Given that he won the Nobel, I was not surprised how good the writing is. Given its title, I should not have been as surprised as I was at how much some of it overlaps with the literary horror/fantasy genre that I’ve become enamored with over the past decade or so. Since this is an omnibus, and my reactions to the various collections range from mild recommendation to wildly enthusiastic, I will talk about each section separately. Since all the works in the omnibus are in the public domain, I include links to the Project Gutenberg ebooks of each.
The Celtic Twilight: http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/10459
The Secret Rose: https://www.gutenberg.org/files/5795/5795-h/5795-h.htm
In this collection there is a shift away from the framing device of people telling Yeats folklore stories and more firmly into the short fiction mode. And it is here that the struggle between catholicism, protestantism and a resurgent paganism really starts to come into focus. And some of these stories should be classics of the horror genre. The standouts, to me were the opener, The Crucifixion of the Outcast, in which a wandering bard runs afoul of murderous monks, and The Curse of the Fire and Shadows in which some puritan murderers fall afoul of ancient spirits.
Stories of Red Hanrihan: https://www.gutenberg.org/files/5793/5793-h/5793-h.htm
Red Hanrihan is a character who appears in Yeats’ poetry, and in this collection he gets a proper introduction. He is a bard travelling around Ireland making a living singing and telling tales. I really loved this collection with the exception of the third story. Highlights include the first story, called Red Hanrahan, in which Hanrihan meets some spirits and receives his gift and loses a lot and Hanrihan’s Vision which is like a better version of Lovecraft’s dreamquest stories.
Rosa Alchemica: http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/5794
This was amazing! Having read so much Lovecraft and Lovecraftian fiction over the past few years this was exactly in my wheelhouse. It’s described as an essay in the physical book I have, but it really reads like a literary horror story. In it Yeats, at the urging of Michael Robartes is very nearly inducted into the Society of the Alchemical Rose. Imagine if Lovecraft wasn’t a materialist; if the Old Gods were not ancient aliens, but were all the actual old gods trying to return. This is deeply disturbing and moving.
Tables of the Law and the Adoration of the Magi: http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/5794
These stories, also classified as essays, by the book delve into similar territory to Rosa Alchemica, and are nearly as good as that story.
Per Amica Silentia Lunae: http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/33338
This fits the essay designation a little better, and feels out of place in the collection.
Owned But Previously Unread 2020 8/75
*On the other days it is WH Auden, Robinson Jeffers or Anne Porter. Most often Auden.
** A Fanatic Heart: Bob Geldof on WB Yeats (very good if a little hagiographic, available on Amazon Prime)