Yeats and Alchemy

By William T. Gorski

Subjects: English Literature
Series: SUNY series in Western Esoteric Traditions
Paperback : 9780791428429, 223 pages, January 1996
Hardcover : 9780791428412, 223 pages, January 1996

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Table of contents


List of Abbreviations

1 No Mere Chemical Fantasy

2 The Poem as Hermetic Laboratory

3 Avoidance and the Void

4 Mystical Marriage

5 Philosophical Stones in the Dung Heap





This book traces the development of alchemical discourse in the work of W. B. Yeats. His early essays and Golden Dawn transcripts demonstrate that for the poet, the alchemist was both artist and initiate. Gorski considers the themes of transformation, apocalypse, and futurity in relation to Yeats' alchemical representations of the 1890s. He uncovers Yeats' postmodern trajectory--to reconstitute the body, history, and material contingency which Yeats' original Symbolist aesthetic sought to transcend for "a world made wholly of essences."

Yeats and Alchemy bridges the resistant discourses of hermeticism and poststructuralism in alchemy's reclaiming of the culturally discarded value, in its theorizing of construction and deconstruction, and in its siting of the Other within the subject. Discussions of previously unpublished Yeats journals theorize on the Body's place and potential in spiritual transformation. Gorski also highlights the role Yeats assigned to alchemy in marriage and in his turbulent partnership with Maud Gonne.

William T. Gorski teaches in the Writing Program at the University of Southern California.


"There are no books that compete with this one which, I believe, will be seen as the definitive book on the subject. I feel that I have a better understanding of a good many of Yeats' poems as a result of having read the book, and I am sure that this feeling will be shared by everyone." — James Olney, Louisiana State University

"The author deals unapologetically with Yeats' alchemical studies and applies them convincingly in his critical readings of the stories and poems. By reducing Yeats' complex and eclectic occult studies to a single alchemical theme, he provides an accessible and attractive interpretation of the influence of the poet's occult beliefs on his life and art.

"The high point of the book is the chapter on 'Mystical Marriage,' where the author uses unpublished materials in a provocative and illuminating way." — Marsha Keith Schuchard