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Yeats’s Mysticism and Nationalism in his Early Years

Yoo Baekyun

Abstract

The purpose of this paper is to explore the relationship between W.B. Yeats'sobsession with mysticism and his nationalism in his early years (1885-1895). Mybasic argument is that he knocked at the door of mysticism to find a metaphysicalsymbol with which he could unify politically, religiously, and culturally dividedIreland.
In fact, Yeat's turn to mysticism in his early years attracts many scholars'sattentions. But a reading of many studies on this topic leads us to believe thatYeats studied mysticism for other purposes. Elizabeth Cullingford and RichardEllmann argue that Yeats's preoccupation with mysticism was his antipathy tomaterialism which was prevalent due to the Industrial Revolution. Seamus Deanexplains Yeats's interest in mystical and occult traditions as his efforts to establishan Irish cultural identity. Denis Donoghue maintains that Yeats wanted to separateIrishness from Englishness by dedicating himself to the study of mysticism.
In addition to these purposes, I believe, one of Yeats's political agenda was tounify various cultural, religious, and political forces of Ireland before the turn of thecentury. Yeats firmly believed that the identity of the Irish should be based uponintellectual life and spiritual principles which could solve and transcend the cultual,religious, and political discords of Ireland. The spiritual creeds Yeats was lookingfor should be founded on the common Irish spirit which could appeal to the Irishwhether they were Anglo or Gaelic, Protestants or Catholics, or Unionists orSeparatists. In other words, spiritual principles should not be confined to onechurch. In this sense, Yeats’s choice of Indian thought and occultism is suitablebecause they have universal appeal. Yeats believed that Indian thought wouldprovide Ireland with the common spiritual tradition which predated both Catholicismand Protestantism. Furthermore, the religious concepts of pantheism and mysticism were the very ideas Yeats needed to bring the conflicting religious and politicalparties into perfect harmony and balance. Namely, Yeats tried to find a metaphysicalmodel for the unity of Catholics and Protestants through the mystical union.

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