“People who lean on logic and philosophy and rational exposition end by starving the best part of the mind.” – William Butler Yeats
Notes from the Zone: W.B. Yeats in Zone of Hearts Desire
William Butler Yeats is known to have visited the site of what is now called the Zone often as a young boy and wrote a number of poems referencing and inspired by the region including Song of Wandering Aengus (1899) and The Lake Isle of Innisfree (1892). The maternal Pollexfen side of his family would have been friendly with the owners of the big house there. I located its old harbour and boathouse on the banks of the river that borders the Zone which he appears to directly reference in Song of Wandering Aengus.
In the very early 1900s Yeats brought the writer, poet and mystic George ‘AE’ Russell and the poet and writer Susan L. Mitchell into the Zone. All of whom were part of what became known as the Celtic Revival. Russell was said to be deeply affected by it and Mitchell mentioned this fact in her diary and her mysterious poem, The Greenlands (1908), could well be about this visit as it is clearly set in the Northwest of Ireland.
One of the side effects of visiting the Zone is said to be increased awareness of synchronicity and even precognitive glimpses of the future. While it’s difficult to confuse coincidence with meaningful coincidence I do believe I experienced a case of the latter (as well as a glimpse of the future) about a month before I even entered the Zone. I had been clearing out an old stone shed of the belongings of a previous owner where I now live when I found a small framed hand coloured print which illustrates the last four lines of Song of Wandering Aengus, which I reproduce here (full poem below). While I had brought this inside the house and put it on a pile of stuff to sort through I had totally forgotten about it by the time I was researching the Yeats connection and this poem in particular until I found it a few weeks later.
It appears to be a poem about craving a return to his lost and more innocent youth but in the context of the Zone perhaps its meaning changes? It strikes me that only people who are sensitive to the Zone are affected by it. If people don’t know its reputation and wander through it or even spend lots of time there, like the workers in the factory would have, nothing out of the ordinary might happen to them and if it did they wouldn’t necessarily connect it to the reputation of the Zone. I don’t know if Yeats knew about this reputation for sure, I would imagine Mary Battle, his uncles clairvoyant house keeper and an important influence on his young imagination, would have told him about it. He was certainly very sensitive to nature as well as the supernatural and perhaps he felt drawn there time and again in youth and even on reflection in old age. Might this be the true location or even the source of his Land of Hearts Desire?
Yeats is famous for his poetry and plays but one of his core beliefs was in the occult and supernatural (he was a member of The Order of the Golden Dawn) but he continues to be celebrated by a society that does not, on the surface, share this belief. His image and writings are everywhere, his memory, ghost-like, continues to haunt Ireland, even the world, but especially where he grew up. He will always be useful for attracting tourists but on some deep level the Irish have never lost their superstitions for we know that science does not have all the answers.
With all of this in mind and as things which are left in the Zone for some time are said to become charged with some type of power; in September 2013 I made a sound piece with recordings of W.B. Yeats reciting his poem The Lake Isle of Innisfree followed by two stanzas from Coole and Ballylee from 1937. I then made a cassette copy and deleted all other versions I had of the piece and buried the cassette (un-boxed) in the Zone and left it there for one year. I called the piece Another Emblem There! and what I retrieved can now be listened to at this link.
Song of Wandering Aengus by W. B. Yeats
I went out to the hazel wood,
Because a fire was in my head,
And cut and peeled a hazel wand,
And hooked a berry to a thread;
And when the moths were on the wing,
And moth-like stars were flickering out,
I dropped the berry in the stream
And Caught a little silver trout.
When I laid it on the floor
I went to blow the fire a-flame,
But something rustled on the floor,
And someone called me by my name:
It had become a glimmering girl
With apple blossom in her hair
Who called me by my name and ran
And faded through the brightening air.
Though I am old with wandering
through hollow lands and hilly lands,
I will find out where she has gone,
And kiss her lips and take her hands;
And walk among long dappled grass,
And pluck till time and times are done,
The silver apples of the moon,
The golden apples of the sun.