Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

Celestial home

Celestial home. George William Russell depicts man as a king who has descended to earth from the celestial realm he never describes. In the opening poem, “Recognition” and later in “Tragedy,” Russell anchors the idea: “Recognition’s” plowman, though a “slave” on earth, “finds himself a king” deep inside. The “gods” his “brothers” reside in this realm. The reading man in “Tragedy” is scorned by the evening stars: “King . . . thou art slave and we are free.” He is an “exile” turning “homeward” to the stars “sick and slow.” In “Comfort”: “In the great ancestral spheres waits the throne for you.”


Nature. Russell views nature neoplatonically, as a window through which readers darkly see the higher reality. The wind, clouds, and ever-passing time remind readers of the instability of life. Its beauty (well served by Russell) is a dim reflection of the higher realm’s beauty. Fittingly, the natural world provides metaphors: his arid heart is like the “arid desert sky” (“Dawn of Darkness”); the hills are altars on which “sacrifices burn.” While in this life, the wanderer is closest to his real home while in nature.


Cities. Sparse references to the urban world in these poems are invariably negative, expressed in terms such as “iron city,” the city’s “din,” and the “fierce-pulsed city.” The poet’s life typically is portrayed in villages, in cottages, and on hillsides, to which “the city” provides a dark counterpoint.


*India. Despite Russell’s Irish roots, the only land he specifies by name is India, and that in but three poems. He taps the mystical side of the land and people.

Homeward Bibliography

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

Davis, Robert Bernard. George William Russell (“Æ”). Boston: Twayne, 1977. Brings out the predominant themes of Æ’s verse, while pointing to such effects as the use of color words and occasional archaic diction.

Figis, Darrell. Æ (George W. Russell): A Study of a Man and a Nation. Dublin: Maunsel, 1916. Explains how important Æ was as a leader of a philosophical coterie that read his poetry as revelation more than as art. Figis argues that the writing suffered because this reverence made Æ unwilling to probe his doctrines sufficiently.

Kain, Richard M., and James H. O’Brien. George Russell (Æ). Lewisburg, Pa.: Bucknell University Press, 1976. Provides background to link Æ’s study of Indian thought to his writings. The authors examine “Three Counsellors,” for example, as understandable in relation to his reading of the Indian religious epic The Bhagavad Gt (about 400 c.e.).

Russell, George W. Letters from Æ. Edited by Alan Denson. London: Abelard-Schuman, 1961. Includes a reply from Æ to a reviewer of Homeward, in which he takes the critic to task for dismissing the book’s Indian influence. He argues that the spiritual wealth of the East should not be overlooked.

Summerfield, Henry. The Myriad-Minded Man: A Biography of George William Russell, “Æ” 1867-1935. Totowa, N.J.: Rowman and Littlefield, 1975. Useful to supplement the poems insofar as it provides a detailed summary of the theosophical beliefs that influenced Æ. Also notes where he differed from the traditional interpretations of this thought.