"Images": Tableaux of Opposition

Three Draft Poems by W. B. Yeats



On Abiegnos' side a multitude
Restored by drinking that miraculous wine
To human form: Day beats upon their eyes
Sounds of unfinished battle on their ears;
One sways his head and laughs, another weeps,
Then all laugh out, discovering ^at/once
in laughter
That the dark valley at the mountain foot
Where wolf must war on wolf, abounding grass
Grow out of that foul blood, is magical;
That they imagined it and bound themselves
Therein contented with that bitter-sweet,
But the wind changes and the valley howls;
One howls his answer back and one by one
They drop upon all fours, creep valley-wards
Howling and chuckling in the grass – O heart
Question that instant for
these those creeping forms ^ O heart
These chuckling & howling forms begat the sages sages.
Begot the Sages.


What marks upon the yielding clay? Two marks
Made by my feet, two by my daimon's feet
But all confused because my marks and his
Are on the selfsame spot, his toes
Where my heels fell, for he and I


Pausing a moment in our headlong flight
Face opposite ways, my future being his past


He stood among amid that troupe of obstinate men
Made docile by His miracles, and taught
Neither to plan nor prey, nor to resist,
They should not pray nor hope for anything
Nor even resist it but should give
^But give The cloak to him that stole the coat
And if the right cheek's smarting
^ed from a blow
To offer tother cheek
Offer the left.
            Out of a hidden glen
Came the sudden clamour of great trampling hoofs
Voices that seemed to cry articulate words
But were too great for human lungs; the crowd
So hung upon the sweetness of His voice
No clamour, whether of voices or of hoofs
Reached it, but He knew
^heard all and paled understood
Two centaurs fought unto the death and now one
Had taken the other by the troat throat, & shouting
Had Ddriven him backward upon his reeling flanks
A female centaur waited in the shadow
With a clear critical eye and smiling mouth

The three poems that are collectively entitled "Images" are on two pages of typescript, with revisions in Yeats's hand, shown here in italic (National Library of Ireland's MS 30,434, from Michael Yeats's collection, © Senator Michael Yeats). From vocabulary, imagery, the concerns of Poem II, and the style of the typescript itself, a dating from the later 1920s is likely (for details see my article in the Yeats Annual), although there are strong links with earlier writings, discussed below.

Versions on the Web

The first poem, ‘On Abiegnos' side’, appears in a slightly different form in Richard Ellmann’s Yeats: The Man and the Masks, 273-74. The variation that Ellmann gives includes the garbled phrase ‘wold must war on walk’ for ‘wolf must war on wolf’ and probably implies that he was working from a copy in Yeats’s notoriously difficult hand-writing, although the rest of his version does incorporate many of the changes made to the typescript here. A version of Ellmann’s reading has become current on the web, apparently starting from a page prepared by a modern-day group using the name of the Golden Dawn, with the reference to the Rosicrucian Mount Abiegnos mangled into ‘On Abiegino's side’ — a surprising oversight for a Rosicrucian website—and ‘mountain foot’ transformed into ‘mountain forest’. The article is bad on a number of counts and the poem is quoted without any context or real comment, but the piece has been copied wholesale and now appears on several ‘Golden Dawn’ sites. Readers have evidently come across the poem and wanted to quote it but, probably without realising where it has come from, they start to treat the poem as if it were one that Yeats had chosen to publish. In one ‘essay’ these are the only words of Yeats’s, from all the volumes of poetry, plays, essays, letters etc., that are actually quoted. The poem is also being repeated, through cut and paste, with Ellmann's misreading along with the added misspelling of Abiegnos and the misreading of 'mountain forest'.

This is all the sadder because these are fascinating poems and ‘On Abiegnos’ side’, in particular, is very good, so should be available in a correct form. One of the reasons for giving the transcript above, though, is to show that what we have is a group of poems that came as far as the typescript stage and correction but were ultimately not considered worth publishing. Exactly why is unclear, since they certainly seem to stand well next to other poems that were published.

Concerns of the poems

In poems I and III there are very marked similarities with the early play Where there is Nothing and his "revision" of it with Lady Gregory, The Unicorn from the Stars, from 1902 and 1908 respectively. In Dramatis Personae (1936) he was dismissive of Where there is Nothing as "a bad play" vitiated by the influence of "Tolstoy's essay about the Sermon on the Mount", although he regarded The Unicorn from the Stars as temporarily "successful" (Au 454), but the influence of the Sermon is discernible in the two poems. Both poems echo Matthew's Gospel account of the Sermon: "And seeing the multitudes, he went up into a mountain: and when he was set his disciples came unto him: and he opened his mouth and taught them" (Matt. 5:1), the first with its ‘multitude’ on Abiegnos side, and the second with the crowd listening to Christ’s exhortations against the law of talion and retaliation: ‘whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if any man would sue thee at law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloke also’ (Matt. 5:39-40; Authorized Version).

However in Poem I, the reference to Abiegnos links it to the Rosicrucian imagery of the Golden Dawn where the Mount is the Cosmic Mountain which the initiate must scale and at whose foot lies the Vault of Christian Rosenkreuz (see "The Mountain Tomb", VP 311). Abiegnos or Abiegnus is the Golden Dawn’s Mountain of Initiation, climbed via the spiral Path of the Serpent (the Ciceros' modern Golden Dawn group gives pictures from the archives of Dr Felkin’s Whare Ra temple, including the Mountain of Initiation). At the simplest level abiegnus is Latin for 'covered in fir trees' or 'made of fir', but a complex word-play was given by the Golden Dawn, involving hybrid derivations from Hebrew, Latin and Greek. A summary of these ideas was included in the ceremony for the grade of Adeptus Minor, which centred around the Tomb of Christian Rosenkreutz, "symbolically situated in the Centre of the Earth, in the Mountain of the Caverns, the Mystic Mountain of Abiegnus. The meaning of this title of Abiegnus — Abi-Agnus, Lamb of the Father. It is by metathesis Abi-Genos, Born of the Father, Bia-Genos, Strength of our race, and the four words make the sentence: ABIEGNUS ABIAGNUS ABI-GENOS BIA-GENOS. ‘Mountain of the Lamb of the Father, and the Strength of our Races.’ I. A. O. YEHESHUA. Such are the words." (RGD 223-24 [Bk II 201-02]). The final name indicates the Christian Cabbalism of the Golden Dawn's Rosicrucianism, being a 'mystic' version of 'Jesus' formed from the Hebrew letters of the Tetragrammaton name of God (YHWH) with the letter Shin (Sh) in the centre. It is interesting to note that the Portuguese poet, Fernando Pessoa, also used the mountain in his poem of 1932, "Na sombra do Monte Abiegno", about an ‘abdication’ or refusal to accept the challenge of initiation.

Yeats had used the name Abiegnos before in The Unicorn from the Stars, where the character of Martin speaks of ascent of the mountain and also associates it with blood and wine: "Ah, that is blood! I fell among the rocks. It is a hard climb. It is a long climb to the vineyards of Eden. . . . The Mountain of Abiegnos is very high—but the vineyards—the vineyards!" (VPl 710). The "miraculous wine" of the mountain's vineyards which restores the multitude in Poem I also echoes the wine trampled by the unicorns in Martin's vision, while his gospel of anarchy, laughter and strife is echoed in the "Sounds of unfinished battle" and the idea that "wolf must war on wolf". The wolf is not a common figure in Yeats's imagery, although a passage in The Resurrection [B] (1934) again links wine, blood and wolves: "The followers of Dionysus have been out among the fields tearing a goat to pieces and drinking its blood, and are now wandering through the streets like a pack of wolves" (VPl 905). Dionysus is an example of the Dying God and Yeats was an afficionado of J. G. Frazer's The Golden Bough (YL 697-703) where the exploration of myths of vegetation and regeneration was exhaustively examined, with subterranean reference to Christianity. Deirdre Toomey points out that in Volume IV, the one actually entitled The Dying God, Frazer gives an account of the festival of the wolf god Zeus, which occurred "every nine years on the Wolf-mountain in Arcadia" and which involved cannibalistic rites that created a werewolf, who could regain his shape nine years later if he had eaten no human flesh (p. 83 ff; see also Warwick Gould’s article "Frazer, Yeats and the Reconsecration of Folklore").

In Where there is Nothing Paul Ruttledge uses a related image of drunkenness and spontaneous emotion to symbolise a pre-lapsarian closeness to "the joy of the green earth": "For a long time after their making men and women wandered here and there, half blind from the drunkenness of Eternity; they had not yet forgotten that the green Earth was the Love of God, and that all Life was the Will of God, and so they wept and laughed and hated according to the impulse of their hearts" (VPl 1135-36). In the poem the imagery seems to be associated with a temporary respite from the Fall and the multitude on the mountain side regain a similar sense of of Life and simple spontaneity (cf. also Letters 384).

‘On Abiegnos' side’ shows the same ambivalence about the relation of the spiritual to poetic passion as ‘A Dialogue of Self and Soul’ (VP 477-9) or realisation that "all the ladders start / In the foul rag-and-bone shop of the heart" ('The Circus Animals’ Desertion', VP 630). Having climbed some of the way up the Mountain of Initiation, and having been restored by the wine to higher, human form and gaining enlightenment, the wolf-people realise that the valley where they spent their earlier life was only an illusion sustained by their own imaginations (cf. LTSM 64), while now they hear how the music of heaven is the clashing of swords (cf. VPl 705; VSR 226). Yet the call of the valley is strong enough to undo their restoration, so that they return "chuckling and howling forms", but it is these bestial forms that beget the Sages, such as "sages standing in God's holy fire" in "the holy city of Byzantium" (VP 408), for their wisdom must initially start in the "fury and the mire of human veins" (VP 497). As they return towards the dark of the valley, it is in this instant (either in the sense of "moment" or "example") that the mystery of the Sages' wisdom can be realised, though by the heart rather than the intellect. The relative value of the mountain's clarity and spontaneity as opposed to the valley's brooding bitter-sweet is presented as an irresolvable paradox: both states give rise to a kind of wisdom one of enlightenment and innocence regained, and one born from the "uncontrollable mystery of the bestial floor" (VP 318). One is the condition of fire, which is clarity and harmony, the other is the condition of earth, which is power and choice.

In Where there is Nothing Paul Ruttledge uses the same ideas from the Sermon on the Mount which Yeats uses here in Poem III, ‘He stood amid that troop of obstinate men’, when he reminds his listeners that "there is an old saying about turning the other cheek" (VPl 1115) and that "the hard commandment" to give to him that asks "goes even farther, 'Him that taketh thy cloak forbid not to take thy coat also.'" (VPl 1117). In the play, these sayings, for all their difficulty in practice, seem tied to a kind of "pacificist commonplace" (Au 454), which he later came to associate with the primary tincture's values, and which he chose to contrast in the poem with the centaurs' antithetical struggle. While the werewolves of the first poem contain both parts of their dichotomy, here the centaurs, half-men, half-horse are clearly on the antithetical side and share the "heroic" lunar nature of the "holy centaurs of the hills" of 1915 (VP 344) and the violence of the "Black Centaur by Edmund Dulac" stamping "my works . . . into the sultry mud" (VP 442; cf. VPl 1131). The peaceful primary Christ who offers cheek for blow is contrasted with the conflicting, antithetical centaurs who meet blow with blow. The crowd is still by nature antithetically "obstinate" at this stage of the Great Year but is mesmerised into primary docility by Christ's miracles and preaching (cf. VPl 916) so that they cannot hear the noise of the centaurs' strife. However Christ hears and understands that their antithetical era is succumbing to his dispensation at this stage, but he is also aware that the centaurs show no interest in him since he is not their Messiah and his control of the gyre is only for a time, and in the typescript he pales. The word is dropped because Christ has no real cause to pale, and understanding is far more appropriate ("pale" may have suggested by Swinburne’s version of Julian the Apostate’s words—"Thou hast conquered, O pale Galilean; the world has grown grey from thy breath" ['Hymn to Proserpina']). Although Yeats states no preference in the contrast of pacifist strength and vigorous conflict, even without knowledge of his ideas his allegiances are clearly with the female centaur's appreciation of the scene and her "clear critical eye and smiling mouth". There is no paradox such as in Poem I and there is no vacillation: "Homer is my example and his unchristened heart. / The lion and the honeycomb, what has Scripture said?" (VP 503).

In many ways the associated imagery and themes of the first and last poems seem to make them act as a frame for the less clearly related central poem. Poem II, ‘What marks upon the yielding clay’, contains Yeats’s only explicit reference to the Daimon in poetry. It also uses the same wording as a treatment of the double cones applied to the divine Thirteenth Cone in A Vision B (1937). Yeats explains that as with any pair of opposing cones, those that constitute the Great Year in A Vision B cut across each other, "a being racing into the future passes a being racing into the past, two footprints perpetually obliterating one another, toe to heel, heel to toe" (AV B 210). In A Vision A (1925), Yeats had pictured the individual and the Daimon as opposing cones, where the Daimon's Will is the human's Mask and vice versa, and the Daimon's Creative Mind is the human's Body of Fate and vice versa, what was conscious for the Daimon being unconscious for the human and, of course, vice versa. This poem embodies that perception of the antithesis between man and the Daimon: mortal immortals and immortal mortals, living each others' life and dying each others' death, in the phrase of Heraclitus that he favoured. In the Daimon Yeats creates a perpetual opponent, which brings the soul to crisis and engineers man's tragedy. In terms of A Vision's system the Daimon perceives all time as simultaneous; however, because of what Yeats terms the "antinomy" we perceive its completeness as complement and we therefore see our past as its future and our future as its past. Linking this to the idea of man and Daimon in different incarnations pursuing one another (cf. AV A 29-30), in the poem Yeats pictures man and Daimon running always in opposite directions in space and time. Usually however the Daimon does not figure in Yeats's poetry; its form is disguised and transposed away from the system and, in the non-philosophical prose, it is also often shrouded, for instance in The Trembling of the Veil, the Daimon are "Gates and Gate-keepers" (Au 272).

The scenes evoked are neither dramas nor static moments and are better characterised as tableaux, with strong symbolic overtones. The poems centre on different aspects or types of opposition presented in the tableaux which have some of the iconic style of ‘Leda and the Swan’, although they obviously lack the perfection of that sonnet and are still drafts, however advanced. There is no obvious reason as to why they were not further worked up for publication, yet Yeats evidently felt some lack in or perhaps some block with them. It may be that he was loth to return to themes which hark back to a play he disliked, or to mix old ideas with new. Perhaps a sense that even with further work they could be neither a sufficiently coherent group nor sufficiently strong individually restrained him.

Based on an article originally published in Yeats Annual 9 (1992), ‘Yeats and Women’, edited Deirdre Toomey, pp. 313-320.

from Richard Ellmann,
Yeats: The Man and the Masks, 273-74.



On Abiegnos' side a multitude
Restored by drinking that miraculous wine
To human form: Day beats upon their eyes
Sounds of unfinished battle on their ears;
One sways his head and laughs, another weeps,
Then all laugh out, discovering in laughter
That the dark valley at the mountain foot
Where wold must war on walk, abounding grass
Grow out of that foul blood, is magical;
That they imagined it and bound themselves
Therein contented with that bitter-sweet;
But the wind changes and the valley howls;
One howls his answer back and one by one
They drop upon all fours, creep valley-wards.
Question that instant for these forms O heart
These chuckling & howling forms begot the sages.

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Text copyright © Yeats Estate, Michael Yeats
comment text copyright © Neil Mann.

Page revised: 31/05/05