Scepticism. Faith. And Poetry.

English: William Butler Yeats, sepia-toned pla...

English: William Butler Yeats, sepia-toned platinotype (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m reading a biography of William Butler Yeats, and I must say, it is quite enjoyable. Yeats’s fascination with the occult is a major reason I’m curious about his life:

“… he was even more obsessed with magic, occultism, psychical research, and mysticism, the whole tradition à rebours, than he allowed to appear, partly because of solemn vows of secrecy, partly because he was sensitive to mockery and convinced that he must use in his public writings only the most traditional aspects of his own thought. For many years he deliberately suppressed or only half disclosed many of his principal preoccupations…”

Anyway, I’m reading Chapter II: Fathers and Sons, which describes the poet’s relationship with his father, John Butler Yeats, a barrister who stopped practicing law to become an artist. He made a living by painting portraits.

According to Richard Ellman, the author of Yeats, The Man and the Masks, his father John was opinionated, intellectually dominating, and financially irresponsible (no business sense!).

One sentence about J.B. caught my attention, and I can’t stop thinking about it:

“Unable to rest easy with his scepticism, yet opposed to faith, he exalted poetry as a form of knowledge which was independent of both.”

Religion and science – both options, in and of themselves, fail to satisfy my hunger for meaning. The musty, medieval and backward tenets of religion violate my intellectual conscience, while science, though it induces deep respect and wonder, is all rationality, and humans aren’t rational beings.

Poetry is indeed a form of knowledge, independent of both.

Love Advice from Yeats

Never give all the Heart

Never give all the heart, for love

Will hardly seem worth thinking of

To passionate women if it seem

Certain, and they never dream

That it fades out from kiss to kiss;

For everything that’s lovely is

But a brief, dreamy, kind delight.

O never give the heart outright,

For they, for all smooth lips can say,

Have given their hearts up to the play.

And who could play it well enough

If deaf and dumb and blind with love?

He that made this knows all the cost,

For he gave all his heart and lost.



Well, this is sound advice. Keep your woman guessing and she’ll think of you more often. Vex her thoughts by making her wonder, making her uncertain.

Love makes you high, and if you’re high, you’re impaired: deaf and dumb and blind! When you’re smitten, you’re stupid! You act like an idiot, and you can’t play the game. Don’t do it, says Yeats.

Easy to say!