George William Russell

[A. E.] (10 April 1867 – 17 July 1935 / Lurgan, County Armagh, Ireland)

Biography of George William Russell

George William Russell poet

George William Russell who wrote with the pseudonym Æ (sometimes written AE or A.E.), was an Irish nationalist, writer, editor, critic, poet, and artistic painter. He was also a mystical writer, and a the personage of a group of devotees of theosophy in Dublin for many years.

Organizer

Russell was born in Lurgan, County Armagh. His family relocated to Dublin when he was eleven years old. He was educated at Rathmines School and the Metropolitan School of Art, where he began a lifelong friendship with William Butler Yeats. He started working as a draper’s clerk, then worked many years for the Irish Agricultural Organization Society (IAOS), an agricultural co-operative society initiated by Horace Plunkett during 1894. During 1897 Plunkett needed an able organiser and W. B. Yeats suggested Russell, who became Assistant Secretary of the IAOS.

Politician

He was an able lieutenant and travelled extensively throughout Ireland as a spokesman for the society, mainly responsible for developing the credit societies and establishing co-operative banks in the south and west of the country the numbers of which increased to 234 by 1910. The pair made a good team, with each gaining much from the association with the other. As an officer of the IAOS he could not express political opinions freely, but he made no secret of the fact hat he considered himself a Nationalist. During the 1913 Dublin Lock-out he wrote an open letter to the Irish Times criticizing the attitude of the employers, then spoke on it in England and helped bring the crisis to an end. He was an independent delegate to the 1917-18 Irish Convention in which he opposed John Redmond's compromise on Home Rule.

Publisher

Russell was editor from 1905 to 1923 of the Irish Homestead, the journal of the IAOS. His gifts as a writer and publicist gained him a wide influence in the cause of agricultural co-operation. He then became editor of the The Irish Statesman, which merged with the Irish Homestead, from 15 September 1923 until 12 April 1930. With the demise of this newspaper he was for the first time of his adult life without a job, and there were concerns that he could find himself in a state of poverty, as he had never earned very much money from his paintings or books. Unbeknownst to him meetings and collections were organized and later that year at Plunkett House he was presented by Father T. Finlay with a cheque for £800. This enabled him to visit the United States the next year, where he was well received all over the country and his books sold in large numbers.

He used the pseudonym "AE", or more properly, "Æ". This derived from an earlier Æ'on signifying the lifelong quest of man, subsequently abbreviated.

Writer and artist

His first book of poems, Homeward: Songs by the Way (1894), established him in what was known as the Irish Literary Revival, where Æ met the young James Joyce during 1902 and introduced him to other Irish literary figures, including William Butler Yeats. He appears as a character in the "Scylla and Charybdis" episode of Joyce's Ulysses, where he dismisses Stephen's theories on Shakespeare. His collected poems was published during 1913, with a second edition during 1926.

His house at 17 Rathgar Avenue in Dublin became a meeting-place at the time for everyone interested in the economic and artistic future of Ireland. His interests were wide-ranging; he became a theosophist and wrote extensively on politics and economics, while continuing to paint and write poetry. Æ claimed to be a clairvoyant, able to view various kinds of spiritual beings, which he illustrated in paintings and drawings. He was noted for his exceptional kindness and generosity towards younger writers: Frank O'Connor termed him " the man who was the father to three generations of Irish writers", and Patrick Kavanagh called him " a great and holy man".

He relocated to England after his wife’s death during 1932 and died in Bournemouth during 1935. He is buried in Mount Jerome Cemetery, Dublin.

George William Russell's Works:

Poetry

Voices of the Stones (MacMillian 1925)
Homeward Songs by the Way (Dublin: Whaley 1894)
The Earth Breath and Other Poems (NY&London: John Lane 1896)
The Nuts of Knowledge (Dublin: Dun Emer Press, 1903)
The Divine Vision and Other Poems (London: Macmillan; NY: Macmillan 1904)
By Still Waters (Dublin: Dun Emer Press 1906)
Deirdre (Dublin: Maunsel 1907)
Collected Poems (London: Macmillan 1913) (2nd. edit. 1926)
Gods of War, with Other Poems (Dub, priv. 1915)
Imaginations and Reveries (Dub&London: Maunsel 1915)
The Candle of Vision (London: Macmillan 1918)
Autobiography of a Mystic (Gerrards Cross, 1975), 175pp.;
Midsummer Eve (NY: Crosby Gaige 1928)
Enchantment and Other Poems (NY: Fountain; London: Macmillan 1930);
Vale and Other Poems (London: Macmillan 1931)
Songs and Its Fountains (London: Macmillan 1932)
The House of Titans and Other Poems (London: Macmillan 1934)
Selected Poems (London: Macmillan 1935).

Novels

The Interpreters (1922)
The Avatars (1933)

Essays

AE in the Irish Theosophist (1892–97)
The National Being : Some Thoughts on an Irish Polity (1916)
The Candle of Vision (1918)
Song and Its Fountains (1932)

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PoemHunter.com Updates

A Call

DUSK its ash-grey blossoms sheds on violet skies,
Over twilight mountains where the heart songs rise,
Rise and fall and fade away from earth to air.
Earth renews the music sweeter. Oh, come there.
Come, acushla, come, as in ancient times
Rings aloud the underland with faery chimes.
Down the unseen ways as strays each tinkling fleece
Winding ever onward to a fold of peace,
So my dreams go straying in a land more fair;

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