The following blog was to be submitted yesterday, June 13, but a lightning storm interrupted the posting.
The great Symbolist poet William Butler Yeats (b. June 13, 1865) was 28 years old to the day when Dorothy Sayers (b. June 13, 1893) was born at the Head Master’s House, Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford. Though they both discovered their talents for writing at a young age, the their lives stood in stark contrast to one another.
Sayers, the daughter of a chaplain of Christ Church and headmaster of the Choir School, won a scholarship to Somerville College, Oxford. There she studied modern languages and medieval literature, finishing with first-class honors in 1915. Since women were denied degrees in 1915, she had to wait until 1920 when she became one of the first women to receive her MA from Oxford. In one of her most influential theological books, The Mind of the Maker, she explored the analogy between a human creator and the doctrine of the Trinity (more tri-theism in Sayers than orthodox Trinitarianism) in creation. Her human “trinity” consists of the Idea, the Energy (= the materialization of the idea into concrete/written form), and the Power (the reception/reading of the form by the audience).
Her good friend, C. S. Lewis said he read her excellent radio play, The Man Born to be King, every Easter, though he claimed never to have developed a taste for her more famous detective, Lord Peter Wimsey and his adventures. She died 17 December, 1957. Her her ashes are buried beneath the tower of St. Anne’s Church, London, where she had been a churchwarden for many years.
Yeats, on the other hand was no scholar. He attended art school briefly to appease his father, also an artist. While there he decided to become a poet. He moved to London in 1886, where he joined the Order of the Golden Dawn, an occult group. He maintained his fascination with the occult for the rest of his life, often addressing spiritual ideas in his brilliant poetry. Women, as well, held him in thrall. He had many affairs and more than one mistress. He died in France in 1939, having founded the National Irish Theater in Dublin (now the Abbey), and having won the Nobel Prize in literature in 1923.
Two exquisitely talented writers who shared much more than a birthday. Together they shared the gift of a creative spirit to which they gave a habitable form in their poems and novels and plays.
The defining difference between the two lies in their spiritual allegiances – she, to the Christ of Scripture; he, to an esoteric system of philosophy that reflected Hindu Theosophical beliefs and the occult – a system communicated to him through spirits (he called them “Instructors”) whom he had summoned while experimenting with automatic writing.
Can we enjoy the work of an non-Christian genius like Yeats as we can the works of the Christian Sayers? Of course. Just as we can appreciate the truth and goodness and beauty of the ring trilogy by an anti-Semite like Wagner, or Symphony #6 in D-Minor by Tchaikovsky, who struggled with homosexuality.
We can recognize and celebrate the truth, beauty, and goodness evident in these flawed men and women because these qualities emanate from the God we worship Who is the source of all that is true, and beautiful, and good. And Who graciously condescends to reveal Himself through flawed people.