Catholic Response to Yeats?


I posted the following question to the Ask An Apologist forum, and I have not yet seen a response. (I apologize to any of the moderators and apologists in that forum, if I am hastening unduly their response. Any research done to answer my question is appreciated, greatly.)

In my literary studies, I am learning the system of time, history, and character described by poet W. B. Yeats, in his occult book A Vision. While his system is subversively Christocentric, he incorporates many other supernatural ideas into the whole, such as astrology and revelation from spirits. Most of his important poems (such as “The Second Coming”) are derived from his system,

I am curious to know if any Catholic apologist has written a reaction to Yeats’ work, or if any Church doctrine exists that criticizes Yeats’ system specifically. Further, I am curious to know if any apologetic or doctrinal reaction exists for Yeats’ poems.

Thank you for your responses!


I tried doing some online research on this and about a billion (ok - a lot) of stuff came up when I typed in Catholic response to work of Yeats. I’ll keep looking…:whacky:


It may help to know that Yeats was (for part of his life) a proponent of Rosecrucianism.

I do not know much about Rosecrucianism, however. Due to the influx of information probably dispersed to make money, following The Da Vinci Code, I have resisted researching it until the air clears a little.


This by G. K. Chesterton, in his book Orthodoxy, addresses Yeats and may be something along the lines of what you are seeking:

The full version of the book may be found here:



Yes, thank you very much.

This is very much the sort of material I hoped exists. If anything else of this sort can be found–I don’t expect everyone to do my research for me, of course, but just in case something floats by you–I would appreciate reference information!


Yeats was an influential member of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, an organisation that included much ritual magic in its activities. I don’t want to go into details (though I could as I read lots about and from the Golden Dawn as a teenager) but I wouldn’t call such things Christian in any sense of the word. Major influences came from the Kabbalah Tree of Life, Rosicrucianism, and Freemasonry. There was infighting in the Order and eventually splits. Yeats took control of the Second Order.


Thank you very much, asteroid, for the resource link and the information. After I have finished reading the electronic text of Chesterton posted above, I will look at it.

Oh, and: FCEGM, gratitude bids me thank you again for the delightful resource! I have been meaning to read Chesterton for quite some time, with the sort of idling intentions whose babble a curious mind listens to almost daily. This is an excellent pretext for my introduction to his writing. Thank you so much!

EDIT: Whatever disagreements I may have while enjoying Chesterton, I cannot but love a man who pens a phrase like this: “Phrases like ‘put out’ and ‘off colour’ might have been coined by Mr. Henry James in an agony of verbal precision.”


I was happy to provide the link. I’d read Orthodoxy a number of years ago though I didn’t remember a particular mention of Yeats, but knowing GKC’s propensity to address the theological foibles of his contemporaries I correctly assumed I’d find him and Yeats together if I searched on Google (what GKC would have done with that word! :wink: )


Chesterton’s criticism of Yeats is odd. Half of it comes from a disagreement on the nature of elves and fairy tales, and then the other half is an almost racist barb directed at Yeats himself. After all, to describe Yeats as an “ironical Irishman” for having intellectual tendencies is hardly kind or enlightened. Further, his jab at Yeats in the essay “Fairy Tales” as having a tendency toward physical violence, on account of his being Irish, also suggests bigotry.

Chesterton strikes me as a man who has the cosmology of a Christian, and the confidence of a British imperialist. Many of his ideas are provoking—even familiar from experience—yet he appears to understand them through the mental framework of a conqueror, which suggests that he has learned his concept of a “kingdom” through the means of an Empire, rather than a Church. To use Chesterton’s own analogy, it seems as though he woke up one morning, discovered that he was English, and discovered that many people were not English, because they were not Chesterton.

I would still be interested to read his reaction to Yeats’ system, though. In Orthodoxy, he only comments upon Yeats’ depictions of elves. He seemed to be irritated that the elves were Irish, rather than Roman Catholic.


I would still be interested to read his reaction to Yeats’ system, though. In Orthodoxy, he only comments upon Yeats’ depictions of elves. He seemed to be irritated that the elves were Irish, rather than Roman Catholic.


Here’s another site that might offer some help:



Thanks again!

I hope my criticism doesn’t come across as ingratitude. Far from it–In Chesterton, I discover many clever and original observations of truths and insights that I believe and desire myself. He’s marvelous, at times, and irreplaceable at others.


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