Friday, April 11, 2014

Arty Farty Friday ~ George William Russell aka Æ, Irish poet, mystic, painter.

Born this week in 1867, Irish poet, mystic, writer and painter, George William Russell, otherwise known by his chosen pseudonym AE (properly written Æ, but I cannot type it that way). He was part of the Irish literary renaissance of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

George Wm Russell was born in Lurgan, County Armagh, in what is now Northern Ireland aka Ulster, on April 10, 1867. His family moved to Dublin in 1877, where Russell attended the Metropolitan School of Art. He met William Butler Yeats, and a chance reading of the Upanishads, along with a friendship with Charles Johnston, led Russell to a deeper study of the Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita. Russell was then drawn into Theosophical circles through Johnston and Yeats. He later met Mohini Chatterji This acquaintance encouraged Russell to pursue his study of Indian philosophy and literature further. In 1890 he gave up Art School, formally joined the Theosophical Society and dedicated the next seven years to pursuing 'the path of mysticism'. Hindu and Buddhist philosophy influenced his poetry and painting, though he was also inspired by his own visions and natural mysticism.

To make a living he worked, at various times, in a brewery, a draper's accounts office, and eventually became editor of The Irish Homestead (1902-23) and The Irish Statesman (1923-30). Collections of his verse were published in the late 19th century.

Russell died of cancer in Bournemouth, England, on July 17, 1935; his body was returned to Ireland for burial.


Some of Russell's own words from Preface to his book: Imagination and Reveries:
......My temperament would only allow me to be happy when I was working at art. My conscience would not let me have peace unless I worked with other Irishmen at the reconstruction of Irish life. Birth in Ireland gave me a bias towards Irish nationalism, while the spirit which inhabits my body told me the politics of eternity ought to be my only concern, and that all other races equally with my own were children of the Great King. To aid in movements one must be orthodox. My desire to help prompted agreement, while my intellect was always heretical. I had written out of every mood, and could not retain any mood for long. If I advocated a national ideal I felt immediately I could make an equal plea for more cosmopolitan and universal ideas. I have observed my intuitions wherever they drew me, for I felt that the Light within us knows better than any other the need and the way. So I have no book on one theme, and the only unity which connects what is here written is a common origin. The reader must try a balance between the contraries which exist here as they exist in us all, as they exist and are harmonized in that multitudinous meditation which is the universe.—A.E.

His political leanings are made clear in a communication with the Irish Times on 7 October 1913 relating to the lockout of around 20,000 workers during the Dublin Lockout, a major industrial dispute with 300 employers in Dublin, the Irish capital. Part of his letter, included here because.....well, don't these words still echo with relevance to 2014?
The Dublin Lockout 1913

Sirs, I address this warning to you, the aristocracy of industry in this city, because, like all aristocracies, you tend to grow blind in long authority, and to be unaware that you and your class and its every action are being considered and judged day by day by those who have power to shake or overturn the whole social order, and whose restlessness in poverty today is making our industrial civilisation stir like a quaking bog. .. That you are an uncultivated class was obvious from recent utterances of some of you upon art. That you are incompetent men in the sphere in which you arrogate imperial powers is certain, because for many years, long before the present uprising of labour, your enterprises have been dwindling in the regard of investors, and this while you have carried them on in the cheapest labour market in these islands, with a labour reserve always hungry and ready to accept any pittance. You are bad citizens, for we rarely, if ever, hear of the wealthy among you endowing your city with munificent gifts, which it is the pride of merchant princes in other cities to offer, and Irishmen not of your city who offer to supply the wants left by your lack of generosity are met with derision and abuse. .. The conception of yourselves as altogether virtuous and wronged is, I assure you, not at all the one which onlookers hold of you. No doubt, you have rights on your side. No doubt, some of you suffered without just cause. But nothing which has been done to you cries aloud to Heaven for condemnation as your own actions. Let me show you how it seems to those who have followed critically the dispute, trying to weigh in a balance the rights and wrongs. You were within the rights society allows you when you locked out your men and insisted on the fixing of some principle to adjust your future relations with labour when the policy of labour made it impossible for some of you to carry on your enterprises. Labour desired the fixing of some such principle as much as you did. But, having once decided on such a step, knowing how many thousands of men, women, and children, nearly one third of the population of this city, would be affected, you should not have let one day have passed without unremitting endeavours to find a solution of the problem. ... you determined deliberately, in cold anger, to starve out one third of the population of the city, to break the manhood of the men by the sight of the suffering of their wives and the hunger of their children. ...You insolently demanded of those men who were members of a trade union that they should resign from that union; and from those who were not members, you insisted on a vow that they would never join it. Your insolence and ignorance of the rights conceded to workers universally in the modern world were incredible, and as great as your inhumanity............................
Read more of it at

Natal chart set for 12 noon, as no birth time is known.
George Wm Russell, born in Lurgan, County Armagh, Northern Ireland, UK,
on April 10, 1867.

Nutshell Notes: Aries Sun conjunct Neptune (just!) what more do we need to signify a mystically-inclined individual, poet and writer? Alright then - Venus, planet of the arts in Pisces (ruled by Neptune) conjunct (just) Jupiter (philosophy, religion) in late Aquarius. If that's not enough, how about Uranus lying, quite possibly, conjunct natal Moon (cannot be sure without a time of birth) - Uranus planet of the unusual and unexpected.

There's a Grand Trine in Water (emotions) signs linking Mercury (the writer) in Pisces, to Mars and Saturn in Cancer and Scorpio, two signs which can slightly soften the usually harder "feel" of Mars and Saturn.

Examples of AE's paintings:
On his trips to Donegal, AE very often retired to his so-called ‘Fairy House’, a tiny building in the woods overlooking Sheephaven Bay. Scenes of dancing and leisure are common in his oeuvre. The painting has the whimsical quality, characteristic of much of his work.

The prominence of children in AE’s pictures is far from incidental. Their blithe energy and imagination point to a freedom of spirit consistent with the visions the artist had developed from Theosophy, Irish mythology, memory and waking dreams. In articles in the Irish Statesman, AE lamented the stagnation that he observed in rural Ireland, brought about by a lack of amenities and emigration, but saw promise in young people. AE was au fait with Modernist trends, and convinced of the veracity of his own expression.
(See HERE)

Fairies in a Wood


 The Hour of Twilight

 Shining Shallows

 Jumping Rope

 Mystical Figures


mike said...

An unknown to me, Twilight. Interesting that he was born about 15 years after the last potato famine...his parents were recovering from rough times, no doubt. The population had been greatly reduced by number, but in physical and emotional strength, too. Death's hangover. I suppose this added to the industrialists' power over the working class, ie, a job...any job...was like gold.

I like his paintings...I can't quite put my finger on it, but a touch surreal, a touch abstract. Simplistic, as if perfect for a child's book of fairies, but equally captivating for an adult's appreciation.

Twilight said...

mike ~ He was unknown to me too.
Yes, the generation before his had seen terrible times - due in great part to British aristocracy's hold on Ireland back then.

I love his rant about the Dublin Lockout in The Irish Times - the fact that it was actually published was a good sign, I guess. Media must not have been as bought-out in those days.

His paintings are sweet and simple - I sense a kind of "shine" coming from them. :-) I like them.

♥ Sonny ♥ said...

I really like his painting -The Bathers..

Twilight said...

Sonny ~ I do too. :-)