Read Yeats's Ghosts: The Secret Life of W.B. Yeats by Brenda Maddox Online


William Butter Yeats, who some critics feel was the greatest English language poet of our century, led a life of many contradictions. He was Ireland's most revered writer and won the Nobel Prize for Literature. But in his private life, Yeats struggled with passionate, if unrequited, relationships with women and was haunted by the spirits of his ancestors. Renowned biographWilliam Butter Yeats, who some critics feel was the greatest English language poet of our century, led a life of many contradictions. He was Ireland's most revered writer and won the Nobel Prize for Literature. But in his private life, Yeats struggled with passionate, if unrequited, relationships with women and was haunted by the spirits of his ancestors. Renowned biographer Brenda Maddox examines the poet's life through the prism of his personal obsession with the supernatural and otherworldly. She considers for the first time the Automatic Script, the trancelike communication with supposed spirits that he and his much younger wife. Georgie, conducted during the early years of their marriage. Writing with edge, wit, and energy, she finds the essential clues to Yeats's life and work in his unusual relationships with women, most particularly Maude and Iseult Gonne, his wife Georgie, and his rarely discussed mother....

Title : Yeats's Ghosts: The Secret Life of W.B. Yeats
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ISBN : 9780060985042
Format Type : Paperback
Number of Pages : 528 Pages
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Yeats's Ghosts: The Secret Life of W.B. Yeats Reviews

  • Katherine Addison
    2019-01-13 09:06

    I hadn't known very much about Yeats--20th century poet; "things fall apart / the center does not hold"; the idea that history has 2,000 year cycles; I suspect if pressed, I could have dredged up the fact that he was Irish. I had no idea he was mad as a box of frogs. Also one of the most selfish and self-indulgent men ever to write brilliant poetry.The book suffers a little from lack of focus--only about half of it really goes with the title. The first part--dealing with Yeats's bachelor life and the first two years or so of his very late marriage--and the short intermission-like section on Yeats's mother are very much about Yeats's ghosts, both in the sense of the way his parents' failures shaped and haunted him, and in the quite literal sense that Yeats and his new wife, starting on their honeymoon, spent those two years in an obsessive and exhaustive pursuit of knowledge through automatic writing, with his wife, Georgie, as the medium.The second part of the book is a much more conventional biography, detailing Yeats's affaires (both de coeur and de corps) with various women during the last fifteen years of his life. The common thread between the two halves is not ghosts, but Yeats's sexuality.Which is not to say it wasn't compelling reading, just that, as an enterprise, the book is not entirely coherent.It also suffers a little, I think, from Maddox's resolute and adamantine rejection of the spiritualism so vital to the subject of her book. Which is to say, not that I think she ought to have embraced Yeats's beliefs before she wrote about them (because nobody ought to have to do that) but that she's so determined to deny any truth or honesty in the belief system that she makes it difficult to understand how Yeats and Georgie thought about and interpreted what they were doing. She won't ever unbend enough to see things through their eyes; we're always kept at a remove, looking down with slightly pitying interest at the fool Yeats is making of himself. Maddox pays lip service to the idea that Georgie wasn't manipulating him consciously, but it's lip service only. Her own beliefs clearly run the other way, even though she does not make the argument in her text.She castigates the team of scholars who transcribed the reams and reams of automatic writing for treating the various personalities as if they were "real." I put "real" in quote marks because, if they aren't real, what are they? Especially when you've closed the door on the argument that Georgie simply and consciously made them up--Maddox explicitly says she doesn't think that's the case. But she (Maddox) treats the personas as if they are just make-believe, as if talking about them as if they were "real" would be the same level of foolishness as fantasy authors (as a purely random example) pretending that the worlds or the languages or the people they invent are "real."Now, I'm not crusading for the "reality" of the personas Georgie Yeats manifested in her automatic writing. But I think the situation is complicated and difficult, and Maddox's black-and-white view of Yeats's spiritualist and occultist activities merely makes things more confusing for someone trying to understand Yeats and Georgie and how they understood themselves. A militant defense of our own rationality only gets in the way.

  • Delphine
    2019-01-05 13:53

    Literary merit set aside, W.B. Yeats has to be one of the greatest oddballs of Irish cultural history. A firm believer in the supernatural, he blindly obeyed the commands and wishes of his wife George when she acted as a medium and transcribed 'dead souls'utterings'(the so-called 'automatic writing'). He opposed the democratic system (the vulgarity of the ballot voting) and actively supported the fascist 'blueshirt' movement in Ireland. Genetic arrogance was also his part as he flirted with eugenics in the 1930s. Well in his seventies, he had surgery in order to keep fit for his 'physical pleasures', which really turned him into a laughing stock in Ireland and London. Surrounded by so many women (nurses, really), he was terrified of being left alone in a foreign country without knowing the language. Amazing that such a fool was able to produce such wonderful poetry. Great biography by Maddox.

  • H. Rose
    2018-12-29 09:03

    I found this book cumbersome and the skepticism of the author overbearing and an obstruction to truly perceiving, experiencing and understanding, vicariously, Yeats relationship to the occult. Also, the author's pejorative speculations about Yeats relationship to his wife Georgie, and hers to him, totally decried the validity of instant Soul and related spiritual connections. Although certain of the historical information was accurate and of interest, and the writer certainly is more than competent, her innate bias and inability to perceive, experience, and believe in, the supernal was detrimental to the telling of this tale. I returned again and again to finish the book and ultimately had to remove the thing from my home. I wouldn't want to catch a thought-virus from a person so wedded to the mundane reality as is this author. I won't read anything by this person again.

  • A.E. Reiff
    2018-12-20 10:51

    I.Yeats collected charlatans. He is too gentle to say he won the Nobel Prize off idiots. But since I have too I will. Yeats crowning idiocy was to think he would rise from the grave with a fresh volume of verse. But before that his operation to improve his sex life outranks the foibles of many industrialists. Yeats had this (Steinach) operation, a kind of vasectomy to cure his impotence likely brought on by high blood pressure that vexed his last decade. Steinach had the added advantage of making him sterile. Freud had the operation too, but who ever put the two in the same class, which brings to doubt all the sacred thoughts we had about a poet if they are least able to live, care for themselves and work. Yeats’ operation gives rise to such elevated thoughts among critics that of the four senescent sexual liaisons he had after Steinach (1934), “whether he achieved full intercourse in any of them is the subject of continued speculation in Yeats scholarship.” (Brenda Maddox. The Secret Life of W. B. Yeats), 279). Do not say Picasso did it or Dekooning, commit artistic suicide to write or consult spirits to inflame the mind with aerosol. Is it said that Yeats' occult explorations were compensations for his lack of sex? In 1919 (his wife) George had the spirits dictate to him that he must do it more often, “twice a week!” He had a long habit of abstinence (266). As though the practicing astrologer sold the right alignments, in fact sex was (then) anything but cerebral. Similar speculations were foisted upon Blake’s sex life and Tantricism, but if Yeats is a measure these are to be doubted simply on the basis that Blake always seems fully realized in expression with his consort/wife Catherine.Yeats’ cure for idiocy was to ape the lusts of the flesh with dirty talk, together with fast living and turning his wife into a divine, throwing himself at the feet of starlets and a diet of excess, all which made it impossible for him to pass go. It’s a wonder he made 70. If you want to live long do not listen to the boasts of divorced men at your club. Yeats mouthful of evening wine bought the flesh even while he sold the spirit, not knowing before hand the existence of the urim and thummim to enable hearing the voice of God alone, with neither medijum of confused cycles of moon and sun, acid or dope, though practitioners swear the best teaching of brujos will turn pharaohs’ sticks to snakes, and if that what else must they know? They do not know the power of God, which is everything Yeats sought with his mind.It shouldn’t be thought Yeats acted differently from Pound dressed in “trousers made of green billiard cloth, a pink coat, a blue shirt, a tie hand-painted by a Japanese friend, an immense sombrero, a flaming beard cut to a point, and a single, large blue earring.” Indeed when Yeats threw Aleister Crowley down the stairs of the Temple Crowley wore “a black mask, a MacGregor tartan kilt, a gilt pectoral cross, and a dagger at his knee” (12). This was in 1900, but it gives Yeats a point of comparison, who wore blue hair, with Blake even if he is not so extreme; Yeats reports Blake threw artists off their ladders at Westminster Abbey (Poems of William Blake, ed by Yeats, xv).Consumed by women and continually shifting eroticism from one ingénue to another, older or younger, but not George, his amanuensis, manager and caretaker, every crack brain of age who compounds sex energies with political intrigue to make lit or plays or money with anthologies to finance travel to the Riviera should win the Nobel Pride at the top of the middle aged world, but fear his last poem about flesh and age more than a politician and historian fears a poet, for the lines are honest and brutal, true to lie in pain and iniquity, save perhaps if for another one would dare to die, which we add to balance the perfevered Dawn, medium, vision, repeated lives and poems, as if they were women wanting to come to know the truth. This we respect deeply, for who comes to know the truth but in age?It will not ruin tourism or grave worship to say that Yeats is not where they say. Where he is is a whole other matter. Woe that I bear such news. Yeats never fit the biography of his lines, even if he had his tubes tied, was a crypto fascist, hung with Pound and had so many ailments before he died. These writers and their genes! Virginia and Leonard Woolf were whispering they would commit suicide together if Hitler took Bloomsbury. The Black Death is not about eugenics, nor is it about the death of Cuchulain or some lady in her robe, but his own.Yeats died and was buried in a pauper’s grave from which they dug up a simulacrum; it might as well have been a wax they sent to Ireland. He asked and became a trinket of Byzantium. A statue of Reputation, which matters not that much to the dead in the ground, or in the ossuary, the dust and smoke of crematoriums. No doubt the blue-hair deserved burial with the church of Ireland, but not a known pagan group , however a prerequisite for burial there was faith. True remedy was found in the body of Alfred Hollis, whose steel corset rather differed from Yeats hernia truss, which determined the identity according to Yeats’ sister. Yeats out of nature would not take form from any natural thing, which a casket certainly is not, lasting hundreds of years, preventing decay, preventing return to the soil, enabling ossuaries to dig without fear more than one. The fear of one is the fear of all. And you can still move around. Who thinks their grave will last?II. R. F. Foster's life compared to this is a marvel of discretion. He makes innocent the poet at first read too, and in the wealth of erudition it takes a long while for the real issues to sort. If you take the view that Yeats' politics are no great affair, nor his senescent love affairs, not his constant revelations of his sexual failings and a hundred incidentals, it boils to this, 1) there is an opposition in the poems of life and death, and from there it only needs to be added that 2) Yeats was over concerned with the sacred, which preoccupation you might think should be reserved for Hopkins, who has had his biographer assassins, but it demands to be asked, what is the sacred and why is it not sacred at all? Now that's a modern topic in spite of Mircea Eliade, the sacred and the profane. To get to it, the sacred is the human construct of the spiritual that thinks to substitute the intellect for the personal, the self for submission. Buddhists say life is an illusion, Christians say it is death. A great deal of the Christian overhangs Yeats' thinking in the same sense that the faith of Abraham overhung Israel at Sinai or on the plains of Moab, that is imperfectly and counterfeited. Yeats partakes more of the latter in his notion to rise from the grave with a new volume of poems. In this preoccupation with the sacred, seeking vision, foretelling, were Isaiah writing Yeats' life he would say "those who pursue their own imaginations...who sit among the graves and spend their nights keeping secret vigil...who spread a table for Fortune and fill bowls of mixed wine for Destiny...are too sacred" (Isaiah 65). Yeats' Celtic Twilight among several collect tales of the dead, are not so much biographies as inquiries into the state of death itself. The odor of the sacred overhangs Yeats life completely, especially in his notion of opposite states, which resembles Blake, who said, without opposites is no progression, but Yeats invests the poles with equality. Sources no one would want to admit sharing with Yeats include his acquaintance of G.R.S. Mead, Paul Foster Case, Israel Regardie, S.L. Mathers and intrigues for and against Crowley in public, but in his private far more, for as Maddox shows George shut them out and substituted herself ultimately as his lone occult authority. This gives understanding of the delusions and illusions Yeats suffered, but there is no formula for human existence or art. Curses and rituals rebound upon the doer and speaker. Blessings are powerful, for they do too. So for all the effort Yeats' wife George made to influence Yeats in child conceiving, all the blown up prophecies for his two children, the fatuity with the birth of Ann, their first child, who was to be...a boy, "the son ["the Arabic astronomer"], the "avatar," "savior for Ireland," (127) that he and George were to "reincarnate" (Maddox, 123), a seer,Yeats never spent any time with his son Michael, the barrister, until he was 17. That is a pathos beyond speech. Not that it differs so much from the unspoken illusions of every parent, except with Yeats it is spoken because of his high opinion of himself and then documented from his letters, the vision writings and tales of all kinds told by the scholars who find him fertile for every such occasion as if Yeats were a spy of the CIA run by controllers who manipulate him to their own ends. It is no comfort that Timothy Leary, William Burroughs and Alan Ginsburg with McKenna were likely captives in the CIA net which dispensed to them DMT. George was his controller and he the willing occult subject. So she would have their child a boy to fulfill his name and her position as wife and mother of his son. This line was foisted upon her invented controllers, Thomas, Rose, Aymor, etc, as all the while Yeats incorporated into his poems "the symbols he had been receiving through the Script since his marriage' (Maddox, 131). That the information was wrong and the child was a girl was just another event explained away by true believers.Passivity is a necessary underlying attitude for magic, except perhaps in its leaders who practice manias, Mathers, Blavatsky, Crowley, Huysmans, a long list. The underlying premise is that to reach the ground of the spirit the man must be passive, a stance identified with the feminine, which it is said, more directly apprehends the face of light. So the man, with the woman, says the creed, such as, "through me its unfailing wisdom takes form," "I am guided moment by moment along the path of liberation," "I draw all things needful," "supported,' "rest.' The sentences themselves are of passive construction, "the kingdom of spirit is embodied in my flesh. This making passive is seen (!) when the masculine and feminine are paired in those pics where the woman looks up, or over, or in, and the man looks out, signifying opposites of action and meditation. This becomes convincing to popular psychology, more so when the exoteric is contemplated with the esoteric, the esoteric being the inward state of idea, never however as a form of divination, that outer much debased act, masking, as taught, the truth of the self as fortune telling. Turning philosophy to fortune telling was the essence of these secret societies as they were practiced. Divination consumed Yeats, who wanted to know from his sources what to do, when to do it and why he did it. As with every mania this consumed all in its practice except those it didn't, that is, Yeats. If you could know the future would you want to? This presumes it is worth, as Yeats sought, knowing the sex and destiny of his children and a thousand other questions for which he cast his hoary charts, when to get his tonsils out, on and on. Let it be said sooner rather than late that what you know you cannot unknow; thus the future hung over Yeats as a sword, only countered by another cast of fate, whether Tarot, astrologic or some other. Not to know the future and live in faith is the single greatest gift of advice to give. The betrayal of the inner for the outer trumps in the novels of Charles Williams, another member of that society, and associate of Yeats, was a sensation of the impure.Divination is its own curse. Drug prophecy the same. No better example exists than Yeats. There's no question Yeats exhibited a massive synthetic intelligence. He used occult mechanisms to achieve his images as much as Faulkner used bourbon, a quart a day, but no one else can do it. There's no way to compare him to an average case. His mass of sexual insecurities, automatic writing, tarot, hypnotism, astrology, magic rituals, infused with his love of the dramatic and social life and philosophies collected in his own folklorish research, 30 years in the Golden Dawn, reveal he had no talent of his own for the gift of prophecy, unlike Balaam say. His wife George and the Stella Matutina were his graduate school and college into the images of the gyre and its surroundings. That he turned this hodgepodge into the melancholy measure of his later appealing work is his own doing. His life divides this way especially after his marriage, itself a studied affair, in 1917. But for all this is said about him, all words, in the end his words ring authentic.The foundation of Yeats' philosophy abstracted to its source, that later spun off the creed of the Liberal Catholic Church and BOTA, was the number series 0 to ten and the letters of the Hebrew alphabet. How the Romantic poets concocted their own religion out of poetry is superseded by Yeats, who went them one better, creating a poetry out of rituals and symbols from Irish myth, Madam Blavatsky and the Golden Dawn with "lashings of Blake and bits of Freud, Boehme, Swedenborg and Nietzsche." (Brenda Maddox. Yeats' Ghosts, 89). Yeats was a member of such groups for thirty years and took their pattern of theosophy and kaballah as his education in place of college. There is however in this a set of attitudes as important as their ideas.When the prophet Isaiah and the poet David speak of the ground of the spirit with masculine daring, great boldness and cutting edge intention they say things no one would dare to say. In this they depict the ultimate daring of the Lord who exceeds them in audacity. This is to say that the masculine active penetrating audacious speaking of the prophets and the Lord, copied by Milton and Blake, and others to be named, is in direct opposition of all the spiritual wisdom offered in the occult creeds. He commands the sea, tells them, "you give them to eat," nothing but audacious, and this carries to Paul, "we sit together with him in heavenly places," and Peter, "rise up and walk." Indeed it is the audacity of the Exodus, "both horse and rider he has cast into the sea," the judgment of Balaam, which seems obviated for a time, whose acts were the OT equal of Saul suborning the faith of the first believers. It is the entire speaking of the Lord, active and penetrating. So it says Bereshith barah Elohim, audacity itself. In short, this masculine speaking is the opposite of its imitations and subversion in modern culture. Not going to make friends, it is catcalled the onus of the desert religions: Jew, Christian, Muslim, but not Babylonian and pagan. This contrast of truth against the world never leads anywhere however because it styles an ultimate conflict, misunderstood in every way, world being understood as the path of indulgence and sensuality. Masculine and Monotheism, Freud did not write, but a hundred others have.This direct contrasts the creeds above, which however are attractive and appealing. How else understand the LCC, "we hold the fatherhood of God, the brotherhood of man. We hold that we do serve him best when best we serve our fellow man. So shall his blessing rest on us and peace for ever more." What more appealing statement can there be, but it is a subtle encouragement of passivity. Presumably that is the purpose of the sensation of passivity, which appeals only if the outward manifestation in words is real. But anyone can say words. If however there is an inner reality where the huge bulk of communication is not physical or spiritual, and its command is preoccupied with self-denial, self-sacrifice, self-surrender, which sounds passive, we must then beware the trick of words, for the words mean nothing in themselves. Again the sentence betrays. Direct speaking without trickery and vulnerability are however dangerous alternatives. Indirection, or feminizing the masculine, was a major concern of the renaissance where love was viewed as weakening the power of will. Sidney complains about his weakness in writing as "whining poetry." These masculine states of the prophets have been so long replaced with the feminized, a more socially justified view, that it is hard to consider the masculine without compounding it with the greatest and most offensive depraved cases. It's not the masculine mind that offends, but the mouth. Be as masculine as you want as long as you don't talk. In a not necessarily straight line, memory is even trickier than the deceitful words which empower the occult, as if there were no such fact as a datum remembered, but merely its versions, so that if there was an event it exists in its interpretations. (This carries over to truth in the relative mind, making it like memory, but the fruit is weakness of mind in an essential denial of natural law. Gravity for instance is like Truth, but truth made weak in those who profess it, either by dogma or relativism is no truth. Memory is the highest fact of our existence). [these sentences show the problem of writing at all.]The occult origins of fiction and philosophy, fantasy and science fiction in all the university faculty clubs and writers cliques that inform the search for the spirit become a means of social control encouraging the feminine but not the masculine greatness of direct apprehension. The occult is imitation, the prophetic the real, imitated however so much as to become imitation.It is probably worth adding that psychic gifts are notoriously uneven and uncertain, part of the passivity routine. A clairvoyant will have no knowledge of the effects an eclipse, that is of the seen, but may know perfectly well exactly what had occurred in someone's mind that could not be seen. A pastor with prophetic utterance may be utterly unable to discern the dissembling elder in front of him, even to the point of outright fraud. What matters most is not surety but accuracy.In that day when families lived by another word it was said that in casting down imaginations and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God every thought would be brought into captivity to the obedience of Christ. It wasn't till the middle of the book that I again had the impression gotten on first read, that with its companion, George's Ghosts, i.e. Yeats' wife George, the thing is all too pat. Yeats suffers in the end from the same assassination all the poets take at the hands of their biographers. That these assassinations keep happening to the best and brightest must be axiomatic. It lends credence to what Eliot says somewhere that only a poet can judge or even properly read another poet. You can guess what the tenured think of this. A life is such a multiple causation that all these clear eyed judgments are only brought on by the need of writing and do not exist really. The sentence itself betrays us in this in pretending it has to go somewhere and make connections in a context only of itself. The sentence has nothing to do with the life it pretends to speak. The exceptions to this are extraordinary and notable. These betrayals of the spirit for the letter are all selective as Chad Walsh, C. S. Lewis former secretary, who confides in his opinion that Lewis was the secret lover of his friend's mother, Mrs. Moore. Maddox loses the day with Yeats in saying that "the secret of Yeats is that his mother did not love him" (189). The most elaborate of such speculations is that George's machinations in their automatic writing sittings produced the metaphysical substance of Yeats' later sinewy poems, that if the secret order was his college she was his graduate school.

  • Kelli
    2018-12-28 09:13

    While I enjoyed the book, it seemed to go a little more in detail at times than I would like. Some things could have used simpler explanations and some things could have used more. More about his children and family would've been nice too. All in all I found it to be very enlightening. And I also found on page 353 on his views surrounding eugenics and the degeneration of society the seeds of the movie Idiocracy. And he's been thinking this since 1900!! Enjoyable book but only for those who really love the poet.

  • Michael McGrinder
    2018-12-27 08:47

    I doubt I'll finish it. Maddox goes into far too much detail for a good read, and the accusations of her over-reaching for Freudian symbolism are not unwarranted. The most interesting part is how his wife Georgie (27 years his junior) used automatic writing to influence him to be sexual with her. They were both interested in the occult and both members of the Order of the Golden Dawn, so that wasn't a stretch, just practical.

  • Deanna Shelor
    2019-01-15 15:08

    A fastinating read. Picked this up while doing grad work in Ireland and Maddox just happened to be speaking at a local bookstore when it first hit the presses. I was preparing for my comprhensive exams at this time and this book really helped me put Yeats and his work into prospective, helping me to pass the Yeats essay on my exam.

  • Angela Joyce
    2019-01-04 11:51

    I have great respect for the work Ms. Maddox put into this, and I have always liked her writing style, but in this case I did not particularly like the subjects of the book. It is interestingly presented, but it got to the point where I couldn't wait for the dirty old man to just die. Sometimes, when it comes to the private lives of great artists, one would rather not know certain things...

  • Cheryl Brown
    2018-12-20 09:57

    I was fascinated by all the automatic writing and Yeats' apparent susceptibility.An interesting insight into a complex man.

  • John
    2018-12-22 14:08

    Strange Trip of WB, he was a man of contradictions... good read

  • Allison
    2018-12-31 16:12

    interesting book about yeats, one of my favorite poets. he was quite eccentric. still he has written some of my favorite poems.