ACIS Logo Lying at the Hawk’s Well: Wilde, Yeats, and Occult Vision

In ‚”The Decay of Lying,” Oscar Wilde has Vivian argue that for art ‚”in no case does it reproduce its age.” This paper analyzes the influence of Wilde’s dialogue on William Butler Yeats as he wrote and redrafted At the Hawk’s Well. I claim that by eschewing the contemporary fashion for realism, Yeats created an entirely anachronistic and prophetic art form by blending Japanese Noh drama with ancient Irish mythology. Furthermore, Yeats took from Wilde the idea that “things are because we see them, and what we see, and how we see it, depends on the Arts that have influenced us.” In an attempt to shake up the philistine age of materiality, Yeats’ play engages with Wilde’s art of lying as well as occult modes of representation to project a life he wanted to cultivate in Ireland, a life that embraces mysticism, cabalistic notions of transcendence, and artistic freedom. This paper looks to position Yeats’ 1917 play in a growing conversation around transnationalism and the occult. By looking at how the symbolism of the play is informed by Wilde, the Golden Dawn, and Japanese Noh, this paper positions Yeats’ drama in a transnational tradition at a time of extreme nationalism in Ireland. While the use of Irish mythology indigenizes the drama, it is just as engaged with queer theory, continental occult symbolism, and Japanese forms thereby connecting it to a world unconstrained by colonial or national boundaries.