Wobble the gyre

Symbolist magic

An illustration of W.B. Yeats’s “gyre” as described in “A Vision.” Published in “A Brief Approach to W.B. Yeats’ Lunar System.”

Like a molecule when energy infuses it

Sublimate the symbol, the image

Reach through the punctum

Move from ground state to excited state and back again

Grand symbolist poets like W.B. Yeats and H.D., in the way I’ve described her work previously, knew that to approach the punctum of esse­­­nce, to approach Yeats’s hermetic “Anima Mundi” (Latin for “world soul”), or H.D.’s rose and divine feminine as an image or symbol, one must not go after it in its entirety or opt for a simple description of one’s perception of the thing. The grand symbol is always only partially glimpsed and must be described in parts.

The sublime is an excitation, often through metaphor and back again to a resting state (sometimes achieved, I think, long after the event of reading the poem, when the image returns to its former definition with the addition of some other alterity as connoted meaning in the reader’s mind). Exciting the symbol adds to it.

In A Vision, Yeats writes his most iconic symbol, a lunar gyre that represents something like existence, eternity, perceivable reality, destiny, divinity, and the world soul — something like that. I read this book as a meditation and a transmission and did not plumb it for answers or definitions, though you may find those elsewhere. A Vision is a narrative conveyed from celestial beings through Yeats’s wife, Georgiana Hyde-Lees, to the page by Yeats. The layers of authorship in the final text are distancing of the writer and also accumulative because all the language of the authors becomes one when the text gets to the reader. The “mediumship” of A Vision also obscures a crucial author: Georgiana, who gets no credit for the work as a writer because of this setup. In terms of symbol transmission, though, mediumship can be a prime practice by which to glimpse the image partially.

The only hope for conveying an essential in poetry is obliquely using Dickinson’s “tell it slant,” as in, enabling the reader to see the image slant in the poem. Metaphor captures the partial and is the magical practice of sympathy, projecting the qualities of one thing onto/into another. A grand symbol gains qualities from each successive metaphor, each iteration, each transmission. Yeats’s “The Second Coming” is a magnificent example of metaphorical magic towards a grand symbol. This poem is quoted and extracted from ad nauseam because each individual phrase or aspect of the poem is an exquisite puzzle piece on its own, but also adds to an overall image. “The falcon cannot hear the falconer,” “things fall apart,” and “the centre cannot hold” are compact, pithy individual phrases and give individual images that together do not immediately describe a single thing. Instead, they give the reader a sense of a composite message, a collapsing and perplexing symbol; for me, they do this in an aesthetic of apocalypse and desperation. Together, they construct the fated, apocalyptic symbol embodied by that “rough beast” that “slouches toward Bethlehem to be born.” One can read in microcosm Yeats’s symbolist practice, cosmically represented in A Vision, in “The Second Coming.”

The partial, slant-wise glimpse of the symbol is similar to the feeling of connection that H.D. gives throughout Helen in Egypt. Helen represents something much greater than herself, and that symbolic equivalence is achieved piecemeal over the course of the text in individual moments that grasp through parts of images to poke at an overarching essence. Constructing a whole from parts gradually is a building block of fiction and also a principle of alchemy, which approaches perfection or harmony iteratively and methodically. The composite of all these metaphors, all imaginable expressions, is something like an experience of the symbol itself. In this way, a magical symbolist mythopoetics intends to create, in pieces, the feeling of literal transport and actual vision.

— Eric