The Mystery Man: Who Is Michael Robartes

Michael Robartes appears scattered throughout Yeats’ poems, and upon my first readings remained an unknown character. 

Yeats notes indicates that Robartes and Aherne are characters in the stories "Rosa Alchemica" (1896), "The Tables of the Law" (1896), and "The Adoration of the Magi" (1897). In addition, they reappear in A Vision (1925) (see notes on page 468). He directly incorporates Michael Robartes in the following poems: The Phases of the Moon (pg.163), The Double Vision of Michael Robartes (pg. 170), Michael Robartes and the Dancer (pg. 175), and Ego Dominus Tuus (pg.160-61). Michael is also referenced in the poems Michael Robartes bids his Beloved be at Peace, Michael Robartes remembers Forgotten Beauty, and Michael Robartes asks Forgiveness because of his Many Moods; however, these titles later replaced Michael with ‘He.’ Yeats explains that incorporation of these poems is to serve the greater purpose of exposition, and allude to his philosophies of life and death (see notes on page 459). This begs the question, who is this mystery man? The answer, much to my satisfaction (and confusion), is much more interesting than just a flesh and blood historical figure.

In his poetry Michael Robartes represents the antithetical man, and Owen Aherne represents the primary man. The duality, or struggle between these two figures is also repeated thematically throughout Yeats poetry in the form of light versus dark, hic versus Ill, the sun versus the moon, the mind versus the heart, and reason over desire. Of course for Yeats, Robartes (the antithetical, the mask, the ideal unfulfilled desire and un-requited love) is the dominant character.

In his fictions of the novel A Vision (1925), Robartes adopts a stronger narrative role, and character development. The characters of Michael Robartes and Owen Ahern were used by Yeats to create a dialogue between the two, in order to explain ‘the System.’ As Yeats’ System grew with complexity, it became difficult to incorporate Robartes and Ahern as much; however in his earlier poetry we see Robartes and the System alluded to (see above list of poetry). The myth of Robartes in relation to the System is first made public through fragmented pieces of information found in the prefaces and notes of Michael Robartes and the Dancer. These poems were published before Yeats The Vision, which provides a richer background of his two fictitious ‘friends.’

To further complicate this understanding of Robartes' character we can examine the mystical explanations Yeats provides in his notes on The Wind Among the Reeds (1899):

“These are personages in ‘The Secret Rose;’. . . . I have used them in this book more as principles of the mind than as actual personages. It is probable that only students of the magical tradition will understand me when I say that ‘Michael Robartes’ is fire reflected in water, and that Hanrahan is fire blown by the wind, and that Aedh is fire burning by itself. To put it in a different way, Hanrahan is the simplicity of an imagination too changeable to gather permanent possessions, or the adoration of the shepherds; and Michael Robartes is the pride of the imagination brooding upon the greatness of its possessions, or the adoration of the Magi; while Aedh is the myrrh and frankincense that the imagination offers continually before all that it loves.”

So who is Michael Robartes to you? Where else have you seen him referenced?

Possible related discussion ideas include:

Analyzing the representations of Robartes in the poems we have already been assigned.
Further exploring to see if Robartes appears in other classic works of literature.
Discussing the fictitious relationship between Robartes and Yeats.
Trying to understand “Robartes” persepective of “The System”

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© Miss Lauren Kyle
Maira Gall