contemplativeinquiry

This blog is about contemplative inquiry

Tag: Western Mystery Traditions

CREATIVE MYTHOLOGY

Joseph Campbell names ‘creative mythology’ as a way of “opening … one’s own truth and depth to the truth and depth of another in such a way as to establish an authentic community of existence.” He goes on to explain that such mythology “springs from individual experience, not dogma, learning, political interests, or programmes for the renovation of society; … but faith in one’s own experience, whether of feeling, fact, reason or vision.” (1)

Campbell thought that, in the context of European culture, a move towards creative myth making became visible in the twelfth century. Western Christendom was established from Scandinavia to the crusader territories in the Holy Land. It was a period of cultural curiosity and expansiveness, now known as the ‘twelfth century renaissance’. (2) There was an appetite for new stories, and Campbell names the sources drawn on to create them: the pre-Christian heritage of the old Greek and Roman worlds; the pre-Christian heritage of the Celtic and German worlds; and influences from Gnosticism and Islam.

But sources and influences do not define, or confine, the resulting developments. Rather, they provide material for the creation of new culture. “Materials carried from any time past to a time present, or from one culture to another, shed their values at the culture portal and thereafter become mere curiosities, or undergo a sea-change through a process of creative misunderstanding. … For the shaping force of a civilisation is lived experience … and the manner of this inwardness differs not only in differing civilisations, but also in the differing periods of a single civilisation. It is not a function of any ‘influence’ from without, however great and inspiring. Consequently, when historians confine their attention to the tracing and mapping of such ‘influences’, without due regard for the inward, assimilating, and reshaping force of the local, destiny-making readiness for life, their works inevitably founder in secondary details. (1)

One of the influences that nudged me towards Druidry was R. J. Stewart’s body of work concerned with Merlin, itself stimulated by the work of the twelfth century scholar Geoffrey of Monmouth. Stewart wrote two books about this (3,4) and then produced the Merlin Tarot (5) which, with its companion volume The Complete Merlin Tarot (6) is a workable esoteric system in itself. Geoffrey’s work revisions older Celtic/Classical material in a culture thirsty for it. He introduces mainstream European culture to Merlin, Arthur, and Morgan. Shape-shifting through cultural fashions over the centuries, they are still with us. In the later twentieth century, R. J. Stewart drew on Geoffrey’s work for creative myth-making of his own.

As part of my current inquiry, I am revisiting this work to see how it might, with an element of further revisioning, contribute to my Druid practice. I will expand on this in future posts.

(1) Joseph Campbell The Masks of God 4: Creative Mythology Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1976 (Original US edition published in 1968)

(2) Mark Walker Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Life of Merlin: A New Verse Translation Stroud: Amberley Publishing, 2011

(3) R. J. Stewart The Prophetic Vision of Merlin: Prediction, Psychic Transformation and the Foundation of the Grail Legends in an Ancient Set of Visionary Verses Arkana: London & New York, 1986

(4) R. J. Stewart, The Mystic Life of Merlin Arkana: London & New York, 1986

(5) R. J. Stewart & Miranda Grey (illustrator) The Merlin Tarot London: The Aquarian Press, 1992

(6) R. J. Stewart & Miranda Grey (illustrator) The Complete Merlin Tarot: Images, Insight and Wisdom from the Age of Merlin London: The Aquarian Press, 1992

WORKING WITH TAROT IMAGES

One of my inquiry intentions this year is to live the wheel of the year with heightened attention. For the Innerworld aspect of this journey, I am working with the Wildwood Tarot (1). I like its strong wheel of the year orientation, its choice of imagery and its focus on resiliency.

Tarot images are often described as archetypes. The word is derived ultimately from Plato’s eidos – the ideal forms that he saw as building blocks of the universe. They can be abstract – Justice, Wisdom, Beauty – or concrete – Horse, Wheel, Tree. Without these ideal forms in the mind of a Creator, their worldly approximations could not exist. They are “the absolute changeless objects of knowledge.” (2)

In the early 20th. Century, C.G Jung brought the archetypes into the realm of human history and psychology. June Singer explains how, for Jung, “the term archetype indicates the presence of … a universal and collective image that has existed since the remotest times. Archetypes give rise to images in … tribal lore, in myths and fairy tales, and in contemporary media. They are, by definition, unconscious, and their presence can only be intuited in the powerful motifs and symbols that give definite form to psychic contents.” (3)

The shift from ‘archetype’ to ‘archetypal image’ is a helpful one for me and can be taken further. James Hillman, a modern Platonist, pupil of Jung’s, and founder of an Archetypal Psychology, asks what makes an image archetypal, and concludes that: “any image can be considered archetypal … by attaching archetypal to an image, we ennoble or empower the image with the widest, richest and deepest possible significance.” (4) ‘Archetypal’ is a word that gives value, influencing our own response to an image and the way we treat it, contemplating it carefully, taking it into our hearts, and letting it work with our senses, feelings, intuitions and thoughts arising from it. With this approach, the descent from heaven to earth is complete. We are free to understand archetypal images as products of human consciousness that have the power to move and change us. Extending our imaginations, they extend our realities.

This is how I am going to work with The Wildwood Tarot. I am aware that the images can be mapped onto the Western Mystery tradition’s version of the Kabbalist Tree of Life, a highly conscious and artful meta-archetype, or blueprint for the cosmos. The greater trumps are archetypal images; the classical elements are archetypal images; each number is an archetypal image; key figures in patriarchal royal courts are archetypal images. All are linked together in an elaborate web of archetypal imagery. The architecture and arrangement of the Wildwood Tarot are fairly conventional, if I take the Rider Waite Tarot, understood as the effective origin of the modern form, as my point of comparison. But the concern with the wheel of the year, aspects of the narrative, and much of the imagery point in a somewhat different direction. I feel able to engage in a fresh way that both honours tradition and feels empowered to enter new and unexpected spaces. This process has already begun, and forms part of my inquiry.

(1) Mark Ryan & John Matthews The Wildwood Tarot Wherein Wisdom Resides London: Connections, 2011. Illustrations by Will Worthington

(2) Thomas Mautner The Penguin Dictionary of Philosophy London: Penguin, 1996

(3) June Singer Androgyny: Towards A New Theory of Sexuality London: Routledge & Kegan Paul 1977

(4) The Essential James Hillman: A Blue Fire introduced and edited by Thomas Moore London: Routledge, 1990

INTEGRATION

This is my grail image. I can see a chalice against a formless yet shape-creating background, or I can see two beings, with an enabling space between them. Two worlds; one image. Flicking rapidly between them, there comes a point where I can see them both, in the same place, at the same time.

I see the whole as an image of integration. Myth making just a little, I can point to a primal void, from which I am in no way separate, a cosmic mother, from whom I am distinct yet also in no way separate, and the birth of multiple individual forms of which I am one. With individuality comes otherness – and a world of connection/separation, community/exile, love/hate, joy/fear, generosity/contraction, conflict/co-operation, solidarity/predation. By integration I don’t here mean making the bad stuff go away, though efforts in that direction are immensely important. I am pointing, rather, to a capacity to hold all experience in presence and awareness: the deep experiential acceptance that all of the above, right up to void and creation, are happening here and happening now. They are the reality within which I awaken.

The Christian grail quest, which concerns the healing of the soul and its opening into spirit, partly evolved from older stories about the healing of the land, and maintains a wasteland motif. In Mahayana Buddhism enlightenment makes no sense if any sentient being is left behind. The modern Western Mystery tradition provides ways of bringing these stories together, with more of a tilt at this point in our history towards the collective dimension. I have written before that “for me the grail represents the presence and energy of Sophia”*, and has power for me on my Sophian Way. On this way, the ‘inner’ and ‘outer’ work go hand in hand: these are in any case conventional and limiting terms.

I understand the future as demanding cultures of resilience. Because of that I am glad that I have retained a foothold in Druidry and Paganism, because I see them as cultures of possibility in this regard. My Sophian Way has been a personal one, arising unexpectedly within my Druid education, and given some scope for recognition because of the way my Druid education worked. It fits better into the OBOD community, with its Universalist opening and invitation to learn from all traditions, than into any Christian, Gnostic or New Age community that I know of.

Yesterday I made a symbolic re-connection with OBOD (for I had never really left) by taking out a subscription to its magazine Touchstone after a lapse. Here at least I can name the Sophian Way unequivocally as a Goddess devotion without going through flips and twists about what ‘divine feminine’ might mean. At the same time, the name Sophia does reference insights and influences from other traditions, including secular philosophy, as befits a Goddess of Wisdom. For me, this is another kind of integration, whose fruits will manifest over time.

BOOK REVIEW: SEEK TEACHINGS EVERYWHERE

This post is about Philip Carr-Gomm’s Seek Teachings Everywhere: Combining Druid Spirituality with Other Traditions. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in the specific topic and/or the development of modern spiritual movements more generally.

Elegantly and accessibly presented, the book testifies both to a personal journey and a key role in developing modern British Druidry. Both the journey and the role are an interweaving of Pagan and Universalist threads. PCG’s approach has been to adopt Druidry as a ‘meta-path’, one able “to transcend religious distinctions”, and allowing of involvement in other paths as well. The Jain path, shared with his Druid mentor Ross Nichols, is the one given the greatest individual attention in the book, in a long section on Druidry and Dharmic traditions. This section touches also on other Indian derived movements and practices (Buddhism, Yoga Nidra) and speculates on ancient cultural and linguistic resonances between early Indian traditions and early European Druidry. PCG dedicates other sections of the book to Christianity and Wicca, with suggestions about how they too can harmonise with Druidry.

This overall approach is reflected in the lived culture of the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids (OBOD), which PGC has led for thirty years. He is now in a process of stepping down from the role, and so the book is a timely account of both vision and legacy. He says: “each spiritual way has gifts to offer, and some people find in Druidry all the spiritual nourishment they need. Others combine their Druidry with other approaches, such as Wicca, Taoism, Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism or Jainism”. OBOD’s ancestry as a movement derives from Celtic and Western Way currents within early twentieth century theosophy. The Order remains true to that heritage – as evidenced by a website that actively describes synergies with other paths and provides links to them – see www.druidry.org/ .

My personal takeaway from the book concerns PCG’s substantial presentation of Jain ethics, grounded in three key principles: ahimsa, aparigraha and anekant, here described as the Triple A. PCG explains: “Ahimsa is the doctrine of harmlessness or non-violence, made famous by Gandhi, and espoused by the other Dharmic traditions of Buddhism and Hinduism”. Aparigraha, the doctrine of non-attachment, non-possessiveness or non-acquisition, likewise appears in these other schools. Anekant, a doctrine of many-sidedness, multiple viewpoints, non-absolutism or non-one-sidedness, is unique to The Jains. The three principles can be seen as completing each other – with many-sidedness an aspect of non-violence and non-attachment, and so on.

PCG recommends these principles for our time. They inform his own vision of Druidry. “We know that the world suffers from too much conflict, too much fundamentalism, and too much consumption. This suffering can be alleviated by applying the Triple A doctrines: seeking non-violent solutions, respecting and learning from others’ opinions and beliefs, and reducing consumption to sustainable levels”. In the Jain tradition, such an approach to life is supported by practices of ritual and meditation that work towards the release of negative attachments. PCG recommends versions of these as well.

Part of the beauty of this book is that different readers will find different reasons to take note and learn from it. I have found it valuable both as an authoritative record of a current in modern Druidry, and as a personal inspiration.

Philip Carr-Gomm Seek Teachings Everywhere: Combining Druid Spirituality with Other Traditions Lewes, UK: Oak Tree Press, 2019 (Foreword by Peter Owen Jones)

ICON

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This is my icon of Sophia. It was created by New York based artist and illustrator Hrana Janto and I am using it with her permission. More of her work can be found at http://hranajanto.com

I like this image. It is both traditional in symbolism and somewhat naturalistic in style. There is an energetic balance of belly, heart and head. Sophia’s gaze is present and level. She has – beautifully – the accoutrements of a celestial being, whilst powerfully suggesting the stance of the realized, self-recollecting human.

Currently I am working with a small print-out pasted on card, but I have arranged to buy a full-sized print from the artist. Since I have been connecting with this image, and working a Sophian practice, my experiential understanding of who she is continues to change and develop.

I encounter Sophia within, as both a voice and a silence, the movement of the breath and a stillness in it. She makes herself known as an access of energy, an opening in the heart, a steadiness at my back. She inspires my glimmers of insight, and nudges my intuition. She calls me to the recollection of my true nature. That is her Wisdom. She will provide a theatre of fall, struggle and ascent if I forget myself and need reminding. She guides me to places where remembering is easy, if I am but willing to allow this.

As such she inhabits, in my subjective life world, what western tradition describes as psychic space, a middle ground between the physical realm of the everyday and the causal realm of luminous emptiness. All of these are known to me and experienced as One when I am truly awake.

SOPHIAN MAGIC 101

My Temple of Sophia is a magical space. So what do I mean by magic? What is its place in a contemplative inquiry? What makes it Sophian?

On magic, I tend to take my cue from R.J. Stewart (1). He says: “Magic is a set of methods arranging awareness according to patterns. The serious application of magical methods leads to transformation; it is the transformation that is of value, not the magical methods themselves. The basis of magic is utterly practical and experiential”.

This is very good news from an inquiry point of view. Stewart is careful to say that magic is neither a truth or religion – nor yet a philosophy, though “echoes of profound philosophy” are to be found within magical traditions. In my universe, the Way of Sophia is more than a magical tradition. But magic, with its precise focusing of will and intention, its experimental approach, and its interest in outcomes, has a strong and valued place.

When starting an inquiry, I prefer to start with some sort of model, from which I will depart over time after I have gained enough experience to evaluate and modify it. R.J. Stewart – again – is a good model of Western Way integration, in particular through bringing together Celtic traditions and Kabbalah. In my Way of Sophia work I will be drawing on  Kabbalist patterning – again with the intention of gaining experience and then playing creatively. Indeed, this process has already begun.

I inaugurated my Temple of Sophia at about 4 a.m. on Tuesday 22 March and I am following Stewart in his view of five fundamentals in magical practice. As I move around the circle, I notice a cousinship with my previous OBOD Druid practice, whilst also recognizing difference.

CONCENTRATION – linked to the east, the element of air, and a view of origination.

MEDITATION – linked to the south, the element of fire, and a view of creation.

VISUALISATION – linked to west, the element of water, and a view of formation.

RITUAL PATTERNING – linked to the north, the element of earth, and a view of expression.

MEDIATION – the fifth fundamental, associated with Spirit, and in circle terms at the centre. Stewart points out that in mystical and religious discourse, the word ‘inspiration’ is used as an alternative. But in this context I find mediation the better word, more powerful as well as more specific. In the most general terms, we mediate the “constant power of Spirit”.

I want to say a little bit about all five fundamentals, with a particular emphasis on CONCENTRATION at this stage. Stewart says that before even starting, we need some ability to achieve inner silence, stilling the repetitive dialogue that we all have. In this context we are simply looking for a level of silence that will allow us to switch our focus fully onto the relevant inner disciplines. We are not here in the business of investigating the monkey mind itself. Stewart (1) offers brief exercises specifically for stilling the mind and generating silence. Having achieved this, we launch the work. Achieving silence is the first use of concentration. Holding it throughout the magical working is the next. Will Parfitt (2) has a valuable comment about concentration. It is often seen as strenuous, about being “very deliberate”, indeed somewhat compulsive – and above all an effort. He reminds us that it does not have to be this way. He notes that children at play concentrate effectively – to the point where it is hard to draw them away – yet without obvious strain and effort. This is possible because they are interested and excited. He says “it is that simple – if you are interested you can concentrate; if you are not interested you can’t and would be better off doing something else”. When I re-read this I felt sad for the many children and adults who lack adequate choices in this matter. More happily, I have noticed that I am finding concentration in the Temple of Sophia easy. My will and enthusiasm are behind it.

R.J. Stewart offers concise and simple definitions of meditation, visualization and ritual in magical work, and I will see how I go with these, in this inquiry, as time goes on:

MEDITATION: the discipline of directing consciousness inwardly upon chosen subjects.

VISUALIZATION: the act of controlled image making and development of inner vision.

RITUAL PATTERNING: the fusion of creative imagination with effective expression.

On MEDIATION I need to say a bit more, because this is where I become specifically Sophian. The purpose of my Temple is to mediate the Light of Sophia. For me, at this stage, this involves both energetic and contemplative work.

The energetic work is based around a strong development of Kabbalist middle pillar practice where I open myself to the light presence and light energy of Sophia, and let them fill me. Over the last few days this has had very strong effects. At an inquiry level, outside the Temple, it raises a Kabbalist version of the “are chakras real?” question. I’ll be writing about that in due course. On the contemplative side – again using an R.J. Stewart definition relating to magical work – I enter into a “wordless, formless fusion of consciousness with a chosen subject”.

This is the Light of Sophia – and I sit within the light generated by the energy work, and indeed go through a process that leads, when the work is going well, to the wordless, formless fusion described, wrapped and rapt in a form of Samadhi. But the larger aim is both to be and to represent that Light in the world – to mediate it. I will say more about all this, and what it means, when I better understand the implications for me. So far I know only that I have a strong sense of contact and a general direction. The inquiry itself will show me the way.

  • J. Stewart (1987) Living Magical Arts: Imagination and Magic for the 21st. Century Poole: Blandford Press
  • Will Parfitt (1988) The Living Qabalah: A Practical and Experiential Guide to Understanding the Tree of Life Shaftesbury: Element Books

WESTERN WAYS II: MOVING TOWARDS SOPHIA

In my earlier Western Ways post I talked about a distinction between a ‘Native’ Tradition and a ‘Hermetic’ one, acting as “complementary opposites”. The first was said to be concerned with “ancestral earth-wisdom”, whilst the second was described as a “path of evolving consciousness”. (1)

I am influenced by this idea and the distinction that is being drawn. But I have a different sense of the detail, and a different experience of how these themes have played out in my life. My original choice to ground myself in Native tradition resulted from an experience in the Orkney’s. I was allowed to hold an ancient eagle claw necklace and an extraordinary energy shot through me – ancestral power, certainly, and a lesson in taking the heritage of land and ancestors seriously. However my current  of Druid doesn’t directly follow on from this experience, but is, rather, a contemplative nature mysticism. This is spacious and gentle and from my perspective generally works well in both its personal and collective versions. I feel satisfied with what I am doing and, in a good way, my inquiry energy for it is waning, even as my practitioner energy is present and available..

For me, now, the call of Sophia is more dynamic. It is a call from the other half of the Western Way – though not strictly Hermetic, because not concerned with the Greek-Egyptian figure Hermes Trismegistos. So I have decided to make my Way of Sophia the focus of a new  personal inquiry cycle. It is not like starting something new. It is more about making this aspect of my spirituality more focused and specific.

In my private sacred space I will establish a Temple of Sophia and this will be separate from from my involvement in Druidry. Ultimately there will be an integration and unity, but I’m aiming to craft a coherent overall Way. I’m not happy to treat pick’n’mix eclecticism and pluralism as more than a staging post. I want to give the Goddess her due and discover for myself how these apparently diverse approaches fit together. I hope that this may be of interest to other Druids, since many of us have a simultaneous engagement with other traditions.

I will report developments in this blog, and I will also continue to write posts outside the inquiry, including book reviews, poems, Druid contemplative developments, and other news and events.

  • Caitlin & John Matthews (1986) The Western Way: A Practical Guide to the Western Mystery Tradition: Volume 2 – the Hermetic Tradition London: Arkana

WESTERN WAYS: DRUIDRY AND SOPHIA

In my world, Druidry and the Way of Sophia are linked, though not the same. In The Western Way (1,2) authors Caitlin and John Matthews made a distinction between a ‘Native’ Tradition and a ‘Hermetic’ one, which act as “complementary opposites”. The Native Tradition is “the inward spiral of a maze which leads into the heart of ancestral earth-wisdom”. The Hermetic Tradition is the outward spiral of the same maze: a path of evolving consciousness which is informed by the inner resources of our ancestral roots, “augmented in a macrocosmic way” (2).

My original interest in a ‘Celtic’ spiritual thread, developing from the 1980s, wasn’t specifically Druid or Pagan. It came mostly through Celtic and Celtic influenced literature. Although a long tradition in its own right, it post-dates the demise of institutional Druidry and Paganism in Celtic speaking regions. Most of it has been written with at least an element of Christian reference and influence. So we get verses like this from the medieval Welsh Book of Taliesin:

I was at the cross

With Mary Magdalene.

I received the Awen

From Ceridwen’s cauldron. (3)

 

What I intuitively liked about this was the sense of a culture working to integrate diverse influences rather than attempting to be ‘pure’. Pure culture (or the attempt at it) narrows horizons and banishes possible resources, becoming limited and inflexible in my view. Sophia is both an image of the divine and expresses a blending of Jewish and Greek wisdom traditions. She came to prominence in Alexandria, the largest city of Roman Egypt. She is cosmopolitan. In the verse above Mary Magdalene (an incarnation of Sophia in some gnostic traditions) and Ceridwen (not a traditional Celtic goddess from Pagan times) both have Sophian roles in relation to male figures seen in different ways as light bringers.

Some of the Celtic-derived stories from the medieval period are clearly breaking new cultural ground whilst using resources from the Celtic past. They belong to a realm of creative mythology, as Joseph Campbell called it, whose purpose is “the opening … of one’s own truth and depth to the depth and truth of another in such a way as to establish an authentic community of existence” (4). Twelfth century Western Europe sought to renew itself by drawing on its classical heritage (native in Italy) and Geoffrey of Monmouth drew on it in his Mystic Life of Merlin (5), for example by dedicating a contemplative ‘Observatory’ to the owl deity Minerva, Roman Goddess of Wisdom. It also drew on Celto-Germanic heritage, with the Arthurian mythos – the matter of Britain – taking a prominent place. This mythos does not name Sophia. But it does have the image of the grail and the story of the grail quest. For me the grail represents the presence and energy of Sophia, and Caitlin Matthews has described it as “a prime symbol of Sophia” (6).  Perceval, the grail winner, has to encounter the divine in a new way for himself. At one level his role is to honour and heal the land, renewing its tantric energy. But the Grail Goddess, whilst enabling that traditional collective healing, adds a new and more individuated depth of wisdom and compassion. So although I have always been moved by the scenes and images of the more archaically oriented Peredur (7), I have found a more compelling narrative in Parzival (8). It is the innovative aspect of the story that engages me and the grail image that nourishes me.

In the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas, (9) Jesus of Nazareth asks three leading followers to say what they think he is like. Peter, traditionally Jewish, says “you are like a just messenger” (or righteous angel in other translations). Matthew, familiar with Graeco-Roman ways, says “you are like a wise philosopher”. Thomas says, “my mouth is utterly unable to say what you are like”. The teacher responds, ‘I am not your TeacherBecause you have drunk, you have been intoxicated from the bubbling spring that I have tended’.  As I read this text, it is a confirmation that a lived spirituality is beyond packaging.

In this sense, terms like Druidry, Way of Sophia or Western Way have only a limited use. Joseph Campbell said “the best things cannot be told; the second best are misunderstood; after that comes civilised conversation”. The problem is real yet I believe he overstates his case. I think it is worth the effort of finding words, making distinctions and enabling affiliations in full awareness of the difficulties. Civilised conversation with moments of … something more … feels like an honourable pursuit.

  1. Caitlin & John Matthews (1985) The Western Way: A Practical Guide to the Western Mystery Tradition: Volume 1 – the Native Tradition London: Arkana
  2. Caitlin & John Matthews (1986) The Western Way: A Practical Guide to the Western Mystery Tradition: Volume 2 – the Hermetic Tradition London: Arkana
  3. John Matthews (1991) Taliesin: Shamanism and the Bardic Mysteries in Britain and Ireland London: The Aquarian Press (with additional material by Caitlin Matthews)
  4. Joseph Campbell (1976) The Masks of God: Creative Mythology Harmondsworth: Penguin
  5. R. J. Stewart (1986) The Mystic life of Merlin London: Arkana 
  6. Caitlin Matthews (1986) Sophia Goddess of Wisdom, Bride of God Wheaton, IL: Quest Books
  7. The Mabinogion (1976) Harmondsworth: Penguin (translated with an introduction by Geoffrey Gantz)
  8. Wolfram von Eschenbach, W. (1980) Parzival Harmondsworth: Penguin (translated by A. T. Hatto)
  9. The Gospel of Thomas: the Hidden Sayings of Jesus (1992) San Francisco, CA, USA: Harper San Francisco (translation with introduction, critical edition of the Coptic text and notes by Marvin Meyer; with an interpretation by Harold Bloom)

POEM: SAILING TO BYZANTIUM

I’ve had a request for the full text of W. B. Yeats’ poem Sailing to Byzantium and so this post is devoted to it.

1

That is no country for old men. The young

In one another’s arms, birds in the trees

-Those dying generations – at their song,

The salmon falls, the mackerel crowded seas,

Fish, flesh or fowl, commend all summer long

Whatever is begotten, born, and dies.

Caught in that sensual music all neglect

Monuments of unageing intellect.

II

An aged man is but a paltry thing,

A tattered coat upon a stick, unless

Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing

For every tatter in its mortal dress,

Nor is there any singing school but studying

Monuments of its own magnificence;

And therefore I have sailed the seas and come

To the holy city of Byzantium.

III

O sages standing in God’s holy fire

As in the gold mosaic of a wall,

Come from the holy fire, perne in a gyre*,

And be the singing masters of my soul.

Consume my heart away; sick with desire

And fastened to a dying animal

It knows not what it is; and gather me

Into the artifice of eternity.

IV

Once out of nature I shall never take

My bodily form from any natural thing,

But such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make

Of hammered gold and gold enamelling

To keep a drowsy Emperor awake;

Or set upon a golden bough to sing

To lords and ladies of Byzantium

Of what is past, or passing, or to come.

  • “Perne in a gyre” – ‘pern’ is another name for spool, and ‘to pern’ or ‘perne’ is to move with a circular, spinning motion; a gyre is Yeats’ symbol for circular movements in history – In A Vision Yeats said that “each age unwinds the threads another age had wound”.

Yeats, W. B. Poems of W. B. Yeats London: MacMillan & Co, 1964 (Selected with an introduction and notes by A. Norman Jeffares)

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