Think Jung

Make Life a Mythic Journey

Jung and Yeats

Today is the birthday of Carl Gustav Jung, born July 26. 1875 (d. June 6, 1941).

CG Jung was one of the towering figures of the 20th century.  Not only was he “towering” in accomplishments as a psychiatrist, but he actually lived and worked, part-time, in a tower that he built in Bollingen, Switzerland not far from his family home in Kusnacht.  That thought reminded me of another tower-man, and contemporary of Jung’s, William Butler Yeats (June 13, 1865-January 28, 1939).  Like Jung, WB Yeats lived and wrote some of his most famous poems in an old Norman tower near the town of Gort, Ireland.  And the similarities don’t end there.

Both men carved inscriptions on their tower homes.  Jung’s said, “”Philemonis Sacrum—Fausti Poenitentia (Shrine of Philemon—Repentance of Faust)’” according to his collaborator Aniela Jaffe in the chapter on “The Tower” in his autobiography, Memories, Dreams, Reflections.  Yeats wrote the following (appearing just before the poems in “The Tower”):

To be carved on a stone at

Thoor Ballylee

I, the poet William Yeats

With old mill boards and sea-green slates,

And smithy work from the Gort forge,

Restored this tower for my wife George;

And may these characters remain

When all is ruin once again.

(#203 from The Collected Poems of W. B. Yeats, rev. 2nd Ed.)

For Jung the inscription was about the “tension of opposites” such as good and evil represented by the archetypal, wise old man, Philemon, and the soul-less, Faust.  Yeats also expressed the tension between change, “ruin,” and constancy, “may these characters remain.”  He went so far as to develop a symbol, the “gyre,” to express this tension.  They were intersecting cones (as in the Star of David) representing oppositional forces (Ellmann, Richard.  1978 Yeats: The Man and His Masks, p. 231).

In the opening of his poem (#262), Vacillation, Yeats echoes this theme:

Between extremities

Man runs his course;

He then touches on another major theme of Jung’s, the major focus of his work—the second half of life.  Jung had said (in The Stages of Life), “we cannot live the afternoon of our life according to the programme of life’s morning…what in the morning was true will at evening be a lie.”  Yeats in Vacillation went on to say:

No longer in Lethean foliage caught

Begin the preparation for your death

And from the fortieth winter by that thought

Test every work of intellect or faith

And everything that your own hands have wrought

And call those works extravagance of breath

That are not suited for such men as come

Proud, open-eyed and laughing to the tomb.

Reaching the age of 40 is exactly what Jung meant by the beginning of the second half of life.  This is the time to begin serious self-reflection as both agreed.

For Jung this latter half of life was where the most significant part of growth, or as he called it, “individuation,” occurred.  Yeats, too, recognized this and that one must get to that place of inner peace we call self-love so that we can love others and life, all life, itself.  These sentiments are found in a number of his poems.  Yeats began such a spiritual quest in Sailing to Byzantium, the first poem in “The Tower” (#204), when he states:

An aged man is but a paltry thing,

A tattered coat upon a stick, unless

Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing

For every tatter in its mortal dress,

And seems to conclude it a bit later in his A Dialogue of Self and Soul (#242) with:

I am content to follow to its source

Every event in action or in thought;

Measure the lot; forgive myself the lot!

When such as I cast out remorse

So great a sweetness flows into the breast

We must laugh and we must sing,

We are blest by everything,

Everything we look upon is blest.


Happy Birthday CG!

With best wishes from WB Yeats and

Paul Marshall Wortman

July 26, 2012

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