trans.], I, IV, p. 2). However, some commentators claim that 'Lao Tzu' believed in an afterlife, such as James Legge, whose influential translation and commentaries of the Tao Te Ching was first published in 1891 (republished as: Lao Tze. Tao Te Ching. New York: Dover, 1997 [see p. 30]).

(37) Attributed to Chuang Chou (Chuang Chou, op. cit., p. 111). According to Thomas Cleary, "[w]hat the classic points out is that to worry about length of life and fear death creates tension that tends to shorten life; furthermore, the life that may be prolonged by exercises [a practice associated with Taoism] is only one form or state of life, not the ultimate or universal destiny of the spirit" ('On the Historical Background of Taoism, Tao Te Ching, and Chuang-tzu', included in Ibid., p. 126)

(38) The thirteen sphere in Yeats's A Vision, seems an attempt to inscribe some form of divinity into the Gyre system. As Jahan Ramazani has noted, even though Yeats ostensibly believed in reincarnation, many of his poems do not reflect, or even contradict, this position (Jahan Ramazani, Yeats and the Poetry of Death-Elegy, Self-elegy, and the Sublime; New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1990, pp. 2-3). A similar confusion pervades A Vision, The ending of the 1925 version distinctly leaves the reader with the impression that the Buddhist samsara can be applied to the system at least at a metaphorical level, whereas the section 'The Gates of Pluto' describes the stages of the soul's journey after death. Both were eliminated after revision. Yeats intimates at various points his frustration at lacking information on a single unifying entity, which he calls the 13th sphere (Yeats, A Vision (1962), op. tit., p. 193. See also pp. 187, 237). In spite of this, Yeats puzzlingly affirms in an introductory piece that his system will "proclaim a new divinity" (in the letter to Ezra Pound introducing the second edition, in Yeats, A Vision (1962), op. cit., p. 29).

(39) The segment continues: "The rhinoceros finds no place wherein to drive his horn. / The tiger finds no place wherein to thrust itself. / And why is this? / It is because he has overcome death". (Lao Tzu, [Walter R. Old trans.], op. cit., II, segment 50, pp. 19-20).

(40) In Yeats, The Poems, op. cit., p. 184. The following is attributed to Heraclitus: "Immortals are mortals, mortals immortals: living their death, dying their life" (see 'Heraclitus' in Jonathan Barnes ed., Early Greek Philosophy, London: Penguin, 1987, p. 102). The unacknowledged quote is repeated like a mantra throughout the first edition of A Vision (perhaps in the assumption that it would have been recognized), and largely eliminated from the revised version, with the important difference that when it appears in the second edition, Heraclitus is named as the source. (Yeats, A Vision (1962), op. cit., p. 197). Yeats would return to this concept in a later poem, where the speaker affirms: "I call it death-in-life / and life-in-death". ('Byzantium', (w. 1930, p.1932), Yeats, The Poems, op. cit., p. 298)

(41) The fragment continues: "If all is one, can anything be said? Once it has been said that all is one, can nothing be said? Unity and speech make two; two plus one make three. What follows cannot be grasped even by skilled calculators, much less by ordinary people. / Therefore when you go from nonbeing to being, you thereby come to a third point. How about when you go from being to being! It is simply for this reason that there is no getting anywhere" (Chuang Chou, op. cit., p. 75). Thomas Cleary interprets the static position closing the passage as a reference to "revolving within the limitations of subjective assessments" (in his notes to Ibid., p. 163).

(42) See the poem 'Death' (w. 1927, p. 1929) (in Yeats, The Poems, op. cit., p. 284).

(43) Ramazani, op. cit., p. 44.

(44) And typically commemorates the death of a group of people rather than an individual (Ramazani, op. cit., p. 16). According to Ramazani, Yeats "writes a distinct kind of poem in which his own death is the overt subject. I am calling this kind of poem the self-elegy because of its reflexive stance--a term indicative of the form's central perplexity; namely, that the mourning 'self' seems to coexist with the dead 'self'" (Ibid., pp.135-6).

(45) In the Tao Te Ching, this is explained in passages such as the following: "Both Heaven and Earth endure a long time. / That which causes them so to endure is their indifference to long life. / That is why they subsist. / So the wise man, being indifferent to himself, is yet the greatest among men; and having no care for himself he is nevertheless preserved. / By being the most unselfish he is the most secure of all" (Lao Tzu [Walter R. Old trans.], Op. cit., I, VII, pp. 2-3). See also "[Tao] can be classed with the humblest of things. / (...) / Thus does the wise man continually refrain from self-distinction. / And therefore he attains to greatness."(Ibid., II, XXXIV, p. 14); or "Which is the closest to you, your name or your person? / Which is the more precious, your person or your wealth?" (Ibid., II, XLIV, p. 18),

(46) The Tao Te Ching is unambiguous in its condemnation of shortening the natural life cycle. See for example: "When the people do not fear death, of what use is it as a penalty to overawe them? / And if they were always held in the fear of death and I could lay hand upon all the wrong-doers and slay them--would I dare to do it? / There is always the Great Executioner! / For one to usurp that office is like a novice cutting out the work for the Great Architect". (Lao Tzu [Walter R. Old trans.], II, LXXIV, p. 29) However, self-preservation is seen also in accord to nature: "The people make light of dying, because of the great hardship of trying to live [in a badly governed state]. / This is the reason of their indifference to death". (Ibid., II, LXXV, p. 30).

(47) A central concept in Taoism, the effectiveness of the hollow--for example, the inside of a flute--is akin to the usefulness of nonexistence, or the generative power of stillness and its link to endurance. See, for example: "Whoever designs, only destroys./ Whoever grasps, looses. / The wise man does not thus act, therefore he does no harm" (Lao Tzu, [Walter R. Old trans.], op. Cit, II, LXIV, p. 25). In pacifism, refusing to react to violence puts a stop to the Yin Yang cycle that perpetuates its power. Referring to the Japanese interest in what Yeats calls' Tolstoy' s philosophy' in the first version of A Vision, he declares, rather incongruously: "It is madness for the East, (...) which must face the West in arms" (Yeats, A Vision (1925), p. 17).

(48) Sun Tzu, 'The Art of War', in Sun Tzu and 'Shang Ynag', The Art of War," The Book of Lord Shang; Ware: Wordsworth, 1998, p. 25. [This texts will be referred in subsequent notes as 'Sun Tzu']. See also Ibid., pp. 29.

(49) In 'The Critic as Artist' 'Sun Tzu' is alluded to without specifying the source. In his essay, Wilde is unquestionably modeling the ideal critic on Sun Tzu's ideal military leader. Compare: "It is the business of a general to be serene and inscrutable, impartial and self-controlled" (in Ibid., p. 47); to: "Calm, and self-centered, and complete, the aesthetic critic contemplates life, and no arrow drawn at a venture can pierce between the joints of his harness, he at least is safe. He has discovered how to live." (Oscar Wilde,' The Critic as Artist', in The Complete Works of Oscar Wilde; London: Collins, 2001, p. 1042). See also: "Let me say to you now that to do nothing at all is the most difficult thing in the world, the most difficult and the most intellectual." (Ibid., p. 1038).

(50) Lao Tzu, [Walter R. Old trans.], Op. cit., II, LX, p. 24. The political ideas of Yeats were not as attuned to Taoism as those of Wilde. At one point, Yeats memorably described himself as "a revolutionist" (Yeats, A Vision (1962), op. cit., p. 6).

(51) See Thomas Cleary's 'Introduction' in Chuang Chou, op. cit., p. 3. Richard Wilhelm associates this trend with many pre-Christian princes' desire "to add physical immortality to their worldly power," paralleling the development of a form of 'magical Taoism,' interested in alchemy and occult practices (see Richard Wilhelm's 'Commentary--The Teaching of Lao Zi'; in Lao Tzu, [Richard Wilhelm trans.], op. cit., p. 112). In 1280, the new ruler of China ordered the burning of all the ancient books in the kingdom. Copies of the Tao Te Ching and the Chuang Tzu survived. Perhaps the burning of the house and books in a drunken rage, by the head of the household in Purgatory (1939) was intended to echo that event (see 'Purgatory', in Yeats, The Complete Plays, op. cit., p. 684).

(52) The I Ching or 'Book of Changes' (probably written around 500 BCE), heavily influenced by the Yin Yang school, is an important text developed from a divination method.

(53) Although Taoist philosophy does not concern itself with historicism, the Tao Te Ching does suggest the significance, in historical terms, of an awareness of tao: "Infinite in operation, it is yet without name. Going forth, it enters into itself. / This is the appearance of the Non-Apparent; the form of the Non-entity. / This is the Unfathomable Mystery. / Going before it, its face is not seen. / Following after it, its back is not apparent. / Yet, to regulate the one's life by the ancient knowledge of Tao, is to have found the path". (Lao Tzu, [Walter R. Old trans.], Op. cit., I, XIV, p. 5). Historical awareness is more obvious in other versions of this passage, such as: "The ability to know the beginning of antiquity / is called the thread running through the way" (Lao Tzu [D. C. Lau trans.], op. cit., p. 18), or: "[O]nly when you can know the ancient / can this be called the basic cycle of the Way" (Lao Tzu, [Thomas Cleary trans.], op. cit., p. 16).

(54) Yeats, A Vision (1962), op. cit., p. 269.

(55) The only part of the book kept relatively intact after the extensive revision of the first edition.

(56) The key concept inspiring Yeats cyclical historicism is summarized a verse from his poem 'Lapis Lazuli' (p. 1938, w. 1936): "All things fall and are built again" (Yeats, The Poems, op. cit., p. 342).

(57) Joseph M Hassett, Yeats and the Poetics of Hate, Dublin: Gill and Macmillan, 1986, p. 134]. According to Hassett, Yeats "hated the civilization that surrounded him and hoped he could hurry the influx of Strife by 'intensifying' his hatred--a hope based on his equation of hate and strife" (Ibid.). However, Hassnett believes that the violence associated with the turning of the Gyres in 'The Second Coming' is not endorsed by Yeats. (Ibid., p. 142). One of the main binaries in Yeats's system is that of objective and subjective. In the theosophist Walter R. Old's commentary to the Tao Te Ching, we encounter the following: "The "union of impossibles" which is attributed to the Platonic philosophy alone, is in Taoism the basic doctrine. It is called the "Axis of Tao". Hui-Tza is quoted as saying: // The objective emanates from the subjective; the subjective is consequent upon the objective. This is the Alternation Theory.//To this Chuang-tze adds,//Nevertheless, when one is born, the other dies. When one is possible, the other is impossible. When one is affirmative, the other is negative. Which being the case, the true sage rejects all distinctions of this and that. He takes refuge in God and places himself in subjective relation with all things.... When subjective and objective are both without the correlates, that is the very axis of Tao. And when that axis passes through the centre at which all Infinities converge, positive and negative alike blend in an infinite One" (in Walter R. Old, 'The Tao', an essay included in Lao Tzu, [Walter R. Old trans.], op. cit., p. 42).

(58) W. B. Yeats, 'A General Introduction For My Work' [1936], in Essays and Introductions; London, Macmillan, 1950, p.526. See also the line "Hatred of God may bring the soul to God" in the poem 'Ribh considers Christian Love insufficient' (1934) [in Yeats, The Poems, op. cit., p. 336], and compare to: "Misery is but the shadow of happiness [.] / Happiness is but the cloak of misery" (in Lao Tzu, [Walter R. Old trans.], II, LVIII, p. 23). See also his comment in A Vision: "I too think of famous works where synthesis has been carried to the utmost limit possible, where there are elements of inconsequence or discovery of hitherto ignored ugliness, and I notice that when the limit is approached or past, when the moment of surrender is reached, when the new Gyre begins to stir, I am filled with excitement." (Yeats, A Vision (1925), op. cit., p. 210; reproduced in Yeats, A Vision (1962), op. cit., p. 300).

(59) Chuang Chou, op. cit., p. 82.

(60) "The meeting point of heaven, earth, and hell" in which, according to Mircea Eliade, all religious doctrines believe (Mircea Eliade, The Myth of the Eternal Return--or, Cosmos and History, New York: Princeton University Press, 1971; p. 12). For example, Golgotha is the center of the world for Christians (Ibid., p. 14). According to Eliade, the symbolism of the center "survived in the Western world down to the threshold of modern times. The very ancient conception of the temple as the imago mundi, the idea that the sanctuary reproduces the universe in its essence, passed into the religious architecture of Christian Europe: the basilica of the first centuries of our era, like the medieval cathedral, symbolically reproduces the Celestial Jerusalem" (Ibid., p. 17). To which we should add sacred mountains such as the one who gives its title to Yeats's Meru, one of many poems by Yeats that endorses the Taoist (and Buddhist) notion that only from stillness can the reality of the ever-changing world be apprehended.

(61) In A Vision, he quotes from 'A Second Coming' in the context of the turning gyres of history. Preceding the quote, Yeats explains: "At the birth of Christ religious life becomes Primary, secular life antithetical (...). A primary dispensation looking beyond itself towards a transcendent power is dogmatic, levelling, unifying, feminine, humane, peace its means and end; an antithetical dispensation obeys imminent powe, is expressive, hiererchical, multiple, masculine, harsh, surgical. The approaching antithetical influx and that particular antithetical sispensation for which the intellectual preparation has begun will reach its complete systematisation at that moment when, [as I have already shown], the Great Year comes to its intellectual climax." (Yeats, A Vision (1962), op. cit., p. 263). The 1925 edition, following the declaration that the book is an effort to show humans how to look in the mirror, in order to escape the gyres (Yeats, A Vision (1925), op. Cit, p. 215 ), closes with' The Gates of Pluto', a detailed explanation of the soul's journey after death. Less coherently, the second edition ends with the section 'Dove or Swan', and a note of defeat: "But nothing comes--though this moment was to reward me for all my toil. Perhaps I am too old."--he writes in 1936 (Yeats, A Vision (1962), op. cit., p. 301).

(62) Hasslett, op. cit., p. 141.

(63) "Easter, 1916" (in Yeats, The Poems, op. cit., p. 228). Hugh Keanner has suggested that the number of verses per stanza also relate to Yeats' s Gyres/Historicism: "sixteen is for 1916; twenty-four is for the millennia of a Great Year" (in Hugh Kenner, A Colder Eye--The Modern Irish Writers; London: Allen Lane, 1983, p. 181). Melissa Knox has analyzed the connection between the expression 'terribly beauty' and Yeats's admiration for Oscar Wilde (Knox, op. cit., p. 20).

(64) In 1934 Yeats is still wondering whether every civilization, 'as it approaches or recedes from its full moon' does not 'seem as it were to shiver into the premonition of some perfection born out of itself, perhaps even of some return to its first Source?' (Yeats, Essays and Introductions, op. cit., p. 472)

(65) 'The Second Coming', in Yeats, The Poems, op. cit., p. 235, lines 4-6. There is an echo here of Augustin's dictum that we are born 'inter faeces': the untidy process of birth, and its location, preclude an innocent nature. (Similarly, in relation to sexuality, see: "Fair and foul are near of kin," in the poem 'Crazy Jane Talks with the Bishop' (1933) [in Yeats, The Poems, op. cit., p. 310]). The birth of a half human creature, which will unleash evil upon the world (and born of a half female, half monstrous creature), is also described in John Milton's Paradise Lost (1667), which is given as an example of the Sublime by Edmund Burke (Edmund Burke, A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990 [1757], pp. 55, 131-4. Burke also mentions Virgil's fourth Eclogue in Ibid., p. 59).

(66) Yeats refers to the Eclogue a number of times in A Vision (see for example Yeats, A Vision (1925), op. cit., 151-154). In the famous translation of Virgil's poem by John Dryden in 1697: "The last great Age, foretold by sacred Rhymes / Renews its finish'd Course, Saturnian times / Rowl round again, and mighty years, begun / From their first Orb, in radiant Circles run. / The base degenerate Iron-off-spring ends; / A Golden progeny from Heaven descends; / O chast Lucina speed the Mother's pains, / And haste the glorious Birth; thy own Apollo reigns!" ( K. W. Grandsden, editor, Virgil in English, London: Penguin, 1996, v. 5-12, p. 139). [Yeats quotes from a different translation in A Vision (1925), Op. cit., p. 152] Note 'base degenerate,' quoted here, and the announcement that' another Helen other Wars [will] create' later in the Eclogue (in Ibid., v. 9 and 43, in Grandsden ed., op cit., p.141), which resonate in other poems by Yeats ("No Second Troy" [w. 1908, p. 1910]; and "Under Ben Bulben' [w. 1938, p. 1939]).

(67) Yeats, The Poems., p. 235.

(68) Dryden's introductory remarks to his translation of the Fourh Eclogue, claim as its source "the Sybils, who prophesie of our Saviour's Birth". (see John Dryden, 'The Fourth Pastoral or, Pollio' (in Gransden ed., op. cit., p. 139).

(69) "Neither Heaven nor Earth has any predilections; they regard all persons and things as sacrificial images. / The wise man knows no distinctions; he beholds all men as things made for holy uses" (Lao Tzu, [Walter R. Old trans.], op. cit., I, V, p. 2). Other translations are more dramatic; see for example: "Heaven and Earth are not benevolent. / To them men are like straw dogs destined for sacrifice. / The Man of Calling is not benevolent. / To him men are like straw dogs destined for sacrifice". (Lao Tzu, [Richard Wilhelm trans.], op. cit., pp. 28-29)

(70) Chuang Chou, op. cit., p. 106.

(71) Jahan Ramazani sees the Sublime as a theory matching Yeats's notion of 'tragic joy' (in Ramazani, op. cit., p. 107), a connection also traceable in 'The Second Coming' (Ibid., pp. 111-2).

(72) Burke, op. cit., p. 53. 'Obscurity' is, according to Burke, an essential feature of the presentation of the Sublime, whereas 'darkness' is associated to the beast's arrival in 'The Second Coming'. (See respectively Burke, op. cit., p. 54; and 'The Second Coming', in Yeats, The Poems, op. cit., p. 235, v. 18).

(73) In 1935, Yeats explained the context for his use of the image: "Our civilization was about to reverse itself, or some new civilization about to be born from all that our age had rejected (...). I began to imagine, as always at my left side just out of the range of the sight, a brazen winged beast (afterwards described in my poem "The Second Coming") that I associated with laughing, ecstatic destruction" (in the 'Introduction' to his play Resurrection, in Essays and Introductions, op. Cit.)

(74) According to Eliade, cyclical history is always associated with a lost yet recoverable Golden Age (Mircea Eliade, The Myth of the Eternal Return--or, Cosmos and History, [Willard R. Trask trans.]; New York: Princeton University Press, 1971 [1949] p. 112). "[A] common characteristic relates all the cyclical systems scattered through the Hellenistic-Oriental world: in the view of each of them, the contemporary historical moment (whatever its chronological position) represents a decadence in relation to preceding historical moments. Not only is the contemporary aeon inferior to the other ages (gold, silver, and so on) but, even when within the grame of the reigning age (that is, of the reigning cycle). The "instant" in which man lives grows worse as time passes. This tendency toward devaluation of the contemporary moment should not be regarded as a sign of pessimism. On the contrary, it reveals an excess of optimism, for, in the deterioration of the contemporary situation, at least a portion of mankind saw signs foretelling the regeneration that must necessarily follow. Since the days of Issaiah, a series of military defeats and political collapses had been anxiously awaited as an ineluctable syndrome of the Messianic illud tempus that was to regenerate the world" (Ibid., p. 132). "[J]ust as the contemporaries of a "dark age" consoled themselves for their increasing sufferings by the thought that the aggravation of evil hastens final deliverance, so the militant Marxist of our day reads, in the drama provoked by the pressure of history, a necessary evil, the premonitory symptom of the approaching victory that will put an end forever to all historical "evil." "(Ibid., p. 149). However, Eliade also proposes that a cyclical interpretation of history is only available to the relatively privileged (Ibid., footnote 11, p. 152). For an interesting brief history of historicism paralleling Yeats's account in the 'Dove or Swan' section of A Vision, see Eliade (Ibid., pp. 119-20, 122-23, 129, 144-46, 149).

(75) Brian Arkins, 'All Things Doubled--The Theme of Opposites in W.B. Yeats's, in Yeats Eliot Review (pp. 2-19), December 2001, Volume 18, issue 2, p. 6.

(76) See H. J. Rose, A handbook of Latin Literature--From the Earliest Times to the Death of St. Augustine, London: Methuen, 1936., p. 241. Virgil's poem was composed around 40 BCE. The central idea in the Fourth Eclogue has been summarized thus: "[T]he new age of the world is at hand; a child will soon be born during whose lifetime the ages will run quickly back (as Plato had declared time occasionally did when God set His Hand to the helm of the universe) until, passing through the Heroic Age with its wars, we shall arrive once more at the Golden Age, and all shall once more be peace and innocent prosperity" (Ibid., p. 242.).

(77) See elsewhere in the essay.

(78) For example, see: "O flaming lion of the world, O when will you turn to your rest?" in 'The Wanderings of Oisin'(w. 1886-87, p. 1889). See also another poem where the speaker sees himself as a masterless hound, while "Time and Birth and Change are hurrying by", and hopes that "the Boar without bristles had come from the West / and had rooted the sun and moon and stars out of the sky / and lay in the darkness, grunting, and turning to his rest" --in 'He mourns for the Change that has come upon him and his Beloved, and longs for the End of the World' (w. 1895, p. 1896). See also the woman who "singing upon her road, / Half lion, half child, is at peace," leaving behind an admirer's warring heart, in 'Against Unworthy Praise' (1910). Perhaps the ghostly figure with "plummet-measured face' that stalks the Post Office in Yeats's poem 'The Statues' (w. 1938, p. 1939) can be read as a metamorphosed sphinx. And it is likely that "Lion and woman and the Lord knows what" also refers to the mythical creature, in 'The Circus Animals' Desertion' (pub.1939, writ. 1937-1938) (See W. B. Yeats, The Poems, op. cit., pp.27, 78, 142, 384, and 394 respectively). In the first version of A Vision, Yeats quotes a philosopher's definition of Christianity as "that fabulous formless darkness" (see Yeats, A Vision [1962], op. cit., p. 278 [also mentioned in the 1925 edition]), which he repeats in his 193l play The Resurrection (Yeats, The Collected Plays, op. cit., p.594)

(79) In Yeats's poem 'Into the Twilight' (pub. 1893), the elements from nature singled out to summon the heart "out of right and wrong" read like a shortlist of Taoist imagery. Compare: "Come, heart, where hill is heaped upon hill: / For there the mystical brotherhood / Of sun and moon and hollow and wood / And river and stream work out their will" (in Ibid., p. 76), to the 'abyss' of tao and its water-like qualities in the Tao Te Ching (Lao-Tzu, [Walter R. Old trans.], I, IV, p. 1; and I, VIII, p. 3, for example).

(80) Yeats's commentators link his use of the tree variously to the garden of Eden, the symbolic tree of the Kabala, or to the relevance of the image in Edmund Burke's political analysis.

(81) Yeats, The Poems, op. cit., p. 300. In 'A Prayer for my Daughter' (1919), the image of the tree is associated with the specifically female self-sufficiency attributed to the myth of Daphne: "May she become a flourishing tree / that all her thoughts may like the linnet be / (...) O may she live like some green laurel / rooted in one dear perpetual place" (Ibid., p. 237).

(82) Ibid., p. 250-51. Yeats symbolic appreciation of the shape of nests can also be observed elsewhere; for example, in poem III in 'The Tower' (w. 1925, p. 1927): "As at the loophole there / The daws chatter and scream, / and drop twigs layer upon layer. / When they have mounted up, / The mother bird will rest / On their hollow top" (Ibid., p. 245. I am grateful to Simon Rodberg for pointing out the importance of the hollow in this passage).

(83) Yeats, The Collected Plays (op. Cit.), p. 681.

(84) Lao Tzu, (Walter R. Old trans.), op. cit., I, XI, p. 4. See also: "The celestial space is like unto bellows; though containing nothing that is solid, it does not at any time collapse, and being the more set in motion, the more does it produce. / The inflated man however is soon exhausted. / Than self-restraint there is nothing better" (Ibid., I, V, p. 2). Other translations of this passage offer 'flute' for 'bellows' (see for example Lao Tzu, [Richard Wilhelm trans.], op. cit., p. 29).

(85) Yeats, The Poems, op. cit., p. 140. See also, for example, "this arrow, / Made out of a wild thought" in 'The Arrow' (w. 1901); or the "sacred bow" in 'Parnell's Funeral' (w. 1932-33) (in Ibid., pp.103, and 329 respectively). See also how, in a different context, "the burning bow" of Robartes' virility creates some comic relief at the expense of Aherne's homophobia in the 'The Phases of the Moon' (w. 1918, p. 1919) (Ibid., p. 216)

(86) See the diagram included by Richard Wilhelm in his notes to Lao Tzu, [Richard Wilhelm trans.], op. tit., p. 141.

(87) The fragment continues thus: "This Tao is not of man. / Man takes away from the needy to add to his own excess. / Who is the man that, having a superabundance, can bring it to the service of the world? / Only he who has the Tao!" (Lao Tzu, [Walter R. Old trans.], op. cit., II, LXXVII, p. 30).

(88) Lapis Lazuli' (w. 1936, p. 1938), in Yeats, The Poems, op. cit., p. 342.

(89) An interesting merging of concepts occurs in the following lines from Yeats: "Nor can [the Bishop] hide in holy black, /The heron's hunch upon his back," a circular image on the death-life cycle (in 'Crazy Jane and the Bishop' [w. 1929, p. 1930], Ibid., p. 306). See also 'At Algeciras--A Meditation upon Death' (w. 1928-29, p. 1929). Yeats sometimes spelled Owen Aherne's name as 'A Herne' (see the 'Editorial Introduction' by George Mills Harper and Walter Kelly Hood, to their edition of Yeats, A Vision (1925), Op. cit., p.xxviii), suggesting that a connection between the bird and this persona was intended.

(90) See, for example, 'Meeting' (w. 1926, p. 1929), 'The Spur' (w. 1936, p. 1938), or 'Are you content' (1938).

(91) The Taoist religion and the occult Taoism-related practices that were offshoots of Taoist philosophy, place an even greater emphasis on longevity. See the small section on Taoist religion in the Chester Beatty Library Museum, Dublin, including a carved artifact portraying the Seven Sages of Taoism, also known as 'the immortals'. 'The Seven Sages' (w. 1931, p. 1932) is also the title of a poem by Yeats, perhaps intended as an Irish version of the Taoist myth.

(92) The fragment continues: "Hence the warrior, relying on his strength, can not conquer death; while the powerful tree becomes a mere timber support. / For the place of the strong and firm is below, while that of the gentle and yielding is above." (Lao Tzu, [Walter R. Old trans.], op. cit., II, LXXVI). In relation to Yeats's echoing of Lao Tzu, see for example, this comment from the first version of A Vision: "A millenium is the symbolic measure of a being that attains its flexible maturity and then sinks into rigid age" (Yeats, A Vision (1925), op. Cit., p. 180); and a later statement, where he describes the warring period between Pericles and Constantine, thus: "All is rigid and stationary" (Ibid., p. 189).

(93) The fragment continues: "As a universal channel the Eternal Virtue will never forsake him. He will rebecome [sic] a little child" (Lao Tzu, [Walter R. Old trans.], II, XXVIII, p. 11). In the Tao Te Ching, coinciding with the characteristics of 'feminine' Yin, tao is described as a dark abyss, and the essence of passivity, to illustrate its generating inscrutability. In Yeats's play The Hourglass, the protagonist sage is afraid that he will fail in his quest: "I'll call my wife, for what can women do, / that carry us in the darkness of their bodies, / But mock the reason that lets nothing grow / Unless it grow in light?" (see Yeats, 'The Hourglass', in The Collected Plays of W. B. Yeats, op. cit., p. 318. See the use of 'mock' in another possible connection to Taoism, further down in the essay).

(94) On non-stereotypical portraits of women, see for example 'Solomon to Sheba' (w. 1915, p. 1918), 'On a Political Prisoner' (w. 1919, p. 1920), and the Crazy Jane poems (w. 1929-31, p. 1930-33). On symbolic androgyny, see for example 'The Phases of the Moon' (w. 1918, p. 1919), 'The Gift of Harun Al-Rashid' (w. 1923, p. 1924), and 'Ribh denounces Patrick' (1934). The 1925 version of A Vision, says of the double cones making up the Gyres: "It is as though the first act of being, after creating limit, was to divide itself into male and female, each dying the other's life living the other's death." (Yeats, A Vision (1925), op. cit., p. 180). This edition also includes the following statement: "We retain the same sex for a cycle, and then change it for another cycle" (Ibid., p. 170). In an introductory piece to the revised version, Robartes explains that: "Death cannot solve the antinomy: death and life are its expression ..."; and shortly after, he declares: "The marriage bed is the symbol of the solved antinomy" (Yeats, A Vision (1962), op. cit., p. 52).

(95) See the following from the revised version of A Vision: "To [Strzygowski] the East, as certainly to my instructors, is not India or China, but the East that has affected European civilisation [sic], Asia Minor, Mesopotamia, Egypt" (Yeats, A Vision (1965), op. cit., p. 257). On China, see: "When I think of Rome I see always those heads [on statues] with their world-considering eyes, and those bodies as conventional as the metaphors in a leading article, and compare in my imagination vague Grecian eyes gazing at nothing, Byzantine eyes of drilled ivory staring upon A Vision, and those eyelids of China and of India, those veiled or half-veiled eyes weary of world and vision alike" (Ibid., p. 277).

(96) Yeats, The Poems, op. cit., 1994, p. 384-5.

(97) Ibid., p. 254. See, in A Vision: "A wheel of the Great Year must be thought of as the marriage of symbolic Europe and symbolic Asia, the one begetting the other." (Yeats, A Vision (1962), op. cit., p. 203). See also: "When our historical era approaches Phase 1, or the beginning of a new era, the antithetical East will beget upon the primary West and the child or era so born will be antithetical" (Ibid., p. 257).

(98) Ibid., p. 256.

(99) According to D. C. Lau, whose version of the Tao Te Ching introduced subdivisions according to possible different sources, the rhyming passages are probably the oldest ones (see his 'Introduction' to Lao Tzu, [D.C.Lau trans.], p. xlv).

(100) The poet Michael Hartnett's version of the Tao Te Ching ('Tao', in Collected Poems--Volume 2, op. cit.) is the only version of the Taoist classic available in the library of University College Dublin, where it is--appropriately--kept in the Anglo-Irish Poetry section. The Philosophy section in the library of University College Dublin must undoubtedly be the only sizeable collection in the world without an edition of the Tao Te Ching (The Head of the Philosophy Department, a lecturer on Eastern Philosophy for many years at University College Dublin, is ultimately the person responsible for this appalling state of affairs).

(101) Tzu, Lao. Tao Te Ching. Translation and notes by Arthur Waley. Ware: Wordsworth, 1997. Tzu, Lao, Tao Te Ching--A Book About the Way and the Power of the Way. Version by Ursula K. Le Guin, with J. P. Seaton. Boston and London: Shambala, 1998.

(102) Yeats, The Poems, op. cit., p. 340.

(103) deprive, it is certain first to give. / This is what I call the covert agreement. / The soft and the weak overcome the hard and strong". [Lao Tzu [Walter R. Old trans.], I, XXXVI, p. 14).

(104) Specifically on "Empedocles' belief in the cyclical domination of love and strife, as described in Burnet's Early Greek Philosophy, of which Yeats owned a copy, and which includes an explanatory diagram of two interpenetrating cones" (Hassett, op. cit., p. 133).

(105) Eliade, op. cit., pp. 19-20.

(106) In Richard Wilhelm's 'Introduction' to Lao Tzu, [Richard Wilhelm trans.], op. cit., p. 10. Taoist tradition claims that Lao Tzu was travelling west, and was requested by a guard at the Chinese border to explain some of his teachings before leaving the country, upon which he wrote the Tao Te Ching before continuing his journey.

(107) "Cast a cold eye / On life, on death / Horseman, pass by!" ('Under Ben Bulben,' in Yeats, The Poems, op. cit., p.376).

(108) The sixth poem from 'Vacillation', in W. B. Yeats, The Poems, op. cit., pp. 301-302). Daniel Albright links the lord in the first stanza to a Chou from twelfth century China (in the notes to Ibid., p.725). Taoist tradition claims that Lao Tzu worked as a librarian at the court of one of the emperors from the Chou dynasty in Loyang (770 to 256 BCE), and that Confucius traveled there in order to learn Lao Tzu's teachings.


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Date:Sep 22, 2005
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