Seán Hewitt


W. B. Yeats identified anti-Enlightenment principles as being central to his generation’s artistic project. Characterizing the worldview he was writing against, he argued that “the mischief began at the end of the seventeenth century when man became passive before a mechanized nature” (OBMV, xxvii). By charting the processes by which he reimagined nature and the poet’s (and poem’s) position in relation to it, we can begin to understand Yeats’s developing ecological relationships as a matrix for his shifting understanding of mysticism (and vice versa). Focusing in particular on the prefatory texts to The Shadowy Waters, this article shows that, rather than seeking to escape physical nature (as with his Blakean model), or to render it uninfluential, a reenchanted phenomenal nature (attained through a confluence of primitivist, occultist, and folkloric thought) was fundamental to Yeats’s poetical, philosophical, and aesthetic project.