Edited by Yeats scholars Catherine E. Paul and Margaret Mills Harper, the volume presents the "system" of philosophy, psychology, history, and the life of the soul that Yeats and his wife George (née Hyde Lees) received and created by means of mediumistic experiments from 1917 through the early 1920s. Yeats obsessively revised the book, and the revised 1937 version is much more widely available than its predecessor. The original 1925 version of A Vision, poetic, unpolished, masked in fiction, and close to the excitement of the automatic writing that the Yeatses believed to be its supernatural origin, is presented here in a scholarly edition for the first time.
The text, minimally corrected to retain the sense of the original, is extensively annotated, with particular attention paid to the relationship between the published book and its complex genetic materials. Indispensable to an understanding of the poet's late work and entrancing on its own merit, A Vision aims to be, all at once, a work of theoretical history, an esoteric philosophy, an aesthetic symbology, a psychological schema, and a sacred book. It is as difficult as it is essential reading for any student of Yeats.
In this book, the author traces “the history of the soul” as it is developed in Yeats's plays. She elucidates the underlying system of thought in the drama and establishes its importance to the aim and execution of the plays by drawing attention to a few of the central themes, metaphors, and symbols through which it is developed.
The manuscript and the earliest published versions of the plays are indispensable to this study as they retain much of the abstract thought which Yeats eliminated from the later versions. Martin traces the development of the metaphors and images which gradually replaced Yeats's abstractions. In the process, she is able to uncover new meaning in the plays, as many subtle and obscure passages become clearly understandable.
Quoting copiously from the Script, Harper has traced in two volumes these incredible experiments day by day as the Yeatses moved about England, Ireland, and America. He has also cited hundreds of parallel explanatory passages from many workbooks, notebooks, and the concordance arranged like a card index in which Yeats codified the System he projected in A Vision and numerous poems and plays. Harper also has examined the extensive personal revelations that were excluded from A Vision and carefully concealed in many passages of “personal Script.” As Professor Harper demonstrates, Yeats had these often oblique, highly allusive passages in mind when he admitted “To Vestigia” that he had “not even dealt with the whole of my subject, perhaps not even with what is most important, writing nothing about the Beatific Vision, little of sexual love.”
The initial four chapters, "Remaking Poetry," focus on readings of specific poetic texts. The first treats Browning's first major volume as a unit; the second reads his dramatic monologue "Pictor Ignotus" against Romantic acts of mind; the third maps distinctively Victorian variations in the major form known as Greater Romantic Lyric; and the fourth explores Yeats's mature revision of that form.
The second group of four chapters, "Remaking Poets," stresses the dynamics of literary influence by which poets turn their forerunners into figures helpful to their own development. The first three examine Yeats's encounter with Dante, Spenser, Browning, and Tennyson, respectively; the fourth treats Pound's remaking of the poet he called his poetic "father," Browning, in a way that suggests the limits of anxiety models of poetic influence.
For this volume Professor Bornstein has revised and expanded a select group of his recent essays and added a new one, on the Greater Victorian Lyric.
This study is distinguished by its grounding of Yeats's critical agenda in a broader context through textual analysis. In addition, it organises and systematises his conceptions of poetry and its social role through its approach to his criticism as a fully-fledged area of his artistic practice.