A London literary walk in celebration of the 150th anniversary of the birth of W.B. Yeats
Irish poet Niall McDevitt continues his Yeats explorations by leading a Central London walk from Yeats’s bachelor pad in Euston to the only known pub he was willing to frequent, Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese in Fleet Street.
Though Yeats wrote designer Irish poetry in which there is little or no glimpse of London – apart from the pejorative ‘pavements grey’ – he was an avid Londoner who depended on the city for his intellectual, artistic and spiritual development. For instance, he once described the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn as his ‘church and university’.
Fellow Londoners, native and migrant, from whom he learnt about mysticism, literature, politics, art included Oscar Wilde, Helena Blavatsky, Aubrey Beardsley and his poetry disciple Ezra Pound.
Though Yeats built no London, and wilfully censors London from his poetry, there are traces to be sifted, and plenty of stories from his autobiographical prose.
This walk particularly focusses on the fin de siecle Yeats: nationalist, Blake editor, symbolist and – according to some – diabolist who called himself by the Blakean title of ‘Demon Est Deus Inversus’ (‘A demon is an inverse god’). McDevitt, following the example of Yeats’s great biographer, Roy Foster, chooses not to ignore the crucial role of magical study in Yeats’s development. As well as giving him metaphors for his poetry, magic deepened his friendships. Fellow neophytes included his uncle George Pollexfen, his muse Maud Gonne, his patron Annie Horniman and his future wife George Hyde-Lees.
In his 30 years attending the Iris-Urania Temple in Blythe Road, Olympia, and the Amoun Temple in Bassett Road, Ladbroke Grove, he did not attain to the highest grade of ‘Ipsissimus’ (which means the ‘very self’). Apparently, it is too high an honour to bestow on a living human being. McDevitt argues that Yeats, as the greatest lyric poet in the English language and a supremely learned magus, deserves to be honoured with this title posthumously.
(N.B. The walk takes place on the occasion of Yeats’s 150th birthday. Niall McDevitt will be guesting on The Robert Elms Show on BBC London 94.9FM at 11am that morning.)
A forthcoming short essay ‘Ipsissimus Yeats: the Poet-Magus in London’ will be published in the debut edition of STEPZ Magazine.