The year before his marriage Yeats had published ‘Easter 1916’, about the Dublin uprising and the relentless British military response. The evocative phrase “A terrible beauty is born” caught the hearts and minds of his readership in Ireland and abroad, and turned him into a respected authority on Irish politics. Thereafter certain British politicians occasionally invited Yeats to dinner in London, to describe common reactions to political events in the Irish capital.
Nevertheless Yeats was still the same person he had been before, and in Dublin he still inhabited the same world of occult and theatre, poetry and recitals. He was gregarious, happy with social gatherings of all kinds, and well respected. As he advanced in years he undoubtedly had a deeper understanding of social problems and divisions, and he cared deeply about the whole of Ireland.
However he had lost contact with the working class, the Catholic majority, and he needed to understand them in order to give valid political opinions. He was not religiously prejudiced or tied to Protestantism; he had good Catholic friends such as Gogarty and Maud, but they were not working class. Yeats yearned to absorb the intense political atmosphere in shops, pubs and clubs, so he began walking around Dublin wearing disguises.
After his marriage Yeats needed solitary writing time, so with his wife’s consent he would retire to the United Arts Club in Dublin. From there he would disguise himself with Abbey Theatre resources and a pseudonym in order to find out surreptitiously what ordinary people thought and did. He was a seasoned speaker, poet, mage, theatre manager and playwright, so he was used to changing his appearance and putting on a show. He was also used to talking to young women as literary afficionados, actresses or astrological devotees. He developed a new set of identities invented much earlier, starting with Michael Robartes, a younger, sexually active self. In the process of exploring ordinary lives he visited dance clubs, and paid young women employed there to share a dance with him.
At one dance club Yeats met a new lady; from 1918 he wrote poems about his alter ego and a dancer. For the first year they got to know each other and fell in love, so his wife, George (her name had become masculine rather than feminine after their marriage), insisted on moving to Oxford; however they continued to meet clandestinely.
By 1919 Yeats was writing Ego Dominus Tuus (Latin: I am your Master).
For the first time he uses Latin, the common voice of Catholicism.
Also for the first time he divides himself into two different personalities, Hic (Latin: me now) and Ille (Latin: him or the other one) Hic represents the public Yeats, the one with a position in the world, or Dante, as Ezra calls him, who is enthralled by ‘the unconquerable delusion, Magical shapes’, as befits a creator of illusions, a mage, a playwright, a poet.
Ille on the contrary, also called Michael Robartes, is a shadow or ghost, a ‘spectral image’ who is at home with the straw beds and horses’ excreta of ordinary working class people ‘... the coarse grass and the camel-dung’. Ille says he has been ‘mocked ... for his lecherous life’ but has now found ‘The most exalted lady loved by a man’.
He says ‘I seek an image, not a book’; he is looking for beauty and flesh, not intellectual analysis as provided by his wife. He has been playing the field for women, but now he has really fallen in love with the actual rather than the intellectual. This is a dismissal of George’s ‘automatic writing’ and analytic ‘voices’ commanding their marriage.
The title of the poem tells us that his ‘most exalted lady’ is Catholic and their love has been consummated (I am your master), while the identity of the man as Ille implies that he is not talking about his wife. Ille has left an‘open book’, a work in progress.
Taken from "Who Killed Honor Bright? How William Butler and George Yeats Caused the Fall of the Irish Free State" by Patricia Hughes. Hues Books 2014, www.HuesBooks.com. ;