The Image of the Marriage of Heaven and Earth in W. B. Yeats’s poem ‘Chosen’: A Way to Salvation
Faisal Abdul-Wahhab Hayder Al-Doori (PhD) )(
صورة زواج السماء والأرض في قصيدة دبليو بي ييتس “المختارون”: طريق الخلاص
أ. د. فيصل عبد الوهاب حيدر الدوري
تقدم قصيدة ييتس “منازل القمر” مقدمة موجزة لنظام ييتس الباطنيّ ، بينما تصور قصيدته القصيرة “المختارون” مجازًا النّظام الروحي نفسه من حيث علاقة الحب بين الذكر والأنثى وتمثيلها الكوني. في قصيدة “المختارون ” ، يعرّف ييتس الرجل بالشّمس والمرأة بالأرض، ثم يرسم مخططه للخلاص الرّوحي من خلال اختراعه للدورة الثالثة عشرة، المتمثلة في الإشارة إلى ” تيار عجائبي” في القصيدة ، أي مجرة درب التبانة.
تستكشف هذه الورقة البحثية خلفية التماثل والرمزية الروحية لـييتس ونظرته إلى الاتحاد الصوفي من خلال افتراضه للزواج الرمزي بين الشمس أو السّماء والأرض. إضافة لذلك ، تناقش هذه الورقة مراجع ييتس الأسطورية وكيفية استخدامها لتصوير بنية نظامه الروحي.
الكلمات المفتاحية: دبليو. بي. ييتس ، اتحاد روحيّ ، تيار عجائبيّ ، الدّورة الثالثة عشرة ، الخلاص الرّوحيّ.
Yeats’s poem ‘The Phases of the Moon’ offers a brief introduction to Yeats’s esoteric system, while his short poem ‘Chosen’ depicts metaphorically that same spiritual system in terms of the love relationship between male and female and its cosmological representation. In ‘Chosen’, Yeats identifies man with the sun and woman with the earth, and then draws his scheme of spiritual salvation through his invention of the Thirteenth Cycle, exemplified by the reference to a ‘miraculous stream’ in the poem, i.e., the Milky Way galaxy.
This paper explores the background of Yeats’s spiritual identification and symbolism and Yeats’s view of mystical union through his supposition of a symbolical marriage between the sun or heaven and earth. Further, this paper discusses Yeats’s mythological references and how he used them to portray the structure of his spiritual system.
Keywords: W. B. Yeats, spiritual union, miraculous stream, Thirteenth Cycle, spiritual salvation.
The dialogue between two of Yeats’s fictitious characters, Michael Robartes who represents Yeats’s digression in the East, and Owen Ahearne, who resembles Yeats’s Christian Orthodox connections, reveals the two books upon which Yeats ultimately based his own spiritual system. The first book is Speculum Angelorum et Horminium ‘The Mirror of Angels and Men’ (Cracow, 1594) authored by Giraldus and derived from the original Syriac. Giraldus was a European scholar, but he may have depended on certain Arabic books and astrological and alchemical books in particular to produce his subject matter. The other book is Kusta Ben Luka’s, tariquat un-nufus bayn al-qumur wa’l shumus (the way of souls between the moon and multiple suns). George Millis Harper supposes that the title of this fictitious book related to Kusta Ben Luka and is an amalgamation of the two titles of already known books, namely, W. T. Horton’s The Way of the Soul, A Legend in Line and Verse (1910), and Cecil French’s Between Sun and Moon: Poems and Woodcuts (1922). Actually, if Harper’s supposition proved to be correct, Yeats intended to establish by using this amalgamation a primary idea of his own cosmological system, which was based on Arabic beliefs, namely, that the soul journeys throughout the planets on its path to God. This idea is rooted in the ancient Mesopotamian cultures as well.
Yeats’s Theory of the Mask
Yeats’s theory of the mask is revealed through his prose writing, which explains the background or the rationale for his using this particular device:
a man in his subjective phase chooses or has chosen for him
a mask which implies a nature as unlike his own nature as
possible, and as he is a player in the Commedia del Arte
he is given a Vehicle or outline of plot, which he cannot
change, and that displays his genius that he may act
appropriately to his mask which otherwise would be made
inappropriate to the plot. But he may play well or ill, his
Mask may be well or badly sculptured for there is a Creative
Genius and Evil Genius as there are good and bad Masks.
The plot however taken down from a numbered pigeon hole
was not chosen by chance.
In this passage, Yeats considers the mask in his esoteric system to be the philosophy of Choice and Chance, which he derived from Islamic thought. Chance is exemplified here by the plot given to a man or any player in the Commedia del Arte, or in other words, given by God. Man cannot change the plot of life, but rather can choose the appropriate mask to coincide with the plot or depart from the right path by taking on a false mask. So, choosing a mask, whether true or false, depends on man’s desires or ambitions. Man’s choice of a true or good mask leads to perfection or union with God, while a false or an evil mask can only lead to imperfection. Yeats believes that even plot, which resembles destiny or fate, can be chosen individually, and is not enforced by any unseen power. Consequently, Yeats believes that although man is controlled by his own destiny, he still has a wide range of freedom. Yeats believed in predestination and choice duality and also that both he and George were chosen by God for some unique purpose, so he asks George in some automatic writing: ‘Were George & I chosen for each other[?]’
The Spiritual Union
The woman in Yeats’s ‘Chosen’ (1929) is fated, and so she has to accept her lot of love according to Plato’s Er where the lovers choose their lot in Heaven so as to define their forthcoming lives. The pre-destined woman is similar to what George is to Yeats. She has submitted to the law of determinism; yet, she can also liberate herself by following Yeats’s spiritual system. This identification is also relevant for Maud Gonne, Yeats’s real beloved, and the spiritual marriage that existed between her and Yeats. Yeats describes this poem as a ‘struggle of darkness to keep the sun from rising from its earthly bed.’:
THE lot of love is chosen. I learnt that much
Struggling for an image on the track
Of the whirling Zodiac.
Scarce did he my body touch,
Scarce sank he from the west
Or found a subterranean rest
On the maternal midnight of my breast
Before I had marked him on his northern way,
And seemed to stand although in bed I lay.
CP 283-284, ll, 1-9
The sun’s earthly bed is associated with darkness, and this association reflects traces of the Indian’s renunciation of desire or the monastic concept of sex in Yeats’s memory. Yeats’s identification of man or the sun with light or woman or the earth in darkness would not be liked by feminists today. Yet this identification does shed light on Yeats’s marital life and his idea of sex as well. Generally, religion tends to transcend a human being from a rather mundane state or ‘represent the awakening of the “sleeping” human spirit from its terrestrial darkness.’ Sex is related to darkness, and the solution, therefore, is to liberate lovers from this material cycle or the wheel of time and transcend them to the ‘miraculous stream’ where they can find their beatitude or the ‘Beatific Vision’ as Yeats explains :
It is therefore only after full atonement or expiation, perhaps
after many lives, that a natural deep satisfying love becomes
possible, and this love, in all subjective natures, must precede
the Beatific Vision.
The reference to the ‘new bride’ in this poem recalls Kusta’s bride in ‘The Gift of Harun Al-Rascid’ and that same allegory relates also to George and Yeats’s marriage story:
I struggled with the horror of daybreak,
I chose it for my lot! If questioned on
My utmost pleasure with a man
By some new-married bride, […]
CP 284, l l, 10-13
The Milky Way is represented in the poem, ‘Chosen’, as a ‘miraculous stream’ and identified with the Thirteenth Cycle. This poem was written during Yeats’s later creative years and recalls his early obsession with Hinduism and Buddhism. However, his view developed according to his system, which assimilated both its notions and symbols from the most well-known religions and mythologies. The Thirteenth Cycle is the state whereby the self is liberated from the conditional existence or the cycle of life and death. This idea is seen in both Hinduism and Buddhism.
In Hinduism, Moksha is the state where the self is released from Samsara, the cycle of death and rebirth. Also, Moksha is ‘the fourth and highest aim of human life, transcending DHARMA (duty), ARTHA (worldly success), and KAMA (love and pleasure)’. In the poem ‘Chosen’, the woman suffers from ‘the horror of daybreak’, and she chooses a man that yields her to ‘pleasure’. Pain and pleasure are significant characteristics of life that will bind the human being to the endless proceedings of cycling. In Buddhism, Dukka comprises both pain and pleasure, and both are considered to be the cause of human suffering. The self can be liberated – in this religion — by reaching nibbana or nirvana, which is ‘a state of great inner freedom and spontaneity, in which the mind has supreme tranquillity, purity, and stability.’ In ‘Chosen’, this state of mind is fulfilled on the ‘miraculous stream’:
[…] I take
That stillness for a theme
Where his heart my heart did seem
And both adrift on the miraculous stream
Where— wrote a learned astrologer—
The Zodiac is changed into a sphere.
CP 284, ll, 15-19
Macrobius, the ‘learned astrologer’, provides Yeats with his own notion of ‘the meeting-place of Zodiac and Milky Way’ and the course of the soul’s proceeding through this system wherein ‘the descending soul by its defluction is drawn out of the spherical, the sole divine form into the cone.’ The soul revolves endlessly in a cone or a gyre until that cone changes into a sphere where divine perfection can indeed be attained. If the beloved is God, then the mystical union of lovers can be understood not as a kind of annihilation, but instead as a union in detachment. Wilson argues that:
it is clear that the lover is driven to the restlessness that is his fate,
both because of his aching consciousness of his separation from God,
and because of the ultimate inadequacy of all possible experience,
however passionate or kathartic, that may come to him in the material
The sphere presents the idea of detachment from God, as He is in the centre, and the lovers revolve along the circumference of that sphere at an exact distance from Him. Yeats represents the microcosmic movement of man and woman, in terms of time, as in the macrocosmic precession of moon and sun:
I see the Lunar and Solar cones first, before they start their whirling
movement as two worlds lying one within another—a single being
like man and woman in Plato’s Myth, and then a separation and a
whirling for countless ages, and I see man and woman as reflecting
the greater movement, each with zodiac, precession, and separate
measure of time, and all whirling perpetually.
Plato’s Myth of Creation postulates that primeval man was split by Zeus into two creatures, male and female. Man is related to the sun, and woman is related to the earth, and androgyny then to the moon. This myth does not precisely fit Yeats’s identifications and symbols in ‘Chosen’ because he identifies man with the sun and that is right, and woman to the earth and that is right too. However, the lunar cone is androgynous according to the myth, yet feminine according to Yeats’s identification. Still, the myth does provide Yeats with the idea of a union of the sexes; one half craves eternally to find the other and consummate a final union. The mystical union of man or woman with God can thus be conceived in this context; and yet, the procedure of that union is different, and that difference becomes the issue of annihilation or simply, undesired detachment.
Jon Stallworthy interprets the ‘miraculous stream’ in a sexual context. He formulates his idea from the first drafts of the poem and concentrates on certain words and phrases, i.e, ‘cup’, ‘starry water’, and ‘satisfied love’, to support his interpretation. Yeats’s view of ‘satisfied love’ is significant in this context. In ‘Chosen’, the sojourn of ‘satisfied love’ on earth is in fact an unsatisfied love because mundane sexual love cannot be satisfied even though it does reoccur. Instead, the spiritual love offered in the ‘miraculous stream’ is truly satisfied.
The image of the ‘miraculous stream’ in ‘Chosen’ was developed from other images found in Yeats’s poem, ‘Veronica’s Napkin.’ These images are ‘The heavenly circuit’ and ‘the circuit of a needle’s eye’:
THE Heavenly Circuit; Berenice’s Hair;
Tent-pole of Eden; the tent’s drapery;
Symbolical glory of the earth and air!
‘Veronica’s Napkin’ CP, 242, l l, 1-3
‘The heavenly circuit’ is significant in terms of Yeats’s system of the twelve cycles and especially, the most important cycle or The Thirteenth. The two poles suggest an other-world paradise in which God and his Son resemble these two poles. : It is thought also that in the Day of Judgement, God and His Son will preside on this throne. The Glory of Heaven is thus achieved by the presence of an ‘angelic hierarchy’:
The Father and His angelic hierarchy
That made the magnitude and glory there
Stood in the circuit of a needle’s eye.
‘Veronica’s Napkin’ CP, 242, l l, 4-6
The two poles are also echoed by two women– Berenice and Veronica. Berenice, whose hair, along with the North Pole, is seen by Yeats as a ‘Symbolical glory of the earth and air’ to represent the physical by earth and the spiritual by air. Berenice was an Egyptian queen who sacrificed her long hair for the safe return of her husband, Ptolmey III, from war. Veronica’s loosened hair was devoted to protecting Christ from mundane perils. The hair of both women functions as a spell for protection and their tent-like hair works to fulfil this task as a place to find refuge. ‘The circuit of a needle’s eye,’ in which Berenice’ curl constellation exists, refers to the spiral galaxy of the Milky Way which appears to be like a needle in the sky with its eye in the middle instead at the end as an actual needle.
Yeats’s philosophy then is based on the unity of opposites as a clear reflection of the Unity of Being. The opposite movement of the Sun and the Moon is identified on his wheel and depicts his primary idea regarding the behaviour of man who ‘seeks his opposite or the opposite of his condition’. Yeats’s concept of perfection is further exemplified by viewing man as a microcosm and the precise movement and arrangement of the universe as a macrocosm. Unlike the traditional Western wheel of the Zodiac, which contains the twelve signs of the stars, Yeats’s wheel includes both the lunar and solar signs as the Arabic Zodiac does. He also refers to the Arabic influence on the design of his wheel as a kind of magic that relates to geometry or astrology and alchemy:
The Daimon, as a guardian of man, is living in the Thirteenth
Cycle, and man can attain that Cycle after he completes the twelve
cycles that define the law of determinism. The image in the
Thirteenth Cycle is like that in Phase 15. That image of the Daimon
can choose a man she wants, and the two are then united to be
separated again, as she is a Full Moon and he a Full Sun or the
This idea is expressed in Yeats’s poem, ‘Chosen’, through the figuration of she as Earth and he as Sun. Yeats’s concept of freedom is shaped not in the political sense, but rather in terms of love relationships or even mystical love.
The twelve cycles can thus be comprehended as Yeats’s application of the law of determinism, where the Thirteenth Cycle is a demonstration of actual freedom from that determinism. For Yeats, every man, as a male, has a female Daimon. Free choice is available for the Daimon, but seemingly not for the man. Man can communicate with other men, but he cannot choose his own Daimon. The equilibrium or balance between the Full Moon and the Full Sun can be achieved in the after-life stage or at the supernatural level where full freedom does become available. This freedom is unlimited to the extent that Daimon and man can be whatever they choose to be and either a moon or a sun.
Metaphorically, Yeats is saying that full human freedom cannot be attained during life, but rather only in the supernatural realm, the spiritual atmosphere, or in the after-life stage when a human is rid of his/her body and becomes a pure soul or a new image of that soul. In this sense of the soul-body relationship, Yeats formulated his concept of immortality by saying that the soul can survive many bodies, but the body can survive only one soul, for as he suggested: ‘I do not think of death as separation from body, but from the exclusive association with one body.’ In Hinduism, Buddhism, and other faiths, the doctrine of reincarnation states that the soul lives in an endless number of bodies until she is liberated from this endless cycling by Moksha in Hinduism, or Nirvana in Buddhism,. Here Yeats invented the Thirteenth Cycle to be the equivalent to Moksha or Nirvana. He presumed that the soul must require twelve cycles before she is able to reach that supernatural cycle, the Thirteenth. In these two religions, reincarnation means that when the body dies, the soul transfers to another body to live again. Choosing another body depends on the morality that was practised in the previous life of the soul within the first body; if the morality was good, the new body will be human or highly qualified, if that life was bad, then the new body would be a low creature, such as an animal or insect. These cycles of life are called Samsara in Hinduisim and Dukka in Buddhism. To be saved from these recurrent incarnations, the soul transfers to Moksha in Hinduism and to Nirvana in Buddhism. The previous reincarnation determines the next according to the morality and behaviours of that soul in the previous existence. Thus, Yeats believes that the soul is immortal and lives in many bodies. Further, even though the soul is immortal in this way, she needs to be saved from this recurrent cycle of reincarnations, and Yeats’s solution is found in the Thirteenth Cycle. The life of the soul with the body is transient whatever the length of that span of life is, and thus, Yeats offers the Thirteenth Cycle as his response to the question of any eternal union of the soul with God.
The flight of the soul over the planets after death was already known in the ancient civilizations of Mesopotamia. Yeats implies this relationship between the soul and the planets, particularly in his two poems, ‘The Phases of the Moon’ and ‘Chosen’. His theory of the mask considers the idea of perfection as the good mask and imperfection as the false mask, and that connection depends on the possible options for a Choice and Chance balance. The pre-destined woman in ‘Chosen’ is configured as the earth and reflects the idea of Chance or the law of determinism with her love relationship with the male, the sun. This woman can be identified with either George, Yeats’s wife, or Maud Gonne, Yeats’s real beloved. The real marriage occurred for Yeats and George, while the mystical marriage was between Yeats and Gonne. The mystical union of lovers is exemplified as detachment where God is represented as the centre of the sphere and the lovers revolve around Him.
Yeats applied the doctrine of reincarnation and the liberation of the soul from endless cycling to his cosmological system. He supposed that the soul completes twelve cycles through the planets, and then the salvation of the soul is provided by the Thirteenth Cycle when the Zodiac is interfered with by ‘the miraculous stream’ of the Milky Way galaxy. The salvation of the soul can be also perceived through the idea of satisfied love. The sexual link between male and female, or their exemplification as sun and earth in ‘Chosen’, produces only unsatisfied love. The circle of the ‘miraculous stream’ or the Thirteenth Cycle offers spiritual or satisfied love. The link between the sexual and the Divine in Yeats’s poem ‘Chosen’ is intended to fulfil a significant ending to his spiritual system of belief.
 – Professor ,Department of English Language – The College of Education for Women – Tikrit University firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com
-George Mills Harper, Yeats’s Vision Papers, vol. 4, (US: Palgrave Macmillan, 2001). p. 17.
– Ibid., p. 17.
– Harper, Yeats’s Vision Papers, vol. 4, n 24, p. 49.
– Birgit Bjersby, The Interpretation of the Cuchulain Legend in the Works of W. B. Yeats, Upsala Irish Studies (Dublin: Hodges, Figgis, & Co., 1950), p. 145.
 -George Mills Harper, The Making of Yeats’s ‘A Vision’; A Study of the Automatic Script, vol. 1 (London: The Macmilan Press, 1987), p. 146.
 -F. A. C. Wilson, Yeats and Tradition (New York: Macmillan, 1958), p. 207.
 -W. B. Yeats, The Variorum Edition of the Poems of W. B. Yeats, ed. by Allt, Peter and Russell K. Alspach (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1957). [VP]. p. 830.
 -‘Robert Fludd and His Relation to Christianity’ <http://www.amaluxherbal.com/robert_fludd.htm> [accessed 15 December 2012] (para. 3 of 9).
– A. Norman Jeffares, A New Commentary on the Poems of W.B.Yeats (London: Macmillan, 1968, 1984, repr. 1971, 1974, 1977, 1979), p. 189.
– F.A. C. Wilson, W. B. Yeats and Tradition (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1958), p. 206.
– John Hinnelles, A New Dictionary of Religions, (Oxford : Blackwell, 1997). p. 320.
– Ibid., p. 320.
– Ibid., p. 352.
 -Yeats, The Variorum Edition of the Poems of W. B. Yeats, p.830.
– Wilson, W. B. Yeats and Tradition, p.208.
 -Ibid., pp. 208-209.
– Walter Kelly Hood & George Millis Harper (eds.) A Critical Edition of Yeats’s A Vision (1925) (London : Macmillan, 1978),.p. 149.
-Jon Stallworthy, Between the Lines (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1963), pp.158-161.
 -David A. Ross, Critical Companion to William Butler Yeats: A Literary Reference to His Life, p. 260.
– The myth of Berenice’s Hair says that when Berenice put her curls in Aphrodite Temple, the curls disappeared the next day and then appeared in the sky. Others say that her husband named the constellation ‘Berenice’Curls’ after his return from war(note 270. 1, in Jeffares, A New Commentary, p. 277.)
 – ‘NGC 4565 has been nicknamed the Needle Galaxy because, when seen in full, it appears as a very narrow streak of light on the sky’.
‘A galactic disc, edge-on and up close’
<http://www.spacetelescope.org/images/potw1228a/> [Accessed 22 September 2012] (para. 1&3 of 5).
– Yeats, A Vision (1925) (London: The Macmillan Press, 1974), p. 12.
– Hood & Harper (eds.), A Critical Edition of Yeats’s ‘A Vision’ (1925), pp. 220-1.
– Ibid., p. 221.
 -Ibid., p. 221.
- Bjersby, The Interpretation of the Cuchulain Legend in the Works of W. B. Yeats, Upsala Irish Studies (Dublin: Hodges, Figgis, & Co., 1950).
- Harper, George Mills. The Making of Yeats’s ‘A Vision’; A Study of the Automatic Script, 1 (London: The Macmilan Press, 1987).
- — Yeats’s Vision Papers, vol. 4. (US: Palgrave Macmillan, 2001).
- Hinnelles, John R. A New Dictionary of Religions (Oxford : Blackwell, 1997).
- Hood, Walter Kelly & Harper, George Millis (eds.) A Critical Edition of Yeats’s A Vision (1925) (London : Macmillan, 1978).
- Jeffares, Norman. A New Commentary on the Poems of W.B.Yeats (London: Macmillan, 1968, 1984, repr. 1971, 1974, 1977, 1979).
- Ross, David A. Critical Companion to William Butler Yeats: A Literary Reference to His Life (Infobase Publishing, 2014).
- Stallworthy, Jon. Between the Lines (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1963).
- Wilson, F.A. C., B. Yeats and Tradition (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1958).
- Yeats, W.B. The Variorum Edition of the Poems of W. Yeats, ed. by Allt, Peter and Russell K. Alspach (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1957). [VP].
- — A Vision (1925) (London: The Macmillan Press, 1974).