Other literary forms

(British and Irish Poetry, Revised Edition)

In addition to his enormous amount of poetry, Æ (AY-ee) wrote pungent essays in almost every imaginable field, from literary criticism to politics, economics, and agriculture. These essays are collected in such volumes as Some Irish Essays (1906) and The Living Torch (1937). His interest in that department of letters would eventually lead him to become editor of The Irish Homestead, and later The Irish Statesman. He also tried his hand at fiction with The Mask of Apollo, and Other Stories (1904), ranging from the Asian-tinged “The Cave of Lillith” and “The Meditation of Ananda” to the Celtic-influenced “A Dream of Angus Oge,” in which Æ characteristically blends East and West.

He also attempted drama with Deirdre (1902), the first important play to be performed by the company that was later to become the Irish National Theatre. Æ compiled his own spiritual autobiography, The Candle of Vision (1918), and in both it and Song and Its Fountains (1932), he attempted to explain his mysticism and poetic theory, which for him were one and the same. In The National Being (1916), Æ combines history with prophecy. The Interpreters (1922) consists of a dialogue among several characters typifying various positions in the Irish revolutionary movement—the heretic, the poet, the socialist, the historian, the aesthete, and the industrialist. In The Avatars (1933), Æ created a “futurist fantasy” in which mythical heroes, or avatars, appear and spread joy wherever they go. They are removed by the authorities, but their cult grows through legends and artistic records.

In addition to his literary and journalistic work, Æ maintained an extensive correspondence, a part of which has been published in Some Passages from the Letters of Æ to W. B. Yeats (1936), Æ’s Letters to Mínánlabáin (1937), and Letters from Æ (1961).

Æ Achievements

(British and Irish Poetry, Revised Edition)

Æ’s greatest contribution to Irish literature came from neither his artistic endeavors nor his journalistic and political involvement but rather from his unceasing kindness to younger writers. Frank O’Connor has said that Æ was the father of three generations of Irish poets. Among his discoveries were James Joyce, Padraic Colum, James Stephens, Frank O’Connor, Austin Clarke, and Patrick Kavanagh. As a poet, Æ is less known today for his own work, most of which is now out of print, than for his enormous influence on the younger generation, including William Butler Yeats. Although earlier critics grouped Æ with Yeats and John Millington Synge as one of the three major figures in the Irish Literary Revival, later criticism, such as Richard Finneran’s Anglo-Irish Literature (1976), generally considers Æ among the lesser revival figures such as Lady Augusta Gregory, Oliver St. John Gogarty, and James Stephens.

It is difficult to select one artistic achievement for which Æ is remembered today, because so much of his work was indirect, involving the support of other artists, ideas, revivals, friendship, political expression, agriculture, economics, nationalism, mysticism, the Abbey Theatre, and art in general. Yeats’s wife may have best summarized Æ’s achievements when she told her husband that he was a better poet but that Æ was a saint.

Æ Bibliography

(British and Irish Poetry, Revised Edition)

Allen, Nicholas. George Russell (Æ) and the New Ireland, 1905-1930. Portland, Oreg.: Four Courts Press, 2003. Looks at Æ and his relationship with Ireland as an artist and man.

Davis, Robert Bernard. George William Russell (“Æ”). Boston: Twayne, 1977. The first chapter sketches the external events of Æ. His varied interests are elaborated in six succeeding chapters, with focuses on the mystic, the poet, his drama and fiction, the economist, the statesman, and the critic. A brief conclusion assesses Æ’s contributions. Provides a chronology, notes, an index, and an annotated, select bibliography.

Figgis, Darrell. Æ, George W. Russell: A Study of a Man and a Nation. San Rafael, Calif.: Coracle Press, 2008. A biography of Æ that looks at his poetic works and his contributions to Ireland.

Kain, Richard M., and James H. O’Brien. George Russell (Æ). Lewisburg, Pa.: Bucknell University Press, 1976. The first three chapters, by Kain, present a biography of Æ by examining his personality, his early success, and his decline. The last two chapters, by O’Brien, examine Æ’s interests in Theosophy and his work as a poet. Contains a chronology and a select bibliography.

Kuch, Peter. Yeats and Æ: The Antagonism That Unites Dear Friends. Totowa, N.J.: Barnes &...

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