Automatic Writing and the Influence of Yeats

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Automatic Writing and the Influence of Yeats

Automatic writing, a practice of divination or communication with the spiritual realm, has been a topic of interest for many writers and poets throughout history. Among them, the renowned Irish poet and playwright, William Butler Yeats, stands out as a key figure who explored the realms of the subconscious mind through this mystical technique. In this blog post, we will delve into the fascinating world of automatic writing, examining the history, process, and the undeniable influence it had on Yeats’s works.

Understanding Automatic Writing

Automatic writing, also known as trance writing, is a process in which an individual allows their subconscious mind to take control of their hand, guiding it to write words or sentences without conscious interference. It is believed to tap into hidden thoughts, creative inspirations, or even messages from spiritual entities. This concept gained popularity in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, with various spiritual, religious, and artistic movements embracing its potential insights.

The practice of automatic writing is often used as a tool for self-discovery and personal growth. By bypassing the rational mind, individuals can access their deep-seated emotions and intuition. It allows for the exploration of uncharted territories within the psyche, leading to unique and often surprising revelations.

The History of Automatic Writing

The origins of automatic writing can be traced back to the Spiritualist movement of the 19th century. Spiritualism, a religious and philosophical movement that gained traction in the United States and Europe, sought to make contact with the spirits of the deceased. Automatic writing became one of the preferred methods for such communication.

However, automatic writing was not limited to Spiritualism alone. Influenced by various spiritual traditions, including Theosophy and Rosicrucianism, writers and artists began experimenting with this method as a means to tap into the hidden realms of the mind and unleash creative forces.

The surrealist movement of the early 20th century also embraced automatic writing as a means to access the unconscious and unlock previously untapped artistic potential. Figures such as André Breton and Salvador Dalí incorporated automatic writing into their artistic processes, blurring the boundaries between literature and visual art.

Yeats and the Automatic Writing

William Butler Yeats, renowned for his contributions to Irish literature and his involvement in the Irish Literary Revival, is also prominently associated with automatic writing. Yeats’s interests in mysticism, folklore, and the esoteric greatly influenced his poetry and prose. Automatic writing played a significant role in his later works, particularly during his collaborations with his wife, George Hyde-Lees.

In 1917, after years of actively seeking metaphysical experiences, Yeats underwent a series of experiments with automatic writing. It was during these sessions that his wife, aided by trance-like states, channeled what they believed to be messages from spirits and entities from beyond.

Yeats documented the automatic writings he received from his wife and spent countless hours interpreting and deciphering their meanings. The mysterious nature of these communications fascinated Yeats and heavily influenced his poetry, shaping some of his most revered works, including “The Tower,” “The Second Coming,” and “A Vision.”

The Influence of Automatic Writing on Yeats’s Works

Yeats’s experiences with automatic writing had a profound impact on his poetic vision, shaping the themes and imagery present in his later works. The messages received during automatic writing sessions delved into the realms of spirituality, mysticism, and the metaphysical, providing rich material for his poems.

One aspect that deeply influenced Yeats was the concept of cyclicality and the notion of historical recurrence. This idea is prominently featured in his famous poem “The Second Coming,” where he expresses the anxieties of his time and the perceived collapse of values and civilization. The apocalyptic imagery in the poem reflects the revelations and messages he received through automatic writing, providing a glimpse into the hidden forces at play in the world.

Furthermore, Yeats’s exploration of mythology and his interest in symbolism found fertile ground in automatic writing. The messages he received often drew from ancient mythologies, intertwining them with his own personal beliefs and philosophies. This blending of myth and personal symbolism is evident in his collection “The Tower,” in which he continues his exploration of the cyclical nature of history and the human condition.


Automatic writing, a practice brimming with mystery and wonder, served as a powerful tool for both self-expression and spiritual exploration for many writers and artists. In the case of William Butler Yeats, his experiences with automatic writing not only provided a direct link to the realms of the subconscious but also shaped the themes and imagery of some of his most renowned works. The influence of automatic writing on Yeats highlights its potential to unlock hidden depths of creativity and tap into unexplored dimensions of the human psyche.

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Automatic Writing and the Influence of Yeats