The System of W. B. Yeats’s A Vision

The Wheel by Dulac
Edmund Dulac’s woodcut of the Wheel of the 28 Phases of the Moon (1937 version; A Vision B 66)

This web site is dedicated to the work of the Irish poet W. B. Yeats (1865-1939), specifically to the strange, esoteric system which he and his wife, George, created, and which he expounded in A Vision. It is intended primarily for students of this work, and also for those who are interested in the intellectual and symbolic background to his later poetry and prose. For those who are unfamiliar with Yeats or with A Vision, the Overview offers a brief introductory survey.

The System of Yeats’s A Vision lends itself to hypertext, and to the use of visual material and dynamic diagrams which it enables, since the organisation of the material is notoriously difficult in both editions of A Vision (the ‘A’ version of 1925 and the ‘B’ version of 1937: see The Two Editions). This can leave many readers frustrated by the use of terms which are poorly explained or explained elsewhere and by the lack of easy cross-referencing, areas which hypertext addresses very effectively.

In large part, however, the difficulty still remains, since: ‘A symbol system can only be understood and evaluated by entering its web of internal relationships and noting how and where external criteria impinge on it. The problem is that we cannot start with the complex whole all at once; and if we start at any one point, we immediately introduce distortions’ (The Construction of Reality). While hypertext links enable a more fluid approach, the individual reader still has to approach the material in some form of sequence. The topics on the main contents page are therefore arranged in a rough order of ascending development, from the fundamentals of the System to their effect upon Yeats’s vision of reality.

The Widening Gyre

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

from ‘The Second Coming’

The mind, whether expressed in history or in the individual life, has a precise movement, which can be quickened or slackened but cannot be fundamentally altered, and this movement can be expressed by a mathematical form.

Note to ‘The Second Coming’, Michael Robartes and the Dancer [full text] (Dundrum: Cuala Press, 1922)

This site does not offer a hypertext of A Vision itself and does not aim to offer a substitute for Yeats’s A Vision; this is not only because of copyright reasons, but because the ‘book of A Vision’ is an artefact in itself (see The Book of Yeats's Vision by Hazard Adams). This link gives some notes about buying a copy over the internet .

Volume 14 of the Collected Edition of the work of W. B. Yeats, A Vision: The Revised 1937 Edition, edited by Margaret Mills Harper and Catherine E. Paul, came out in May 2015, still only in hardback (list price $60, but cheaper in many places).

Volume 13 of the Collected Edition of the Works of W. B. Yeats A Vision A (1925), also edited by Margaret Mills Harper and Catherine E. Paul came out in 2008, and is now available in paperback and e-book. Further details are available at: Scribner's/Simon and Schuster's page where the price is listed as $26.99 and the e-book is $14.99. (See my review of Volume 13.)

Go to Getting a copy of A Vision.

The pages here attempt to offer a clear and helpful guide to the ideas of A Vision and, in doing so, they sometimes extend and develop the material beyond what is explicitly contained in A Vision; some of the diagrams in particular represent significantly different reformulations of those created by the Yeatses.

The site does not aim to present a sustained argument either, although much of the material is associated with a doctoral thesis I presented at Oxford University; do contact me if you are interested in an electronic copy of the thesis.

A Reader's Guide to Yeats's 'A Vision' is currently in preparation.

A Reader's Guide to Yeats's 'A Vision' book cover

A new introduction to the context and system of A Vision — due out at the beginning of 2019.


1 Overview: The Book of A Vision
2 Genesis: Making and Remaking A Vision
3 Background: Antecedents and Assumptions
4 Presentation: Gyres and Geometry
5 Spirits: Determinism and Free Will
6 Being: Human and Divine
7 The Faculties: Action and Pursuit
8 The Principles: Reality and Value
9 The Daimon: Opposition and Essence
10 The Divine: One and Many
11 The Circles of Life: Wheels and Rebirth
12 The Twenty-Eight Incarnations: Lives and Phases
13 After Life: Understanding and Preparation
14 History: Cycles and Influx
15 Reframing A Vision
Appendix: People in Phases

The cover art is by Jaff Seijas.

Clemson and Liverpool University Presses: A Reader's Guide to Yeats's 'A Vision', by Neil Mann.

With 39 diagrams. An associated glossary of terms and a bibliography are available here.

Yeats's "A Vision": Explications and Contexts is available for purchase and free download:

W. B. Yeats's A Vision: Explications and Contexts book cover

The first ever volume of essays devoted to aspects of A Vision has been written by a range of scholars who examine a variety of themes and approaches, edited by Matthew Gibson, Claire Nally and me. It is published by the Clemson University Press in South Carolina, under the aegis of the distinguished Yeats scholar Wayne K. Chapman, who has contributed to the volume as well. Apart from work by the editors and Professor Chapman, it also includes essays by Margaret Mills Harper, Catherine E. Paul, Nick Serra, Colin McDowell, Janis Haswell, Rory Ryan, Charles Armstrong, Matthew DeForrest and Graham Dampier. The book is published in both electronic and printed form. Check Clemson University Press's site for the title, where the electronic version is available for free download (here) and the paper version is available to order for $45 (+P&P). It is also accessible online via Liverpool Scholarhip Online and University Press Scholarship Online (simplest to search on "Yeats" and "Vision"; or click this direct link functional April 2016), though this is by subscription or through a library.

Yeats, Philosophy, and the Occult

Though not focused specifically on A Vision like the previous volume, this book has much to offer those interested in Yeats's thought more broadly: most of the essays touch of matters of relevance to A Vision or contain sections on it, while two essays deal with aspects of history in A Vision.

Wayne K. Chapman"Something Intended, Complete": Major Work on Yeats Past, Present, and Yet to Come
Katherine EburyGhost, Medium, Criminal, Genius: Lombrosian Types in Yeats's Art and Philosophy
Charles I. Armstrong"Born Anew": W. B. YeatsŐs "Eastern" Turn in the 1930s
Neil MannW. B. Yeats, Dream, Vision, and the Dead
Matthew GibsonYeats, the Great Year, and Pierre Duhem
Graham A. DampierThe Morphological Interaction of the Four Faculties in the Historical System of W. B. Yeats's A Vision
Colin McDowellYeats and Abstraction: From Berkeley to Zen
Appendix I (Chapman)Annotation in the Writings of Walter Savage Landor in the Yeatses' Library
Appendix II (Gibson)Yeats's notes on Leo Frobenius's The Voice of Africa (1913)

The Life and Works of W. B. Yeats
The National Library of Ireland, which, through the generosity of the Yeats family, holds the largest collection of Yeats’s papers and drafts, has mounted an excellent exhibition about Yeats, in all his aspects, which can be viewed on-line as a virtual tour of the physical exhibition in Dublin. It includes a fair portion on Yeats's esoteric interests, including A Vision. The exhibition opened on 25 May 2006 and is due to run for three years. (I have to acknowledge bias, from being involved with it, but it genuinely is very good.) See the Links page for further information and resources.

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This site is a work in progress, and the content is very gradually expanding, not least in response to readers’ comments and suggestions. There may be some links to pages that are projected but not yet completed, and the site-map gives a picture of the current and projected shape of the site. Any comment is welcome.

I have a (very desultorily updated) blog which explores aspects of A Vision and the Yeatses' System that do not fall within the more scholarly and factual ambit of this website. It examines elements of the system that interest me, particularly looking at parallels and how the System fits with esoteric and symbolic systems more generally. Whereas the website aims to offer clear and direct interpretation of A Vision for readers and students, confining itself largely to what Yeats himself wrote and to the academic study of his work, the comments and articles in the blog will be rather more speculative, exploratory and possibly personal. I add to the blog very slowly, and as it is far from topical and will only be minimally sequential, I hope that readers will feel able and welcome to respond to any post, whether it was nominally put up the day before or months or even years before. The blog is currently titled The Widening Gyre, even though that title has already been used quite a lot and I'm thinking about better alternatives, but the actual address is tied to this one:

All the images and quotations used on these pages are believed to be used legitimately within the laws of copyright. If you notice any that are not, please contact me and they will be removed.

I would like to thank Professor Warwick Gould at the University of London’s Institute of English Studies for his encouragement in the creation of these pages, and Colin McDowell for his helpful comments on them.

This site was created and written, and is maintained by Neil Mann (contact).

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Copyright © Neil Mann.

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.