Published by Blavatsky Study Center. Online Edition copyright 2004.

Interview with Mr. W.B. Yeats

by Daniel Nicol Dunlop

[First published in The Irish Theosophist (Dublin, Ireland)
November 15, 1893, pp. 147-149.]

A few evenings ago I called on my friend, Mr. W. B. Yeats, and found him alone, seated in his arm-chair, smoking his cigarette, with a volume of Homer before him. The whole room indicated the style and taste peculiar to its presiding genius. Upon the walls hung various designs by Blake and other less well-known symbolic artists; everywhere books and papers, in apparently endless profusion.

In his usual genial way he invited me to have a cup of tea with him. During this pleasant ceremony little was said, but sufficient to impress me more than ever with the fact that my host was supremely an artist, much in love with his art. With a passion deep and entrancing he adores his art: "his bread is from her lips; his exhilaration from the taste of her." The Muse finds in him a tongue to respond to her most subtle beauties. In song was handed down the great Solar Religions that advanced the people of antiquity; in song those of a later day received that which caused them to emerge from their cold isolation and kiss "the warm lips of Helios"; and in these days, too, we look to the poets for that inspiration which will

"Overflow mankind with true desires,
And guide new Ages on by flights of living lyres."

Tea over, I disclosed the object of my visit. "Mr. Yeats," I said, "I understand that you saw a great deal of Madame Blavatsky in the earlier days of the Theosophical movement in England, and so I thought you might have something to say regarding her, which would interest the readers of the IRISH THEOSOPHIST."

"Yes," replied Mr. Yeats, "I had the privilege of seeing Madame Blavatsky frequently at that time, and so many interesting little incidents crowd in upon me, that I find some difficulty in selecting what might be most interesting to your readers."

"Well, I replied, "supposed you begin by giving your personal impression."

"Madame Blavatsky," said Mr. Yeats, "struck me as being a very strong character. In her ordinary moods, rather combative, and inclined to rub people’s prejudices the other way. When depressed, she dropped her combativeness and, thrown back on herself, as it were, became most interesting, and talked about her own life. A clever American, who was not a Theosophist, said to me once: ‘Madame Blavatsky has become the most famous woman in the whole world, by sitting in her arm-chair, and getting people to talk to her.’"

"I have heard it stated," said I, "in connection with the Coulomb incidents, that Madame Blavatsky showed great lack of insight into character."

"For so powerful a personality," replied Mr. Yeats, "she did seem to lack something in that respect. I remember, for instance, on one occasion she introduced me to a French occultist, whom she spoke of very highly, and even urged me to read his books. Within a short time he was expelled from the Society for what appeared excellent reasons. ‘I have had to expel him,’ said Madame Blavatsky to me; ‘he sold a love elixir for two francs; had it been forty francs I might have overlooked the fact.’ On another occasion she told me, quite seriously, that I would have a severe illness within six months, and I am waiting for that illness still. Attempts are made by people very often," continued Mr. Yeats, "to wash humanity out of their leaders. Madame Blavatsky made mistakes; she was human, and to me that fact makes her, if possible, the more interesting. Another peculiarity was her evident lack of proportion. An attack on the Theosophical movement (she did not seem to mind personal attacks) in some obscure little paper, was to her of as much importance as if it appeared in the Times."

In reply to another question, Mr. Yeats remarked that she had met Demusset a few times, and Balzac once. She had worked a little at occultism with George Sands, but, to use her own words, both were "mere dabblers" at the time.

"What did you think of Madame Blavatsky as a talker?" I asked.

"It has been said of Dr. Johnson," replied Mr. Yeats, "that the effeminate reader is repelled by him; and the same might be said of Madame Blavatsky as a talker. She had that kind of faculty which repelled the weak, and attracted those of a stronger temperament. She hated paradox, and yet she gave utterance to the most magnificent paradox I ever heard."

"As you heard her talk a good deal, perhaps you will kindly relate to me any interesting sayings that occur to you," said I.

"With pleasure," replied Mr. Yeats, lighting another cigarette. "I called on Madame Blavatsky one day, with a friend - a T. C. D. man. She was trying to explain to us the nature of the Akas, and was entering into an exceedingly subtle metaphysical analysis of the difference between fore-knowledge and predestination - a problem which has interested theologians of ancient, as well as modern times - showing the way in which the whole question was mixed up with the question of the Akas, when suddenly she broke off - my friend not following, and said, turning round, and pointing to one of her followers who was present: ‘You with your spectacles and your imprudence, you will be siting there in the Akas to all eternity - no not to all eternity, for a day will come when even the Akas will pass away, and then there shall be nothing but God - Chaos - that which every man is seeking in his heart.’"

"At another time, when I called, she seemed rather depressed. ‘Ah!’ she said, ‘there is no solidarity among the good; there is only solidarity among the evil. There was a time when I used to blame and pity the people who sold their souls to the devil, now I only pity them; I know why they do it; they do it to have somebody on their side.’ ‘As for me I write, write, write, as the Wandering Jew walks, walks, walks.’"

"On one occasion, too," said Mr. Yeats, continuing, "she referred to the Greek Church as the church of her childhood, saying: ‘The Greek Church, like all true religions, was a triangle, but it spread out and become a bramble bush, and that is the Church of Rome; then they came and lopped off the branches, and turned it into a broomstick, and that is Protestantism.’"

In reply to a question, Mr. Yeats said, quoting her own words, with reference to Col. Olcott: "Ah! he is an honest man; I am an old Russian savage"; and, referring to Mr. Old, she said, with a hearty enthusiasm that, in certain respects, he was above all those about her at that time.

"Can you remember anything in the nature of a prophecy, Mr. Yeats, made by Madame Blavatsky, that might be of interest to record, notwithstanding the fact that you are yet awaiting your prophesied illness?" I asked.

"The only thing of that nature," replied Mr. Yeats, "was a reference to England." "The Master told me," she said, "that the power of England would not outlive the century, and the Master never deceived me."

"I am very much obliged to you, Mr. Yeats," said I, "for the kind manner in which you have responded to my enquiries regarding Madame Blavatsky; perhaps you will pardon me if I ask you one or two questions about your own work now. Do you intend, at any time, publishing a book on ‘Mysticism’?"

"Yes; at no very distant date I hope to publish a work dealing with mystics I have seen, and stories I have heard, but it will be as an artist, not as a controversialist."

"And what about your present work?" I asked.

"‘Celtic Twilight,’ a work dealing with ghosts, goblins, and faeries, will be out shortly; also a small selection of ‘Blake’s Poems,’" he replied. "Then, I am getting ready for publication, next spring, a book of poems, which I intend calling, ‘The Wind among the Reeds’; and, as soon afterwards as possible, a collection of essays, and lectures dealing with Irish nationality and literature, which will probably appear under the title of the ‘Watch Fire.’"

After due apologies for my intrusion, I bade my host good evening, and withdrew feeling more than satisfied with the result of my interview.

Mr. Yeats has often been spoken of as a dreamer, and many strange stories are afloat which go a long way to bear out such a statement. But, in my opinion, he combines the man of thought with the man of action; he is "whole of heart and sound of head," and Ireland may, indeed, be proud of one who promises to rank among her most worthy sons.