Sunday, February 8, 2015
The Magnet in the book
Sometimes, beyond the play of the shelf elves who make books and papers appear and disappear, I sense other minds and other hands. In the early hours I found my copy of Yeats' Autobiography off its shelf, on a table where I had not placed it. There was no occult reason for this; it had been moved, with a small pile of other books relating to the poet, as part of a house cleaning.
I accepted the invitation to revisit Yeats' life through his words. Opening the book at random, I found myself reading a lively chapter on his mixed relations with the Irish mystic, artist and writer George Russell, who used "A.E." as his pen name.
This morning, I opened another book in that pile. It is a collection of occasional pieces, mostly literary and art criticism, by A.E., titled The Living Torch and published by Macmillan in 1938, that I found in a used book store near Mount Vernon in Washington State a couple of years ago. I had placed it in my forest of books without examining it closely.
This was evident, because when I opened The Living Torch at random, I found five loose pages hidden inside the book. They are written a fine lady's hand from an earlier time. They are fair copies of five of A.E.'s poems. The lady who made these copies was meticulous. She noted the publication date (1926) of the edition of A.E.'s Collected Poems from which she borrowed the lines she copied, and the number of the pages where these poems may be found.
I sat very still as I read the poem on the top page. It is titled "Magnet" and it begins as follows:
I had sweet company
Because I sought out none
But took who came to me,
All by the magnet drawn.
For me, in the final stage of completing a book on the workings of synchronicity, this was quite, quiet perfect. Within the past week, I had actually borrowed a line from A.E. (from A Candle of Vision) as a section title in my own book: "Your own will come to you." It develops the idea that we draw people and situations to us magnetically, through the energy that is with us. I did not know that A.E. had written a poem on this theme until just now.
The later part of his poem, I must note, develops a darker tone. It seems that A.E. (described by Yeats as first and last a "religious teacher") is reflecting, ruefully, on an affair of the heart which tempted him to set aside the austere spiritual discipline he imposed on himself. I wonder whether, in her secret heart, the unknown copyist was stirred by her recognition of herself in a similar drama to make "Magnet" her own, by putting it in her own hand.