Sunday, 22 July 2012

“Seek on earth what you have found in heaven” - the words of power Æ offered the novelist L.A.G. Strong

Like a deleted scene from Robin Williams' film, “The Dead Poets Society”, I was first introduced to the work of George William Russell at the age of 17 by an inspirational school teacher who also managed to turn me on to WB Yeats, Shakespeare, Samuel Beckett and Tom Stoppard amongst others. Since that first lighting of the candle I’ve enjoyed delving back into the depths of AE’s work time and time again for inspiration, insight and illumination.

George William Russell was a seer and mystic as well as gifted painter and poet. In addition to these things, he was also a vocal Irish Nationalist and prolific writer who has left a lasting legacy for the world.   
Russell was born in the grey town of Lurgan (Irish “an Lorgain”) in County Armagh, Ireland on the 10th of April 1867. At the age of eleven his family moved southbound to Dublin. A few years later as a young man, he developed enduring friendships with W B Yeats and Art O’Murnaghan.

Somewhat similarly to Annie Besant, Russell devoted much of his life to political, co-operative and labour causes. He worked for a number of years for the co-operative, the Irish Agricultural Organisation Society. Willie Yeats played a pivotal role in suggested to the co-operative’s founder Horace Plunkett that Russell should become its Assistant Secretary. In this role Russell succeeded in helping to create a host of credit societies and co-operative banks which gave working people a level of unprecedented financial security and comfort.     

During the fraught time of the 1913 Dublin Lock-out, Russell wrote an powerfully worded open letter to the Irish Times newspaper fiercely criticizing the employers’ bullish attitude. Not being content with progress he then spoke up about the lock-out in England and was hugely contributory towards ending the crisis.

Russell continued with his political career by becoming an independent delegate to the 1917-18 Irish Convention where he articulately opposed John Redmond’s poorly thought through compromise on Irish Home Rule.

He often used the pseudonym and nom de plume "AE", or more correctly, "Æ". This derived from an earlier name he had explored, "Æ'on", which symbolised the eternal spiritual quest of humanity, subsequently abbreviated.

His first collection of poetry, “Homeward: Songs by the Way” (1894), established him fairly and squarely in what was to become known as the Irish Literary Revival. His collected poems were published during 1913, with a second edition being distributed later in 1926. A favourite of mine from this collection is included later in this article. His poetry and prose remain in publication to this day and his painting continues to fetch high prices at auction.

Along his way in 1902 Æ met a young James Joyce and played a key networking role for Joyce, introducing him to many other important Irish characters including Yeats. It’s interesting to wonder whether Joyce’s literary career would have taken a different turn without these early introductions.

Russell’s house in Dublin’s Rathgar Avenue became a productive hive for artistic and thinking minds. Anyone was welcome there who wished to shine their light on the social, economic, political and artistic future of Ireland.

A talented clairvoyant, Æ’s interests and passions also included theosophy and the inner world of humanity. His burgeoning spiritual life was beautifully caught in many of his paintings, prose and poetical works. In many respects he really did manage to manifest in earth the words of power he had once offered to L.A.G. Strong and quoted in this article’s header. Few are able to bring back the treasures of the faery realms or other magical kingdoms in such a beautiful and lasting way as Æ did.  

Æ’s was often very successful in capturing and earthing his experiences of the nature side of things, of the Green Ray contacts, particularly in his paintings. This can be seen in the above painting, or in the captivating picture below of a woodchopper and a tree spirit or dryad.      

I was delighted to come across Æ again when I first started exploring the magic of the Golden Dawn tradition a few years after my English teacher’s first introductions. In Regardie’s opus “The Tree of Life”, I found Æ’s beautiful vision of a conversation between what can on one level be seen as the mundane self and the Higher Self or Holy Guardian Angel described in a carefully thought out and helpful manner. The passage comes from poem “Glory and Shadow”. Regardie describes the vision as a conversation between the “earthly child of darkness” and the “Holy Angel of Light.” This is an evocative and illuminating work well worth some contemplation for those wishing to open up a more productive dialogue and relationship between these two aspects.

To give an illustration I’ve chosen to share a longer section of the poem than Regardie chose to. Here the shadow speaks to the Angel:

“I know thee, O Glory;
Thine eyes and thy brow
With white-fire all hoary
Come back to me now.
Together we wandered
In ages agone:
Our thoughts as we pondered
Were stars at the dawn.
My glory has dwindled,
My azure and gold:
Yet you keep unkindled
The sunfire of old.
My footsteps are tied to
The heath and the stone:
My thoughts earth-allied-to,
Ah, leave me alone.
Go back, thou of gladness,
Nor wound me with pain,
Nor smite me with madness,
Nor come nigh again.”

The Angel continues and replies in words of particular significance to the student of the Hermetic Arts and Theurgy, entreating the shadowy self to surrender to the guidance of the heavenly shepherd:

Why tremble and weep now,
Whom stars once obeyed?
Come forth to the deep now
And be not afraid.
The Dark One is calling
I know, for his dreams
Around me are falling
In musical streams.
A diamond is burning
In depths of the lone,
Thy spirit returning
May claim for its throne.
In flame-fringed islands
Its sorrow shall cease,  
Absorbed in the silence
And quenched in the peace.
Come lay thy poor head on
My heart where it glows
With love ruby-red on
Thy heart for its woes.
My power I surrender;
To thee it is due.
Come forth! for the splendour
Is waiting for you.”

Over the years I’ve returned to this and other works by Æ for insight, sustenance and, at times, just sheer enjoyment.

After his wife’s death in 1932 and towards the end of his life Russell relocated to England. He passed over to the other side on the 17th of July 1935 in Bournemouth, that perennial English seaside town for retired folk on their way to the Great Recycling Plant. His body was returned to be interred in Mount Jerome Cemetery in Dublin’s fair city.

I will leave you with an excerpt from what I find one of his most enduring works, “The Candle of Vision”:

“There at the close of a divine day, time being ended, and the Nuts of Knowledge harvested, the gods partake of the Feast of Age and drink from a secret fountain. Their being there is neither life nor death nor sleep nor dream, but all are wondrously wrought together. They lie in the bosom of Lir, cradled in the same peace, those who hereafter shall meet in love or war in hate. The Great Father and the Mother of the Gods mingle together and Heaven and Earth are lost, being one in the Infinite Lir.”

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for filling in the details of AE's life. . . And I had no idea Regardie used that beautiful poem . . . The Candle of Vision is one of my favourite books, too - the pages are falling apart in my old copy, which will soon need replacing. Luckily I came across an old hard-back of his collected poems some time ago, which is still in good shape. It was in the 1980s, and I put tunes to some of his poems because they are so rhythmical. They still float through my head sometimes on countryside walks!


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