Occult Correlations in “He Bids His Beloved Be At Peace” by William Butler Yeats

I hear the Shadowy Horses, their long manes a-shake,
Their hoofs heavy with tumult, their eyes glimmering white;
The North unfolds above them clinging, creeping night,
The East her hidden joy before the morning break,
The West weeps in pale dew and sighs passing away,
The South is pouring down roses of crimson fire:
O vanity of Sleep, Hope, Dream, endless Desire,
The Horses of Disaster plunge in the heavy clay:
Beloved, let your eyes half close, and your heart beat
Over my heart, and your hair fall over my breast,
Drowning love’s lonely hour in deep twilight of rest,
And hiding their tossing manes and their tumultuous feet.

Yeats was a member of the Golden Dawn, and therefore very familiar with Hermeticism and occult philosophy. This poem contains a weaving of occult correlations, and to begin to understand the poem, you need to be aware of the connections.

Four is the key number in this poem: four directions, four elements, four vanities, and four horsemen. Yeats establishes a correlation between elements, directions, and emotions, and then implies a symbolic connection with the four horsemen of the apocalypse.

In Western Hermetic thought, the four directions are associated with the four elements as follows:

  • North – Earth
  • East – Air
  • West – Water
  • South – Fire

Next, we need to factor in the four associated emotional states:

  • North – Earth – Sleep
  • East – Air – Hope
  • West – Water – Dream
  • South – Fire –Desire

It appears that Yeats viewed these emotional states as ills, states of being that are detrimental to the development and advancement of humanity.

Finally, let’s connect these with the four horsemen:

  • North – Earth – Sleep – Third Horseman (Famine) on black horse
  • East – Air – Hope – First Horseman (Pestilence) on white horse
  • West – Water – Dream – Fourth Horseman (Death) on pale horse
  • South – Fire –Desire – Second Horseman (War) on red horse

At this point we see the pattern emerge, and the pattern is reflected in the lines of the poem.

The North unfolds above them clinging, creeping night,
The East her hidden joy before the morning break,
The West weeps in pale dew and sighs passing away,
The South is pouring down roses of crimson fire:

So what does all this mean? What was Yeats ultimately trying to convey? I think he was attempting to provide us with a map delineating the progression of the apocalypse, both on an individual level as well as a global level. We begin our journey with hope, but this leads us to desire, then we become tired and sleep, and ultimately, we pass away and slip into the eternal dream.

I hope that you found this post interesting and that it helped you to form some of your own interpretations of this poem. Thanks for stopping by, and have a blessed day.

9 Comments

Filed under Literature, Spiritual

9 responses to “Occult Correlations in “He Bids His Beloved Be At Peace” by William Butler Yeats

  1. Thanks for the analysis. The final lines give me a sense of love as solace in the midst of danger and darkness.

  2. What a beautiful poem and a wonderful analysis, Jeff. I really have nothing to add except that I am amazed at the apocalyptic symbolism juxtaposed with love or passion, which offers a refuge in tumultuous times.It gives me the creeps that one of the horses was Pestilence. What else awaits us in our interesting times?
    Stay well
    Monika

    • I have thought about that a lot, with the first horseman being Pestilence and the second being War. Here in the US there is currently a lot of civil unrest, as you know. There is talk of the government deploying military troops to restore law and order. Seems like I heard that somewhere before. These are interesting and unsettling times, if nothing else. All I can do is continue sharing and hopefully bring some perspective to people. Glad you liked the post. Hope you and your loved ones are all safe.

      Jeff

  3. Nice reading.

    It’s highly plausible to tie Yeats poetry to his hermetic beliefs Though I’ve been aware of them too, I’ve noticed the Yeats the poet has so absorbed them and found a poetic expression that evokes them, that one hardly needs to know the “secret key” to unlock them, as the power is manifested right in the words.

    Thanks for bringing this early Yeats poem to my attention!

    • Hey Frank. Glad you liked the post. I took a great course on Yeats in college, and the professor had us reading the works of people like Blavatsky to better understand the symbolism in Yeats’ work. Since then, I’ve always had an affinity for his work.

      Hope you are well. Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to comment.

  4. Pingback: He Bids His Beloved Be At Peace | Frank Hudson

  5. Finally worked up my own performance with music of this Yeats poem, and tonight linked to your post for its nice explanation of the logic of the occult imagery in it.

    https://frankhudson.org/2020/10/02/he-bids-his-beloved-be-at-peace/

    Thanks again for bringing this poem to my attention!

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