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The Unknown God -- AE

... sending this for Martin, since there seems to be something amiss
with his mailserver...
(Poem #350) The Unknown God
Far up the dim twilight fluttered
   Moth-wings of vapour and flame:
The lights danced over the mountains,
   Star after star they came.

The lights grew thicker unheeded,
   For silent and still were we;
Our hearts were drunk with a beauty
   Our eyes could never see.
-- AE
(George William Russell)

An Irish poet and mystic, Russell has written a number of somewhat
'impressionistic', mystical poems, mostly about Nature, God and Beauty.
The chief drawback of such poetry is that it can easily get
heavy-handed, the poet tripping over himself in an effort to get his
message across, and overburdening the poem with attempts to tell, rather
than show.

Russell[1] veers perhaps to the other extreme, and indeed critics have
called him facile (see the assessment at the end); however, his poetry
is enjoyable enough, and if it does not lay bare the essence of beauty
and plumb the depths of the human spirit (see Yeats, Shakespeare etc.),
it nonetheless contains some memorable and evocative images and phrases.

Today's poem highlights both Russell's good and his bad points - the
second verse does indeed justify his reputation for vagueness, and
leaves me with the distinct feeling that he should have quit while he
was ahead, but the first contains some quite striking imagery; in
particular, the fourth line is a startlingly effective image of the
turning of the earth, despite its apparent unsophisticated wording.


[1] yes, I should be referring to him as AE, but my ear balks at all
those vowels

Biography and Assessment:


  b. April 10, 1867, Lurgan, County Armagh, Ire.
  d. July 17, 1935, Bournemouth, Hampshire, Eng.

Pseudonym OF GEORGE WILLIAM RUSSELL, poet and mystic, a leading figure
in the Irish literary renaissance of the late 19th and early 20th
centuries. Russell took his pseudonym from a proofreader's query about
his earlier pseudonym, "AEon."

After attending the Metropolitan School of Art, Dublin, where he met the
poet William Butler Yeats, Russell became an accounts clerk in a drapery
store but left in 1897 to organize agricultural cooperatives. Eventually
he became editor of the periodicals The Irish Homestead (1904-23) and
The Irish Statesman (1923-30). In 1894 he published the first of many
books of verse, Homeward: Songs by the Way. His first volume of
Collected Poems appeared in 1913 and a second in 1926. He maintained a
lifelong interest in theosophy, the origins of religion, and mystical
experience. The Candle of Vision (1918) is the best guide to his
religious beliefs.

At the turn of the century, Russell was considered by many to be the
equal of Yeats, but he did not continue to grow and develop as Yeats
did. He was prolific and versatile, but many critics found his poetry
facile, vague, and monotonous, with "rather too much of the Celtic
Twilight" in it.

        -- EB

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